Investigating Challenges And Opportunities For Developing Pragmatic Competence Of Efl Students  

Abstract Category: Education
Course / Degree: MA
Institution / University: Adma Science and Technology University, Ethiopia
Published in: 2012

Thesis Abstract / Summary:

This paper investigates the challenges and opportunities for teaching pragmatics in EFL context. Learners often find the area of language use difficult. Teachers are advised to explicitly teach pragmatic features of language and make use of authentic models of language to help learners practice using appropriate language in social contexts. In spite of this, information about pragmatic aspect of language and pragmatic-focused instruction is lacking in an EFL Ethiopian context. Textbooks and teachers are an integral part of language teaching in general in an EFL setting where there are no opportunities to learn the language informally outside the classroom. However, the textbooks almost never provide adequate pragmatic information for students to develop successfully their pragmatic competence. The findings indicated that there is a scarcity of pragmatic information contained in the English for Ethiopia 10th and 11th grades textbooks, and the variety of pragmatic information is limited. Most of the metalanguage explanations are simple; and there are no metapragmatic explanations at all.

It is fairly possible to infer from the teachers’ response that well-designed teacher training and teaching materials should be in place for teachers to develop students’ pragmatic competence. Moreover, the teaching hours to cover the issue of pragmatics; thus, to properly manage each lesson may solve the current problem of teaching pragmatics in the classroom. The results of this study also showed that teachers seldom use pragmatic instruction in classrooms, and mostly students have to spend time by themselves developing pragmatic competence without explicit instruction. Overall, the pragmatics instruction is immature and needs to be developed, and teachers need professional training to be aware of how to teach pragmatics effectively.

Although the learners’ self-perceived competence mean score was high, their MDCT result was low; and this confirmed that self-perceived competence and the actual performance never match. This is why according to Dewaele (2011) higher levels of self-perceived competence are linked to lower levels of communication which in fact has to be further investigated in our own context. 

The research was entirely qualitative except that some simple statistical calculations were used to compute the frequency, mean and percentage of the numerical data. The data were drawn from the content analysis of two student textbooks (grade 11 &12), responses of four teachers teaching grade 9-12 and self-perceived competence and pragmatic awareness test results of 183 students. The findings of this study have implications for teaching pragmatics to EFL learners, the development of pragmatic-focused materials, future research and well-designed teacher training. 

Key Words: Pragmatic competence, challenges and opportunities for developing pragmatics in EFL setting, textbook content analysis, self-perceived-competence, MDCT


Learning a foreign language is regarded nowadays as an essential component in the curricula at different educational levels. In particular, learning the English language has become necessary given its widespread use throughout the world according to House and Kasper (see, Martinez-Flor, 2004). However, in order to make learners become communicatively competent in the English language, there a shift from previous theoretical frameworks, which considered language as a formal system based on grammatical rules, towards a more communicative perspective (ibid). Alcaraz (see, Martinez-Flor, 2004) points out that the shift from language usage rule to language use rule was possible due to the advent of pragmatics as a specific area of study within linguistics that favored a focus on interactional and contextual factors of the target language (TL).

As international and cross-cultural communication has become part of everyday life in Ethiopia, pragmatic competence should be an important asset to a person and thus, rehearsing pragmatic skills alongside other linguistic aspects should be one of the objectives of language teaching in formal education. In Ethiopia, formal instruction of English or the learning environment, most commonly comprises of a non-native language teacher, a fairly large classroom full of learners with very dissimilar aptitudes, and the teaching materials, which refer to anything that can be used to facilitate the learning of a language, such as textbooks, printouts, or grammar books. Teaching authentic language use, which resembles the way the language is used in the “real world” outside the classroom, in these circumstances is very challenging and the teaching materials should play an integral role in offering the students a model of real-life language use. 

Although language teachers have the right to develop their own materials, the most commonly used materials are only published textbooks. As Vellegna (2004) aptly points out, the textbook is often the very center of the curriculum and syllabus. In such cases, textbooks used should be carefully designed, to make sure that they are perfectly in line with the learning objectives and learners’ need. Basically, the chosen textbook should provide all the important linguistic inputs outlined for each stage of learning and life outside the school. However, studies have shown (for example Vellegna 2004, Peiying, 2007; 2008) that textbooks rarely provide enough information for learners to successfully acquire pragmatic competence. 

Similarly, ‘knowledge about how conversations work and what the sociocultural norms and practices are in each communication culture is often inadequately presented in the textbook contents’ (Bardovi-Harling 2001:25). In order for students to learn how language really works, they need authentic materials of authentic communication situations. The demand for pragmatic input is particularly relevant when upper secondary school teaching materials are concerned, because at this level, students are expected to be quite proficient language users. In other words, at upper secondary school stage, they are at an advanced level and competent to understand the subtleties of English. Most students in upper secondary school study English as their compulsory language, that is, the language that has started in the lower stage of the comprehensive school and that is obligatory to all students. 

Practicing pragmatic abilities in a classroom requires student-centered interaction. The teaching materials should provide a relatively wide range of exercises designed to rehearse the sociopragmatic knowledge of students. In a similar vein, Kasper (1997) suggests the inclusion of activities such as role-play, simulation, and drama to engage students in different social roles and speech events. The activities in the textbooks provide valuable opportunities to practice the pragmatic and sociolinguistic skills that students need in their everyday interactions outside the classroom. 

Pragmatic competence can also be acquired through raising awareness on the pragmatic aspects of second/foreign language, and in this process, the metalanguage, that is, “a language which is used to describe language” (Lyons 1995: 7), can assist significantly. In teaching and learning of any language, metalanguage is essential, both in classroom interaction and within the teaching materials. In language instruction context, metalanguage helps the learners to understand the key elements of the target language and the major differences between the target language and the learner’s L1. Evidently, ‘as the learner’s metalinguistic awareness increases, the level of language proficiency increases as well’ (Renou 2001: 261), and therefore the teaching materials should be rich in pragmatic metalanguage and teachers should also be aware of the significant role of learning pragmatics. 

In conclusion, this study has focused on challenges and opportunities for teaching pragmatic competence. Besides, it was the intent of this research to evaluate teachers’ perception of the textbooks content in terms of their pragmatic content. Furthermore, it was the concern of this study to look at what teachers think are impediments for them to deliver pragmatic instructions in the EFL setting. Moreover, the students’ self-perceived competence and their ability to choose appropriate language based on a given context was the other concern of this research.

Statement of the Problem 

Equipping Ethiopian students with communicative competence in order to help them communicate effectively in all walks of their lives and international communication is truly essential. English has been used as a medium of instruction from grade 7 or 9 upwards since long time ago, but problems in learning and teaching English have been observed ever since (Jarvis, as cited in Amlaku, 2010) had given his personal account of experiences and observations. Presently, says Amlaku for his part ‘[teachers] at schools and employers in industries have been complaining about the low level English language competence of students and graduates, respectively’ (p.9). But what are the challenges that pull back language learners not to competently communicate when there is a need to do so?

Although there have been studies about communicative language  teaching in Ethiopian schools, the investigation on pragmatic information in English textbooks used in Ethiopia has not yet been conducted. Similarly, whether there exist any additional pragmatic features in teacher’s book as a resource for teachers has not been questioned. Likewise, whether English language teachers bring in outside materials to help learners develop pragmatic competence has not yet been investigated in the setting of the current research.

There is paucity of pragmatic contents and their presentations are marginalized as compared to other language items. There are no courses offered to pre-service language teachers in the area of pragmatics as a result of which teachers do not complement textbooks with inputs to help learners acquire pragmatic competence. Although, it is vitally important to acquire communicative competence, there are no research emphases in the area of pragmatics in the present research area.

The current research, therefore, looks into the challenges and opportunities in teaching pragmatics to language learners in the EFL context and the way forward to it.


This study was aimed at: 

•Analyzing English textbooks on the basis of thanking strategies, apologizing strategies, complimenting strategies, complaining strategies, refusing strategies, and requesting strategies presented in Aijmer (1996); and Ishihara and Cohen, (2007).

•Analyzing the discourse completion data collected from St. Joseph 10th and 11th grade students,

•Investigating the challenges teachers in EFL setting, particularly those in St. Joseph School, were facing in teaching pragmatic aspects of the English language,

Considering these concerns, the aim of this study was two-fold: to deal with those theoretical approaches that inform the process of learning speech acts in particular contextual and cultural settings; and, secondly, to present a variety of methodological proposals, grounded on research-based ideas, for the teaching of the major pragmatic features in foreign language classrooms.

Research Questions

This study attempted to answer the following questions:

1. To what extent do the students’ textbooks provide pragmatic information for learners to acquire pragmatic competence?

2. What are the challenges perceived by high school teachers to develop students’ pragmatic competence?

3. How do the teachers perceive students’ textbooks pragmatic contents-are they challenges or opportunities for them?

4. Do students choose appropriate language based on a provided situation/context?

5. To what extent do teachers consider other possibilities than the textbook, for teaching pragmatics in an EFL setting?

Significance of the Study

In this research an attempt was made to examine the socio-pragmatic aspect of the students’ textbook, the challenges faced by teachers and the availability of opportunities to teaching pragmatic competence to EFL learners. Generally, this research is expected to have the following significance:

•It can help syllabus designers to revise English language syllabuses to include substantial quantity of pragmatic features and the quality of their presentations in the textbooks. 

•The research would also be worthwhile resource for teachers who are interested to develop their own teaching materials for teaching pragmatics/speech acts. 

•The research would be helpful for textbook writers to consider including the substantial amounts of the pragmatic aspect of the English language in the English language textbooks and wishing to have an informed opinion on the pedagogical implications derived from research on pragmatics/speech act performance. 

•It fills the research gap that exists in studying challenges and possibilities to teaching pragmatics in an EFL setting of Ethiopian context.

•Above all, the research would be of importance for the other researchers to look into the field attentively. 


Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. It studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on the linguistic knowledge (e.g. grammar, lexicon etc.) of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance, knowledge about the status of those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker (Kasper, 2004), and so on. In this respect, pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, since meaning relies on the manner, place, time etc. of an utterance (Cohn, 2008). The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence (Kasper, 1997). An utterance describing pragmatic function is described as metapragmatic (Verschueren, 2000). Pragmatic awareness is regarded as one of the most challenging aspects of language learning, and comes only through experience. Hence, learners of EFL context face challenges in understanding the interplay of language, language users and their intentions, and the social context.

Challenges of Teaching Pragmatic Competence in EFL Setting

In foreign language context teachers are non-native speakers of English language and they need to be well-prepared for teaching the pragmatic aspect of knowledge of language. In addition to this fact there are no sufficient, or no course, is offered to teachers either during pre-service or in-service education programs in the area of pragmatics. This situation is what El-Okda (2010) calls as ‘paucity of pragmatic courses in both pre-service teacher education programs and in-service professional development’ (169). If the student teachers or those teachers that are handling the teaching of English language are provided with the pragmatic courses, ‘[they] can help their students see the language in context, raise consciousness of the role of pragmatics, and explain the function pragmatics plays in specific communicative event’ (Brock and Nagasaka, 2005:20).

The second pillar in developing the pragmatic competence of learners is ELT material. Language teaching materials need to frequently include pragmatic materials so as to help learners develop pragmatic competence, because ‘teachers in EFL settings, where there are relatively few opportunities for students to use the language in communicative contexts’ (Brock and Nagasaka, 2005), will make use of textbooks as the major source of pragmatic knowledge. However, the attempt of including very few mini-dialogues for certain speech acts and that are contrived and de-contextualized does not help the learners develop their pragmatic competence or does not represent the reality outside the classroom (El-Okda, 2010:180). Let alone the external environment, ‘many students do not know how to make polite requests in English in the classroom’ (Brock and Nagasaka, 2005:21). 

Teachers in most cases complain for the unmanageable class size. Large classes, limited contact hours and little opportunity for intercultural communication are some of the features of the EFL context that hinder pragmatic learning (Eslami-Rasekh et al., 2004; Rose, 1999).


Understanding teachers' perceptions and beliefs is important because teachers, heavily involved in various teaching and learning processes, are practitioners of educational principles and theories (Jia, Eslami & Burlbaw, cited in Eslami and Fatahi, 2008). Teachers have a primary role in determining what is needed or what would work best with their students. Findings from research on teachers' perceptions and beliefs indicate that these perceptions and beliefs not only have considerable influence on their instructional practices and classroom behavior but also are related to their students' achievement. In most cases teachers do not give attention to pragmatic/communicative functions in the classroom. Omaggio (see in Uso-Juan, and Martinez-Flor, 2008) gives the following three reasons for neglecting intercultural/pragmatic competence in the language class:

1.Teachers usually have an overcrowded curriculum to cover and lack the time to spend on teaching culture, which requires a lot of work;

2.Many teachers have a limited knowledge of the target culture and, therefore, afraid to teach it;

3.Teachers are often confused about what cultural aspects to cover (p.165).


Possibilities/Opportunities   for Teaching Pragmatics in EFL Classroom 

What opportunities are offered for pragmatic learning? The research works have made mention of such opportunities as: opportunities for pragmatic input: teacher talk (Kasper, 1997; Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford, 1996; Nikula, 2008), textbooks (Salazar, 2007; Uso-Juan, 2007) and audiovisual material (Alcón, 2005; Fernández Guerra, 2008; Martínez-Flor, 2008). 

Although typically an ESL environment is thought to be superior to an EFL environment for learning language, especially the pragmatics of a language, some studies show that this is a sweeping generalization and not necessarily true. According to Wallace (2011) ‘Pragmatics can be successfully acquired in an EFL setting’ (p.274). Furthermore, some think that lack of exposure to the target language in an EFL setting hinders students’ development of pragmatics. In fact, researches show that well-designed textbooks and explicit pragmatics instruction can be more effective than implicit pragmatics instruction. 

Savignon (2006:10) discusses about shaping or designing language curriculum that entails five components out of which one is “language for a purpose, or language experience.” Language for a purpose or language experience is “the use of language for real and immediate communicative goals”. She argues that for not all learners are taking a new language for the same reasons, teachers should do the following in selecting language inputs:

It is important for teachers to pay attention, when selecting and sequencing materials, to the specific communicative needs of the learners. Regardless of how distant or unspecific the communicative needs of the learners, every program with a goal of communicative competence should pay heed to opportunities for meaningful language use, opportunities to focus on meaning as well as form (pp. 11-12).

The Role of Language Teacher’s Talk

Teachers vary in their attitudes to ´teacher talk´ according to findings. Some of them accept that it is useful source of language input for all language levels, except from the more advanced ones. Others regard it as an important part of the early stages of learning, but believe it should be abandoned as soon as possible” (Lynch as quoted in Adriana 2009:1). There are at least three main reasons that make teacher talk worth studying and improving. The reasons are as follows: 

a.People have recognized the vital link between comprehension and the progress made in the language classroom. 

b.Studies of classroom language have shown that certain aspects of teacher talk, such as the way we ask questions, influence the way learners use language. 

c.It is not easy for learners to understand what the teacher is currently trying to focus their attention on (ibid).

Due to its importance, it is inevitable to make sure that the teacher talk fulfils certain criteria. First of all, it should be simplified, but not unnatural. It needs to exhibit a certain level of redundancy (words like let me see, in fact, well, etc.) and words, together with structures, should be repeated at regular intervals.

The Role of Textbooks

Textbooks are key component in most language programs. In some situations they serve as the basis for much of the language input learners receive and the language practice that occurs in the classroom. They may provide the basis for the content of the lessons, the balance of skills taught and the kinds of language practice the students take part in. In other situations, the textbook may serve primarily to supplement the teachers’ instruction. 

Bardovi-Harlig (2001) argues that since teachers’ talk cannot be considered as a pragmatically appropriate model for learners, “textbooks with conversations are designed to be models for students, and yet they generally fall short of providing realistic input to learners” (p. 25).

She suggests that textbooks should be used cautiously: 

Any textbook should be used judiciously, since it cannot cater equally to the requirements of every classroom setting. In bilingual and multilingual situations, there are special limitations on the amount of English language teaching that can be done via the textbook. The textbook can present examples of common difficulties, but there are problems specific to different language groups which are left for the teacher to deal with. It is also likely that a textbook will outlast its relevance because of changes in the language policy of the community for which it was written (Bardovi-Harlig, 2001:24).

Therefore, textbooks are always at the center of curriculum although there are some limitations attributed to them with regards to their pragmatic contents.

The Role of Culture [Local and Target Culture]

People may meet with various problems in intercultural communication. The knowledge of target language’s culture is as important as its grammar or vocabulary. Perhaps more to the point, a lack of cross-cultural awareness can be a severe hindrance in the understanding of a message which is linguistically accurate or comprehensible. As a rule, people are much less tolerant of cultural bumps and cultural shocks than they are of grammatical mistakes and lexical insufficiency. 

Language is inseparable from culture. Thus, when learners learn a language, they learn about culture; and as they learn to use a new language, they learn to communicate with other individuals from a different culture. Magnifying the significance of target language culture in learning a foreign language, Jie (2010) opines:  

Through analyzing and comparing the anecdotes of pragmatic failure in cross-cultural communication from the aspects of lexicon, syntax and discourse, some pragmatic strategies are suggested in intercultural communication. To improve learners’ cultural awareness and communicative competence, a cultural-linguistic approach in foreign language teaching should be adopted (p.1).

A language cannot exist in vacuum. It has to express some objective function when utterances are made or some text is written. Regmi (2011:2) points out “When we learn a new language, we need to adopt the culture of the target language to a certain extent because the cultural aspect comes amalgamated with the target language.” However, what about the learners and their own culture? Regmi again has the following to say with regards to this question:

The learners have their own set of cultural experiences and objectives of using a language. They have their own cultural amalgamation which has to be addressed during target language learning process to make it meaningful and relevant to the learners. We can assume that integration of local culture and context is inevitable while learning a target language (ibid).

Thus, local context becomes inseparable from the use of language. This is because, “… students want to see cultural elements from both target language culture and local culture in foreign language classrooms as well as in language learning materials” Devo and Yasemin (2010:4).

Method of the Study

A descriptive research method was chosen as it is used to specify or describe a phenomenon without conducting an experiment. 

           Research Design

The study was principally designed to be qualitative. Questionnaires, observations, discourse completion tests and content analysis seemed to be appropriate instruments to collect data for the study since objectively recorded teachers and students behaviors such as actions, utterances and verbal expression of their attitudes (opinions) towards the concept can be elements of descriptive studies (Mc Arthur 1983). 

Procedures of the Study

This study consisted of the following methodological steps. First and foremost, the researcher conducted pretest- at this step the researcher has attempted to design some open ended discourse completion test questions in order to asses pragmatic awareness of the learners. After the current research’s groundwork was finished, formulating research questions, stating the motive behind the research, stating the limitation and delimitation of the study, stating the significance of the study followed. Following the scheme of the research, related discourses were reviewed. Next to reviewing related sources, research tools that were proper to the study were chosen and designed. After instruments for data collection were designed, determining sample size in question, and selecting an appropriate sample from the data on hand took place. 

Subsequently, before administering the tools, as it was part of the subjects of the present study, textbooks were selected, and unit of analysis were defined, contents for analysis were constructed and categorized; the contents were coded according to the established definition. Afterwards, the questionnaires were administered to the language teachers with the intension to elicit their perception of the pragmatic contents of the textbooks, their own awareness and teaching of the pragmatic aspect of language and impediments they were facing in teaching pragmatic aspect of the English language. Corresponding to this, questionnaires and discourse completion tests were distributed to the participant students to assess their perception of their own language ability and performance respectively. The questionnaires for the teachers were delivered on hand. Discourse completion tests were distributed to the sampled students in a classroom, in collaboration with the school teachers. All the questionnaire and test papers were collected back. On the whole, the collected data were descriptively analyzed, interpreted and conclusion were drawn.

        Content Analysis Sampling Process

a.Sampling Units for Content Analysis

Since it was difficult to observe all contents, the researcher was forced to sample from available content for coding pool. Units of analysis may differ from units of observation. Sample selection depends largely on unit of analysis. The researcher was well aware that he needed to be clear about unit of analysis before planning sampling strategy to avoid problems that may occur later. The sampling could involve stratified, purposive, systematic or random technique of selecting the representative population of the study. In the present study the researcher planned to pursue purposive sampling.

Before sampling the representative data in relation to the central issues of the study, code sheets were designed to identify the presence or absence of any elements relevant to the focus of the study. The coding instructions and element definitions were written to ensure that specific concepts were highlighted and received a specific level of attention in the text before they would be coded as present.

b.Data Coding Scheme for Content Analysis

After the data collected for the study were categorized, the textbooks were coded for the above elements while entering the data into tables for analysis. Coding is the heart of content analysis. Coding is the process of converting raw data into a standardized form. Each additional entry of datum collected from the textbooks was registered under each code. Coding therefore is the technique to classify content in relation to a conceptual framework. Like in the current study, pragmatic elements can be categorized, general pragmatic information, language use rule, cultural context, physical context, approaches to sociopragmatics competence, social context, physical context, mode of instruction, etc.

c.Procedure of Content Analysis of the Textbooks

The process of content analysis begins during or after the data processing/entering. Thus the procedure consisted of formulating the research questions, collecting the data, categorizing the data based on the research questions, indentifying the connection between the data collected from the textbooks and that of the respondents’ and finally interpreting or assigning meaning to the data obtained.


The research subjects were grade 10th and 11th students at St. Joseph School. The total population of the study comprised of 339 students and 4 teachers. Out of the total population of the students, the researcher drew sound sample systematically based on the table of systematic random sampling; and the representative sample was 183. After the sample population was decided, the total population was divided by the sample population that resulted in every 1.85 student to be part of the sample. By rounding off the fractions the students’ names were arranged alphabetically and every 2nd student was included in the sample. Moreover, all (100%) teachers that were teaching English language to grade 10th and 11th students were also part of the research subjects. 

Table 1:Data Representing the Research Participants






Procedures for Collecting Data 

      Sampling of the participants

In the present research the researcher employed two stage schemes of sampling: the first purposive sampling only focusing on high achiever students. This was to test the extent to which the learners were aware of pragmatic/functional aspect of the target language. Doing this in turn helped the researcher to proceed with the research work as designed with some minor modification when need arisen. During the first stage sampling, only 15 students were selected and tested. The second and final sampling was systematic random sampling so as to include all students: low, medium and high achievers even though the aim was not to distinguish between these groups of students. All teachers who are teaching 9th-12th grades were part of the research.

Tools of Data Collection


Primarily, sample questionnaires were designed and administered to teachers who were teaching English the same grade level at selected school. Feedbacks were obtained that there were no difficulties to comprehend the message of the questionnaire. Similar questionnaires with minor modifications were administered to elicit teachers’ perception of the students’ textbooks with regards to pragmatic content and their own pragmatic background knowledge. 

Whereas, questionnaire for the students were newly developed in addition to the discourse completions test that was completely changed from open ended format to multiple choice. The change was made to alleviate the difficulty that might occur in analyzing the data and MDCT is gaining its prominence to test learners’ pragmatic proficiency in EFL (Setouguchi, 2008:1). 

 Classroom Observation 

Classroom observation has always been considered as one of the tools for data collection in language acquisition researches, because it allows the study of a phenomenon or behavior at close range with many of the contextual variables present (Waxman, 2011). Thus, the researcher observed classrooms to ascertain the prevalent challenges to teach pragmatics in EFL classroom as indicated by the teachers. 

Discourse Completion Test

Discourse completion tests are used to elicit the pragmatic awareness of learners. Hence, the researcher employed DCT/MDCT to cross check what students replied in self-perceived competence questionnaires with what language they selected in MDCT.

Besides the DCT/MDCT, some questions were added at the end of the test paper so that students can give what they believed as regards to the sources of their current knowledge of 

Procedures for Data Analysis

In the process of data analysis the first step was organizing the data by research questions because organizing by research questions draws together all the relevant data for the exact issue of concern to the researcher and it preserves the coherence of the research. With respect to the content of the textbook, coding the content according to the established definitions, categorizing the data, counting the frequency of each code in the textbooks and tabulating was done. After the data were gathered from the textbooks, the students and the respective teachers, both qualitative and quantitative analyses were geared up. Content analysis and questionnaire were chief data gathering tools. Once the data obtained through textbook content analysis, questionnaires, discourse completion test and classroom observations were organized, the next step was description of the data. Thence, the meaning was given to the data. This stage involved explaining the findings and triangulation for veracity and validity (accuracy) of the data. The last stage of data analysis was reporting or drawing conclusion and looking for implications that were dealt with in the next chapter.


The research findings showed that based on the inventory made pertaining to the presence and absence of the pragmatic features in the students’ textbooks, there is a dearth of language use contents in the plethora of other linguistic features that almost constituted above 90% of the textbooks contents. It was also evident from the data analysis that the pragmatic elements that were only given a lip service were given insufficient metapragmatic and metalanguage explanations. Hence, it is one of the challenges to teaching pragmatics in Ethiopian EFL context. 

The other research result was that teachers did not bring in outside materials to complement the paucity of pragmatic contents of the English language textbooks so as to facilitate the opportunities for teaching and learning pragmatics in the classroom. Evidence for this was where 100% of the teachers responded unanimously that no teacher could be singled out for bringing in outside materials to instruct pragmatics in EFL setting where there are rare opportunities to learning pragmatics.

Further research result was that the majority of the participant students scaled that most of the communicative acts or social functions of language that they were tested for are difficult. As a result of which most of them scored below average in MDCT. The classroom observation results were also consistent with what was detected from the textbooks inventory, teachers’ responses and that of students’ responses that there were no lessons or interactions directed to the development of pragmatic competence in the classrooms. 

Table 2.Communicative Acts in the Textbooks

Communicative Acts



Topic /types strategies






Examples or strategies or realization of strategies  Book 1Book 2

Complimentsappearance/possessionse.g., You look absolutely beautiful!)√x

performance/skills/abilities(e.g., Your presentation was excellent.)√x

personality traits(e.g., You are so sweet.)√x

RefusalDirect refusals(e.g. ‘No’, ‘I can’t’, ‘I don’t think I can’)xx

Statement of regret(e.g. ‘I’m sorry’)                                    xx

Statement of positive opinion(e.g. ‘I’d love to’, ‘I wish I could’)      xx

Excuse, reason, explanation(e.g. ‘I have to study for the test’)xx

Gratitude(e.g. ‘Thank you’)xx

Statement of future acceptance(e.g. ‘Perhaps some other time’)          xx

Indefinite reply(e.g. ‘I’m not sure’, ‘I don’t know’)xx

Statement of alternative(e.g., ‘How about the movies’)                  xx

Statement of empathy(e.g. ‘No offence to you’)                          xx

ThankingGood wish to hearer(e.g. ‘Have a nice trip’, ‘Hope you have fun’)      xx

Thanking someone explicitly(e.g. Thanks, thank you, thank you for, thank you very much, thanks a lot, fine thanks…)√√

Expressing gratitude(e.g. I’m grateful…)xx

Expressing the appreciation of the addressee(e.g. That’s kind of you, that’s nice of you…)xx

Expressing the appreciation of the act(e.g. That’s lovely, it’s appreciated…)xx

Acknowledging a debt of gratitude(e.g. I owe a debt of gratitude to…)xx

Stressing one’s gratitude(e.g. I must thank you…)xx

Expressing emotion(e.g. Oh, thank you…)xx

Suppressing one’s own importance[self-denigration](e.g. I’m an ingrate, I’m so careless)xx

ApologiesExplicitly apologizing(e.g. I apologize)√x

Offering/presenting one’s apologies(e.g. I present my apologies)xx

Acknowledging a debt of apology(e.g. I owe you an apology)xx

Expressing regret(e.g. I’m sorry, I’m regretful …)√x

Demanding forgiveness(e.g. Pardon me, forgive me, excuse me…)xx

Explicitly requesting the hearer’s forgiveness(e.g. I beg your pardon, )xx

Giving an explanation or account(e.g. I’m sorry “The bus was late,” it’s so unusual…)xx

Self-denigration or self reproach(e.g. How stupid of me, how awful, I ought to know this)xx

Minimizing responsibility(e.g. I didn’t mean to…, I thought this was…, )√x

Expressing emotion(e.g. Oh, I’m so sorry…,)xx

Acknowledging responsibility for the offending act(e.g. It’s my fault…,)xx

Promising forbearance from a similar offending act(e.g. I promise you that will never happen again)xx

Offering redress(e.g. Please let me pay for the damage I have done)xx

RequestingAsking about ability to do something[ability](e.g. Can you come to the party?

Can you help me? Can I talk to Mr. president? )√x

Asking about the possibility of the desired act happening [consultation](e.g. Is it possible…, would you mind…,)xx

Asking whether the hearer is willing to do or has an objection to do something[willingness](e.g. Will you…, would you(like)…, )√x

Expressing a wish that the agent should do something [want](e.g. I would like you to…,)xx

Expressing a need or desire for goods [need](e.g. I want…, I need…,)xx

Stating that the hearer is under the obligation to do something [obligation](e.g. You must…, you have to…,)xx

Stating that it is appropriate that the hearer performs the desired action(e.g. You should…, )xx

Asking an idiomatic WH questions(e.g. What about…, how about…, why don’t you…, why not…)√

Hypothesis(e.g. If you would…, perhaps you would….)xx

Appreciation(e.g. I would be grateful if you would do…, I would be glad if …)xx

Permission quest(e.g. May I …, let me…)xx

Naming the object requested(e.g. The next slide please)xx

Checking the availability[existence](e.g. Is Mr…there…)xx

ComplainingValuation-an utterance expressing the feelings of the Speaker about either the                     Addressee or the problem.(e.g. e.g. 'It's really disgusting.')xx

Closing - An utterance made by the Speaker to conclude the complaint set.(e.g. OK, thanks. )xx

Threat- An utterance stating an action the Speaker might take, depending on the reaction of the Addressee.(e.g. e.g. "I, er..could take it higher than just talking to you." )


Remedy - An utterance calling for some corrective action.(e.g. 'This is going to have to stop.')xx

Justification of The Addressee - An utterance giving a reason or excuse for the Addressee's having committed the wrong or considering the effect on the Addressee.( e.g. 'Is this time particularly difficult for you?" )


Justification of the speaker-An utterance explaining why the Speaker is making the complaint and the effects of the wrong on the Speaker.( e.g. "... because I... you're making me miss lectures by turning up late." )xx

Act Statement- An utterance which states the problem directly.(e.g. "This is the fourth time this month you've been really late!" )xx

Orientation - An utterance giving the Speaker's intent in initiating the complaint, but with no detail.(e.g. 'I've been meaning to talk to you about the rubbish you've been leaving outside.' )xx

Opener- An utterance initiating the speech act set but giving no information about the wrong.(e.g. "Listen, Jimmy." )


Explicit complaint

(e.g. You’re not fair. You’re inconsiderate.                      One should not postpone this type of operation. I’ve been waiting here for nearly an hour. You are always late. I expected different treatment from a physician like you.)xx

Request for Explanation-

An utterance calling for an explanation of the Addressee's behavior,(e.g. 'I mean, why do you do it?')xx

Blame -An utterance finding fault with the Addressee or holding him/her responsible for the wrong,

(e.g. 'You realize 'cause you're late again...')xx

Adapted from Aijmer 1996; Ishihara and Cohen, 2007

Most lessons are insubstantial and that there are no matapragmatic explanations provided. For example, we can see the following lesson presented in grade 10 students’ book under the title ‘apologizing’.

“How would you say sorry to someone? Look at the expressions:

Sorry, I didn’t mean to…

I am sorry but…

I apologize for…

I hope you will forgive me but…

I seem to have made a mistake. I’m really sorry…

I am sorry for misunderstanding…

I hope you will understand…” (p. 62).

Another lesson that has to do with compliments as presented in 10th English textbook on pages 85 and 91, has got similar problem. For example,

‘Mercy is a good person’

‘You are good at Maths’ (p.85).

Tesfaw is so good at speaking English.

Tesfaw is such a good English speaker (p.91). 

In the excerpt there is no clear instruction for the learners to further practice the language feature and there is no explicit metalanguage or metapragmatic explanation is given. Similarly, with the intention to say ‘no’ or refusal to requests for sex, the following expressions are presented merely for the sake of presenting in 11th grade English language textbook. No metapragmatic explanation is provided. They are present only in name.

‘ I would really rather not…

If you don’t mind, I’ll say ‘no’ to that.

I don’t want…, if you don’t mind.

I’m sorry, but I’ve said ‘no’ and I’m not going to change my mind.

I’d prefer to…/I’d rather…

Why don’t we… instead?’ (p.103).

Likewise, a topic about ‘tourist complaint’ that is presented in grade 11th textbook page 128, must have left learners with unsolved puzzle. That is to say complaining being important feature of pragmatics, ample matapragmatic explanations and scenarios must have been provided. For the excerpt presented above no metalanguage and metapragmatic explanation has been given. No authentic context for practice and use is provided. No scenarios or situations were presented so that the learners will learn how the expressions are used in a real life like simulations. The objective states ‘by the end of the lesson you will be able to learn to apologize to someone’ however there are no practice activities to assess learners’ behavior. 




Table 3.Frequency of Communicative Acts in Each Textbook

Type of Communicative ActsGrade 10 textbook

Grade 11 textbook





f# of pagesTotal # of pages% of pragmatic pages




f# of pagesTotal # of pages% of pragmatic pages























The above table represents the quantity of pragmatic information contained in the student textbooks. In this case even phrase was counted so as to include the most possible data in the process of enumeration. As one can see from the table above, only few pages have gone for scantly explained and discussed pragmatic language features. Almost all pages or the lion’s share have gone for grammar, vocabulary, passages, and other language skills. This is somewhat paradox in that where the most important source of pragmatic aspect of language is said to be textbook, particularly in EFL setting and where there is meager opportunities for learners to develop their pragmatic competence, scantiness of such pragmatic contents in the textbooks can highly debilitate learners’ communicative competence. 

Table 4.Challenges related to students textbooks

According to literatures textbooks can be either opportunity or challenge to teaching pragmatics in EFL context. What do St. Joseph school teachers think of textbooks’ pragmatic contents? Inadequate=1, fairly adequate=2 and adequate=3.


Teachers’ views about the pragmatic contents of their guide and students’ textbooks:InadequateFairly adequateAdequate 

a/explanation of pragmatic aspects of English 




b/activities that help learners learn to use language or pragmaticsN24-



c/how to teach pragmatic aspects of English languageN4--



d/how to test pragmatic aspect of English languageN4--




As shown in the table above, regarding the explanation of pragmatic aspects of English language presented in textbooks or their guide, the teachers responded unanimously (100% of them) that the contents are inadequate. Pertaining to the activities presented in the students’ textbook to help learners learn to use language, 50% of the teachers contended ‘fairly adequate’ and the quarter part of them argued ‘inadequate’. While with regards to the method of teaching and testing pragmatic aspect of language, all the respondents with one voice said that the textbooks are ‘inadequate’.

Table 5.Why teachers do not teach pragmatic aspect of English language?





Strongly agreeAgreeUndecidedDisagreeStrongly disagree

Lack of extra timeN-3-1-


Limited knowledge of target culture and languageN22---


Confusion with which aspect of pragmatics to coverN121--


Lack of trainingN211--


Insufficient materialsN13---


Students’ language levelN22---


Teachers’ language levelN4----


Type of language assessmentN121--



As shown in the table above, the three most common challenges the teachers reported that they are encountering in teaching pragmatics were lack of training as stipulated by Bardovi-Harlig and Mahan-Taylor, (2003:1) ‘Pragmatics does not receive the attention in language teacher education programs that other area of language do’, large class sizes and time allotment. Students’ language level and insufficient materials are the next most frequent difficulties for teachers to teach pragmatics. In a similar way, all subjects (100%) commented that teacher’s language level could be a factor that influenced pragmatic teaching. Finally, type of assessment, which in fact aimed at passing exam, has significant impact up on the pragmatic lessons according to the teachers’ response. This is as Kasper (2000), puts forward, ‘Unless teachers also know about methods to evaluate students' progress in pragmatics, they may be reluctant to focus on pragmatics in their teaching.’

Table 6.General Perception of Teachers about Opportunities for Learning Pragmatics in EFL Context




StatementsAgreement scales/raters




Teacher’s talk in the classroom is important…to help learners acquire pragmatic knowledgeN-3-1-


The current English textbook discusses and identifies pragmatic areas of the students’ needs…N--131


Methods and techniques of teaching CL and pragmatics are supposed to be differentN--121


Teaching pragmatic competence is not as important as teaching communicative abilityN---31


Teachers rarely bring in outside materials related to pragmaticsN-4---


Learning and teaching pragmatics from textbooks is impossibleN-1111


Textbooks are inadequate in presenting authentic pragmatic samples, but teachers can overcome shortcomings of textbooksN13---


Textbooks cannot be counted as reliable resources of pragmatic inputN-2-2-



It is shown in the table above that the idea of teacher’s talk in the classroom to help learners be aware of language pragmatics was accepted by 75% of the participant, while 25% rejected it. Pertaining to the statement, ‘Methods and techniques of teaching CL and pragmatics are supposed to be different’, 25% of the teachers are in dilemma, and 50% of them, however ‘disagree’ and the remaining 25% ‘strongly disagreed’ with the statement. In reference to the item stated ‘Teaching pragmatic competence is not as important as teaching communicative ability’, 75% of the participant teachers responded that they disagree with the statement and the remaining 25% of them ‘strongly disagree’. With regards to the statement ‘Teachers rarely bring in outside materials related to pragmatics’, the respondents (100%) of them all together have witnessed they agree with the statement. What was surprising to the researcher was that in table 7 the teachers responded that they include pragmatic aspect of the English language in their daily lesson.

The sixth item aimed at eliciting teachers’ perception about the possibility of learning and teaching pragmatics from the learners’ textbooks. 25% of them ‘strongly agreed, ‘agreed’, ‘undecided’, ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagreed’ with the statement respectively.

Classroom Discourse Observation

Analysis of classroom discourse was difficult because the manifestation of pragmatic features in the classroom discourse was far short of existence as there was paucity of pragmatic elements in the students’ textbooks. The lesson consisted of mostly teacher fronted activities and individual work. This might be caused by the presence of the researcher that could be misunderstood by those teachers that were trying to show off their English standing in front of the classroom all the way through 45’ minutes. During the teacher-fronted activities, the teachers addressed the class as a whole almost exclusively. When they addressed individual students, they did so in brief, using formulaic language relating to the contents of the lesson i.e. grammar and reading passages. None of the students asked a question during the presence of the researcher and they did not interact much with each other except for brief comments which were not audible.  The paucity of interaction in English during non-teacher-fronted activities was somewhat common in the classes observed by the researcher it was impossible to determine whether the students used English with one another. This was because the researcher overheard some students diverting to Amharic and talking some other business when he was sitting by some students during classroom discourse observation. 

These observation tools were constructed in such a way that the observer only had to tick or cross from a list when something happened in the class, e.g. “teacher uses board” (√), “students answer individual questions” (x). The researcher had followed the following stages for doing observations. First, the researcher decided the particular types of activities or behavior he wanted to observe. Second, prepared a checklist or a record form to complete as he did his observation, or as soon as possible afterwards. Thirdly, the researcher talked with the class teacher and got her/his permission; explained what he wanted to do and negotiated what the teacher would get in return, e.g. some feedback on the lesson’s effectiveness. Fourthly, he completed his observation and marked up his checklist, took some time to reflect on the observations and finally, analyzed the result and came up with the following results.

Table 7. Classroom Observation Results

Key: DCT =discourse completion test, ODCT=oral discourse completion test, MDCT=multiple choice discourse completion test or WDCT=written discourse completion test

Items categorySubcategoriesSpottedUnspotted


Classroom Activities1.drills√


3. discussion√

4. presentations√

5.conscious raising activities√

6.explicit instruction of pragmatics√

7.awareness-raising activities√

8.guided practice√


10. role plays√


Participant organization1. teacher to students√

2. student to students or student to the classroom√

3.group work√

4. individual work√

Content or explicit focus on language1. form/grammar√

2. discourse√

3. usage√

4. use/function: complaining, complimenting, refusing√

Materials used1.written√





6.scenarios/situations/authentic language samples or models√

Communicative features1.use of target language√

2.information gap√

3.sustained speech√

4.reaction to code or message√

5.incorporation of preceding utterances√

6.discourse initiation√

7.relative restriction of linguistic form/semantic formula√

Key: DCT-discourse completion test, MDCT-multiple choice discourse completion test, WDCT-written discourse completion test.

Classroom discourse and textbook use were observed because the classroom is the ideal place for teachers to help learners interpret language use. A classroom discussion of pragmatics is also a good place to explore prior impressions of speakers (Bardovi-Harlig and Mahan-Taylor, 2003:38). 

The aim of observing the classroom activities was to spotlight on turn-taking behavior of students and teachers, cross-cultural comparisons in the use of communicative acts, treatment of learners’ pragmatic errors, the nature of linguistic input provided by the teachers, style shifting in the classroom, direct or indirect influence of the teachers and techniques that are used to address pragmatics in the classrooms. 

As to the organization of the participants, the aim was to see whether the teacher working with the whole class and/or individual students, whether the students were divided into groups or were engaged in individual seat work, or if they were engaged in group work, how was it organized etc. because as indicated in many literatures group work is considered to be an important factor in the development of fluency skills and communicative skills. Observation results revealed that students were typically involved in whole-class instruction with rare interaction with their teacher or other students. Students were just watching or listening to the teachers. The teachers typically focused on the content of the task or assignment, responded to students' signals, communicated the task's procedures, and checked students' work. 

As it can be seen from the table, all of the teachers never use any scenarios or situations to activate students’ pragmatic awareness by explaining the meaning of different language functions or uses. Beside this they never use any role-play activities to observe students’ pragmatic competence or failure. This might be due to huge number of students that ranges from 62 to 65 in a classroom. The researcher never observed the teachers asking their students to collect pragmatics information from outside the classroom from TV, movies, magazines, novels, etc. that are either naturally occurring or closer to authentic language use. As far as the researcher’s classroom observation is concerned, no one of the teachers happened to include pragmatic topics such as refusing, thanking, apologizing, complaining, complimenting, in their lesson.

With reference to materials used, the aim was to make a note of authentic/unauthentic materials that stimulate real-life communicative situations. Many advocates of the communicative approach have claimed that authentic materials are essential in order to prepare students for the kinds of discourse they will encounter outside the classroom. Nevertheless, no teacher was found to use any additional materials to help learners with the theme of lessons delivered, except textbook contents.

Although some teachers claimed in the questionnaire that the pragmatic lesson they brought into the classroom from outside world was ‘fairly adequate’, no one of them found to have included pragmatics related issues; rather they were heavily depending on the contents of the textbooks all the way through while the researcher was observing their behavior in the classroom. To further find out about the contradictions, the researcher talked to those teachers informally after the classroom sessions as to why they were not bringing in outside materials. They responded that there were no materials that they could make use of for the same purposes and on the other hand they were bringing materials related to grammar and vocabulary teaching.

Learners’ Self-perceived Communication Competence

The self-perceived communicative competence (SPCC) rubrics was developed to find out about participants (students’) perception of their own competence in different communication contexts and given different types of receivers. The scale was intended to let the respondents define their own communication competence. Since people make decisions with regard to communication (for example, whether they will even engage in it), it is their own perception that is important, and not that of an outside observer. It is important that readers of this measure recognize that this is not a measure of actual communication competence; it is a measure of perceived competence. Knowledge of communication strategies empowers individuals to communicate, express themselves, perform many different functions, and attain satisfactory outcome. It was just to test learners’ beliefs with respect to practicing English anytime anywhere so as to be able to use the language effectively. It is believed that practice makes perfect in all aspects of language including nonlinguistic features.

In order to solicit how learners perceive their communicative competence, the following rubrics was designed and distributed to them before the discourse completion test was administered. Some items were taken from 11th grade English textbook (p. 42-43 and 88).The rubrics were made of five models of communicative competence along with description: sociocultural competence, discourse competence, strategic competence, grammatical competence, and pragmatic competence. The last one in fact took the lion’s share for the main reason that the research’s theme revolved around it. The likert scale was also part of the rubrics along with values attached to each description-strongly agree=5, agree = 4 neither agree nor disagree=3, disagree=2, and strongly disagree=1. The mean score were rounded to the nearest mathematical values.

Table 8.Learners’ Self-perceived Sociolinguistic Competence

Sociolinguistic Competence

ItemsRating ValuesTotalMean



1Speaking English can help me interact with native speakers.

Thesis Keywords/Search Tags:
Pragmatics, challenges and opportunities to develop pragmatic competence, pragmatic comptence

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Submission Details: Thesis Abstract submitted by korie shankulie from Ethiopia on 17-Jul-2012 17:27.
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