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Young EFL learners' frames of reference for making sense of pragmatic practices: Potential for teaching L2 pragmatics in primary school

by Milica Savić & Anders Myrset (University of Stavanger, Norway)



This presentation explores the various frames of reference young Norwegian EFL learners draw on and the evaluative stances they adopt (Kádár & Haugh, 2013; McConachy, 2019) to make sense of pragmatic practices in their first (L1) and foreign language (L2). The few previous studies investigating young EFL learners’ metapragmatic understandings focused almost exclusively on comprehension and/or evaluation of specific speech acts (Lee, 2010; Portolés, 2015; Zhang & Yan, 2012), primarily though tightly controlled elicitation tasks, which offer limited insights into young learners’ (YLs) reflections. The only glimpses into learners’ reflections and (co-)construction of pragmatic understandings are offered in Lee’s (2010) verbal protocol data and Ishihara’s (2013) pragmatics-focused classroom interactions. Thus, this presentation aims to address the knowledge gap regarding YLs’ dialogic sense-making and evaluation of L1 and L2 pragmatic practices.


Seventy-nine learners, attending 3rd, 5th and 7th grade of primary school (roughly aged 9, 11, and 13) were organised in groups of 3-4. They performed three tasks: a video-promoted oral discourse completion task (VODCT); an appraisal task based on requests produced in the VODCT (Emoticon task), followed by a group discussion of their appraisals; and a group ranking task (Ranking cycle) (see Myrset & Savić, 2021). This presentation, based on Savić and Mysret (2022), draws on three group discussions from the Ranking circle. These discussions illustrate 3rd, 5th and 7th grade learners’ evaluative language use and the various frames of reference they draw on in collaborative dialogue, when discussing and explicitly or implicitly comparing Norwegian and English pragmatic practices.


The discussions reveal diverse opinions withing groups and a variety of interpretative frames (McConachy, 2018) that emerged in group discussions, including lived experiences, the learners’ own feelings and perceived feelings of others, unarticulated L1 cultural assumptions, stereotypes about L1 and L2 speakers, and historical and cultural knowledge, which provide relevant insights into YLs’ developing metapragmatic understandings. In concert with their highly positive evaluations of L2 pragmatic practices, albeit often based on stereotypical views, the diversity of perspectives offers considerable potential for guided classroom discussions and for the future research. This potential is addressed towards the end of the presentation. 






Ishihara, Noriko (2013). “Is it rude language? Children learning pragmatics through visual narratives”. In: TESL Canada Journal 30 (7). 135-149.


Kádár, Dániel Z. / Haugh, Michael (2013). Understanding politeness. Cambridge University Press.


Lee, Cynthia (2010). “An exploratory study of the intercultural pragmatic comprehension of young learners of English”. In: Pragmatics 20 (3). 343-373.


McConachy, Troy (2018). Developing intercultural perspectives on language use: Exploring pragmatics and culture in foreign language learning. Multilingual Matters.


McConachy, Troy (2019). “L2 pragmatics as ‘intercultural pragmatics’: Probing sociopragmatic aspects of pragmatic awareness”. In: Journal of Pragmatics 151. 167-176.


Myrset, Anders / Savić, Milica (2021). “ “If an astronaut were on the moon…”. Eliciting metapragmatic data from young L2 learners”. In: Applied Pragmatics 3 (2).


Portolés, Laura (2015). Multilingualism and very young learners. An analysis of pragmatic awareness and language attitudes. Walter de Gruyter.


Savić, Milica / Myrset, Anders (2022). “But in England they`re certainly very polite, so you mustn’t forget that: Young EFL. Learners making sense of pragmatic practices”: In: McConachy, Troy & Liddicoat, Anthony (eds.). Teaching and learning second language pragmatics for intercultural understanding, Routledge.


Zhang, Lei / Yan, Rong (2012). “Impact of immersion teaching on English sociopragmatic awareness of Chinese kindergarten children: A polite study”. In: International Education 41 (2). 33-45.