This SLLAT talk will be delivered by Nicola Halenko, on 'Evaluating the explicit pragmatic instruction of requests and apologies in a study abroad setting: the case of Chinese ESL learners at a UK Higher Education Institution'.

Abstract

This study aimed to determine the effects of an explicit instructional treatment, within a study abroad context, for improving the spoken pragmatic competence of Chinese English as a Second Language (ESL) learners in the UK. The intervention in this study specifically focused on the speech acts of requests and apologies, and the effects of differentiated training materials, i.e., paper-based versus computer-based tasks. Instructional effects were compared to a control group receiving no instruction to further investigate the extent to which exposure to the second language environment naturally enhanced the development of request and apology language. The data were captured from 61 undergraduate Chinese learners of English. Two experimental groups (paper-based vs. computer-based training materials) participated in ten hours of explicit instruction on the linguistic and cultural aspects of making requests and apologies in an academic setting. A language contact questionnaire tracked learners’ engagement with English outside the classroom. A pretest and multiple posttest design using oral and written production tasks analysed instructional effects over time, measured against the uninstructed control group. The oral task took the format of innovative computer-based virtual role plays, which were also employed for communicative practice with one of the experimental groups. The data were: i) rated for socio-pragmatic success by experienced tutors, and ii) linguistically analysed, including identifying what were considered the essential components for successful requests and apologies. Results showed that explicit instruction was highly effective, with the group using computer-based tasks outperforming the other groups. Some evidence of attrition was found in the longer term, however. Exposure to the L2 environment facilitated little change in the production of request and apology language though increased L2 interaction appeared concomitant with prolonged L2 stay. The outcomes underline the positive benefits of explicit pragmatic instruction and technology-enhanced teaching, but indicate a need for regular input and practice opportunities for long-term retention of pragmatic knowledge.

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