The 'secret rules of language': tackling pragmatics in the classroom

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    In this article, I would like to focus on how we can help learners to understand what one exasperated student once referred to as 'the secret rules of language' (Bardovi-Harlig 2001), that is the norms of interaction which experienced members of a speech community follow as they use language in their day-to-day business. These relate to such apparently mundane activities as how appropriate it is to say 'thank you' to particular speakers in particular contexts, how much to soften the impact of what you are saying, how long to wait before you answer a question, how informal to be in a particular context, and so on. It can be most frustrating for learners who have made great efforts to master the vocabulary, syntax and phonology of a language only to find themselves misunderstood because of their failure to heed some of the less visible, but nonetheless crucial and systematic, principles which underpin 'appropriate' interaction in a culture. Indeed, until some miscommunication occurs many learners – and native speakers – are not only unsure of what these secret rules are, but may even be only vaguely aware of their existence. I begin by considering the nature of these 'secret rules', why they are important and what some of them might look like for speakers of Australian English. I then explore how such aspects of language use can be addressed in the classroom and suggest some approaches and activities designed to help adult learners preparing to enter the workforce.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3-21
    Number of pages19
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2004

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher version archived with the permission of the Editor, Prospect, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia. This copy is available for individual, non-commercial use. Permission to reprint/republish this version for other uses must be obtained from the publisher.


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