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Using Language in Social Contexts (Pragmatics)
Are you ever at a loss for words or unsure what to say in unfamiliar situations where you need to make a request, ask permission to do something or greet someone you meet for the first time? If so, the issue may not be the spoken English you’ve been taught.
While many language training programs focus on proficiency in the four English language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing, one aspect of communication that is often not covered is something called ‘pragmatics’ or social language. This refers to a person’s ability to use and change their language for a number of different purposes; for example, to ask for permission or help, to greet or part, or disagree with others depending on the audience/ listener(s) and the situation or context, while following “rules for conversation”.
These “rules” are determined by the speakers’ and listeners’ culture.
In different cultures, the ‘accepted ways’ to, for instance, discuss controversial topics, vary. In some, it may be appropriate to interrupt other speakers and change topics abruptly; in others, people discuss these topics in a diplomatic way and one person waits until another has finished speaking before he/she talks or introduces a new topic.
Another example: in a meeting of senior executives, the chairperson might say, “This meeting is now closed,” whereas in a less formal meeting, a team leader might say, “Let’s call it a day.” Both statements are made at the end of a meeting, yet the context is different, so the speakers modify their language accordingly. The situation and the audience determine what language is appropriate.
Native speakers may find it easy to adjust their language in different situations for different audiences; such as in job interviews or performance reviews; however, non-native speakers must first interpret the situation or context (Who is my audience? Is this situation formal or informal?) and secondly, think of what to say (What kind of language is culturally appropriate?).
Not only do speakers have to adjust their spoken language; they must also adjust their non-verbal and body language (eye movement, facial expression, posture, arm and hand gestures, tone and volume of voice).
Why does using social language appropriately matter?
Problems with “pragmatics” can lower social acceptance. Native speakers often interpret inappropriate use of social language as rude behaviour rather than a ‘gap’ in language learning, whereas they usually consider pronunciation errors a language learning problem.
How can internationally-trained professionals overcome these challenges?
First, they should look for training courses in communications that cover pragmatics, and focus on conversation, listening and speaking skills.
Second, they should read newspapers, particularly editorials and regular columns.
Third, watch the news and shows with live debates on television like “The Fifth Estate”.
Collocation is the habitual grouping of a particular word or words with another word or words; particularly nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. They are word ‘partnerships’ and unlike idioms, the individual words in a collocation contribute to the overall meaning.
The way words combine in collocation is key to language use. Using collocations leads to effective communication. Collocations are like chunks of speech that make it easier to express complete ideas. Understanding and learning collocation improves vocabulary skills and helps with the acquisition of correct pronunciation: fixed expressions provide you with the stress pattern of the phrase as a whole.
Examples are spare time, spare change, get married and go bankrupt.
Happy New Year, Happy Anniversary, Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas are all collocations. Although ‘happy’ and ‘merry’ are synonyms, we do not say Merry New Year or Merry Birthday or Happy Christmas.
Collocations are exact. House work is not the same as home work; nor are overhang and hangover or look over and overlook the same.
There are several types of collocation, including:
Examples of each type are:
The best definition of effective teamwork is “a group of people who work together cohesively, toward a common goal, creating a positive working atmosphere and who support each other to combine individual strengths to enhance team performance.”
Understanding and identifying team roles is important for successful teamwork: team members need to value and respect each type of individual and role.
Team members who are action-oriented are more focused on tasks than people, have a lot of ‘drive’ and like to see results. They are good at turning ideas into action and deliver on time.
Team members who are people-oriented include co-ordinators and team workers. Co-ordinators are confident and clear about goals. They are good at delegating activities, motivating and involving people. They promote effective decision-making. Team workers are co-operative, diplomatic and ‘mild-mannered’. They listen to others’ opinions, try to avoid conflict and seek harmony in the team.
Team members who are ideas-oriented are creative and imaginative. They are bored by routines and do not always ‘play by the rules’. They have a different way of looking at things and are good at solving difficult problems.
All these team ‘roles’ are necessary for effective teamwork and each team member must value the skills and strengths of the others.
Team members need to be able to communicate clearly and explain their own ideas as well as listen carefully to others, ask questions to clarify others’ ideas and emotions and be sensitive to non-verbal communication.
Effective teamwork requires:
The expression ‘esprit de corps’ is a perfect phrase for teamwork; it means the co-operative spirit of a group whose members want to succeed and who are invested in the direction taken and results achieved collectively.