Questions and answers: Immigration time!
Understanding and answering questions is a critical part of going through the immigration visa process, no matter what country you’re applying to. I know, all these questions can feel very stressful, but take a deep breath and we’ll walk through some key question and answer words in English, together.
There is, of course, the useful question mark that will let you know when the sentence is a question, but in speech, this isn’t always obvious. We use words to signal when we are asking a question too, like:
As they nearly all start with that ‘wh’ sound, it is a big flag right away.
‘When did you last visit Canada?’
‘Who was with you when you bought your dog?’
‘What is your reason for wanting a visa?’
‘Do’ or ‘Does’, two of our favourite words in the English language that we use for so many things, can also begin a question.
‘Does the dog also have his shots?’
‘Do you have the paperwork?’
Rising and falling
You can also use the way someone says a sentence as a hint as to whether it is a question, or if they are looking for confirmation, compared to a statement.
In English, people tend to pitch their voice higher towards the end of the phrase to signal they are asking a question, or looking for confirmation – this is called rising intonation.
Falling intonation means the sentence ends on a lower pitch and signals finality and that the person is sure about what they are saying.
There is a funny quirk to this pattern however: upspeak. Young people, particularly from the west coast of the United States, will end every sentence with rising intonation regardless whether it is a question or not. It’s funny to listen to, but is associated with teenagers and surfers, so not the best thing to emulate in an immigration interview, for instance!
Tricky modal verbs
In situations where you’re being asked to provide something, there are several irregular modal or auxiliary verbs that can change the meaning of the request significantly.
‘Can’, ‘may’, ‘will’, ‘shall’, or ‘must’ all act on the other verb in the sentence.
For instance: ‘I can help you with your forms’ means a lovely person will help you sort out the piles of paper you have to fill in, while ‘I might help you with your forms’ is conditional on something else happening.
Maybe you have to promise to feed their cat when they’re away? Where ‘I had better help you with your forms’ (must) is a passive-aggressive way of saying you are making a giant mess of it, but your friend is going to sort it out.
Making a sentence a question
There’s a funny way of making an English sentence into a question, by requesting confirmation at the end of it.
For example: ‘Dogs are people, aren’t they?’
You take the subject pronoun, in this case dogs, and then use a negative version of the statement you’ve just made. This is a kind of confirmation question, and you’re looking for a very specific answer, usually yes or no. Though in some cases much more explanation would follow.
Personally, I’d be asking a few more questions if my friend thought dogs were people. So, in our immigration visa example, it would be normal to ask your friend (maybe ten times): ‘You picked up my paperwork, didn’t you?’ and they would answer yes. If they answered no, you might want to re-evaluate your friendship. The slightly tricky version of this, is when you’re asking a question about yourself. ‘I look alright, don’t I?’ Besides using the ever-present ‘do’, remember to use ‘I’. And ask yourself if you really want to know the answer!
Now, use your new skills with question words to quiz your Lingoda classmates on what they’re doing this weekend. If you need some extra practise, book your trial week now!