The First-Year Speaking Class: Developing Pragmatic Fluency for Globally-Minded Learners

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Andrew R. Tidmarsh, Ehime University; Danielle L. Kurihara, Ehime University

Students often arrive at university producing stilted and passive conversations based on patterns learned from junior high school onwards. While grammatically correct, these patterns are often completely divorced from the reality of serious communication. Speaking classes for first-year students therefore present a golden opportunity for students to start asking themselves critically, “Does it make sense for me to say this?” Functioning with a degree of pragmatic competence is an essential step for learners in becoming skilled English users, equally comfortable communicating overseas or with non-Japanese at home. This article proposes (a) a conversation model as a safety net for novice speakers, (b) conversation strategies to correct five common pragmatic errors such as introducing topics at the wrong time, failure to announce topic change, ineffective listening leading to inappropriate questions, the policeman interview, the spotlight performance, and failure to end conversations appropriately, and (c) functions of conversation that generate student content and stay away from junior high school level topics. We also provide examples of real exchanges that took place in the classroom to show how pragmatic competence develops.