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Review of  Investigating Pragmatics in Foreign Language Learning, Teaching and Testing

Reviewer: Iris F. Levitis
Book Title: Investigating Pragmatics in Foreign Language Learning, Teaching and Testing
Book Author: Eva Alcón Soler Alicia Martínez-Flor
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 20.1944

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EDITORS: Alcón Soler, Eva; Martínez-Flor, Alicia
TITLE: Investigating Pragmatics in Foreign Language Learning, Teaching and Testing
SERIES: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2008

Iris F. Levitis, Department of Linguistics, UC, Davis

This volume is a collection of scholarly articles edited by Eva Alcón Soler, and
Alicia Martínez-Flor. The editors are both distinguished for their contributions
to the fields of applied linguistics, and interlanguage pragmatics (ILP). This
volume attempts to answer the question of how second language pragmatics (SLP)
can be learned, taught, and tested in classroom settings. The approach to this
question is multifaceted in that there are sections concerning the learning,
teaching, and testing of pragmatics in foreign language contexts. The
contributed articles are derived from classroom-based research with a variety of
first and target language contexts in Spain, Iran, Japan, Australia and
elsewhere. The preface is written by Amy Snyder Ohta, and the introduction is
written by the editors. This book will interest anyone who is interested in the
fields of pragmatics, foreign language learning, teaching, or testing.

Section 1: The Learning of SLP
The first article of Section 1 is a theoretical overview of pragmatics learning
in classroom environments by M.A. Dufon. Drawing on the fields of cross-cultural
pragmatics, Second language acquisition (SLA) and ILP, Dufon asserts that
previous studies on pragmatic learning have relied heavily on cognitive
approaches including experimental methods. Arguing that language socialization
theory has been recognized as an alternative framework for understanding the
learning of pragmatics the article first defines what language socialization
theory is. It then goes on to discuss language socialization theory and its
relationship to first and second language acquisition. The article also reviews
some seminal studies of language socialization in foreign language classrooms.

A study of the teaching of pragmatics with the help of a native-speaker-visitor
is the subject of the second article by Y. Tateyama, and G. Kasper. The research
context was a Japanese classroom at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. A
discourse analysis of three request interactions in the class is provided. These
three requests were: teacher requests of the class, teacher requests of the
classroom guest, and classroom guest requests of the students. This study views
language learning as socially situated and draws on Vygotsky's concept of the
''Zone of proximal development'' to explore student learning.

Taking a more cognitive approach, T. Hassall probes the thought processes of
second language learners using video-recorded role-plays. The testing
environment is a university, and the populations are two groups of second
language learners of Indonesian. This study attempts to test Bialystock's model
of the divide between second language learner's pragmatic knowledge and control
over using that knowledge in interactions.

''Learning Pragmatics in Content-Based Classrooms'' by T. Nikula addresses whether
pragmatics can be learned in a non-language focused classroom. Through an
examination of video/audio recordings of a middle school physics class Nikula
uses discourse analysis techniques to explore pragmatic aspects of content based
classrooms. Drawing on the European tradition of content and language integrated
learning (CLIL), Nikula examines whether the more naturalistic language
acquisition assumed to be characteristic of CLIL extends to the acquisition of
pragmatic skills. This study takes a discourse-pragmatic approach and focuses on
pragmatics as it occurs in classrooms.

The last article in this section is by M. Gonzales-Lloret and describes a
long-term study of Spanish pragmatic norms for second language learners
regarding addressivity. The context of the study is a synchronous
computer-mediated communication project with student populations at Jaume
University learning English, and students at the University of Hawaii learning
Spanish. The student's online interactions were studied and instances of
incorrect address were examined to determine what changes occurred over the
course of time.

Section 2: The Teaching of SLP
The first article of this section, by J. House, is theoretical in orientation
and argues for the revitalization of translation as a language teaching method.
It commences by providing several definitions for translation. House argues that
translation requires not just grammatical, but pragmatic knowledge as well. In
addition, the differences between overt and covert translations are discussed.
Then it moves on to a brief history of translation as a method for instruction
before describing how it might be incorporated into current language teaching

''Effects on Pragmatic Development Through Awareness-raising Instruction:
Refusals by Japanese EFL Learners'' by S. Kondo focuses on increasing student
attention to their pragmatic options and developing an interlanguage identity.
An interventionist study with Japanese English language learners was conducted
which consisted of pre-instruction testing. Then instruction concerning English
language pragmatic interactions such as compliments, refusals, and complaints
was provided. After this post-instruction testing with Oral Discourse Completion
Tasks (ODCT) were carried out. The same tasks were completed by American
students for comparative purposes. The analysis examines the difference in test
results on the pre and post-instruction tests.

The final article in this section, by Z.R. Eslami, and A. Eslami-Rasekh, is a
study of explicit teaching of pragmatics during English as a foreign language
(EFL) teacher training programs at Najafabad Azad University in Iran. Examining
two groups of students, one receiving instruction in EFL teaching methods with a
focus on pragmatics, and the second receiving instruction in EFL teaching
methods without any pragmatics focus, the pragmatic skills of the two student
groups were compared with a discourse completion task and error recognition
task. The responses were evaluated for appropriateness and the preliminary and
post test were compared for the two groups.

Section 3: The Testing of SLP
Yamashita provides a theoretical framework for the testing of pragmatic
competence. This article begins by defining what pragmatic competence is as well
as test formats used to measure this competence. Construct and content validity
of tests is discussed. Six issues are identified as being in the realm of
pragmatics testing. Test components are identified and the article concludes
with a discussion of methods for testing pragmatic ability.

Brown contributes ''Raters, Functions, Item Types and the Dependability of L2
Pragmatics Tests''. Using data from Hudson (1992, 1995), it addresses type of
test, the number of items on a test, and rater reliability as factors which
influence the efficacy of pragmatics testing. In the original analysis ''power,
social distance, and degree of imposition'' were identified as important
variables in the testing of speech acts (Brown 226). These variables were then
subjected to statistical analysis using traditional and generalizability (G
theory) methods.

The final article is ''Rater, Item and Candidate Effects in Discourse Completion
Tests: A FACETS Approach'' by Roever. Using many-facet Rasch measurement in the
computer program FACETS this study reanalyzes data from Roever (2005) with three
variables: test takers, number of items, and raters. Twelve speech acts were
considered including requests, apologies, and refusals. These data were closely
analyzed to check what, if any, effects rater harshness, the number of test
items or test taker had to do with test scoring.

Taken as a whole, this volume is a timely contribution to ILP research. Each
article is interesting independently, but due to the diversity of research in
the field of interlanguage pragmatics there seems to be loose connection between
some sections of the book. This was most noticeable in the section on the
testing of pragmatic competence and might have been caused by the paucity of
articles concerning the teaching and testing of pragmatic competence.

One issue not adequately addressed in the testing section was a discussion of
the relevancy of the written evaluative methods proposed to pragmatic competence
in verbal communication. Though the articles in this section fit together
thematically there seems to be less connection to the previous sections on
learning and teaching pragmatics. The socially-based learning described in the
earlier articles seem to be disconnected from the testing methodology outlined
in this last section. For instance, the teaching of requests in Tateyama and
Kasper seems to require face-to-face contact, but the question of evaluation of
role plays is not explored. This problem was peripherally acknowledged in these
articles. Yamashita writes, ''Because pragmatics does not operate according to
strict rules such as grammar, which usually involves right or wrong answers,
showing one's pragmatic ability only by a paper and pencil test is sometimes
difficult'' (218). This quote illustrates an essential problem with some of the
evaluative methods described in this volume. Roever, in the final article
asserts, ''findings allow conclusions about the learners' repertoire of
strategies but they do not allow conclusion as to the learners' ability to use
those strategies in actual conversation'' (263). This admission indicates the
divide between the tested skills, and the skills which are considered necessary
for pragmatic competence. This is a disjuncture which could have been addressed
more directly, rather than acknowledged as a peripheral problem. Kasper and
Schmidt posed the question, ''How can approximation to target language norms be
measured?'' (Bardovi-Harlig 2002: 187). This question which is answered
thoroughly in many of the articles in this volume seems not to be addressed with
the same breadth in this final section of testing pragmatic competence.

The second aspect which might be criticized is organizational. The first section
on learning pragmatics is considerably lengthier, with six articles, than the
teaching, and testing sections; which have only three articles each. Due to the
length of the first section and the wide variety of articles included in it, the
second and third sections are disappointing due to their brevity. This is not to
criticize the articles that were included, but to note that the sections on
teaching and testing, due to shortness were not as informative as expected based
on the lengthier section on learning pragmatics.

Overall, this volume provides an overview of recent research in the field of
ILP. It takes into consideration the wide variety of approaches currently being
used in classroom-based ILP research. The employment of both observational, as
well as more experimental methods provides a holistic picture of the current
state of research in ILP.

Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen. (2002). ''Pragmatics and Second Language Acquisition''.
_Oxford handbook of applied linguistics_, edited by Robert B. Kaplan. New York,
NY: Oxford University Press.

Iris Levitis is a student in the Linguistics Department at the University of
California, Davis. She is currently working on her Masters thesis on English
Second Language Reading and Writing. Other research interests include second
language acquisition, pragmatics, language policies, and literacy. She served as
a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger from 2002-2005.

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