II Всеукраинская научно-практическая конференция «Актуальные проблемы преподавания иностранных языков для профессионального общения». Том 3

Аксютіна Т.В.

Дніпропетровский національний університет імені Олеся Гончара, Україна


It is well-recognized that the goal of teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in a university setting is to develop learners’ ability to communicate appropriately in this language. This means that teaching practices should pay attention not only to the key features of the linguistic system of English, but also to its pragmatic norms since lack of this knowledge may impede communication.

Linguists and anthropologists have long recognized that the forms and uses of a given language reflect the cultural values of the society in which the language is spoken. Linguistic competence alone is not enough for learners of a language to be competent in that language. Language learners need to be aware, for example, of the culturally appropriate ways to address people, express gratitude, make requests, and agree or disagree with someone. These factors refer to those norms of interaction that are shared by members of a given speech community in order to establish and maintain successful communication. They are related to one of the vital components of the construct of communicative competence, that is pragmatic competence.

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” [3]. The teaching of pragmatics aims to facilitate the learners’ ability to find socially appropriate language for the situations they encounter. Within second and foreign 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. Nevertheless, rules of language use do not have to be “secret rules” for learners or teachers. A growing number of studies exist that describe language use in a variety of English-speaking communities, and these studies have yielded important information for teaching pragmatics [1; 2].

Second and foreign language learners show significant differences from native speakers in language use, in particular, 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. 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 consequences of pragmatic differences, unlike the case of grammatical errors, are often interpreted on a social or personal level rather than as a result of the language learning process. Being outside the range of language use allowed in a language, or making a pragmatic mistake, may have various consequences.

A pragmatic error may hinder good communication between speakers, may make the speaker appear abrupt or brusque in social interactions, or may make the speaker appear rude or uncaring. Unintentional insult to interlocutors and denial of requests have been identified as other potential pragmatic hazards.

What makes pragmatics “secret” seems to be in some cases insufficient specific input and in other cases insufficient interpretation of language use. Language classrooms are especially well suited to provide input and interpretation. Instruction addresses the input problem by making language available to learners for observation. Some speech acts, such as invitations, refusals, and apologies, often take place between individuals, so learners might not have the opportunity to observe such language without being directly involved in the conversation. Some speech events are generally not observed by a third party, but closed events need not be as private as going to the doctor. A person might want to know the conventions for talking to a hair stylist in a second language, something equally difficult to observe!

The second problem of input that instruction addresses is salience. Some necessary features of language and language use are quite subtle and not immediately noticeable by learners, such as the turns that occur before speakers actually say “goodbye” and the noises they make when encouraging other speakers to continue their turns. Differences in making requests, such as by saying “Can I?” (speaker-oriented) instead of “Can you?” (hearer-oriented) might not be immediately salient to learners. By highlighting features of language and language use, instruction can inform the learner.

Finally, the classroom is the ideal place in which to help learners interpret language use. Instruction can help learners understand when and why certain linguistic practices take place. It can help learners to better comprehend what they hear (“What does this formula mean?”) and to better interpret it (“How is this used?” “What does a speaker who says this hope to accomplish?”). A classroom discussion of pragmatics is also a good place to explore prior impressions of speakers. For example, Americans are often thought of as being very direct. Instruction provides the opportunity to discuss the absence of some types of politeness markers in English and the presence and function of others that may not be immediately recognizable to learners.

The list of references:

1. Bardovi-Harlig K. Pragmatics and Language Teaching: Bringing Pragmatics and Pedagogy Together / K. Bardovi-Harlig // Pragmatics and Language Learning. – University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: Division of English as an International Language, 1996. – № 7. – Р. 21–39.

2. Rose K. Pragmatics in language teaching / K. Rose, G. Kasper. – Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. – 203 p.

3. Stalnaker R.C. Pragmatics. In Semantics of Natural Language / R.C. Stalnaker. – Dordrecht: Reidel, 1972. – P. 56–87.