Academic journal article Asian Social Science

The Effectiveness of Teaching Formulaic Politeness Strategies in Making Request to Undergraduates in an ESL Classroom

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

The Effectiveness of Teaching Formulaic Politeness Strategies in Making Request to Undergraduates in an ESL Classroom

Article excerpt


It is widely acknowledged that the main thrust of second language (L2) teaching and learning is establishing and developing the communicative competence of learners. Especially, in recent years, the focus has shifted more towards intercultural communicative competence (ICC). As such, it is more practical that educational endeavors should be directed both towards the grammar or lexis of the target language as well as the appropriate use of these grammatical and lexical systems in a variety of situations by considering different social and contextual factors. Therefore, this study embarks on the effect of explicit instruction of formulaic politeness strategies among Malaysian undergraduates in making request. Sixty Malaysian undergraduates participated in the study. The students included two groups of intervention and control groups. The data were cumulated through three tests, namely open ended completion test, a listening test and an acceptability judgment test. Treatment or experimental group received explicit instruction with structured and problem-solving and input tasks. The comparison was made between the performance of treatment group and that of control in terms of the pre-test and post-test. The findings show that the treatment group outperformed significantly than the control group. This matter is suggestive that in this probe, explicit form-based instruction was successful for learners to comprehend and produce the English politeness strategies effectively in making request. The findings of this study will be beneficial for material developers and teachers to make use of form-focused strategies more effectively to teach second language pragmatic features to Malaysian students.

Keywords: formulaic politeness strategies, form-focused instruction, downtoners, downgraders, undergraduates

1. Introduction

The widely accepted view is that the primary goal of Second Language(L2) instruction is establishing and developing the communicative competence of learners and one of its most vital components, that is pragmatic competence ( Bachman, 1990; Celce-Murcia, Dörnyei and Thurrell,1995; Usó-Juan and Martínez-Flor, 2006). Pragmatic competence is recognized as the ability of learners to make use of a variety of linguistic formula appropriately when communicating in a context that is socially and culturally specific. For this end, learners are required to master both types of pragmatic competence; pragmalinguistics dealing with the resources/ linguistics realizations for conveying specific communicative or speech acts and sociopragmatics dealing with the appropriate use of those linguistic forms/realizations be learners based on the context, the special roles of the participants in that context and the politeness factors of social distance, power, and the degree of imposition ( Brown & Levinson, 1978; 1987).

Request as one of the most important speech acts studies in L2 pragmatic studies has attracted the scholars' attention in L2 pragmatics research. Request is deemed as one of the speech acts frequently utilized in human interactions for information or cooperation from others. It is highly important to L2 learners because most of their L2 interactions take place in the form of requests (Fraser, 1980; Fraser, Rintell & Walters, 1980; Koike, 1989).

Moreover, with regard to the categorization of illocutionary acts by Searle (1969), (i.e. representatives, directives, expressives, commissives, and declarations), requests are considered as directives, which have been defined as "an attempt to get hearer to do an act which the speaker wants the hearer to do, and which it is not obvious that the hearer will do in the normal course of events or of the hearer's own accord" (p. 66). Anchored in Brown and Levinson's (1987) politeness theory, requests are considered as the Face Threatening Acts (FTAs) as a speaker is imposing her/his will on the hearer (p. 65). Brown and Levinson (1987) suggested that when individuals are required to perform a face threatening act and they want to do it in a direct way, they should attempt to mitigate its threatening effect on the hearer's face. …

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