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NFLRC NetWork #6


Gabriele Kasper
University of Hawai`i

Please cite as...

1997 Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center

'Can Pragmatic Competence Be Taught?' The simple answer to the question as

formulated is "no". Competence, whether linguistic or pragmatic, is not
teachable. Competence is a type of knowledge that learners possess, develop,
acquire, use or lose. The challenge for foreign or second language teaching is
whether we can arrange learning opportunities in such a way that they benefit
the development of pragmatic competence in L2. This, then, is the issue I will
address in this paper.

The pragmatic component in models of communicative competence

There are many definitions of pragmatics around. One I find particularly useful has
been proposed by David Crystal. According to him, "Pragmatics is the study of
language from the point of view of users, especially of the choices they make, the
constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction and the effects their
use of language has on other participants in the act of communication" (Crystal 1985,
p. 240). In other words, pragmatics is the study of communicative action in its
sociocultural context. Communicative action includes not only speech acts - such as
requesting, greeting, and so on - but also participation in conversation, engaging in
different types of discourse, and sustaining interaction in complex speech events.
Following Leech (1983), I will focus on pragmatics as interpersonal rhetoric - the way
speakers and writers accomplish goals as social actors who do not just need to get
things done but attend to their interpersonal relationships with other participants at
the same time.

Leech (1983) and his colleague Jenny Thomas (1983) proposed to subdivide pragmatics
into a pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic component. Pragmalinguistics refers to the
resources for conveying communicative acts and relational or interpersonal meanings.
Such resources include pragmatic strategies like directness and indirectness, routines,
and a large range of linguistic forms which can intensify or soften communicative acts.
For one example, compare these two versions of apology - the terse 'I'm sorry' and
the Wildean 'I'm absolutely devastated. Can you possibly forgive me?' In both versions,
the speaker apologizes, but she indexes a very different attitude and social relationship
in each of the apologies (e.g., Fraser, 1980; House & Kasper, 1981; Brown & Levinson,
1987; Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989).

Sociopragmatics was described by Leech (1983, p. 10) as 'the sociological interface of

pragmatics', referring to the social perceptions underlying participants' interpretation
and performance of communicative action. Speech communities differ in their
assessment of speaker's and hearer's social distance and social power, their rights and
obligations, and the degree of imposition involved in particular communicative acts
(Takahashi & Beebe, 1993; Blum-Kulka& House, 1989; Olshtain, 1989). The values of
context factors are negotiable; they can change through the dynamics of
conversational interaction, as captured in Fraser's (1990) notion of the 'conversational
contract' and in Myers-Scotton'sMarkedness Model (1993).

Pragmatic ability in a second or foreign language is part of a nonnative speakers (NNS)

communicative competence and therefore has to be located in a model of
communicative ability (Savignon, (1991, for overview). In Bachman's model (1990, p.
87ff), 'language competence' is subdivided into two components, 'organizational
competence' and 'pragmatic competence'. Organizational competence comprises
knowledge of linguistic units and the rules of joining them together at the levels of
sentence ('grammatical competence') and discourse ('textual competence'). Pragmatic
competence subdivides into 'illocutionary competence' and 'sociolinguistic
competence'. 'Illocutionary competence' can be glossed as 'knowledge of
communicative action and how to carry it out'. The term 'communicative action' is
often more accurate than the more familiar term 'speech act' because communicative
action is neutral between the spoken and written mode, and the term acknowledges
the fact that communicative action can also be implemented by silence or non-
verbally. 'Sociolinguistic competence' comprises the ability to use language
appropriately according to context. It thus includes the ability to select communicative
acts and appropriate strategies to implement them depending on the current status of
the 'conversational contract' (Fraser, 1990).
Need L2 pragmatics be taught?

As Bachman's model makes clear, pragmatic competence is not extra or ornamental,

like the icing on the cake. It is not subordinated to knowledge of grammar and text
organization but co-ordinated to formal linguistic and textual knowledge and interacts
with 'organizational competence' in complex ways. In order to communicate
successfully in a target language, pragmatic competence in L2 must be reasonably well
developed. But adopting pragmatic competence as one of the goals for L2 learning
does not necessarily imply that pragmatic ability requires any special attention in
language teaching. Before turning to the central question of my talk, i.e., whether L2
pragmatics can be taught, I will therefore address the logically prior question of
whether L2 pragmatics needs to be taught. Because perhaps pragmatic knowledge
simply develops alongside lexical and grammatical knowledge, without requiring any
pedagogic intervention.

Indeed, adult NNS do get a considerable amount of L2 pragmatic knowledge for free.
This is because some pragmatic knowledge is universal, and other aspects may be
successfully transferred from the learners' L1. To start with the pragmatic universals,
learners know that conversations follow particular organizational principles -
participants have to take turns at talk, and conversations and other speech events have
specific internal structures. Learners know that pragmatic intent can be indirectly
conveyed, and they can use context information and various knowledge sources to
understand indirectly conveyed meaning. They know that recurrent speech situations
are managed by means of conversational routines (Coulmas, 1981;
Nattinger&DeCarrico, 1992) rather than by newly created utterances. They know that
strategies of communicative actions vary according to context (Blum-Kulka, 1991);
specifically, along such factors as social power, social and psychological distance, and
the degree of imposition involved in a communicative act, as established in politeness
theory (Brown & Levinson, 1987; Brown & Gilman, 1989). Learners have demonstrated
knowledge of the directive and expressive speech acts that have been most frequently
studied in cross-cultural and interlanguage pragmatics, such as requests and
apologies, and they have been shown to understand and use the major realization
strategies for such speech acts. For instance, in requesting, users of any language
studied thus far distinguish different levels of directness; direct, as in 'feed the cat',
conventionally indirect, as in 'can/could/would you feed the cat?', and indirect, as in
'the cat's complaining.' Furthermore, language users know that requests can be
softened or intensified in various ways, as in 'I was wondering if you would terribly
mind feeding the cat', and that requests can be externally modified through various
supportive moves, for instance justifications, as in 'I have to go to a conference', or
imposition minimizers, as in 'She only needs food once a day'. Studies document that
these strategies of requesting are available to ESL or EFL learners who are NS of such
diverse languages as Chinese (Johnston, Kasper, & Ross, 1994), Danish (Frch&
Kasper, 1989), German (House & Kasper, 1987), Hebrew (Blum-Kulka&Olshtain, 1986),
Japanese (Takahashi &DuFon, 1989), Malay (Piirainen-Marsh, 1995), and Spanish
(Rintell& Mitchell, 1989). In their early learning stages, learners may not be able to use
such strategies because they have not yet acquired the necessary linguistic means, but
when their linguistic knowledge permits it, learners will use the main strategies for
requesting without instruction.

Learners may also get very specific pragmalinguistic knowledge for free if there is a
corresponding form-function mapping between L1 and L2, and the forms can be used
in corresponding L2 contexts with corresponding effects. For instance, the English
modal past as in the modal verbs could or would has formal, functional and
distributional equivalents in other Germanic languages such as Danish and German -
the Danish modal past kunne/ville and the German subjunctive knntest and wrdest.
And sure enough, Danish and German learners of English transfer ability questions
from L1 Danish (kunne/ville du lnemig dine noter) and L1 German (knntest/ wrdest
Du mirDeineAufzeichnungenleihen) to L2 English (could/would you lend me your
notes) (House & Kasper, 1987; Frch& Kasper, 1989), and they do this without the
benefit of instruction.

Positive transfer can also facilitate learners' task in acquiring sociopragmatic

knowledge. When distributions of participants' rights and obligations, their relative
social power and the demands on their resources are equivalent in their original and
target community, learners may only need to make small adjustments in their social
categorizations (Mir, 1995).

Unfortunately, learners do not always make use of their free ride. It is well known from
educational psychology that students do not always transfer available knowledge and
strategies to new tasks. This is also true for some aspects of learners' universal or L1-
based pragmatic knowledge. L2 recipients often tend towards literal interpretation,
taking utterances at face value rather than inferring what is meant from what is said
and underusing context information. Learners frequently underuse politeness marking
in L2 even though they regularly mark their utterances for politeness in L1 (Kasper,
1981). Although highly context-sensitive in selecting pragmatic strategies in their own
language, learners may underdifferentiate such context variables as social distance and
social power in L2 (Fukushima, 1990; Tanaka, 1988).

So, the good news is that there is a lot of pragmatic information that adult learners
possess, and the bad news is that they don't always use what they know. There is thus
a clear role for pedagogic intervention here, not with the purpose of providing
learners with new information but to make them aware of what they know already and
encourage them to use their universal or transferable L1 pragmatic knowledge in L2

The most compelling evidence that instruction in pragmatics is necessary comes from
learners whose L2 proficiency is advanced and whose unsuccessful pragmatic
performance is not likely to be the result of cultural resistance or disidentification
strategies (Kasper, 1995, for discussion). In a study of a large sample of advanced ESL
learners, Bouton (1988) examined how well these students understood different types
of indirect responses, or implicature, as in the following dialog:
Sue: How was your dinner last night?
Anne: Well, the food was nicely presented.
Bouton found that in 27% of the cases, implicatures were understood differently by
native speakers (NS) and NNS. A re-test of 30 students after 4 1/2 years demonstrated
that their comprehension now showed a success rate of over 90%. But some
implicature types resisted improvement through exposure alone. These included the
Pope question (as in Is the Pope Catholic?) and indirect criticism as in the Sue & Anne
dialogue. Students' comprehension of implicature may thus profit from instruction,
and as we will see shortly, this has indeed proved to be the case.

Turning to production, candidates for pedagogic intervention can be sorted in four

groups: (1) choice of communicative acts, (2) the strategies by which an act is realized,
(3) its content, and (4) its linguistic form. Drawing on her and Beverly Hartford's data
from academic advising sessions (Bardovi-Harlig& Hartford 1990, 1993), Bardovi-Harlig
(1996) noted that NNS students tended to leave suggestions about their coursework to
their advisor and then react to them. Consequently, the NNS performed more
rejections of advisor suggestions than the NS students, who were more initiative in
making suggestions and thereby avoided rejections. Both NS and NNS regularly
offered explanations when they rejected their advisor's course suggestion, but the NS
would also suggest alternatives ('how about I take x course instead'), something the
NNS never did. For their rejections, the NNS sometimes used inappropriate content,
such as claiming the course suggested by their advisor was either too easy or too
difficult, or even evaluating their advisor's course as 'uninteresting'. Finally, even at the
end of the observation period, the NNS had not learnt how to mitigate their
suggestions and rejections appropriately. By using mitigating forms such as 'I was
thinking' or 'I have an idea... I dont' know how it would work out, but...', the NS would
cast their suggestions in tentative terms. By contrast, the NNS tended to formulate
their suggestions much more assertively, as in 'I will take language testing' or 'I've just
decided on taking the language structure' (all examples from Bardovi-Harlig, 1996,

Two things need to be emphasized in assessing the implications of Bouton's and

Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford's studies. First, the participating advanced students were
ESL learners, yet the target environment either did not provide students with the input
they needed, or they did not notice it. Secondly, the recorded differences in NS and
NNS pragmatic comprehension and production may lead to serious
miscommunication and compromise the NNS's goals. Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford
(1990) found that when students' contributions were pragmatically inappropriate, they
were less successful in obtaining their advisor's consent for taking the courses they

A further aspect of students' pragmatic competence is their awareness of what is and

is not appropriate in given contexts. Bardovi-Harlig and Drnyei (1997) reported that
Hungarian and Italian EFL learners recognized grammatically incorrect but
pragmatically appropriate utterances more readily than pragmatically inappropriate
but grammatically correct utterances, and this was true for learners of all proficiency
levels. This finding strongly suggests that without a pragmatic focus, foreign language
teaching raises students' metalinguistic awareness, but it does not contribute much to
develop their metapragmatic consciousness in L2.
Can L2 pragmatics be taught?
As we have seen, then, without some form of instruction, many aspects of pragmatic
competence do not develop sufficiently. We therefore need to know what pragmatic aspects
can be taught and which instructional approaches may be most effective. Table 1 summarizes
the data-based research on pragmatic instruction.
Table 1: Studies examining the effect of pragmatic instruction
teaching research
study proficiency languages design procedure/
goal goal
discourse post-test
House & L1 German explicit vs
markers & advanced control roleplay
Kasper 1981 FL English implicit
strategies group L2
Wildner- eclectic vs
pragmatic L1 German post-test
Bassett intermediate suggesto- roleplay
routines FL English control
1984, 1986 pedia
Billmyer high L1 Japanese +/- elicited
compliment control
1990 intermediate SL English instruction conversation
group L2
pre-test/ discourse
Olshtain& L1 Hebrew
apology advanced teachability post-test L2 completion
Cohen 1990 FL English
baseline question.
Wildner- pragmatic teachability question-
L1 English pre-test/
Bassett routines & beginning to beginning naires
SL German post-test
1994 strategies FL students roleplay
Bouton L1 mixed +/- post-test
implicature advanced choice
1994 SL English instruction control
deductive vs choice &
Kubota L1 Japanese delayed
implicature intermediate inductive vs sentence
1995 FL English post-test
zero combining
pragmatic L1 German explicit vs post-test
House 1996 advanced roleplay
fluency FL English implicit control
post-test/ roleplay
Morrow complaint & L1 mixed teachability/
intermediate delayed holistic
1996 refusal SL English explicit
post-test L2 ratings
Tateyama et pragmatic L1 English explicit vs post-test multi-
al. 1997 routines FL Japanese implicit control method

All of the 10 studies report on classroom-based research on pragmatics. I excluded

studies conducted in a lab type situation because I wanted to make sure that the
chosen approaches are ecologically valid in actual L2 classrooms.

As you can see from the second column to the left, the teaching goals in these studies
extend over a large range of pragmatic features and abilities. Some studies examine
the discourse markers and strategies by which conversationalists get in and out of
conversations, introduce, sustain, and change topics, organize turn-taking and keep
the conversation going by listener activities such as backchanneling. Many of these
conversational activities are implemented by pragmatic routines which regularly occur
in spoken discourse, yet foreign language learners may have little exposure to them. A
number of discourse markers and strategies are illustrated in the following
conversational sequence.

A telephone conversation (Sacks, 1995, vol. II, p. 201f; transcript slightly modified)
A: Hello.
B: Vera?
A: Ye:s.
B: Well you know, I had a little difficulty getting you. (1.0) First I got the wrong number, and
then I got Operator, [A: Well.] Anduhm (1.0) I wonder why.
A: Well, I wonder too. It uh just rung now about uh three ti//mes.
B: Yeah, well Operator got it for me.
A: She did.
B: Uh huh. So //uh
A: Well.
B: When I- after I got her twice, why she [A: telephoned] tried it for me. Isn't that funny?
A: Well it certainly is.
B: Must be some little cross of lines someplace hh
A: Guess so.
B: Uh huh,uh, am I taking you away from yer dinner?
A: No::. No, I haven't even started tuh get it yet.
B: Oh, you have//n't.
A: hhheh heh
B: Well I- I never am certain, I didn't know whether I'd be m too early or too late // or ri-
A: No::. No, well I guess uh with us uhm there isn't any - [B: Yeah.] p'ticular time.

Another group of studies explores whether students benefit from instruction in specific
speech acts. So far, speech acts examined are compliments, apologies, complaints, and
refusals. There is a research literature on all of these speech acts, documenting how
they are performed by native speakers of English in different social contexts. Based on
this literature, students were taught the strategies and linguistic forms by which the
speech acts are realized and how these strategies are used in different contexts. As
one example, consider the realization strategies (or 'speech act set') for apologies
(adapted from Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989):

Apologetic formula: I'm sorry, I apologize, I'm afraid

Assuming Responsibility: I haven't read your paper yet.
Account: I had to prepare my TESOL plenary.
Offer of Repair: But I'll get it done by Wednesday.
Appeaser: Believe me, you're not the only one.
Promise of forbearance: I'll do better after TESOL.
Intensifier: I'm terribly sorry, I really tried to squeeze it in.

Bringing together the ability to carry out speech acts and manage ongoing conversation,
House (1996) examined instructional effects on what she calls pragmatic fluency - the extend
to which students' conversational contributions are relevant, polite, and overall effective. And
finally, while most studies focus on aspects of production, two studies examined pragmatic
comprehension: in Bouton (1994), students were taught different types of implicatures, as in
the Sue & Anne dialogue quoted earlier, and Kubota (1995) replicated Bouton's study in an
EFL context.

Whereas most of these pragmatic features were taught to intermediate or advanced

learners, participants in Wildner-Bassett (1994) and Tateyama et al. (1997) were
beginning learners. These two studies thus address the important question of whether
pragmatics is teachable to beginners or whether there needs to be some threshold of
linguistic L2 competence first.

Wildner-Bassett's (1994) and Tateyama et al.'s studies are also the only ones in which
the target language is not English - in Wildner-Bassett's study, the L2 is German, in
Tateyama et al., it is Japanese. Note that in some studies, the target language is a
foreign language whereas in others, it is a second language. This has consequences for
the learning outcomes, as I will show a bit later.
The studies differed in their research goals. Olshtain and Cohen (1990), Wildner-Bassett
(1994) and Morrow (1996) explored whether the features under investigation were
teachable at all. These studies did not employ control groups but compared students'
test performance before and after instruction to that of NS of the target language,
referred to as 'L2 baseline' in the 'design' column in Table 1. Billmyer (1990) and
Bouton (1994) examined whether students who received instruction in complimenting
and implicature did better than controls who did not.

Yet another group explored the effectiveness of specific teaching approaches. In these
studies, two or more student groups received different types of instruction. House and
Kasper (1981), House (1996), and Tateyama et al. (1997) compared explicit with implicit
approaches. Explicit teaching involved description, explanation, and discussion of the
pragmatic feature in addition to input and practice, whereas implicit teaching included
input and practice without the metapragmatic component. Wildner-Bassett (1984,
1986) compared an eclectic approach with a modified version of suggestopedia, and
Kubota (1995) compared an inductive approach, where students had to figure out in
groups how implicatures in English work, to a teacher-directed deductive approach
and zero instruction in implicature. Information about the designs and assessment
procedures and instruments is provided in the two rightmost columns in Table 1, but
I'm not going to comment on those. Instead, let's proceed to the findings of the

First of all, the studies that examined whether the selected pragmatic features were
teachable found this indeed to be the case, and comparisons of instructed students
with uninstructed controls reported an advantage for the instructed learners. Secondly,
the studies comparing the relative effect of explicit and implicit instruction found that
students' pragmatic abilities improved regardless of the adopted approach, but the
explicitly taught students did better than the implicit groups. Thirdly, with respect to
other teaching approaches, Wildner-Bassett (1984, 1986) found that both the
eclectively taught students and the suggestopedic group improved their use of
conversational routines considerably, however the eclectic group outperformed the
suggestopedic group. Kubota (1995) reported an advantage for students receiving
either deductive or inductive instruction over the uninstructed group, with a superior
effect for the inductive approach, this initial difference had evaporated by the time a
delayed post-test was administered.
Wildner-Bassett (1994) and Tateyama et al. (1997) demonstrated that pragmatic
routines are teachable to beginning foreign language learners. This finding is
important in terms of curriculum and syllabus design because it dispels the myth that
pragmatics can only be taught after students have developed a solid foundation in L2
grammar and vocabulary. As we know from uninstructed first and second language
acquisition research, most language development is function-driven - i.e., the need to
understand and express messages propels the learning of linguistic form. Just as in
uninstructed acquisition, students can start out by learning pragmatic routines which
they cannot yet analyze but which help them cope with recurrent, standardized
communicative events right from the beginning.

There is little evidence for aspects of L2 pragmatics that resist development through
teaching, but the few documented cases are instructive. One such study is Kubota's
replication of Bouton's (1994) research on the teaching of implicature. Kubota's
Japanese EFL learners were able to understand the exact implicatures that were
repeated from the training materials but were unable to generalize inferencing
strategies to new instances of implicature. However, these students' English proficiency
was much less advanced than that of the learners in Bouton's studies, and with more
time, occasion for practice, and increased L2 input, the students' success rate might
have improved.

The other study that suggests limitations to teachability in L2 pragmatics is House's

(1996) investigation on improving the pragmatic fluency of advanced German EFL
students. All but one feature of pragmatic fluency gained from consciousness raising
and conversational practice; the resistent aspect was to provide appropriate rejoinders,
or second pair parts, to an interlocutor's preceding contribution, as in this exchange:

NS: Oh I tell you what we go shopping together and buy all the things [we need]
NNS: [Of course] of course
NS: Okay then and you try and call Anja and ask her if she knows somebody who owns a grill
NNS: Yes of course (House, 1996, p. 242)

More appropriate acceptances of the NS' suggestions would have been ' ok/good
idea/let's do it that way then' or the like. Why would inappropriate rejoinders persist in
these advanced learners' discourse despite instruction? A plausible explanation is
Bialystok's (e.g., 1993) notion of control of processing: fluent and appropriate
conversational responses require high degrees of processing control in utterance
comprehension and production, and such complex skills may be very hard to develop
through the few occasions for practice that foreign language classroom learning

But despite those few limitations, the research supports the view that pragmatic ability
can indeed be systematically developed through planful classroom activities. In order
to address the next question -

How can language instruction help develop pragmatic competence?

- we need to consider for a moment what opportunities for pragmatic learning are offered by
traditional forms of language teaching.
L2 classrooms as impoverished learning environments
It is a well-documented fact that in teacher-fronted teaching, the person doing most of the
talking is the teacher (e.g., Chaudron, 1988, for various analyses of teacher talk). This is to the
detriment of students' speaking opportunities, but it could be argued that through the sheer
quantity of teacher talk, students are provided with the input they need for pragmatic
development. However, studies show that compared to conversation outside instructional
settings, teacher-fronted classroom discourse displays

a more narrow range of speech acts (Long, Adams, McLean, &Castaos, 1976)
a lack of politeness marking (Lrscher& Schulze, 1988)
shorter and less complex openings and closings (Lrscher, 1986; Kasper, 1989)
monopolization of discourse organization and management by the teacher (Lrscher,
1986; Ellis, 1990), and consequently,
a limited range of discourse markers (Kasper, 1989).

The reason for such differences is not that classroom discourse is 'artificial'. Classroom
discourse is just as authentic as any other kind of discourse. Rather, classroom interaction is
an institutional activity in which participants' roles are asymmetrically distributed (Nunan,
1989), and the social relationships in this unequal power encounter are reflected and re-
affirmed at the level of discourse. Teacher's and students' rights and obligations, and the
activities associated with them, are epitomized in the basic interactional pattern of traditional
teacher-fronted teaching - the (in)famous pedagogical exchange of elicitation (by the teacher)
- response (by a student) - feedback (by the teacher) (cf. discussion in Chaudron, 1988, p. 37).
The classic scenario is consistent with a knowledge-transmission model of teaching, according
to which the teacher imparts new information to students, helps them process such information
and controls whether the new information has become part of students' knowledge. Such
functions can be implemented through a very limited range of communicative acts.

If we map the communicative actions in classic language classroom discourse against

the pragmatic competence that nonnative speakers need to communicate in the world
outside, it becomes immediately obvious that the language classroom in its classical
format does not offer students what they need - not in terms of teacher's input, nor in
terms of students' productive language use. In a comparison of teacher-fronted
teaching and small group work, Long et al. (1976) demonstrated over 20 years ago
that student participation increases dramatically in student-centered activities.
Importantly, student-centered activities do more than just extend students' speaking
time: they also give them opportunities to practice conversational management,
perform a larger range of communicative acts, and interact with other participants in
completing a task.

But despite its unique structure, even teacher-fronted classroom discourse offers some
opportunities for pragmatic learning. One important learning resource is classroom
management, because in this activity language does not function as an object for
analysis and practice but as a means for communication. If classroom management is
performed in the students' L1, they miss a valuable opportunity for experiencing the L2
as a genuine means of communication. In a recent call for a role of students' native
language in ESL teaching, Auerbach (1993) proposed that classroom management is
one of the activities that could be carried out in students' L1 rather than the L2.
Auerbach argues that using minority students' native language for classroom
management is one way of validating the students' ethnolinguistic identity in an ESL
classroom. In my view, Auerbach's call against English Only classrooms in ESL settings
for immigrant minorities is valid and necessary, but I want to caution against extending
it to EFL situations or any other foreign language classrooms, for that matter. For
students of English in Continental Europe or Asia, or students of Japanese and French
in the US, the FL classroom may be the only regular opportunity for using the FL for
communication. These opportunities should not be curtailed, and certainly not when it
comes to routinized activities such as classroom management discourse. In a recent
study of his learning of Japanese as a Foreign Language, Cohen (1997) reports:

"Classroom talk was focused primarily on completing a series of planned

transactions, such as making introductions, buying stamps or postcards at a post
office, buying clothes in a department store, telling the doctor about our illness,
and the like. There was little non-transactional social conversation in class, other
than asides in English. In addition, spoken language tended to be focused on
structures that we were to learn (...). Toward the end of the second month, we
would start the class off with teacher-directed questions and answers, usually
inquiring about what we had done the previous day or weekend, or what we
intended to do - usually with the purpose of practicing some structure or other."

Because little genuinly communicative interchange was conducted in Japanese, students had
not much exposure to authentic input in this classroom.
From the studies reviewed earlier and from other theory and research of SL learning,
we can distill a number of activities that are useful for pragmatic development. Such
activities can be classified into two main types: activities aiming at raising students'
pragmatic awareness, and activities offering opportunities for communicative practice.


Through awareness-raising activities, students acquire sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic

information - for instance, what function complimenting has in mainstream American culture,
what appropriate topics for complimenting are, and by what linguistic formulae compliments
are given and received. Students can observe particular pragmatic features in various sources
of oral or written 'data', ranging from native speaker 'classroom guests' (Bardovi-Harlig, et al.,
1991) to videos of authentic interaction, feature films (Rose, 1997), and other fictional and
non-fictional written and audiovisual sources.
Observation tasks
Especially in a second language context, students can be given a variety of observation
assignments outside the classroom. Such observation tasks can focus on sociopragmatic or
pragmalinguistic features.

A sociopragmatic task could be to observe under what conditions native speakers of

American English express gratitude - when, for what kinds of goods or services, and to
whom (cf. Eisenstein &Bodman, 1993). Depending on the student population and
available time, such observations may be open or structured. Open observations leave
it to the students to detect what the important context factors may be. For structured
observations, students are provided with an observation sheet which specifies the
categories to look out for - for instance, speaker's and hearer's status and familiarity,
the cost of the good or service to the giver, and the degree to which the giver is
obliged to provide the good or service. A useful model for such an observation sheet
is the one proposed by Rose (1994) for requests.

A pragmalinguistic task focuses on the strategies and linguistic means by which

thanking is accomplished - what formulae are used, and what additional means of
expressing appreciation are employed, such as expressing pleasure about the giver's
thoughtfulness or the received gift, asking questions about it, and so forth. Finally, by
examining in which contexts the various ways of expressing gratitude are used,
sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic aspects are combined. By focusing students'
attention on relevant features of the input, such observation tasks help students make
connections between linguistic forms, pragmatic functions, their occurrence in different
social contexts, and their cultural meanings. Students are thus guided to notice the
information they need in order to develop their pragmatic competence in L2 (Schmidt,
1993). The observations made outside the classroom will be reported back to class,
compared with those of other students, and perhaps commented and explained by
the teacher. These discussion can take on any kind of small group of whole class

Whether gathered through out-of-class observation or brought into the classroom

through audiovisual media, authentic native speaker input is indispensible for
pragmatic learning. This is not because students should imitate native speakers' action
patterns but in order to build their own pragmatic knowledge on the right kind of
input. Comparisons of textbook dialogues and authentic discourse show that there is
often a mismatch between the two. For instance, Bardovi-Harlig, et al. (1991) examined
conversational closings in 20 textbooks for American English and found that few of
them represented closing phases accurately. Myers-Scotton and Bernstein (1988)
discovered similar discrepancies between the representation of many other
conversational features in authentic discourse and textbook dialogues. The reason for
such inaccurate textbook representations is that native speakers are only partially
aware of their pragmatic competence (the same is true of their language competence
generally). As Wolfson (1989) noted, most of native speakers' pragmatic knowledge is
tacit, or implicit knowledge: it underlies their communicative action, but they cannot
describe it. Even the most proficient conversationalist has little conscious awareness
about turn-taking procedures and politeness marking. Miscommunication or
pragmatic failure is often vaguely diagnosed as 'impolite' behavior on the part of the
other person, whereas the specific source of the irritation remains unclear. Because
native speaker intuition is a notoriously unreliable source of information about the
communicative practices of their own community, it is vital that teaching materials on
L2 pragmatics are research-based (Myers-Scotton& Bernstein, 1988; Wolfson, 1989;
Olshtain& Cohen, 1991; Bardovi-Harlig, et al., 1991).

Authentic L2 input is essential for pragmatic learning, but it does not secure successful
pragmatic development. When students' observe L2 communicative practices, their
minds don't simply record what they hear and see like a videocamera does. Students'
experiences are interpretive rather than just registering. Cognitive psychology (e.g.,
Sanford &Garrod, 1981) as well as radical constructivism (e.g., von Glaserfeld, 1995)
emphasize the importance of prior knowledge for comprehension and learning. In our
attempt to understand the practices of an unfamiliar community, we tend to view such
practices through the lenses of our own customs. We tend to classify experiences into
'familiar' and thus not requiring further reflection or analysis, and 'unfamiliar', i.e.,
peculiar, enigmatic, inviting explanation, and attracting evaluation. Mller (1981)
referred to this interpretive strategy as cultural isomorphism. As a strategy for the
acquisition of everyday knowledge, cultural isomorphism is a combination of
assimilation and spot-the-difference. L2 practices are subjected to the same social
evaluations as the apparently equivalent L1 practices. The resulting perspective is that
of a tourist who sorts experiences in the visited country into 'just like home' and
'strange'. As Elbeshausen and Wagner (1985) comment, "Tourism is not educational
but it dramatically increases our repertoire of anecdotes" (p. 49), and this is because
through the assimilative and contrastive strategy of isomorphism, stereotypical
evaluations of L2 practices emerge. Language teaching therefore has the important
task to help students situate L2 communicative practices in their sociocultural context
and appreciate their meanings and functions within the L2 community. The research
literature on cross-cultural pragmatics documents the rich intracultural variation of
communicative action patterns and thus offers compelling counter-evidence against
unhelpful and often mutual stereotypes. For example, a stereotype held by some
Japanese learners of English is that Americans have a very direct style of
communication (Tanaka, 1988; Robinson, 1992); however, research on requests (Blum-
Kulka& House, 1989; Blum-Kulka, 1991) and refusals (Beebe, Takahashi, &Uliss-Weltz,,
1990; Beebe & Cummings, 1996) provides evidence to the contrary.

Practicing L2 pragmatic abilities

Turning to students options for practicing their L2 pragmatic abilities, such practice requires
student-centered interaction. In their books on tasks for language learning, Nunan (1989) and
Crookes and Gass (1993a, b) explain the rationale underlying a task-based approach from the
perspectives of second language acquisition and pedagogy. Most small group interaction
requires that students take alternating discourse roles as speaker and hearer, yet different types
of task may engage students in different speech events and communicative actions. It is
therefore important to identify very specifically which pragmatic abilities are called upon by
different tasks. A useful distinction can be made between referential and interpersonal
communication tasks. In referential communication tasks (Yule, in press), students have to
refer to concepts for which they lack necessary L2 words. Such tasks expand students'
vocabulary and develop their strategic competence. Interpersonal communication tasks are
more concerned with participants' social relationships and include such communicative acts as
opening and closing conversations, expressing emotive responses as in thanking and
apologizing, or influencing the other person's course of action as in requesting, suggesting,
inviting, and offering. Activities such as roleplay, simulation, and drama engage students in
different social roles and speech events. Such activities provide opportunities to practice the
wide range of pragmatic and sociolinguistic abilities (Crookall& Saunders, 1989; Crookall&
Oxford, 1990; Olshtain&Cohen, 1991) that students need in interpersonal encounters outside
the classroom.
Reconsidering pragmatic ability as a teaching goal
The purpose of the proposed learning activities is to help students become more effective and
successful communicators in L2. But what exactly does 'effective' and 'successful' mean? In
conclusion of this paper, I will briefly re-examine the goals that instruction in pragmatics
should aim for.

First, it may be useful to remind ourselves that NS are no ideal communicators. As

Coupland, Wiemann, and Giles, (1991, p. 3) comment, "language use and
communication are (...) pervasively and even intrinsically flawed, partial, and
problematic". And yet, by and large NS communication succeeds more than it fails -
not because it is perfect but because it is good enough for the purpose at hand. It
would be unreasonable and unrealistic to place higher demands on L2 learners'
communicative abilities than on those of NS. Therefore, there is a continued need for
studies examining how NS and NNS communicate effectively in different contexts.

Secondly, there often appears to be an implicit understanding that effective and

successful NNSs have the same or very similar pragmatic ability as NS. On this view,
pragmatic competence as a learning objective should be based on a NS model.
However, as Siegal (1996) points out, "Second language learners do not merely model
native speakers with a desire to emulate, but rather actively create both a new
interlanguage and an accompanying identity in the learning process" (1996, p. 362ff)
Second language learners' desire for convergence with NS pragmatics or divergence
from NS practices is shaped by learners' views of themselves, their social position in
the target community and in different contexts within the wider L2 environment, and
by their experience with NS in various encounters.

Thirdly, members of the target community may perceive NNS's total convergence to
L2 pragmatics as intrusive and inconsistent with the NNS's role as outsider to the L2
community, whereas they may appreciate some measure of divergence as a disclaimer
to membership. Giles, Coupland, and Coupland (1991) documented that in many
ethnolinguistic contact situations, successful communication is a matter of optimal
rather than total convergence. Optimal convergence is a dynamic, negotiable
construct that defies hard-and-fast definition. It refers to pragmatic and sociolinguistic
choices which are consistent with participants' subjectivities and social claims, and
recognizes that such claims may be in conflict between participants.

Fourthly, as Peirce (1995) noted, language classrooms provide an ideal arena for
exploring the relationship between learners' subjectivity and L2 use. Classrooms afford
second language learners the opportunity to reflect on their communicative
encounters and to experiment with different pragmatic options. For foreign language
learners, the classroom may be the only available environment where they can try out
what using the L2 feels like, and how more or less comfortable they are with different
aspects of L2 pragmatics. The sheltered environment of the L2 classroom will thus
prepare and support learners to communicate effectively in L2. But more than that, by
encouraging students to explore and reflect their experiences, observations, and
interpretations of L2 communicative practices and their own stances towards them, L2
teaching will expand its role from that of language instruction to that of language

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