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Review of Investigating Pragmatics in Foreign Language Learning, Teaching and Testing
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
SUMMARY 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 practices.
''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.
EVALUATION 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.
REFERENCES 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.