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Universidad de Guadalajara

Maestría en Enseñanza del Inglés como Lengua Extranjera


Module II: Linguistic Description For Foreign Language
Teaching

Reflection 4.1 Meaning and


Context

Tutor’s Name: Dra. María Luisa Arias Moreno

Name: Humberto Marino Ramírez

E-mail: humber_marino@hotmail.com

April 14th, 2014


Reflection 4.1
Reflection 4.1
Think of your own teaching practice. When students ask you for the meaning of something (a
word or utterance), what do you normally do? Do you give them just the semantic meaning? Do
you also refer students to the context in which the word or utterance appeared? How can
pragmatics aid you and your students in their understanding of meaning?

Pragmatics is concerned with the study of meaning as communicated by a speaker (or


writer) and interpreted by a listener (or reader). It analyses what people mean by their
utterances, what they try to say in a particular context and how listeners make inferences
about what is said in order to understand the utterances. Pragmatics also studies the
closeness of speaker and listener and the way this determines how much needs to be
said. The advantage of studying language via pragmatics is that one can talk about
people’s intended meanings, their assumptions, and their purposes or goals when they
speak.

But how can pragmatics be taught in the ESL classroom? There isn’t just one way to teach
pragmatics, there are many teaching styles and approaches. Kathleen Bardovi says that a
first step to teach pragmatics is the use of awareness activities like people talking while
standing in a line, nonverbal gestures that accompany certain types of talk such as
shaking hands during greetings or introductions. These samples can be used to introduce
learners with the idea of pragmatics and can start a comparison between pragmatics in L1
and L2.

For this kind of activities it would be great to have skits also known as dramas where the
students have to interact representing a social situation. I would tell them the context of the
situation and the relationship between the speakers, they would speak a mini dialogue but
would have opportunity to improvise and say things according to the social convention of
the situation. In a first stage I would have students to speak Spanish and have them
consider what the pragmatics are in this language. For more advanced groups I will tell
them sentences and phrases of how to use pragmatics in English.

This same author mentions that the use of authentic language samples is important to
show the use of pragmatics. Lessons can be based on these samples. There are many
ways to obtain authentic language samples: tape recordings, talk shows, educational films,
the World Wide Web, letters, correspondence and many others. I think that videos are a
great opportunity to show language social conventions in use. The presentation of
authentic language samples generally goes before interpretation or production activities,
thus giving learners something to build on.

I will give them videos about daily situations in American or British society, for instance
how English speakers greet and say farewells to one another. Once my students have
seen these videos I will make emphasis on what a native British man says to greet another
man in a formal situation: “How do you do?”, and how the other person responds to this :
“How do you do?”. They will compare this to how greetings take place in Mexico: “Hola.
Como estás?”, and the proper response to this: “Bien y tu?” It’s interesting how different
societies have different pragmatic rules: George Yule mentions that when he went to
Saudi Arabi and was asked how he was he first answered the equivalent in Arabic to
“well” or “fine” but when he asked the same question to other people he was given an
answer that literally means “Praise be to God”. Stories like this one show the importance of
how every social group has their own “secrets” or rules of interaction used within the
community.

Mark N. Brock proposes a model for teaching pragmatics in the classroom with an
acronym: SURE, that means: See, Use, Review, Experience. In the first stage (See)
students become aware of the different ways to communicate in English, e.g. ask for a
pen. The teacher shows the direct way: “Lend me a pen”, and the polite way: “Could I
borrow a pen?”. In the second stage (Use) students practice the language in role plays
and groups of 2 or 3. Finally Review and Experience constitute the third and fourth stage
where students practice more and consolidate what they have learned mainly through
videos and other reinforcing activities. I think this is a great way to start using pragmatics
in the classroom especially with commands to students, their responses and requests.

In my teaching practice I used to give my students the semantic meaning only without the
context, but from now on I will put into practice the knowledge about pragmatics. I will
come up with activities where students become aware of pragmatics in their native
language and in English with small dramas where students get to talk in front of the group.
Authentic language samples will be a great way to get students observe pragmatics in real
talks by native speakers. Finally seeing, using, reviewing and experiencing language in
specific contexts , and put into practice the language learned in everyday use is a good
way not to let all this knowledge about pragmatics stay in mere theory.
Bibliografía
Bardovi-Harlig, K. (1996). Introduction to Teaching Pragmatics. En K. Bardovi-Harlig, Teaching
Pragmatics (págs. 1-13). Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois.

Brock, M. N. (2005). Teaching Pragmatics in the EFL classroom? SURE you can. Tesol Reporter38,
17-26.

Finegan, E. (2008). Language, its Structure and Use. Boston, Massachussets. USA: Thomson
Wadsworth.

Yule, G. (1996). Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.