Pragmatics in Teaching English As a Second Language

Pragmatics is a specialized area of study in the field of linguistics that focuses on the interaction between natural language and its users. Unlike other areas of linguistics, such as semantics (the study of rule systems that determine the literal linguistic meaning of expressions), syntax (word order), and semiotics (the study of symbols), pragmatics is concerned with how these linguistic expressions are used in specific social or physical contexts to convey nonliteral information.

Pragmatic studies often take on a more psychological orientation, with emphasis on the ways that speakers, listeners and other participants in a conversation use language to convey meaning. This contrasts with a more narrowly focused approach in other areas of linguistics, such as syntactic studies or the formal semantics of words and sentences.

There are various subfields within pragmatics, including a number of different models for understanding the interaction between language and context. One prominent model is relevance theory, proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson. This view of the interaction between language and context argues that a speaker’s every utterance must contain enough relevant information to be worth its addressee’s effort to process the utterance.

Another important approach to pragmatics is the study of communication disorders. This includes the study of communicative disorders in individuals with developmental disabilities, such as autism and intellectual disability, and the study of communicative impairments in adults who have acquired a second language.

The pedagogical implications of pragmatics are a central issue in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Teachers must decide how much focus to place on pragmatics in their lessons, and they may also need to provide learners with additional instruction in pragmatics in order to facilitate learning English as a second language.

This article offers a series of practical questions that can guide the design of a pragmatic analytic approach, including consideration of the balance between inductive and deductive procedures, the extent to which insider or outsider perspectives are privileged, study requirements related to data and products that support scientific advancement and practice change, and strategic resource allocation. It also discusses three approaches commonly considered for implementation science projects: grounded theory, framework analysis, and interpretive phenomenological analysis, emphasizing core analytic procedures that can be borrowed for a pragmatic approach. This is followed by an illustrative example from the authors, describing how their team developed a pragmatic analytic approach for a project on the development and evaluation of a pragmatic computer-based intervention to promote the social and emotional competence of at-risk children.