Pragmatic Language Activities for Adults

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.

Your adult students need to be able to communicate effectively in real life situations. You can help them by providing some practical exercises to communicate with ease in different scenarios.

Pragmatic Language for Granted

Most people take their ability to effectively communicate basic ideas for granted. However, your adult students have limitations that prevent them from effective communication in basic situations. The key to helping students develop the ability to communicate basic ideas that have to do with real life is to pose a basic situation.

For example, if your students have to go to a store to exchange an item, and the customer service representative wants to know why they are bringing the item back, your students may feel confused about how to approach the situation. Encourage them by telling them that the best way to learn is through practice. The following activities will help them do just that!

Pragmatic Language for Practical Situations

Before you get your students to practice pragmatic language, give them guidance in regard to expressions that denote politeness and provide vocabulary that is appropriate for each situation. For instance, if your students are going to practice a dialogue with a customer service representative, you can suggest words like exchange, damaged, or broken, and talk about how a pleasant, smiling facial expression could help make a better connection with the rep. Let's take a look at different scenarios for your students.

The Shopping World

Divide students into pairs to take turns and play the roles of customer service representative and customer. The student who plays the customer service representative will listen to the request by the student who plays the customer, while you guide the student who speaks in terms of wording and expressions. To put the scenario in perspective, give a different situation to each pair of students. Example scenarios include:

  • You get home with your new digital camera and realize it doesn't work. Go back to the store to ask for an item replacement.
  • You buy a gift for a friend but find out that she doesn't like the color of the item you purchased. Go back to the store to ask for an exchange.
  • You buy a sweater in a hurry, and when you try it at home you realize you don't like it. Go back to the store to request a refund.
  • While shopping in a huge store, you can't find what you need. Find a customer service representative who can help you (it may be helpful to give students an example of what they are trying to find; for example, art supplies).

At a Restaurant

Tell students to imagine they are at a restaurant, but the waiter is not very good at bringing what a regular restaurant customer wants. Get your students to request the different items they would need. You could give your class a list of requests for the waiter, such as:

  • the menu
  • an extra knife
  • salt and pepper
  • asking about food allergies
  • details of a dish on the menu (you could even provide the name of a dish such as filet mignon, so your students have questions about it)
  • the restroom location
  • the check


For this scenario, use a very basic map and have your students practice giving directions to each other. Choose the beginning point and the destination and note them on the map, so students are sure about where they have to start and end.

Report as a Witness

For this activity, find a variety of videos on the Internet about situations that involve a person falling, cars in an accident, etc. Tell your students to imagine they are seeing the scenarios from a window and will act as witnesses.

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