Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Does Input Enhancement Work for Learning Politeness Strategies?

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Does Input Enhancement Work for Learning Politeness Strategies?

Article excerpt


The present study investigated the effect of input enhancement on the acquisition of English politeness strategies by intermediate EFL learners. Two groups of freshman English majors were randomly assigned to the experimental (enhanced input) group and the control (mere exposure) group. Initially, a TOEFL test and a discourse completion test (DCT) ensured homogeneity of the groups in terms of general proficiency and pragmatic competence. Then, the participants received the instructional treatments on English politeness strategies (PSs). They read and listened to dialogues containing the intended PSs. The target PSs were in bold typeface in enhanced input group's dialogue booklet and in regular font in mere exposure group's booklet. Subsequently, the groups took the DCT posttest. The analysis of the pretest and posttest data revealed the following results: Iranian intermediate EFL learners differed from English native speakers in their use of PSs; there was a low relationship, an insignificant correlation (rxy = .25), between general proficiency and pragmatic competence (i.e. competence in English PSs) of Iranian intermediate EFL learners; and input enhancement had a significantly greater effect on the acquisition of English politeness strategies (both comprehension and use of PSs) than simple exposure to PSs. The study implies that EFL learners should be provided with a specific instruction on English PSs and PSs should be presented in a noticeable way (e.g. typographically enhanced).

Keywords: politeness strategies, input enhancement, mere exposure, pragmatics

1. Introduction

To acquire the ability to communicate effectively and successfully, language learners need to develop all aspects of communicative competence. Pragmatic competence is an aspect of communicative competence and both Canale and Swain (1980) and Bachman (1990) include it in their models of communicative competence. Pragmatic competence consists of the "knowledge of what constitutes appropriate linguistic behavior in a particular situation" (Ellis, 2008, p. 956). One aspect of pragmatics is politeness, which concerns linguistic forms which language users employ to display respect and consideration for their addressees and to consider role relationship and social status between the interlocutors, the imposition of the speech act, and other social factors, such as age and sex. Linguistic politeness "has generally been considered the proper concern of pragmatics" (Holmes, 2006, p. 711). Richards and Schmidt (2002) define linguistic politeness as "(a) how languages express the social distance between speakers and their different role relationships; (b) how facework, that is, the attempt to establish, maintain, and save face during conversation, is carried out in a speech community" (p. 405). According to Holmes (2006), linguistic politeness "is a matter of specific linguistic choices from a range of available ways of saying something" (p. 711). For instance, expressions like Sir, Would you mind if..., and I was wondering if... may be used to make a request more polite and more appropriate when speaking with a stranger or one's manager.

Research in pragmatics and interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) has generally shown that languages vary in their pragmatic features; language learners, regardless of their proficiency levels, differ from native speakers; instruction has a positive effect on learning pragmatic features; and explicit teaching has a greater effect on pragmatic development than implicit instruction. However, despite ample research in ILP, mostly investigating language learners' awareness and use of different speech acts, there has been a paucity of research on politeness strategies in second language pragmatics. Few studies have explored second or foreign language learners' knowledge and acquisition of politeness strategies. The present study pertains to linguistic politeness and aims to investigate Iranian intermediate EFL leaners' awareness and use of English politeness strategies (PSs), relationship between general proficiency and competence in English PSs and, most importantly, the effect of input enhancement on the acquisition of PSs. …

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