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Cross Cultural Pragmatic Perspective For Classroom Teaching

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3422 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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Cross-culture pragmatics, as a new subject of language study, is based on the developments of pragmatics theories. It hybrids Anthropology, Translation, Communication, Sociology and Pragmatics together and gets wide influence on future language study. Scholars from different countries are always focusing on the problems which language learners always made in their second language using to compare with their native language comprehension. Cross-culture pragmatics is the study of interrelationship communication between people who are from different culture backgrounds. So behind the language usage differences is the huge diversity of cultures which influence the actions and thinking of people.

Core Definitions

Pragmatics is the study of meaning in context. It deals with particular utterance in particular discourse and situation and is especially concerned with the various ways in which many social contexts of language performance can influence interpretation. In other words, pragmatics is concerned with the way language is used to communicate rather than the way it is structured.

Cross-culture pragmatics developed since 1950s in America when Chomsky¼ˆ1957¼‰ developed his grammar-based approach to language acquisition. Lado (1957) had published his book “Linguistics Across Culture” which can be considered as a milestone to cross-culture pragmatics. It shows the differences between this new subject and comparative linguistics. In his view, comparative linguistics should focus on the differences among languages especially give a systematic comparison of the target language, native language and their culture to get the relation from meaning and distribution. Individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings and the distribution of forms and meanings of their native language and culture to the foreign language and culture – both productively and when attempting to speak the language and to act in the culture and receptively when attempting to grasp and understand the language and culture as practiced by natives. From then on, others like Charles Morris considered that the study of language should be parceled into syntax, semantics and pragmatics while certain researchers at least in the past have seen pragmatics as a fuzzy area, possibly not deserving of being categorized as a separate and main field. (Thomason,1973¼š162).

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Thomason (1973) thinks that the status of pragmatics is much less clear, if such a discipline exists at all, it is very under-developed . The definition of culture may be ambiguous with some considering it largely related to ethnicity while sociologists and others (Dash, P.2003) consistent to Stern (1992) may see it as inclusive of social groups, some of which may be independent of ethnic consideration ( Dash, P., 2004).

Failure is an irreplaceable notion in cross-culture pragmatics from which linguists could get valuable evidences to investigate the language communication and analyze the reason of pragmatic failure. That which is related to cross-cultural failure is referred to as pragmalinguistic failure whereas that which has a non-cultural basis due to the social relationships and positions between individuals is referred to as sociolinguistic failure (Thomas, 1983¼š99).

Leech (1983) analyzed the different importance of politeness applying into cultures and the informative intent or the sentence meaning, and the other the communicative intent or speaker meaning. The ability to comprehend and produce a communicative act is referred to as pragmatic competence which often includes one’s knowledge about the social distance, social status between the speakers involved, the cultural knowledge such as politeness, and the linguistic knowledge explicit and implicit (Kasper, 1997).

Foreign language learners are easily to put their own culture to the target language learning which constantly causes pragmatic failures and thus affects the effectiveness of trans-cultural communication. Thin (1984) writes in his book that, “literal meaning has little, if any relevance to the use of spoken language in social life.” Just (2001) further investigates, “much of what we state about others, we have not derived from their statements but from their behaviour.” From their point, interpreting pragmatic failure could not ignoring the cultural basis and social belief. Green (1996) especially demonstrated that the “central notion is that pragmatics must include belief, intentions (or goal) plan and act.” Differences in the way of speaking with different languages are profound and systematic, and…reflect, and can be explained, in terms of… differences in cultural traditions, cultural values, and cultural priorities( Wierzbicka 2003:21).

It will lose its meaning when language learners use their language without their belief and innate cultural comprehension. The verbal expressions of the language will also fade and lose their vivacity.

Cross-pragmatics communication failure

It has be beard in mind for all the teachers of pragmatics in their classroom teaching that it is most important cross-cultural risk of pragmatic pitfalls for a certain group of learners who are really in it. For this concern, language teachers especially L2 teacher should be careful to explain the difference of pragmatic usage of communication to avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings. For example, Chinese put modesty as their primary politeness , for this reason , they would criticize themselves to others especially when they are praised by others. I remember an interesting conversation happened between a Chinese girl and an Aussie girl.

A: I love your dress, it is amazing!

C: No, no, it is only an ordinary dress.

Then the conversation fell into ice. It is normal for westerner especially English speaker to say “Thank you” when their dress are appreciated by others. But in this case, the Chinese girl used her chi-English thinking and directly translated her native language thinking into English to say no. The Aussie girl may think her aesthetic taste being laughed. It is ironic that it is the culture difference causes the misunderstanding.

Another example happened in students from Asian countries especially Japan, Korea and China. Teachers from western culture background may find that it is difficult to let those students to call their given name directly without using the title “Mr, MS or Professor”. These Asian countries are greatly influenced by Confucius and Mencius. Teachers and elders are respected and their authority must not be challenged. In daily conversation, this hierarchical difference would be more obvious, students or the young must use title or honorific pronouns to call the teachers or the elders. Or else they would be criticized by the public. Although they will get used to the western social manners, they still bear the cultural thinking.

The idea of number is so universal in the sense that it is readily accessible to all human beings and it is expressed in the lexical structure of all languages. However, not all languages have a grammatical category of number. As we know, English recognizes a distinction between one and more that one ( singular and plural). This distinction has to be expressed morphologically, by assign a suffix to a noun or by changing its form in some other way to indicate whether it refers to one or more than one: boy/boys, box/boxes, man/men, and person/people. The form of a noun in Chinese does not normally indicate whether it is singular or plural.

A: May is leaving Nanjing for Beijing tomorrow.

B: Don’t forget to take the two luggages with you.

Of course, it is typically a chi-English conversation. In this communication, pragmatic failure has come out. Luggage is a collection noun and also an uncountable one. The plural form of the word luggage should be expressed as two pieces of luggage. So B should say:” Don’t forget to take the two pieces of luggage with you.”

In social cultural concerning, dead is a forbidden word in Chinese culture, Chinese people always use “pass away’ or other word to replace the word ‘DEAD”. So in Arabic numbers , Chinese always avoid and unlike the figure ‘4’. Because it shares the same pronunciation with the word dead in Chinese. It is just the same as westerners unlike number 13 and thinks it unlucky. Although both of them are superstitious, they are the part of the culture. As a ordinary language learners , he has to respect it and not to judge.

Furthermore, privacy is not often be discussed in public in western countries, many English speakers may feel weird and uncomfortable when people ask them about it.

Chinese people always talk about family, marriage and job. But no offense, they just treat them as normal topic to arise the conversation. However, if the English speaker refused harshly, the conversation will be placed on iceberg. Both of the speakers will feel awkward.

In hip-pop and rap culture, as a popular music culture. The lyrics always include some abbreviation and jargons having hidden meaning which people hard to understand. Even the native English speaker cannot comprehend. Because it represents the typically Negro street culture in United States. This also can approves that within a “big cultural circle”, there always exists ‘ small cultural’. For this sake , we could know cross-cultural could not only exists between countries but different ethnic groups or other groups.

Another examples is the Japanese word ‘Sumimasen’ Versus ‘ I am sorry’. English speakers might think that Japanese apologize more frequently than they really do because ‘Sumimasen’ is always be heard in daily life. Sumimasen can be translates as ‘I am sorry’ and be uses for apology; however, it can also be used in other purposes. There seven functions of it (Ide, 1998:510). It can be used to convey sincere apologies, sumimasen was also used to express thanks, to convey a mixture of thanks and apologies, as a preliminary a request, as an attention-getter , as actual-taking device, and more ritualistically as advice to confirm what someone has sais or simply to acknowledge it. It carries pragmatic and ritualistic functions that extend beyond conveying the semantic meaning of regret or gratitude in actual discourse. So when English speakers hear Sumimasen as frequently as they say ‘ I am sorry” they think the meaning of these two words are equivalent.

Though it is unavoidable to make pragmatic failure during cross-cultural communication, we should consider how to improve the ability of cross-cultural communication since the target students are second language learners. We need to offer a few qualifications related to the issue of how to become a more competent communicator. First, the major cultural barriers to the cross-cultural communications, stereotyping and prejudice, misusing of power, culture shocks, and ethnocentrism, etc. Secondly, because communication is an activity that has a consequence, we must continually ask ourselves id we are behaving in a way that harms our communication partners. For example, do not shake your left hand with people come from India, because left hand symbolize dirt and bad luck. The most important way of how to improve the ability of the cross-cultural communication is following some basic advice such as knowing yourselves, considering the physical and human setting, seeking a shares code, developing empathy, encouraging feedback and learning about cultural adaptation, etc. All these can help improve cross-cultural communication. It has become necessary to us to improve the ability of cross-cultural communication. In my opinion, it is also a hard job for teacher themselves to improve their ability of cross-cultural communication.

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In classroom teaching, teachers hope the students from different cultural backgrounds to show their difference language usage or reactions towards the same things in front of the whole class. But students who notice the intention sometimes are not willing to take the chalks which may make them feel embarrassed like the animals in the zoo. As Thomas (1983) writes, “..speaking good English does not necessarily mean conforming to the norms of the culturally hegemoic strata.” The teachers might well know different culture through their teaching, the key point is they shouldn’t bear the discriminations to certain culture. If the teacher cannot keep his neutrality, students from certain cultural background may feel hurt and inferior. Mangubhai (1997) states, ” Nonetheless, it is possible to discern certain patterns of behavior, or primary tendencies within a cultural or sub-cultural group that permit one to address learners as a group.” Grouping the students and respecting their own culture would be the fundamental rule for all language teachers.

Classroom Implications

There are some implications for cross-cultural language teachers in their classroom teaching to eliminate the pragmatic failure and cultural misunderstanding.

Foreign language teaching should be entered at all levels of linguistic knowledge – words, sentences, discourse – penetration pragmatic knowledge to enhance the ability to use language learners so that students understand the language reflected in the pragmatic rules, values and social ideas. Through the two cultures, two languages contrast, explore, and point out their differences in order to avoid linguistic pragmatic failure.

Foreign or second language teachers when they are in the teaching process should pay special attention to the custom of a particular form of language-oriented; English speech act realization and understanding of differences in speech act. In vocabulary teaching, the students are supposed not only to understand the terms of intention, but also pay attention to their cultural meaning and proper use, in particular the taboo words. In oral practice and translation practice, different usage of words and expressions should be emphasized through certain discourse and contexts.

Provide a lot of cross-cultural communication context to its recommend sources and materials relevant to the subject of the foreign cultures of extra-curricular books to enhance the learners understanding of foreign cultures and improve their practical application ability. To encourage the students to investigate the culture barrier themselves and let them to talk more with the native speaker of the target language will fasten the process of culture immersion.

In communication, language is the basic unit of discourse. Thus, the ability to foster communicative discourse on the need to develop capacity. The so-called discourse capability refers to the students master the discourse on the basis of knowledge of the mechanisms of convergence can be quickly and accurately grasp the basic content of discourse and the central idea, in-depth understanding of the communicative value of text, students with strong reading ability and listening comprehension. Can be combined with the ability to read and write the language heard of synchronized and coordinated manner.

The challenge for language teachers is to present information about culture in such a way that learners come to recognize, through nonjudgmental comparison, both the existence of their own system and that of the other language/culture. Language teachers must not only act as a good teaching instructors, administrators, evaluators, but also to act as lifelong learners and teaching the role of researchers. Pragmatic abilities as related to pragmatics, cross-cultural communication studies, second language acquisition research, foreign language teaching and other fields of inter-disciplinary issues, so the teacher must establish a ‘life-long learning concept’, lay a solid basic skills, and focus on their own knowledge structure updates. Language teachers in cross-cultural teaching background should expand the breadth and depth of their knowledge, and continuously develop their pragmatic competence in order to ensure the professional competence of adaptability, do a good job nurturing students who pragmatic competence.

Feedback plays a key role in learners’ progress in culture competence. A teacher can give feedback in the role of an L2 instructor who points out learners’ mistakes, presents correct models, or direct learners to self-correct. Alternatively, a teacher can provide feedback as one interlocutor in the interaction, who responds to the other interlocutor’s remarks and behaviors with natural conversational prompt for repetition, clarification, or self-correction (Noda, 1998).

“Performing a culture in each case should aim to create a memory focused on pleasing

the subjects of the remembering so they will want to continue the conversing” (Walker,

2000). The ability to discern others’ response and adjust one’s behaviors accordingly is

an important skill that contributes to learners overall competence in C2 communication.

Therefore, when learners’ performance is culturally incorrect, responding as an interlocutor in the interaction is one option in giving feedback. Since this kind of feedback is implicit and time-consuming, when it causes confusion or is not applicable in classroom instruction, explicitly correcting learners can always be an alternative option.

Kramsch (1991: 229) refers to it as ‘cultural competence’, and asserts that it can best be developed in a structured learning environment, here conscious parallels can be drawn, where language can be explicitly linked to its meaning in a particular sociocultural and historical context, where disparate linguistic or cultural phenomena can be brought together and attached to more abstract principles of both base (C1) and target (C2) language and culture. Teachers should continually deepen their understanding of both C1 and C2 by reading studies from a variety of sources that help identify and analyze cultural patterns in the series of isolated cultural facts which they experience or teach about.


As supported by the definitions by Mangubhai and Son (2003) and Hatch (1992) in respect to an utterance, its underlying meaning and intention derived from specific context represents pragmatics(Dash, 2004). Both Morris (in Thomason, 1973) and Green (1989) separate out pragmatics to semantics and it is this separation, which needs to be imparted in defining to teachers and students how to generate a real improvement in pragmatic competence.

Well-organized role play and multi-media displaying authentic and successful pragmatics usage across different cultural against the examples of more frequent cross-cultural pragmatic failure may be a start to guide the students to successful pragmatic strategies . Culture changes through times, the materials language teachers use may be out of date, the teacher could ask the students to correct mistakes and discuss it through groups to clear the misunderstanding.

In an attempt to explore the roles of cultural values and cultural themes curriculum, learners learn doing things in a culturally appropriate manner, which automatically results in a procedural knowledge of C2 cultural themes. L2 learners also develop descriptive knowledge on cultural themes and cultural values through explicitly learning information on the two.

Culture has a distinct personality; the use of language must be followed. Culture rules, in other words, culture determines thinking, decision. In this sense, the difference in language use can not be avoided. It takes time to implant the pragmatic ability only in classroom teaching. It will be a long journey for both students and teachers to experience the cultural difference in their life and process of learning. However, study the culture of target language including manners, customs and cultural formation of the correct concept will have positive effect on pragmatic competence.

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