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Japanese EFL Learners’ Pragmatic Development in the Production of Speech Acts Drawing on ACT-R Model and Skill Acquisition Theory

Oyama, Mai; (2023) Japanese EFL Learners’ Pragmatic Development in the Production of Speech Acts Drawing on ACT-R Model and Skill Acquisition Theory. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This mixed-methods quasi-experimental study explored the development of pragmatic competence of lower-proficiency EFL learners in their university English classes in Japan. Although pragmatic competence has emerged as a key topic within the field of interlanguage pragmatics (ILP), almost all studies have examined L2 learners’ language use rather than pragmatic development focusing on learning outcomes than process. This study investigates both learners’ language use and development, in order to draw a more comprehensive picture of pragmatic development. It also attempts to identify the mechanisms that drive this development by employing a framework of Adaptive Control Thought-Rational (ACT-R) theory in tandem with skill acquisition theory, which is a promising but underexplored framework in the L2 pragmatic development context. As such, this study aims to fill a gap in the research literature and make a theoretical contribution by showing the potential of the framework to account for learners’ pragmatic development. For this study, I recruited 120 Japanese EFL learners making up four intact classes to examine the development over one term (14 weeks) of their skills for producing speech acts after receiving pragmatic instruction. The development was examined both in terms of knowledge and processing ability with more focus on the latter to produce speech acts. Four types of speech acts were chosen for this experiment: request and refusal speech acts, for which specific instruction was provided; and complaint and disagreement speech acts, for which no instruction was provided. Request and refusal were selected as they were most widely studied, and complaints and disagreements were selected as they are relatively similar in nature to request and refusal speech acts and a good candidate to examine learners’ ability of knowledge extension. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were employed to see how much learners improved their production of request and refusal speech acts - in light of the effectiveness of instruction they had received. A similar analysis was carried out on the uninstructed speech acts of complaint and disagreement to assess their capability to extend their learned knowledge from request and refusal making to the production of new speech acts, namely to assess their processing capability. The results showed that the participants in the treatment groups (TGs) improved in the production of both instructed and uninstructed speech acts by developing their knowledge and processing ability. The development of such knowledge was assessed by measuring the TGs’ improvement in the use of politeness strategies, which are associated with declarative knowledge. As for the development of their processing ability, this was assessed in two ways: in terms of their ability to select contextually appropriate strategies and to apply their learned knowledge sufficiently to produce uninstructed speech acts, these being associated with procedural knowledge. Since the application of the learned speech act schema enables learners to produce ostensibly ‘new’ speech acts with relative ease, not from scratches. This frees up most of the working memory to be available for other purposes, such as planning what to say next, and looking for more sophisticated expressions. This was reflected in the results of this experiment that showed, following instruction, the use of a wider range of strategies and more sophisticated lexical and syntactic expressions. However, the results did show that the participants were still in an early stage of proceduralisation and needed further practice to improve their processing ability to move toward automatisation. This study has pedagogical, theoretical, and methodological implications. Pedagogically, there are several implications afforded by a clearer understanding of learning processes that can be used to revise the EFL curriculum. Theoretically, by showing how pragmatic competence develops in an EFL classroom, this study shows the potential of the ACT-R model, partially revised to apply to this study, to elucidate the operational mechanism of pragmatic ability. Methodologically, this study shows how the application of the revised model I formulated through adaptation and clarification of a range of interpretations of the ACT-R model can better account for proceduralisation in pragmatic development, raising implications for allowing related research to move forward in an otherwise muddled ongoing discussion in the field.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Japanese EFL Learners’ Pragmatic Development in the Production of Speech Acts Drawing on ACT-R Model and Skill Acquisition Theory
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2022. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
Keywords: ACT-R, Japanese EFL Learners, Pragmatics, Second Language Acquisition, Skill Acquisition Theory, Speech Acts
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Culture, Communication and Media
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10163140
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