The Effect of Using the Minimal Context Approach
to Develop EFL Learners’ Pragmatic Competence
Ms Shu-Ru Xin Dr. Chuen-Teng Huang
Department of English
National Changhua University of Education
This study primarily aimed to investigate the effect of applying the minimal context approach in teaching routine formulas of three speech acts, i.e., apology, request, and gratitude, to EFL learners of Taiwan. The relationship between the students’ grammatical competence and their pragmatic competence was also to be examined. A total of 83 third-grade junior high school students participated in the study, with 41 students in the experimental group and 42 students in the control group. The experimental group received the instruction of the target routine formulas by adopting the minimal context approach, while the control group was instructed by the common practice in the local schools, which is generally classified as the traditional grammar-translation approach. The instruction treatments lasted for six weeks. A grammatical knowledge test was used to measure the subjects’ grammatical competence. A pragmatic knowledge pre-test and a post-test were used to measure and compare the learning effect of the speech act formulas. Pearson Correlation Coefficient was adopted to examine the relationship between the students’ grammatical competence and their pragmatic competence. Independent-samples t-test was used to examine the results of the pragmatic knowledge pre- and post- tests. Two major findings were found in the study. First, there was a moderate relationship between the students’ grammatical competence and their pragmatic competence, which is against the findings of some previous studies, e.g., Lii-Shih (1988), Kitao (1989), Hinkel (1994) and Bardovi-Harlig (1999). Second, the experimental group improved significantly more in their learning of speech act formulas than did the control group. The findings of the study suggest that adopting the minimal context approach to teach routine formulas of speech acts seems more effective than adopting the traditional Grammar-Translation approach, regardless of the learners’ grammatical knowledge levels. The idea that the meaning of a linguistic form is closely associated with the context in which it occurs is thus further validated from the findings of the study. Therefore, it is suggested that appropriate contexts, such as the proposed minimal contexts, can be designed to better facilitate the development of ESL/EFL learner’s pragmatic competence, particularly of learners in the EFL settings where target language use contexts are generally in poverty.