Applying Pragmatics to ESOL Instruction

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  • 0:04 Defining Pragmatics
  • 0:46 Teaching Pragmatics
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

The use of pragmatics with your students of English as a second language is an approach that many professionals in ESOL instruction apply. This lesson discusses how to use pragmatics in the classroom through several examples.

Defining Pragmatics

Alice is a teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Alice often has students who know the grammar, the vocabulary she teaches, and even have good listening skills. However, those very same students struggle when the school receptionist asks them a question. In other words, many students cannot use the language they know in a practical way. For this reason, Alice wants to apply pragmatics in her ESOL classes. Pragmatics is the teaching approach that develops in language learners the ability to use language to respond appropriately in daily life situations. Let's see how you can apply pragmatics in class as well.

Teaching pragmatics leads students to use a foreign language in practical contexts such as daily conversation.
pragmatic classroom

Teaching Pragmatics

When you decide to apply pragmatics to your ESOL sessions, you've got to concentrate on helping your students develop the ability to give a speech and engage in conversation with the use of appropriate expressions and wording. As a quick note, it is best not to grade this type of practice so students do not feel pressure. Let's see how Alice does all of this with the different areas of teaching pragmatics.

1. Speech Skills

Very often, Alice assigns her students in class a short article to read. To make it fun, Alice chooses articles that catch their interest such as ''Tiger Escapes Zoo and Walks Around Paris'' or ''A Cemetery Superintendent's Daily Work Life.'' After reading, students orally exchange with peers what they read. This is a great way to apply pragmatics to develop your students' speaking skills. The key is that your students use language in a practical context. Other ways to develop speech ability in your students include oral presentations and group debates.

2. Taking Turns in Conversation

To apply pragmatics to develop conversational skills, Alice goes beyond exercises like ''Tell your classmate about your last vacation.'' Instead, she assigns students the task to ''Take turns talking and asking and answering questions about your last vacation.'' In short, Alice instructs students to ask and answer questions that arise as the conversation goes. Alice breaks the ice by talking to the entire class about her last vacation, but she leaves out details that elicit questions from students. This way, students see how conversation gets interesting when people take turns talking.

If you do the same with your students and you make this a habitual exercise in class, little by little your students will engage in spontaneous conversation. With time, students become more comfortable with taking turns to speak because they enjoy conversations rather than talking just to fulfill the class assignment.

As students become more comfortable, it's important to remind them of specific etiquette that should be part of conversation — for example, making eye contact, not interrupting, answering questions, and staying on topic.

3. Keeping Up With Conversation

Alice wants her students to use the language they know as fluently as possible. To teach her students how to keep up with conversation, she often uses simulated conversation resources. For example, she has recordings that her students can listen to to practice conversation.

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