Consciousness, Learning and Interlanguage Pragmatics

Schmidt, Richard
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During the past decade, the study of interlanguage pragmatics has produced important empirical findings, primarily through the identification and comparison of speech act realization patterns in various languages based on data from both native and nonnative speakers. In addition to this focus on product, some attention has been paid to the processes of comprehension and production in second language pragmatics (Frerch & Kasper 1984, 1989; Kasper 1984). In contrast to these concerns, there has been little discussion of how pragmatic abilities are acquired in a second language. This paper is concerned with the ways in which consciousness may be involved in learning the principles of discourse and pragmatics in a second language. The role of conscious and nonconscious processes in the acquisition of morphosyntax has been hotly debated within the field of second language acquisition (Krashen 1981, 1983; Munsell & Carr 1981; Rutherford & Sharwood Smith 1985; Seliger 1983; Sharwood Smith 1981), but these debates have ignored pragmatic and discoursal abilities. My discussion will of necessity be speculative, drawing on current theories of the role of consciousness in human learning in general, drawn primarily from cognitive science and experimental psychology, with some suggestions for the extension of general principles to the learning of pragmatics. This is an issue with important pedagogical implications. In second language teaching, as Richards (forthcoming) points out, there are currently two major approaches to the teaching of conversation in second language programs. The first is an indirect approach, in which conversational competence is seen as the product of engaging learners in conversational interaction; the underlying assumption is that the ability to carry on conversation (which includes pragmatic ability and other factors as well) is something that is acquired simply in the course of doing it. In practice, this leads to the use of group work activities or other tasks which require interaction. The second, a more direct approach, focuses explicitly on the strategies involved in conversation and emphasizes consciousness-raising concerning these strategies.
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