Functional Language | UCT English Language Centre
As Homo sapiens we tend to change our minds quite frequently. For instance, while writing this blog I most certainly re-formulated the same sentence a few hundred times. So when I was asked to write about something, it got me thinking and naturally I turned to my own experiences as a foreigner.

I was living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and I had been learning the local dialect, Behasa Malaysia (Malay) for a short while. One evening after work I was absolutely starving and on my quest for food, I stumbled upon a mamak (a local restaurant). I sat down and started scanning the menu for dishes I recognised. A few moments later a very impatient waiter was standing next to me, tapping his foot on the floor – rushing me on to order. I decided to be brave and to test my ‘amazing’ language abilities (A1 Beginner) to order my meal. I should admit it was rather foolish but I consider myself to be a willful person and the process was quite basic:

“Dua roti canai” (Amount + Name of food) = 2x Roti flatbreads and curry.

However, as I was ordering one dish, I changed my mind and exchanged it for another. This managed to happen a few times but in the end I did settle on only one dish: “Sato mee goreng ayam” (one chicken fried noodle).

To cut a long story short, as I was waiting for my food, I saw two men walking out of the kitchen towards me. They placed about 5 different dishes in front of me. In a panic, I asked whether he had made a mistake. Then the waiter showed me his slip and I realised that he had never cancelled a dish when I changed my mind.

On that day I learned that I should never order food when I am hungry and it is definitely a good idea to notify a person when an idea is being changed. I believe that it is safe to say that most foreign learners can agree that ordering food in a foreign language can be quite confusing.

Here are some techniques from the classroom:

In retrospect, … (Formal)
In hindsight, … (Formal)
On second thoughts, … (Informal)
On reflection, … (Formal)
Now that you mention it, … (Informal)
Now that I’ve thought about it, … (Informal)


In hindsight, there is no reason to panic. I can probably take the rest of the dishes home.


On second thoughts, I would rather take a cheeseburger instead.


Practicing this language can be quite simple. Something I do in class is to put different colour markers on the table and ask students to change their minds when picking a colour. For example:

“I will take the red marker, on second thoughts, I’ll take the blue marker, on reflection, I’ll take the green one instead, now that I’ve thought about it, I am definitely taking the black marker.”

You can start slowly, but try moving faster and faster without looking at the functional phrases.


I would suggest putting your new language skills to use, therefore I would like you to go to the nearest restaurant:
  1. Choose 5 different dishes (Your least favourite option to your most likely option)
  2. Start by ordering your least favourite option and change your mind.
  3. Keep doing this until you order your most likely option.

REMEMBER: Use the functional phrases, and do not be scared to indicate when you are changing your mind. Let’s be honest, nobody needs five different dishes.

If you are interested in learning more language techniques, the UCT English Language Centre offers a wide range of courses to suit your personal needs. Plus, you get to learn English and practice it in the beautiful city of Cape Town!

For more functional language tips in a business meeting context, you can check out this blog post.

Semoga Berjaya (Good Luck)
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