Teaching Pragmatics

Topics: Language education, Linguistics, Language acquisition Pages: 9 (3173 words) Published: April 1, 2011
Teaching Pragmatics explores the teaching of pragmatics through lessons and activities created by teachers of English as a second and foreign language. This book is written for teachers by teachers. Our teacher-contributors teach in seven different countries and are both native-speakers and nonnative speakers of English. Activities reflect ESL and EFL classroom settings. The chapters included here allow teachers to see how other teachers approach the teaching of pragmatics and to appreciate the diversity and creativity of their endeavors. Taken together, the activities constitute a spectrum of possibilities for teaching pragmatics. Each submission provides novel insight into the ESL/EFL classroom and demonstrates that there is no single approach to the teaching of pragmatics. The variety of approaches means that pragmatics can be integrated easily into any classroom, whether traditional or communicative. What is pragmatics?

The study of pragmatics explores the ability of language users to match utterances with contexts in which they are appropriate; in Stalnaker's words, pragmatics is "the study of linguistic acts and the contexts in which they are performed" (1972, p. 383). The teaching of pragmatics aims to facilitate the learners' ability to find socially appropriate language for the situations they encounter. Within second language studies and teaching, pragmatics encompasses speech acts, conversational structure, conversational implicature, conversational management, discourse organization, and sociolinguistic aspects of language use, such as choice of address forms. These areas of language and language use have not traditionally been addressed in language teaching curricula, leading one of our students to ask if we could teach him "the secret rules of English." Pragmatic rules for language use are often subconscious, and even native speakers are often unaware of pragmatic rules until they are broken (and feelings are hurt, offense is taken, or things just seem a bit odd). Neither does pragmatics receive the attention in language teacher education programs that other areas of language do. Nevertheless, rules of language use do not have to be "secret rules" for learners or teachers. A growing number of studies describe language use in a variety of English-speaking communities, and these studies have yielded important information for teaching. From the teacher's perspective, the observation of how speakers do things with words has demystified the pragmatic process at least to the point where we can provide responsible, concrete lessons and activities to language learners. We are in the position to give assurance that they can learn pragmatics in their second or foreign language and be "in the club" of English speakers. Teachers can successfully decode the apparently secret rules for classroom learners. Why teach pragmatics in language classes?

We advocate teaching pragmatics because, quite simply, observation of language learners shows there is a demonstrated need for it, and instruction in pragmatics can be successful. Learners show significant differences from native speakers in language use; the execution and comprehension of certain speech acts; conversational functions, such as greetings and leave takings; and conversational management, such as back channeling and short responses. (See, for example, Bardovi-Harlig, 1996, 1999, 2001; Kasper & Schmidt, 1996; Kasper & Rose, 1999.) Without instruction, differences in pragmatics show up in the English of learners regardless of their first language background or language proficiency. That is to say, a learner of high grammatical proficiency will not necessarily show equivalent pragmatic development. As a result, learners at the higher levels of grammatical proficiency often show a wide range of pragmatic competence. Thus, we find that even advanced nonnative speakers are neither uniformly successful, nor uniformly unsuccessful, but the range is quite wide. The...

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