Pragmatics The Ability Of Language English Language Essay

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Introduction

Studying pragmatics is concerned with exploring the ability of language users to use proper utterances with regard to the contexts in which they are used. Stalnaker (1972, p. 383) believes that pragmatics is "the study of linguistic acts and the contexts in which they are performed". The teaching of pragmatics, therefore, aims at facilitating "the learners' sense of being able to find socially appropriate language for the situations that they encounter" (Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003). According to Bardovi-Harlig (2001) and Kasper (1997), L2 learners display a noticeably different L2 pragmatic system than the native speakers of the L2, both in production and comprehension and there are evidences that verify this is true even among advanced L2 learners.

A number of studies (Boxer & Pickering, 1995; Bouton, 1996; Kasper 1997; Bardovi-Harlig, 2001) have shown that EFL learners with high proficiency in grammar are not necessarily competent in pragmatic aspects of the FL. In other words, grammatically advanced learners may not know how to use appropriate language in different situations and deviate from pragmatic norms of the target-language. One can find examples of pragmatic failure regarding L2 learners when they are involved in the communication acts. They may directly translate speech acts from their mother tongues into the FL when they are trying to get the intended meaning across. Unlike grammatical errors, Pragmatic failures are often neglected by the teacher and sometimes are ascribed to some other cause, such as insolence.

Kasper (1997) and Bardovi-Harlig (2001) maintain that FL learners differ from native-speakers to a large extent in their understanding of the speech acts and producing them. In this sense, they advocate the need for instructional attempts for teaching pragmatics in both second and foreign language classrooms. On the basis of this claim, research on instructed pragmatics abounded in the last decade (see, for example, Kasper, 2001; Kasper and Rose, 2002; Martinez-Flor et al., 2003; Rose and Kasper, 2001). A number of empirical studies has confirmed the positive effects of teaching various pragmatic features, such as discourse strategies, pragmatic routines, conversational implicature, politeness in requests, interactional norms, and various speech acts (e.g. Billmyer, 1990; Olshtain and Cohen, 1990; Bouton, 1994; Lyster, 1994; Wildner-Bassett, 1994; Kubota, 1995; Morrow, 1995; WishnoV, 2000; Kondo, 2001, 2004; Liddicoat and Crozet, 2001; Rose and Ng, 2001; Safont, 2003, 2004, 2005; Salazar, 2003; Trosborg, 2003; Eslami-Rasekh et al., 2004). The explicit treatment in such investigations has offered metapragmatic information by describing, explaining and discussing a target linguistic form, in a comparison with a no instruction or with native-speaker base-line data. Some other studies have examined the influences of educational approaches on pragmatic enhancement, usually in a comparison between explicit and implicit instruction (House and Kasper, 1981b; House, 1996; Tateyama et al., 1997; Pearson, 2001; Takahashi, 2001). Most of these studies have suggested that the explicit instruction showed better results than the implicit one.

However, Norris and Ortega (2000) pointed out that the interpretation of the cumulative findings for explicit/implicit instructional treatments should be tempered by several methodological observations. They claimed testing of learning outcomes which usually favored explicit treatments by asking learners to engage in explicit memory tasks and/or in discrete, decontextualized L2 use has appeared that the explicit treatments are typically more intense and varied than the implicit ones, and implicit treatments may require longer-post intervention observation periods. Norris and Ortega's study takes the methodological issues into consideration, more specifically, the ones regarding outcome measures aiming at providing further evidence of how instructed L2 learners may be helped regarding their developing L2 pragmatic ability.

Several studies have analyzed cross-culturally the ways that learners understand and produce speech acts in L2 English, comparing them to their first languages (e.g., Koike, 1989, 1995 & LePair, 1996). According to Kasper (2001) while there are many observational studies that document what learners produce without any particular intervention by the instructor, there are relatively few studies on the effect of teacher intervention in the acquisition of L2 pragmatic information.

Koike and Pearon (2005) claimed that creating a conscious awareness in learners of English of target language functions, or speech acts, and how they can vary them in building conversational alignment can be accomplished without detailed explanations due to the relative similarity of many of the speech acts among languages and as a result what requires more attention are ways in which native speakers of English differ from those of other languages in the realizations of those functions, and differences in sociocultural norms that guide the way of speaking.

The other important point in learning is the matters of focus on forms and focus on form which according to Long (1991), focus on forms is teaching methodologies aiming to help learners gather individual language items and focus on form which refers to a meaning-focused activity in which attention to form is implicitly accomplished. Long states that ''focus on form overtly draws students' attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning or communication'' (pp. 45-46). Also, Leowen (2005) and Alcon (2007) used incidental focus on form in which communicative tasks are designed to elicit language use on the part of the learner without any specific attention to form as a basis for individualized test items and results showed that it was beneficial.

In addition, having mentioned that noticing a given form is the key to beginning the cognitive processes that lead to L2 acquisition, Leow's (2000) research showed it is not easy, however, to determine the form of the input in the classroom that most effectively aids noticing by the learners; i.e., whether it should be explicit, so that learners deduce the information from explanations and rules, or implicit, by which learners induce it by observation, intuition, and analogy.

Following Schmidt (1993), in which the ''noticing'' and ''focus on form'' concepts are discussed in relation to processing pragmatic input, this study questions whether instructors can explicitly help learners to focus on pragmatic form through explanation, lists, and rules, or whether learners learn pragmatics more effectively through simple observation and experience with the target language and subconsciously. And also this study questions whether instructors can help learners to focus on pragmatic form through explicit or implicit feedback that in this regard, Tolli and Schmidt's (2008) study examined feedback and concluded that in overall it influences on self-efficacy and goal revision. Also, in previous studies (e.g., Takahashi, 2001 and Tateyama, 2001), it isn't clear that to what extent, this knowledge is retained over time; something that this study tries to deal with. And since most of research studies were on other types of speech acts with Persian EFL learners, this study examines suggestion with Persian EFL learners.

1.2. Statement of the Problem

One of the ESL pedagogical problems deals with the fact that students even at high levels of proficiency when engaged in discourse cannot really overcome the problems of pragmatics. This inability arises from the lack of such points in the educational materials. Pragmatics is an indispensible component of language. To use another language appropriately demands knowledge of the speech acts patterns and value system of the society in which the language is spoken. According to Seelye (1984), knowledge of the linguistic structure alone does not carry with it any specific insight into the political, social, religious or economic system of the target culture.

People are trying to get along with others and to communicate effectively, but they have difficulties because they cannot recognize cultural differences (Brislin, 1993). In most cases such differences result in misunderstandings, and there are cases that the native speaker feels to be insulted by the FL learner, while actually there is no such intention. Jiang (2006) maintains that, "the unsatisfactory results of ESL learners' ability to perform speech acts more generally have led researchers to consider what learners have actually been taught in classrooms and textbooks". The connection between the actual linguistic realization of certain speech acts and their inclusion in ESL textbooks has been the subject of a number of studies (Pearson, 1986; Scotton & Bernsten, 1988; Mir, 1992; Boxer & Pickering, 1995; Boutton, 1996 to name but a few).

Speech act research continues to show that using speech acts is a complex process. This complexity, however, "has not always been recognized in the teaching of speech acts or functions" (Koester, 2002, p. 168). According to McCarthy (1998), textbooks typically try to make real language simple to use and simplify complexity by providing a list of phrase-level options. For example, when learners are working on how to give advice, they may only be practicing a list of phrases such as: You should. . ., Why don't you. . .? If I were you I'd. . ., and You ought to. . .. The basic problem with such lists of phrases, as Koester (2002) claims, is that they tend to disclaim the fact that they are appropriate in certain context.

Kasper (1996) maintains that "one of the causes of learners' non-target-like pragmatic performance is the incomplete or misleading input provided by pedagogical materials". Presenting real, representative language to learners should be the basic concern of classroom instruction. However, classroom communications often "produce a limited range of speech acts, simplified openings and closings, a lack of politeness marking, and a limited range of discourse markers in the classroom discourse" (Lasper, 1997). Therefore, appropriate and adequate input from teaching materials, especially ESL textbooks, becomes crucial in the development of ESL learners' pragmatic competence.

1.3. Research Questions

According to what has been said so far, the following questions were posed by this researcher to be answered in this study.

1. How pragmatic information like that regarding English suggestions and suggestion responses is learned more effectively by Persian EFL learners: with explicit or implicit instruction?

2. How pragmatic information is learned more effectively: with explicit or implicit feedback regarding Persian EFL learners' use of pragmatic information suggestions and suggestion responses?

3. Can any effects from this pragmatic instruction be sustained in Persian EFL learners for four weeks?

1.4. Research Hypotheses

Regarding the above questions, the following hypotheses were formulated to be tested.

1. There is no difference between explicit and implicit instruction regarding English suggestion by Persian EFL learners.

2. There is no difference between explicit and implicit feedback regarding English suggestion by Persian EFL learners.

3. There is no evidence that effects of pragmatic instructions be sustained in Persian EFL learners for four weeks

1.5. Significance of the Study

The main goal of teaching pragmatics is to enhance EFL learners' pragmatic awareness and give them options in their performance in the target language. The objective of teaching in pragmatics is not to insist on compliance with a particular FL norm, but instead help learners to get acquainted with the range of pragmatic concepts in the target language. With such teaching, learners can preserve their own cultural identities and take part better in FL communication with more control over result of their contributions. The classroom actually is a safe place in which learners are able to learn and experiment. In the classroom learners can test new forms and patterns of communication in a pleasant environment, and the instructor and other participating students can give feedback.

The results of this study will contribute to previous research that has suggested that teaching pragmatics in class does make a difference (see, for example, Norris & Ortega, 2000; Doughty, 2003). The results may also help the EFL teachers to decide whether to give the instructions regarding pragmatics explicitly or implicitly although both may prove effective in helping students act appropriately regarding using speech acts in general and the speech act of suggesting in particular.

1.6. Definition of Terms

Since different terms and expressions may have different meanings in different contexts and in order to make clear their intended meanings used in this study, this section is devoted to giving the meanings of such terms and expressions.

Pragmatics: according to Crystal (1985), 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" (p. 240).

Speech act: according to American Heritage Dictionary, speech act is "relating to or being an utterance that performs an act or creates a state of affairs by the fact of its being uttered under appropriate or conventional circumstances, as a justice of the peace uttering I now pronounce you husband and wife at a wedding ceremony, thus creating a legal union, or as one uttering I promise, thus performing the act of promising".

Speech act of suggestion: a directive speech act which involves an utterance in which the speaker asks the hearer to do something that will benefit the hearer (Searle, 1976; Rintell, 1979).

Explicit and implicit instructions: Explicit teaching involves directing student attention toward specific learning in a highly structured environment. It is teaching that is focused on producing specific learning outcomes. Topics and contents are broken down into small parts and taught individually. It involves explanation, demonstration and practice (Instructional Strategies Online, 2010). In implicit teaching, on the contrary, there is no overt explanation of the rules; instead, they are implied in sentences and utterances, and it is on the students to draw the rules.

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