Untangling why, when, how and on what ‘it depends!’

I’m delighted to share the following guest post from my friend Jade Blue.

Book review: English is Context. Andreas Grundtvig, 2021. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling my students ‘context is everything’.  It’s a rare occasion when I don’t preface my answer to a language related question with ‘it depends’.  But why does it depend?  When, how, and on what? Meaning is often indecipherable without knowing something about the context, and for learners to really become proficient users of a second language, an understanding of pragmatics is vital.

When I think about how I’ve demonstrated and practised elements of pragmatics in the classroom, my activities have largely been improvised responses to language that emerges during the course of a lesson.  I often find myself trying to make up activities on the spot that not only illustrate how meaning differs according to specific contextual details, but that also allow learners to explore such nuances in a more detailed and structured way. 

Now, finally, the world of ELT has a brilliant new resource for teachers that provides a comprehensive and accessible guide to what pragmatics in English actually entails, and offers practical classroom activities that support learners in gaining a deeper and clearer understanding of how English is used in context.

‘Pragmatics is to structured language instruction what driving lessons are to a theory test: it puts the theory into practice. One without the other might make it possible to ‘muddle through’ but, to achieve maximum control, it is important to have a good balance of both.’ (Grundtvig, 2021)

Andreas Grundtvig’s new book, English is Context, is informative, insightful and engaging, and has made something very complex very accessible.  As well as introducing and explaining the history and theory of pragmatics, Andreas provides us with a broad range of engaging and clearly structured practical classroom activities to help learners improve their pragmatic competence.  These ready-to-use activities introduce learners to strategies for recognising and comprehending contextual clues, helping them reach a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how the meaning of spoken and written texts can differ wildly according to context. 

As well as awareness-raising tasks which help learners consider the impact of the language they use, Andreas’ book includes reflective activities which encourage learners to explore what influences our choice of words and phrases, and exploratory tasks which examine the roles and impact of directness, diplomacy, and the langauge we use to identify with others, establish common ground and build rapport. 

English is Context is a beautifully written and well-designed resource.  It not only offers real insight into the importance of context, but also helps to untangle the complexities of how context influences meaning.  Now, in my classroom, rather than relying on intuition and improvisation to demonstrate to my learners the importance of context, I have at my fingertips a range of well-considered and engaging tasks to help learners become more flexible and proficient speakers of English.  Thank you, Andreas, for writing this book!

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