Pragmatics, perceptions and strategies in Chinese college English learning

Yuan, Yifeng (2012) Pragmatics, perceptions and strategies in Chinese college English learning. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This study investigated Chinese College English students. perceptions of pragmatics, their pragmatic competence in selected speech acts, strategies they employed in acquiring pragmatic knowledge, as well as their general approach to learning English as a foreign language. The research was triggered by a national curriculum initiative that prioritizes the need for College English students to enhance their ability to use English effectively in different social interactions (Chinese College English Education and Supervisory Committee, 2007).

The traditional "grammar-translation" and "examination-oriented" method is believed to have reduced Chinese College English students to what is dubbed "mute" and "deaf" language learners (Zhang, 2008; Zhao, 2009). Many students lack pragmatic knowledge on how to interpret discourse by relating utterances to their meanings, understanding the intention of language users, and how language is used in specific settings (Bachman & Palmer, 1996, 2010). There is an increasing body of literature on awareness-raising of the importance of pragmatic knowledge and strategies for classroom instruction. However, to date, researchers have tended to focus largely on the teaching of pragmatics, rather than on how students acquire pragmatic competence (Bardovi-Harlig & Dornyei, 1998; Du, 2004; Hou, 2007; Ruan, 2007; Schauer, 2009). It is this gap in the research that this study fills, with a focus on different types of pragmatic knowledge, learner perceptions of such knowledge, and learning strategies that College English students employ in the process of learning English in general, and pragmatics in particular.

Three strands of theories of second language acquisition (Ellis, 1985, 1994): pragmatics (Levinson, 1983; Mey, 2001; Yule, 1996), intercultural communications (Kramsch, 1998; Samovar & Porter, 1997; Samovar, Porter & McDaniel, 2009) and English as a lingua franca (ELF) (Canagarajah, 2006; Firth, 1996; Pennycook, 2010) were employed to establish a conceptual framework for data collection and analyses. Key constructs derived from the three related theories helped to form a typology for a detailed examination and theorization of the empirical evidence gathered from different sources.

Four research instruments: a questionnaire (N=237), Discourse Completion Tasks (DCTs) (N=55), focus group interviews (N=18), and a textbook tasks analysis were employed to collect data for this systematic inquiry. Data collected by different instruments were analyzed and compared by way of a triangulation to enhance its validity and reliability.

Major findings derived from different sources highlighted that, although College English students were grammatically advanced language learners, they displayed limited pragmatic knowledge and a highly restricted repertoire of language learning strategies. The majority of the respondents, however, believed that pragmatic knowledge was as important as linguistic knowledge in the process of developing communicative competence for interaction in different contexts. It was argued that a combination of a less than sufficient English proficiency, limited knowledge of pragmatics, inadequate language materials and tasks, and a small stock of language learning strategies, were a major hindrance to effective learning and communication, resulting in pragmatic failures in many intercultural communication situations.

As the first systematic study of how Chinese College English students learned pragmatics, the research provided a solid empirical base for developing a tentative model for the learning of pragmatics in a College English classroom in China and similar educational contexts. The model was strengthened by a unique combination of theories of pragmatics, intercultural communication and ELF. Findings from this research provided insights into how Chinese College English students perceived pragmatics in the English as foreign language (EFL) curriculum, the processes of learning, as well as strategies they utilized in developing linguistic and pragmatic knowledge and competence.

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ID Code: 52860
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Tangen, Donna J., Lidstone, John, & Mills, Kathy A.
Keywords: Chinese college English, second language acquisition, pragmatics, intercultural communication, English as a lingua franca, language learning strategies, perceptions, language competence, linguistic competence, pragmatic competence
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 31 Jul 2012 03:09
Last Modified: 26 Aug 2015 04:46

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