Learning to teach second language pragmatics

Shona Whyte
Aisha Siddiqa
TESOL France, Paris, 19 November 2016.


With the growing global networking and cross-cultural communication, interest in the teaching and learning of second languages has also increased. However, the bulk of research in interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) has revealed that foreign language learners, despite their grammatical and lexical proficiency, frequently fail to approximate target-like pragmatic norms (Bouton, 1994; Bardovi-Harlig, 2001; Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003). Awareness of pragmatic norms is crucial as its absence can lead to cross cultural miscommunication (Beebe & Takahashi, 1989a).

ILP research also shows that learner’s pragmalinguistic knowledge develops relatively slowly (Schauer, 2004; 2009; Barron 2002). But evidence suggests that it is amenable to instruction (Rose, 2005; Cohen & Ishihara, 2013). Both instruction (e.g., see Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003 for review) and feedback to learners (Belz & Kinginger, 2003) can accelerate this process. Yet in spite of the need for pragmatics instruction and the existence of pedagogical models, ILP is rarely a major component of teacher training programmes (Vellenga 2011, Vasquez & Sharpless, 2009).

The present study, as part of a larger project on ILP development in French secondary schools, seeks to address some of these gaps in literature by focusing on teacher training for teaching pragmatics to English as foreign language (EFL) learners. As part of their teacher education programme at a French university, fifteen pre-service teachers participated in the study as part of a classroom research course. The course focused on

a) multiple research methods and data analysis techniques and various pragmatic aspects including

b) ILP awareness-raising via authentic materials including TV series/films and corpus data, and

c) the design and implementation of activities to teach both pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic dimensions of request strategies to EFL learners (aged 11 to 18).

The participants worked in groups and prepared six lessons. The data for our study include

  • lesson plans and teaching resources for the student-teachers’ lessons
  • video-recordings of three classroom activities
  • learner focus-group discussions and video-stimulated recall interviews with teachers and tutors
  • audio-recorded class presentations of the participant teachers
  • a pre-study oral production task to assess the participant teachers’ knowledge about requests strategies.

A preliminary analysis of the data reveals that the novice teachers, despite some initial difficulty, used authentic materials quite effectively to engage pupils in discussion and reflection on request behaviour. The tutors appreciated the focus of the activities on pragmatics and confirmed that pragmatics is rarely a focus in curriculum despite its importance. However, the learners’ responses varied across classrooms and teachers.

The presentation gives main findings regarding student-teacher classroom implementation of lessons on English requests, with implications and recommendations for French EFL instructional contexts.


interlanguage pragmatics, EFL, secondary schools, France, language teacher education.

Requests: a speech act

A request is a directive speech act whose illocutionary purpose is to get the hearer to do something in circumstances in which it is not obvious that he/she will perform the action in the normal course of events (Searle 1969). By initiating a request, the speaker believes that the hearer is able to perform an action.

The structure of a request may consist of two parts: the head act (the actual request) and modifications to the request (external or internal).

The perspective of requests can be emphasized, either projecting toward the speaker (Can I borrow your notes?) or the hearer (Can you loan me your notes?). Since we must take into account many factors when we make requests (e.g., age, social distance, gender, and level of imposition), speakers often employ different strategies (linguistic and non-linguistic) to minimize the effects of our request on the other person

Request strategies are divided into three types according to the level of inference (on the part of the hearer) needed to understand the utterance as a request. The three types of requests include:

  1. direct requests
  2. conventionally-indirect strategies (CI)
  3. non-conventionally indirect (NCI) strategies (hints)

Direct and conventionally-indirect requests comprise a continuum of different strategies. Read more …

(See also Blum-Kulka et al 1989)



Key readings

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Mahan-Taylor, R. (2003). Teaching Pragmatics. USA: Office of English Language Programs of the U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from http://www.usconsulate.org.hk/pas/kids/pragmatics.htm

Bardovi-Harlig, K., Mossman, S., & Vellenga, H. E. (2015a). The effect of instruction on pragmatic routines in academic discussion. Language Teaching Research (Online), 1–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362168814541739

Bardovi-Harlig, K., Mossman, S., & Vellenga, H. E. (2015b). Developing Corpus-Based Materials to Teach Pragmatic Routines. TESOL Journal, 6(3), 499–526.

Online resources

Request lessons: americanenglish.state.gov

Elicitation resources for requests (Cartoon oral production task)

Teaching Pragmatics

Editors: Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig Rebecca Mahan-Taylor
Teaching Pragmatics is a collection of 30 lessons that can help English learners use socially appropriate language in a variety of informal and formal situations


  1. Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE)
  2. US corpus available on the Lexical Tutor website
  3. Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English

Further reading

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2001). Evaluating the empirical evidence: Grounds for instruction in pragmatics? In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (pp. 33–60). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Mahan-Taylor, R. (Eds.). (2003). Teaching pragmatics. Washington, DC: United States Department of State. Retrieved from http://americanenglish.state.gov/resources/teaching-pragmatics

Barron, A. (2003). Acquisition in Interlanguage Pragmatics: Learning how to do things with words in a study abroad context (Vol. Volume 108). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing.

Barron, A., & Warga, M. (2007). Acquisitional pragmatics: Focus on foreign language learners. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4(2), 113–127.

Beebe, L., & Takahashi, S. (1989a). Do you have a bag? : Social status and patterned  variation in second language acquisition. In S. Gass, C. Madden, D. Preston, & L. Selinker, Variation in second language acquisition: Discourse and pragmatics (pp. 103–125). Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.

Belz, J., & Kinginger, C. (2003). Discourse options and the development of pragmatic competence by classroom learners of German: The case of address forms. Language Learning, 53, 591–647.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Blum-Kulka, S., & Olshtain, E. (1986). Too many words: Length of utterance and pragmatic failure. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 8, 47–61.

Bouton, L. F. (1994). Can NNS skill in interpreting implicatures in American English be improved through explicit instruction? A pilot study. In L. F. Bouton & Y. Kachru (Eds.), Pragmatics and language learning, (Vol 5, pp. 88-109). University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign: Division of English as an International Language.

Cohen, A. D., & Ishihara, N. (2013). Pragmatics. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Applied Linguistics and Materials Development (pp. 113–126). London, UK: Bloomsburry Academic.

Faerch, C., & Kasper, G. (1989). Internal and External Modification in Interlanguage Request Realization. In S. Blum-Kulka, J. House, & G. Kasper (Eds.), Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies (Vol. XXXI, pp. 221–247). United States of America: Albex Publishing Corporation.

Félix-Brasdefer, C. Speech acts: requests. Discourse pragmatics. http://www.indiana.edu/~discprag/spch_requests.html

Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. (S. Blum-Kulka & J. House, Eds.) (Vol. XXXI). United States of America: Albex Publishing Corporation.

Kasper, G., & Dahl, M. (1991). Research Methods in Interlanguage Pragmatics. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 13, 215–247.

Kasper, G., & Rose, K. R. (2001). Pragmatics in language teaching. In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (pp. 1–10). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kasper, G., & Schmidt, R. (1996). Developmental issues in interlanguage pragmatics. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18, 149–169.

Rose, K. R. (2005). On the effects of instruction in second language pragmatics. System, 33(3), 385–399. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2005.06.003

Scarcella, R. (1979). On speaking politely in a second language. In C. A. Yorio & K. Perkins (Eds.), On TESOL ’79 (pp. 275–287). Washington, DC: TESOL.

Schauer, G. (2004). May you speaker louder maybe? In- terlanguage pragmatic development in requests. EUROSLA Yearbook, 4, 253–272.

Schauer, G. (2009). Interlanguage pragmatic development: The study abroad context. London: Continuum.

Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siddiqa, A. (in preparation). The acquisition of politeness strategies by young EFL learners in France: An exploratory study of interlanguage pragmatic development. Doctoral thesis, UMR7320 Bases, Corpus, Langage. Université Nice Sophia Antipolis.

Siddiqa, A. (2016). A developmental pragmatic study of politeness in EFL: learning to make requests in French secondary schools. 3rd International conference of the American Pragmatics Association, November 4-6, 2016, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Siddiqa, A. (2016). Opportunities for developing L2 politeness strategies in EFL classrooms in France. ESSE, Aug 2016, Galway, Ireland.

Siddiqa, A. (2015). Beyond “classroom English” Colloque international du LAIRDIL: Regards pluridisciplinaires sur la créativité et l’innovation en langues étrangères, December 2015, Toulouse, France.

Siddiqa, A. (2015). The use and acquisition of politeness strategies among EFL learners in France: An exploratory study of interlanguage pragmatic development
The Ninth International Im/Politeness Conference, Athens, Greece.

Taguchi, N. (2011b). Pragmatic Development as a Dynamic, Complex Process: General Patterns and Case Histories. The Modern Language Journal, 95(4), 605–627. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4781.2011.01246.x

Vasquez, C., & Sharpless, D. (2009). The role of pragmatics in the master’s TESOL curriculum: Findings from a nationwide survey. TESOL Quarterly, 43, 1, 5-28.

Vellenga, H. (2011). Teaching L2 Pragmatics: Opportunities for Continuing Professional Development. TESL-EJ, 15. Retrieved from http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume15/ej58/ej58a3



Technology integration in the collaborative language classroom

In the VISIR project, “seven major European networks are working to collect, analyse and share micro innovation practices in the field of ICT for learning, and to propose, in a multistakeholder and collaborative fashion, a new vision for ICT for learning in Europe.”

Micro-innovation practices are defined as:

a) high impact, meaning that they have or have had an impact in building digital and other key competences. The impact is not necessarily on a large scale, it can also be limited to small scale like a classroom within one school or a company within a value chain.

b) bottom-up nature, meaning that they shall not simply respond to a policy but they  derive from the idea of an individual or a community/company/university. They could also be unexpected results of a policy or initiative.

c) innovative applications of ICT for learning, meaning that it should “do something new” either in the way they use ICT or in other pedagogical, organisational, economic way.

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At a seminar “e-Learning micro-innovation matters!” on 25 Mar 14 in Brussels, contributors meet to discuss the wider implications of their projects.

My project concerned a hybrid course in English for undergraduate students of translation.


An overview.