The Pragmatic Awarenessand Difficulties FacingKorean EFL Learners

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Student Number - TTXAW20 Module – XX4027 Applied Linguistics The Pragmatic Awareness and Difficulties Facing Korean EFL Learners Alexander Walsh 5/16/2012

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Page 1: The Pragmatic Awarenessand Difficulties FacingKorean EFL Learners

Student Number - TTXAW20 Module – XX4027 Applied Linguistics

The Pragmatic Awareness and Difficulties Facing Korean EFL Learners

Alexander Walsh


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1) Introduction

2) The Role of Pragmatics in Language

i. Defining Pragmatics

ii. Communicative Competency

iii. The Cooperative Principle

iv. Politeness Theory

v. Cultural Differences

vi. Speech Acts

3) To What Extent Can Pragmatic Theories be Applied to Korean Language Learners?

4) Pragmatic Difficulties for Korean EFL/ESL Speakers

i. Social Difficulties

ii. Academic Difficulties

iii. Business Difficulties

5) Can the Pragmatic Awareness of Korean EFL Students Be Improved?

6) Conclusion



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1) Introduction

As South Korea is increasingly becoming a major player on the global economic stage, its need to communicate

in English with global partners is intensifying. To meet this need, the South Korean government is investing

heavily in the English education of its youth with the ambition of developing a nation capable and confident in

communicating with global partners in the English language. According to the English Curriculum provided by

the South Korean Ministry of Education:

English, being the most widely used language, is playing an important role in the communication and bonding between people of different native languages. For elementary and secondary school students who must live in the future, the ability to communicate in English is an essential skill that they must learn at school. To contribute to the nation and society, to show leadership as a cosmopolitan citizen, and to enjoy a wide range of cultural activities, the ability to understand and use English is essential. The ability to communicate in English will act as an important bridge connecting different countries, and will be the driving force in developing our country, forming trust among various countries and cultures. (Ministry of Education 2008:41)

In order to successfully build the international relationships needed to achieve these goals, it is important for

Korean EFL speakers to be pragmatically aware and thus avoid potentially awkward or detrimental cultural ‘faux

pas’. This paper will consider the extent to which current theories of interlanguage pragmatic competency can

be applied to Korean EFL speakers, analyse the pragmatic needs of Korean EFL learners, examine the

difficulties which face Korean EFL speakers and offer suggestions as to how pragmatic awareness can be

improved by the Korean public education system.

2) The Role of Pragmatics in Language

The study of interlanguage pragmatics has “hovered on the fringes of SLA [second language acquisition]

research thus far” (Kasper 1996:145); this has resulted in its theoretical consideration often relying on being a

part of other ‘mainstream’ second language acquisition research. This section will bring together the theoretical

considerations to provide an overview of the development of interlanguage pragmatic theory.

i. Defining Pragmatics

One of the most widely employed and accepted definition of pragmatics is that of Crystal:

Pragmatics is the study of language from the point of view of users, especially of the choices they encounter in using language in social interaction and the effects their use of language has on other participants in the act of communication (1985:240)

This definition is important as it highlights the importance of how language is interpreted by both speakers and

hearers. Bublitz (2001) provides a further definition:

Linguistic pragmatics (from Greek pragma, activity/deed) is the study of communication principles to which people adhere when they interact rationally and efficiently in social contexts.

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Speakers/writers follow these principles to imply additional meaning to a sentence, and hearer/readers follow these principles to infer the possible meaning of an utterance out of all available options in a given context. Pragmatics describes the linguistic forms, action patterns and strategies that are used to imply and interpret, which enable interlocutors to comprehend the intended, but not uttered meaning. (Bublitz, 2001, p. 27)

This definition can be viewed as a development of Crystal’s (1985) above sentiments due to it’s

recognition of a set of ‘principles’ in language that both hearers and speakers are aware of and are

expected to follow (Gila 2007). Mey (2001) introduces a further aspect of pragmatics:

Pragmatics studies the use of language in human communication as determined by the conditions of society. (Mey, 2001:6)

Mey (2001) highlights how a speaker’s or hearer’s interpretation of communication can vary from one

society to another. In summary, these definitions offer three important concepts:

1) Both a speaker and hearer can interpret language differently;

2) There are a set ‘principles’ that we are expected to follow in language use;

3) These ‘principles’ can vary from one society to the next.

ii. Communicative Competency

Looking more specifically at the acquisition of language within the frame of Chomsky’s (1965) notions of

linguistic ‘competence’ and ‘performance’, Hymes (1972) develops the term ‘communicative

competence’ to refer to the social appropriacy of what one says. Communicative competency explains

how a child does not only acquire knowledge of sentences and grammar, but also the social appropriacy

of language. Hymes (1972) explains that a child “acquires competence as to when to speak, when not,

and as to what to talk about to whom, when, where, in what manner” (Hymes 1972:277-8). In a further

development of communicative competency Canale & Swain (1980) specify four other types of

competency that they feel are necessary to achieve communicative competency, these are:

1) Grammatical Competence – similar to Chomsky’s ‘linguistic competence’, it focuses on students’ grammatical and lexical capacity.2) Sociolinguistic Competence – refers to a students’ knowledge of the social context in which communication should take place.3) Discourse Competence – refers to a students’ knowledge of the meaning inferred by the interconnectedness of individual message in relationship to the whole.4) Strategic Competence – refers to the coping strategies a student would utilize to deal with initiating, terminating, maintaining, repairing and redirecting communication.(Li, 1995; Savignon, 2007; Richards and Rodgers, 2001; Richards 2006; Littlewood, 2005).

In their analysis of communicative competency both Hymes (1972) and Canale & Swain (1980) offer

important insight into what it means to be pragmatically aware when using language. More specifically,

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Hymes (1972) identifies how a speaker of a foreign language must not only be conscious of the

vocabulary, sentences and grammatical structures, but must also be aware as to when and how such

language is used appropriately. Of Canale & Swain’s (1980) four types of competency that make up

communicative competency, three of them, namely sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic are directly

related to pragmatic awareness, they identify the need for learners to be able to understand context,

meanings and communicational strategies in order to be communicatively competent and thus

pragmatically aware.

iii. Speech Acts

Austin (1962), who many consider the ‘Father of pragmatics’ (Gila, 2007) developed the idea of ‘speech

acts’. Austin (1962) describes how language is not only used to say things, but also to do things. To

explain this therory he develops three components of speech acts:

1) The locutionary act (the actual words that the speaker uses)

2) The illocutionary act (the intention or force behind the words)

3) The perlocutionary act (the effect the utterance has on the hearer)

(Austin, 1962)

Searle (1969, 1975, 1976) further developed speech act theory by distinguishing ‘indirect’ speech acts

from ‘direct’ speech acts. Indirect speech acts are those that utilise an illocutionary-force indicating

device, this is a less direct way of asking a person to perform a desired action. For example, as a guest

in another’s home, one would be unlikely to say “give me a drink” but might instead say “I don’t suppose

you have any cold water?” In relation to interlanguage pragmatics, Searle (1969, 1975, 1976) identifies

how such indirect speech acts require “mutually shared factual background information of the speaker

and hearer, together with an ability on the part of the hearer to make inferences” (Searle 1975:61).

Searle goes on to distinguish between five overarching classifications of speech acts:

1) Representatives – speech acts that commit the speaker to something that is true.

2) Directives – this is an attempt by the speaker to get the hearer to do something.

3) Commissives – commits the speaker to a future action.

4) Expressives – expresses the speaker’s attitudes and emotions.

5) Declarations – brings about a change in reality.

(Searle 1969, 1975, 1976)

Searle’s (1969, 1975, 1976) classification system has played an important role in pragmatic theory, and

has often been used as the basis for research on inter-language pragmatics (Gila, 2007). Despite this, it

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has faced strong criticism, often from those with a more sociological inclination. Levinson (1983)

questions whether, due to the variety of speech acts, it is even possible to link utterances to acts, or

meaning with function. Rees (1992), in defence of the speech act, does however point out that in actual

fact, the theory “does not postulate a direct relationship between sentence meaning and utterance act”

(Rees 1992:23). Levinson (1983) is also critical of speech act for not being able to account for situations

in which an utterance is used neither as a direct or indirect speech act, but as something else. Coulthard

(1985) adds to this trend of criticism by denouncing Searle’s (1975) theory of speech acts as being

overly dependent on single-word verbs.

iv. The Cooperative Principle

Grice (1975) sees conversation as a ‘cooperative effort’ to serve a certain purpose and in doing so

developed his ‘cooperative principle.’ He writes:

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purposed or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.

(Grice 1975:45)

As part of his ‘cooperative principle’ Grice (1975) identifies four conversational ‘maxims’:

1) Quantity – saying the correct amount

2) Quality – speaking the truth

3) Relation – having relevance in your speech

4) Manner – be concise and non-ambiguous.

Grice (1975) describes how conversational implicature occurs when a speaker deliberately flouts a maxim. This

means they require the hearer to search for another meaning in their speech. It is also possible for speakers to

opt out of a maxim (by being unable to adhere to a maxim) and infringe a maxim (a non-deliberate non-

observance of a maxim). In relation to interlanguage pragmatics, a learner must know when to observe maxims,

when to flout maxims and when implicature is better than directness. If the rules governing these maxims vary

between languages, there is a potential result for misunderstandings between native and non native speakers of


v. Politeness Theory

Politeness theory seeks to explain conventions of language use in relation to politeness, and how notions of

politeness can be culturally dependent. One of the most researched and discussed theories of politeness is that

of Brown & Levinson (1987) which Harris (2003) describes as having “attained canonical status, exercised

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immense influence, and is still the model against which most research on politeness defines itself” (Harris,

2003:27–28). Brown & Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory draws on the work of Goffman (1967) of viewing

politeness as a way of ensuring protective and defensive, or positive and negative, face concerns, which are

seen as universally valid social needs (Kasper, 1990). They suggest that speakers will be more polite when the

relative power over a speaker increases, the social distance between the target and the speaker increases and

the degree of imposition on the target increases. In order to meet these face concerns Brown & Levinson (1987)

propose that the value and weightiness of power and distance will vary cross-culturally; if one is not aware of

the differences it can explain misunderstandings between native and non native speakers. Lakoff (1989)

distinguishes between three kinds of politeness:

1) Polite behaviour. This is when politeness rules are adhered too;

2) Non-polite behaviour. This is when one is not polite, but this is expected;

3) Rude behaviour. When one is not polite, but politeness is expected.

Kasper (1990) develops this further by distinguishing between motivated and unmotivated rudeness, or

rudeness that is due to ignorance of the expected norms. According to politeness theory, cultural differences

can be accounted for in terms of difference in the value that is assigned to distance, power and imposition.

vi. Cultural Differences

Hall (1976) distinguishes between high-context and low-context cultures. In “high-context”

cultures participants in social exchanges are expected to implicitly gather information from the context of

a situation, such as relational and hierarchical positions of the participants. Therefore, if there is a

misunderstanding it is the fault of the hearer. In low-context cultures, participants can not take anything

for granted. Directness and accuracy of what is said are most of value. It is the speakers fault if the

hearer misunderstands the meaning. If a listener or speaker is expecting their counterpart to use the

context of a situation or vice versa, and they fail to, misunderstanding can occur.

Kachru (1999) described how shared knowledge allows members of a culture to communicate

successfully by allowing them to encode and decode the meaning of spoken and written acts. If a

speaker or hearer does not have access to this shared knowledge it may be difficult for a speaker to

express themselves and a hearer to correctly understand them. If members of different cultures do not

have access to the same pool of shared knowledge, communication can breakdown and

misunderstanding occur.

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These theories both demonstrate how, and explain why, pragmatics is such an important aspect of our

language use. However to understand the problems facing Korean learners it is important to evaluate the extent

to which these theories can be applied to the Korean EFL context. The next section will focus on the application

of these theories to the Korean EFL learner and speaker.

3) To What Extent Can Pragmatic Theories be Applied to Korean Language Learners?

According to Brown & Levinson’s (1987) model, politeness is dependent on relative power, social distance, and

degree of imposition. Thus, as the power of the listener increases, more politeness is needed to communicate

face threatening information and one would be more polite. Also, as the social distance between the speaker

and the listener increases, politeness should again increase. For example, one would be more polite to

someone who is socially distant than to someone who is socially close (Ambady & Koo, 1996). According to

politeness theory, if the relative interpretation of these relationships is different between cultures, it will result in

different politeness strategies being utilised at different times.

Research by Amady & Koo (1996) sought to enhance our understanding as to whether Brown &

Levinson’s (1987) theory could be applied cross-culturally by looking at the politeness strategies of groups of

Koreans and Americans. They found that there were three main types of politeness strategies used by both

groups of participants politeness strategies, these were:

1) other-orientation – attentive, concerned, seeking agreement, encouraging, polite, positive, professional

2) affiliation – open, affiliative, and joking

3) circumspection – uncertain, indirect, avoidant and apologetic

They found that both Americans and Koreans were more affiliative towards superiors and when delivering good

news. They also found that Koreans were more likely than Americans to use other-orientation (both negative

and positive strategies) depending on the status of the target; Americans on the other hand used other

orientated strategies when they delivered good news rather than bad news. Not only does this support Brown &

Levinson’s (1987) theory of politeness, but it suggests that Americans are more affected by the content of the

message, while Koreans are more affected by the their relationship with the target of the message, thus

corresponding with the work of Hall (1976) in suggesting South Korea is a high context culture and American is

a low context culture. Although the research by Amady & Koo (1996) does present useful conclusions the

nature of the research limits the generalisability of their findings due to the fact that they failed to provide real life

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examples of individuals using any of the above politeness strategies. Their research solely focuses on role plays

in two sample groups, one being 30 Korean stockbrokers and the other 30 Harvard University graduate

students; the fact that these are far from being representative of the populations as a whole and that the

strategies used in these role play scenarios are unlikely to be the same as those used in other very different

social relationships, such as within the family or between friends, means that there may either be other

strategies used, or similar strategies used differently to maintain politeness in other natural social situations in

Korea. It also fails to answer whether the use of other-orientation strategies, and the extent to which one is

affect by the content of messages, vary depending on the social situation and the level of this variation in Korea,

and the possible pragmatic difficulties this can cause Korean ESL learners.

Hatfield & Hahn (2011), in their analysis of Korean speech acts, illustrate how, in fact, Brown &

Levinson’s (1987) model needs to be developed further to deal with how Koreans “actively build and

manage expectations for behaviour in a relationship” (2011:1304). They argue that Brown & Levinson’s

(1987) model “fails to show how language use is not simply a reflection of social context but in fact

actively constructs the context itself” (2011:1304). To account for this Hatfield & Lee (2011) constructed

a model that accounts for the fact that Koreans do not simply choose an appropriate strategy based on

the weight of a face-threatening act, but “actively build and manage expectations for behaviour in a

relationship” (2011:1304).

Hatfield & Hahn (2011) identify three of the most important factors in Koreans’ choice of

politeness strategies; firstly, age is seen as a critical factor. There are set lexical items that should be

chosen by a Korean speaker when a younger person is apologizing to an older person, this ties in with

Brown & Levinson’s (1987) ‘power’ category. Secondly, there is occupational status, when someone of

lower professional status speaks with someone of a higher professional standing there are another set

of lexical items that should be employed. This, again, fits in with Brown & Levinson’s (1987) notion of

‘power’. Finally, there is the factor of intimacy or social distance. If there is a close relationship between

the social participants, tendencies in lexical choice change, fitting in with Brown & Levinson’s (1987)

notion of distance. However, contrary to Brown & Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory and drawing on

the work of Goffman (1967), where face is seen as a projection of the individual, Hatfield & Hahn (2011)

present examples of how Korean speakers, when making apologies, actively choose how they wish to

present themselves. In their analysis of the dissolution of marital engagements they provided an

example of how this leads to cross-cultural misunderstandings:

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In English, an expression such as cenum hal mali epssupnita ‘I have nothing to say’ is frequently the opposite of an apology. The person does not accept responsibility and refuses to say anything. However, in Korean, this is an expression indicating that words are insufficient to express the depth of regret and is similar to a set of apologies that indicate lacking a body, lacking face, or a wish for death (Hahn, 2006; Kim, 2008). We can see this is an apology by the response, coysonghatamyen ta yeyyo ‘Is it enough just to say sorry?’

(Hatfield & Hahn, 2011:1304)

Hatfield & Hahn (2011) conclude that Korean apology work can represent both themselves and the other person

in the interaction, that there is more than just weight involved in the choice of apology strategy as they choose

how they wish to represent both themselves and the other participant. This research provides strong examples

as to how there are social situations that require politeness theory to be further developed in order to be applied

to the Korean context. It does however leave a number of questions unanswered, such as the methods used by

Koreans to actively present themselves in social situations, and whether, if these are memorized conventions,

they can be adapted for use in cross-cultural social situations.

In Holtgraves & Yang’s (1992) research on the request strategies of Americans and Koreans

they found the politeness of Korean requests were more dependent on power and distance than

American requests. Their results were also similar to Hatfield & Hahn’s (2011) research in that there

was evidence of power and distance affecting politeness strategies in South Korea and the United

States. Their research (1990) also provided support for the idea of South Korea as a negative

politeness culture (polite strategies are preferred) and the United States as a positive politeness culture

(less polite strategies are preferred). Holtgrave & Yang (1992), in agreement with Hatfield & Hahn

(2011), concluded that Brown & Levinson’s (1987) theory needs to be developed to take into account

interpersonal features of situations. This is particularly necessary when analysing collectivist cultures

such as that of South Korea, as, in such cultures, people tend to be more sensitive to the situational

context than those from individualist cultures. Holtgraves & Yangs’s (1992) research did not involve any

interaction between participants, but relied on their imagined perception of a given stimulus or a forced

scenario role play, given Hatfield & Hahn’s (2011) conclusions that perceptions of face and the

corresponding social strategies used are built up throughout the course of interaction it could be that

participants would use different strategies when faced with real social situations, especially if

communicating with an English speaker, where as when faced with imaginary scenarios the participants

gave what they thought were the culturally correct answers.

Kim (2008) sought to compare the use of speech acts of South Korean learners of English and

Australians by comparing the use of ‘sorry’ with ‘미안하다’ (the infinitive form of the verb, hereby

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Romanised as ‘mianhada’). Kim (2008) found that, although in most dictionaries ‘mianhada’ is listed as

a direct translation of ‘sorry’, because ‘mianhada’ includes the speaker expressing his responsibility, the

consequent speech act will differ. The research also found that ‘mianhada’ is usually followed by

compensatory utterances rather than an expression of responsibility due to the fact the expression

already contains notions of accountability. Kim (2008) also demonstrates how ‘I’m sorry’ can be seen as

what Searle (1975) describes as an ‘indirect’ speech act as it involves the speaker’s thoughts and

feelings. ‘Mianhada,’ on the other hand, is a ‘direct’ speech act (see page 3) as it is expressing

responsibility. Although Kim (2008) offers a useful comparison of ‘sorry’ and ‘mianhada’ the research

technique used to support this comparison involved participants completing a discourse from an

imaginary scenario, asking participants to complete such a task is unrealistic as it does not allow

participants to take into account factors affecting their relationship with the imaginary social participant,

factors such as how long they have known each other, disagreements in the past, knowledge of one’s

personality are amongst a huge number of social variables that can affect the use of ‘Mianada’ and thus

the level of responsibility one assumes, which in turn would affect the extent to which ‘Mianhada’ is

seen as a direct speech act.

Based on the research discussed here it should be possible to identify examples of the specific

pragmatic difficulties that face Korean EFL speakers in their communicational acts. Identifying such

difficulties would help support the research and provide students and curriculum developers with actual

real life examples of the benefits of improving students’ pragmatic awareness.

4) Interlanguage Pragmatic Difficulties for Korean EFL/ESL Speakers

i. Social Difficulties

Further to the identification of ‘mianhada’ as an indirect speech act, Kim (2008) demonstrates how different

apology techniques result in misinterpretations between Australians and South Koreans. For Koreans Australia

is a very popular destination for those looking to study and live in an English speaking country, and so presents

an important example of the interlanguage pragmatical problems faced by of Korean EFL speakers. One

example Kim (2008) provides is how, due to the literal translation in dictionaries from ‘mianhada’, South Korean

learners of English presume that sorry expresses one’s responsibility, resulting in a failure to say ‘sorry’ when

they hear bad news. This can be interpreted by English speakers as not caring about the bad news. Kim (2008)

also identifies how South Koreans often use non-verbal means of apologising, for example in response to a

minor offense a Korean speaker will often smile, representing a wish for the conflict to be resolved quickly,

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something Australian English speakers could interpret as making a joke out of a conflict and/or lead to them

doubting the sincerity of the speaker’s apology. Further to this, Kim (2008) explains how, when a speaker and

hearer are deemed to have a close relationship, a Korean speaker will often use silence to apologise as the

speaker should be able to understand the hearer’s apologetic feeling from the social context.

Relating to my experiences in Korean public education, such exercises are exemplified in schools.

Misunderstandings can often occur on occasions when native English speaking teachers become

frustrated with their students. The teacher may expect a verbal apology; however the student is more

likely to stare at the ground in silence with the presumption that the teacher can interpret their silence

and lack of eye contact as an apology due to the social context. This often leads to a misinterpretation

of the teachers’ and students’ conduct. Pragmatic misunderstandings such as these can easily lead to

conflicts of intended meanings. Such situations can affect a Koreans ESL speaker’s ability to effectively

communicate with native English speakers.

ii. Academic Difficulties

Several studies have explored the speech acts used by American native speakers of English and Korean non-

native speakers of English in academic contexts. Research by Choi (1997) looks at the difficulties faced by

Korean students in Australia when addressing their professors orally and found that many of their participants

were affected by negative pragmatic transfer of Korean speech conventions in three respects. The first negative

transfer they identified was that the participants applied Korean levels of speech based on age and social status

to English speech, one example of this was using very formal speech when making requests of their professors,

and then feeling very awkward when the professor replied with similar speech patterns, as this is not something

older people in Korea are likely to do. Secondly, the Korean students also felt uncomfortable when a younger

peer used more informal (or intimate) speech patterns towards them. Finally, they found that Korean students

addressed teachers by their title no matter how intimate their relationship. This negative transfer could result in

pragmatic misunderstandings for Korean students, opening up the possibility for Korean students’ opportunities

to develop good interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers being negatively impacted. In fact, many of

the participants not only reported that they had encountered difficulties in developing close relationships with

their Australian peers, but were aware that these difficulties were due to language limitations and culturally

different speech forms.

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Research by Murphy & New (1996) evaluates the speech acts used by Koreans when

expressing disapproval of a grade to a professor. They found that the Koreans were more critical than

American native speakers and even referred to the Koreans speech acts as aggressive, inappropriate

and lacking respect. In his analysis of emails written to Australian professors to complain about grades,

Park (2008) identifies how the emails of Korean students are often inappropriate and could be deemed

offensive by their Australian professors. Park (2008) identifies how Korean students often include advice

to their professors, and are even critical or sarcastic, and given the context, could be interpreted as

threatening. Such findings are particularly interesting as the strategies displayed would also be deemed

offensive in Korean culture, especially strategies such as criticizing a superior. These results provide an

insight into how Korean EFL speakers can develop misled beliefs regarding the English language

resulting in communicational problems.

iii. Business Difficulties

Park et al (1998) compared the rhetorical strategies for complaints in international business letters written by

Koreans and Americans and found that native English speakers were indirect and linear, that they tended to

impersonalise a problem, whereas native Korean speakers tended to be indirect and non-linear, containing

more emotional expressions. This could result in negative responses from clients, and rather than a situation

being alleviated, it could well result in the amplification of the problem.

Koo et al (2003) looked at the potential for misinterpretations in business caused by differences in the

relational concerns (a person’s focus and motivation to use and respond to motivational cues) and, drawing on

the work of Hall (1983) differences in directness and indirectness in the work place. Koo et al (2003) find that

that these differences are amplified in the workplace making cross-cultural misunderstandings of one’s meaning

extremely common.

This research demonstrates the interlinking of language and culture; it explains how, without access to

cultural knowledge, language alone can result in a Korean EFL speaker entering into communicational

situations that can inadvertently result in misunderstanding and conflict. With this in mind the next section will go

on to look at whether the pragmatic awareness of Korean EFL speakers can be improved.

5) Can the Pragmatic Awareness of Korean EFL Speakers Be Improved?

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The pragmatic difficulties faced by Korean EFL speakers demonstrate not only room for improvement, but also,

if Korea is going to meet its target of having a workforce capable of successfully communicating with native

English speakers, a need for improvements in the pragmatic awareness of Korean EFL speakers. Kasper &

Schmidt (1996) suggest that “there is every reason to expect that pragmatic knowledge should be teachable,” a

notion supported by Jianda (2006) who states “studies show that interlanguage pragmatic knowledge is

teachable”. There is a lack of research conducted looking at the effects of taught pragmatics on EFL learners as

the majority of studies focus on L2 use rather than development (Kasper & Schmidt 1996). However the

research that has been conducted does indicate it to be an effective method to improve students’ pragmatic

choices. Research by Olshtain & Cohen (1990) tracks students being given three 20 minute classes on apology

strategies in English, the results show in an increase in the likelihood of the students choosing apology

strategies similar to those of native speakers. The results of other research have shown that the teaching of

pragmatics requires more than simply providing learners with communicative activities, as Porter (1986:218)

explains “communicative activities in the classroom will provide valuable production practice for the learner, but

they will not generate the type of sociolinguistic input that learners need”. This is suggestive of the fact that

language teachers need to directly teach pragmatics as part of a course.

Ellis (1994), Takahashi & Roitblat (1994) conclude that the development of pragmatic

competence depends on providing learners with sufficient and appropriate input, which mainly comes

through teacher talk time or instructional materials (Hill, 1997). Kasper (1997) points to the benefits of

providing authentic input through videos and movies or activities that engage students in social roles

that they are likely to encounter outside of class such as role play, simulation and drama.

Eslami-Rasekh (2005) has developed a number of stages that could be used to raise students’

pragmatic awareness in a classroom setting:

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Awareness Raising

Make learners consciously aware of differences between native and target language speech. This can be done through teacher presentation or student discovery.


Translation activities can be used to create intrigue amongst the students as to how culture and language are interrelated. Could also present and share examples of cross cultural miscommunications.

Providing a Focus

Present a discourse excerpt or target speech act that will be studied

Students Collecting Data

Students observe and record native speaker data, they can analyse the target speech act from the data.

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Although Eslami-Rasekh (2005) presents a viable method of introducing pragmatics to EFL

students it is questionable as to how easily it could adopted in to a Korean classroom. In her analysis of

the problems faced by China in the teaching of pragmatic competency in EFL classrooms, Jianda

(2006) identifies a number of issues that China needs to overcome, all of which are issues that South

Korea faces should they aim to increase students’ pragmatic competency:

1) Teacher Centred Classrooms – Public school EFL classrooms in Korea maintain a traditional teacher centred approach. This limits the students’ exposure to communicative activities, although Kasper (1997) notes even teacher centred classroom discourse offers opportunities for pragmatic learning.

2) Non-Native Teachers – The majority of EFL teachers in Korea are Non-native speakers, so they cannot draw on native speaker intuitions and cannot serve as direct models (Rose, 1994). This can also lead to apprehension to the teaching of pragmatics.

3) Instructional Materials – Public school text books do not contain any pragmatic awareness raising material, and it could be difficult for non-native speakers of English to determine appropriate materials.

4) Instructional Methods – The traditional teaching methods employed that still focus on grammar translation could inhibit the development of pragmatic awareness.

5) Tests – If materials aimed at increasing students’ pragmatic awareness are to be introduced into the syllabus, they will need to be in the public tests, and as yet there are no established testing methods.

(Jianda, 2006)

Rose (1994:155) concludes that “if pragmatic competence is to be dealt with successfully in EFL

settings, methods and materials must be developed which do not assume or depend on the NS intuitions

of the teacher.” There are also more specific issues South Korea faces in order to comprehensively

increase students’ pragmatic awareness. A major issue would be motivating the students to want to

increase their pragmatic awareness. The majority of students study English as a core subject that they

must pass in order to enter higher educational institutes. Given that entering the higher educational

institutes involves almost no contact (if any at all) with native English speakers outside of the classroom,

students are unlikely to see the benefit of spending time improving their pragmatic ability. Time is also a

critical issue in South Korea, only this year the South Korean Ministry of Education increased the

academic term time for public schools by 4 weeks over the course of the year in order to provide

teachers with enough time to prepare students for the University Entrance Examinations. Due to these

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Awareness Raising

Make learners consciously aware of differences between native and target language speech. This can be done through teacher presentation or student discovery.


Translation activities can be used to create intrigue amongst the students as to how culture and language are interrelated. Could also present and share examples of cross cultural miscommunications.

Providing a Focus

Present a discourse excerpt or target speech act that will be studied

Students Collecting Data

Students observe and record native speaker data, they can analyse the target speech act from the data.

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time constraints teachers are likely to be resistant to adding any more work into an already full

curriculum, especially if, as identified by Jianda (2006), the extra work is not within their immediate skill

set. Korean teachers would need training as to how pragmatics can be taught, which could prove both

expensive for the Ministry of Education and time consuming for the teachers. Given these issues it could

be challenging to convince both teachers and students that there is a need for pragmatics to be

introduced into the national curriculum, this is especially apparent considering that although the research

and views above state that students pragmatic competency can be increased, there is very little

research that demonstrates either the extent to which taught pragmatic courses will actually increase

students pragmatic awareness and what the best way of going about increasing pragmatic competency

is, as Kasper writes “the issue is not whether or not but how to teach [pragmatics]” (Kasper 1996:147). If

the Ministry of Education were to consider financing and developing a course of taught pragmatics they

would very likely want to know the answer to these questions.

6) Conclusion

The identification of pragmatic difficulties faced by Korean EFL speakers in social, academic and business

contexts demonstrates the need for improvement in the pragmatic awareness of Korean EFL learners. Current

research has verified that pragmatic awareness can be improved through classroom instruction, however there

is little research focusing on how it could be incorporated into the teaching methods, styles and materials of the

Korean EFL classroom. Korea has set out to have a work force ready to communicate with business and

academic partners in English; if they are to meet this objective research must be carried out to investigate the

most efficient way to improve Korean English speakers’ pragmatic awareness. If pragmatics is to be taught in

public education it will be necessary to have a reliable way of testing students’ pragmatic competency.

Currently, there are a lack of tests available which would allow the objective assessment of learners’ pragmatic

proficiency (Jianda, 2006) and there is little research available as to the reliability of academic pragmatic

competency examinations, so research identifying reliable testing methods would be necessary. South Korea

currently has a very strict multiple-choice reading comprehension and grammar focused examination system for

assessing students’ English ability. To allow the introduction of taught pragmatic awareness programmes into

the English syllabus it is likely that the means of testing would have to fit into the current testing system, and

thus there is an immediate needs for research to be carried out in this area. The Ministry of Education is also

likely to want to know the extent to which a taught course of pragmatic competency can increase students’

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pragmatic awareness, and so there is a need for further, more detailed research how much time is needed in

the classroom to make significant improvements in students’ pragmatic awareness.

The research discussed has indicated that there are pragmatic issues currently facing Korean EFL

speakers that are detrimental to their ability to effectively communicate with native English speakers. It has also

indicated that these issues could be addressed through taught pragmatic awareness programmes. If the South

Korean government wishes to create a nation capable of successfully communicating with native English

speakers a focus on increasing the pragmatic awareness of EFL students would certainly help them reach this


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