The introduction describes a very real problem for users of English as a foreign language who often have to face uncomfortable and problematic situations in the target language. Frequently they need to interact under difficult, unpredictable and demanding circumstances. They need to make on-the-spot decisions, often making use of limited information and performing under tense communicative pressure to produce quick and socially acceptable responses. This is an area of foreign-language learning and teaching that needs to receive much greater attention and has, to a large extent, been ignored in the contemporary English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom.
Three uncomfortable and problematic contexts are described (a) difficult and confusing situations, (b) impolite and rude encounters and (c) hostile and aggressive incidents. To understand typical and representative situations, research was carried out on more than 200 Mexican advanced EFL users who were asked to recall any difficult, impolite and aggressive situations they had experienced or witnessed in the target-language context. These situations are used as the basis for a pedagogy that prepares language users to negotiate potentially problematic situations.