Table of Contents
1. Introduction: Intercultural Communicative Competence, Teaching Pragmatics and the Curriculum
2. Pragmatics in the Foreign Language Classroom – A Status Analysis
3. How can Politeness be Taught? – The Methodology of Instructional Pragmatics
It is the aim of this research paper to analyze how politeness currently is - and how politeness potentially could be - taught in foreign language classrooms. The focus will be on how foreign language students are - or could be - instructed to perform speech acts that usually require forms of politeness. Teaching politeness will not be reduced to the introduction of cultural stereotypes and basic rules of behavior in language teaching, it will rather be understood as all forms of the pragmatic knowledge required to develop true intercultural communicative competence in the foreign language student. It is argued that currently teaching pragmatics only plays a minor role in foreign language teaching, but that this knowledge is crucial to build up intercultural communicative competence as it is demanded by the CEFR and foreign language curricula. To prove this thesis, current textbooks for teaching English as a foreign language will be examined for teaching activities that include aspects of foreign language pragmatics or politeness. In a subsequent chapter, the didactics and methodology of instructional pragmatics will be discussed on the basis of literature from the field of pedagogy.
1. Introduction: Intercultural Communicative Competence, Teaching Pragmatics and the Curriculum
Showing politeness and knowing appropriate, polite behavior is trendy. Browsing through a book store, one can find a large number of current publications dealing with the topic of “politeness”. Those practical guides, however, show an understanding of “politeness” that is rather facile: Often, polite behavior is reduced to a kind of “rules of thumb” giving the reader advice on how to act in certain social situations, such as a party or a business meeting. But this form of “ready-to-use politeness” is by no means what politeness in an academic notion is about. Nevertheless, the rising number of publications in the non-scholarly field is a good indicator of the recently increased interest in the subject of politeness (cf. Ehrhardt,Neuland 2009:7).
As there is an increase in the number of the academic essays published on the topic of politeness as well, the academic interest in the subject is obvious, too (cf. Spyridoula et al. 2015:23). Accordingly, current curricula for English foreign language teaching in German schools list the knowledge of “politeness” as one of the goals of teaching English. In the curricula, a knowledge of pragmatics (which includes politeness) is part of the so-called “communicative competence”, a term which describes the ability of the student to use language fluently in written and spoken form and with such a proficiency that he or she can take part in a foreign language discourse autonomously, react to the utterances of an interlocutor properly and get his or her own line of argumentation across. In order to be able to display proficient communicative competence, it seems obvious that a student needs advanced abilities regarding language use (practical linguistic competence in the fields of syntax, morphology and phonology). However, communicative competence in the understanding of the curricula is not solely about fluency, good pronunciation and grammatical correctness in foreign language speaking, it is actually quite the reverse: Communicative competence postulates the maxim “fluency before accuracy”. Hence it is evident that apart from linguistic correctness there are other “things to be learned” in the English foreign language classroom in order to develop a true form of communicative competence in the student, which actually means a knowledge of pragmatics – for example politeness - and the development of a sociolinguistic competence in general.
Apart from the communicative competence, there is another competence dealt with in the curricula that has to be taken into consideration when discussing the role of politeness in German foreign language teaching: The “intercultural competence” which forms a major aspect in the curricula for years 3/4, for years 5 - 10 and for years 11/12 and is considered to be an important condition for successful communication. Under the headline “intercultural competence” the curriculum of Lower Saxony for years 3/4 (elementary school) explains that this competence means more than mere knowledge or technique but that it describes general attitudes that are expressed in a student’s way of thinking, feeling and acting and that are rooted in corresponding experiences and ethical principles:
Interkulturelle Kompetenz umfasst mehr als Wissen und mehr als eine Technik. Sie beinhaltet auch und vor allem Haltungen, die ihren Ausdruck im Denken, Fühlen, Handeln und ihre Verankerung in entsprechenden Lebenserfahrungen und ethischen Prinzipien haben. (Niedersächsisches Kerncurriculum Englisch für die Grundschule Schuljahrgänge 3-4 2006:15)
The curriculum of Lower Saxony for years 5 – 10 says:
Der Erwerb kommunikativer und interkultureller Kompetenzen in anderen Sprachen ist eine wichtige Voraussetzung für erfolgreiche Verständigung. [...] Für den schulischen Fremdsprachenunterricht bedeutet dies einen erhöhten Anwendungsbezug, die Ausrichtung auf interkulturelle Handlungsfähigkeit [...]. (Niedersächsisches Kerncurriculum Englisch für das Gymnasium Schuljahrgänge 5 – 10 2006:5)
Later on intercultural competence is defined as:
- “Umgang mit kultureller Differenz”
- “praktische Bewältigung von Begegnungssituationen” (ibd.)
Correspondingly, as competences of speaking to be developed in years 5/6 the curriculum lists:
Auf einfache Sprechanlässe reagieren und einfache Sprechsituationen bewältigen (z. B. Begrüßungs-, Höflichkeits- und Abschiedsformeln verwenden, jemanden einladen und auf Einladungen reagieren, Verabredungen treffen, um Entschuldigung bitten und auf Entschuldigungen reagieren, Zustimmung oder Ablehnung ausdrücken und sagen, was sie gern haben und was nicht. (ibd.)
So, according to the curriculum, their orientational knowledge, their ability to deal with cultural differences and their ability to practically handle intercultural situations make up the intercultural competence of younger language learners. In their foreign language lessons ten/eleven-year-olds are supposed to acquire the competence to deal with simple, everyday conversational situations like greeting someone, inviting someone or using expressions of politeness.
The curriculum for years 11/12 lists the following competences:
Die Schülerinnen und Schüler …
- kennen elementare Kommunikations- und Interaktionsregeln ausgewählter englischsprachiger Länder und verfügen über ein entsprechendes Sprachregister, das sie in vertrauten Situationen anwenden können. [...]
- können sich in Bezug auf die Befindlichkeiten und Denkweisen in den Partner aus der anderen Kultur hineinversetzen.
- kennen gängige Sicht- und Wahrnehmungsweisen, Vorurteile und Stereotype des eigenen und des anderen Landes und setzen sich mit ihnen auseinander.
- sind in der Lage, ungewohnte Erfahrungen auszuhalten und mit ihnen sinnvoll und angemessen umzugehen.
- können kulturelle Differenzen, Missverständnisse und Konfliktsituationen bewusst wahrnehmen, sich darüber verständigen und gegebenenfalls gemeinsam handeln. (Niedersächsisches Kerncurriculum Englisch für die gymnasiale Oberstufe 2009:18)
So, according to the passages quoted from the curriculum for years 11/12 (sixteen and seventeen-year-olds), intercultural competence is the ability of a language learner to appropriately communicate with a native speaker from a foreign culture in the foreign language. Therefore, it is necessary for the student to know elementary rules of communication and interaction in the foreign culture (“elementare Kommunikations- und Interaktionsregeln”), it is necessary for the student to be able to “feel his way into” the interlocutor and his foreign cultural background, thereby interpreting his speech in the intercultural context (“sich in Bezug auf die Befindlichkeiten und Denkweisen in den Partner aus der anderen Kultur hineinversetzen”), and, finally, it is necessary for the student to know about common stereotypes, ways of behavior and typical intercultural misunderstandings (“kennen gängige Sicht- und Wahrnehmungsweisen, Vorurteile und Steoreotype”, “können kulturelle Differenzen, Missverständnisse und Konfliktsituationen bewusst wahrnehmen”).
Thus, it could be argued that intercultural competence is a form of communicative competence – but on an intercultural level. Since both competences demand the ability of the speaker to engage in fluent discourse with an interlocutor, realizing speech acts in a socially acceptable manner, it is obvious that the two competencies – communicative competence and intercultural competence - are interlinked. It has, however, to be noted that intercultural competence in the way it is described in the curriculum is a step beyond “simple” communicative competence. To display intercultural competence the language learner must, firstly, be able to use the foreign language with such a proficiency that he or she can communicate with an interlocutor fluently and in a socially acceptable manner (communicative competence) in order to, secondly, use the language in the intercultural sphere, speaking to an interlocutor from a foreign culture, knowing and reflecting on foreign cultural behavior and conversational standards (intercultural competence). Therefore, intercultural competence is also referred to as “intercultural communicative competence”, a term that is more fitting regarding the importance of the communicative skills that are necessary to develop intercultural competence. The outlined concept of intercultural competence also incorporates the curricula´s general understanding of politeness in English foreign language usage. It is evident that this notion of politeness, for example the demand to “feel your way into” the interlocutor and his foreign cultural background, thereby interpreting his speech in the intercultural context, goes beyond what was mentioned as “ready-to-use politeness” - the understanding of politeness as a catalogue of basic “rules of thumb” for social gatherings - at the beginning of this chapter.
The “Common European Framework of References for Languages” (CEFR), a transnational guideline published 2001 and used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages, whose six reference levels are becoming widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual's language proficiency, also conceptualizes politeness. In the CEFR, politeness is broadly understood as an aspect of linguistic behavior with consequences for a social self and for social relations. The descriptive categories of the CEFR for general competences and for communicative language competences - including politeness – are summarized as follows:
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
In principle, the CEFR subdivides (intercultural) communicative competence into general competences and communicative language competences. The general competences span from declarative, sociocultural knowledge of the world to practical intercultural skills, know-how and existential competences (attitudes, values, beliefs, etc.) and to the ability to learn. The communicative language competences are subdivided into linguistic competences (“ability to use language correctly”), sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences (politeness conventions, register differences, discourse competence, etc.). It is obvious that with this conceptualization the CEFR gives a very genuine and profound overview of which qualifications and partial competences are needed for true intercultural communicative competence. This is why the given framework should act as a guideline for what should be part of the teaching of intercultural communicative competence, also in this essay. However, the emphasis will be placed on the teaching of sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences, mainly since the declarative knowledge of culture, practical skills and know-how (general competences) as well as linguistic competences are what is taught already, whereas the teaching of the pragmatic and sociolinguistic aspects of language only plays a minor role in the EFL-classroom. This is evident in language classes or in foreign language teaching textbooks, which rarely address the field of politeness as a form of discourse competence distinctly (cf. Scialdone 2009:283). Additionally, there has been relatively little research on the teaching of politeness (cf. Spyridoula et al. 2015:23).
It is the aim of this research paper to analyze how politeness currently is - and how politeness potentially could be - taught in foreign language classrooms. One focus will be on how foreign language students are - or could be - instructed to perform speech acts that accomplish action through language and therefore usually require forms of politeness. Teaching politeness will not be reduced to the introduction of cultural stereotypes and basic rules of behavior in language teaching, it will rather be understood as all forms of pragmatic knowledge that are necessary to develop true intercultural communicative competence in the foreign language student. In this essay, it is argued that currently teaching pragmatics only plays a minor role in foreign language teaching. To prove this thesis, four current textbooks for teaching English as a foreign language will be examined with regard to teaching activities that include aspects of foreign language pragmatics or politeness. In a subsequent chapter, the didactics and methodology of instructional pragmatics will be discussed on the basis of literature from the field of pedagogy.
The view will not be limited to teaching English as a foreign language, but examples from teaching German, French or Italian as a foreign language will be considered, too. All the considerations made in this essay can also be applied to foreign language teaching in general, not only to teaching foreign languages at German schools.
2. Pragmatics in the Foreign Language Classroom – A Status Analysis
It can be debated how and to what extent teaching pragmatics is part of current foreign language teaching and learning. In his book on instructional pragmatics, Rémi van Compernolle provides an interesting excerpt taken from a teaching French as a foreign language situation in the United States. Susan (a pseudonym) is asked to identify which second-person address form (familiar “tu” versus polite “vous”) she would use in a variety of social situations. In the given scenario, Susan is meeting a good (male) friend´s girlfriend, Sophie, for the first time (“+” indicating a pause, underlining indicating stress):
Tutor: What about the second one. +++ Jean´s girlfriend Sophie.
Susan: I would probably say “vous”. Just because I haven´t met her before, + and it goes back to the whole respect thing, I think, + and even though, + she´s my age, and + the girlfriend of my friend, + I still just + because I´m meeting her for the first time, + I feel like I would just default to “vous”,
Susan: …to be respectful, (van Compernolle 2014:7)
The given scenario is ambiguous for the student since, one the one hand, Sophie is her own age, a peer and the friend of a friend but, on the other hand, a person whom she has not met before. In selecting her response, Susan applies the “rules of thumb” for politeness and respectful behavior that have been discussed in class, choosing the polite “vous” form. One could guess that in this case the French language textbook and the language classes introduced “vous” as a form of “default” when meeting new people, thereby establishing the basic rule to always apply that form when talking to strangers. Although Susan seems to realize the potential importance of age and the relationship between Sophie and her male friend, which is also underlined by her uncertainty when deciding which form to choose (indicated by pauses and stress), she reverts to her default choice of respectful address, because she does not actually know what to do in the situation. However, Susan fails to realize that because of their rather similar age and because of their mutual male friend, her choice of the formal address form “vous” would probably be seen as odd, or even rude, because it would indicate – or even create – a social distance between her and Sophie, her peer with the potential status of a friend (cf. van Compernolle 2014:8).
This example gives an insight into how a lack of pragmatic and sociolinguistic competence can lead to misunderstandings or, in this particular case, to “strange”, impolite behavior when engaging in discourse with (foreign) people. True intercultural communicative competence would, however, enable the student to always know the right forms of address in a foreign language, ideally not only by applying basic rules, but by reflecting on and autonomously modifying them according to the communicative situation.
Another example of an incorrect use of language that contains the intercultural aspect I was able to observe myself: After finishing school, a fellow student of mine went to the United States to work as a babysitter. When being asked by her host mother where the baby currently was, she replied by saying, “It is over there”, probably in accordance with the German equivalent “es (das Baby, neut.) ist da hinten”. In this case, a rather severe interlingual error occurred because the German babysitter addressed the baby by the neuter form (“it”), in English only used for lifeless objects and never for people. This lack of knowledge on the grammatical but also on the pragmatic level led to a rather grave demotion of the baby who, in this case, on language level was represented as non-human. True intercultural communicative competence would, however, enable the learner to know about such differences and customs in foreign language use.
Those examples illustrate how a lack of knowledge in language use can lead to unintentionally impolite behavior when conversing in a foreign language. Maria Paola Scialdone from the university of Macerata argues that cases like these, where students fail to show intercultural communicative competence, result from insufficient education in the field of sociolinguistics and pragmatics. She argues that especially in language teaching textbooks the topic of politeness is treated poorly (283). In her study, she analyzes German-Italian DaF (German as a foreign language) textbooks, showing that the teaching activities directly addressing the topic of politeness therein are rather superficial, simply giving blueprints and basic rules for polite behavior in certain social situations on two to three pages each (295, 298f.). Apart from Maria Scialdone, other scholars also argue that the main reason for insufficient pragmatic competences lies in poor education (see: Birk 2009, Spyridoula et al. 2015, van Compernolle 2014:29f.).
To test this hypothesis, examples from four frequently-used current English as a foreign language textbooks from German schools will be examined to determine whether and how instructional pragmatics are incorporated there. Those books will be “Green Line 4” (Klett, 2008), “access 3” (Cornelsen, 2015), “Green Line Oberstufe” (Klett, 2009) and “Context Nord” (Cornelsen, 2015).
Before doing so, however, it should be stated that in recent years, mainly after the CEFR was published in 2001, the teaching of foreign languages in German schools has faced major changes and new orientations, most prominently evident in the paradigm shift towards competence/skill-oriented teaching. New curricula for elementary and secondary schools were introduced which all recognize intercultural competence as a major aspect of foreign language teaching (chapter 1).
Regarding the topic of politeness, in elementary school, where English is mainly taught as a spoken language, students simply pick up phrases like “Can you give me … please?”, thus developing the skill to deal with their interlocutors politely. In years 5 to 10 students frequently practice speech acts such as inviting someone, apologizing to someone or being polite, thus intensifying and extending their skill to deal with their interlocutors politely (see chapter 1).
To enable students to practise their skills some schools have introduced special events like the so-called “village of languages” (“das Sprachendorf”) where typical elements and props (stalls, a restaurant, a second hand shop, etc.) form a village where students must dine, shop, etc. in a foreign language and where as many native speakers as possible (exchange students, assistant teachers) take part. Typically, the “village of languages” is often part of the “European Day” (“Europatag”), an event that especially focuses on intercultural awareness. To test students’ conversational skills Lower Saxony and other German federal states have introduced oral examinations (“Sprechprüfungen”) after years 6 and 8, in which students need not only answer interview questions of the teacher politely, but must also conduct a discussion with a classmate (“paired discussion”) in which, of course, they are supposed to converse in a polite way.
Apart from reading, writing, speaking and listening, there is another skill required by the curricula, which is interesting from an intercultural point of view and which is also part of the final examination (“Abitur”): mediation. In mediation, the student generally acts as an intermediary between German and a foreign language. In this position, it is his task not only to understand the foreign language (linguistic competence), but also to interpret and to explain. In the case of a conversation between a German-speaking person and a native speaker, the student has to convey the general meaning of what is being said while bearing the speakers’ intentions and the situation in mind, thus taking cultural differences, sociolinguistic knowledge and pragmatics into account.
Consequently all English as a foreign language textbooks, both for years 5 – 10 and for years 11/12, deal with various mediation exercises. Apart from that they offer skills sections in which the different skills (writing, speaking, etc.) are focused on. Example 1 is contained in the “Skills File” of “access 3” by Cornelsen (150).
In the given example, polite conversation is the objective of learning. Whereas the dialogue on the left consists of one-word sentences and short statements or questions and is consequently impolite, the dialogue on the right, in which typical expressions and phrases are employed, sounds partner-oriented and idiomatic. The second part “Wie kann ich freundlich ein Gespräch führen?” explains in theory how to conduct a friendly (polite) conversation and deals with useful phrases. However, the file does not point out any cultural differences, for example that question tags like “isn’t it?” (see dialogue 2, line 1) are a typical element of speech usually applied in spoken English but rarely in spoken German (“oder?”, “nicht wahr?”). And more importantly, it also does not point out that conversing politely is much more important in English-speaking countries than in Germany.
In contrast to that Klett’s “Green Line 4” does make students aware of cultural differences.
Its “Talkwise”-pages that (apart from skills sections) are part of every unit are introduced by explanations like “For Americans it’s very important to be friendly and polite to each other in public” (Green Line 4 2008:51) or “Europeans usually find that Americans are very casual and that Americans talk more than they do. But that doesn’t mean that you can just talk casually to every American.” (Green Line 4 2008:88). The textbook then explains different registers for different situations (“very polite”, “polite”, “casual”) and it also points out cultural differences regarding shaking hands, greeting each other by kissing and the usage of first names. The “Talkwise”-page that especially deals with “Polite small talk” contains two listening exercises that contrast impolite and polite dialoges at a supermarket, it offers useful phrases and it makes students react to polite comments in an appropriate manner. Doing so, it points out more cultural differences (“In the US, you are often asked things that sound personal, but they are just polite.”) and it distinguishes between different social situations (Green Line 4 2008:51).
In Klett´s textbook for years 11/12, “Green Line Oberstufe”, the topic of politeness is also addressed directly: On page 241 the topic of eating out is discussed and typical, polite phrases that are being used when visiting a restaurant are given. Subsequently, the students are asked to take part in a role play as a waiter or a guest, by which an authentic communicative setting is supposed to be created. In the skills section of the book (248f.) the students’ awareness of register in written language is raised by giving them an overview of linguistic devices that indicate formal and informal speech (275). On page 279 of the textbook (“taking part in a conversation”) students are also given tips and wording help (short phrases and language devices) for spoken language that consider politeness. Additionally, a chart of “factors influencing conversation” draws the students’ attention to factors such as social distance that determine correct forms of polite behavior.
In Cornelsen´s “Context Nord”, there are no learning activities to be found that address politeness or language use in the intercultural context directly. However, the topic of culture and foreign customs is addressed frequently. This is the case, for example, when students have to reflect on forms of patriotic U.S. art (15) or when students have to create a podcast on British culture inspired by the TV-show “Downton Abbey” (111). On page 173 of the textbook students are asked to mediate between a German and an English student watching the “Eurovision Song Contest” together, arguing whether it is good or bad that nearly all the featured songs are only performed in English.
In conclusion, in German foreign language teaching a number of measures have been taken to raise students’ awareness of pragmatics and politeness. Current EFL-textbooks do incorporate learning activities that are designed to distinctively develop sociolinguistic skills. Especially the learning activities from the field of “mediation”, as they are integrated into all modern German EFL-textbooks, can usefully contribute to developing intercultural communicative competence. On the whole, however, the input in the books seems to be rather didactical and therefore artificial. Due to the obvious lack of native speakers in the classroom, the communicative settings (role plays) offered to the students, for example, remain rather unauthentic and cultural differences are rarely made aware of in an explicit way.
However, sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences are complex, covering numerous aspects such as conventions of politeness, linguistic markers of social relations, differences in register and rhetorical effectiveness (cf. Pizziconi 2015:131). The following chapter will give an overview of the methodology of teaching pragmatics, giving ideas for activities that go beyond the learning of the pragmatics of a language by simply listening to language input or trying to copy it, as it is mainly practiced in current textbooks.