Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Culture-specific Language Aspects: How to Express Politeness in English - Report on Dr Kyriaki Koukouraki's Session

Dr K. Koukouraki has been teaching English and German for over 15 years. She worked for 5 years as lecturer for Translation and Pragmatics at the Ionian University, Corfu, Greece and is currently teaching Translation Strategies and Principles at the New York College, Thessaloniki. Dr Koukouraki gave us an insight in the concept of politeness in L2 acquisition. 

Her talk started with an apt comic strip of “How to be British collection” to discuss the concept of politeness in English language as a universal value, which is closely bound to its culture-specific verbal and non-verbal manifestations. 

                                                                                                                          Photo by Fani Miniadou

After that, Dr Koukouraki explained the importance of pragmatic competence in Second Language Learning (SLL) and correlated the communicative with the pragmatic competence. Since learning a foreign language (here: English) aims among other things at achieving successful communication with speakers of this particular language, pragmatic competence, i.e. ‘the ability to use language appropriately in a social context’ (Taguchi, 2009), is of paramount significance in the EFL classroom. 

Dr Koukouraki raised the inevitable question: “What can teachers do?” and gave us some handful advice to raise awareness while teaching English in relation to pragmatic competence, and more specifically for politeness markers. First and foremost, she suggested arranging opportunities in such a way that they benefit the development of pragmatic competence in L2. Then she proposed the use of authentic material within the ESL classroom. Finally, a task-based approach is what helps maintain a holistic approach in learning. 

Subsequently she explained that the concept of politeness per se intents to minimize conflict in an interaction and made a link to pragmatic competence and to SLL. Politeness can be expressed through various linguistic features like honorifics and the messages which are conveyed through them. We discussed concepts of formality, social distance, politeness, humility and respect. The juxtaposition of the honorific titles in English and in Greek, was a bright moment. 

                                                                                                        Photo by Fani Miniadou

Then, Dr Koukouraki raised awareness on the multifacetedness of making requests, especially in English. According to Searle (1969), a request is a directive speech act whose illocutionary purpose is to get the hearer to do something in circumstances in which is not obvious that they will perform the action in the normal course of events, as Dr Koukouraki highlighted. Moreover she distinguished the types of requests and made a comparison between expressing politeness in English and Greek. In addition, she introduced the concept of apologising in both British English and American English focusing on the reasons and the frequency they apologise. Summing up her presentation, Dr Koukouraki presented aspects of gender neutral language and politically correctness.

Finally, according to Dr Koukouraki, when teaching foreign languages the focus should expand beyond merely conveying vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. A holistic approach which integrates culture-specific language aspects will raise learners’ cross-cultural awareness and foster a better understanding of the respective language and its culture.

Report by Fani Miniadou 

1 comment:

  1. I think speaking a language is as important as writing it, or in whatever you do, do your best. Although it may take time to perfect speaking English, it is best to try it without the "bahala na" way of thinking.

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