Pragmatics: Lesson 2
Language and Culture
Language and Culture
We have seen that one important issue of pragmatics for second language learners is that they must be aware of the pragmatic expressions and interpretations (and reactions to the expressions) that differ between their own native language and the second language. These are referred to as cross-cultural and/or cross-linguistic difficulties.
The most typical assumption by second language learners is that they can just transfer how they say and understand language functions from their native language to the target language. This assumption often causes difficulties in the communication in the L2. Although what the learner says may be grammatically correct, it may not be pragmatically acceptable.
Relevance of cross-cultural differences for learners.
Cross-cultural norms guide the linguistic choices we make in speaking and interpreting messages. Recall the video of the learner who asked to borrow his friend’s car. What specific linguistic choices did he make when he said his request (e.g., level of directness, ways to make the request, intonation)?
1. The request is framed in terms of what the speaker needs. Only at the end is the request made in terms of what the listener should do.
2. The request at the end is too direct (order + please).
So if the learners know vocabulary and grammar, but still cannot communicate their intentions appropriately, what can the teacher do to help in this area? The question was posed to the students, who expressed the following ideas:
“Explain the cultural frame … [In the Spanish culture] you really need to be more polite and put first the hearer and not you …
Invite a native speaker, if you can, to your class … have the students interact with that person.”
“They need to have role play games with the students where one person pretends to be the native speaker. And the other one is the language learner who has just come to the country. [Practice] with the formal/informal forms: You go to a teacher or you go buy some meat at the butcher and how do you ask for that?”
“Show a kind of authentic context. [Watch videos of] authentic interactions between native speakers, and let the learners see what is happening in their interactions. Then practice some role plays.”
These are all excellent ideas. In addition, we should try to practice language in functions (to accomplish goals), using:
• Contextualized language.
• An emphasis on communication needs, goals, desires.
• “Chunks of language,” or set ways of saying things (e.g., learner hears “I figured it out” and later says “We can figured it out” without analyzing that the verb is in the past tense).
Second Language Sociocultural Norms
How can teachers make learners aware of second language sociocultural norms without simply offering lectures or texts on them?
Consider the following example of a sociocultural norm in American English:
Situation: Your friend Mary looks distressed and says to you: “Oh, I have an awful headache and I have an interview today.”
Your first response is to say:
a. It must be allergies.
b. I’m sorry to hear that.
c. Don’t feel badly, lots of people do.
d. What bad luck.
Discussion of a sociocultural norm in American English.
In summary, then, we can say the following about sociocultural norms:
• They are the rules that a society uses to guide appropriate behavior in the community.
• They can differ widely between cultures.
• They can lead to great misunderstandings by speakers of different cultures.
• They are difficult to change.
• They are intricately tied to pragmatics.
[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
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How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.