EFL learners’ socio-pragmatic awareness; a reflective writing

In an intercultural communication, an error might arise during the process of carrying-over culture-specific aspects of language by speakers from two different backgrounds. One notable example from my latest classroom discussion was Pak Roni and his lady friend’s coffee story. Asking someone to have a cup of coffee is not entirely free of implicature in many cultures. As honest as his intention was in offering coffee as a gesture of hospitality, in eastern society, depending on the context, it is a hint that a guest has overstayed his/her welcome. In contemporary western culture, on the other hand, it insinuates a date invitation that might or might not involve the actual act of drinking coffee.

An attempt to carry-over the same implicature using different languages is the common pitfall of most foreign language learners. It is because languages have social constraints (Harlow, 1990) and different languages pose a different limitation on what its speech community could think (Sharafian, 2017; Zegarac & Pennington, 2008). People born in an L2 environment have acquired linguistic repertoire and knowledge concurrently since their childhood. This is not the case with L2 learners whose main source of (minimal) information is from textbook, with lack of authenticity in their instructional practice and material — especially those dealing with cross-cultural competence — and limited immediate social feedback from an interaction using L2. Consequently, they still use the mental sets of L1 in L2 communication which is a minefield of cross-cultural misunderstanding. Failure to comply with grammatical rules might only render a person as a non-proficient speaker, but failure to have the sensitivity to social appropriateness in language use most automatically renders him/her as having a lousy personality. People usually tolerate the former but not the latter.

A very memorable example of how easily someone can be mistaken as being non-considerate was an exchange between my students. We were engaged in a discussion about mental health issue when one of them asked this question, “Have you considered suicide?” To say I was a little taken aback when hearing this was an understatement. It took me a moment to realize that he was only asking whether the friend had had a suicidal tendency in the context of an attempt to diagnose a symptom of depression. Following all five of Hymes’ communicative principles (in Harlow, 1990), this question was already propositional as it was meaning-based, interactional as it was uttered in social interaction, and it was well structured.  Conventionally speaking, he was using an interrogative structure to ask a question. What he did not know is, similar to that in bahasa Indonesia, an asynchrony of form and function in the speech act is a common practice. An interrogative structure is not always used to express a question and when it happens, it serves different implicature. When he asked said question, it was actually a suggestion, and any L2 speaker familiar with the utterance common use would think how formidable it is to suggest someone to commit a suicide.

Well, there are many chuckle-materials when addressing the topic of socio-pragmatic transfer error made by students. However, it is no longer funny when it deals with somebody’s potential life and death situation, is it?

References

Chapman, S. (2008). Language and Empiricism After The Vienna Circle. (pp.88-107). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harlow, L. L. (1990). Do They Mean What They Say? Sociopragmatic Competence and Second Language Learners. The Modern Language Journal, 74(3), 328-351.

Sharafian, F. (2017). Cultural Linguistic and Linguistic Relativity. Language Sciences, 59, 83-92.

Zegarac, V., & Pennington, M. C. (2008). Pragmatic Transfer in Intercultural Communication. In H. Spencer-Oatey, Culturally speaking : culture, communication and politeness theory (pp. 141-163). New York: Continuum.

 

The intercultural error of ‘You’ and ‘I’; a reflective writing

As an English teacher, I have always been constricted by my own understanding that my primary goal is to assist students in reaching an acceptable standard of English proficiency – that includes fluency and comprehension. The instructional focus, therefore, is on two components only: students and language. Little did I ever try to acknowledge, let alone accommodate, the cultural value in my students’ language and that of English. One assignment in identifying errors made by students makes me realize the gravity of my mistake in doing so. First, language is not a neutral entity. It is and will always be laden with cultural and social load. Fairclough (2001) highlighted the notion that language has a dialectical relationship with society. Every linguistic phenomenon is determined by social rules and, in turn, has social implication. Second, failure in acknowledging so leads to error in language production and a potential hindrance of communication. The overwhelming evidence of these is my students’ errors in the use of pronouns.

Pronoun is not only a small part of grammar rules in English but also a mirror of a bigger social value in (the speaker’s) culture. It contains information about the concept of self-and-other-ness, how the speaker forms her identity, and how she assumes her position in power spectrum. In bahasa Indonesia, for example, the first person singular pronouns ‘aku’ and ‘saya’ have a stark semantic difference. The former is stronger in its self-ness compared to the latter. In a very communal society like Indonesia, therefore, saya is more socially appropriate. Likewise, the use of second person singular pronouns in Indonesia – kamu, engkau, Anda – reflects the degree of formality influenced by social status, age, power, and interpersonal distance between the speakers. Kamu and engkau are more casual, showing the degree of closeness. Anda is more formal but, on the other hand, it puts distance between the speakers, so much that it poses a risk of patronization. A linguistically aware person would resort to a strategy of not using pronoun at all. Instead, she is going to use ‘Bapak, Ibu, Tuan, Nona, or Nyonya’ that might or might not be followed by their name.

However, the difference in social, power, distance and stratum of speaker is not contained within English pronouns. It envelops the equalitarian nature of its speaker’s culture (Brown and Gilman 1960:118-119). In modern (current) English, singular I and singular you are the same regardless of the speakers’ status or distance. This is where errors occur. Students, unaware of this different politeness concepts, avoid using objective pronoun ‘you’ altogether or compensate it by the coding of title and name or by using a direct translation of ‘Bapak, Ibu, Tuan, Nona, or Nyonya etc.other than as vocative. It is because the use of you eliminates the social structure, diminishing the power of the addressee, something that is considered as impolite when sending a text to the teacher, in students’ culture.

The following examples illustrate the error caused by source language cultural interference.

In this example, the sender goes as far as switching the code to Javanese ‘njenengan’ just to emphasize the politeness, his ‘submission’ to the (assumed) powerful receiver.

 

This example illustrates how the student tried to compensate for the lack of ‘subordination’ indicator in the language, so she transferred the politeness strategy in Bahasa Indonesia directly to English (Bu –> Mrs.).

These intercultural errors mainly because students still think in what their source language’s culture dictates them to. They could not fathom the equalitarian concept in interpersonal interaction of English speaking culture. Leavitt (2015) stated that the words your language gives you determine and limit what it is possible for you to think. Therefore, another goal to add in EFL instruction is to train students NOT only to speak in English, but also to think in it. All in all, these errors need to be addressed by giving corrective feedback, explicit teaching of cultural value, and exposing students to as many intercultural materials as possible.

Reference:

Brown, R & Gilman, A. (1960). The Pronoun of Power and Solidarity. In T.A. Sebeok (eds). Style in Language. MIT Press. 253-76.

Fairclough, N. (2001). Language and power.  Longman: Harlow, Eng.

Leavitt, J., (2015). Linguistic relativity: precursors and transformations. In: Sharifian, F. (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Culture. Routledge, London and New York, pp. 18–30.

What I learn from my (current) research journey

credit: Pro Church Media

So, currently, i’m in the process of conducting a research about language attrition (and maintenance) in EFL context. The first stage is to reveal the phenomenon from teachers’ perspective. For that, I conduct a survey.

The first week in data collection process, preliminary look shows a stark homogeneity. It could mean 3 possibilities: 1) my instrument fails to capture/accommodate variability, 2) The demography is uniformed, and 3) that is the real situation in the field.

For possibility 1, I did literature review and tested it again and again, and it’s okay. So I go on to test possibility number 2, and yes, most of my respondents are those teachers in higher education setting.  SO here comes a problem: how I can get K-12 teachers to participate in my survey. I have friends, colleague, and family members who work as K-12 teachers but I have never been comfortable in asking others to do things for me, I don’t want to impose anyone to do my bidding. But then I muster up my courage and reach out to them.

And they don’t fail me.

Most of them are willing to help me, filling out the questionnaire, and going as far as passing along the survey to their friends, colleagues, teacher groups, CPD groups in their region, and more.

I am left speechless.

As much as I feel so grateful beyond belief, I also learn something here:

  1. keep in touch, contact, with people in your life,
  2. do not be afraid to reach out,
  3. don’t forget to always strive to be on the other end of the favor. You will never know the scale of help you could give to people and how grateful they could be.

Tips melipat stroller Creative Baby Sierra

Ceritanya beli stroller ini untuk kado. Pas sampai rumah, sudah dirakit, dibuka, eh kita ga bisa melipat. Meskipun stroller ini cute, tapi ia tidak dilengkapi manual dan saya tidak menemukan tutorialnya di manapun. Akhirnya saya kembali ke tokonya hanya untuk bertanya.

Nah, berikut caranya ya:

1. Lepaskan tempat minuman di bagian depan dengan cara menekan tombol merah di sampingnya, tarik.

2. Singkap kanopi.

3. Cari bonjolan hitam di pegangan samping kanopi kiri kanan, tarik ke atas sambil tekan body stroller ke bawah. Untuk memudahkan, injak bagian kakinya.

Berikut video tutorial yang diperagakan oleh adik saya ya.

Selamat mencoba.

Ara Inn; a hidden gem for a short getaway destination

For your background information, for us, a getaway means a relaxing time with a change of scenery and away from home. So, we emphasize more on the comfortable accommodation rather than exciting local attraction.

Last week when we felt so fatigue from work, we wanted to get away from everything just for a little while. Usually, Bess Resort was our to-go place for that purpose. But for several months now, the place has always been fully booked. So we scrambled around the internet to look for similar quality destination and we came across this: Ara Inn. The rating on Agoda was 8.8 and the picture looked promising. So, we packed our bag and off we went our merry way.

The accomodation:
The place was amazing, and value for money. The room (we booked executive suite) is large, clean, well maintained with complete standard amenities.

The room comes with balcony overlooking hills with several monkeys in sight.

We came in rainy season, so it was a constant downpour the moment we came but when it stopped, you could literally see the looming fog, mist, cloud crawling from atop the hill to the villas downhill. The temperature was quite cold, though, so make sure to bring your jacket along.

Dusk view from the balcony

We booked the room via phone (WA: 0812-4933-4441) and transfer the down payment before hand. For the executive room, the rate was comparably cheap. 600k/night for weekdays and 700k/night for weekend.

for this junior deluxe suite, the rate is 450k/night on weekend. The view is just as stunning.

The food:
Ara Inn is kind of like Bed and Breakfast with no restaurant. You will get breakfast in the morning, the menu ranges from cereal, toast, to fried rice with selection of beverages. It is no buffet, though, which was fine with us. The taste is not that bad, but not too tasty either. It was okay.

It was an a la carte menu. I swear I didn’t put all that food there myself… :|

No need to worry for lunch or dinner for the area is surrounded by many food stalls selling satay, bakso, ronde, and jagung bakar. There are way many of them. And considering it was a tourist destination, compared to other touristy place, the prices are just standard and good: Lamb Satay 20k, rabbit satay 18k, and chicken satay 15k.

The internet connection:
This is an important factor to consider when choosing an accommodation for people in IT industry. 

I don’t know whether it was that good or because it was not during peak season, but Ara Inn’s internet was fast and reliable. If it were the latter, don’t worry for I got a strong 4G connection. You could always tether from your mobile.

How to get there:
THIS ONE IS IMPORTANT. For it was our first time going to Tretes, we relied on Google Map and it picked us the shortest route. DO NOT repeat our mistake. If you are from Malang, DO NOT take a left turn at Jalan Taman Safari II for several reasons:
1. the road was fine at first, but it went narrower by the kilometer.
2. It consists of at least 45 degrees CONSTANT inclines with sharps bends and overly steep declines.
3. When prompted with even seemingly impossible routes, we stopped and asked some locals and they said, “it is a dead-end UP THERE.” So you can imagine, in that terrain, in a downpour with limited visibility (and the slippery wet road as well) with forest surrounding us; if that wasn’t an adventure on its own, i don’t know what is. and Dear god, Google, please work on this.

DO NOT MAKE A LEFT TURN HERE

Instead, go on and take a left turn at Jln. Dr. Sutomo Pandaan (just before Cheng Hoo Mosque — ask any local if you are unsure). Theoretically it will be several kilometers longer but the road is safer, way safer than if you go to Pujon via Songgoriti.

Go ahead and take this route instead

The inn location:
ALSO, the coordinate of the inn is correct but the route is not. Here’s how you get there: to make it easy, find Hotel Surya location, go straight ahead till you see Tanjung Plaza Hotel. Across this hotel, find a hidden pathway that is shadowed by many food stalls. Take the right lane. Go follow the road, you are going to reach the back parking lot of Hotel Surya, go ahead. The inn is at the end of that road.

All in all, it was an adventure in a sense that we really struggled to get there. But everything turned out to be worthy.

Yours Truly