Topics: Language acquisition, Culture, Language Pages: 56 (16806 words) Published: May 16, 2013
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange
Senior Thesis Projects, 1993-2002 College Scholars


Teaching Sociolinguistic Competence in the ESL Classroom
Claire Ann Mizne

Follow this and additional works at: Recommended Citation Mizne, Claire Ann, "Teaching Sociolinguistic Competence in the ESL Classroom" (1997). Senior Thesis Projects, 1993-2002.

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Teaching Sociolinguistic Competence in the ESL Classroom

A College Scholars Project

Claire Ann Mizne June, 1997

First and foremost I would like to thank my advisor Dr. Beverly Moser for her infinite patience and confidence in me, without which this project would never have existed. I would also like to thank Dr. Mellor, Dr. Nakuma, Dr. Reese, Dr. Leki, and Dr. Broadhead for their help and support, and my parents whose encouraging words were always appreciated.

In today's globalized society, the ability to express oneself in a foreign or second language is a vital skill. For a speaker to be able to be considered a bilingual speaker, he or she nlust have the capability to talk about any subject in any situation from the dinner table to a speech at the inaugunil ball. According to the American Council on the Teaching on foreign Languages (ACTFL) scale for language proficiency, superior level of speaking means the learner is approaching such a capacity. To reach the superior level of speaking ability, one must be able to speak about abstract topics and speak appropriately in a wide variety of settings with very few errors. However, even after studying another language for many years, learners often still never achieve this level of proficiency and have great difficulty in expressing themselves in that language to a native speaker. Reasons for this continued difficulty in communicating in the second language can include problems with pronunciation, lack of knowledge on actual speech use of idiomatic expressions and slang, and learner differences in the ability to acquire language and in motivation to produce native-like speech. Another important contributing factor for incompetence in the language is that the speaker does not know which utterances are appropriate in the social situation in which he or she is speaking. This ability to adjust one's speech to fit the situation in which it is said is called sociolinguistic competence, and without this ability, even the most perfectly grammatical utterances can convey a meaning entirely different from that which the speaker intended. One of the factors that makes sociolinguistic competence so hard to acquire is the large amount of variance in cultural rules of speaking; in other words, what is appropriate to say in one culture may be completely inappropriate in another culture, even though the situation in which it is said is the same. The learner is often unaware of these differences, and uses the rules of speaking of his or her native culture when communicating in the foreign language. This process, called praglnatic transfer, results in misunderstandings between the speech participants, and can cause serious breakdowns in communication.

These rules of speaking can be slowly acquired by the language learner as he or she is immersed in the target language culture; however, learning these rules through immersion is a time consuming process, with many rules going unnoticed for years, or even worse, never being acquired at all. Teaching skills in sociolinguistic competence in the second language classroom as a...
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