English Teaching & Learning

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 75–94 | Cite as

The Impact of Instruction on the Pragmatic Comprehension of Speech Acts of Apology, Request, and Refusal Among Iranian Intermediate EFL Learners

  • Ali Derakhshan
  • Ali Arabmofrad
Original Paper


Theoretical and pedagogical attention in pragmatic competence and instruction for second- and foreign language learners has culminated in the growing body of literature on teaching pragmatics. Based on cognitively oriented second-language acquisition (SLA) theories, most studies on pragmatic intervention have primarily focused on dichotomous teaching approaches including explicit vs. implicit as well as inductive vs. deductive interventions. However, very few studies have capitalized on more dynamic teaching approaches taking advantage of authentic video-driven vignettes. Therefore, the present study sought to find out the impact of video-enhanced input on the comprehension of three speech acts of apology, request, and refusal on 69 (27 males and 42 females) Iranian intermediate EFL learners who were randomly divided into four homogenous groups (i.e., metapragmatic, form-search, interactive translation, and control) based on the results of the Oxford Quick Placement Test (OQPT). The four groups were accordingly exposed to 60 video vignettes (20 for each speech act) extracted from different episodes of Friends and Seinfeld sitcoms as well as Annie Hall movie for eight 60-min sessions of instruction twice a week. Results of the multiple-choice discourse completion test (MDCT) (Birjandi and Derakhshan Applied Research on English Language, 3(1), 67-85, 2014) revealed that metapragmatic consciousness-raising, form-search, and interactive translation groups led to the development of pragmatic comprehension from pretest to posttest. Furthermore, the results of the post hoc test of Tukey (HSD) demonstrated that while the form-search group had a better performance than interactive translation and control groups, the metapragmatic group outperformed the other treatment groups. In the light of the gained results, the findings might provide pedagogical implications for pragmatic practitioners and theoreticians as well as materials developers, teachers, and learners. Finally, it concludes with some avenues for further research.


Consciousness-raising Form-search Interactive translation Metapragmatic Pragmatics 

伊朗中級英語學習者之研究: 道歉、請求、拒絕言語行為的語用理解教學摘要

對英語為第二語言及外語的學習者, 在語用能力和教授中, 理論和教學注意力已在語用學教學研究文獻中達到巔峰。根基於認知導向的第二語言習得(SLA)理論, 大部分採用語用學為主之研究著重在二分法的教學方法; 例如:顯性對隱性及歸納法對演繹法之導入。然而, 顯少之研究是利用大量真實視頻片段作為教學研究。本研究旨在經由視頻增強輸入道歉、請求及拒絕言語行為理解之影響。研究對象為69伊朗以英語為外語的中級學習者; 其中27是男性及42是女性。依據牛津快速分級測驗 (Oxford Quick Placement Test, OQPT) 結果, 他們隨機被分配到四個同質性的組: 後設語用組、形式搜尋組、互動式翻譯組以及控制組。這四組需觀看60部視頻片段, 一個言語行為有20部視頻片段, 每一個視頻片段取自於兩部情境喜劇六人行 (Friends) 和歡樂單身派對 (Seinfeld) 以及一部電影安妮霍爾 (Annie Hall) 。研究對象必須參加每週兩次的教學課程, 每次課程為八堂課, 每堂60分鐘。研究發現, 根據Birjandi & Derakhshan (2014) 制訂選擇型言談填充問卷 (multiple choice discourse completion test, MDCT) 分析結果, 在後測中, 發現後設語用意識提升、形式搜尋及互動式翻譯會導致語用理解的發展; 另外, 依據杜凱氏誠實顯著性差異 (Tukey HSD) 事後檢定結果, 發現雖然形式搜尋組比互動式翻譯組和控制組有較好的表現, 但是後設語用組的表現卻優於其它實驗組。針對上述研究結果並提供給語用實踐家和理論家、教材開發商、老師以及學生相關教學建議。最後, 總結一些方向做為未來研究之參考。


意識提升 形式搜尋 互動式翻譯 後設語用 語用學 


Gaining a special attention from investigators and practitioners, interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) is still a growing area in second-language acquisition. LoCastro (2003) defines pragmatics as “the study of speaker and hearer meaning created in their joint actions that include both linguistic and non-linguistic signals in the context of socio-culturally organized activities” (p. 15). Previous studies on pragmatics have documented that different aspects of pragmatics are amenable to instruction (Alcón-Soler 2013; Alcón-Soler and Martı’nez-Flor 2005; Birjandi and Derakhshan 2014; Derakhshan and Eslami 2015; Kasper and Roever 2005; Martínez-Flor 2008, 2016; Nemati and Arabmofrad 2014; Rose 2005; Taguchi 2008; Tajeddin et al. 2012; Takahashi 2005).

In the second-language context, learners can be enriched through exposure to the great opportunities of using the target language for their real-life purposes. On the contrary, Kasper (2001) argues that learners have little chance to get engaged in authentic communication to get sufficient pragmatic knowledge in the foreign language contexts. Moreover, the foreign language classroom might expose learners to a decontextualized setting to promote pragmatic acquisition. It is cogently postulated that naturalist and authentic opportunities for human interaction are quite limited in the foreign language contexts which per se would result in poor pragmatic competence (Eslami-Rasekh 2005; Gilmore 2004; Kasper 2001; Kasper and Rose 1999; Taguchi 2015; Vellenga 2004) and the materials about pragmatic norms and conventions of the given language in textbooks to which learners are exposed lack contextualization (Bardovi-Harlig 2001; Bardovi-Harlig et al. 1991; Vellenga 2004). By the same token, some researchers contend that course book conversations are rather controlled and provide unreliable sources of information to tap on pragmatic acquisition (Bardovi-Harlig et al. 1991; Rahimi Domakani et al. 2013; Boxer and Pickering 1995; Garza 1996; Gilmore 2004). Furthermore, it is mentioned that limited interaction hours in big classes are responsible for little opportunity to maximize and simulate intercultural interaction in English as a foreign language (EFL) setting which in part blocks pragmatic learning (Rose 1999). Alternatively, Bardovi-Harlig and Dörnyei (1998) put forward that EFL learners may utter grammatically perfect sentences, but they may fail to follow the social norms of the target language because they do not have sufficient pragmatic input.

Bearing these challenges in mind, second- and foreign language learners encounter difficulty in learning pragmatics to interweave “form-function-context” relations that are sociopragmatically and pragmalinguistically appropriate; therefore, it stands to reason to incorporate pragmatics into classroom pedagogy (Taguchi 2015, p. 4). As a result, ILP researchers have embraced the idea of incorporating the use of authentic audiovisual input and the role of intervention in EFL/ESL contexts. Large amounts of research implemented (Alcón-Soler 2005; Eslami-Rasekh 2005; Rose 1994; Washburn 2001) were justified on the grounds that both sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic consciousness are considerably difficult for EFL students. These researchers argue that real audiovisual input gives a lot of opportunities to focus on all facets of language use, including form, meaning, function, and linguistic and non-linguistic means. Since many studies have focused on pragmatic production through dichotomous teaching approaches (Kasper and Rose 2002), it is, consequently, hypothesized that video-driven vignettes may be helpful to expose students to the sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic features of the target language to address pragmatic comprehension by drawing on more dynamic teaching approaches such as metapragmatic, form-search, and interactive translation which are fully explained in sections 3.5.1, 3.5.2, and 3.5.3.


Consciousness-Raising and Noticing Hypotheses: the Rationales Behind this Study

Kasper and Rose (2002) assert that the first explicit cognitive psychological theory to shed light on pragmatic development can be traced back to no more than the early 1990s. Sharwood Smith’s (1981, 1993) consciousness-raising (CR) and Schmidt’s (1993, 2001) noticing hypotheses are considered to be two of the most important cognitive processing approaches suggested in second-language acquisition (SLA). Sharwood Smith (1993) argues that “CR implies that the learner’s mental state is altered by the input; hence, all input is intake” (p. 176). Considering the fact that CR has an important role in enhancing features of language, Rose (1994) suggests video prompts as an approach to boost pragmatic consciousness-raising since they can cater for the main facets of pragmatics which not only can be exploited by instructors of native speakers, but also non-native ones.

In line with Sharwood Smith, Schmidt (1993, 2001) insists that the noticing hypothesis is primarily focused on the first phase of input processing and the attentional needs for input to become intake. Schmidt (1990) hypothesizes that any target L2 component needs to be considered by the learner for learning to happen: “subliminal language learning is impossible and that noticing is the necessary and sufficient condition for converting input into intake.” Furthermore, Schmidt mentions that “in order to acquire pragmatics, one must attend to both the linguistic form of utterances and the relevant social and contextual features with which they are associated” (p. 30). It is, therefore, perceived that pragmatic knowledge is partly conscious and partly accessible to consciousness. In other words, simple exposure to sociolinguistically appropriate input is not sufficient for second-language acquisition of pragmatic and discoursal knowledge since the pragmatic functions are sometimes vague to language learners and the relevant contextual factors are likely to be defined differently.

Related Empirical Studies in Pragmatic Development Using Video-Driven Prompts

In the EFL context of Iran, learners are provided with little or almost no contact with English language and its culture outside the classroom. They often are not successful learners to recognize the correct function of speech acts in EFL educational contexts. Considering communication as a substantial and fundamental reason for language learning, English learners are required to use English speech acts in order to fulfill some essential and basic functional needs such as refusing an invitation, using apologizing expressions, and producing a number of requests. As a consequence of the limitations and challenges connected to dealing with teaching sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic properties in the second-language setting pointed out above, the use of real audiovisual, video-enhanced materials and the role of teaching have received considerable attention in the development of pragmatics. Similar to other realms of language learning, Alcón-Soler (2005) insists that students could have exposure to pragmatic input through textbook conversations, classroom interaction, and movies.

Likewise, Crandall and Basturkmen (2004) argued that the pragmatic input provided in textbook conversations lacks simulation and contextualization. Similarly, Canning-Wilson and Wallace (2000) accentuated that audiovisual materials supplement our classes with a contextualized view of language which per se assists learners to envisage words and meanings as well as norms and conventions for appropriate language use. Rose (1994) observed that videotaped discourse embraces “rich recoverable contexts which can be exploited in consciousness-raising activities” (p. 58). Sherman (2003) concurred that video input has been considered as an incomparable resource that makes language learning process possible in the classroom context since it equips learners with realistic models to practice and develop their audiovisual perceptions.

Takahashi (2005) investigated the impacts of instruction on L2 pragmatic development by analyzing the way in which Japanese EFL students notice target English request forms by means of a form-comparison (FC) situation and a form-search (FS) condition. Comparing their request forms with the ones given by native English speakers, members in the FC group then discussed any aspects of native-speaker request realization. Students in the FS group discussed any “native-like usage” in the input including the targets. For this purpose, 49 Japanese college learners who were freshmen or sophomores were placed in two general English classes: 25 learners in FC and 24 students in FS. The findings showed that during the treatment period, the students in the form-comparison situation learned the target request forms to a greater extent than the students in the form-search setting. In the present study, form-search condition was utilized so as to find out to what extent it could possibly sensitize EFL learners’ pragmatic development and to unearth to what extent it could make learners’ consciousness towards sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic features.

More recently, Derakhshan and Eslami (2015) conducted a study to explore the effect of discussion, role play, and interactive translation teaching approaches employing video-driven prompts on the development of two speech acts of apology and request on 60 upper-intermediate EFL learners. The groups were exposed to 36 video extracts including 18 requests and 18 apologies extracted from different episodes of the Flash Forward, Stargate TV series, and the film Annie Hall. Results demonstrated that the three groups’ pragmatic awareness of requests and apologies improved from pretest to posttest, but the results of the post hoc Scheffe test illustrated that the discussion group outperformed the role play as well as interactive translation groups. Their findings lend support to Sharwood Smith’s (1981, 1993) consciousness-raising and Schmidt’s (1993, 2001) noticing hypotheses, but their study focused on only two speech acts of request and refusal and it lacked a control group to find the causality of instruction.

Since video prompts enjoy some merits compared to naturalistic observations and textbooks (Grant and Starks 2001; Koike 1995; Martı’nez-Flor 2008 2016), and because most studies on ILP have primarily focused on dichotomous teaching approaches and not on metapragmatic consciousness-raising, interactive translation, and form-search approaches, it stands to reason to incorporate these three teaching interventions employing video-driven vignettes on the comprehension of apology, request, and refusal in an Iranian context.

Research Questions

To explore the possible contributions of three teaching approaches being enriched through video-driven prompts, the present study focused on the following questions:
  1. 1.

    Do interactive translation approach, metapragmatic consciousness-raising approach, and form-search approach enhance Iranian intermediate EFL learners’ comprehension of apology, request, and refusal?

  2. 2.

    Is there any significant difference in Iranian intermediate EFL learners’ pragmatic comprehension of apology, request, and refusal across metapragmatic consciousness-raising, form-search, and interactive translation approaches using video-driven prompts?




Ninety-seven Iranian EFL learners studying English at Hezare Sevom English Language Institute, Mashhad, Iran, participated in this study. Based on the results of the Oxford Quick Placement Test (OQPT), of 97 learners, 69 (27 males and 42 females, ranging in age from 17 to 27) of them whose scores ranged from 24 to 30 were considered as intermediate students and were selected to be the participants of the present study. They were then randomly divided into metapragmatic group (MPG), form-search group (FSG), interactive translation group (ITG), and control group (CG). The form-search group consisted of 18 learners (6 males and 12 females) ranging in age from 17 to 25. The metapragmatic group consisted of 19 learners (8 males and 11 females) ranging in age from 16 to 27. The interactive translation group had 17 learners (7 males and 10 females) ranging in age from 18 to 26, and the control group consisted of 15 learners (6 males and 9 females) ranging in age from 18 to 27. The participants’ demographic information showed that they did not have any living experiences in English-speaking countries.

Test Instruments

The Oxford Quick Placement Test

To homogenize the participants in terms of English language proficiency, the P and P version of the Oxford Quick Placement Test (OQPT) consisting of two parts was administered. The participants took only the first part due to their proficiency level. According to the guidelines of the test, as illustrated in Table 1, the students who scored between 24 and 30 are intermediate and, therefore, could participate in this research.
Table 1

The Oxford Quick Placement Test scoring criterion


Proficiency level









Listening Pragmatic Test of Request, Refusal, and Apology

The listening MDCT was adopted from Birjandi and Derakhshan (2014) which consists of 25 conversations chosen from Interchange Series (Richards 2005), Top Notch Series (Saslow and Ascher 2006), American English File Series (Oxenden et al. 2008), and Touchstone Series (McCarthy et al. 2005). Each conversation includes eight questions, three of which measure metapragmatic competence, three of which measure pragmalinguistic ability, one of which measures sociopragmatic ability, and the last one, i.e., question 8, measures the perception of the speech act included under pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic competence (see Appendix). Eight conversations include speech act of apology with 64 questions, eight conversations deal with the speech act of request with 64 questions, and nine conversations encompass speech act of refusal with 72 questions followed by one practice conversation to make the test takers familiar with the specific characteristics of the test. In other words, the test encompasses 200 questions.

As a result, the present study took advantage of the Pragmatic Assessment Rubrics subsuming three constructs which are as follows:
  1. (a)

    Linguistic facets (pragmalinguistic competence);

  2. (b)

    Cultural facets (sociopragmatic competence); and

  3. (c)

    Analytic aspects (competence to examine and evaluate pragmatic use—referred to as metapragmatic competence, Ishihara 2010).


From the pragmalinguistic point of view, and keeping authenticity in mind, the present study utilized vocabulary, phrases, and strategies for the speech acts of apology, request, and refusal and the choice and use of pragmatic tone (Ishihara 2010). Regarding sociopragmatic competence, this study initiated the level of formality and courtesy. In addition to evaluating linguistic and cultural aspects of students’ pragmatic knowledge, we aimed to assess learners’ pragmatic knowledge of the L2. Such metapragmatic data deal with contextual information considered in terms of social status, social and psychological distance, and degree of imposition (Brown and Levinson 1987; Ishihara 2010).

Scoring System and Reliability Indices

Since just one answer was considered as the correct answer, correct and incorrect responses were assigned 1 and 0, respectively. In order to measure the internal consistency index of binary variables, KR20 formula which is a particular case of Cronbach’s alpha was used. Table 2 demonstrates the reliability indices of test of pragmatic comprehension across the four groups in pre- and posttests.
Table 2

Reliability statistics for pretest and posttests of listening pragmatic comprehension



















Instructional Materials

Sixty video vignettes including 20 apologies, 20 requests, and 20 apologies were chosen from different episodes of Annie Hall movie, Friends sitcom, and Seinfeld sitcom. According to Rose (1997), Seinfeld sitcom was opted because it could provide the students with strategies of request, refusal, and apology. Friends sitcom was taken into account because it is replete with myriads of speech acts. Twenty video prompts for each speech act were chosen to cover different settings like work, school, prison, home, restaurant, and hospital store. Following Rose (1999), Annie Hall film was selected because it could give the learners the strategies of requests and apologies and analysis of language forms besides good discussions on the appropriateness of forms in relation to the contexts. The excerpts contain direct requests (Annie, tell Dr. Flicker; Stop it, Annie), conventionally indirect (Annie, would you like a lift?), and non-conventionally indirect requests (I have a car; Annie’s friend talking to him at the gym). The prompts covered direct refusals using both performative verbs (I refuse.), non-performative statement (I cant.), and indirect refusals (statement of regret, wish, an excuse, a reason, a promise, etc.). Besides, the video prompts contained different strategies of apologies such as an expression of apology (Please forgive me!), acknowledgment of responsibility (I was confused/I totally goofed.), an explanation or account (The bus was late again.), an offer of repair (How can I make it up to you?), and a promise of non-recurrence (I wont do that again.) (Cohen and Olshtain 1981, p. 119–125).


Pretest/posttest quasi-experimental control group design was considered as the appropriate design for the present study. The performance of the control group indicated how the other three groups became aware of the sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic components. The three groups, apart from the control group which was provided with a normal conversational treatment, were exposed to vignettes selected from different episodes of Annie Hall movie, Friends, and Seinfeld sitcoms. The main purpose of these vignettes was to give students awareness of the sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic facets included in making apologies, requests, and refusals. Each group was given 60 video excerpts, 20 requests, 20 apologies, and 20 refusals. Eight 60-min sessions of teaching on the video prompts were implemented during 2 days every week for 4 weeks. Each group received a treatment explained one by one as follows:

Form-Search Group

The form-search group included 18 students (6 males and 12 females) ranging in age from 17 to 25. Following Takahashi (2005), in this group, any “native-like usage” in the input including forms of the target language was featured. We highlighted the grammatical structures (e.g., I was wondering if...), strategies for speech acts of apology, request, and refusal, vocabulary, phrases (e.g., a big favor), choice, and use of pragmatic tone.

The Metapragmatic Awareness-Raising Group

Nineteen students (8 males and 11 females) ranging in age from 16 to 27 were in this group and the pragmalinguistic and sociolinguistic components were clearly featured which are as follows:

Linguistic Aspects: Pragmalinguistic Ability

Ishihara (2010) points out that teachers assessing learners’ receptive and productive pragmatic ability with a focus on the language forms would be answering questions such as the following:
  1. (1)

    To what extent do learners understand the language as intended by the speaker?

  2. (2)

    How is the learner’s language most likely interpreted by L2 community members in terms of the dimension(s) below?

  3. (3)

    To what extent is the language effective in conveying the speaker’s intention?


The specific dimensions of language include the choice and use of the following: vocabulary/phrases, different grammatical, structures (e.g., Can you.../Would it be possible...?/Could you please……/I was wondering if.../), direct and indirect strategies for a speech act, choice and use of discourse markers and fillers, choice and use of pragmatic tone, rhetorical structures, and choice and use of epistemic stance markers (i.e., words and phrases to show the speaker’s stance, such as I think and, seem) (Ishihara 2010). The list of pragmalinguistic ability represents an array of potential evaluative criteria; however, the present study drew upon vocabulary and phrases, strategies for a speech act, and choice and use of pragmatic tone.

Cultural Aspects: Sociopragmatic Ability

Ishihara (2010) provides a list of specific dimensions of the sociopragmatic ability to be taken into account to assess cultural aspects of learners’ pragmatic awareness and use:
  1. (a)

    The choice and use of speech acts as well as level of politeness, formality, and directness;

  2. (b)

    The handling of cultural norms in the target language: the extent to which the speakers adhere to appropriate cultural norms (if in fact this is their intent); and

  3. (c)

    The handling of the cultural reasoning or ideologies behind the L2 pragmatic norms: the extent to which learners adopt target culture ideologies (if this is their intent) (Ishihara 2010, p. 295).


Of the dimensions enumerated here, the present study embarked upon the level of formality and politeness.

Analytic Aspects: Metapragmatic Ability

The analytic aspect presupposes the metapragmatic information which entails contextual information such as the degree of severity or imposition, role relationship, and social status (Brown and Levinson 1987; Ishihara 2010). Language use is influenced by a number of extra-linguistic factors. The following are known to be the major elements:
  1. (a)

    Social status (S). Relative social status of the speaker/writer and the listener/reader.

  2. (b)

    Distance (D). Level of social distance and psychological distance (how distant or close the speaker/writer and listener/reader feel to each other).

  3. (c)

    Intensity or Imposition (I). Intensity of the act (e.g., the magnitude of the imposition in a request or the severity of the infraction in an apology).


The Translation Group

The interactive translation group consisted of 17 students (7 males and 10 females) ranging in age from 18 to 26. Interactive translation activity drew on the method of interactive thinking aloud. According to House’s (2008) study, participants in our study were required to cooperatively translate the texts and articulate their ideas during the translation process. Furthermore, the participants were given the scripts in order to get involved in the interactive translation process.

Whenever necessary, translation was done by the teacher to reflect the conversation as closely as possible. Moreover, the teacher analyzed the translation of video prompts in detail from semantic, pragmatic, and textual perspectives by relating the translation to its source culture as well as target cultural context. As posited by House (2008), we focused on concepts of field, tenor, and mode which encapsulate three sociolinguistic dimensions of the context. Field has to do with the social activity and subject matter covering specific vocabulary and verbs. Tenor entails nature of the “participants, role relationship, social power and familiarity, the degree of emotional charge, and the temporal, intellectual, and affective” characteristics of the interlocutors (p. 139). In a nutshell, tenor characterizes the social attitude of the interlocutors. Besides, mode in the present study was spoken not written. Therefore, translation is a reciprocal process since “not only two languages but also two cultures come into contact” (House 2008, p. 137). Moreover, translating is considered as a “form of intercultural communication in the head of the translators” (House 2008, p. 137).

We believe that such a reciprocal process that happens in the translation activity is more rewarding than thinking aloud in isolation while translating. The participants in this group discussed similarities and differences with regard to their intercultural norms of the Persian and English. They were then asked to act out the dialogs and translate them. They also worked on different patterns and ways of making requests, refusals, and apologies in different situations both formally and informally. Like the other treatment groups, different strategies for making apologies, requests, and refusals were translated by the students with an emphasis on different strategies to make them aware of different patterns of translation.

The Control Group

The 15 students in the control group (6 males and 9 females) ranged in age from 18 to 27. No instruction was given to the control group on the use of speech acts. The students took their normal conversation course, i.e., Touchstone 3 (McCarthy et al. 2005). The pragmalinguistic and sociolinguistic components were not taken into account.

Data Analysis

The analysis of variance was drawn upon, with the treatments as the independent variable and the participants’ gain (or loss) from the pretest to the posttest as the dependent variable. In this respect, paired sample t test, a one-way ANOVA, and the post hoc test of Tukey (HSD) were used to compare the effectiveness of the three experimental treatments regarding the participants’ ability in the comprehension of three speech acts.


Research Question One

The first research question was concerned with the possible effects of different kinds of instruction, namely metapragmatic consciousness-raising, form-search, and interactive translation approaches on the learners’ comprehension of apology, request, and refusal. Table 3 gives a general overview of the results in pre- and posttests.
Table 3

Descriptive statistics for the pretest and posttest listening pragmatic comprehension




Interactive translation






























As depicted in Table 3, there was an increase in the mean scores from the pretest to the posttest among the three treatment groups. A comparison of the means of pre- and posttests in the three experimental groups demonstrated a gain score of 50.37 for the metapragmatic group, 33.55 for the form-search group, and 16.7 for the interactive translation group. That is, the largest difference in the means was observed in the metapragmatic group, and the smallest difference was seen in the interactive translation group. Moreover, a quick look at the mean differences in experimental groups indicates that the metapragmatic group outperformed the form-search and interactive translation groups (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Pretest and posttest means of the four groups

Next, a one-way ANOVA was carried out to determine whether any significant differences might be observed for the pretest of the four groups. The results in Table 4 indicate that there is no significant difference between the experimental and control groups’ scores on the pretest (F(3, 68) = 0.005, p = .999, α = 0.05). Therefore, any changes in the mean scores of the groups in the posttest meant that it could not be related to preexisting differences between the groups but to the different interventions they received separately.
Table 4

ANOVA pretest for the four groups


Sum of squares


Mean square



Between groups






Within groups








To understand whether the mean increase from pre- to posttests was significant, paired sample t tests were run. As Table 5 reveals, there was a significant difference between pretest and posttest of the metapragmatic group (t (18) = − 22.44, p = .00 < .05), form-search group (t (17) = − 12.84, p = .00 < .05), and interactive translation group (t (16) = − 6.92, p = .00 < .05). However, no significant difference was observed in the control group (t (14) = − 0.68, p = .5 > .05).
Table 5

Paired sample test for the control and experimental groups


Paired differences



Sig. (2-tailed)


Std. deviation

Std. error mean

95% confidence interval of the difference





− 50.36



− 55.08

− 45.65

− 22.44




− 33.55



− 39.06

− 28.04

− 12.84



Interactive translation

− 16.70



− 21.82

− 11.59

− 6.92




− 1.06



− 4.39


− 0.68



Research Question Two

The second question was to examine whether there would be any significant difference in learners’ pragmatic comprehension across the three kinds of metapragmatic consciousness-raising intervention, form-search, interactive translation, and the control group. To answer the second question, a one-way ANOVA was run. The results, as indicated in Table 6, show that there was a significant difference between the four groups (F(3, 68) = 0.005, p = .999 (α = 0.05)). The amount of variability between groups (sum of squares (SS) between groups = 22,403.74) is different from the amount of variability within the groups (SS within groups = 20,417.90), which indicates that there is some difference in the groups. Moreover, the F ratio (with three degrees of freedom) is larger than the observed value of F (23.77), which means that significant group differences were observed with regard to performance of the four groups. The ANOVA table shows just the fact that there is a meaningful difference, but it does not tell us where the differences exactly are. Therefore, in order to find out exactly where the differences lie, a post hoc test of Tukey (HSD) was used.
Table 6

One-way ANOVA posttest


Sum of squares


Mean square



Between groups






Within groups








The post hoc test of Tukey, as revealed in Table 7, indicates that metapragmatic group outperformed the other three groups. Moreover, form-search group outperformed interactive translation and the control group. However, there was no significant difference between interactive translation group and control group.
Table 7

The multiple comparison posttest Tukey HSD

(I) Treatment

(J) Treatment

Mean difference (IJ)

Std. error


95% confidence interval

Lower bound

Upper bound








Interactive translation














− 16.53216*



− 31.9033

− 1.1610

Interactive translation














− 33.30341*



− 48.9050

− 17.7018



− 16.77124*



− 32.5762

− 0.9663






− 1.3038




− 48.55439*



− 64.6956

− 32.4132


− 32.02222*



− 48.3601

− 15.6844

Interactive translation

− 15.25098



− 31.8058


*The mean difference is significant at the 0.05 level


To reiterate what Kasper and Rose (2002) accentuated, the first research question focused on whether the pragmatic features in apology, request, and refusal were amenable to instruction and whether instruction would make any difference. The findings of the present study revealed that sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic features are, in fact, teachable. The second question explored whether different teaching approaches are effective on the Iranian intermediate EFL learner’s comprehension of apology, request, and refusal. Data analysis related to this research question demonstrated that different teaching approaches were effective, that is, the metapragmatic consciousness-raising group outperformed form-search, interactive translation, and control groups. The outcomes of this study confirm the former research on the positive impact of teaching on learners’ advancement of pragmatics (Alcón-Soler 2007; Alcón-Soler and Martı’nez-Flor 2005; Bardovi-Harlig 2001; Kasper and Roever 2005; Martı’nez-Flor 2016; Zangoei et al. 2014a, 2014b).

Schmidt’s (1990, 1993, 2001) noticing hypothesis and Sharwood Smith’s (1981, 1993) consciousness-raising shed light on the findings of the present study because metapragmatic instruction played a major role in making students conscious of a number of extra-linguistic contextual factors like social status, distance, and imposition. Moreover, Alcón-Soler and Pitarch (2010) argue that “high levels of attention-drawing activities are more helpful for pragmatic learning than exposure to positive evidence” (p. 66). Following the postulations put forward about the value and superiority of audiovisual input (Alcón-Soler 2005, 2007; Alcón-Soler and Pitarch 2010; Martı’nez-Flor 2008, 2016), the findings of the present study confirm that video vignettes can be utilized by EFL instructors to sensitize students to sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic components.

The rationale underpinning the superiority of metapragmatic group over interactive translation and form-search groups may be attributed to the amount of attention and awareness in the metapragmatic group since learners in this group had to verbalize the detection of linguistic, analytic, cultural, pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic features during the comprehension of speech acts, while there was no focus on analytic and cultural aspects in the form-search group. Moreover, in the present study, the instructor taught social status, distance, and imposition with respect to the analytic aspect. Regarding the cultural aspect, directness, formality, politeness, and cultural norms were accentuated. While in the form-search group, vocabulary and phrases, grammatical structures, strategies for a speech act, and the choice and use of pragmatic tone were highlighted, in the interactive translation group, the analytic and sociopragmatic features were not emphasized. This might account for the better performance of form-search group than interactive translation one. The findings of the present study remind us that in order to acquire pragmatics, individuals need to focus on both the linguistic form of utterances and the relevant social and contextual features with which they are associated. Simple exposure to sociolinguistically appropriate input is unlikely to be sufficient for second-language acquisition of pragmatic and discoursal knowledge (Schmidt 1995). More specifically, a metapragmatically aware L2 learner is someone who is able to articulate their pragmatic knowledge about the norms and conventions.

In the same vein, the findings of the present study lent support to Alcón-Soler’s (2005) study on the effect of video instruction on the development of requests. Unlike Alcón-Soler who investigated the effect of implicit vs. explicit teaching approaches and focused on only one speech act, the present study capitalized on different teaching approaches and three speech acts. Nonetheless, the findings of both studies supported the fact that learners’ pragmatic competence improved. Regarding the impact of explicit versus implicit interventions on learners’ awareness of request, Alcón-Soler (2005) reported that the explicit group had a better performance than the implicit group. Unlike Alcón-Soler’s (2005) findings, Kubota’s (1995) findings indicated that implicit group outperformed the explicit group. Alcón-Soler’s (2005) findings were consistent with those of our study in that the metapragmatic group outperformed both interactive translation and form-search groups. The contradictory finding is attributed to the fact that the metapragmatic group had an explicit instruction on the pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic features of these speech acts.

By the same token, the findings of the present study lent support to Derakhshan and Eslami’s (2015) study which gave priority to metapragmatic consciousness-raising input. On a par with Alcón-Soler’s (2007) and Rose and Ng’s (2001) studies embarking on dichotomous teaching approaches of implicit vs. explicit or deductive vs. inductive, our study showed that a development in pragmatic comprehension took place in all groups, but the metapragmatic group outperformed form-search, interactive translation, and control groups. The supremacy of metapragmatic group could also be justified with respect to Leech (1983) and Takimoto (2006) who argue that the instruction of pragmatics ought to include raising students’ awareness on the relationship between forms and meanings, forms and strategies to understand speech intentions, and social situations for the use of the target structures. It is suggested that audiovisual materials provide authentic and contextualized input in EFL/ESL classrooms to boost learners’ interlanguage pragmatic abilities. Moreover, the findings indicate that textbooks are usually not responsive enough to the most current pedagogical theories (Garza 1996; Gilmore 2004; Jiang 2006; Vellenga 2004) and that pragmatics plays a subsidiary role in textbooks and course materials (Bardovi-Harlig et al. 1991; Boxer and Pickering 1995). Therefore, the findings of the present study along with other studies (Alcón-Soler and Pitarch 2010; Derakhshan and Eslami 2015; Martı’nez-Flor 2008, 2016) seem to suggest that English teachers need to take the limitations of textbooks seriously and develop more contextualized teaching materials which are most conducive to learning to compensate for these pitfalls. We argue that if EFL/ESL learners want to operate independently in English outside the classroom, they need to be provided within authentic and contextualized language via consciousness-raising tasks.

Conclusion and Pedagogical Implications

The present study was set up to investigate the effect of video-driven prompts on three speech acts of apology, request, and refusal drawing on metapragmatic, form-search, and interactive translation approaches among Iranian intermediate EFL learners. Although Kondo (2008) contends that teaching pragmatics seems to be complex and challenging since pragmatic behavior changes to a large extent depending on the sociocultural contexts, the results of the present study substantiate that instruction had a positive effect on the learners’ pragmatic comprehension from pretest to posttest. More specifically, the results revealed that the metapragmatic group outperformed the other two groups in gaining more pragmatic knowledge which lent support to other studies done. Moreover, form-search group had a better performance than interactive translation and control groups. In general, the present study contributes to the literature on pragmatic development and pedagogy. The results of a host of studies have substantiated that most aspects of L2 pragmatics are amenable to instruction and that instructional intervention is more beneficial than no interventional treatments (Alcón-Soler and Martı’nez-Flor 2005; Kasper and Roever 2005; Rose 2005; Rose and Kasper 2001).

The present study concludes with some pedagogical implications for materials developers, teachers, and learners. Based on the findings of our study, it was shown that instruction had a positive impact on the pragmatic comprehension of apologies, requests, and refusals reiterating that pragmatics is a teachable drawing on different approaches of language teaching. With regard to learning pragmatics, learners need to pay attention to the language forms and sociocultural aspects of language as well as the relevant factors that affect the form in the given context. The results seem to suggest that mere exposure to contextualized input is unlikely to lead to students’ learning pragmatics. Therefore, learning is facilitated if the linguistic, analytic, and cultural aspects as well as sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic features are brought to the fore so as to develop form-function-context mappings and if the relationship between them is explored. When teaching different speech acts, teachers can highlight sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic features in the movies which could possibly lead to more pragmatic awareness, comprehension, and production. Teachers can also provide explicit information on the applicability of linguistic, analytic, and cultural aspects of the target language. In line with other researchers, we assume that teachers need to make their learners aware that scenes from movies, dramas, or plays often serve as a rich source of pragmatic input because they contain a variety of conversational exchanges in which the speaker’s reply does not provide a straightforward answer to the question (Birjandi and Derakhshan 2014). It means that speech acts are not necessarily framed within an adjacency pair since the “interactive nature of conversation is absent in the teaching of speech acts” (Kasper, as cited in Alcón-Soler and Pitarch 2010, p. 67). To deal with such a shortcoming, audiovisual materials seem to enrich our language classes if students are provided with enough feedback and communicative practice. The incorporation of sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic features in the textbooks should be taken seriously by textbook developers and materials designers. As stakeholders, they can maximize the amount of interaction and negotiation through contextualized video-driven materials to simulate real-life situations especially in EFL contexts.

The present study, like other studies, is subject to some limitations that need to be addressed in future research. One limitation pertained to the way learners’ comprehension ability was measured through multiple-choice discourse completion tasks. Regarding the number of variables and participants in the study, it was not practical to triangulate the data through other measures of speech act measurement, e.g., role play discourse completion tasks and self-assessment tasks. The other limitation of the present study dealt with the teaching methodology. More robust findings could have been gained if retrospective verbal reports, role play self-assessment task, discourse self-assessment task, and oral discourse completion task as well as written discourse completion test were used to measure the participants sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic knowledge. Moreover, other studies can investigate the effects of instruction on English speech acts among EFL learners from a discursive perspective both in the short and in the long term. Regarding the array of diverse options in teaching pragmatics, different forms of interventional treatments need to be pursued in future research to come to a more thorough understanding of the role of the learning context in the pragmatic development.


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© National Taiwan Normal University 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English Language and LiteratureGolestan UniversityGorganIran

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