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The Daily Problems Of Foreign Language Learners English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1997 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Language learning is a very complex process and foreign language learners face great number of problems daily, while they try different strategies and educational tools to master the foreign language in the best possible way. One of the areas which seems have made trouble for language learners is the pragmatic competence which has also drawn attention of those who are interested in language teaching to itself. “[P]ragmatic competence . . . is understood as the knowledge of the linguistic resources available in a given language for realising particular illocutions, knowledge of the sequential aspects of speech acts, and finally, knowledge of the appropriate contextual use of the particular language’s linguistic resources” (Anne Barron, 2003 : 10). Pragmatic rules are essential for a successful interaction with other people for language learners and they should learn them the right way, otherwise it will lead to misunderstanding or total failure of conveying and receiving the message and the speaker will unintentionally be considered as rude or insensitive person. The research that here wants to be reviewed wants to find what are differences between kind of refusal strategies of EFL learners in situations that deals with pragmatic competence (Allami & Naeimi, 2009). The Researchers found that cultural factors play great role in learners’ conceptualization and verbalization of the speech acts, even though the learners may have access to wide range of speech acts and realization strategies as native speakers do as well.

Research Questions

Three questions which were posed in the research are as follow (Allami & Naeimi, 2009):

1. What are the most common semantic formulas used by Iranian learners at different pro¬ciency levels with regard to the contextual variables of the status of interlocutors (higher, equal, or lower) and the eliciting acts (requests, invitations, offers, and suggestions)?

2. What are the areas of difference between Iranian EFL learners and American speakers with regard to the strategies employed to make refusals?

3. If Iranian EFL learners’ refusals are different from those of the American native speakers, does the L2 pro¬ciency of the Iranian learners affect their possible pragmatic transfer or not?

Theoretical framework

Different studies have tried to show that if learners want to give appropriate speech act to a given speech event pragmatic competence has a major role in it. Fraser de¬ned pragmatic competence as ”the knowledge of how an addressee determines what a speaker is saying and recognizes intended illocutionary force conveyed through subtle attitudes in the speaker’s utterance” (Allami & Naeimi, 2009: 2). Rintell is one of scholar who has worked deeper than the other scholars in field of speech acts and he believes that L2 learners’ utterances for some specific communications purposes are because of their pragmatic ability (2009: 2). In addition, L2 learners should have enough knowledge of L2 sociocultural limitations so that they would have acceptable pragmatic level. According to Wolfson choosing appropriate pragmatic strategies is crucial for speech act ability (2009: 2). Moreover, social class and culture have effect on choosing those strategies. The main theory which Allami and Naeimi have tried to focused on is that the different cultures and languages make different pragmatic competence in the minds of people and there is a good chance that learners’ L1 interfere with learners’ L2 pragmatic competence, even though their command of L2 can be very good.

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Methodology of Research

There are three questions which were posed by researchers and they were mentioned earlier (Allami & Naeimi, 2009: 2). Researchers used experimental research method in which independent variables were learners’ language proficiency (lower-intermediate, intermediate and upper-intermediate) status of interlocutors (lower, equal and higher) and types of eliciting acts (requests, invitations, offer and suggestions) and the dependent measures were the realization of the strategies. The researchers chose 30 participants which their native language is Persian and all of them were undergraduate males, within the age range of 16 and 29. The data used in the research was collected through a written Discourse Completion Test (DCT) which was in the form of a questionnaire presented some natural situations to which the respondents were expected to respond when making refusals. The reason why 30 participants were chose was that it has been claimed that in using the DCT for interlanguage speech act studies, questionnaires with 30 subjects will serve as an appropriate guide (2009: 5). The participants were divided into three different groups of 10 upper-intermediate, 10 intermediate and 10 lower-intermediate students at a Language Institute in Yazd. In order to have a pertinent cross-linguistic examination of the speech act of refusal responses to the same DCT conducted by another American researcher were also analyzed. There were 37 Americans’ responses to the same DCT which was conducted by Kwon (2009: 5). The American participants in the research were between 18 and 22 years of age and they were all students from Boston. The DCT consisted of three requests, three invitations and three asks a favor of the other person. In each situation type were supposed to refuse a person of higher status, one to a person of equal status, and one to a person of lower status. There were a second group of participants who were asked to answer DCT which was translated into Persian and the purpose of designing this DCT was to compare semantic formulas used by Persian native speakers with those of the EFL learners. DCT was given to learners and they were asked not to think about the given situations thoroughly and they are just supposed to respond quickly. All of the respondents returned their papers within 20-30 minutes and the researcher were there all the time while the subjects were writing the answers. The Reponses were compared in terms of language forms with the 31 native speakers’ responses in Persian, and with 37 native speakers’ responses in English. Researchers in order to be analytically honest analyzed components of each speech act present in the responses; the produced refusals were parsed into strategies (2009: 6).

Data Analysis

Taxonomy of refusal developed by Beebe was the basis of coding all data in the research. Units used in analysis were semantic formulas. According to Cohen definition of semantic formula is “a word, phrase, or sentence that meets a particular semantic criterion or strategy; any one or more of these can be used to perform the act in questions” (Allami & Naeimi, 2009: 6). Through this study new categories of semantic formulas were identified. Number of strategies in each refusal indicated complexity of speech act of refusal. The average number of semantic formulas used by the American respondents, Iranian Persian speakers and EFL learners were 4.00, 3.10 and 3.30 respectively. Regarding numbers which were gained it was shown that Americans use more semantic formulas, but variety of Iranians strategies were significantly more. Analyzing each of the semantic formulas in detail is a big task so researchers focused on similarities and differences among three groups of American native speakers, Iranian EFL learners and Persian native speakers answering the translated DCT. Another factor which was taken into consideration was the shift of frequencies of semantic formulas regarding the status of interlocutors. For higher status a boss, lower status an employee, a salesman, a student and a cleaning lady and for equal status a classmate and a friend were used.


One of the things that researchers of this article are looking for is whether L1 might influence the L2 or not (Allami & Naeimi, 2009: 15). Majority of EFL learners cannot have interaction with native speakers therefore they do not have good knowledge of semantic formulas or the way they should be used in different situations. Linguistic and cultural differences affect the way language is used by the language learners because the way people provide a speech act regarding a speech event is culture bound. Iranian learners are more sensitive about the status level of interlocutor and used different strategies, whereas Americans used a same pattern regardless of the status level. In other words, Iranians are more concerned with the face saving act rather than Americans. Americans are more specific and clear in their responses rather than Iranians. The researchers work result was along with positive correlation hypothesis which was suggested by Takahashi and Beebe, in which language proficiency has effect on pragmatic transfer (2009: 16).

Article Results

Some of interesting findings in the research were as follow:

Iranian English learners were depending on their native culture-specific refusal strategies was the direct refusal

Americans subjects were more concrete and specific when it came to refusing a high status person in comparison with Iranian participants in the study.

The main goal of doing this research among Iranian EFL learners was because of lack attention to sociocultural and sociolinguistic factors. If EFL learners are not aware these factors it will lead to their misunderstanding of the concept in real-life situations when they are communicating with native speakers. The outcomes of this research supported that there is great difference between using speech acts in different cultures and languages. Teachers of second language should increase students’ knowledge level of target language pragmatic competence and how they should deal with different speech events in proper way.

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The researchers have tried to go deep and find why EFL learners do not interact in the same way as native speakers do especially when it comes to speech acts which in this research refusal was the case. One of good points about this research is that in the procedure of it researchers tried to be as honest as possible by considering all the aspects in their data analysis. Another good point about this research was previous studies which were done in the same field by different researchers, therefore the researchers made a laid a good background and comparison in their task. However, there are some downsides in this research as well. One of the shortcomings in the research is lack elaboration for status of a person in the cultures of Iran and America. According to Foley “… understanding of what kind of person they are vis-à-vis the other interlocutor is embodied in their habitus. To the extent they rate of higher rank, the habitus will enact that proper demeanor in bodily and linguistic practices …” (Foley, 1997: 260). If someone does not know exact definition of person within a culture and society then certainly he or she will not interact properly in that culture or society “… the person is a social concept made up of local notions of the one’s rights and obligations, and hence varies crossculturally” (Foley, 1997 : 263).

Another problem was choosing only males as participant in this research. Woods believed that gender has a great role in conversations especially at work place “the gender was the most significant factor determining speech behavior, more important than status. With respect to patterns of interruption, higher status people were more likely to interrupt successfully than lower status conversational partners, but men of lower status were still usually successful in interrupting a higher status female speaker” (Foley, 1997 : 294).


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