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Structure and content of these curricular materials

Our self-accessed web-based modules include an introductory awareness-raising unit and five speech act modular units (apologies, compliments/responses to compliments, refusals, requests, and thanks).

The introductory unit presents eight realistic situations learners of Japanese are likely to encounter in Japan.  The unit attempts to trigger learners’ noticing of important pragmatic features and invoke their interest in pragmatic norms and cultural mores, such as:


For general use of Japanese:

§     Expected use of honorific language, keigo, for someone older and/or higher in status

§     Expected non-use of honorific language or polite forms for someone of equal age and/or status

§     Combined use of honorifics/polite forms and non-honorific bare forms for someone close who is older and higher in status or someone distant who is equal or younger in age and equal or lower in status

For Apologies:

§     Function of certain apology expressions as expressions of thanks as well as apology

§     Use of formal apology expressions appropriate for use with a higher-status interlocutor

§     Repetitious use of apology expressions

§     Often-negative evaluation of a lengthy excuse in Japanese

§     Appropriate excuse for higher-status interlocutors


For Refusals:

§     Interpretation of an indirect refusal

§     Appropriate response to a refusal

For Thanks:

§     Repeating thanks as a common thanking strategy

§     Thanking again for a previous favor as a common thanking strategy

§     Interpretation of repeating thanks as a politeness strategy, not an implied request


For Requests:

§     Appropriate reason for a legitimate request

§     Use of downgrader preferred (e.g., chotto, sukoshi)

§     Appropriate phrasing of requests


For Complaints:

§     Returning merchandize as an unacceptable behavior

§     Politeness strategies at the service counter and gender differences

§     Use of a conversation opener/a signal for an upcoming request

For Compliments:

§     Appropriate situations for accepting compliments

§     Compliments about possessions as opposed to abilities/performance

Components of each of the five speech act units (Quick Guide to a Sample Unit):

1. Description of the situation with contextual factors (e.g., age, status, level of acquaintance, intensity of the act) and successful L2 sample interactions

The data in the materials provides detailed contextual information in order to allow learners to analyze the impact of the contextual factors on L2 linguistic strategies.  In the learners-as-researchers approach (e.g., “learner as an ethnographer” Bardovi-Harlig 1996, Tanaka, 1997), learners are encouraged to observe and analyze the function of contextual variables in pragmatic use of the L2.  Although this approach gives learners a first-hand experience that can assist in developing skills in dealing with natural language in authentic context, in many foreign language settings learners’ obtaining sufficient speech samples is often unrealistic.  The data collection process can be time-consuming and inefficient even in second language contexts, and learners may not be proficient enough to collect data accurate enough for pragmatic analysis (Judd, 1999).  Instead of having learners collect data individually, however, our units provide L2 linguistic samples and contextual information with an intention to raise learners’ pragmatic awareness.

In teaching pragmatics the materials must reflect authentic L2 use.  A majority of published textbooks including those using a notional/functional syllabus, are written based on the material developers’ intuition and thus may not be faithful to the way language is actually used.  Thus, the materials must be carefully selected, modified, or created for L2 instruction (Judd, 1999).  In the construction of our units, native-speaking informants were given contextual information and conducted role play, attempting to act as spontaneously as possible.  This role play procedure also functioned to cross-check whether L2 pragmatic features reported in past research studies were actually present in the role play.  If the pragmatic features are present, then validity of the research and the materials is enhanced.  If the role play data lacked the predicted features, Ishihara used her judgment to decide whether the data could still be regarded as sufficiently authentic and are usable as L2 samples.  In light of the spoken data, she also determined whether the research findings about certain L2 pragmatic features are credible and worthwhile teaching.  Prior to data collection (recording of L2 samples), Ishihara had considered what varieties (e.g., gender, age, and regional varieties) of L2 pragmatic norms should be presented as models and recruit model speakers accordingly.  We focused mostly on the language use among college students and young adults in the standard variety of Japanese.

2.Pragmatic awareness-raising tasks and explicit feedback on L2 pragmatic norms

Assuming an English-speaking audience, the units sometimes ask learners to engage in some reflection on their pragmatic use in English (e.g., Rose, 1994).  The units include linguistic samples with a similar speech task performed between different interlocutors (e.g., apologizing for failing to come to a meeting with a professor versus with a close friend) or a different tasks for the same interlocutor (e.g., borrowing a quarter versus $80 from a friend), and prompt learners to compare and contrast pragmatic features in these situations.  Such an approach is intended to foster learners’ noticing and awareness of the ways in which pragmatic use of L1 and L2 are similar and/or different and ways in which contextual factors affect L2 use (Kasper & Schmidt, 1996; Schmidt, 1993).

Although noticing does not necessarily guarantee L2 pragmatic learning, it is a necessary condition, because mere exposure to the L2 is unlikely to lead to learners’ noticing of pragmatic features and understanding of general pragmatic norms (Kasper & Rose, 2002).  Therefore, explicit teaching of pragmalinguistic forms, functional meanings, and contextual features can be highly facilitative of pragmatic learning.  In the units, learners are instructed to attend to L1 and L2 sociopragmatic norms or pragmalinguistic forms, with the intention that they will ultimately come to an awareness of how contextual factors are evaluated in the L2 culture and how they affect L2 forms (Judd, 1999; Rose, 1994).  This approach is intended to bring learners to a realization of different cultural norms in the L2 and the ways they are encoded in the language.

3.Language-focused (sociolinguistic/pragmalinguistic) exercises, and grammatical and lexical information

Although grammatical knowledge alone does not ensure that the learner will use it appropriately, grammatical knowledge is necessary for certain L2 pragmatic production.  Bardovi-Harlig (1999, 2003) demonstrated that if learners rely on their interlanguage grammar in speech act realizations, they may well produce utterances that have features from this interlanguage grammar.  For example, while native speakers of English might use the past progressive to reject an academic advisor’s suggestion to take a given course (“Oh, I was actually thinking of taking TESL 5723.”), the nonnative without knowledge of that function of the past progressive might say too directly, “No.  I don’t want to take that course.  I want to take TESL 5723.”

4.Practice in producing output

Another component of the units was output practice for enhancing productive L2 pragmatic skills.  Even if learners understand how contextual factors are typically evaluated and how speakers’ intent is encoded pragmatically in the L2, we cannot simply assume that learners are able to produce nativelike forms in a pragmatically appropriate manner.  Pragmatically nativelike production of L2 sometimes requires complex grammar and an excellent command of the language.  Output opportunities are likely to contribute to learners’ acquisition of the L2 in that they reinforce retention of the new information and enhance fluency; the interactional nature of communicative tasks (or even simulations like multiple-rejoinder DCT tasks) requires learners to attend not only to their own utterance but also to their interlocutors and respond appropriately in context (Kasper, 1997).

5.  Self-evaluation and feedback

Provided that the ultimate goal of teaching pragmatics is to instill in learners skills with which they can improve their pragmatic ability autonomously, a pragmatics curriculum should assist learners in developing metapragmatic awareness and strategies.  In order for learners to be constantly making and renewing hypotheses about L2 pragmatic use, they need to learn to monitor and evaluate their own L2 pragmatic comprehension and production.

Metapragmatic reflection is likely to work to the learners’ advantage as they gain more nativelike pragmatic ability (Kasper & Rose, 2002).  In the learners-as-researchers approach (e.g., Bardovi-Harlig, 1996; Tanaka, 1997), learners are to consciously analyze contextual factors and pragmatic norms and use of the L2 models.  Taking this approach further, a pragmatic curriculum can also encourage learners’ reflection on their own L2 production and comprehension in terms of pragmatic appropriateness, just as researchers reflect on the pros and cons of their studies.  In parallel to the pragmalinguistic/sociolinguistic instruction that draws learners’ attention to target grammatical features, instruction in pragmatics can encourage learners to be reflective of their own pragmatic use and comprehension.

However, we should note that learners probably need varying levels of instructional guidance in learning to practice systematic self-reflection with regard to both pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic aspects of the L2.  In the units, learners are given a rubric or checklist and are asked to compare their own production with L2 models provided in order to self-evaluate key features of their own L2 pragmatic use.  Considering learners’ individual differences in learning style preferences and learner characteristics, this approach might require even more direction or feedback from the teacher.  In the classroom setting, a teacher may wish to identify the most common misunderstandings on the part of learners and emphasize more accurate interpretation of the L2 pragmatic norms.  Learners might need some pragmalinguistic scaffolding, such as a grammar or vocabulary explanation or other related pragmatic information.  Teachers might give learners individual feedback about their L2 pragmatic use and discuss more extended conversational routines.  In the web-based units, after learners fill in their responses and self-evaluation and sent them electronically, they are able to see sample answers and analyses of the key L2 features.

6.Sociocultural information

With regard to the role of pragmatics in language learning, learners may appreciate knowing cultural reasoning behind L2 use that is different from that in their L1.  Richards and Schmidt (1983) and Meier (1999, 2003) called for an explanatory approach to pragmatics in addition to a descriptive one (“explanatory pragmatics,” Richards & Schmidt, 1983, p. ix).  When learners encounter new L2 norms that conflict with their already existing first-culture based values, they are likely to feel resistant to the L2 norms (Di Vito, 1993).  Thus, it may be beneficial to provide learners an explicit explanation as to why L2 speakers conventionally use the language as they do, why certain meaning is conveyed differently in the L2, and how underlying L2 ideologies, shared cultural values, beliefs, morals, and assumptions (i.e., subjective culture, Meier, 2003) influence the pragmatic behavior of natives.  Although objective culture (e.g., cultural artifacts) has conventionally been incorporated into culture learning in the L2 education, subjective culture is central to pragmatics, informing pragmatic use of language (Meier, 2003; Richards & Schmidt, 1983).

Richards and Schmidt contended that in order to teach learners to truly understand what L2 speakers mean, it is necessary to integrate an explanatory perspective in the teaching of L2 pragmatics.  Although current L2 teaching tends to simply present target forms, expecting learners across the board to adopt them, learner interviews in a study by Ishihara (2003) revealed that learners were unwilling to accommodate to certain pragmatic norms (such as the use of honorific language in L2 Japanese) until they began to understand why native speakers use them, that is, the cultural reasoning behind the L2 use.  Learners revealed that they came to understand the cultural assumptions behind the pragmatic L2 use gradually as they were exposed to the L2 culture or obtained native-speaking informants who would explain why they spoke the way that seemed democratic, unfair, or even discriminatory to the learners.  Knowledge of subjective L2 culture is likely to benefit learners in understanding L2 pragmatic use, particularly when learners’ L1 use, beliefs and values are incompatible with those in the L2.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (1996). Pragmatics and language teaching: Bringing pragmatics and pedagogy together. In L. Bouton (Ed.), Pragmatics and language learning monograph 7 (pp. 21-39). Urbana-Campaign, IL: Division of English as an International Language, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2003). Understanding the role of grammar in the acquisition of L2 pragmatics. In E. U. J. A. Martínez Flor, & A. Fernández Guerra (Ed.), Pragmatic competence and foreign language teaching (pp. 25-44). Castello de la Plana, Spain: Publications de la Universitat Jaume I.

Di Vito, N. O. (1993). Second culture acquisition: A tentative step in determining hierarchies. In J. E. Alatis (Ed.), Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics 1992: Language, communication, and social meaning (pp. 324-335). Washington D. C.: Georgetown University Press.

Ishihara, N. (2003). Identify and pragmatic performance of foreign language learners. Paper presented at the American Association for Applied Linguistics Annual Conference, Arlington, VA, March 22-25, 2003.

Judd, E. L. (1999). Some issues in the teaching of pragmatic competence. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Culture in second language teaching and learning (pp. 152-166). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kasper, G. (1997). The role of pragmatics in language teacher education. In K. Bardovi-Harlig & B. Hartford (Eds.), Beyond methods: Components of second language education (pp. 113-136). New York: McGraw Hill Company.

Kasper, G., & Rose, K. R. (2002). Pragmatic development in a second language. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

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

Meier, A. J. (1999). Identifying and teaching the underlying cultural themes of pragmatics: A case for explanatory pragmatics. In L. F. Bouton (Ed.), Pragmatics and language learning monograph series Vol.9 (pp. 113-127). Urbana-Champaign, IL: Division of English as an International Language, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Merier, A. J. (2003).  Posting the Banns: A marriage of pragmatics and culture in foreign and second language pedagogy and beyond. In A. Martínez Flor, E. Usó Juan, & A. Fernández Guerra (Eds.), Pragmatic competence and foreign language teaching (pp. 185-210). Castelló de la Plana, Spain: Publicacions de la Universitat Jaume I.

Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. W. (1983). Language and communication. Harlow: Longman.

Rose, K. (1994). Pragmatic consciousness-raising in an EFL context. In L. F. Bouton & Y. Kachru (Eds.), Pragmatics and language learning monograph series Vol.5 (Vol. 5, pp. 52-63). Urbana-Champaign, IL: Division of English as an International Language, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Schmidt, R. (1993). Consciousness, learning, and interlanguage pragmatics. In G. Kasper & S. Blum-Kulka (Eds.), Interlanguage pragmatics (pp. 21-42). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tanaka, K. (1997). Developing Pragmatic Competence: A Learners-As-Researchers Approach. TESOL Journal, 6(3), 14-18.


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