Making requests by Chinese EFL learners

Making requests by Chinese EFL learners. By Vincent X. Wang. (Pragmatics and beyond new series 207.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. xv, 199. ISBN 9789027256119. $135 (Hb).

Reviewed by Theresa McGarry, East Tennessee State University

This account of an empirical study of elicited requests of Chinese learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) addresses the relative paucity of research on second language learners’ communicative competence and thereby contributes to the understanding of cross-cultural pragmatics and interlanguage pragmatics (ILP). Chs. 1 and 2 contextualize the study in light of the increasing emphasis on the social element of second language acquisition and the goals, constructs, and theories of ILP. Ch. 3 describes the methodology, involving two groups of EFL learners and a native speaker baseline group. Responses are elicited using scenarios meant to construct realistic social contexts, in which respondents request specific types of services of favors.

Chs. 4–7 present the results. In certain scenarios, the learners differ markedly from the native speakers in strategy use, suggesting that they have difficulty adapting their strategy use to different contexts. They tend to rely heavily on relatively few formulae, using fewer syntactically complex formulae and formulae bound to particular contexts. Analysis of internal modifications to the request act shows differences in the use of conditionals, bi-clausal structures, and address terms. Finally, learners use supportive moves more frequently than native speakers, yielding longer request utterances, and they show some differences in how they organize the utterance moves.

In Ch. 8, the author interprets the results as suggesting strategic, sociopragmatic, and lexical interference. He finds advantages for the context-based and formulae-based approaches and argues for considering both formula use and strategy type use to be core constructs in measuring ILP competence. He further notes that instruction appears to have little effect, but the type of input does make a difference. Ch. 9 presents general conclusions as answers to the research questions posed earlier and discusses directions for future research.

This timely and exceptionally readable account of a well-conducted research project addresses important questions, and the methodology is clearly motivated and described. The operationalized constructs are explained with effective examples, as are the results, and the tables are helpful and complete. The analysis considers various aspects of the learner’s experience and, relating the results to earlier research, and the author makes judicious pedagogical recommendations without becoming overly prescriptive. An especially interesting part of the analysis is the consideration of sociopragmatic issues.

The book occasionally feels repetitive, because the same information is arrived at by different analyses, but the points are made concisely, and the independence of each unit would facilitate using one section in a class or reading group. While the author’s claim that Chinese EFL speakers accept the native speaker as the model, although unsubstantiated, seems entirely likely, the English as an international language viewpoint could have been considered more thoroughly. However, its mention is appreciated. Overall, this book is a strong contribution to the field of ILP that is highly accessible to the intended audience and is of great interest for both practical and theoretical reasons.