Pragmatics is the study of the practical aspects of human action and thought. It considers language as an instrument of interaction and what people mean when they use it, focusing on the implied meanings of an utterance. Pragmatics is also about understanding how we respond to others and the ways that we communicate. It is a central part of communication and interaction, and without it there would be little understanding of how we understand each other.
Being a pragmatic person means being concerned more with what works and less with what should or could be. This focus on results and consequences makes them more logical in their thinking and able to see different sides of an argument. They also tend to be more flexible and are willing to change old traditions or beliefs that don’t work anymore.
Pragmatism can be helpful in dealing with difficult relationships because it helps people to let go of old ideas that no longer work. This can be especially hard for those who are very religious or attached to their families’ values, but pragmatism is a good way to avoid unnecessary conflict and to find peace with the fact that not everyone will agree with you.
A pragmatic approach to research can help researchers be more open to diverse methodologies, and it allows for room in research design for a number of different perspectives (Feilzer 2010). Morgan (2014) suggests that pragmatism can be used as a framework for how to address problems within research, such as when it is important to recognize that a problem exists but that the solution is beyond your current range of experience.
The way in which people develop their pragmatic skills differs by culture. For example, a gesture that is considered completely appropriate in the United States might be considered highly offensive in Greece (see BuzzFeed’s list of 19 Simple Gestures You Might Misunderstand Abroad for more information). The same thing can happen with different languages and even varying social situations.
Learning how to teach pragmatics to students is challenging because of the many nuances that exist. The goal is to encourage students to think about how their communication skills can vary depending on context, and this requires the teacher to be able to come up with examples of different scenarios. One example that is useful is an activity that involves asking students how they would make a request in a particular scenario.
Another challenge is to determine whether or not pragmatics can be taught to beginners or if there needs to be some level of linguistic competence before a student can learn it. However, studies such as Wildner-Bassett (1994) and Tateyama et al. (2007) show that it is possible to teach pragmatics to beginning learners, so this may be a viable option for teachers of second languages. In addition, pragmatics can be integrated into other topics such as vocabulary and grammar in order to create more meaningful lessons.