Gaining Pragmatic Competence in English as a Second and a Foreign Language: The Effects of the Learning Environment and Overall L2 Proficiency
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This study explores the influence of the learning environment and overall L2 proficiency on the development of pragmatic competence, with reference to grammatical competence. Participants were three groups of English language learners: 120 international students who speak English as a second language from a research institute in a western state of the U.S. (ESL groups 1 & 2) and 60 Chinese college students in northeastern China who speak English as a foreign language (the EFL group). The participants were pre- and post-tested. They completed a questionnaire consisting of scenarios that measured their pragmatic and grammatical competence. Some of them were retrospectively interviewed in order to understand their decision-making on the tests and their academic and social life relating to their English language learning. The statistical results show that the learning environment did not play an active role in L2 pragmatics among these participants: learners, regardless of their places of residence, gained significant pragmatic competence, as well as grammatical competence, as their overall L2 proficiency developed. Descriptive findings also demonstrate that overall L2 proficiency was a more reliable predictor of competence in L2 pragmatics: Advanced learners outperformed less proficient learners in both aspects examined. Retrospective reports further illustrate the salient proficiency effect and the less significant environmental influence. These findings are important as this study is one of the first few to look at the effects of both the learning environment and overall L2 proficiency on L2 pragmatics from a developmental perspective, with reference to grammatical competence. It is also one of the first attempts to address the issues across settings by analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data. Hence, findings from this study add an informative data set to the literature and enhance the current understanding of the influence of the learning environment and L2 proficiency on L2 pragmatic development. Most important, these findings enrich the body of knowledge of how English is learned and used, and what it means to be a proficient language user in English as an international language.