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Testing ESL Sociopragmatics

Development and Validation of a Web-based Test Battery


Carsten Roever, Catriona Fraser and Catherine Elder

Testing of second language pragmatics has grown as a research area but still suffers from a tension between construct coverage and practicality. In this book, the authors describe the development and validation of a web-based test of second language pragmatics for learners of English. The test has a sociopragmatic orientation and strives for a broad coverage of the construct by assessing learners’ metapragmatic judgments as well as their ability to co-construct discourse. To ensure practicality, the test is delivered online and is scored partially automatically and partially by human raters. We used the argument-based approach to validation, which showed that the test can support low-stakes decisions about learners’ knowledge of sociopragmatics in English.
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4 Testing second language pragmatics


While pragmatics is part of all the major conceptualizations of communicative competence (Bachman, 1990; Bachman & Palmer, 1996, 2010; Canale & Swain, 1980; Canale, 1983), no test of L2 pragmatics is currently in operational use as part of a major test battery. Some have been part of placement tests but did not usually form part of the placement decision. For all practical purposes, tests of second language pragmatics are still at the research and development stage, and have been at that stage for over 30 years.

Some major traditions in pragmatics testing instruments can be distinguished: an early functional orientation, a speech act orientation, a broadened construct, and a discursive orientation.

The first test to focus on the pragmatic aspects of language was Farhady’s (1980) “functional” test. Farhady based his instrument on the taxonomy of functions in the Council of Europe’s Threshold level (van Ek, 1976). He selected two major language functions (“Expressing and finding out intellectual attitudes” and “Getting things done”) each with four sub-functions including expressing disagreement, asking for information, requesting an action, and suggesting a course of action. Limiting the setting to an academic environment, Farhady varied “social relation” (talking to friends vs. strangers) and “social status” (talking to equals vs. more powerful interlocutors). He created two forms of his test, each containing 28 multiple choice items with four response options. He ran the test as part of a university ESL placement test with 826 test takers, attaining Cronbach’s alpha reliability 0.77 and...

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