On Cultivation of Learners’ Pragmatic Competence in ELT


校园英语·下旬 2017年2期


【Abstract】This paper analyzes the causes of pragmatic failure and gives some suggestions on cultivating students pragmatic competence.

【Key words】pragmatic competence; pragmatic failure

We focus too much on cultivation of the linguistic competence in ELT, at the same time neglect learners pragmatic competence. As a result, pragmatic failure appears. This paper analyzes the causes and gives suggestions on cultivating students pragmatic competence.

I. Causes of pragmatic failure

The major causes maybe: students inappropriate transfer of semantically or syntactically equivalent structures or transfer of speech act strategies from their native language to the target language, and students tendency of judging or interpreting behavior different from theirs according to their own culture standard. For example, if we want to express “杰克, 我明天可以去你家嗎”, we have two choices: can I go to your house tomorrow, jack? or can I come to your house tomorrow, jack? Most Chinese students will choose the first one without hesitation. But actually the second one is preferred by native English speakers. It is a typical usage of a deictic shift to show politeness.

Conflict of different value systems and students insuffient exposure to the target culture as well as a lack of comparative studies of the two cultures are also “snags” in communication. In china, sentences as “How old are you?” “Are you married?” “How about your salary?” are often used to start conversations between strangers, while in the western culture, as privacy is essential, those questions are considered as taboo questions.

Improper teaching techniques can also be regarded as one cause of pragmatic failure. Most teachers only teach students some linguistic knowledge. However all such linguistic knowledge must be contextualized if it is to have any significance. Students need to acquire an understanding of pragmatic principles. They should know how to use what they have learned properly.

II. Suggestions on Cultivation of Students Pragmatic Competence

1. improve students cross-cultural awareness

Since language and culture are very much interlinked, cross-cultural awareness must be made one of the goals in ELT. As we are teaching English in an environment, where Chinese is the mother tongue, teaching the target culture should be integrated into language courses, especially into the main course, intensive, because teaching culture separately is mote practical. We should also introduce cultural background knowledge, which is of vital importance to learners. Different cultures define social situation differently. The teachers may introduce different cultural backgrounds before explaining the text, which can arouse students interest as well as help them understand the text easily. We should develop students sense of style when Chinese students communicate with the native speakers, they tend to use the kind of English is proper on all occasions. We know that it is not the case. We should also try to cultivate students sense of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal language, like verbal language is also a part of culture. It is very necessary for the English teachers to introduce different body of the target culture, such as physical contact, distance, gestures and so on.

2. introduce pragmatic knowledge about target language

In learning a language, linguistic knowledge is important, but to know when, where, and how to apply this knowledge to different context is most important. That is, teaching pragmatic appropriateness is of utmost necessity. Firstly, we should teach pragmatic functions of different sentences. Second, we should introduce the techniques of avoiding the verbal taboo topics. There are verbal taboo topics, typically sexual or religious. There are still many other topics, such as age, income, marital status, weight etc, which should be avoided. Last we should alert students to the context because speakers meaning can be comprehended fully in the context. Pragmatics is the study of the use of context to make inferences about meaning. So understanding context is of utmost importance to use language tactfully and appropriately. As a teacher, we should teach students how to use context to foster their pragmatic competence.

3. make full use of various aids

All kinds of facilities for teaching should be provided with some opportunities to observe how native speakers use English. It is also necessary to invite some native speakers of English who are working in china to give lectures on communicative skills that can be acquired in class. English films and TV programs are materials, because they deeply impress those very natural and real pragmatic phenomena on the learners through the audio-visual channel, especially under the guidance of the teachers.


[1]He Ziran.1997.Pragmatics and English Learning.Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.