Successful communication is more than grammar rules and intelligible pronunciation. In this section, learn how context affects the language you should use, and check your understanding of appropriate communication with practice exercises related to apologies, refusals, requests, and more.
What does it mean to speak appropriately?
Like all languages, learning English involves more than just knowing proper grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. Successful communication also requires appropriate language use, or what is typically called “pragmatics.” By focusing on pragmatics, we seek to understand why we speak differently depending on a number of factors that often interact with each other. In doing so, we are better able to understand how to handle situations in English appropriately. Note that, depending on the context, speaking appropriately does not always mean speaking politely!
For example, imagine the type of wording you would use in your first language and culture for the following situations. How would you change the grammar or vocabulary in your requests, and why?
You want to ask your professor for a book. What would you say?
Now, imagine asking a close friend for a book. What would you say?
In the above cases involving the professor and the close friend, status and age could be the most prevalent factors that affect how we speak. Therefore, because pragmatics depends on multiple factors, including the people involved in the interaction, pragmatics concerns both the speaker and the listener. To see how we use English differently for the same scenario above, below are two possible requests in English. See if you can identify which one is asked of the professor, and which one is asked of the close friend:
(1) Hey, give me that book for a sec.
(2) Would it be at all possible if I could borrow your book for the week?
As you’ve probably guessed, (1) is directed toward a close friend, while (2) is directed toward a professor. Notice that the first request is a command, while the second is in the form of a (very long) question.
Status and age are important considerations when choosing appropriate language, but they are not the only factors that influence the way you speak. In fact, there are many! Can you think of any besides status and age?
The information and exercises found in this section will help you accommodate to the local speech community’s norms for pragmatic performance. In each category, you can learn about vital strategies for a variety of scenarios. Keep in mind that there are often several appropriate ways to handle a single situation; we’re just going to review some of the more common possibilities. Also, because learning pragmatics necessitates defining the culture or location in which the language is used, we will focus on appropriate language use for the New York City area.
Check out the navigation menu to the left to start exploring appropriate communication!
For a full list of references used cited in the “Appropriate Communication” sections, click here.