A Master of Arts Thesis in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Submitted to the College of Arts and Sciences by Shayma Abdul Rahim Naqi Entitled, "Teaching Pragmatics to Young Learners," January 2008. Available are both Hard and Soft Copies of the Thesis.
This study is an attempt to investigate to what extent pragmatic competence can be taught to young learners in L2 classrooms. It also focuses on looking at the students' attitudes towards the activities presented to them during the direct teaching phase of pragmatics. In this study I will focus on teaching pragmatic knowledge because only little work has been done on the explicit teaching of pragmatic knowledge. Unfortunately, teaching in L2 classes in the UAE focuses more on teaching vocabulary and grammatical competence than on teaching pragmatic or socio-cultural competence. Thus, I want to bring this issue into focus and I want to show teachers, researchers, and educators how it is relatively easy to teach pragmatic competence as well as grammatical competence. If L2 speakers make grammatical mistakes, usually their message can be understood and they will still be able to communicate with others in the target language. However, if they make pragmatic mistakes, the situation is usually problematic and they will not be understandable. Therefore, they will face problems in communicating with different people in the target language community. To achieve my research goal I went through four stages. First of all, I assessed the students in the pre-instruction phase on eight different situations (See appendix B) to see what available pragmatic knowledge they have. Then, a five-week teaching program of pragmatics was offered to those 48 students to help them acquire and learn more about pragmatics to develop their skills. In the post- instruction phase I reassessed the same students based on the same eight situations I gave them before the teaching program in order to have some comparative data. In the post-post instruction phase I reassessed the students after the students had a two weeks break to see if they still remember what they learnt in the teaching course. A descriptive observational journal was also used throughout the semester as an extra supportive qualitative tool of research. Results of this research emphasize that students in our UAE governmental schools are very weak in their pragmatic knowledge and they often tend to transfer their L1's pragmatic knowledge into the target language's pragmatics. However, this can be overcome if teachers focus on teaching this aspect of knowledge implicitly besides the other aspects of language which are grammar and writing. The most important point that this research reveals is that culture and language should be integrated and without teaching the students some aspects of the target language cultural pragmatic norms, they will keep transferring their L1's pragmatic knowledge into their L2's without being aware of it.