spaceCenter for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Important Information for Researchers


Background Information

Miscommunication in a second language often results from not knowing the proper manner in which to use the necessary linguistic forms.  Research has found that instruction on the learning and use of speech acts can help learners improve their pragmatic performance and ability to communicate effectively with native speakers (Bardovi-Harlig, 2001; Kasper & Rose, 2002).  Furthermore, the use of Computer Aided Language Learning (CALL) technologies allows for the creation of effective instructional materials addressing pragmatic features.  The limited CALL research available in this area has noted the benefits of various technologies for pragmatic and cultural instruction—multimedia and authentic materials (Hoven, 1999; Kramsch & Andersen, 1999; LeLoup & Ponterio, 2001), telecollaboration (Furstenberg & Levet, 2001; Belz, 2002, 2003), and asynchronous and synchronous computer-mediated communication (Biesenbach-Lucas, 2005; Sykes, 2005).  To date, there is only a small number of learner self-access websites specifically dedicated to pragmatic development, such as the two sites dedicated to English (CLEAR, 2005; Levy, 1999), one for Russian (CLEAR, 2005), and one for Japanese (Cohen & Ishihara, 2005). This website provides the first self-access website for learning Spanish pragmatics. It addresses the challenges of describing speech acts and other pragmatic features in Peninsular and Latin American Spanish.  

With a recent increase in pragmatics research which draws extensively on discourse analysis, especially conversational analysis, (See, for example, Kecskes, Davidson, and Brecht, 2005) in an effort to better understand actual pragmatic performance, it is especially important to make pragmatic features of language salient and accessible to learners. Thus, making these features accessible to learners is the primary objective of this website. In an effort to do so, you will see that, while the theoretical ideal still forms the basis of our content, much of the terminology and technical jargon has been eliminated. This was a suggestion initially made by our curriculum advisor J. César Félix-Brasdefer that has been reiterated by our expert evaluators and, in piloting, has been extremely helpful for learners. For example, instead of speech acts you find communicative acts and, in discussions of politeness, positive and negative politeness orientations are not distinguished. Nevertheless, the primary concepts themselves are still included.

Guidelines for Website Development

In order to create the most effective site possible, research from the areas of pragmatics pedagogy and CALL were combined to create eight website development guidelines. These guidelines were followed throughout the development and evaluation process.

  1. Goals and objectives of the site will be explicitly stated.  (Bardovi-Harlig, 1996; Kasper & Rose, 2002; Kasper, 1997; Ishihara, 2005)
    • This is a self-access website for learning and teaching speech acts and other pragmatic features of language.
    • It aims at raising awareness and highlighting pragmatic features, not at providing prescriptive ideal or native-speaker model. It was designed not to reinforce stereotypes and takes a strategies-based approach to learning Spanish pragmatics.
  2. Video clips, tasks, and contexts will be as authentic as possible (taking into consideration technological and contextual limitations). (Levy, 1999; Garcia, 1997; Kasper, 1997)
    • Authentic interactions (unscripted role plays) between native speakers of various varieties of Spanish will be video/audio taped as model dialogues for learning. Models of nonnative speaker interactions and intercultural interactions will also be included.
    • Functions being taught will reflect situations likely encountered by learners.
    • Whenever possible, context will be reflected by the setting of the video, characters, and shot composition.  If it is determined that authenticity is not possible, a still photograph will be considered to frame the conversation instead of live video.  Detailed descriptions of the contexts will also accompany example clips.
  3. Tasks will be learner-oriented, varied, and lend themselves to the use of learning strategies and self-discovery. (Cohen & Olshtain, 1993; Cohen, 2004; Cohen & Ishihara, 2005; Levy, 1999; Hoven, 1999; Kasper & Rose, 2001)
    • Tasks will guide learners and facilitate attention to pragmatic features (language, social factors, context, gestures).
    • Tasks will lend themselves to a variety of learning strategies and language levels.
    • Tasks will be sequenced for pragmatic development: prediction, models, evaluation, role play/output, feedback.
  4. Content will be empirically-based and informed by experts. (Cohen & Ishihara, 2004; Ishihara, 2005; Kasper & Rose, 2002)
    • Materials creation will be guided by research.
    • Content will be evaluated and tested by native speakers to ensure accuracy.
  5. Content will encourage individual pragmatic performance at a variety of levels. (García, 1996; Bardovi-Harlig & Hartford, 1996; Levy, 1999; Kasper & Rose, 2002; Boxer, 2003; Ishihara, 2005)
    • Targeted areas will include frames of participation and context, stylistic devices and language strategies, and politeness issues.
    • Cultural information and contextual clues will be provided wherever possible.
    • Content will encourage individual discovery and pragmatic strategy instruction.
  6. Ancillary support will be given for each lesson. (Cohen & Ishihara, 2004; Ishihara, 2005)
    • Further explanations will be given where necessary.
    • Each lesson will be supported with bibliographic references.
  7. Feedback will be learner directed, scaffolded throughout the site, and not prescriptive. (Hoven, 1999; Kasper, 1997; Kasper & Rose 2001; Cohen & Olshtain, 2004; Ishihara, 2005)
    • Explicit feedback will be given for linguistic elements.
    • Self-assessment with general tips will be given for sociopragmatic skills and strategy choices.
    • An e-mail link will always be available for technical support and further clarification of and content.
    • If used as part of a language course, individual feedback will be given for journal entries and reflections, not through the modules themselves.
  8. The website and interface will be designed so as to provide the most optimal learning environment possible for learners. (Ishihara, 2005; Hoven, 1999; Levy, 1999; Matsunaga, 2002; Chun & Plass, 1996, 2000)
    • Advanced technology and extra bells and whistles will be avoided when possible.
    • Technology will be utilized to make the pragmatic features salient and enhance noticing (e.g., colors, animation, lights), when beneficial.
    • Technology support will be available for students with questions and concerns.
    • Navigation and instructions will be clear to aid in self-direction and repetition when necessary.
    • All copyright restrictions will be followed when applicable.
    • A linear site construction will be avoided.
    • Design of site will lend itself to multi-modal processing.

A Strategies-based Approach to Learning Pragmatics

This website takes a strategies-based approach to learning pragmatics. Its objective is to give learners the necessary learning and performance strategies for developing their abilities in the area of Spanish pragmatics. Two types of strategies are included. The first has to do with learning and performing speech acts; these are based on the taxonomy proposed by Cohen (2005). Click here for a complete list of the strategies incorporated into this website. The goal of utilizing these strategies is to provide learners with a repertoire they can use in any situation to be able to interpret and respond in a pragmatically appropriate manner.

In addition to the overarching strategies, we also address pragmatic strategies specific to each speech act or pragmatic feature. These include both the sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic strategies necessary to deal with each feature appropriately. All information was adapted from empirical evidence, avoiding the use of intuition, which can be incorrect. All resources used in the creation of this website are cited in the summary page of each module. Full, annotated citations are also hyperlinked throughout the site.

Natural Data vs. Simulated Examples: Where Does the Data Come From and What Does it Mean to Us?

While we fully recognize the benefits of the use of natural data in pragmatics research and the language classroom, we also assert the importance of using carefully selected, simulated examples that provide salient access to the pragmatic features in question. We are aware that much of the source material upon which the website content is based reflects the use of elicited data, and that there is a premium being placed on a triangulated approach to data collection. For example, the recent study comparing elicited approaches to data collection with the collection of corpus data which would suggest that while there are advantages to collecting elicited data, it is valuable to complement these data with corpus data as well (e.g., Schauer & Adolphs 2006). 

At the same time, we must recognize the importance of the currently available material and not completely throw it out in our pursuit of more natural data. If we accept fully the argument that the only way to get truly authentic data is by means of natural data, we are faced with situations where, say, an apology could extend over numerous turns, interwoven with compliments, requests, and perhaps even complaints also extended over numerous turns. Furthermore, it may be that none of these speech acts is direct enough to be readily perceptible, even to the native interlocutor.  Pragmatics in natural data often shows up in ways that are largely imperceptible to L2 learners. Hence, if we want to provide a pedagogically-oriented website such as this one, we must be willing to provide perhaps idealized models for how language may be used, knowing full well that we cannot begin to capture actual language with all of its richness and nuances.  Therefore, we include in our website numerous caveats, lest a user come away with the impression that we are trying to be prescriptive.  In other words, rather than providing data samples which are primarily inferential in nature, we are offering a level of explicitness.

So, while we would acknowledge the shortcomings of elicited data, the results of research based on elicited tasks should not be discarded for failing to reflect natural data. The fact is that the data collected may still serve a valuable pedagogical purpose, especially for lower-level learners. Although it is important to continue to accumulate more reliable data by studying natural discourse as much as possible and in as many contexts as possible, elicited data are likely to represent what native-speaker informants perceive as idealized and normative data, or, at least, acceptable or appropriate language behavior. The use of non-scripted dialogues such as those collected for this website are an effort to provide a compromise for the sake of pedagogy.

As a result of these issues and observations, in this website, we use simulated, but unscripted, role plays. In order for learners to use Spanish communicatively, the sample dialogues were recorded in the most natural way possible. While they are role plays, only the overarching context was given to the speakers. This allowed for the creation of spontaneous speech that was appropriate for learning. This is suggested as a first step in the process of pragmatic development. After learners become more familiar with the various speech acts and pragmatic features, they can then move on to more complex analyses of natural data as it occurs in the real world. The strategy-based approach to learning makes this a viable option because it gives learners the necessary tools for dealing with many different types of language.

We should note that even the simulated conversations are fairly difficult for the learners. They contain many of the features found in natural conversation (e.g., multiple turns, overlap, and self-corrections). Therefore, it is recommended that with these materials instructors encourage learners to focus on the appropriate use of Spanish, not grammatical accuracy or analysis of linguistic form.  Learners can begin to develop a tolerance of ambiguity while focusing on the main idea and appropriate use of Spanish, rather than worrying about understanding every single word used in samples. Written transcripts of the dialogues are also provided to enable more thorough comprehension.

The Multilingual Learner: Do We Want Learners to Behave Like Native Speakers?

The notion of becoming a native speaker is not necessarily the goal of pragmatic development. Rather, learners should become aware of the context in which they are interacting and know how to interpret and respond appropriately to what is going on around them. In many cases, delivery will be accepted even if learners violate certain rules. If people recognize them as nonnative speakers, they might be less likely to take offense at any awkward pragmatic moments. In other cases, utterances may be accepted, but may still be inappropriate. At times, it may not be acceptable at all. These website materials are intended to help students learn tendencies of native speaker behavior, and then adapt their own pragmatic behavior to convey their intended meaning. While native speaker models are provided, we leave it up to each individual learner to decide just how much they wish to conform to a "native-like standard" in their pragmatic behavior. The next step of this type of project is to start understanding how pragmatically successful nonnative speakers interact in the target language.

It is also important to remember that miscommunication due to pragmatic confusion can also occur between two native speakers. Individual variation and perception also play an important role in pragmatic development. In order to illustrate this point, examples of individual variation and native speaker pragmatic failure are also included in the site. This is intended to help learners develop a keen understanding of the complexity of the issues at hand.

Future Plans and Research

We are currently in the process of completing evaluative research on the use of this website. Future empirical work will address the effectiveness of the website for pragmatic learning and the application of the strategy-based approach by learners for pragmatic development. Should you wish to collaborate or use this site for research of your own, please feel free to contact us. We are happy to provide access to the resources used in creating and using this website!


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