Scholarly article on topic 'The Role of Instruction on EFL Learners’ use of Complaining- apologising Semantic Formulas'

The Role of Instruction on EFL Learners’ use of Complaining- apologising Semantic Formulas Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Alicia Martínez-Flor, Esther Usó-Juan

Abstract Research in the field of interlanguage pragmatics has highlighted the benefits of implementing instructional treatments in formal learning contexts. On this account, and in an attempt to meet Kasper and Roever's (2005) claims regarding the need to investigate the teachability of different pragmatic aspects, this study focuses on the role of instruction on learners’ use of complaining-apologising formulas in the foreign language setting. Results show the positive effects of engaging learners in the instructional process and an increase in the variety of both complaint and apology strategies in different contrasting scenarios. Finally, ideas for further research are provided.

Academic research paper on topic "The Role of Instruction on EFL Learners’ use of Complaining- apologising Semantic Formulas"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 212 (2015) 23 - 28

MULTIMODAL COMMUNICATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY: PROFESSIONAL AND ACADEMIC CHALLENGES. 33rd Conference of the Spanish Association of Applied Linguistics (AESLA), XXXIII AESLA CONFERENCE, 16-18 April 2015, Madrid, Spain

The role of instruction on EFL learners' use of complaining-apologising semantic formulas

Alicia Martínez-Flor^ Esther Uso-Juana*

Universität Jaume I, Campus Riu Sec, s/n 12110, Castellón, Spain

Abstract

Research in the field of interlanguage pragmatics has highlighted the benefits of implementing instructional treatments in formal learning contexts. On this account, and in an attempt to meet Kasper and Roever's (2005) claims regarding the need to investigate the teachability of different pragmatic aspects, this study focuses on the role of instruction on learners' use of complaining-apologising formulas in the foreign language setting. Results show the positive effects of engaging learners in the instructional process and an increase in the variety of both complaint and apology strategies in different contrasting scenarios. Finally, ideas for further research are provided.

© 2015 The Authors. Publishedby ElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of the XXXIII AESLA CONFERENCE Keywords: instruction; interlanguage pragmatics; semantic formulas; complaints; apologies

1. Introduction

The field of interlanguage pragmatics has seen an expanding area of research in the last decades devoted to examining the role of instruction to develop learners' pragmatic ability in a given target language (see the recent volumes by Ishihara & Cohen, 2010; Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2010; Houck & Tatsuki, 2011). Results from this research have highlighted the benefits of integrating the teaching of pragmatic aspects in formal learning contexts. More specifically, instruction seems to be absolutely necessary in foreign language (FL) settings, where, in contrast

* Corresponding author. Tel.: 0-964-729620; fax: 0-964-729261. E-mail address: aflor@ang.uji.es

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of the XXXIII AESLA CONFERENCE doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.11.293

to second language (SL) contexts, learners have fewer opportunities to be exposed to naturally occurring input, scant chances for communicative practice, as well as limited feedback regarding their pragmatic performance. In an attempt to expand this line of research, and address Kasper and Roever's (2005) suggestions regarding the need to investigate the teachability of different pragmatic aspects, the purpose of this study is to examine the role of instruction on learners' use of the semantic formulas employed when complaining and apologising in a FL context.

The speech act of complaining has been defined as an expressive illocutionary act "in which the speaker (the complainer) expresses his/her disapproval, negative feelings etc. towards the state of affairs described in the proposition (the complainable) and for which he/she holds the hearer (the complainee) responsible" (Trosborg, 1995, pp. 311-312). This act has therefore a conflictive function and it is often employed with other accompanying acts, such as threatening, accusing, cursing or reprimanding, which cause offense. In this sense, the complaining sequence is inherently face-threatening to the hearer and it needs to be softened to avoid conflict (Trosborg, 1995, pp. 312-313). In contrast to complaints, apologies are considered to be a type of convivial speech act whose goal is to maintain social contract and restore harmony between the speaker and the hearer. According to Bergman and Kasper (1993, pp. 82), they can be defined as "compensatory action to an offense in the doing of which S (the speaker) was causally involved and which is costly to H (the hearer)". It is important to point out that an apology involves different aspects of face depending on the perspective from which it is considered. For the hearer, an apology is a face-saving act because it provides support for the hearer's negative face as "it is made clear that he/she has been harmed by the speaker's actions" (Sabaté-Dalmau & Curell-Gotor, 2007, pp. 291). Contrarily, for the speaker, "an apology is a face-threatening act (FTA) as it damages the speaker's positive face" (Warga & Scholmberger, 2007, pp. 223). In fact, it implies the acceptance that something wrong has been done, whether on purpose or not.

To complain-apologise appropriately and in a socially acceptable manner, special attention needs to be paid to what is said depending on three parameters: i) social status and ii) social distance between the two interlocutors (Brown & Levinson, 1987), as well as iii) the level of offense involved in the complaint being performed and the apologiser's perception of the severity of the offense involved in the communicative act. On the basis of these three parameters, different semantic formulas need to be known by the speaker in order to appropriately perform complaints and apologies so as to avoid communication breakdowns between the two interlocutors. In fact, a more serious offense would require a more elaborated apologetic strategy, whereas a less severe offense might only need a less intensified apology.

Building on this assumption, Usó-Juan and Martínez-Flor (2015) examined EFL learners' choice of the semantic formulas used to complain and apologise in a variety of situations. Results showed that learners' strategy choices were not affected by the social/contextual variables involved in the communicative situations, since they were stuck with the direct and explicit complaint formula when performing a complaint or the expression of apology and explanation when performing an apology in all contrasting scenarios. Considering these findings, and in order to avoid learners being perceived as rude, impolite or even offensive, the authors suggest the need to raise learners' awareness of the different strategies that may be used when complaining and apologising depending on the sociopragmatic variables involved in a particular situation. To that end, this study aims at examining the role of instruction on learners' use of the complaining-apologising semantic formulas in a FL context.

2. Methodology

Participants taking part in this study consisted of 24 English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners who were in the second-year course of the degree of English Studies. Their ages ranged between 19 and 24 years old, the average age being 20.3 years. According to the Quick Placement Test (2001) distributed among them prior to the beginning of the study, they all had an upper-intermediate level of English which corresponds to a B2 according to the Council of Europe level.

The study included a pre- and post-test design in order to ascertain instructional effects. The pre-test consisted of an interactive discourse completion test (IDCT), adopted from Usó-Juan and Martínez-Flor (2014), which involved four situations, each including a scenario for a complaint and an apology. In those situations, students had to orally interact as in a role-play and write what they would actually say. The topics for these scenarios depicted discussions between two interlocutors regarding: a recommendation letter, a lost hotel reservation, misspelled business documents, and habitual late arrival for work. These scenarios varied according to the sociopragmatic factors of social status, social distance and severity of offence in the realisation of the speech act, and consequently, two levels

of social status (i.e., low and high) and social distance (i.e., close and distant) were considered, as well as two levels of severity of offence (i.e., less and more). The purpose of this pre-test was to find out which types of semantic formulas for complaining and apologising the learners used before receiving instruction.

The instructional period consisted of a combination of awareness and production activities that was implemented during two two-hour sessions. These activities were adapted from the tasks elaborated in Usó-Juan and Martínez-Flor's (2014) study and included interactions between a complainer and an apologiser in four different scenarios: cigarette breaks, a business meeting, casual conversations at front office, and false educational credentials. Such variety of activities were designed i) to raise learners' awareness of the pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic issues involved in the selection of the appropriate formulas to complain and apologise in different situations, as well as ii) engage them in meaningful and communicative practice situations both in the written and oral mode. Additionally, explicit metapragmatic explanations and discussions about the different formulas to be chosen were also included during the period of instruction.

One week after the instructional treatment had finished, learners completed the post-test, which included the same situations employed in the pre-test although they were arranged in a different order. The type of complaining and apologising formulas used by learners before and after receiving the instruction were analysed. For this analysis, we took into account previous studies that have presented classifications of complaint (see Table 1) and apology formulas (see Table 2).

Table 1. Complaint formulas (adapted from Olshtain & Weinbach, 1987; Trosborg, 1995)

Strategies Examples

1. No explicit reproach Never mind, nothing serious happened

2. Expression of disapproval What terrible bureaucracy!

3. Explicit complaint You're always late

4. Expression of accusation I'll speak to your supervisor

and warning

5. Expression of threat I'm not moving one inch unless you change

my appointment

Table 2. Apology formulas (adapted from Olshtain & Cohen, 1983; Blum-Kulka, House & Kasper, 1989)

Strategies

1. Expression of apology

2. Explanation or account

3. Acknowledgement of responsibility

4. Offer of repair

5. Promise of forbearance

Examples

Sorry, Pardon me The traffic was terrible It's my fault

I'll pay for the broken vase It won't happen again_

4. Results and Discussion

A total of 96 complaint-apology samples (24 students x 4 situations) in each of the two tests (pre-test and posttest) were analysed. Starting with complaints, it is worth mentioning that in the pre-test the 96 samples contained a total of 105 complaint strategies, whereas in the post-test the total number of complaint strategies found in the 96 samples amounted to 172. Table 3 shows the results from this analysis.

Table 3. Learners' use of the different types of complaint formulas in the pre-test and post-test

Complaint formulas Pre-test Post-test

n % n %

No explicit reproach 0 0.0 88 51.2

Expression of disapproval 5 4.9 28 16.3

Explicit complaint 95 90.3 31 18.1

Expression of accusation and 3 2.9 12 6.9

warning

Expression of threat 2 1.9 13 7.5

Total 105 100.0 172 100.0

Focusing first on the use of complaint formulas in the pre-test, it can be observed that the most frequently used formula was explicit complaint (90.3%), and to a much lesser extent learners used expression of disapproval (4.9%), expression of accusation and warning (2.9%) and expression of threat (1.9%). The remaining formula, namely no explicit reproach, was not used. In contrast, as Table 3 shows, learners' use of other types of complaint formulas increased in the post-test. In fact, the no explicit reproach strategy was the highest formula used amounting to a 51.2%, followed by explicit complaint (18.1%), expression of disapproval (16.3%), expression of threat (7.5%) and expression of accusation and warning (6.9%).

Considering these findings, it is important to highlight that the explicit complaint formula decreased considerably in the post-test, whereas the no explicit reproach formula (a strategy that was not used at all in the pre-test) was the most widely employed formula in the post-test as a result of the period of instruction. The rest of formulas also increased in the post-test as learners' responses were longer and much more elaborated, so the use of expressions of disapproval, accusation and warning as well as threat, when used, were softened and mitigated.

Moving to apologies, and similar to complaint formulas, it is worth mentioning that in the pre-test the 96 samples contained a total of 121 apology strategies, whereas in the post-test the total number of apology strategies found in the 96 samples amounted to 248. Table 4 illustrates the results from this analysis.

Table 4. Learners' use of the different types of apology formulas in the pre-test and post-test

Apology formulas Pre-test Post-test

n % n %

Expressions of apology 98 81.0 92 37.1

Explanation or account 15 12.4 53 21.4

Acknowledgement of responsibility 0 0.0 29 11.7

Offer of repair 0 0.0 33 13.3

Promise of forbearance 8 6.6 41 16.5

Total 121 100.0 248 100.0

As can be seen in table 4, the most often used formula in the pre-test was expression of apology (81.0%), and to a lesser extent explanation or account (12.4%) and promise of forbearance (6.6%). The remaining two formulas, namely acknowledgement of responsibility and offer of repair were not used by learners. Contrarily, after instruction, learners' variety of apology formulas increased as all the different types of strategies were used. The expression of apology (37.1%) in combination with explanation or account (21.4%) were employed, followed by instances of promise of forbearance (16.5%), offer of repair (13.3%) and acknowledgement of responsibility (11.7%).

The findings from both complaint and apology formulas seem to ascertain the positive role of instruction in developing learners' pragmatic competence in the EFL context, since our findings are in line with previous research that has examined the teachability of different pragmatic aspects and has found positive evidence supporting the implementation of an instructional treatment (Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2010; Houck & Tatsuki, 2011). These results therefore provide useful insights with regard to instructional effects on the appropriate use of complaining-apologising formulas and reveal that learners were able to choose a wider variety of strategies after having participated in the instructional period. In fact, learners' high use of the no explicit reproach formula when complaining after receiving instruction, seems to indicate that learners paid attention to the importance of softening their complaints in order not to be perceived as rude or aggressive. Similarly, learners' variety of formulas when apologising served to mitigate the problem that had been caused.

The following example which involves a pair of learners in Scenario 5 (Usó-Juan & Martínez-Flor, 2014), shows learners' performance before and after receiving instruction.

Partner A

You are the general manager of a tour operating company responsible for coordinating its daily operations. Your personal assistant, and close friend of yours, does a very good job in supporting you in all aspects of administration and secretarial duties. However, the other day he/she handed in to you a business document with a few misspelled words. You ask your personal assistant to come to your office to talk about this fact. You explain:

Partner B

You are the personal assistant to the general manager of a tour operating company, who is also a close friend of yours. You do a very good job in supporting him/her in all aspects of administration and secretarial duties. However, the other day you handed in to the general manager a business document with a few misspelled words. The general manager of the company asks you to go to his/her office to talk about this fact. You listen and respond:

Person A complains Person B apologises

PRE-TEST Maria, this document contains some mistakes. You are always making mistakes and we cannot permit these sort of things because it's lost time for the company Oh sorry. I'm really sorry to hear that. You are totally right.

POST-TEST Laura, I have been checking the business documents you sent to me the other day and there were some spelling mistakes. Maybe you were in a rush or something because this is not common of you. So, nothing serious happened but it is important to be careful with this sort of official documents next time. Oh, sorry. It is true that I have committed some mistakes. As you know, last week I was really stressed finishing the documents for the new trip to Argentina. This won't happen again. I promise to be more careful with these documents.

As can be observed in the example, the student taking the role of Person A had to complain. Before receiving instruction, the only formula used was that of "explicit complaint" (You are always making mistakes). In contrast, in the post-test, that is after the instructional treatment, the same student used another "explicit complaint" (there were some spelling mistakes), but showing an understanding of the situation (Maybe you were in a rush or something because this is not common of you) and including another formula, namely "no explicit reproach" (nothing serious happened).

In response to that complaint, the student with the role of Person B had to apologise. As illustrated in the example, in the pre-test, the only formula used was that of "expression of apology" (sorry, I'm really sorry). Contrarily, in the post-test, apart from using again the "expression of apology" (sorry), a variety of different strategies were used, such as "acknowledgement of responsibility" (it is true that I have committed some mistakes), "explanation or account" (last week I was really stressed finishing the documents ...) and "promise of forbearance" (this won't happen again. I promise to be more careful .).

5. Conclusion

In line with previous research on the teachability of different pragmatic features in the classroom context, our study has showed that engaging learners in an instructional process seems to have fostered their pragmatic competence. Particularly, findings obtained after analysing learners' performance before and after the treatment have indicated that, after the instructional period, learners used a wider variety of both complaint and apology formulas in different communicative situations. As a last remark, we should mention that the post-test was distributed only one week after the instructional treatment was conducted. Therefore, the fact of examining the long-term effects of instruction some time after implementing a particular type of treatment is an issue that deserves further research. Additionally, it should also be desirable to include a control group so that its performance could be compared with the group receiving pragmatic instruction. In the meantime, we believe that the present study has contributed to increase the growing body of research on the acquisition of pragmatic aspects in foreign instructional contexts.

Acknowledgements

As members of the LAELA (Lingüística Aplicada a l'Ensenyament de la Llengua Anglesa) research group, we would like to acknowledge that this study is part of a research project funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (FFI2012-38145).

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