Developing Communicative Competence: An Evaluative Study of Request and Apology in English Language Textbooks in China



China’s modernization and sustained economic development have made increasing demands on English language education to produce English learners who can function adequately in all sectors of cross-cultural communication. English major students who are immersed in intensive English programs in institutions of higher education are nurtured to meet this need. English language textbooks, as the main source of language input for English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) learners in China, play a critical role in developing leaners’ communicative competence. Therefore, it is significant to examine to what extent the textbooks currently used by English major students facilitate their acquisition of communicative competence.
To evaluate pragmatic teaching in the textbooks, this study focuses on five speech acts and surveys the relevant pragmatic input and pragmatic tasks available for these speech acts in four sets of textbooks that are widely used by English majors in China. Both oral-English textbooks and integrated-skills textbooks have been selected to explore if there are skill-based differences in pragmatic teaching. Content analysis has been employed to scrutinize pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic input as well as pragmatic tasks provided in the focal textbooks.
The quantitative and qualitative results show that the textbooks do not provide sufficient conditions for the development of communicative competence. The analysis of pragmalinguistic input, which focuses on the speech act strategies and modification devices included in the textbooks, reveals that the distribution and presentation of these strategies and devices do not reflect naturally occurring speech. As for sociopragmatic input, the textbooks present inadequate contextual information and give little attention to sociocultural norms for speech act performance. Finally, the oral-English textbooks and integrated-skills textbooks do not differ systematically in their treatment of pragmatics in terms of pragmalinguistic input, sociopragmatic input, and pragmatic tasks.
The findings of the present study not only provide useful information for further textbook development but also have important implications for textbook use in the classroom.


Communicative competence; Speech acts; Pragmalinguistic input; Sociopragmatic input; English language textbooks

Full Text:



Alcón, E. (2005). Does instruction work for learning pragmatics in the EFL context? System, 33, 417-435.

Alcón, E. (2007). Fostering EFL learners’ awareness of requesting through explicit and implicit consciousness-raising tasks. In M. García Mayo (Ed.), Investigating tasks in formal language learning (pp.221-241). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Bachman, L. F. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2001). Evaluating the empirical evidence: Grounds for instruction in pragmatics. In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (pp.13-32). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Beebe, L. M., Takahashi, T., & Uliss-Weltz, R. (1990). Pragmatic transfer in ESL refusals. In R. C. Scarcella, E. S. Andersen, & S. D. Krashen (Eds.), Developing communicative competence in a second language (pp.55-73). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Bergman, M. L., & Kasper, G. (1993). Perception and performance in native and nonnative aplogy. In G. Kasper & S. Blum-Kulka (Eds.), Interlanguage pragmatics (pp.82-107). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). The Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.

Billmyer, K., & Varghese, M. (2000). Investigating instrument-based pragmatic variability: Effects of enhancing discourse completion tests. Applied Linguistics, 21, 517-552.

Blum-Kulka, S., & Olshtain, E. (1984). Requests and apologies: A cross-cultural study of speech acts realization patterns (CCSARP). Applied Linguistics, 5, 196-213.

Bouton, L. F. (1994). Conversational implicature in a second language: Learned slowly when not deliberately taught. Journal of Pragmatics, 22, 157-167.

Boxer, D., & Pickering, L. (1995). Problems in the presentation of speech acts in ELT materials: the case of complaints. ELT Journal, 49, 44-58.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. D. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Campillo, P. (2007). Examining mitigation in requests: A focus on transcripts in ELT coursebooks. In E. Alcón & M. P. Safont Jordà (Eds.), Intercultural language use and language learning (pp. 207-222). Dordrecht: Springer.

Canale, M. (1983). On some dimensions of language proficiency. In J. W. Oller (Ed.), Issues in language testing research (pp. 333-342). Rowley: Newbury House Publishers.

Canale, M., & Swain, M. (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics, 1 (1), 1-48.

Celce-Murcia, M. (2007). Rethinking the role of communicative competence in language teaching. In E. Alcón & M. P. Safont Jordà (Eds.), Intercultural language use and language learning (pp. 41-56). Dordrecht: Springer.

Celce-Murcia, M., & Dörnyei, Z., & Thurrell, S. (1995). Communicative competence: A pedagogically motivated model with content specifications. Issues in Applied Linguistics, 6 (2), 5-35.

Chang, B. (2003). Analysis of request events in English textbooks for Japanese secondary schools. Proceedings of the 8th Conference of Pan-Pacific Association of Applied Linguistics, 35-49.

Cohen, A. D., & Olshtain, E. (1981). Developing a measure of sociocultural competence: The case of apology. Language Learning, 31, 113-134.

Cohen, A. D., Olshtain, E., & Rosenstein, D. S. (1986). Advanced EFL apologies: What remains to be learned? International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 62, 51-74.

Crandall, E., & Basturkmen, H. (2004). Evaluating pragmatics-focused materials. ELT Journal, 58, 38-49.

Crystal, D. (1997). The Cambridge encyclopedia of language. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Delen, B., & Tavil, Z. M. (2010). Evaluation of four coursebooks in terms of three speech acts: Requests, refusals and complaints. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 9, 692-697.

Faerch, C., & Kasper, G. (1989). Internal and external modification in interlangluage request realization. In S. Blum-Kulka, J. House, & G. Kasper (Eds.), Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies (pp. 221-247). Norwood: Alex Publishing.

Félix-Brasdefer, J. (2003). Declining an invitation: A cross-cultural study of pragmatic strategies in American English and Latin American Spanish. Multilingua, 22, 225-255.

Fukuya, K. J., & Clark, M. K. (2001). A comparison of input enhancement and explicit instruction on mitigators. In L. F. Bouton (Ed.), Pragmatics and language learning (Vol. 10, pp. 111-130). Urbana: Division of English as an International Language, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Hassall, T. (2003). Requests by Australian learners of Indonesia. Journal of Pragmatics, 35, 1903-1928.

House, J., & Kasper, G. (1987). Interlanguage pragmatics: Requesting in a foreign language. In W. Lörscher & R. Schulze (Eds.), Perspectives on language in performance: Festschrift for Werner Hüllen (pp. 1250-1288). Tubingen: Narr.

Hu, G. (2002). English language teaching in the People’s Republic of China. In R. E. Silver, G. Hu, & M. Iino (Eds.), English language education in China, Japan, and Singapore (pp. 1-77). Singapore: National Institute of Education.

Ishihara, N. (2010). Curriculum writing for L2 pragmatics — principles and practice in the teaching of L2 pragmatics. In N. Ishihara & A. D. Cohen (Eds.), Teaching and learning pragmatics: Where language and culture meet (pp. 201-223). Harlow: Person.

Ishihara, N., & Cohen, A. D. (2010). Learners’ pragmatics: Potential causes of divergence. In N. Ishihara & A.D. Cohen (Eds.), Teaching and learning pragmatics: Where language and culture meet (pp. 75-96). Harlow: Person.

Ishihara, N., & Tarone, E. (2009). Subjectivity and pragmatic choice in L2 Japanese: Emulating and resisting pragmatic norms. In N. Taguchi (Ed.), Pragmatic competence (pp. 101-128). New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Jeon, E., & Kaya, T. (2006). Effects of L2 instruction on interlanguage pragmatic development. In J. Norris & L. Ortega (Eds.), Synthesizing research on language learning and teaching (pp. 165-211). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ji, P. (2007). Exploring pragmatic knowledge in College English textbooks. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 30 (5), 109-119.

Jiang, X. (2006). Suggestions: What should ESL students know? System, 34, 36-54.

Judd, E. (1999). Some issues in the teaching of pragmatic competence. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Culture in second language teaching and learning (pp. 152-219). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kasper, G. (1997). Can pragmatic competence be taught? Retrieved 16 May 2013 from

Kasper, G., & Roever, C. (2005). Pragmatics in second language learning. In E. Hinke (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 317-334). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kasper, G., & Rose, K. R. (2002). Pragmatic development in a second language. Malden: Blackwell.

Koester, A. J. (2002). The performance of speech acts in workplace conversations and the teaching of communicative functions. System, 30, 167-184.

Koike, D. A., & Pearson, L. (2005). The effect of instruction and feedback in the development of pragmatic competence. System, 33, 481-501.

Konakahara, M. (2011). Analysis of request events in English textbooks for Japanese secondary schools. Paper Collection of Graduate School of Education of Waseda University, 19, 325-340.

Kubota, M. (1995). Teachability of conversational implicature to Japanese EFL learners. The institute for Research in Language Teaching Bulletin, 9, 35-67.

Leech, G. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London: Longman.

Levinson, S. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lii-Shih, Y. (1988). Conversational politeness and foreign language teaching. Taipei: Crane Publishing.

Malamed, L. H. (2010). Disagreement: How to disagree agreeably. In A. Martínez-Flor & E. Usó-Juan (Eds.), Speech act performance: Theoretical, empirical and methodological issues (pp. 237-256). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Martínez-Flor, A. (2010). Analyzing request modification devices in films: Implication for pragmatic learning in instructed foreign language contexts. In E. Alcón & M. P. Safont Jordà (Eds.), Intercultural language use and language learning (pp. 245-280). Dordrecht: Springer.

Martínez-Flor, A., & Fukuya, Y. (2005). The effects of instruction on learners’ production of appropriate and accurate suggestion. System, 33, 463-480.

Mey, J. (2001). Pragmatics: An introduction. Malden: Blackwell Publishers.

Mir, M. (1992). Do we all apologize the same? — An empirical study on the act of apologizing by Spanish speakers learning English. Pragmatics and Language Learning, 3, 1-19.

Nelson, G., Carson, J., Batal, M., & Bakary, W. (2002). Cross-cultural pragmatics: Strategy use in Egyptian Arabic and American English refusals. Applied Linguistics, 23, 163-189.

Neuendorf, K. A. (2002). The content analysis guidebook. London: Sage.

Nguyen, M. T. T. (2011). Learning to communicate in a globalized world: To what extent do school textbooks facilitate the development of intercultural pragmatic competence?. RELC Journal, 42, 17-30.

Olshtain, E. (1983). Sociocultural competence and language transfer: The case of apology. In S. Gass & L. Selinker (Eds.), Language transfer in language learning (pp. 232-249). Rowley: Newbury House.

Olshtain, E., & Cohen, A. (1990). The learning of complex speech act behavior. TESL Canada Journal, 7 (2), 45-65.

Rose, K. R. (2005). On the effects of instruction in second language pragmatics. System, 33, 385-399.

Rose, K. R., & Ng, C. (2001). Inductive and deductive teaching of compliments and compliment responses. In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (pp. 145-170). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Safont Jordà, M. P. (2005). Third language learners: Pragmatic production and awareness. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Sasaki, M. (1998). Investigating EFL students’ production of speech acts: A comparison of production questionnaires and role plays. Journal of Pragmatics, 30, 457-484.

Taguchi, N. (2011). Teaching pragmatics: Treads and issues. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 31, 289-310.

Takahashi, S. (1996). Pragmatic transferability. Studies in second language acquisition, 18, 189-223.

Takahashi, S. (2010). Assessing learnability in second language pragmatics. In A. Trosborg (Ed.), Pragmatics across languages and cultures (pp. 391-421). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Tateyama, Y. (2001). Explicit and implicit teaching of pragmatic routines: Japanese sumimasen. In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (pp. 200-222). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tateyama, Y., Kasper, G., Mui, L. P., Tay, H., & Thananart, O. (1997). Explicit and implicit teaching of pragmatic routines. In L. F. Bouton (Ed.), Pragmatics and language learning (Vol. 8, pp. 163-177). Urbana: Division of English as an International Language, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The English division of Tertiary Foreign language Instruction Guidance Committee. (2000). National English syllabus for English majors in institutions of higher learning. Retrieved 14 May 2013 from

Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 4, 91-112.

Thomas, J. (1995). Meaning in interaction: An introduction to pragmatics. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Trosborg, A. (1987). Apology strategies in native/non-natives. Journal of Pragmatics, 11, 147-167.

Trosborg, A. (1995). Interlanguage pragmatics: Requests, complaints and apologies. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Usó-Juan, E. (2007). The representation and practice of communicative act of requesting in textbooks: Focusing on modifiers. In E. Alcón & M. P. Safont Jordà (Eds.), Intercultural language use and language learning (pp. 223-243). Dordrecht: Springer.

Vellenga, H. (2004). Learning pragmatics from ESL & EFL textbooks: How likely? TESL-EJ, 8(2), 1-18. Retrieved 18 November 2012 from

Wang, V. X. (2011). Making requests by Chinese EFL learners. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Wolfson, N. (1989). The bulge: A theory of speech behavior and social distance. Penn Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 2(1), 55-83.

Woodfield, H. (2008). Interlanguage requests: A contrastive study. In M. Pütz & J. N. Aertselaer (Eds.), Developing contrastive pragmatics: Interlanguage and cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 231-264). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Yang, X. (2006). Second language pragmatic development: A cross-sectional study on the acquisition of English requests by Chinese learners. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2019 Canadian Social Science

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Share us to:   


  • How to do online submission to another Journal?
  • If you have already registered in Journal A, then how can you submit another article to Journal B? It takes two steps to make it happen:

1. Register yourself in Journal B as an Author

  • Find the journal you want to submit to in CATEGORIES, click on “VIEW JOURNAL”, “Online Submissions”, “GO TO LOGIN” and “Edit My Profile”. Check “Author” on the “Edit Profile” page, then “Save”.

2. Submission

  • Go to “User Home”, and click on “Author” under the name of Journal B. You may start a New Submission by clicking on “CLICK HERE”.
  • We only use three mailboxes as follows to deal with issues about paper acceptance, payment and submission of electronic versions of our journals to databases:;;

 Articles published in Canadian Social Science are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC-BY).


Address1020 Bouvier Street, Suite 400, Quebec City, Quebec, G2K 0K9, Canada.

Website: Http:// Http://,

Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture