Raising the pragmatic awareness of ESL learners: a workshop series on learning the art of requesting

Developing pragmatic fluency is an essential part of becoming communicatively competent in a second language. Despite the emphasis the field of TESOL places on communicative skills, pragmatics continues to be an underrepresented area in second language instruction. In recent years, a growing number of studies have examined the gap between the speech act production of native and non-native English speakers, and this data has served to inform pedagogical approaches to teaching speech acts in the classroom. However, much of this research has targeted the learning needs of EFL students and learners in a university context, while little attention has been given to developing the practical pragmatic needs of immigrants immersed in the target language culture. The aim of this study is two-fold: to examine the pragmatic needs of a small group of upper-intermediate ESL students who live and work in the United States, and to propose a series of workshops to target these learners' pragmatics deficiencies. This paper specifically focuses on the speech act of making requests, as this is one of the most common yet challenging speech acts for language learners to master due to the high level of cultural and linguistic knowledge required by the requester. Participants' pragmatic abilities were analyzed using a Discourse-Completion Task (DTC), and results were measured against native speaker data. The findings show that while the students use some of the same pragmalinguistic resources as native speakers, their mitigation strategies are much more limited, and their requests reflect little sensitivity to social context. These areas are specifically targeted in the proposed workshop series through awareness-raising activities and an explicit focus on metapragmatic skills.