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Developing pragmatic competence - Essay Example

In China, English even is among the core subjects at school and deserves a place in the curriculum. However, many Chinese English learners may not comprehend the utterances correctly and be able to express themselves properly in real-life communication, even though they get high scores in general proficiency test such as college entrance examination or GET 4 or 6. That is because these FEEL learners lack necessary pragmatic competence. Pragmatic competence refers to “the ability to use language effectively In order to achieve a specific purpose and to understand language In context” (Thomas, 1983: 92).

This problem is consistent with Bravado-Harping’s research finding. According to Bravado-Harlan (1 999: 686), “high levels of grammatical competence do not guarantee concomitant high levels of pragmatic competence”. Thus, It Is necessary for teachers to help Chinese English learners developing their pragmatic competence in FEEL classrooms. This paper first introduces pragmatic competence. Next, it discusses the importance of and the testability of pragmatic competence. It then analyzes the possible causes that lead to this problem.

Finally, this paper explores some potential solutions for the teachers to help Chinese English earners to develop pragmatic competence in FEEL classrooms. 2. Pragmatic competence 2. 1 The definition of pragmatic competence Many scholars have given their own definitions of pragmatic competence. Thomas (1 983: 92) points out that the speakers “linguistic competence” consists of grammatical competence and pragmatic competence. “Pragmatic competence” refers to “the ability to use language effectively in order to achieve a specific purpose and to understand language In context” (Bill. P. 92). This is consistent with Leech’s (1983) division of linguistics Into “grammar” and ” pragmatics”. Gasper (1997) argues that ragtime competence is the ability to use language appropriately according to contextual factors. Another famous linguist, Bushman (1990), puts forward a model of language competence. In this model, pragmatic competence and organizational competence are the mall parts of language competence and pragmatic competence is made up of elocutionary competence and sociolinguistic competence.

This between the two definitions. Both of them mention the relationship between meaning and situation. They think that the speakers should be aware of the social, cultural, and discourse norms which have to be followed in various situations. This paper holds the opinion that pragmatic competence refers to knowing how to use language properly in order to communicate successfully with the native speakers of target language (Chomsky, 1980; Thomas, 1983). It has long been overlooked in the field of Second Language Acquisition studies.

Recently, pragmatic competence, as an important part of language competence, has been paid much attention by linguists. 2. 2. The importance of developing pragmatic competence Canals (1983) points out that language learning exceeds the limits of memorizing vocabularies and grammatical rules. The final aim of learning language is to communicate by using target language in a contextually appropriate fashion. How can learners achieve this aim? The answer is developing their LA pragmatic competence during the learning process.

It is argued that the language users who lack pragmatic competence are likely to commit errors, which has negative effect on their personality. Bravado-Harlan et al. (1996: 324, cited in Edwards and Isisr, 2004) highlight the importance of pragmatic competence and point out the result of lacking it: Speakers who do not use pragmatically appropriate language run the risk of appearing uncooperative at the least, or, more seriously, rude or insulting. This is particularly true of advanced learners whose high linguistic proficiency leads other speakers to expect concomitantly high pragmatic competence.

Given the significant role of pragmatic competence playing in making a successful linguistic communication, it is necessary for English teachers to pay more attention to help the cultivation of pragmatic competence in LET classrooms. 2. 3 The testability of pragmatic competence It has been argued by many linguists whether pragmatic competence can be taught r not and Gasper (1997) summarized some data-based studies conducted by a large number of scholar, such as House & Gasper, Wielder-Bassett and Bubblier. These studies focus on the effect of pragmatic instruction.

According to Gasper (1997), “Competence is a type of knowledge that learners possess, develop, acquire, use or lose”. Gasper (1997) points out that despite a few limitations, pragmatic ability can indeed be systematically developed by colorful classroom activities. This paper holds the opinion that some aspects of pragmatic competence can be taught by the teachers in FEEL classrooms. Therefore, the teachers can arrange learning opportunities to help their students enhance pragmatic competence through explicit teaching even implicit teaching. 3.

Underlying causes of lack of pragmatic competence among Chinese English learners The reasons why Chinese English learners lack pragmatic competence are various. Generally speaking, there are three main causes that lead to this problem. Firstly, the great difference between Chinese culture and English culture. It has been commonly accepted that language is a part of culture and Brown (1994: 165) describes the their relationship as follows: “A language is a part of a culture and a operate the two without losing the significance of either language or culture”.

That is to say they are inseparable. The most important factor for a successful communication is that communicators have relatively objective views of communication content, which means that the communicators are not affected by their own cultural backgrounds. However, the absolute cultural non-inference is impossible in cross-cultural communication. In other words, communicators are accustomed not only to their given manners, but also to the concordant thinking and feeling patterns.

Therefore, in cross-cultural communication people tend to think everything by their own cultures. For example, Chinese people are hospitable and welcoming, so they always ask some questions about age, occupation, income and marital status to show their concern to the other in the communication. However, the main stream of English culture is self – centered value, so their language features this self-centeredness. In other words, their utterance to some extent show that their respect for individual privacy.

If the communicators do not understand about each other’s cultural backgrounds and do not know how to address these problems neatly, they will encounter some embarrassing situations. For instance, when Chinese people greet somebody, they would say “where are you going? ” This is a common way for Chinese. However, for western people, they tend to think that the speakers are inquiring about their privacy. For another example, compliments may function to create solidarity in English culture, while in the Chinese culture they may actually increase social distance because of the need to exhibit modesty.

Offering compliments and responding to these compliments with ritual denials (in order to show modesty) were found to occur more frequently with interlocutors of distant social relationships than with those of close relationship. Secondly, some Chinese FEEL learners lack authentic language input. They do not have many opportunities to be exposed to authentic language use. If they are not provided with sufficient pragmatic knowledge, it is difficult for them to understand and produce proper use in target language.

On the one hand, most Chinese FEEL learners learn English under their mother tongue environment and it is difficult for them to practice oral English with native speakers to find the pragmatic failure. For instance, according to Hue’s (2014: 91) research, there were prominent differences in terms of acquisition of pragmatic competence between students with overseas experience and students without overseas experience and this kind experience is beneficial to English learners’ pragmatic proficiency. On the other hand, some English materials are not authentic enough.

In FEEL program, Textbook is a main component and in some situations they may serve as the foundation for the content of the class, the balance of skills taught and the kinds of language practice the students take part in (Richards, 2005). For Chinese FEEL learners, the textbooks and the teachers’ instruction are the main sources which help them develop English language competence. However, most of Chinese English textbooks are designed or compiled for the purpose of practicing grammatical items and with the aim of improving the student’s reading ability.

These textbooks are not well designed for catering to the demand of fostering student’s pragmatic competence. For example, an oral teaching material published by Northeast Normal University Press has a dialog: A: How tall is Mr.. Scott? C: How much does he weigh? D: He weighs 175 pounds. This is a typical torture dialog. The author intend to help the learners to practice this kind of sentence pattern, but this dialog Just set out this sentence pattern automatically and not pragmatic authentic enough, because opening a dialogue in this way is to interfere with the hearer’s privacy.

However, it is not uncommon in other English teaching materials in China. Thirdly, linguistic competence oriented assessment system has a great influence on students’ learning strategies (Sheen, 2013) and teachers’ instructional methods. In China, English ability assessment system is signed to examine a student’s linguistic competence rather than pragmatic competence. As a result, Chinese English learners hold the misconception that learning English simply means learning its vocabulary items, grammatical rules and the way of combining them into meaningful and coherent sentences.

They do not pay much attention to pragmatic knowledge, but learn a great number of English words and grammatical rules by rote and their purpose is to go through the examinations. At the same time, under this assessment system, some FEEL classrooms are not be designed to help FEEL learners to develop pragmatic competence which is important or a smooth and appropriate communication. All in all, Chinese FEEL learners may only know English words, sentences and grammatical rules perfectly very well, but they may have difficulty in choosing the proper expression in a specific context. 4. Solutions and evaluations Bravado-Harlan et al. 1996: 345) claim that “it is impossible to prepare students for every context, or even all of the most common situations they will face in natural language settings”. Therefore, from the perspective of teachers, what they should do is making the learners realize that pragmatic functions exist in language rather than caching them specifically in the intricacies of complimenting, direction-giving, or closing a conversation (ibid. , p. 345). This paper suggests that teachers can apply some useful methods and interesting activities to help the learners to develop pragmatic competence.

According to Gasper (Bibb:102), “such activities can be classified into two main types: activities aimed at raising students’ pragmatic awareness and activities offering opportunities for communicative practice”. The following activities may be useful and practical for FEEL instruction in terms of pragmatic competence development. . 1 Activities that focus on helping learners recognize the difference between two cultures Rental (1979:104) points out that once a student is exposed to the target culture she or he rapidly begins to acquire pragmatic competence.

Therefore, teachers could design some activities that focus on helping learners recognize the difference between two cultures. For instance, the teachers can ask each student to prepare a story related to the difference between Chinese culture and English culture. At the beginning of class, the teachers invite one student to tell his or her Tory to other classmates, and then organize a discussion about this story. With the help of the media, teachers can show some videos and films to arouse students’ familiar with the habits of daily life of native speakers, which is helpful for them to have a deep understanding of western culture.

Students should pay attention to the behavior of native speakers such as greeting, dating and eating. It is also useful for learners to discuss the differences and similarities of the meaning of a word or phrase in a certain context. For example, the word “dog” has different meanings in Chinese culture and English culture. The teachers encourage the students to brainstorm the expressions of dog in Chinese and English and then discuss the differences in group. Teachers can use these activities that focus on the differences of two cultures to help students to foster pragmatic awareness.

As a result, the learners prepare themselves better for the communications with those native speakers and perform more nature. It is necessary to arouse learners’ cultural awareness. However, these activities require the teachers to do much prepare work before class and it will take up much class time. 4. Accessing audio-visual materials In FEEL classrooms, teachers should create more opportunities for students to access audio-visual materials. For example, teachers could choose some classical films which contain the pragmatic phenomena.

As Lei (2012: 22) points out, “teachers could encourage the learners to focus on the strategies and linguistic means by which a certain speech act is accomplished”. Speech act is a linguistic concept that was put forward first by the British linguist and philosopher Austin and it refers to an utterance that serves a function in communication. During this instruction, teachers loud inform the learners that they need to pay attention to what linguistic forms are used in a certain context or what additional means of carrying out a certain speech act are employed.

For instance, how the speaker answers requesting when he or she does not want to do it? According to Huh (2014: 396), although Chinese college FEEL learners could recognize different situations, they were still lack of ability to apply their language knowledge to the real situations effectively. The majority of them seldom provided simple responses without extended well-organized information, which might be a block in intercultural communication (ibid. P. 396). By observing the real communication in original films, the learners could imitate the native speakers’ responses with extended information.

This is also a good method for teachers to help learners make connections between linguistic forms and pragmatic functions or how to use of these functions in different social context. However, only being exposed to a large amount of authentic input cannot guarantee the need for the development of pragmatic competence. As Fierce and Gasper (1986: 260) point out, “what is needed in a theory of second language learning is an explanation of how input becomes arts of the interlingua system. In other words, how does input become ‘learning intake’ “.

Therefore, other activities should be applied together in order to develop learners pragmatic competence in FEEL classrooms in China. 4. 3 Role playing Role playing is a common method that occurs in language teaching classroom and it is perhaps the most straightforward approach (Bravado-Harlan et al. , 1996). The compliments, greetings, apologies. The teachers can design some special scenes to help the students to practice different speech acts. They could divide the students into several groups and each group consists of two people.

The teachers set up a scene in which one conversation focusing on a special speech act occurs. The students can decide their own roles. The role play should be limited within ten to fifteen minutes. If the first group cannot finish their conversation, they must sit down and the next group begins their role play. After several rounds, the teachers encourage students to discuss which one is the most authentic way to end a conversation. For example, if the teachers want the students to practice how close a conversation, they can set up a role play as following: Roles: Professor, student

Scene: The professor and student have been discussing an exam that the student failed. The professor looks at her watch and says that she has a class in fifteen minutes. How this student responds? (Bravado-Harlan, K. Et al. , 1996: 15) By doing role playing, the students could practice the pragmatic rules related a certain speech act. Besides, it also can help the learners to practice speaking skills. However, role playing may sometimes occupy much time of the class and sometimes the students may be distracted by play and cannot focus on the conversation. . 4 Pragmatics instruction synchronizes relatively with grammar instruction Many tidies have points out that explicit instruction plays an important role in developing pragmatic knowledge in FEEL classrooms (Bravado-Harlan and Griffin, 2005; J’, 2008; Sauvignon & Wang, 2003)Therefore, teachers have to instruct the general principle of the sentence structure of English as well as the norm used in daily life. In basic education, teachers cannot teach all pragmatic knowledge and it is not realistic to offer special pragmatic class.

So teachers can teach some appropriate pragmatic knowledge when students are equipped with a given amount of vocabularies and grammar knowledge so that pragmatic knowledge can be rooted in grammar knowledge. Take the teaching of tense for example, tense is a grammar knowledge that does not been displayed exactly in Chinese. After instructing the relationship between tense forms and time acts, the teacher should tell the students to pay attention to the elocutionary act of grammatical forms. 5. Conclusion Pragmatic competence is an indispensable component of communicative competence and cannot be acquired naturally.

It is important for FEEL learners to acquire pragmatic competence, because the learners who lack it may run the risk to make pragmatic failure when they communicate with native speakers. This paper reposes three possible reasons that cause this problem. The first one is that the great difference between Chinese culture and English culture. Chinese English learners are effect by Chinese culture. Next, some learners do not have enough authentic input which is significant to them. Finally, linguistic competence oriented assessment system has a great influence on students and teachers.

Most of the students learn English only by reciting words and grammar knowledge, but they ignore the importance of learning pragmatic knowledge. To help the learners to forward in this paper. For example, teachers could use some games to help the dents realize the differences of Chinese culture and English culture. Besides, audio-visual materials can also be applied in FEEL classroom to make the class more vivid and interesting. Lastly, role play is another useful and practical method that teachers could implement during the instruction.

English, as an international language, plays an important role in cross-cultural communication. It is necessary for Chinese English learners to acquire pragmatic competence in FEEL classroom. The solutions and activities proposed in this paper still need to verify in the future research to find out the advantages and disadvantages. Word count: 3119 words References Austin, J. L. (1962) How to do things with words : The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955. Oxford: Clearance Press. Bravado-Harlan, K. (1999) Exploring the interlingua of interlingua pragmatics.