FC Pragmatics Lesson 1

Pragmatics Lesson 1



Hi, my name is Dale Koike. I’m a professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department of the University of Texas at Austin. My interests in research are in pragmatics and discourse analysis and the interface that these have in second language acquisition. I teach Spanish Applied Linguistics to teachers, which is a teacher training course at the undergraduate level and courses in Spanish pragmatics and applied linguistics and acquisition at the graduate level.
First of all, why is it important to have a module on pragmatics for these teacher training modules. First, pragmatics is, basically and broadly speaking, a representation of language in use. By that definition, it is central to the objectives of foreign language teachers and students who are, for the most part, trying to put language into use to communicate their intentions and to understand the intentions of others in that target language. It is also important to know how to react to those intentions and expressions. Pragmatics, then, is at the core of putting all the linguistic elements together to communicate and to understand. Secondly, pragmatics encompasses language not only at the linguistic level but also at the social and cultural levels. I believe that if teachers approach language learning via pragmatics, they can transmit a broader view of language to their students. It also creates a focus on communication instead of only discrete items alone. And third, pragmatics reflects quite closely an emphasis on the language functions in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century that are established as general benchmarks that we want our foreign language students in this country to reach. In this module I am just giving a specific shape to these language areas of pragmatics, which are embedded in our general goals.
A little bit about how I organized this module. In the first unit, I wanted to begin by defining what pragmatics is and presenting some of the concepts of pragmatics that are used in the modules. Other terms are seen in the glossary in different parts of the module. In the second lesson on pragmatics and second language learning, we move to problems of cross-linguistic and cross-cultural communication, which is a big issue that learners face when learning another language. In the third lesson, we go to the role of pragmatics in the second language classroom, and what teachers and learners can do to foster an awareness and use of pragmatics in the second language. We move in the fourth lesson to what can be expected from learners at various proficiency levels and what we might think about when assessing learners’ pragmatic production. And finally, in the Workshop unit of “Putting It into Practice,” we see what the student teachers in the class that was videotaped came up with when they were given various assignments in pragmatics.



1 Terms and Scope
Terms most relevant to discussing pragmatics.
2 Cross-cultural Communication
Pragmatics is relevant to L2 learning for issues of cross-cultural communication, as guided by norms of the L2 society.
3 Pragmatics in the L2 Classroom
Ways that pragmatics can be used in the language classroom.
4 Pragmatics and Proficiency Levels
Connecting pragmatic production to learner proficiency levels.

What is Pragmatics?

A definition of pragmatics and its scope for this module are discussed.
Duration: 01:30

Pragmatics addresses expression at the level of utterances, which can range from one word (e.g., “Oh!” as a reaction of dismay or pleasant surprise) to a lengthy discourse (e.g., a heated political debate). What is important is the communicative function the utterance plays in interaction with others, so pragmatics operates at the level of meaning (and how others understand those meanings).
It is possible that a learner knows vocabulary and grammar of the target language, but is unable to communicate intentions at the moment of speaking. It is also possible that, as a listener, the learner understands the speaker’s intentions but cannot find the most appropriate way to respond to what has just been said.
Example of a Pragmatic Expression
Imagine the following situation:
You have an important dinner to attend tonight. You need to borrow your friend Ana’s car because you have wrecked yours. The last time you borrowed it, you put a small dent in it. What do you say to her to get the car?
An intermediate-level learner was asked without prior preparation what he would say if he had to make this request to Ana, as shown in the video. As you watch the video below, pay attention to pragmatic features, such as
• the speaker’s main intention in expressing these utterances,
• the level of directness, and
• the strategies used by the speaker to convey his message.


An intermediate-level learner attempts to express a request speech act.
Duration: 01:08

What did you notice about the way this learner spoke to Ana about her car?


The class discusses the example.
Duration: 01:05

We see that pragmatic expressions can be presented in a variety of forms, and for second language learners, appropriateness is often cast aside simply to get the message across.

Sociocultural Norms

Sociocultural norms, such as how to express politeness in a given context, guide pragmatic expression. For example, if someone asked you why we should say “Please” after making a request, what would you say? Your answer would be based on the sociocultural rules you are familiar with in Western societies and cultures.
Role plays are an effective way to illustrate sociocultural norms. In the video below, we see two students who were asked to respond to the following scenario in which one student was Person A, and the other was B. Each student saw only his/her part in the hypothetical scenario, and both were given a few minutes to plan what they would say before beginning.

Role Play

Person A: You have just invited your friend to a special dinner given by your company and you want to say very gently that he/she must act more formally than normal (not use so much foul language).
Person B: Your dear friend is somewhat of a “stuffed shirt” who always worries about others’ opinions. You want to go to this dinner and make him/her relax and adopt a more colorful and casual outlook on life.


A role play to illustrate sociocultural norms.
Duration: 02:15

What problems of communication did you observe in the interaction between the two students?


This was a role play task that usually yields some interesting results, especially if the learners are from different cultural backgrounds. So here I happened to pick an American guy TJ, to my left and a mainland Chinese woman Yue, to my right, for the sake of sheer convenience. The problem, however, was mainly that there were words in the instructions like “stuffed shirt” and “colorful language.” Yue did not seem to understand these terms nor the whole idea of role playing, at least at first. It may also have been the case that such a situation would never be mentioned in the Chinese culture. When Han took over she sort of skirted the issue as well, but the point was to create a face-threatening act here and to see how the two cultures would handle it. As it turned out, Han made it a sort of “in your face” response, sort of like “Take me as I am,” while TJ sort of backed off as if to say, “So be it.” So was the speech act as conceived successful? Yes, I think so. By negotiating how far they could take this without insulting each other, we see some lines drawn, and see how the two cultures seem to have different lines.


What kinds of sociocultural norms do you think might have been operating in the role play you just viewed?


A discussion on norms, politeness, and appropriateness.
Duration: 01:24

Speech Acts

One important area of pragmatics is that of speech acts, which are communicative acts that convey an intended language function. Speech acts include functions such as requests, apologies, suggestions, commands, offers, and appropriate responses to those acts. Of course, speakers of these acts are not truly successful until the intended meaning they convey are understood by listeners.

Identification of intended speech acts.
Duration: 00:41

Can you identify each of the following speech acts intends to convey: a request, an apology, a suggestion, a command, an offer, a rebuke, or an invitation?

Speaker / Listener Speech Act

mother to daughter “Your room is a mess.”
incoming traveler to hotel clerk “Can I have a room on the top floor?”
one student to another “You can use my eraser. Yours is almost gone.”
student 1 to student 2, just after 1 tells 2 she failed the exam “Do you want to study together for the next test?”
student 2 to student 1, just after 1 tells 2 she failed the exam “Do you want to study together for the next test?”
a young woman to her boyfriend “You know, they have a sale on diamond rings at the mall this weekend.”
Speech acts occur in everyday talk in every society, with various ranges of explicitness. For second language learners, it is important to know which speech acts are different in the first and target language, how they are different, and what is not appropriate to say.


Face-Threatening Acts

People in all cultures have an awareness of self-image, or “face”, as they communicate. Protecting face is important for communicating and behaving successfully with others, even though it may not be accomplished consciously by talk participants. A “face-threatening act” (FTA) is one that would make someone possibly lose face, or damage it in some way.

Defining face-threatening acts.
Duration: 01:07


FTAs, which occur regularly in everyday interaction, are often softened by means of politeness. Politeness can be expressed through “positive politeness” (e.g., “please”, to try to make the other person like you) or “negative politeness” (e.g., “I know this is a terrible imposition”, to try to give the other person some space and not impose).
Of the following three choices that could occur when a guest came to your home to visit, which would you believe would be most likely to cause a threat to your face or that of your guest?
a. Can I have a glass of water?
b. Could you take your feet off my table?
c. Make yourself at home.


The class discusses the example of FTA.
Duration: 00:39



[Module Instructor Dale Koike]. 2010. [Pragamtics]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu

The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.

How ever a no obligation  exam is available at the end of this module.