AL Forum

AL Forum News, Volume 30:1 (March 2010)

by User Not Found | 11/02/2011

AL Forum

In This Issue...

  • Leadership Updates
    • From the Chair
    • From the Chair-Elect
    • From the Editors
  • Articles and Information
    • The Role of Grammar in Making Discourse Meaningful and Coherent
    • Language-Learner Strategies and Their Effect on Speech Act Performance
    • Conventional Expressions in L2 Pragmatics

Leadership Updates

From the Chair

Scott Phillabaum, Linguistics & Language Development, San Jose State University,

Greetings ALIS members! Let me update you on what has been going on since I last wrote. The ALIS received more than 120 abstract submissions for the 2010 TESOL Convention in Boston. With the assistance of hard-working ALIS members, the abstracts were read and rated and we were able to accept a total of 31 papers for presentation in Boston. The papers represent a wide range of topics in applied linguistics and I believe that they will make for a very interesting convention. A big thanks to all of those who assisted with the adjudication! If you did not participate in the adjudication process this year but would like to participate next year, please contact me or the chair-elect, Howard Williams, and we will add your name to the list.

We have an exciting Academic Session and InterSection organized for the upcoming convention in Boston. Chair-Elect Howard Williams has organized an Academic Session entitled “Applying Linguistics to Support ELLs.” Details of the session are provided below in the “From the Chair-Elect” piece. For the InterSection, the ALIS has joined forces with the Intercultural Communication Interest Section (ICIS) to organize a session entitled “From Conversation Analysis (CA) to Language Learning.” This session brings together an impressive group of scholars including Donna Fujimoto, Noel Houck, David Olsher, Hansun Waring, and Jean Wong, and will focus on samples of small-group talk and everyday conversation to address issues of cross-cultural variation, pedagogical implications, and models of teaching activities. The InterSection takes place on Thursday, March 25, from 10:00 to 11:45 a.m. in room 101 of the Boston Convention Center and promises to be a thought-provoking session. I encourage all members of the IS to attend!

For those of you planning to be in Boston for the convention, I encourage you to attend the annual ALIS business meeting, which will take place on Thursday, March 25, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. The annual business meeting is an opportunity to reconnect, get to know your fellow IS members, become more involved in the IS, and suggest ideas for the future direction of the IS. At present, the location of the business meeting has not been provided. When the full program is available on the TESOL Web site, please check for the exact location and make plans to attend the meeting. The ALIS is only as strong as its membership, so come out and support the interest section!

The ALIS is in the process of organizing elections for three offices within the IS, and these elections will take place electronically through Survey Monkey. This represents a change from the way that the IS has elected officers in the past, which was traditionally done at the annual business meeting during the convention. However, last year TESOL’s Central Office mandated that all elections should take place electronically. This is the first year that our Interest Section will be conducting its elections in this manner. Hopefully, the elections will go smoothly and we will have a new chair-elect, e-list manager, and Web site manager prior to the convention in March. This will allow the elected officers to be fully up to speed when they step into their new roles in March and to attend the necessary business meetings at the convention. If you have any questions about this process or if any problems arise during the elections, please do not hesitate to contact me.

As the convention nears and my tenure as chair of the Applied Linguistics Interest Section comes to a close, I would like to thank everyone who has helped to make this a smooth ride. I know that the interest section is in good hands with Howard Williams as the incoming chair and I am looking forward to continuing my participation as the outgoing chair.

That’s all. See you in Boston!


From the Chair-Elect

Howard Williams, Teachers College, Columbia University,

I am returning to the 3-year cycle of chairing ALIS, this year as chair-elect. It is good to be involved again at the planning level. For those who don’t know me, I was chair in 2007-08 and helped organize panels for the Seattle and New York conventions. I teach courses in pedagogical grammar, general linguistics, and pragmatics in the Applied Linguistics/TESOL Programs at Teachers College in New York. I look forward to seeing old and new ALIS members in March at our business meeting at TESOL-Boston.

In his letter, Chair Scott Phillabaum gives a rundown on most of what ALIS has planned for the Boston convention. However, let me mention something about our Academic Session set up for Thursday afternoon. The Boston area is replete with excellent theoretical linguistics programs, and it seemed like a wonderful idea to organize a panel around linguists’ perspectives on language teaching. We were fortunate to get a positive response from two faculty in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. One is Wayne O’Neil, who has a long history of interest in the teaching of linguistics in K-12; he will talk about the positive effects of formal study of mother tongues by English language learners. The other is Suzanne Flynn, who has published widely on SLA topics; she will talk about developmental versus language impairment-related errors. They are joined by Maya Honda of Wheelock College and Daniel Ginsberg of Malden (MA) High School and the Center for Applied Linguistics; they will present case studies of successful linguistics pedagogy in the K-12 system.

On another topic, I think I speak for all of us currently involved in organizing ALIS when I express my delight about the lively back-and-forth that has taken place on our e-list recently. In one memorable instance, a query about how a particular grammar tree is drawn morphed into a chain of comments on the costs and benefits of tree-drawing in language pedagogy. In another, a question about computer corpora prompted a very informative response by Dr. Ali Mansour. We realize that our members are faced with reading and sending more e-mails each week than they care to think about. However, we like the idea of engaging in online academic back-and-forth on topics other than deadlines, class syllabi, institutional policies, problem students, and the proper filling out of forms—in short, on topics that drew us to academics in the first place. We look forward to more such engagement.

From the Editors

Priyanvada Abeywickrama, San Francisco State University,, and Casey Keck, San Francisco State University (

Greetings to everyone as we begin 2010!

In this issue (30.1), which is a bit behind schedule, we are pleased to feature some articles based on presentations at last year’s ALIS Academic Session in Denver, entitled “Interaction, Grammar, and Learner Strategies in L2 Pragmatics.” The authors offer various perspectives on these key concepts in second language pragmatics.

Marianne Celce-Murcia focuses on three of the tense-aspect-modality patterns that run through English discourse episodes, giving them pragmatic coherence. In addition, she stresses the need to analyze and identify other patterns and templates that grammar creates in the process of being used as a resource for creating discourse. Next, Andrew Cohen (with Julie Sykes) examines strategy instruction and use in online learning of pragmatics. This article will be of especial interest to our readers who work in areas of CALL. The last article, by Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, details a study that attempted to tease out learner knowledge of conventional expressions (pragmalinguistics) from knowledge of use (sociopragmatics), and suggests different pedagogical interventions as the case may warrant. We thank all submitting authors for their contributions and hope you’ll enjoy this issue of the ALIS Forum.

Finally, we would also like to bring to the attention of our readers the plans of ALIS to have its own Web site. This Web site would provide information about ALIS, would feature the ALIS newsletter, and could also serve as a resource for TESOL members who would like to learn more about research in applied linguistics. Please e-mail Casey Keck ( with any suggestions for the type of content you’d like to see on this site. We will present member suggestions at the next business meeting in Boston. Hope to see you then!

Articles and Information

The Role of Grammar in Making Discourse Meaningful and Coherent

Marianne Celce-Murcia, University of California - Los Angeles,

At one time or another I have spoken and written about the use of one or more of the grammar forms I discuss here regarding how they function in discourse. However, this is the first time that I am focusing on these forms collectively to demonstrate several patterns that occur in English discourse. These examples and many others can be found in chapter 9 of the second edition of The Grammar Book (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999), in chapter 4 of Discourse and Context in Language Teaching (Celce-Murcia & Olshtain, 2000), in Celce-Murcia (1998), or in Celce-Murcia and Yoshida (2003).

In this article, I argue that grammar, to one degree or another, should always be considered in discussions about discourse and pragmatics. One very important role that grammar plays in discourse is that of serving as a resource for making discourse meaningful and coherent. I hope to convince you that grammatical structures form patterns or templates in discourse that are used by L1 speakers to create discourse. Furthermore, I have seen that these patterns and templates can be readily learned and used by L2 speakers to produce similar discourse episodes with accurate and idiomatic use of tense-aspect-modality sequences—proper sequencing of tenses being an area of grammar that cannot possibly be taught or learned at the sentence level. Most intermediate or advanced learners need only a few authentic examples, consciousness-raising activities to discover the pattern/template, and then activities that encourage them to use the pattern to express their own ideas and create their own discourse episodes.


First Pattern (framing form + elaborating form(s))

The research of Suh (1992) demonstrates that there are many patterns in the English tense-aspect-modality system in which one key form begins and frames a discourse episode and then another simpler related form (or forms) elaborates the given episode as in the following two examples (the framing form is underlined):

(1) Jazz Musician

There’s been a lot of truths told about improvisation. Musicians don’t get up on the stage and improvise on things they’re not familiar with. True improvisation comes out of hard work. When you’re practicing at home, you work on a theme, and you work out all the possibilities of that theme. Since it’s in your head, it comes out when you play. You don’t get out on the stage and just improvise, not knowing what the hell you’re doing. It doesn’t work out that way.

—from Studs Terkel’s Working

(2) Medical Intern Describes the Gastric Restriction Procedure

They’re going to go in and have their gut slit open, their stomach exposed and have it stapled off so that there will be two pou-, an upper pouch in the stomach which will hold about two ounces of food. It’s got a little hole right in the middle of that pouch where food, when it’s finally ground up, will slowly go through.—from data collected by Nina Weinstein for her MA thesis in TESL, UCLA

In the first example, the present perfect frames the discourse episode and then the simple present or present progressive is used to elaborate it. In the second example the “be going to” future frames the discourse episode and then the “will” future (sometimes contracted to ‘ll) is used to elaborate it. Suh (1992) found many examples of these two patterns, among others, occurring naturalistically in the transcribed spoken data to which she had access. Example 1 illustrates how people use this template to describe a present habitual activity of some complexity whereas Example 2 describes a medical procedure in the form of a future scenario. In many other cases people use the second template to narrate their future planned activities (e.g., “Next weekend I’m going to visit my cousin in Ojai. We’ll hike in the hills and look at the boutiques in town. Then we’ll . . .”)

Second Pattern (unmarked forms + marked form)

Building on Suh’s work, I (Celce-Murcia, 1998) noticed that at least one marked tense-aspect-modality form tends to signal the closing down or to serve as the climax of a discourse episode, instead of the initiation. In such cases the marked form always occurs at or near the end of the discourse episode as in the following examples (the marked forms are underlined):

(3) The Convocation

The students sat in the bleachers of Pauley Pavilion watching the faculty enter in their caps and gowns. Dignitaries continued to arrive while the band played a festive melody for the onlookers. To the cheers of the crowd, President Clinton came in and took his assigned seat on the podium. UCLA’s 75th anniversary had begun.

—from the Daily Bruin, May 25, 1994

(4) The Case of Koko

In the 1980’s researchers at Stanford University were trying to teach American Sign Language to Koko, a female gorilla. Koko was well cared for and was surrounded by interesting objects. Her caretakers continually exposed her to signs for the foods and toys in her environment. Koko particularly loved to eat bananas. . . . One day she was hungry but couldn’t find any bananas. She went to the researcher and made a good approximation of the sign for “banana.” Koko was immediately rewarded with a banana, but even more importantly, the research team knew that Koko had made the connection between a sign and the object it represented.

—in Celce-Murcia, 1998, p. 14

In these examples the unmarked simple past tense gives the basic narrative and the marked past perfect tense is used toward the end of the episode to mark the important point. Note that this discourse template is more typical of written than of oral discourse. Example 3 is from a newspaper article, and Example 4 comes from a research report written for lay readers. The discourse template is used when writers are narrating an event in order to bring an important point to the reader’s attention.

Third Pattern (intro/orient form+ pivot form + evaluation)

Celce-Murcia and Yoshida’s research (2003) indicated that there are also tense-aspect forms that tend to occur in medial position in an episode, to function as a pivot between an introductory (or orienting) move and a closing move such as an evaluation. The following example comes from oral discourse:

(5) Radio Talk Show Segment (the names have been changed)

Host: I’m Dr. Mary Smith and you’re on talk radio. Hello?

Caller: Good afternoon, Dr. Smith. I’m Lucy, and I’m fifty. I’d just like to share a positive thing that I have found in the last year or so. I’ve been hikingand find that this is a wonderful way to keep your weight down and meet some people and just feel really good.

—Celce-Murcia & Yoshida, 2003, p. 6

In this and similar segments the first move (i.e., in the caller’s episode) is in the present and/or present perfect tense and the second move, which signals the speaker’s activity of focus and interest, is in the marked present perfect progressive tense-aspect form. I have underlined this form in the second move. Then the third move is an evaluation that typically is expressed in the simple present tense.

Although a majority of the examples with the present perfect progressive came from oral discourse, the researchers also found tokens in informal written discourse (the marked form is underlined):

(6) From a letter to Ann Landers

Dear Ann:

My husband and I have two sons, aged 11 and 8. We are pretty sure that this will be our last Santa Claus Christmas because the boys have been asking a lot of questions about the existence of Santa. We are thankful they have believed so long. . . .

—Los Angeles Times, Nov. 25, 1996, section E, p. 6

Again, the first two clauses give the background (in simple present tense) and the highlighted activity occurs in the “because clause” followed by an evaluation with simple present and present perfect. The author then goes on for several sentences to ask Ann what they should do in future when talking to their sons about Santa Claus. Thus this template is used either as a reasonably complete discourse episode as in (5) or as an important part of a larger discourse episode. In both cases it is used to focus on activities that are of central concern to the speaker or writer. There is an informal quality to this tense-aspect-modality form. No tokens were found, for example, in formal academic writing.


In addition to demonstrating that grammar plays an important role in making discourse meaningful and coherent, I hope to have convinced you of the need to analyze and identify the patterns and templates that grammar creates in the process of being used as a resource for creating discourse. I want us to get beyond the syntactic analysis of how grammar functions between a capital letter and a period. (We can of course look at sentence-level grammar on an as-needed basis.) But I want to get us to focus on how grammar functions from the beginning to the end of a discourse episode—or from the beginning to the end of an extended piece of oral or written communication. How do the grammatical forms contribute to the overall meaning and coherence of the discourse? And what salient patterns do the forms exhibit throughout the discourse? This is what we (and what our students) need to know, for this is what they can use when comprehending or producing discourse rather than isolated sentence patterns.

These kinds of patterns and templates, though not as categorical as grammatical rules, are nonetheless as language-specific as sentence-level grammatical rules, and they involve many more grammar forms than the tense-aspect-modality system examples that I’ve used as examples in this brief presentation (I’ve used this area of grammar to present a related set of examples; in fact there are even many more such tense-aspect-modality forms that I have not had time to discuss here.) Other such patterns and templates also involve forms that express reference, conventions on the use of zero anaphora or ellipsis, conventions for conjoining propositions in ongoing discourse, and the uses of marked constructions in discourse. If we expect our learners to comprehend and produce discourse, we need to teach them a discourse-based, not a sentence-based, grammar. I am convinced that this type of discourse-grammar is an important part of what Leech (1983) has called pragmalinguistics.


Celce-Murcia, M. (1998). How discourse helps us understand grammar more fully: The past perfect. MEXTESOL Journal, 22(2), 11–16.

Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher’s course (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Heinle.

Celce-Murcia, M., & Olshtain, E. (2000). Discourse and context in language teaching. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Celce-Murcia, M., & Yoshida, N. (2003). Alternatives to current pedagogy for teaching the present perfect progressive. English Teaching Forum, 41(1), 2–9, 21.

Leech, G. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London, England: Longman.

Suh, K.-H. (1992). A discourse analysis of the English tense-aspect modality system. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

Terkel, S. (1974). Working. New York: Pantheon.

Language-Learner Strategies and Their Effect on Speech Act Performance

Andrew D. Cohen, University of Minnesota,, andJulie M. Sykes, University of New Mexico,

For the sake of readers who may not be well-versed on the language-learner strategy field, we first offer some definitions and explanations. Language-learner strategies are conscious or semi-conscious thoughts and actions deployed by learners, often with the intention of enhancing their knowledge of and facility with an L2. To get a good sense of what strategies actually look like at the operational level, you are invited to access a new Web site that is replete with strategies for learning Spanish L2 grammar: In an effort to make strategy instruction for pragmatics more concrete, a taxonomy was generated of (1) strategies for the initial learning of L2 pragmatics (e.g., asking a competent speaker how to perform a request); (2) strategies for the use of speech act material that has already been learned to some extent (e.g., alerting the hearer that you are a learner and may not make the request appropriately); and (3) strategies for planning, monitoring, and evaluating how effectively the learning and use strategies are being applied (e.g., checking to make sure the term of address and the level of politeness are acceptable for the given request). This third category of strategies is referred to as metapragmatics, namely, strategies for supervising their learning and performance of pragmatics (see Cohen, 2005, for more on this taxonomy).

In an effort to test the taxonomy empirically, we applied it to the construction of a Web site for learning Spanish pragmatics by embedding strategy material into the very fabric of the Web site (see Sykes & Cohen, 2008). The initial validation effort consisted of a comparison of two studies involving computer-assisted language learning (CALL). These include both a Spanish pragmatics Web site, Dancing With Words: Strategies for Learning Pragmatics in Spanish( and Croquelandia(a synthetic immersive environment focused on L2 Spanish pragmatics) (Cohen, 2008; Sykes, 2008, 2009; Sykes & Cohen, 2008, 2009). The self-access Web site, Dancing With Words, consists of an introductory module as well as eight additional modules: (1) Compliments, (2) Gratitude and Leave Taking, (3) Requests, (4) Apologies, (5) Invitations, (6) Service Encounters, (7) Advice, Suggestions, Disagreements, Complaints, and Reprimands, and (8) Considerations for Pragmatic Performance. It includes unscripted video interchanges between native speakers of various regional varieties of Spanish and utilizes activities with varying levels of difficulty for the purpose of addressing the learners’ varying levels of language/pragmatic ability. All instructional material on the Web site is in English, with the examples, transcripts, and activities to be completed in Spanish, and activities to be completed in Spanish. The intention is for learners to access all material on the Web site individually.

The synthetic immersive environmentwas a virtual space that gave learners a chance to practice their pragmatic performance and to test their use of skills for interaction learned when working through the Web site. Learners were able to move through the space and select various clues and tips and then use what they had learned to interact with a native-speaking computer-generated personage or avatar (controlling another avatar in the virtual world). This synthetic immersive environment was designed and constructed by Julie Sykes (now at the University of New Mexico) and a team of designers and programmers at the University of Minnesota.

The research question addressed in examining the two data sets was:

How do learners perceive their strategy development for Spanish pragmatics through the use of two different CALL environments, a self-access Web site, and a synthetic immersive environment?


The Design for Study #1

The first study was undertaken with a group of 10 student participants (5 females and 5 males). The participants had an average age of 23 and came from a variety of language-learning contexts. All were enrolled in upper-division Spanish courses, were native speakers of English, and had an average reported GPA in Spanish of 3.63. The instructional Web site used in this study, Dancing With Words, played a major role in content delivery and was the only means of explicit pragmatic instruction available to the learners. Utilizing much of the content from the instructional materials in this Web site, the synthetic immersive environment (named Croquelandia)gave subjects a chance to try out their pragmatic performance.

The first study of the Spanish pragmatics Web site and accompanying synthetic immersive environment included the following steps. First, all subjects attended a general descriptive session about the project and completed the informational survey. A week later, participants completed the pretest designed to evaluate their level of pragmatic knowledge. The pretest took approximately 1 hour to complete and consisted of two components: (1) a written multiple-rejoinder discourse completion task, with five situations based on material from the instructional Web site, calling for two requests, two apologies, and a service encounter, and (2) a three-part role play in the synthetic immersive environment, which allowed for authentic interaction to occur between a native speaker and the participants in a realistic and three-dimensional interactive space.

After completing the pretest, participants then participated in a content orientation session, which consisted of a 1-hour introduction to pragmatics as well as the strategies taxonomy (Cohen, 2005). Following the content orientation session, participants then completed three online modules from the Dancing With WordsWeb site (i.e., requests, apologies, and service encounters). Each was completed in a laboratory setting within a 2-week period in an order selected by each individual student. All of the participants completed one module per session at a self-selected time. The requests and apologies modules each took approximately 90 minutes to complete and the service encounter module took 1 hour.

No more than 48 hours after completing the last module, participants completed the immediate posttest, similar to the pretest, but with varied situations and contexts in the synthetic immersive environment. Finally, a delayed posttest, which was the same as the pretest, was administered. After the posttesting, the subjects engaged in retrospective, one-on-one interviews with the researcher. Each interview was audio-recorded and entailed questions addressing learners’ evaluation, reported behavior, and suggestions for improvement of each of the Web site modules. When answering the questions, learners were asked to respond based on what they remembered and were not required to access the Web site or recorded material as part of their interview experience.

The Design for Study #2

The second study represented the second stage of the development of the synthetic immersive environment, Croquelandia, for learning Spanish pragmatics, referred to earlier (see Sykes, 2008 and 2009, for more details). In addition to the assessment space used in the first study, this project entailed a full-scale creation of a virtual space for content delivery of the pragmatics materials. In the space, learners could collaborate and interact in three primary areas: their host family’s house, a central plaza and marketplace, and the university. In the synthetic immersive environment, learners were able to move an avatar throughout the environment and talk with a native speaker via a controlled avatar.

In the second study, though 53 participants completed two modules in a three-dimensional, immersive environment as part of their undergraduate course in Spanish at the university (Sykes, 2008), only a subset of 25 reported on their perceptions as to the impact of the materials on their strategizing about pragmatics. This group was the source of information on pragmatics strategy use in this analysis. As in the first study, the entrance survey in this study was designed to collect demographic and experiential information from each of the learners before they began the instructional activities. The intent was to establish a baseline as to the types of learning and performance strategies students perceived themselves to already be using.

During the third week of the semester, learners participated in two class sessions dedicated to pragmatics and the course project. After completing all activities in the synthetic immersive environment, the participants worked as a group to present their findings about apologies and requests in Spanish. Following the presentations, an in-class discussion was used to summarize the content learned. The participants then completed an exit survey similar to the entrance survey, as well as a final one-on-one interview. Each interview lasted between 10 and 15 minutes and addressed overall perceptions of the project and experience in the synthetic immersive environment. All responses were recorded and transcribed for analysis.

So in summary, the first study provided access to a Web site intended to provide extensive instruction regarding Spanish L2 pragmatics and limited access to a virtual space where learners could test out what they had learned about Spanish pragmatics. The second study also utilized the instructional Web site but added more elaborate access to the virtual space. So in this study learners did not just test out what they had learned, but also engaged in a series of exploratory quests as well, each involving encounters with avatars and a need to exercise their knowledge of L2 pragmatics and ability to use this knowledge strategically.


The findings from the first study showed a minor increase in the reported frequency of strategies for learning and performing L2 pragmatics, and no change for the metapragmatic categories. The opposite was true in the second study, which suggested hardly any change in the learning and use categories and a minor increase in perceived use of metapragmatic strategies. These findings suggest that participation in different types of mediated contexts (i.e., a self-access Web site and an immersive space) may have a minor impact on perceived strategy use. The minor increase in learning and use strategies in the first study and no evidence of change in the second study could be attributed to the type of strategies-based instruction each group of learners received through the Web site and the synthetic immersive environment. In the Web site, explicit identification and exploration of each of the strategies was included as part of the instructional activities. In the synthetic immersive environment, the strategies-based approach entailed experiential learning. That is, instead of explaining to the learners how they might use a specific strategy to improve their pragmatic abilities, the synthetic immersive environment quests and activities required that learners implement each of the strategies through practice and use. Both groups received introductions to a strategic approach to pragmatics; however, the distinct delivery method of instruction may explain the differences found in the learning and use strategies categories.

It would appear that delivery method alone does not explain why there was no evidence of change in the first study and a minor change in the second study in the metapragmatic category. If context of instruction were the only factor, it would be expected that learners in the first study would also exhibit an increase in perceived use of metapragmatic strategies because they received explicit instruction similar to that of the learning and use categories. A likely explanation for the difference across groups in reported metapragmatic strategy use was that subjects in the second study employed and practiced metapragmatic strategies more as they worked in the immersive space. For example, in order to complete a quest successfully, learners had to select whom they were going to talk to and decide what they were going to work on before beginning. In addition, monitoring one’s own pragmatic behavior was a central component of the synthetic immersive environment experience and was built into the immersive space itself.

These findings are congruent with those from current educational gaming research demonstrating the positive impact that engagement (i.e., the complex, immersive, emotional experience of participating in an activity) can have on cognitive processing of certain skills (Gee, 2003; Prensky, 2001; Taylor, 2006). Therefore, it could be the case that the synthetic immersive environment is especially useful for developing metapragmatic strategies and that learners were more aware of their importance based on their experience in the virtual world. It has been pointed out by both White (1999) and Hurd (2000) that effective L2 learning via Web sites requires users to be able to harness the necessary metacognitive strategies in order to benefit from the Web site in general. Because metapragmatic strategies are a subset of metacognitive strategies, it would appear that in this case the learners perceived themselves as getting a handle on some of the key strategies for evaluating their pragmatic performance.

With regard to strategies for learning and performing pragmatics, two learning strategies (Ask native speakers to model how they perform the communicative act and Identify the second language speech acts learners want/need to focus on) and a performance strategy (Ask native speakers for feedback on your pragmatic abilities) are especially noteworthy because there was a moderate increase in perceived use from the participants in the first study and no change in the second study. One feasible explanation for this difference across the two studies may be the emphasis on the use of a native speaker as a resource for pragmatic learning in the Web site itself. In the activities on the Web site, learners utilized models and examples in improving their abilities. However, for additional information they would need to talk with native speakers in the real world and, as a result, were instructed to do so. In the case of the synthetic immersive environment, learners had the ability to “talk” with virtual native speakers throughout their experience and to repeat their own observation of behavior as many times as they wished. Therefore, participants in the second study may not have viewed explicitly asking for help from native speakers as a necessary resource for pragmatic development.

Further research is undoubtedly needed regarding the role of strategy instruction in enhancing pragmatic performance, especially given the importance of pragmatics in L2 interaction. Not only has pragmatics been somewhat neglected in L2 instruction over the years, but also strategy instruction itself has not been particularly fine-tuned up until now. Our talk reported on efforts at direct strategy instruction in specific areas of concern in L2 pragmatics—namely, the learning and performance of speech acts. The pedagogical justification would be that most learners do not simply acquire the ability to be pragmatically appropriate in a given sociocultural context. Rather, there is a need to explicitly point out to them some of the crucial elements of pragmatics in order to enhance their L2 interactions in more basic areas such as greeting, requesting, and complimenting, and in the more confrontational interactions of apologizing and complaining. In addition, it is helpful to provide learners with a set of strategies that they can use both for learning and for performing pragmatics, and to remind them that strategies are called upon differentially, depending on the context.


Cohen, A. D. (2005). Strategies for learning and performing L2 speech acts. Intercultural Pragmatics, 2(3), 275–301.

Cohen, A. D. (2008). Teaching and assessing L2 pragmatics: What can we expect from learners? Language Teaching, 41(2), 215–237.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hurd, S. (2000). Distance language learners and learner support: Beliefs, difficulties and use of strategies. Links and Letters, 7, 61–80.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital game-based learning. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Sykes, J. M. (2008). A dynamic approach to social interaction: Synthetic immersive environments and Spanish pragmatics (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Sykes, J. M. (2009). Learner requests in Spanish: Examining the potential of multiuser virtual environments for L2 pragmatic acquisition. In L. Lomika & G. Lord (Eds.), The next generation: Social networking and online collaboration. 8th CALICO Monograph Series (pp. 199–234). San Marcos, TX: Texas State University.

Sykes, J. M., & Cohen, A. D. (2008). Observed learner behavior, reported use, and evaluation of a website for learning Spanish pragmatics. In M. Bowles, R. Foote, & S. Perpiñán (Eds.), Second language acquisition and research: Focus on form and function. Selected Proceedings of the 2007 Second Language Research Forum (pp.144–157). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Sykes, J. M., & Cohen, A. D. (2009). Learner perception and strategies for pragmatic acquisition: A glimpse into online learning materials. In C. Dreyer (Ed.),Language and linguistics: Emerging trends (pp. 99–135).Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Taylor, T. L. (2006). Play between worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

White, C. J. (1999). The metacognitive knowledge of distance learners. Open Learning, 14(3), 37–47.

Conventional Expressions in L2 Pragmatics

Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, Indiana University,

Interlanguage pragmatics research has identified a number of differences in the pragmatic production of native speakers and learners (e.g., Bardovi-Harlig, 2001; Kasper & Rose, 2002). One such area of difference has been the use of conventional expressions. Conventional expressions consist of strings such as No problem, Nice to meet you, and That’d be great, which native speakers use predictably in certain contexts. Underuse of conventional expressions in pragmatics seems to be part of a more general underuse in L2, but it has been noted with particular frequency in the L2 pragmatics literature. Edmondson and House (1991) suggested that learners cannot necessarily handle social situations in the same way as native speakers “because they do not have ready access to, and therefore do not make use of, standardized routines for meeting the social native speakers do” (p. 284). Kasper and Blum-Kulka (1993, p. 9) have observed, “one area where insufficient control of pragmalinguistic knowledge is particularly obvious is that of pragmatic routines.” Coulmas (1981, pp. 2-3) writes of conventional expressions as part of the social contract: “Conversational routines are tacit agreements, which the members of a community presume to be shared by every reasonable co-member. In embodying social knowledge they are essential in the handling of day-to-day transactions.”

Given their social utility, understanding the development of conventional expressions in second language pragmatics seems particularly relevant from both the research and pedagogical perspectives. In this investigation, I have taken the observations that learners use fewer conventional expressions than native speakers as a starting point and asked one basic question: Do learners not use conventional expressions because they do not know them or because they do not know how to use them? Although the outcome in a conversation may be the same (i.e., non-use of conventional expressions), these are two very different types of knowledge and warrant different pedagogical intervention. The first case, unfamiliar conventional expressions, belongs topragmalinguistic knowledge. Learners may not have developed the linguistic resources, in this case expressions like No thanks, I’m just looking, or Watch out! The second case regarding use belongs to sociopragmatic knowledge which matches language to context in language use. A learner may be familiar with expressions like You’re welcome and No problem but use You’re welcome to accept thanks in the same context where a native speaker uses No problemto deflect thanks.

This study attempted to tease out knowledge of expressions (pragmalinguistics) from knowledge of use (sociopragmatics) by employing two tasks that targeted the same expressions: a listening-based self-report recognition task and an oral production task.


The recognition task consisted of 60 items; 35 were conventional expressions and the remaining 25 items differed from a conventional expression by a single lexical or grammatical modification, resulting in 25 conventional-nonconventional expression minimal pairs. The conventional expressions included in the study were identified by graduate students (enrolled in the Seminar in Interlanguage Pragmatics, Spring 2006, at Indiana University) who collected spontaneous speech of graduate-student peers, undergraduates, friends, families, and community members. Field notes and recordings were used to identify conventional expressions and the contexts in which they occurred. Following Myles, Hooper, and Mitchell (1998, p. 325), we identified conventional expressions that were (a) at least two morphemes in length; (b) phonologically coherent—that is, fluently articulated, nonhesitant; (c) used repeatedly and always in the same form; (d) situationally dependent; and (e) community-wide in use, the latter being interpreted as frequent in the sample collected. (For more details on the identification of the conventional expressions and the development of the recognition and production tasks, see Bardovi-Harlig, 2009a).

Participants listened to the recorded expressions through individual headsets. They were given the following instructions:

If you hear these words together and always in the same order, and you hear them often circle “I often hear this.” If you hear a phrase less often, circle “I sometimes hear this.” If you never hear these words together or in this order, circle “I never hear this.”

Two examples were given before the task began, as shown below. On the answer sheet for the experimental items, participants only saw the item number and the three choices (I often/ sometimes/ never hear this) for each expression.

The production task consisted of 32 scenarios (which yielded conventional expressions by native speakers in the piloting phases), and were of two types: In one, participants initiated the first turn of a conversation and in the other they responded to a turn.

(1) (Initiating-1) You see your friend standing on a chair trying to reach a book at the top of the bookshelf. You know that the chair she is standing on has a broken leg.

(next screen, visual only) You say:

(2) (Responding-12) You go to a clothing store and you need to find a new shirt. A salesperson approaches you. You don’t want the salesperson’s assistance.

(Audio Only): “Can I help you?”

(next screen, visual only) You say:

171 participants completed both tasks: 122 learners of English as a second language from mixed L1 backgrounds in Levels 3-6 in a 7-level intensive program and 49 native speakers (NS) of American English (35 undergraduate peers and 14 teachers).


Recognition task. Each response received a point value. “I never hear this” received 0, “I sometimes hear this” 1 point, and “I often hear this” received 2 points. Scores were added within levels for a single item and divided by the number of respondents for a mean level score.

Production task. The oral production task yielded 5,504 responses (171respondents by 32 scenarios). All responses were transcribed and checked by two researchers (Bardovi-Harlig et al., in press). Production rates in percentages for each level and group were calculated for each expression ([number of uses of targeted expression ÷ number of respondents] x 100). Only expressions that were produced by at least 50% of the groups of native speakers were included for further analysis. The 50% minimum cut-off identified a single dominant expression and at the same time acknowledges NS variation in speech act realization thus suggesting what level of consistency in production might be expected from learners.


Recognition task. The reported recognition scores for the conventional expressions ranged from very high (2.00 meaning that every respondent in a group reported that the expression was heard often) to very low (0.12, most respondents reporting that they never hear the expression). High scoring expressions (with 2.00 reported in one or more level) included Nice to meet you, I’m sorry, Excuse me, Thank you, You’re welcome, and No problem.The conventional expressions for which learners reported the lowest recognition (with scores of less than 1.00 in Level 3) are Excuse the mess, Thank you for having me, Watch out, and Do you have a minute. Learners seem to build other expressions such as I’m just looking in stages moving from just look, I just look, to the fully grammatical I’m just looking and show gradual recognition and use with increased levels of proficiency.

Production task. Recognition often (but not always) resulted in use, and not surprisingly, where lack of recognition was reported for a particular conventional expression, it was not used. For example, learners and native speakers alike reported familiarity with Nice to meet you which they used in an introduction and with You too! which they used in response to Have a nice day! There were also expressions that learners reported to be familiar such asThat’d be great and No problem that they did not use, although native speakers did. The unfamiliar expressions were not used. These included reciprocal thanking expressions such as Thanks for having me or Thanks for inviting me in response to Thanks for coming. However, learners also used expressions familiar to them that were not used in contexts where native speakers used them as in (1) and (2).

  1. 1. You give your classmate a ride home. He lives in the building next to yours. He gets out of the car and says: “Thanks for the ride.” You say:
  2. 2. You stop by your teacher’s office to ask a question about the assignment. She takes time to answer your question. You know she is very busy, so before you say good-bye, you say:

In (1) native speakers preferred No problem, deflecting the expression of gratitude for a favor that had very little imposition, whereas learners preferredYou’re welcome. In (2) native speakers preferred a thanking expression, generally Thanks for your time or Thanks for your help, whereas many learners assessed (2) to be an apology context and used nonconventional expressions such as Sorry to take your time. Because learners reported being familiar with the expressions No problem and Thanks for your time it is possible to interpret their lack of use in these contexts as resulting from sociopragmatics, that is, different assessments of what is appropriate in the context.

The cross-sectional design also revealed that some conventional expressions are learned in stages (as in the case of I’m just looking discussed earlier). In addition, recognition is not an all or nothing affair. In general, more proficient learners recognized more conventional expressions, but some very common expressions such as Nice to meet you and You too! were recognized and used by the lowest level learners at rates of 80-100% of responses. Most other expressions showed increased recognition and use as proficiency increased; for example the use of I’m just looking increased steadily from 14% use by the lowest learners (Level 3) to 52% by the highest learners (Level 6).

In sum, the data showed many patterns. Some conventional expressions showed high recognition scores with correspondingly high levels of use whereas other conventional expressions showed low recognition scores with correspondingly low use at all levels. Other conventional expressions showed evidence of development in recognition and production gradually across levels. And intriguingly, there were also conventional expressions for which learners reported high recognition scores but demonstrated low production.


The results suggest that low production of conventional expressions by learners has multiple sources: lack of familiarity with some expressions, overuse of familiar expressions which subsequently reduces the opportunity to use more targetlike expressions, general level of L2 development, and sociopragmatic knowledge. These multiple, but distinct, factors in nonuse suggest different pedagogical interventions. On one hand, introduction of conventional expressions unfamiliar to learners is warranted, whereas demonstrations of use seem more appropriate for conventional expressions that learners report knowing, but do not use. Examples of teaching activities for thanking expressions are presented by Bardovi-Harlig and Nickels (in press). The recognition task can also be used as a needs assessment prior to teaching conventional expressions (Bardovi-Harlig, in press). To read more, see the full article “Conventional expressions as a pragmalinguistic resource: Recognition and production of conventional expressions in L2 pragmatics” in Language Learning(Bardovi-Harlig, 2009b).


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Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2009a). Conventional expressions as a pragmalinguistic resource: Recognition and production of conventional expressions in L2 pragmatics. Language Learning, 59, 755–795.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2009b). Assessing familiarity with pragmatic formulas: Planning oral/aural assessment. Inter-Cultural Newsletter. 7(2). Retrieved from

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Bardovi-Harlig, K. Bastos, M. T., Burghardt, B., Chappetto, E., Nickels. E. L., & Rose, M. (in press). The use of conventional expressions and utterance length in L2 pragmatics. In G. Kasper, D. Yoshimi, H. Nguyen, & J. Yoshioka (Eds.), Pragmatics and language learning (Vol. 12). Honolulu, HI: Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center, University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

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