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Pragmatic Activities for the

Speaking Classroom

eing able to speak naturally and appropriately with others in a variety
of situations is an important goal for many English as a foreign
language (EFL) learners. Because the skill of speaking invariably
involves interaction with people and using language to reach objectives
(e.g., ordering food, making friends, asking for favors), it is crucial for
teachers to explore activities that help students learn the typical ways to
express these and other language functions.

To interact successfully in myriad contexts and and desired objectives can influence linguistic
with many different speakers, learners need and strategic choices of what to say. The
to develop a repertoire of practical situation- ability to account for and adjust to these
dependent communicative choices. The variables when speaking English defines ones
study of how language is used in interactions pragmatic competence.
is called pragmatics, and while appropriate
interactions come naturally to native speakers Despite its importance in EFL communication,
of a language, EFL learners need to be aware the teaching of pragmatics is often overlooked
of the many linguistic and strategic options in the classroom and underrepresented in
available to them in certain situations. Though teaching materials and teacher education
pragmatics is an extensive field within courses. Reasons include insufficient class time,
linguistics, much pragmatic research has lack of interest, or inadequate recognition of its
focused on speech acts performed by learners importance in interpersonal communication.
and the linguistic and strategic choices they There may also be a shortage of practical and
employ (Mitchell, Myles, and Marsden 2013). achievable activities for the classroom that
introduce and promote the development of
To use pragmatically appropriate speech, EFL such nuanced language use. While teachers may
users must account for not only the form recognize the importance of pragmatics and
and function of a second language, but the want to use it in their lessons, many are unsure
context as well (Taguchi 2015). In doing so, how to select and incorporate pragmatic
they will be more comfortable speaking to teaching activities in EFL classes. This seems
interlocutors who may vary in age, gender, to be the case in Japan, where I teach, and
social class, and status (Kinginger and Farrell I suspect the situation is similar in other
2004; Ishihara and Cohen 2010). Special EFL contexts.
conversational choices are also required based
on the relationship between speakers The purpose of this article is to demonstrate
whether they know each other and for how how to identify pragmatic teaching points, to
long. In addition, conversational expectations introduce related activities, and to generally


encourage attention to pragmatic speaking and contexts. Speakers are required to
ability in language classrooms. This article consider options and select among alternatives
promotes the idea that pragmatic skills to produce contextually appropriate speech
identified and developed in EFL settings (Kasper and Rose 2002). For instance,
contribute to communicative success. It begins speaking to a friend in a cafe about a low
by discussing pragmatics as a general field within test score may necessitate different language
EFL education before moving on to present the and strategies than talking about the same
notion of speech act sets (SASs), which are step- topic to the instructor who graded the test.
by-step conversational options normally used to Apologizing about forgetting a meeting
successfully communicate a variety of language with a potential employer would likely
functions. SASs are considered valuable tools involve a different level of formality than
for examining language and strategic choices if the meeting were with a close friend.
made during speech production, and they also Complaints to a colleague of the same rank
provide useful templates for language teachers about working conditions would probably
who want to add a pragmatic element to their come out differently if made to the manager.
speaking lessons; as such, the concept of SASs Such situations call for the ability to operate
is promoted in the literature in an effort to within pragmatic norms, which are a range
advance pragmatic studies through a speech act of tendencies or conventions for pragmatic
perspective (Ishihara and Cohen 2010). Through language use that are typical or generally
comparisons of student output from two SASs preferred in the L2 community (Ishihara and
for the language functions of apologizing and Cohen 2010, 13).
requesting, this article demonstrates how to
identify specific pragmatic teaching points and Failure to adhere to these norms may lead
use them to inform pragmatic instruction. This to unintended consequences and unequal
article also suggests classroom activities that treatment of the speaker. On the other
teachers can use to help learners develop and hand, culturally appropriate choices when
refine their pragmatic abilities in English. interacting with different subgroups will
potentially lead to more positive experiences,
PRAGMATIC DEVELOPMENT increased motivation, and appealing outcomes
for learners. Based on this line of thinking,
Pragmatics has been defined as the study the following questions may be of interest
of language from the point of view of users, to educators involved in intercultural
especially the choices they make and the communication and speaking classes:
effects their use of language has on other
participants in the act of communication Do students have an appropriate linguistic
(Crystal 1997, 301). The aspects of choice and strategic range to vary their speech
and effect are particularly relevant depending on context?
for achieving desired outcomes during
interpersonal communication. In terms of Do they understand the consequences
pragmatic choices, EFL learners need to be of using one utterance or strategy over
aware of the many linguistic and strategic another?
options they can use in certain circumstances.
The linguistic options will likely differ from How can pragmatic instruction be
their first language (L1); depending on the implemented in second language (L2)
L1 and/or cultural background, the strategic classrooms?
alternatives in English may also be different
(Blum-Kulka and Olshtain 1984). It is important for students to be conscious
of their options and the consequences that
Regarding effect, learners need to result from appropriate and inappropriate
understand the ramifications of utilizing choices. Even though L1 patterns for language
different linguistic options in certain situations functions may differ from L2 patterns, 2016 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM 13

Given the importance of pragmatics, educators teaching spoken
interaction may want to include pragmatic elements in lessons.

learners will benefit from familiarity with formulas that allow users to accomplish a
appropriate L2 SASs. This awareness will given function. They consist of patterns of
allow them to communicate within standard output in an effort to establish frameworks
organization patterns that native language and options typically employed for specific
users expect, although language learners may purposes. As this article relates to EFL
not always have the goal of attaining native- learners and teachers in particular, English-
like fluency, and the relevance of native based SASs are used; however, SAS patterns
speaker norms is changing (McKay 2003). may vary by language and culture.
However, given the importance of pragmatics,
educators teaching spoken interaction may The linguistic moves for two SASs displayed
want to include pragmatic elements in lessons. in Figure 1apologizing and requestingare
SASs offer a straightforward way of identifying based on Ishihara and Cohen (2010) and the
specific areas in need of development and Center for Advanced Research on Language
assessing pragmatic output. Acquisition (2015). (Note: Letters in
parentheses are referred to in the analysis and
SPEECH ACT SETS (SASs) discussion.)

As noted earlier, an SAS is a group of These formulaic groups of pragmatic

possible strategies that speakers may employ routines provide language educators with
when performing a speech act. For instance, practical, research-based archetypes with
there is a specific SAS for apologizing, which to compare their students output.
another for requesting, and another for Teachers can research the pragmatic
thanking. These SASs include strategic routines and conduct needs analyses
options, linguistic moves, and semantic (Brown 1995) to both inform their
instructional decisions and elucidate
the pragmatic evolution of learners. For
example, a small-scale research project
Apologizing Requesting I conducted with Japanese EFL learners
revealed where to focus attention on their
Expressing the pragmatic speaking ability. For the study,
Getting attention (a) learners responded to situational prompts
apology (a)
to apologize to a friend and request a ride
Head act (the actual
from someone. Based on findings from that
Taking responsibility (b)
request) (b) study, I identified certain linguistic and
strategic options that were missing from
student responses and used that data to
Explaining the Supporting moves
incorporate speaking activities that targeted
situation (c) (moderates request
can come before or
pragmatic competence.
after the head act) (c)
Offering repair or Similar activities are presented in Table 1
compensation (d) (apology output) and Table 2 (request output).
Potential teaching points and pedagogic
Promising it wont options for the classroom follow each table.
happen again (e) Lowercase letters after each step correspond
to the SASs depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Speech act sets for apologizing and requesting


Example A: Im sorry I forget my note at Example B: Im so sorry I left my note in
my house (a). If we have time for project my house (a). If you have time today, I can I
mm, ah, meeting, Im sorry I come back to back to my house and bring my note? (d) Or
my house (possibly d). if you dont have time, can I change meeting
schedule? (d)

Example C: Im sorry I forget my notes (a), Example D: Ah, I forget my notebook.

so could you take me some notes? Sorry (a), ah please give me just a moment,
so I go back to ah, classroom last classroom,
classroom to get, to get to bring the my notes
(d). Ill be back soon.
Table 1. Students apology speech samples

APOLOGY SCENARIO in Figure 1 could be used as checklists for this

type of evaluation. Alternatively, teachers could
The students pragmatic ability to apologize create their own basic evaluation checklists
is depicted in Table 1. According to the that might include points for Appropriate
scenario, the speaker must apologize to a Greeting, Use of Taking Responsibility,
classmate because the speaker forgot to bring Appropriate Grammar Choices, and so on.
a notebook to a study session. Here is the
prompt (adapted from Taguchi 2014): Another teaching point relates to the students
question can I change meeting schedule? in
Apology scenario: You and your friend, Example B. Teachers may wish to introduce
Jessica, are working on a class project grammatical options such as could I or
together. You meet Jessica at a school would I possibly be able to instead of can
cafeteria to talk about the project. I. By adjusting the formality of the situation,
You forgot to bring the notes that you which effectively modifies the scenario to
promised to bring to the meeting. What a less abrupt apology or elevates the status
do you say to Jessica? of the interlocutor, students practice more
formal grammar and make the apology more
PRAGMATIC ACTIVITIES BASED ON acceptable. Further, teachers can present
STUDENT APOLOGIES alternatives for the so in Im so sorry (e.g.,
very or really) and discuss which option is
When examining student responses, teachers most appropriate under certain circumstances.
may find a number of relevant teaching One may also note that the speaker does not
points to incorporate in their classes. One begin the apology with any kind of pre-apology
straightforward classroom activity is to ask signal, such as Listen, or You wont
learners to make the necessary grammatical believe this, but . Teachers can introduce
corrections to the output and have them these signals to learners and then encourage
practice the revised response. This activity their use in subsequent role-play activities.
could be done with stock samples like those
in Table 1 or, preferably, with output from the By comparing these speech samples to the SAS
learners themselves. The former option may for apologizing, teachers can assess whether
be easier for classrooms without recording learners are effectively accomplishing the
equipment for individual students, but the desired conversational steps. Another step
latter would allow learners to identify and self- (offering repair or compensation) is successfully
correct their own mistakes. Video recordings employed in both Examples B and D. However,
of student output also provide options for the other three steps in the apology SAS (i.e.,
peer- and/or teacher-review. The sample SASs taking responsibility, explaining the situation, 2016 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM 15

and promising it wont happen again) are asking learners to brainstorm and write down
not attempted. It could be that the learners apology scenarios and SASs, which they then
were aware of these options and chose not to exchange with classmates for apology practice.
incorporate them or that they felt the situation The teacher should ensure that each situation
did not warrant their use. However, another has specific elements (e.g., age, context, past
possibility is that learners were not able to relationship) to help students understand the
attempt them in English. As such, learners pragmatic dimensions.
may benefit if teachers focus on the omitted
steps in speaking classes. This can be done REQUEST SCENARIO
in a few ways. Teachers can prepare apology
scripts that illustrate each of the five SAS steps The students pragmatic ability to make a
for apologizing shown in Figure 1, as in the request is depicted in Table 2. In this scenario,
following: the speaker needs to ask an eight-year-old
sibling to turn the TV volume down so the
1 . Expressing the apology: Listen, Ive got speaker can study. By noting the utterance
some bad news. Im really sorry, but I length, politeness, and sophistication of the
got into an accident with your bike, and request examples in Table 2, teachers can
the frame is broken. identify appropriate responses. Here is the
prompt (adapted from Taguchi 2014):
2 . Taking responsibility: It was totally my
fault. I should have been more careful. Request scenario: You are doing homework
in your host familys house. Your host
3 . Explaining the situation: You see, it was brother, Ken, is an eight-year-old boy and
raining, and the road was slippery. I lost you often play with him. He is watching
control of the bike and I crashed. TV, and it is very loud. It distracts you
from your study. You want Ken to turn
4 . Offering repair or compensation: Of course, down the volume. What do you say to
Ill pay to have it replaced. Ken?

5 . Promising it wont happen again: Itll never PRAGMATIC ACTIVITIES BASED ON

happen again. STUDENT REQUESTS

After teachers cut these speech samples into These extracts show that in Example C, the
single strips, the learners mix them up and learner omitted the attention getter (a), an
then reorder. In doing so, they are exposed to element of the SAS that when left out makes
alternate options for apologizing that they may the request seem unduly harsh; this indicates
not have realized were steps of the apologizing that learners should be informed of this
SAS in English. As there is not always a important component of the request SAS.
standard order for SASs, teachers can also In Examples A, B, and D, learners were able
discuss possible variations and implications to incorporate all three parts of the request
of those options. Such an activity helps raise SASgetting attention (a), actual request (b),
awareness of pragmatic options and targets and supporting moves (c)though to varying
pragmatic knowledge at a receptive level. degrees. Example A is very brief and direct.
There is a noticeable difference between
At the productive level, students then create Examples B and D in terms of supporting
their own apologies based on prompts from moves (c), both before and after the head act
the teacher (e.g., You bumped into an elderly (b), the actual request. What is more, the
person on the train or You spilled coffee on a opening question of Example B (What are
work computer and have to explain it to your you watching?) is particularly noteworthy,
boss). Building on this type of controlled as the learner is able to strategically and
practice, teachers personalize the activity by indirectly address Ken and his TV viewing. To


Example A: Ken (a), can you turn down? (b) Example B: Ken (a), what, what are you
Its noisy (c). I want to study (c). watching? (c) Its good, ah, so actually,
I study, Im studying (c). Im doing
homework (c), so could you could you
turn, turn down volume a little bit? (b) I ah,
after that I, when I finish the homework, ah,
I want to watch with you (c).

Example C: Im doing my homework now, Example D: Eh, Ken (a), I want to study (c).
but I cant focus on that because TV is noisy So the room is too loud (c), so could you
(c), so would you turn down the volume? (b) turn down the TV volume? (b)

Table 2. Students request speech samples

build on the linguistic and strategic knowledge A range of interlocutors

students have exhibited, teachers may wish to Another lesson is to ensure that learners
focus on incorporating native-like expressions are able to make a request to a range of
for the actual request (b), such as Would you interlocutors by adjusting age, position,
mind ? or Do you think you could ? and social status in role plays. For practice
in the classroom, the teacher creates a
The use of softeners list of people and writes it on the board
Teachers may also wish to focus attention as follows: Person 1 = an elderly man;
on softeners, which make a request more Person 2 = a woman in a business suit;
polite and are largely missing from the rather Person 3 = a boy younger than you, etc.
direct responses above. Instead of an abrupt The teacher also writes a scenario on the
Its noisy, teachers can introduce softening board; for example, You have your hands
modifiers such as a bit, kind of, or a full of shopping bags. You drop one and
little and encourage learners to incorporate cant pick it up by yourself. Ask (another
them in role plays. These softeners can also person) to help you. In pairs or small
be used in controlled practice in which groups, students then roll a die or choose
the teacher makes a direct statement (e.g., a number to determine which person they
Its chilly in here. Close the window.) will talk to. Depending on which person
that students must soften and make more they are asking for help, their output
polite (e.g., Its a bit chilly in here. Would should be altered accordingly. The teacher
you mind closing the window?). After may need to demonstrate. For example,
some controlled examples, students work a response to Person 1, an elderly man,
in pairs to create and practice with their might be, Excuse me, sir. Sorry to trouble
own conversations, including both a less you. Would you be able to pick up my bag
formal and a more formal version. Pairs then for me? For Person 3, a boy younger than
exchange dialogues and practice with their you, it might be, Hey, can you do me a
classmates original materials. Feedback from favor and hand me that bag? The teacher
the teacher and other students helps learners and other students provide feedback on
refine their linguistic choices. strategic and linguistic choices.

After some controlled examples, students work in pairs

to create and practice with their own conversations,
including both a less formal and a more formal version. 2016 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM 17

Pragmatic appropriateness The specific activities described earlier can
Another classroom activity is for teachers to be adapted and used in relation to these
engage students in discussions about pragmatic speech acts as well. The staples of adjusting
appropriateness, which hinges largely on the interlocutor factors, introducing a range of
person being addressed (requesting something sentence stems, and practicing softening or
from a close friend or a new classmate), the intensifying language can be applied to these
situation at hand (requesting a ten-minute car and other language functions.
ride or a two-hour car ride), time constraints
(asking an employer for a letter of reference ADDING BACKGROUND TO ROLE PLAYS
with a three-day deadline or with a one-month
deadline), and so on. Question prompts may One obstacle to pragmatic practice in
include the following: language classrooms is the important element
of previous experience and personal history.
How might your approach change When learners role-play scenarios in class,
depending on the person you are the relevance and stakes that are involved
speaking to? in a real-life situation are absent. As such, it
can sometimes be challenging for learners
In what type of situation might you use to adopt a role and ask a friend to borrow
________ (a given strategy or utterance)? money, for instance, because they are not
able to draw on or refer to any previous
Teachers can provide any related feedback or relationship between them and their friend.
suggestions. If teachers notice a lack of contextual
information becoming a hindrance, they could
ADDITIONAL SPEECH ACTS either supply extra information in the role-
play setup or encourage students to imagine
The previous paragraphs have demonstrated the background.
how a needs analysis can inform pragmatic
speaking instruction for language classrooms Another solution is to use pictures (for
using the SASs for apologies and requests. example, from magazines or the Internet) to
The same approach can be used with other illustrate who the interlocutors are. Visual
language functions, such as these: images stimulate learners schema and make
the interaction more interesting. From a
Complimenting: You are taking an stack of pictures face down, students select
American literature class. A good friend their own character prior to role-playing,
of yours, Kathy, has made an excellent thereby adding an element of spontaneity to
presentation in class today. After class, the conversation. By augmenting role plays
you want to compliment her on her in such ways, teachers increase awareness
performance. and encourage discussion about how
past interactions, relationships, and first
Inviting: You are interested in trying a impressions affect how we strategize and say
new Italian restaurant that opened near things to people.
your campus. You know your friend Andy
likes Italian food, too. Invite him to the CONCLUSION
This article has suggested a number
Thanking: Your bicycle had a flat tire, and of classroom activities that can be
you could not ride home after school. It incorporated into speaking lessons
would have taken you one hour to walk. to target pragmatic development and
Your teacher gave you a ride, along with prepare students to interact with a range
your bicycle, back to your house. Thank of interlocutors and within varying
your teacher. contextual factors. As illustrated above,


using SAS analysis of language functions
such as apologizing and requesting informs html (includes descriptions, examples, and
pragmatic speaking instruction, ensuring background reading on several speech acts)
that teachers are identifying and targeting
areas their students have not yet acquired, REFERENCES
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Teachers interested in addressing pragmatics Cross-cultural_adaptability_and_development_
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teaching-pragmatics (includes practical
classroom-based lesson plans for Joseph Siegel, PhD, is Associate Professor at Meiji
pragmatics) Gakuin University, Tokyo, where he coordinates and
teaches EFL and study abroad programs. His research interests include pragmatic development, intercultural
Exercises (has sections targeting various communication, and second language listening.
types of pragmatic competence, including This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant
speech acts, politeness, and conversation Number 2677020.
structure) 2016 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM 19