This study examined the effectiveness of teaching adult basic education (ABE) English
language learners (ELLs) how to make polite requests in the workplace and beyond. The
participants represented 12 different countries and 11 languages. They were enrolled in a highintermediate
level English language class in the evening program of a large-urban ABE program.
Participants’ pragmatic ability with regard to making requests was assessed through a discourse
completion test (DCT) administered as a pretest, followed by instruction in pragmatics (with a
focus on requesting) and then by another DCT similar to the first one serving as a posttest. The
pre- and posttest results were compared, with the analysis focusing on the relative frequency of
explicitly-taught syntactic and lexical mitigators. Participants’ responses to a course evaluation
questionnaire were also collected and analyzed.
Findings indicated that while participants were aware of the use of modal verbs to show
politeness prior to treatment, there was a noticeable increase in forms virtually absent in the
pretest data, namely, lexical and syntactic mitigators explicitly taught. Additionally, findings
showed high attendance contributed to an increase use of those mitigators. Participants
responded favorably to the instructional techniques and felt that they had increased their
knowledge about requesting, as well as their ability to make polite requests. The results of this
instructional pragmatics study contribute to a relatively small body of literature involving the
effectiveness of teaching second-language (L2) pragmatics to an ABE English language learner
1 online resource (PDF, 77 pages). Submitted December, 2010 as a Plan B paper in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a master's degree in English as a Second Language from the University of Minnesota.
Would you please say that politely?: Teaching adult basic education English language learners to make polite requests.
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