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Pragmatics

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TESL Reporter 38, 1 (2005), pp. 17-26

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Teaching Pragmatics in the EFL Classroom? SURE You Can!
Mark N. Brock
Carson-Newman College, Tennessee, USA

Yoshie Nagasaka
Kobe, Japan
There are a number of language competencies which English language learners must develop, in tandem, in order to communicate successfully in English. Any successful communicative event, at least one that extends beyond expressions of simple, immediate need, will require that L2 speakers have developed some mastery of the syntax, morphology, phonology and lexis of the English language. Yet, as many English teachers recognize, and as many language learners have experienced first-hand, speech acts that are grammatically and phonologically correct sometimes fail because the learner’s pragmatic competence—his or her ability to express or interpret communicative functions in particular communicative contexts—is undeveloped or faulty. Pragmatic incompetence in the L2, resulting in the use of inappropriate expressions or inaccurate interpretations resulting in unsuccessful communicative events, can lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication and can even leave the native-speaking interlocutor with the perception that the L2 speaker is either ignorant or impolite. The following simple scenario illustrates the importance of pragmatic competence. Two learners of English ask a native speaker, with whom they are unacquainted, to lend them a pen. One learner uses the phrase, “Borrow your pen,” while the other asks, “Could I borrow your pen?” Both requests are easy to understand. Both result in the desired response. Yet in this context native speakers would likely respond more favorably to the request of the second learner over that of the first, simply because it is more appropriate. Parents know that pragmatic competence or contextual appropriateness does not always develop as quickly in their children as they might wish. Some years ago the first author and his wife would often visit...