chapter  11
20 Pages

Longitudinal gain of higher-order inferential abilities in L2 English: Accuracy, speed, and conventionality


Pragmatic comprehension entails understanding both the literal meaning of an utterance and the force behind the words imbued by speaker’s intention (Thomas, 1995). Given these high-order inferential processing demands, pragmatic comprehension is an area for the development of advanced L2 capacities, requiring efficient listening abilities that draw on well-developed and subtle representations of implicit and explicit knowledge. Rapid, effortless, and accurate skill execution in pragmatic processing is a fundamental characteristic of advanced second language use (Segalowitz, 2003). Hence, accuracy and speed of pragmatic processing can be investigated as two distinct, yet complementary aspects of advancedness in language proficiency. The present study employed this framework to examine the longitudinal development of pragmatic comprehension ability among Japanese college students studying English. Twenty native speakers of English and 92 Japanese learners of L2 English completed a computerized listening test that measured their ability to comprehend implied meaning. The L2 learners completed the test twice, before and after a seven-week course that did not involve pragmatic instruction. Results showed that over a seven-week period these L2 learners made a significant improvement in accuracy (i.e., the number of items answered correctly) and speed (i.e., time taken to answer each item correctly). However, the magnitude of effect was smaller for the speed gain than that for the accuracy gain. In addition, the gain over the seven-week period for comprehension of more conventionalized and less conventionalized items was similar in size. The findings have important implications for theoretical discussions of whether accuracy and speed of pragmatic processing develop in a parallel manner and jointly characterize the course of second language acquisition. They also offer insights on how the gradual development of advanced pragmatic comprehension abilities can be fostered in foreign language contexts which offer limited opportunities for pragmatic awareness and associative practices.