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Teaching culture with a pragmatics approach

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Sabrina Gerland: When learners are fluent in English and are still unable to communicate their speech intentions, they complain that their foreign counterpart just doesn’t understand. This is often …

Sabrina Gerland: When learners are fluent in English and are still unable to communicate their speech intentions, they complain that their foreign counterpart just doesn’t understand. This is often the point when intercultural communication training is considered necessary. However, it is my belief that some of the problems could be dealt with in the language classroom using a pragmatics approach. The aim of this talk is to show the value of focusing on speech act performance as a means to approach the cultural dimension of language use.

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  • 1. “We need intercultural communication training because they don’t understand us!”Teaching culture with a pragmatics approach
    Dr. Sabrina Mallon-Gerland
    Besig Webinar
    30 September 2010
  • 2. Participant questions:
    How do I get an American to commit?
    • How do I request politely but also clearly?
    • 3. How can I get Americans to understand that I have made a request?
    How do I tell a client/colleague that their proposal is not good?
    • How do I disagree/criticise diplomatically?
    • 4. How can I get commitment when I disagree?
    • 5. How do I motivate others to agree with my proposal?
  • 3 examples: disagreeing with a client about R&D solution
    “That‘s not a good idea. In our experience that doesn‘t work“
    “I‘m afraid I have to disagree”
    “That‘s a great idea, I really like it, but it won‘t work.“
    Analysis:
    • English speakers avoid explicit acts of disagreeing
    • 6. Softened pre-disagreeing act should be followed by tentavised act of disagreeing
    • 7. Inappropriate expression of power
  • Request for data needed for a presentation(Relationship: Colleague to colleague)
    “I would kindly ask youto spend few minutes of your worthy time to help me on some information for our big project which has to start next month.”
    Analysis:
    I ask you = command, order
    I would kindly ask you to = cynical order
    Over the top politeness = rudeness
    “worthy time” = cynical
  • 8. Request for help to entertain visitors: long, detailed, confusing (colleague to colleague)
    Uh just now but I asked uh to face a major challenge today and I hope you can help me out. Uhm as you know we a customer visit today in our company and it’s a major potential customer with a major project and uh the plan was that I have the greeting and then then to have a company tour from 10-12 o’clock and afterwards I would invite them for lunch and in the afternoon there should be the customer meeting and uh which I planned to attend. But we have a difficulty in another project and as you know we’re working since 2 years there and the only person to solve the difficulties uh in the planned timeframe is me so I have to look for someone to replace me uh with the customer group and after uh evaluating all the alternatives you’re the only alternative for this because you speak English better than everyone else here and uhm you’re available for this. I know you have a lot of overtime as the others as well so I asked you for some help in this difficulty.
  • 9. Why?
    L1 ->L2 transfer:
    At a certain level of ability, learners begin to transfer L1 pragmatic knowledge of functions to L2 pragmatic performance.
    Learner assumption:
    Universality in the way speech acts /functions are performed
    ELT course materials
    Minimal explicit input
    Minimal reference to linguo-cultural differences
  • 10. Pragmatics approach: culture and language
    Sensitisation: cultural differences in performance of functions
    Cultural norms:
    • Tentativeness vs. Clarity
    • 11. Agreement Focus vs. Disagreement Focus
    Contextualised functions
    • Disagreeing with client‘s suggestion vs. Disagreeing with colleague‘s suggestion
    Pragmatic meaning accompanying grammar
    • I‘m asking vs. May I ask
    • 12. I would do X vs. I would like to do X
    • 13. Use of adverbs/adjectives: possibly, maybe, terribly, a bit
  • Learner awareness exercise: a contextualised scenario
    You and your colleague are preparing a company presentation for a group of potential clients.
    Your American colleague thinks it would be a good idea for the presentation team to wear Lederhosen and Dirndl as a way to focus on German culture. You disagree.
  • 14. Awareness raising discussion questions:
    What are all the ways one could disagree?
    Organise your list in terms of appropriate to inappropriate
    How do the choices of words help convey appropriate to inappropriate acts of disagreeing?
    How do these acts differ/resemble your native language?
    Would your list change if the addresseewas a friend/boss/client?
    Compare your list with your teacher‘s list.
    How does your teacher‘s list compare to yours?
    Are there any disagreeing examples you would never use? Why?
  • 15. References
    Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words (second edition ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1978, 1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
    Grundy, P. (1995). Doing Pragmatics Edward Arnold
    Hickey, L., & Stewart, M. (Eds.). (2005). Politeness in Europe (Vol. 127): Multilingual Matters.
    Leech, G. N. (1983). The Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.
    Searle, J. R. (1975). Indirect Speech Acts. In Cole & Morgan (Eds.), Speech Acts (pp. 59-82).
    Spencer-Oatey, H. (2000). Rapport Management: A Framework for AnaylsisCulturally Speaking. London: Contiuum.
    Thomas, J. (1995). Meaning in Interaction: An Introduction to Pragmatics London Longman
     

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