CRITICIZING AND RESPONDING TO CRITICISM IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE: A STUDY OF VIETNAMESE LEARNERS OF ENGLISH

| January 29, 2006
Title
CRITICIZING AND RESPONDING TO CRITICISM IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE: A STUDY OF VIETNAMESE LEARNERS OF ENGLISH

Author
Minh Thi Thuy Nguyen
University of Auckland
Abstract
Interlanguage pragmatics research has contributed a great deal to our understanding of L2 pragmatic use but less to our understanding of L2 pragmatic development, although developmental issues are also its primary research goal. Additionally, previous studies have been confined to a rather small set of speech acts, under- researching such face-damaging acts as criticizing and responding to criticism even though these may be more challenging for L2 learners.

The present study examines pragmatic development in the use of criticizing and responding to criticism by a group of Vietnamese EFL learners with a view to shedding light on the pragmatic properties of these speech acts. IL data were collected from 12 high beginners, 12 intermediate learners, and 12 advanced learners, via a written questionnaire and role play, and analyzed with reference to L1 and L2 baseline data collected from 12 Vietnamese and 12 Australian NSs via the same methods. Metapragmatic data were collected via retrospective interview.

Four main findings are discussed. Firstly, the learners criticized and responded to criticism very differently from the NSs. This difference might have adversely affected how the learners negotiated their intentions expressed via speech act realizations. Secondly, there was little evidence of any proficiency effect on the learners use of these two speech acts. This was probably because pragmatic development was limited by the EFL context, as the learners had had insufficient exposure to the target norms. Thirdly, there was evidence of pragmatic transfer in the learners production. This transfer was affected by the learners perception of L1-L2 proximity and assumption of L2 reasonableness. Finally, the retrospective interviews with learners suggested four main sources of influence on their pragmatic decision-making: insufficient L2 pragmatic knowledge, transfer of communication and learning, processing difficulty, and learning experience.

The present study lends support to a number of SLA theories, including Bialystoks processing model and Meisel et al. s complexification hypothesis. It found that the major challenge for learners in L2 pragmatic acquisition is to gain control over processing. It also found an acquisitional order of modality markers which was dependent upon their structural complexity and the processing demands involved in producing them.

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