FC Pragmatics: Lesson 4

Pragmatics: Lesson 4


Teachability of Pragmatics

I wanted to put this fourth lesson in on proficiency levels because my students in my applied linguistics classes always ask, “Isn’t pragmatics only for students who are at the advanced levels of proficiency?” So here we look at how teachable or how learnable pragmatics is, what can be expected more or less from students of different levels, and how their production can be evaluated.
A question that often arises is when in the curriculum pragmatics should be taught. Can and should we teach pragmatics to beginning students, or should we wait until the students have already gained some mastery of the vocabulary and grammar? Can learners do these language functions and understand implicatures (things implied) at a fairly low level of proficiency?


Pragmatics teachability issues are discussed.
Duration: 01:44

Learners can be quite adept at inferring meanings, but expressing implicatures effectively usually requires more linguistic skill in the target language. The two processes of inference and implicature are quite different.

Pragmatics and Language Proficiency Levels
Here we will see two examples of learners of different proficiency levels as they compare advantages and disadvantages of living in a dorm versus an apartment. This is a fairly difficult question because the learners are giving an opinion and having to make a comparison between two entities. The videos are part of a larger corpus of learner videos, from Dr. Koike’s Spanish Proficiency Training website (Learner 22, group 1, Question G).

A Beginning Language Learner

The following video illustrates a lower-level student as she compares advantages and disadvantages of living in a dorm versus an apartment.


Beginning language learner answers the question.
Duration: 01:03

A More Advanced Language Learner
A higher-level student answers the same question of comparing advantages and disadvantages of living in a dorm versus an apartment.


Intermediate-high language learner answers the question.
Duration: 02:50

Think about the main differences in the opinions given by the two learners. Was the lower level learner able to communicate her basic ideas, or was she fairly incapable of doing so?


An analysis of the responses from the different-level language learners.
Duration: 02:16

For more information on characteristics of different proficiency levels for speaking a foreign language, refer to The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign

Languages Proficiency Guidelines.


Evaluation of Language Production
Think about the following questions:
• Why are the following language functions — giving suggestions, comparing advantages and disadvantages, and narrating in the past — reserved for advanced learners?
• Does this mean that beginning learners could not do them at all?
• If you believe they could, what would you expect of their performance?
In response to the questions, consider the following:
1. Suggesting requires more implicatures and ways to soften the force of what is said.
2. Formulae are used but must be carefully chosen for context and according to the feedback received from the interlocutor. Also, these more complex speech acts often develop over several turns.
3. Early learners can do these more advanced speech acts but will make more errors, use less softening and other pragmatic resources, and usually use more basic formulae (e.g., Do this please).
Therefore, the instructor should not expect that learners at lower levels cannot communicate these advanced acts, but they should expect less (more basic communication) by the less proficient speakers.

Grading Language Production

Recall the video of the learner who had to ask to borrow Ana’s car and evaluate his production. He was a fourth-year Spanish student. Try to give him a score from 1 (as the highest grade) to 5 for each of the following components:
• Accuracy of linguistic realization (Grammar and Vocabulary)
• Appropriacy of speech act; form (an appropriate speech act selected for use, as per native speaker linguistic and sociocultural norms)
• Content (what was said; e.g., was an explanation added, was the answer elaborated, did the message fit the task)
Our participating language teachers revealed that they believed the learner earned about a 3 in accuracy and a 2 in appropriateness and content. Their grade was based on a general comparison of the student against what they would expect from other students of fourth-year language classes. However, the student was awarded a 3 in all categories based on the instructor’s knowledge of how much improvement had been made since the beginning of the course.
One objective could be to have the learners assess their own recorded production, in order to:
1. encourage self-monitoring of their own expression;
2. gain an awareness of their performance in online production; and
3. become aware of appropriateness of their communication.
Finally, reflect on the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century and whether or not they reflect pragmatics at all. Recall that the Standards include:
• Communication: real life
• Culture: understanding
• Connections: with other subject areas
• Comparisons: compare and contrast
• Communities: global society
Do pragmatics fit with any of these?

Instructor’s Final Comments

I hope this module has piqued your interest in pragmatics, a field that is rapidly expanding in the linguistics area, especially with regard to its applications to second language learning and teaching. Pragmatics information is vital to successful communication. It is fairly easy to see how pragmatics is quite relevant for our purposes in language teaching, and it is hoped that the recent research on pragmatics in different languages will greatly inform our future teaching practices. Thank you for your interest in pragmatics! May the (illocutionary) force be with you!



[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.