Impact of Immersion Teaching on English Sociopragmatic Awareness of Chinese Kindergarten Children: A Polite Study

By Zhang, Lei; Yan, Rong | International Education, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
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Impact of Immersion Teaching on English Sociopragmatic Awareness of Chinese Kindergarten Children: A Polite Study

Zhang, Lei, Yan, Rong, International Education


The purpose of this paper is to examine the impacts of an early partial immersion program as compared to a non-immersion program on English sociopragmatic awareness among Chinese kindergarten children six years of age. Of the 128 children who participated in the experiment involving the use of politeness perception tasks, half received three years of English immersion instruction and the other half were non-immersion children. The results indicate that compared with non-immersion teaching, the immersion instruction was found to be more effective in developing children's English sociopragmatic awareness in terms of tasks that involve request strategies as opposed to reply strategies. The above results suggest that, apart from immersion teaching, speech act is another important variable affecting second language sociopragmatic competence during early childhood.


Teaching pragmatics in foreign language(FL) or second language(SL) settings has long been a great challenge to language instructors around the world. Although numerous studies in pragmatic interventions have been conducted over the past decades, most of them focus on adult learners (Kasper & Rose, 1999; Kasper, 2001; Rose & Ng, 2001; Rose, 2005; Koike & Pearson, 2005), with little attention paid to the contextual factors affecting children's development of pragmatic competence. On the other hand, because the majority of these studies have been conducted in western social contexts, the results applicable to Chinese cultural, educational, and linguistic realities have been limited. The present article is intended to contribute to the body of research on FL/SL pragmatic pedagogy by examining the impact of early partial English immersion instruction on English sociopragmatic awareness of Chinese kindergarten children.


Studies on Interventional Instructions for Developing FL/SL Pragmatic Awareness

Pragmatic awareness refers to the conscious, reflective and explicit knowledge about pragmatics. It is involved with knowledge of those rules and conventions underlying appropriate language use in particular communicative situations and on the part of members of specific speech communities(Cenoz & Hornberger, 2008). Although pragmatic ability has been universally recognized as one of the essential components of communicative competence, it has been largely neglected in today's FL/SL education when compared to teaching other language skills, such as reading and writing. In an attempt to help FL/SL learners obtain a sense of appropriate language use, many scholars have argued for the necessity of raising and enhancing their pragmatic awareness during L2 instructions and consider it as the key to successful pragmatic teaching (Ellis, 1999; Sohn, 2001; Cook, 2001).

Based on the "noticing hypothesis" initiated by Schmidt (1990), a number of instructional interventions have been developed to help FL/SL language learners acquire pragmatic awareness (Bardovi-Harlig, Hartfold, Mahan-Taylor, Moorage, & Reynolds, 1991; Bardovi-Harlig, 1992; Rose, 1999; Byon, 2006; Ishihara, 2007). In general, they can be classified into two categories. First, the cognitiveawareness- raising approach, introduced by Bardovi-Harlig, et al. (1991), is characterized by an attempt to increase students' cognitive awareness of the differences between L 1 and L2 speech acts. Teachers are required to provide explicit pragmatic instructions and explain to and discuss with the students the ways in which the speech acts of Ll manifest themselves in L2. The second approach involves an attempt to enhance students' pragmatic awareness through comprehensive training of both receptive and productive skills. Unlike the cognitive approach, the primary goal of this intervention is not to deliver explicit information on pragmatics. Instead, students are exposed to the pragmatic features of both Ll and L2 languages; this exposure is intended to encourage them to arrive at their own generalizations concerning contextually appropriate language use through productive activities, such as interview, role playing and oral presentations (Rose, 1999).

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Impact of Immersion Teaching on English Sociopragmatic Awareness of Chinese Kindergarten Children: A Polite Study


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