Research article
Issue: № 2 (44), 2016

Бойцова М. И.1, Бойцов И.А.2

1 Кандидат педагогических наук, Языковой центр Реннерт, 2 ORCID: 0000-0001-5331-7210, Кандидат филологических наук, Санкт-Петербургский Государственный университет



В статье рассмотрена актуальность развития навыков аудирования у иностранных учащихся, особенное внимание уделено важности прагматического подхода и необходимости обучения студентов пониманию имплицитных смыслов, вкладываемых говорящим в высказывание.

Ключевые слова: аудирование, прагматический подход, прагматика, имплицитные смыслы


 Boytsova M.I.1, Boytsov I.A.2

1 PhD in Pedagogy, Rennert Language Center, Miami, USA, 2 ORCID: 0000-0001-5331-7210, PhD in Philology, Saint-Petersburg State University



The article considers the necessity of teaching listening to foreign students studying Russian as a foreign language, especially from a pragmatic point of view. It is extremely important for teachers to pay special attention to teaching understanding of implied meanings which the speaker might mean when making the utterance.

Keywords: listening, pragmatic approach, implied meanings


When people listen (it can be a lecture, a news broadcast, a joke, or are engaging in a conversation) they are listening to a stretch of discourse. Listening plays an important role in communication as it is said that, of the total time spent on communicating, listening takes up 40-50%; speaking - 25-30%; reading -  11-16%; and writing about 9% [7]. According to Devine (1982), listening is the primary means by which incoming ideas and information are taken in. Wolvin and Coakley (1988) concluded that, both in and out of the classroom, listening consumes more of daily communication time than other forms of verbal communication. Listening is the most frequently used language skill in the classroom M. Rost defines listening as having several orientations: receptive ( = receiving what the speaker actually says); constructive (= constructing and representing meaning); collaborative (= negotiating meaning with the speaker and responding); transformative (= creating meaning through involvement, imagination and empathy) [12].

As teachers and scholars in different countries as well, grow to understand the unique characteristics of the listening skill and the significant role it plays in the language learning, they recognize more and more the importance of teaching listening comprehension in the second language classroom (Russian as a foreign language, as well). This recognition resulted in the increased number of listening activities in the student textbooks and in methodology texts designed specially for listening. Moreover, the emergence of the concept communicative competence [1; 4] marked a shift in the view of L2 learning from mastery of grammatical forms alone to the acquisition of functional usage of forms in social contexts. According to this view communicative competence includes pragmatic competence, namely the ability to comprehend and produce meaning in context. As K. Bardovi-Harleeg and R. Mahan-Taylor point out, the study of pragmatics explorers the ability of language users to match utterances with contexts in which they are appropriate [2, 4]. Therefore, we can say that individuals have some sort of pragmatic competence which allows them to use language in different and concrete situations, in varying contexts.  What is important about meaning interpretation, from a pragmatic point of view, is understanding what the speaker intends to accomplish in making an utterance. Speakers make a variety of communicative choices, both verbal and nonverbal, which they enact for strategic reasons. As the speaker's choices may not always be transparent to the listener, it is an indispensable part of a listener's pragmatic competence to recognize speaker intention conveyed in a variety of implicit and explicit forms and to make accurate inferences about a speaker's communicative goals. as N. Deda points out, "the goal of instruction in pragmatics is not to insist on conformity to a particular target-language norm but rather to help learners  become familiar with the range of pragmatic devices and practices  in the target language" [4 1].

Despite their importance, pragmatic inferential skills in L2 have been a relatively underrepresented area of investigation. Although abundant research has analyzed pragmatic production, particularly speech act performance, little research has examined L2 comprehension processes from a pragmatic perspective. Therefore, as it is pointed out in the contemporary foreign and Russian research works, the listener needs to understand not only "language" but also contextual meaning which includes "the social status, interpersonal relationships that are signaled in the language use and also the intentions of the speaker to utilize the norms of language for particular purpose" [11, 40]. In the present paper we will consider the pragmatics of language understanding and its application to methods of teaching listening in a foreign, in our case Russian. language.

Current views of listening comprehension propose that listeners actively process language input. Two types of process have been discerned: cognitive strategies and metacongnitive strategies. Cognitive strategies involve solving learning problems by considering how to store and retrieve information. Metacognition involves the planning, monitoring and evaluating comprehension.

The listener has access to several layers of language. Talking about listening problems researchers usually point out difficulties arising at perception, parsing and utilization stages. Research carried out by C.C.M. Goh [8, 68] revealed 10 real-time comprehension problems related to the three cognitive processing phases: perception, parsing and utilization. Half of them were perceptual processing problems arising from failure in word recognition and ineffective attention. Three others were problems with parsing and two with utilization.

A comparison of high and low ability listeners showed that they shared some similar problems, but the low ability listeners appeared to have more low-level perception problems.

Table 1

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High ability listeners said they were often unable to get the meaning of the message even when they had understood all the words. This is a utilization problem: most probably due to the their limited schemata and insufficient contextual information, which would otherwise be useful for drawing inferences these listeners could not use the literal information they had successfully parsed because they had not understood its intended meaning. Although few in the low ability group reported this problem, it  "should not be taken to mean that they were better at high-level processing than the high ability listeners were. What was more likely was that the low ability listeners hardly ever got beyond the perception or parsing phase because of limited proficiency and inadequate processing capacity". Their problems were, therefore, often confined to low-level processing such as speech recognition, as the comparison further showed. As we see, listening presents a very serious problem for L2 learners at all levels and for this reason more and more tasks in L2 textbooks are listening tasks. Still, these tasks mostly don't touch upon pragmatic questions, though pragmatic view of listening addresses context first, since language use is always directed by and toward actual people in real settings and meaning is generated by and for the participants within those settings, as pragmatics is the study of linguistic resources in terms of their usage properties and processes in context which always addresses the context of language use first.

Thus, the role of teaching pragmatics (and in our case teaching listening from a pragmatic point of view) can hardly be overestimated. It is well known that cultural scripts (or scenarios) of people of   different   cultural   backgrounds   are   different   and   this   leads   to   misinterpretarion   and communication failure. Let us consider some of the examples examined by A. Wierzbicka and H. Kataoka. Comparing Japanese cultural scripts with Anglo-American ones A. Wierzbicka talks about Japanese tendency to self-humiliation and modesty. Such questions as "Would you like some tea?". "Will you come over to me today?" are not acceptable in Japanese culture as a listener is supposed to say "yes" or "no". It not acceptable to ask about a person's wishes and to talk about your personal wishes. You will never hear a negative answer from a Japanese, he will prefer to say something indefinite (e.g., I'll think about it; we can talk about it tomorrow). Such answers cause misunderstandings and future deteriorations of relations. A. Wierzbicka suggests that it is better to describe such behavior using the language of 'semantic primitives'. ("I can do something else. (I can say nothing, I can talk about different things), If I do this, this person will understand what I think").

The goal of our research is not only to explain what Russians usually say in what situations. since there is a number of works written about etiquette cliches, but also to build models (which will be described using the similar language of semantic primitives) reflecting Russian cultural scripts which will be very helpful for the Russian as a foreign language teachers in the classroom [20, 21,22]. For instance, when expressing refusal to invitation Russians usually tend to give some reason which explains why they can not do something and offer something else instead (- Таня, пойдем в кино1 - Извини, у меня завтра контрольная, я не могу, мне надо заниматься. Давай в субботу!). Russians usually try not to hurt people (if you friend invited you to watch his/her favourite movie which you didn't like or to the restaurant and you didn't like the food or service, it's better not to be straightforward and say what you liked in it): - Ну и как тебе фильм? - Ты знаешь, необычный (интересный, увлекательный). Receiving presents, trying a new dish your friend cooked -Russians always express only positive emotions. Thus, the approximate rule may be like this: if a speaker A wants a listener В feel good and have positive emotions, the listener В shall be thankful and also express positive feelings. At the same time English language speakers greet each other. apologize, thank and pay compliments more frequent than Russian language speaker do. Russian behavior is usually characterized as more natural and less ritualistic [19, 36] The reason is that English speech patterns almost lost their direct meaning and became formal polite markers with a fatic function. Their pragmatical meaning can be described as "I want you to feel good" and this is a person's sincere wish. There are far less constructions with superlative adjectives and adverbs than in English: It looks incredible! The house is absolutely marvelous! Russian estimations are usually not such emotional: "Я рада тебя видеть" (cf. I'm delighted to see you); "Было очень приятно" (cf. That was enjoyable). Russian people are generally more reserved and have tendenc) to modesty (though lately due to economical and market development, influence of other cultures (western, American) modesty is not valued so much anymore). Traditional Russian behavior model can be described: "I must not talk about how good I am". If somebody pays compliments, people usually say 'thank you' but try to reduce and even minimize their merit and contribution, they even may look a bit embarrassed: "- Большое спасибо за ужин. Вы прекрасная хозяйка и замечательно готовите! - Спасибо, но все это несложно. Совсем нет, все очень быстро и просто"; "Ты так очень хорошо говоришь по-английски! - Да нет, что ты. Еще много надо заниматься".

For some reasons, listening comprehension has been neglected in research and practice until quite recently. Even now, we still can not say that Listening comprehension research abounds in the literature when compared to that of reading comprehension. However, it is true that listening is vital in language learning in that it provides input for the learner. As M.Rost concludes, "without understanding inputs, students can't learn anything" [12, 150]

The study of cross-cultural pragmatics represents an especially important endeavour in modern times. The reason for this importance lies in the great potential of miscommunication and misperceptions based upon different norms of interactions across speech communities.


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