Teaching Pragmatics to International Students in Private Language Schools in the UK

  • Caroline Webb Union County College in New Jersey
Keywords: pragmatics, pragmatic competence, study abroad, international students, EFL, ESL


International students travel from across the globe to the UK to attend study abroad language immersion (SALI) programs at private language schools. The students on SALI programs study a mixture of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), as they will not remain in the UK indefinitely, and English as a Second Language (ESL), due to their need to communicate with the English speaking community during their studies in the UK. While the goal of these programs is for students to achieve communicative competence, that is they can successfully interact and communicate in English with native and other non-native speakers in a variety of situations, an integral component of communicative competence is pragmatic competence, which is currently omitted from most SALI curricula. Pragmatic competence is the ability to understand inferences, knowing how and when to speak directly or indirectly, and understanding what language to use in a variety of situations. There are a multitude of reasons for this lack of pragmatic instruction: pragmatics is seldom taught on teacher training courses, it is mentioned infrequently or inauthentically in textbooks, and teachers do not have access to pragmatic research data. Teachers often have to rely on their intuition to discuss pragmatics with students, even though research has shown intuition to be unreliable.

As pragmatic competence is essential for achieving communicative competence, and research shows that pragmatic instruction is effective, it is essential that teachers in SALI programs are able to incorporate pragmatic instruction into their lessons.  This article familiarizes teachers with pragmatics, pragmatic acquisition and instruction specifically in study abroad contexts, details a lesson plan which teachers can use to introduce their students to pragmatics, and outlines two tasks which promote autonomous pragmatic learning.

Author Biography

Caroline Webb, Union County College in New Jersey

Caroline currently teaches ESL at Union County College in New Jersey, U.S.A. She has 5 years’ experience teaching EFL at private language schools in Italy and in England and recently earned her Master’s in TESOL from the University of Bristol, England.