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TEFL Masterclass – Don’t Forget About the Context! Saving Your Students From Pragmatic Failure

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Andreas Grundtvig – Cambridge Centre Exams Manager Speaker & ELT Author.

André Hedlund is a Chevening Alumnus, MSc Psychology of Education – University of Bristol, Educational Consultant, Speaker, and Guest Lecturer on Bilingualism and Cognition in Postgraduate courses. He currently works as an Edify Bilingual Program Mentor and as a member of BRAZ-TESOL’s Mind, Brain, and Education SIG. He blogs at

What you will learn

The ELT teacher aims to help the learner understand and use words correctly to get a message across.
Job done!

But when that learner is released into the English speaking world, armed with just the lexis and grammar of the classroom, the realisation that words and meanings vary wildly according to the circumstance and the conditions present at the time of speaking, can be like a sudden and abrupt shove into the deep end of language use.

This workshop introduces the idea that language IS context, and suggests ways to help prevent learners from an unexpected breakdown in communication.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Pragmatics and Language Context

Andreas Grundtvig, a teacher and presenter from Hamburg, Germany, introduces the concept of pragmatics in language teaching. He emphasises the importance of context in preventing pragmatic failure. Using examples, Grundtvig highlights that language is more than just a means of communication; it’s a tool for self-expression.

The Role of Context and Pragmatics in Language

Gruntvig discusses the significance of context in understanding language beyond mere words. He reflects on pragmatic competence, a concept stressing the importance of relevance, clarity, and truthfulness in communication. However, he notes that real-world language use often deviates from these ideals. The variety of greetings in English and their context-specific uses are cited as examples. Gruntvig also mentions how recent shifts to online communication have introduced new phrases and communication styles, showcasing the evolution of language.

Linguistics Insights and Communication Strategies

The masterclass focuses on how language fosters connections between people. The politeness principle, involving elements like benefit, generosity, and sympathy, is explored as a means to create positive impressions. Gruntvig also mentions positive and negative politeness to illustrate how communication strategies vary depending on the speaker’s intention to be liked or respected.

Language Assessment and Learning in Modern Times

The evolution of language assessments to include context, register, and style is highlighted, with reference to criteria set by CEFR. Gruntvig emphasizes the need for teachers and learners to adapt to these changes, acknowledging the complex nature of language. He advocates for exposure to various language sources, like series and songs, as a way for students to understand and experiment with language in different contexts. He also suggests innovative teaching methods like role-plays and reverse role-plays to enhance language learning.

The Open-ended Nature of Language

Gruntvig concludes with a thought-provoking question about the nature of language, pondering whether programming languages or universal gestures fall under its definition. This open-ended query encourages further exploration and discussion, particularly in the context of language teaching and learning in the digital age. Gruntvig’s approach invites educators and students to broaden their understanding of language, considering its diverse forms and applications.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. What is the difference between a competent language user and one that is proficient or distinguished?
  2. When might you tell your students that ‘it’ depends on who you are speaking to, or where you are’?
  3. If grammar and vocabulary are the highways of English, what might be the byways?
  4. Why might your students enjoy playing with words?
  • Grundtvig,. A. (2021). English is Context – Practical pragmatics for clear communication.
  • Grundy,. P. (2020). Doing Pragmatics 4th Edition. Routledge.
  • McCarthy,. M. (1991). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge University.

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