Asking for help

Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. There is a transcript of this podcast on the podcast support site LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. 

Today I’m going to talk about help and I’m going to look at 5 ways you can ask for help. I’m also going to talk about the language you can use to respond to someone asking for help.

Most of the vocabulary is aimed at A2 or pre-intermediate learners, but I will focus on the pronunciation and try to push the level up a bit. 

OK, I want you to listen to a request for help and a response. Listen to the language and try to imagine who the speakers are. Are they friends? Where would this exchange take place? 

Could you give me some assistance?

Of course, I’ll be right there.

Could you give me some assistance? Where do you think you might hear someone saying that? Well, it’s a pretty formal way to ask for help. It’s polite – I used an indirect form: could you and the word for help was assistance. This is the sort of request you might make in a shop with people you don’t know. Listen to the pronunciation, especially of could you

Could you give me some assistance?

Could you becomes /kʊdjə/ or /kʊʤə/

Could you give me some assistance?

listen to the next request and response.  Where you think you might hear this sort of request?

Would you mind helping me with something?

Not at all. How can I help?

This is slightly formal. It’s not very formal, but it’s polite because of the indirect would you mind plus a verb in the verb-ing form. The response, not at all, is also a little formal. I think that this is the sort of request and response you might hear at work between colleagues who don’t work together very closely. 

Listen to the pronunciation. Especially to the way I pronounce would you mind and the way the words join together in the response not at all

Would you mind helping me with something?

Not at all. How can I help?

Would you mind becomes /wʊʤəmaɪnd/ and not at all becomes /nɒ də dɔːl/

Would you mind helping me with something?

Not at all. How can I help?

In the first two requests, I’ve used indirect forms. These are quite important when you are asking someone to help you as it shows respect. It’s not always formal. Listen to another request and response.

Would you mind helping me out?

Sure no problem. What’s the matter?

This is neutral language. You could use it at work or with friends. If you ask someone to help you out, it sounds like you are in trouble more personally. It’s a stronger request than could you help me with something. This time, I’d like to focus on the pronunciation of the response. It’s quite common to use the word matter when asking about someone’s problem. In an informal situation, the phrase can be quite heavily contracted. Listen to this.

What’s the matter?

Lots of ts are dropped and the word the links with the s from is and you get /sə/. 

The next phrase is less formal and is probably best used among friends. Listen to the request and response: 

Could you do me a favour?

Sure – how can I help?

A favour is normally a small act of kindness or generosity. If you ask for a favour, you’re asking for a small amount of help. I think you would only ask your friends or family for a favour. Perhaps you could ask someone to water your plants while you were away or pass on a message to your teacher, something like that. If you have to ask for something bigger, you could ask for massive favour, but that’s for really close friends.

Here’s another informal way to ask for help:

Could you give me a hand?

Yeah … No problem. 

Could you give me a hand or could you lend me a hand are simple informal ways of asking for help. If someone asks you for a hand, then you should not expect to have to spend too long helping them. It’s a request for help, but for a short time.

The last request I want to talk about is a formal way of asking someone for their company. So this is a question you could ask someone to join you for lunch or if you want to take someone for dinner. It’s not really a request for help, but it helps prepare you for the last request. Listen to this request and response. 

Would you do me the honour of having lunch with me?

Of course, I’d be delighted.

do me the honour means it would be an honour if you meet or agree to spend time with me. It’s formal and sounds a bit old fashioned. However, there is a simple informal form that means help me please that comes from this. 

Do the honours, would you?

No problem

I’m not sure how common this really is, but it’s common in my family. You use it when it’s obvious what help you need. So perhaps you are carrying a heavy box and the door is closed. You might say: Do the honours, would you? In way of asking someone to open the door for you. Or perhaps you are making tea and the tea has brewed and it’s time to pour the tea and add milk. This is another situation in which you could urge someone to do the honours, would you.

So there you have 5 ways of asking for help and some phrases you can use to respond to such requests. 

If you have enjoyed this podcast, please leave me a comment or a review and don’t forget that you can read the transcript for this podcast and complete some language activities on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk.

Thanks for listening.

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