Effective communication requires more than just knowledge of words and language rules. It also requires the ability to appropriately express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, and intentions to other people, and to accurately interpret those expressed by them, as well. In language teaching, that ability is called pragmatic competence.
In the past, learning a foreign/second language (L2) merely consisted of mastering grammatical rules and words, or mastering grammatical competence, while neglecting pragmatic competence. However, from the 1970s onward, it became widely accepted that learning a language involves a lot more than developing grammatical competence. Not only do learners need to learn how to put words into meaningful sentences by using correct grammatical structures, they also need to learn how to use language appropriately for the social situations in which they communicate.
That is, they need to know what to say and what not to say to specific people in specific contexts, as well as be able to understand what messages other people are conveying along with their tone and attitude in the communication. Doing otherwise may lead to miscommunication, and in serious cases, damage social relationships. For example, bluntly criticizing a classmate’s ideas during a group discussion may seriously offend them. Even worse, not recognizing their subtle expression of annoyance may lead us to continue to offend them, hence risking the creation of even more friction.
It is challenging even for a native speaker of a language to smoothly navigate social interaction within his or her own cultural group. This is because what is considered appropriate language use is immensely fluid and depends on many factors, such as the speakers’ gender, age, occupation, social class, individual identity, the dynamics of their relationship, and the specificity of the context of a interaction.
Imagine how much more daunting it may be for an L2 user to determine the “rules” of appropriate communication in intercultural contexts, where different cultural values and communicative styles may at times clash. Because cross-cultural skills are considered essential for effective communication in the globalized world we live in today, it is tremendously important for learners to develop these skills in order to become global citizens.
Pragmatic competence can be effectively improved through classroom instruction. Unfortunately, it is rarely taught in a principled and systematic manner in L2 classrooms. Teachers may either not be fully aware of the important role played by pragmatics in language teaching and learning, or they may not be adequately trained to do this job effectively.
Our book aims to fill this gap by encouraging language teachers to actively reflect on their own practices and integrate more pragmatics-focused instruction into their pedagogy. Drawing on research in the field of L2 pragmatics, this book offers a set of hands-on strategies for raising L2 learners’ pragmatic awareness that English language teachers can adapt to suit their local contexts and classrooms. Practical examples of lesson planning, materials use, and assessment are also provided throughout the book to illustrate how pragmatics-focused instruction can be systematically implemented in an English language syllabus.
Our book comprises seven chapters. In Chapter 1, we address three important questions: “What is pragmatics?”, “What is pragmatic competence?”, and “Why does pragmatic competence matter?” This chapter concludes with a discussion of the goals of pragmatics instruction in L2 teaching.
In Chapter 2, we introduce some key aspects in pragmatics such as speech acts (i.e., how to get things done with words), implicatures (i.e., how to read or listen between the lines), politeness, and conversational skills. These aspects are directly related to language teaching, and are often included as important learning content in language teaching syllabi.
Chapter 3 outlines key principles in teaching pragmatics, including developing pragmatic awareness and fluency in pragmatic language use, promoting tolerance and acceptance of other cultures, enhancing skills in negotiating diverse linguistic and cultural norms, and cultivating learner autonomy and self-directed learning.
Chapter 4 presents various activities that teachers can introduce into their English lessons to develop students’ pragmatic competence. This chapter also provides practical examples that teachers can adapt to suit their teaching contexts.
In Chapter 5, we describe a range of out-a of-class activities and pragmatic learning strategies to help learners enhance their pragmatic knowledge beyond the classroom walls and take charge of their own learning.
In Chapter 6, we provide guidelines for how to develop classroom assessment tasks and create rubrics to assess pragmatic competence.
Finally, in Chapter 7, we highlight the importance of using appropriate materials in teaching pragmatics and discuss possible ways to evaluate, select, and adapt instructional material for teaching pragmatics.
Nguyen Thi Thuy Minh & Le Van Canh