According to the research I have studied so far, I could say that someone’s native language (NL) has a strong influence over his/her second or foreign language learning. It is rather unusual to see teachers touching the topic of pragmatics when teaching a second/foreign language which I find intrinsically linked to the student’s adaptation and understanding of the target language and its culture. For a student to achieve a mastery level of an L2 it is important that he/she is able to properly communicate and effectively use the target language without incurring in constant grammatical mistakes, lacking communicative skills or having a narrow amount of vocabulary; however, it is just as important that the student does not violate social and cultural norms that belong to the target language when using the L2.
Learners of a foreign language are in disadvantage over second language learners because they are not immersed in the culture of the target language and have more difficulty acquiring the social characteristics and therefore pragmatic strategies of the language. Second language learners are in constant interaction with the target language and have higher possibilities to adopt the pragmatic characteristics of the L2; however, it is important to see how much they acquire and how much do they transfer from their native language. In some instances learners fail to understand the pragmatic strategies needed according to the culture and may incur in impoliteness and face threatening acts towards native speakers. It is also necessary for learners to understand the different types of politeness strategies and the cultural perceptions of negative and positive politeness that the L2 culture may have.
Societies differ in traditions and values as well as linguistic preferences. Some cultures use more negative politeness strategies because they consider them to help them maintain a higher distance among hearer and speaker and therefore be considered as politer; whereas, other cultures consider close social relationships as an important factor and tend to behave less formally, hence they use more positive politeness strategies. These should affect the way a second language learner perceives the language and the strategies chosen according to the particular context and social norms.
Gender and age also play an important role in second language learning because there are generational changes deriving from the development of a language, as well as societal roles that determine the type of communicative language used by females or males. There are significant differences among Eastern and Western cultures and it goes as far as linguistic rituals. Some of the research has concluded that males and females interact differently and therefore use different pragmatic strategies when performing the speech acts of apology, refusals, request or thanking. In some societies like the Jordanian we are able to notice that males and females use different apology speech acts strategies that are linked to their roles in society and expectations from them in their culture.
Another pattern that influences the linguistic production from language learners are the semantic and syntactic structures of the native language. A L2 learner tends to compare the native language with the target language and try to apply as many linguistic rules as possible in order to have a clearer understanding the L2; however; this could be counterproductive because in some instances the semantic patterns differ greatly which would lead the learner to use wrong foundations. In the case of pragmatics, second language learners tend to imitate the behavior of the target culture and adopt some of the norms; nevertheless, it will never be the at the same level as a native speaker because some of the contexts may only occur once which would leave the learner in an unfamiliar situation.
According to Chang (200, proficiency level of the second or foreign language learner has its implicatures in the amount of pragmatic transference that occurs from L1 to L2; also, there are two types of negative pragmatic transfer where the learner assumes that L1 and L2 are identical in their structure or when the learner perceives L2 context to be equal to L1 even though they could differ from one another. It is very important for the learner to understand that the speech patterns from their native language could be entirely different than the ones from the language that is been learnt; otherwise this may lead to cultural misunderstandings, misjudgments and dishonesty.
Languages that have specific characteristics, both linguistically and culturally attached to each other, represent a higher level of challenge for learners. For instance, American second or foreign language learners of Korean or Chinese encounter an honorific language whose grammatical and pragmatic bases are different than English. According to the context and the hearer or speaker, the pragmatic strategies used in the speech act differ greatly. It is not the same for Koreans or Chinese native speakers to address a person who is younger or older than them because the linguistic structured would have to include an honorific verb or word; for language learners, the lack of understanding of this rule would result in a violation of the social norms which would mean that the speech act would be consider as an act of impoliteness by the non native speaker.
The role of native language sociopragmatic patterns, in second or foreign language learners, should be low in comparison to the acquisition of pragmatic references from the L2 that the learner should grasp. It is important that language learners understand how primordial it is to be aware of the pragmatic differences there may be with the culture from the target language and the social norms that are important for the L2 culture. Language learners should avoid pragmatic transference because it may lead to misconceptions and misuse of the language in a social context. There should be further support of the study of pragmalinguistics for language learners because it is not only important for them to accurately use the language but also appropriately use it according to the situation.
Chang, Y. (n.d.). How to say no: an analysis of cross-cultural difference and pragmatic transfer . ScienceDirect.com. Retrieved December 8, 2010, from