Cultural MappingPragmatics is a topic of English language learning that has been called "the secret rules of English." The purpose of studying pragmatics is to try to improve language learners' abilities to match their utterances (and understand others') with appropriate contexts. It should be noted that at times, in addition to speech acts, gestures, facial expressions and intonation will be included as ways in which pragmatic behavior can be expressed. Everyone is vulnerable to violating culturally normative behavior, especially when we are communicating in a personal manner. By being mindful of the appropriateness of certain speech acts at certain times many potential misunderstandings can be avoided.

These potential misunderstandings can be serious and may not be as easily corrected as grammatical constructions for example. If a participant in a discourse reacts inappropriately when invited to an outing or a party due to ignorance of generally accepted pragmatic rules, that participant could be seen as rude or worse. A grammatical error is more easily detected and corrected than an error in pragmatics, which being contextual in nature, can go undetected or, if noticed, can be misinterpreted. This type of social lapse might be seen as brusqueness or even uncaring or malicious behavior on the part of the respondent. Over time such ignorance of cultural norms could result in the language learner being branded as an antisocial person with whom no one wishes to associate. The nature of the misunderstanding is such that offering constructive criticism can itself be misconstrued. Simple ignorance of unspoken pragmatic rules, no matter how innocent, can result in very negative and inaccurate impressions.

We teach pragmatics in the classroom simply because a need for it has been shown to exist. Language learners use the English language in significantly different ways than do native speakers. This is not to say that native speakers' use of English is infallible, only that differences occur and can be noticed. Grammatical proficiency and pragmatic development are not equivalent. "As a result, learners at the higher levels of grammatical proficiency often show a wide range of pragmatic competence. Thus, we find that even advanced nonnative speakers are neither uniformly successful, nor uniformly unsuccessful, but the range is quite wide." (Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003)

The teaching of Pragmatics does not need to wait until the learner has advanced to an intermediate or advanced stage of development. Pragmatics can begin to be taught at even the lowest level of instruction. It is helpful in fact, to incorporate the learner's first language into the instruction so as to reinforce the contextual nature of why and how the pragmatic approach is needed. It is also important to remember that when teaching Pragmatics, authentic English is used. Relying on samples produced intuitively by native speakers is inadequate and misleading.

The fact is that Pragmatics is no secret. It is a topic that is often overlooked and because of this, it is not taught. It is an important aspect of appropriate English use and it is critical that the language learner be aware of its role. Activities such as talking on the telephone, giving and receiving invitations & complements, interrupting, offering corrections, greeting people & taking leave (saying hello & good-bye) are all a few of the times when a pragmatic use of the language will go a long way towards promoting accurate communications.


Last Updated: January 31, 2016