Requesting help in French: Developing pragmatic features during study abroad

Magnan, Sally Sieloff
Back, Michele
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Thompson & Heinle
This study is part of a larger project looking at the development of language ability among study abroad students in France. After confirming that students in the larger study made significant improvement in their proficiency and in their confidence when speaking in French, the current study looked at the development of pragmatic competence of six students. Using role plays from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), the study looked at requests for help, focusing on markers of formal address and direct versus indirect request forms used by students before studying abroad and at the end of their study abroad programs. The results showed that students increased their use of formal forms of address, direct requests, and indirect requests. Only students whose proficiency improved moved toward favoring indirect requests over direct requests.A heavy reliance on est-ce que questions dominated direct requests, especially for students whose proficiency did not improve. These findings encourage language program directors to reflect on how they might better prepare students to acquire pragmatic features before they go abroad, as well as continue pragmatic development when students reenter language programs after studying abroad.
Magnan, S.S., Back, M. (2006). Requesting help in French: Developing pragmatic features during study abroad. The American Association of University Supervisors, Coordinators and Directors of Foreign Languages Programs (AAUSC), 22-44.
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