The Effects of Pragmatics Competence in EFL University Learners

Abstract

As we know, Pragmatics is the way we convey meaning through communication, so the study aims at student’s opinions on the use of English language as a means of communication and to show the significance of language function, context, and authentic situations to develop pragmatic competence in Sudanese English Language university learners. To achieve the objectives, the study used a questionnaire to address the study questions and objectives. 150 employed students participated in the questionnaire. The study found that the students have positive views toward the using of the language as communicative means in various, functions, contexts, and authentic situations inside and outside the classroom to enhance the student’s fluency in using the target language as well as the take care about the language forms to avoid imperfect using of the language.

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Ahmed, E. (2022) The Effects of Pragmatics Competence in EFL University Learners. Open Journal of Applied Sciences, 12, 1618-1631. doi: 10.4236/ojapps.2022.1210110.

1. Introduction

Over the last decades’ pragmatics, the study of language in use has attracted many scholars. Pragmatics involves a complex interplay among linguistic forms, context of use, and social actions [1]. Defines pragmatics as “the study of language from the point of view of users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction, and the effects their use of language has on other participants in the act of communication.” To be pragmatically competent, L2 learners must attend to multipart mappings of form, meaning, force, and context. They need to know how to say what they want to say with the level of formality, politeness, and directness required in a situation, or sometimes not to speak at all and communicate intention only non-verbally. Basic parameters of context, such as speakers’ relationship, role, setting, topics, and assumptions about what speakers already know or do not know, and perceived impact of their language on the listener, guide learners’ linguistic choice.

2. This Study Is Set to Answer the Following Questions

1) To what extend the language functions is important than language forms?

2) What is the importance of using the context and authentic language?

3) How to improve speaking fluency through the communicative activities in an environment that English is a Foreign Language?

3. Objectives of the Study

The basic goal of the study is to shed light on the use of language as a means of communication and to show the importance of language function, context, and authentic situations to develop pragmatic competence in Sudanese EFL learners at tertiary level.

4. Literature Review

In this part the researcher will present the types of competence as well as the effect of pragmatic competence on linguistic performance, moreover important abilities of the learner to be pragmatic competent.

4.1. Pragmatic Competence

Pragmatic competence is the ability to understand speakers’ intentions, interpret their feelings and attitudes, and differentiate speech acts such as “requesting”, “suggesting” and “threats”. It is also having the necessary knowledge to interact appropriately in communicative situations. [2] states that pragmatic competence is not extra or ornamental. It is not subordinated to knowledge of grammar and textual organization, but it is coordinated to formal linguistic and textual knowledge. Learners need to develop pragmatic competence to communicate successfully in a target language.

[3] presents the concepts of pragmatic ability and pragmatic comprehension. The former is the ability to use language appropriately according to the communicative situation and the latter refers to the comprehension of oral language in terms of pragmatic meaning. Therefore, students need to be able to comprehend meaning pragmatically in order to:

1) Understand a speaker’s intention.

2) Interpret a speaker’s feelings and attitudes.

3) Differentiate speech act meaning such as the difference between a directive and a commissive.

4) Evaluate the intensity of a speaker’s meaning, such as the difference between a suggestion and a warning.

5) Recognize sarcasm, joking, and other facetious behavior.

6) Be able to respond appropriately.

Still on the topic of pragmatic comprehension, [4] proposes that the comprehension of speech acts and conversational implicatures are features of pragmatic comprehension (In: [3]). Speech acts define utterances produced by a speaker who is trying to do something or trying to get the hearer to do something [5] [6]. Conversational implicatures are utterances which express attitudes and feelings from the speaker and must be inferred by the hearer [7] [8].

4.2. Grammatical Competence

“Grammatical competence is an umbrella concept that includes increasing expertise in grammar (morphology, syntax), vocabulary, and mechanics. With regards to speaking, the term mechanics refers to basic sounds of letters and syllables, pronunciation of words, intonation, and stress” [9]. In order to convey meaning, EFL learners must have the knowledge of words and sentences; that is, they must understand how words are segmented into various sounds, and how sentences are stressed in particular ways. Thus, grammatical competence enables speakers to use and understand English language structures accurately and unhesitatingly, which contributes to their fluency.

4.3. Discourse Competence

In addition to grammatical competence, EFL learners must develop discourse competence, which is concerned with intersentential relationships. In discourse, whether formal or informal, the rules of cohesion and coherence apply, which aid in holding the communication together in a meaningful way. In communication, both the production and comprehension of a language require one’s ability to perceive and process stretches of discourse, and to formulate representations of meaning from referents in both previous sentences and following sentences. Therefore, effective speakers should acquire a large repertoire of structures and discourse markers to express ideas, show relationships of time, and indicate cause, contrast, and emphasis [10] [11]. With these, learners can manage turn-taking in conversation.

4.4. Sociolinguistic Competence

Knowledge of language alone does not adequately prepare learners for effective and appropriate use of the target language. Learners must have competence which involves knowing what is expected socially and culturally by users of the target language; that is, learners must acquire the rules and norms governing the appropriate timing and realization of speech acts. Understanding the sociolinguistic side of language helps learners know what comments are appropriate, know how to ask questions during interaction, and know how to respond nonverbally according to the purpose of the talk. Therefore, “adult second language learners must acquire stylistic adaptability in order to be able to encode and decode the discourse around them correctly” [12].

4.5. Strategic Competence

Strategic competence, which is “the way learners manipulate language in order to meet communicative goals” [13], is perhaps the most important of all the communicative competence elements. Simply put, it is the ability to compensate for imperfect knowledge of linguistic, sociolinguistic, and discourse rules [14]. With reference to speaking, strategic competence refers to the ability to know when and how to take the floor, how to keep a conversation going, how to terminate the conversation, and how to clear up communication breakdown as well as comprehension problems.

5. The effect of Pragmatic Competence on Linguistic Performance

There is a dispute whether pragmatic competence can be taught in the foreign language classroom. Several studies have been made addressing this question. [15] states that competence is not teachable: “Competence is a type of knowledge that learners possess, develop, acquire, use or lose”.

However, she suggests that teachers can arrange learning opportunities in a way that learners benefit from the development of pragmatic competence in L2.

[16] addresses this question even further. She indicates that all the areas of pragmatics are potential problems for learners in the L2 classroom and for members of minority groups who have a more limited proficiency in the target language. She exemplifies sources of input to which learners are exposed to:

Teachers, classroom and supplementary materials and other learners. In her study, she proposes different ways to maximize opportunities for the development of pragmatic knowledge using these sources of input.

On the other hand, [17] advocates the explicit teaching of pragmatic aspects to foreign language students to develop pragmatic competence in the EFL classroom. After observing a few EFL learners, they concluded that students demonstrated a clear need for it and that the explicit teaching of pragmatics can be a successful classroom experience.

Language learners’ linguistic performance is significantly different from native speakers. Areas such as the execution and comprehension of certain speech acts, conversational functions such as “greetings” and “leave takings” and conversational management such as “back channelling 2” and “short responses” are particularly problematic to non-native speakers.

Furthermore, without the explicit teaching of pragmatics, language learners’ pragmatic competence will vary a lot regardless of their language background or language proficiency. “That is to say, a learner of high grammatical proficiency will not necessarily show equivalent pragmatic development [16].”

From my own experience, even students at advanced levels show a wide range of pragmatic competence, especially if we compare learners who have had some experience living in the target language community and the ones who have not. The former tends to be more pragmatically aware in terms of appropriacy of linguistic forms whereas the latter tend to be more accurate in terms of grammar and less aware of cultural aspects.

Why teach pragmatics in language classes the study of pragmatics explores the ability of language users to match utterances with contexts in which they are appropriate; in Stalnaker’s words, pragmatics is “the study of linguistic acts and the contexts in which they are performed” [18]. The teaching of pragmatics aims to facilitate the learners’ sense of being able to find socially appropriate language for the situations that they encounter. Within second language studies and teaching, pragmatics encompasses speech acts, conversational structure, conversational implicature, conversational management, discourse organization, and sociolinguistic aspects of language use such as choice of address forms. As [19] advocates, teaching pragmatics because quite simply, observation of language learners shows that there is a demonstrated need for it and that instruction in pragmatics can be successful. [20] explains further that learners show significant differences from native speakers in language use, in the execution and comprehension of certain speech acts, in conversational functions such as greetings and leave takings, and in conversational management such as back channeling and short responses. The goal of instruction in pragmatics is not to insist on conformity to a particular target-language norm, but rather to help learners become familiar with the range of pragmatic devices and practices in the target language. With such instruction learners can maintain their own cultural identities (Kondo) and participate more fully in target language communication with more control over both intended force and outcome of their contributions. The first issue is to make language available to learners for observation. Some speech acts, such as invitations, refusals, and apologies often take place between individuals, and so learners might not have the opportunity to observe such language without being directly involved in the conversation. As points out, even maintaining a conversation in English requires a certain amount of knowledge underlying responses that prompt a speaker to continue, show understanding, give support, indicate agreement, show strong emotional response, add or correct speaker’s information, or ask for more information; Berry also discusses the importance of learning how to take turns, and demonstrates that listening behaviors that are polite in one language, may not be polite (or recognizable) in another. The second issue is salience. Some necessary features of language and language use are quite subtle in the input and not immediately noticeable by learners; for example, the turns that occur before speakers say “goodbye” and the noises that we make when encouraging other speakers to continue their turns are of this type. Differences in making requests by asking “Can I” (speaker-oriented) versus “Can you” (hearer-oriented) might not be immediately salient to learners. By highlighting features of language and language use, instruction can inform the learner. 5. The role of Pragmatic Competence in the process of teaching and learning a second language “We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” [21] makes a simple but powerful point: experience is not the source of learning, but rather it is reflection on this experience. The four skills in language learning; reading writing, listening, and speaking do not occur in isolation in communicative texts or activities. To shape a good pragmatic competence for the language learner, the following should be taken into consideration. 1) The goals and the objectives of a language course should be designed to meet the needs of the language learner to help them develop and improve their communicative competence. Since the primary goal of learning a second language is to provide fluency and accuracy in written and spoken modes of communication, first, the language teacher and the learner should pay attention to design communicative activities which would help to develop the communicative competence. [22] summarizes ‘competence’ in language teaching as: a) The intuitive mastery of the forms of language. b) The intuitive mastery of the linguistic, cognitive, affective, and sociocultural meanings, expressed by the language forms. c) The capacity to use the language with maximum attention to communication and minimum attention to form. d) The creativity of language use. Obviously, the term competence invites both the teacher and the learner to develop linguistic and sociolinguistic skills, to achieve complete and accurate communication. 2) The language teacher should design the course material to engage the learners in the pragmatic, coherent and functional uses of language for communicative purposes. As [2] claims, “The functional study of language means, studying how language is used”. For instance, trying to find out what the specific purposes that language serves for us, and how the members of a language community achieve and react to these purposes through speaking, reading, writing, and listening.” The pragmatic competence of the learner must be well developed; consequently, he or she will be able to conduct communication with accuracy. The development of coherence and the ability to react in different situations show a good level of functional competence. The grammar of the target language should not be taught in isolation with its use. The learned should be able to put his or her knowledge of language into practice. 3) There are several activities useful for the development of pragmatic competence. Moreover, they should raise the learners’ awareness of the importance of such competence in the process of acquiring the target language. As [23] states, “Linguistic behaviour is social behaviour. People talk because they want to socialise, in the widest possible sense of the world: either for fun, or to express themselves to other humans, or for some ‘serious’ purposes, such as building a house, closing a deal, solving a problem and so on.” Thus, [24] claims that language is a tool for human beings to express themselves as social creatures and the language used in that particular context is important in terms of linguistic interaction that takes place. “Such a context naturally presupposes the existence of a particular society, with its implicit and explicit values, norms, rules and laws, and with all its particular conditions of life: economic, social, political and cultural.” Admits [23].

6. The Study Methodology

As showed in below Table 1, the study used a questionnaire for the purpose of data collection. The detailed of the questionnaire as follows: the students’

Table 1. Summary of students’ questionnaire.

questionnaire (SsQ), consists of 12 statements, it was divided into three parts. The following table gives a summary about the students’ questionnaire:

6.1. Questionnaire Sample

The sample of this study included 150 students at Al Butana University, Faculty of Education, English language Department, all the students spent more than 10 years studying English language at school and university.

According to the results in Table 2 & Table 3, a number of 150 students from Al-Butana University English Language Department participated in the study, 20% were male and 80% were female as showed in Table 2. More than half of the students study at semester three 60% where as 40% study at semester six as shown in Table 3.

6.2. Validity of the Tool

The researcher deemed that the questions and the responses language to the appropriate intentionality with the flexibility in planning them within clarity about objectives and openness to various ways of achieving the responses.

The questionnaire was validated by the jury of three assistant professors specializes in English language. They based their comments on the following criteria:

1) The clarity of the items, instructions, and the statements.

2) The simplicity of the items, and how they related to the subject.

3) The language used.

Options are provided especially for sample, an aptitude for asking good questions and listening carefully to the advice given by the policy makers and the open dialogue shared with some of them with researcher’s willingness.

6.3. Reliability of the Questionnaire

In statistics, reliability is the consistency of a set of measurements often used to describe a test. For the reliability of the test, the study used the split-half method: A measure of consistency where the test is splitted in two and the score of each half of the test was compared with one another. The test was distributed to 10 students. The coefficient correlation formula was used to calculate the correlation:

Table 2. Distribution the sample according to the gender.

Tables 3. Distribution of the students according to their studying grades.

r = n ( x y ) ( x ) ( y ) [ n x 2 ( x ) 2 ] [ n y 2 ( y ) 2 ]

The analysis shows that there was strong positive correlation between the answers given to the items asked:

PsQ. = 067%

6.4. Procedures

The student’s questionnaire was distributed to them in their classes, then they were given enough time to response and fill the questionnaire.

7. Results and Discussion

The student’s questionnaire covers the various aspect that assist in developing Pragmatic Competence in Sudanese EFL Learners at Tertiary Level, it includes 12 items divided into three parts.

In below Table 4, the study showed that 119 (79.3%) of the students questioned agreed that language form must be explained when there is a need for it. This emphasizes that the use of communicative approach is helpful for the EFL learners. Whereas there were 25 (16%) of the students questioned disagree about this statement.

According to what was showed in Table 5 it seemed that 132 (87.9%) agree that the teachers must correct the grammatical errors of EFL learners in order to avoid the process of imperfect learning as well as to enhance the student’s accuracy of the language usage. This finding implies the necessity of concentrating on the language rules and sentence constructions to use the language appropriately in different situations and for various functions.

According to the information showed in Table 6 more than two thirds 112 (74.6%) agreed that the feedback of the teachers must be focused on the appropriateness of the language rather than the language form. While 16 (10.6%) of

Table 4. Language form must be explained when necessary.

Variable: Student’s opinions about the extent of the importance of the language functions than the language forms.

Table 5. The teachers must correct the grammatical errors of EFL learners to avoid imperfect learning.

Variable: Student’s opinions about the extent of the importance of the language functions than the language forms.

Table 6. Teacher’s feedback must be focused on the appropriateness of language not language form of EFL learners.

Variable: Student’s opinions about the extent of the importance of the language functions than the language forms.

the students were not sure and (22) 14.6% of the students questioned were disagreeing, so this indicates that the importance of the language functions.

Based on the information in below Table 7, concerning the focus of the class must be in situational language most of the respondents (144) 95.9% agreed with the statement which indicates that the teachers must prepare the suitable materials to be learned that reflects the various form of the language that suits the learners and satisfy their desires in acquiring the language by using the language appropriately in different situations.

With the respect to the students’ opinions about their extends of the importance of the language functions rather than the language forms, so the students’ views about the language forms must be explained when there is a necessity for this explaining, the results showed that (119) 73.3% agreed with this statement, and this indicates that the students prefer the communicative classroom rather than traditional classroom, which focused on reading and writing and ignored listening and speaking, also the survey showed that (125) 83.3% from the sample agreed that the teachers must correct the grammatical errors of the learners while they were using the language in order the imperfect learning of the language. Moreover, two thirds of the students agreed that the teachers must focus on the appropriateness of the language not the language form, as well as the use of situational language method instead of using Grammar Translation approach. In addition to most of the students (130) 86.6% agreed that the focus of the classroom must be in situational language in which the learners need the

Table 7. The focus of the class must be in situational language.

Variable: Student’s opinions about the extent of the importance of the language functions than the language forms.

creativity of the teachers for preparing the suitable items to be taught in the classroom that represent different situations of the language usage and this will be released by using communicative approach because We need to ‘get real’ about interaction and one way to do that is to promote integrated skills approaches such as whole language, cooperative learning, task-based learning, content-based learning or multiple intelligences. However, these kinds of language awareness building activities are supplementary to the real work of interaction in the classroom. We need to “get real” about interaction and one way to do that is to promote integrated skills approaches such as whole language, cooperative learning, task-based learning, content-based learning, or multiple intelligences [25]. The advantage of integrated skills approaches is eightfold:

1) It exposes English language learners to authentic language.

2) It challenges them to interact naturally in the language.

3) Learners rapidly recognize the richness and complexity of the English language.

4) Learners see that English is not just an object of academic interest nor merely a key to passing an examination;

5) English becomes a real means of interaction and sharing among people.

6) It allows teachers to track students’ progress in multiple skills at the same time.

7) It promotes the learning of real content, not just the dissection of language forms.

8) It can be highly motivating to students.

Table 8 illustrates that 140 (93.3%) of the students agreed that the students must given opportunities for interaction with the teachers or with the students themselves during the lesson inside the classroom to improve their abilities to use the language appropriately.

Based on the information in below Table 9, more than four fifths of the students agreed that the teachers must encourage the learners for using the language outside the classroom and this can be done through interactions or activities using the language outside the classroom.

In below Table 10, the same respect, that 123 (82%) of the students questioned agreed that performing activities outside the classroom will enhance the ability for EFL learners, and this represents in watching original films of the native speakers to show the real uses of the language in various contexts and authentic situations.

Table 8. Students must be given opportunity for interaction.

Variable: Students’ attitudes towards the necessity of using context and authentic language.

Table 9. Students must be encouraged to use the language outside the classroom.

Variable: Students’ attitudes towards the necessity of using context and authentic language.

Table 10. Watching original films and videos are useful for EFL learners.

Variable: Students’ attitudes towards the necessity of using context and authentic language.

Based on the information in below Table 11, 146 (97.3%) of the students prefer reading original English materials that help them to across English language culture and this can be done by reading English literature in different stages of educations such as reading short stories and short novels as well as plays of English authors and play Wright.

Concerning overall attitudes of the students towards the using of the context and authentic language, we note that 140 (93.3%) of the students agreed that they must be motivated for using the language and interacting with the teachers and with their colleagues inside the classroom. Moreover 137 (91.2%) of the questioned students were agreed to be encouraged to use the language outside the classroom, in addition to 123 (82%) of the students agreed with the process of watching films and videos are useful for EFL learners while (13.2%) were disagree with this statement. Furthermore146 (97.3%) of the questioned students were agreed that reading original materials are helpful for them, so the using of context and authentic language will promote the students’ fluency which includes according to Fillmore 1979 the ability to:

1) Fill time with talk [i.e., to talk without awkward pauses for a relatively long time].

2) Talk in coherent, reasoned, and “semantically dense” sentences [Fillmore’s emphasis].

3) Have appropriate things to say in a wide range of contexts.

4) Be creative and imaginative in using the language.

The below table illustrates that Table 12, 134 (89.3%) of the survey sample agreed with the tasks used in the classroom must improve EFL learners abilities

Table 11. Reading original English materials are helpful for EFL learners.

Variable: Students’ attitudes towards the necessity of using context and authentic language.

Table 12. Tasks used in English class must improve EFL learner’s ability to use the language appropriately.

Variable: Improve EFL student’s fluency through the communicative activities.

to use the language appropriately and this indicates the importance of the activities such as: dialogues pairs and group works as well as conversations besides to discussions between the learners and the teachers or between the learners themselves which allow the students to use the language in school day.

According to the information in below Table 13, more than four fifths 131 (87.3%) of the questioned students agreed that most of Sudanese EFL learners lack speech act strategies, while 4 (2%) were not sure, and 15 (9.9%) disagreed with the statement, so this indicates that most of Sudanese EFL learners do not aware about the strategies of speech act which include: how to request, how to order, how to condole, how to apologize, how to refuse and even how to thanks how to invite and how to Promise politely.

Based on the information in below Table 14, 133 (87.9%) of the students agreed that the communicative activities are very useful for the EFL learners, while 11 (6.6%) were disagree that the communicative activities are useful, thus this indicates the practical of the language by the learners will help them to be fluent persons and teachers must motivate the learners to perform these activities.

Based on the information in below Table 15, 111 (77.9%) of the questioned students agreed that the teachers must teach the learners how to communicate with people using the target language, so this can be done through several activities, while 14 (9.3%) were not sure, 25 (14.3%) were disagree and this shows that the necessity of communicate classroom.

Regarding overall students attitudes about Improve EFL student’s fluency through the communicative activities, the researcher notes that 134 (89.3%) of the survey sample agreed with the tasks used in the classroom must improve EFL learners abilities to use the language appropriately and this indicates in addition to 131 (87.3%) of the questioned students agreed that most of Sudanese EFL learners lack speech act strategies, while 4 (2%) were not sure, and 15 (9.9%) disagreed with the statement, furthermore 133 (87.9%) of the students agreed that the communicative activities are very useful for the EFL learners, while 11 (6.6%) were disagree that the communicative activities are useful, and 111 (77.9%)

Table 13. Most of Sudanese EFL learner’s lack speech act strategies.

Variable: Improve EFL student’s fluency through the communicative activities.

Table 14. Communicative activities are very useful for EFL learners.

Variable: Improve EFL student’s fluency through the communicative activities.

Table 15. The teachers must teach the learners how to communicate with people.

Variable: Improve EFL student’s fluency through the communicative activities.

of the questioned students agreed that the teachers must teach the learners how to communicate with people using the target language, so this can be done through several activities, while 14 (9.3%) were not sure, 25 (14.3%) were disagreed and this shows that the necessity of communicate classroom. So that all these results indicate that Improve EFL student’s fluency through the communicative activities will be performed in many ways in which the teachers will play an essential role for performing it, also communicative techniques can develop productive, receptive, and interactive skills in students that are necessary for effective communication. Activities with listening and reading, aim at developing students’ skills of receiving information. Activities with speaking and writing develop students’ skills of producing information as well as communicative techniques aim to develop students’ communicative competence. To communicate effectively, the students are involved in different kinds of activities that require practicing various skills to understand their peers and make themselves understood by others.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.

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