Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics

Committee Chair

Xiangying Jiang

Committee Co-Chair

Ahmed Fakhri

Committee Member

Huey Hannah Lin


As a result of the expanding interest in the cognitive and social dimensions of language use beyond single sentences, a great number of research studies have been conducted in order to examine nonnative speakers' ability to use language appropriately in a social context. Recently, with a growing understanding of the key role pragmatic competence plays in second language development, researchers have also investigated the benefits of direct instruction in helping language learners become aware of the pragmatic conditions governing the uses of grammatical structures. This thesis reports on the design and administration of a study that investigated language learners' knowledge of pragmatics and how instruction can help them develop this knowledge in an environment where English is taught as a second language. Specifically, this project had two aims: (1) to observe the relationship between language proficiency and pragmatic competence of learners of English as a Second Language (ESL), and (2) to examine whether instruction was effective in improving those learners' pragmatic knowledge. Pragmatic competence was measured quantitatively, through discourse judgment tasks, multiple-choice discourse completion tasks (MDCTs) and written discourse completion tasks (WDCTs) in a pre-, post-, and delayed post-test, designed specifically for this study. The participants in this research, thirty-nine adult ESL learners with a range of proficiency studying in the Intensive English Program (IEP) and in a university-level English course at West Virginia University, first took a language proficiency test and a pre-test on pragmatic knowledge. The participants were then assigned into two groups, experimental and comparison. The experimental group received four hours of direct instruction in five types of speech acts (requests, refusals, apologies, compliments, suggestions) and other aspects of pragmatic knowledge over a period of two weeks, while the comparison group was taught lessons on other topics without intervention during the same amount of time. An immediate post-test on pragmatic knowledge and a delayed post-test were given to both groups. The results showed that language proficiency and pragmatic knowledge were positively correlated with a moderate strength (r = .71, p < .001). Analysis of covariance and further analysis showed that the experimental group significantly outperformed the comparison group in both the post-test and delayed post-test. The experimental group benefited from the instruction, which used a blended methodological approach, and the instructional effect was retained after a one-week delay. The results of this research helped understand the communicative skills and intercultural competence of ESL learners and demonstrated that instruction in the area of pragmatics is not only important but it can be beneficial at all levels of language proficiency. It is hoped that the topics reported and discussed here and the findings may help both English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and ESL teachers gain a better understanding of second language learners' pragmatic competence and development through instruction, so that when they incorporate pragmatics instruction into their teaching, they will be in a better position to adapt their practices to facilitate pragmatic development.