Motivation, amount of interaction, length of residence, and ESL learners’ pragmatic competence


Texas A&M University, USA


This study examined how motivation for learning English, the amount of contact with English,
and  length  of  residence  in  the  target language area affects Korean graduate students’ English
pragmatic skills. The study attempted to account for differential pragmatic development among
50  graduate-level  Korean  students  in  relation  to  individual  factors  mentioned  above.  The  data
were collected using three types of elicitation instruments: a written background questionnaire,
a  discourse  completion  test,  and  the  mini-Attitude/Motivation  Test  Battery.  Descriptive  and
inferential statistics (correlation coefficients, and multiple regressions) were used to analyze the
data.  The  findings  of  the  study  revealed  that  (a)  the  level  of  motivation  had  a  positive  and
moderate relationship with the ESL learners’ L2 pragmatic competence; and (b) the amount of
L2 contact and length of residence had only a weak and insignificant impact on the participants’
pragmatic competence.


Main Subjects

In  the  past  two  decades,  a  substantial  body
of  empirical  research  in  interlanguage
pragmatics  has  described  how  speech  acts
performed  by  non-native  speakers  differ
from  the  target  language  norms.   These
studies  have  focused  on  either  the
production or comprehension of speech acts
such  as  requests,  refusals,  apologies,  and
compliments.  Compared to other studies of
second-language  acquisition  (SLA),  which
have  examined  variation  among  individuals
with  respect  to  L2  language  learning  for
quite  some  time,  most  ILP  studies  to  date
have  been  limited  to  finding  how  L2
learners perform a particular speech act, and
there  has  been  relatively  little  inquiry  into
how  they  acquire  L2  pragmatics  and  which
factors  affect  learners’  acquisition  of  L2
pragmatics (Bardovi-Harlig, 1999; Kasper &
Rose,  2002).    Thus,  ILP  researchers  have
argued  for  additional  inquiry  into  the
variables that are known to potentially affect
learners’ pragmatic development.
Researchers have found that “high levels of
proficiency  do  not  guarantee  concomitantly
high  levels  of  pragmatic  competence”
(Bardovi-Harlig,  1999,  p.  686)  and  that
other  variables  like  length  of  stay  in  the
target  community,  quality  and  quantity  of
input,  and  level  of  interaction  should  be
taken  into  account  when  assessing  L2
learners’ performance. The role of length of
residence  in  the  target  community,  quality
and amount of input and level of motivation
on  learners’  pragmatic  development  are
important issues to consider (Bardovi-Harlig
1999;  Kasper  &  Rose,  2002).  Furthermore,
the  inconsistency  of  research  findings
regarding  the  impact  that  individual
differences  such  as  length  of  residence  and
motivation  might  have  on  learners’
pragmatic  development  requires  more
research  (Churchill  &  Dufon  2006;  Félix-Brasdefer 2004; Kasper & Rose 2002).  
A  second-language  context  supports  the
acquisition  of  pragmatic  issues  as  learners
encounter  more  opportunities  to  use  the
language,  and  are  generally  exposed  to  the
L2  more  intensively  (Eslami-Rasekh,  2005;
Segalowitz  &  Freed,  2004).  However,  the
assumption  that  that  living  abroad  provides
an  ideal  context  for  language  learning  has
been  questioned  by  other  researchers
(Yager,  1998).    The  factors  that  each
individual brings to the learning  context  are
both crucial and complex.  Learners differ in
terms  of  how  ready  they  are  linguistically
and cognitively to seize and benefit from the
opportunities provided for language learning
(Segalowitz  &  Freed,  2004;  DeKeyser,
1991).    This  study,  thus,  considers  how
different  variables,  such  as  motivation,  the
amount of contact with English, and type of
contact,  affect  Korean  graduate  students’
English pragmatic skills.  By  examining the
effects  of  these  factors  on  L2  pragmatic
competence,  we  hope  to  gain  more
knowledge  about  the  dynamic  interactions
between  learners’  pragmatic  development
and  individual  variables,  creating  a  better
understanding  of  the  potential  influence  of
these  variables  in  L2  pragmatic  acquisition
In  what  follows  we  will  first  present  the
theoretical  framework  of  the  study.
Following that the methodology of the study
will  be  presented.  The  results  of  the  study
are  presented  next,  and  at  the  end  the
findings  are  discussed  and  conclusions
Theoretical framework
The  role  of  individual  variables  in  the
development of second language pragmatics
Researching  individual  differences  (ID)  in
language  learning  has  a  long  tradition  in
SLA.    However,  the  role  of  ID  in  the
acquisition of L2 pragmatics has rarely been
addressed.  Existing  research  in  SLA  has
investigated  how  the  social,  psychological,
cognitive,  and  personal  dimensions  of  L2
learning impact how much and how quickly
the individual will learn an L2 (Collentine &
Freed, 2004).  
The  first  dimension  falls  under  the  heading
of social factors. The basic theory is that the
language  learners’  emotional  and  social
attachment to the target language culture has
a  positive  effect  on  the  amount  of  language
learned.    Cross-cultural  adjustment  and
acculturation have been cited as particularly
important  in  determining  how  much
language  will  be  learned.    Additionally,
attitudes  (Schumann,  1986)  and  intended
length  of  residence  in  the  target  language
area  are  other  crucial  factors.    A  language
learner  who  intends  to  remain  in  the  target
language area for a long time is more likely
to  develop  extensive  contact  with  the  target
language  members,  promoting  L2  learning
(Schumann, 1986). L language development
differences  is  also  attributed  to
psychological factors and includes variables
such  as  language  shock,  culture  shock,
culture  stress,  integrative  or  instrumental
motivation, and ego-permeability.  The third
group  refers  to  cognitive  factors  and
includes  the  learner’s  language  aptitude,
intelligence,  and  differing  attention  levels.  
Learners  may  differ  in  where  they  direct  or
orient  their  attention  to  the  input  they
receive,  as  well  as  the  output  they  produce,
and these differences may play a crucial role
in  developmental  outcomes  in  language
learning (Skehan & Foster, 2001).   
The  final  set  of  individual  variables  is
related  to  age,  gender,  anxiety,  self-esteem,
tolerance  of  ambiguity,  language  learning
styles,  and  language  learning  strategies
(Larsen-Freeman, 2001).  Research suggests
that  no  single  variable  can  account  for  the
rate  and  success  of  language  acquisition.
Nevertheless,  the  study  of  SLA  within  and
across  various  contexts  of  learning  would
lead  to  a  broadening  of  our  perspective
concerning the most important variables that
affect and impede L2 acquisition.     
Length of residence
Length  of  residence  is  construed  as  one  of
the  ID  variables  that  affect  learners’
different  developmental  stages  of  L2
pragmatics.    Many  studies  have  used  length
of  stay  in  a  target  speech  community  as  an
indicator  of  L2  pragmatic  acquisition  (Han,
2005).    Researchers  argue  that  language
learners living in a target speech community
have  many  opportunities  to  interact  in  the
L2,  which  leads  to  the  learners’  successful
acquisition  of  pragmatic  competence.  
Blum-Kulka  and  Olshtain  (1986)  found  a
relationship  between  length  of  stay  in  the
target speech community and the target-like
perception of directness and politeness in an
L2.    Olshtain  and  Blum-Kulka’s  study
(1985)  also  showed  that  the  amount  of
external  modification  used  by  L2  learners
approximated  community  pragmatic  norms
after five to seven years of stay in the target
language  environment,  and  that  such
convergence  correlated  positively  with
duration  of  stay.  Takahashi  and  Beebe
(1987)  compared  Japanese  EFL  and  ESL
learners’  production  of  refusals  and  found
that  the  ESL  learners’  refusals  were  more
target-like.    House  (1996)  found  that
learners who had stayed in English-speaking
countries  consistently  performed  better  than
their  peers  who  had  not,  both  before  and
after  instruction.  Röver  (1996)  found  that
German EFL students who had spent as little
as  six  weeks  in  English-speaking  countries
outperformed learners who did not in the use
of  pragmatic  routines.     Bouton  (1999)
investigated how length  of residence affects
non-native  speakers’  understanding  of
implicature in American English.  Similarly,
Churchill  (2001)  recorded  a  decrease  in
direct want statements in the English request
realizations of his JFL learners over a month
in  the  target  language  context.    Overall,
these studies suggest that longer residence in
the target language community  yield greater
L2 pragmatic attainments.
Contrary  to  what  these  studies  claim,
however, some researchers argue that length
of  residence  in  the  target  country  has  not
been  identified  as  a  good  predictor  of  L2
attainment  and  is  not  sufficient  in  the
achievement of increased proficiency in  L2.  
Kondo  (1997)  examined  Japanese  EFL
learners’  apology  performance  before  and
after  one  year  of  home  stay  in  the  United
States, and compared them with L1 speakers
of Japanese and American English.  In some
respects,  the  students’  apologies  became
more  target-like,  but  in  others  they  did  not.  
In  a  more  recent  study,  Rodriguez  (2001)
investigated  the  effect  of  a  semester
studying in a target-language community by
examining  students’  request  strategies.    The
findings  of  the  study  showed  no  advantage
at all for the study-abroad students.  Roever
(2001)  also  observed  that  neither  learners’
comprehension  of  implicatures  nor
performance  of  speech  acts  in  English
benefited from the learners’ time abroad.  It
is  possible  that,  much  like  how  children
acquire  L1  through  continuous  interaction
with adults and peers, L2 learners may need
to  be  involved  in  intensive  interaction  with
native  speakers  and  fully  embrace  the  L2
culture  in  order  to  achieve  native-like
pragmatic  skills  in  the  L2  (Ninio  &  Snow,
Although  the  studies  mentioned  above
provide  evidence  of  the  relation  between
pragmatic  development  and  learners’  length
of  residence  in  the  target  language
community,  one  might  wonder  to  what
extent pragmatic ability is influenced by the
intensity  of  learners’  exposure  to  the  target
language,  as  opposed  to  the  quantitative
measure  of  length  of  residence  in  the  target
language  community.   Related  to  this,  from
their  longitudinal  study  of  learners’
acquisition  of  temporality,  Klein,  Dietrich,
and  Noyau  (1995)  concluded  that  what
matters  is  intensity,  not  length,  of
interaction.    Similarly,  Matsumura  (2003)
asserted  that  acquisition  of  pragmatic
competence is not associated with the length
of stay, because learners vary individually in
the amount of interaction in an L2 as well as
opportunities to interact in the target culture.
Thus,  intensity  of  interaction  may  account
for  more  of  the  learning  process  than
duration  of  stay  in  the  L2  speech
Kasper  and  Rose  (2002),  have  raised
concerns  as  to  whether  pragmatic  ability  is
influenced  by  the  quality  of  nonnative
speakers’ exposure and social contacts or the
quantitative  measure  of  length  of  residence.
These  researchers  consider  intensity  of
interaction  to  be  the  important  factor  rather
than  the  length  of  residence.  For  example,
Bella’s  (2011)  study  on  invitation  refusals
by  L2  learners  of  Greek  revealed  that
opportunities  for  interaction  are  much  more
critical than length of residence in the target
community for the development of learners’
pragmatic competence. Bella’s (2012) study
revealed similar results in relation to request
modification  strategies.  These  findings
suggest  that  the  impact  of  length  of
residence  in  the  target  community  and
intensity  of  interaction  with  native  speakers
on  pragmatic  development  remains  an  open
question  which  is  worth  exploring  further.
As suggested by Félix-Brasdefer (2004), the
results of studies dealing with the  effects of
length  of  residence  on  pragmatic  ability
should  be  viewed  with  caution  due  to  the
variation research findings present regarding
both  the  pragmatic  measure  used
(comprehension,  production,  etc.)  and  the
time  span  proposed  for  pragmatic
development to take place.  
Amount of interaction
Seliger’s  1977  study  of  the  role  of
interaction  patterns  of  ESL  students
provides  empirical  support  that  target
language  use  is  essential  in  second-
language  acquisition.    Seliger  claimed  that
the  more  learners  seek  out  opportunities  to
use  the  target  language  and  interact
intensively  with  native  speakers,  the  more
competent  they  become.    Stern  (1983)  also
believed  that  committed  language  learners
“seek  communicative  contact  with  target
language  community  members  and  become
actively involved as participants in authentic
language  use”  (p.  411).    Pica  (1996)  and
Ellis (1994) also offered evidence to validate
the positive correlations between interaction
in  the  target  language  and  success  in
language  learning.    Learners  acquire
comprehensible  input  through  target
language  interactions  that  provide  input  on
how  to  successfully  use  the  language,  enact
speech  acts,  and  carry  out  redressive  action
(LoCastro,  2003).    Marriot  (1995)  study
examined  the  acquisition  of  sociolinguistic
competence  by  Australian  secondary
students  who  participated  in  exchange
programs  in  Japan.    She  observed  how
learners benefit more from  “self- and other-correction”  procedures  in  interactive
situations  in  a  Japanese  homestay  context.  
Cooperative interactants who surrounded the
learners  contributed  significantly  to  the
development of these learners’ L2 pragmatic
Likewise,  Edmondson  and  House  (1991)
suggested that exposure to proper pragmatic
input  in  the  target  language  does  have  a
beneficial  effect  on  the  development  of
pragmatic competence.  Kasper (1998) noted
that  “sustained  contact  with  the  target
language  and  culture  may  be  required  to
attain native pragmatic knowledge and skill”
(p.  200).   Resonating  this,  Wray  (1999)
proposed  that  interactions  with  native
speakers  helps  language  learners  obtain  the
pragmatic rules of use in the target language.  
Additionally,  in  a  study  on  Japanese  ESL
learners’  perception  of  appropriateness  in
advice  situations,  Matsumura  (2003)  found
that  the  amount  of  exposure  to  the  target
language  was  a  significant  factor  predicting
learners’ pragmatic ability.
Although  there  are  a  number  of  studies  in
SLA  that  suggest  motivation  is  one  of  the
variables that provide the primary impetus to
initiate L2 learning, and the driving force to
sustain the long-term learning process, there
is  a  relative  dearth  of  data  that  specifically
focus on a possible link between motivation
and  L2  learners’  pragmatic  competence.  
Additionally,  depending  on  the  domain  of
language  to  be  examined,  motivation  has
been found to have more or less effect.  Au
(1998)  pointed  out  that  a  number  of  studies
have  revealed  zero  or  even  negative
relationships  between  motivation  and  L2
proficiency  (Clement,  Gardner,  &  Smythe,
1980;  Kasper  &  Schmidt,  1996).    The
importance  of  motivation  in  interlanguage
pragmatics was raised as one of twelve basic
questions by Kasper and Schmidt (1996).  
Niezgoda  and  Rover  (2001)  showed  that
environment  may  not  be  the  only  factor
influencing  the  development  of  pragmatic
competence and affective variables may also
play  an  important  role  in  learners’  L2
pragmatic  acquisition.    Schmidt  (1993)
observed that “those who are concerned with
establishing  relationships  with  target
language  speakers  are  more  likely  to  pay
close  attention  to  the  pragmatic  aspects  of
input  and  to  struggle  to  understand  than
those who are not so motivated”(p. 36).  
The  first  systematic  studies  to  examine  the
effects of motivation on L2 pragmatics were
by  Takahashi,  2001  and  2005.  Takahashi
(2001)  speculated  that  motivation  could  be
one  of  the  most  influential  individual
variables influencing differences in learners’
noticing  of  target  request  forms.  The  study
shows  that  highly  motivated  learners
willingly  adopt  target  standards  for
pragmatic  action,  whereas  less-motivated
learners  are  more  likely  to  resist  accepting
target  norms.   Takahashi  argued  that
learners’ personal values may influence how
much  effort  they  expend  on  understanding
L2  pragmatics  and  sociolinguistic  practices
and how much of a positive affect they have
toward a target-language community.  
Evidence  from  research  studies  indicates
that  availability  of  input  through
interlocutors  or  models  is  a  necessary
condition  for  development  of  pragmatic
competence.   However,  learner-internal
factors  may  control  the  conversion  of  input
to  intake  and  consequently  hinder  or  boost
the  development  of  pragmatic  knowledge.
Accordingly, the present study examines the
role  of  motivation  in  interlanguage
Considering  the  importance  of  length  of
residence,  amount  of  interaction  and
motivation in second language acquisition, it
is  worthwhile  to  examine  whether  these
three  variables  play  a  role  in  the  pragmatic
competence  of  ESL  learners.  The  study
focuses  on  the  performance  of  compliments
and  compliment  responses  by  Korean  ESL

Compliments are one of the frequently used
speech acts in everyday encounters, yet they
are intricate and could be challenging for L2
learners.  They  are  studied  in  different
languages  and  compared  across  languages
and  cultures  (e.g.,  Golato,  2005;  Lorenzo-Dus,  2001;  Maíz-Arévalo,  2012,  Manes,
1983; Wolfson & Manes, 1981). One of the
earliest  studies  is  Wolfson  and  Manes
(1981)  empirical  and  descriptive  work  on
compliments in  American English.  Wolfson
and  Manes  (1981)  argued  that  compliments
in  American  English  are  highly  patterned,
with  a  very  restricted  set  of  syntax  and
lexicon.   Wolfson  and  Manes  (1981)  also
found  that  the  most  frequent  topics  of
compliments  fall  into  two  major  categories:
those  having  to  do  with
appearance/possessions,  and  those
addressing  ability/performance.    Under  the
category  of  appearance/possessions,
compliments  tend  to  be  on  clothing  and
other  personal  features  such  as  hairstyles
and  on  possessions  such  as  cars  and
household items.   
Complimenting  can  be  treated  as  a  social
strategy  employed  to  start  or  maintain
solidarity  in  mundane  interactions  between
colleagues,  neighbors,  or  close  friends.  
Holmes  (1988)  essentially  agreed  with  this
view by treating compliments as “positively
affective  speech  acts  directed  to  the
addressee  that  serve  to  increase  or
consolidate  the  solidarity  between  the
speaker and addressee” (p. 486).  According
to  Herbert  (1989),  compliments  establish
solidarity with the listener by praising some
feature relevant to that listener, of which the
listener  approves.  Compliments  serve  many
other social functions as well.  Under certain
conditions, compliments replace speech acts
such  as  apologies,  thanking,  and  greetings.  
Compliments  can  also  be  used  to  soften  the
effects of criticism or other face-threatening
acts  such  as  requests  (Billmyer,  1990).    As
Wolfson  (1983)  suggested,  compliments
may  even  be  used  as  sarcasm  (e.g.,  “You
play  a  good  game  of  tennis  —  for  a
woman”) (pp. 86-93).  
Compliment responses
Compliments  trigger  a  number  of  response
options  for  the  addressee  (Holmes,  1995;
Maíz-Arévalo,  2012;  Pomerantz,  1978).  
One  early  study  focusing  specifically  on
compliment responses is Pomerantz’s (1978)
descriptive  analysis  of  compliment
responses  in  American  English.   Based  on
her  data,  Pomerantz  posited  that
agreement/acceptance  and
disagreement/rejection  were  the
predominant  compliment  response  type  in
American English.  
Gracefully  accepting  compliments  without
seeming  to  praise  oneself  can  result  in  a
dilemma for the recipient of the compliment
(Herbert,  1986).    Manes  (1983)  also
recognized  the  dilemma  posed  to  receivers
of  compliments  and  offered  a  set  of
strategies  which  enable  speakers  to  both
accept  but  not  necessarily  agree  with  the
As  Herbert  (1990)  pointed  out,  “thank  you”
is  considered  the  most  appropriate  response
to a compliment in the United States. While
this  response  is  appropriate  in  most
situations,  researchers  have  stated  that  “an
unadorned  ‘thanks’  may  unintentionally
limit  or  even  end  an  interaction  between
status  equals,  and  deflecting  compliments
may serve to extend the interaction between
interlocutors,  which  may  lead  to
interlanguage  development”  (Billmyer,
Jakar, & Lee, 1989, p. 17).  Wolfson (1989)
agreed  stating  that  a  native  speaker  of
English  may  strategically  use  compliments
to  open  and  to  lengthen  the  conversation.  
Using  a  simple  “thanks”  then  may
inadvertently result in the  opposite outcome
by  limiting  opportunities  to  extend  the
interaction.  As  a  result,  interaction
opportunities  for  the  nonnative  speakers
may  be  hindered  (Wolfson,  1989).  Being
able to compliment others and to respond to
compliments  effectively  will  enhance
interaction  possibilities  for  the  learners  and
therefore,  should  promote  their  pragmatic
Purpose of the study
This  study  examined  the  Korean  ESL
learners’  level  of  approximation  to  native
speakers’  use  of  giving  compliments  and
responding to compliments, and the effect of
the  three  research  variables  (motivation  to
learn  English,  the  amount  of  interaction  in
English,  and  length  of  residence  in  the
target-language  area)  on  the  pragmatic
competence  level  attained.  The  following
research questions were addressed:
1)  How  do  differences  in  the  Korean
ESL  learners’  degree  of  motivation
correlate  with  their  achievement  of
pragmatic competence?
2)  How  does  the  amount  of  interaction
in  English  contribute  to  the
differences  in  the  Korean  ESL
learners’ pragmatic competence?
3)  How  do  differences  in  the  Korean
ESL  learners’  length  of  residence
contribute  to  the  differences  in  the
Korean  ESL  learners’  pragmatic
The  participants  of  the  study  were  50
Korean  graduate  students  majoring  in
different  academic  fields  at  Texas  A&M
University  in  the  United  States.    The  length
of  time  the  participants  had  spent  in  the
United States ranged from two years to eight
years.  The participants  were  recruited from
various  Korean  communities  (e.g.,  Korean
students’ association, Korean churches).   
The data for the present study were collected
using three types of elicitation instruments: a
written  background  questionnaire,  a
discourse  completion  test,  and  the  mini-Attitude/Motivation Test Battery.   
Background Information Questionnaire  
The  researchers  used  the  background
questionnaire  to  identify  the  amount  of
interaction  in  English  the  participants
experienced  in  their  daily  encounters  and
their  length  of  residence  in  the  United
States.    The  questionnaire  elicited
information  on  the  total  amount  of  time
participants  used  English  during  a  typical
week, both inside and outside the classroom
(e.g.,  the  time  spent  speaking  English,
watching television or listening to the radio,
reading  books  in  English,  and  writing
email), and the number of years spent in the
United States.   
Discourse Completion Test
Data  for  examining  pragmatic  competence
of Korean ESL learners in the speech acts of
compliment and compliment responses were
collected  via  a  written  DCT.    Social
variables  of  power  and  distance  were
considered  in  designing  the  DCT  situations
and  only  complimenting  scenarios  assumed
by  the  researchers  to  be  experienced  by  the
participants  in  their  daily  living  in  the  L2
community were used for the study.
Social  distance  was  kept  constant  in  all
situations  (only  acquaintances),  since
research has indicated that the great majority
of  compliments  occur  between  interlocutors
who are friends or acquaintances, rather than
strangers  (e.g.,  Manes,  1983;  Wolfson,
1981, 1989).  

The Mini-Attitude/Motivation Test Battery
The  mini-attitude/motivation  test  battery
(mini-AMTB)  was  used  to  measure  the
participants’  degree  of  motivation  to  learn
English.  Developed by  Gardner (1985), the
AMTB  is  the  most  frequently  used
assessment  tool  to  measure  students’
attitudes  and  motivation  to  learn  another
language,  and  to  assess  various  individual
difference  variables  based  on  the  socio-educational  model.    The  mini-AMTB  is
made  up  of  11  items  that  fall  into  five
dimensions  of  motivational  constructs:
integrativeness  (items  1-3),  attitudes  toward
learning  (items  4  and  5),  motivation  (items
6-8),  instrumental  orientation  (item  9),  and
language  anxiety  (items  10  and  11).    The
mini-AMTB  uses  a  seven-point  interval
scale  anchored  at  the  end  points,  with  the
mid-point  as  neutral.    The  mini-AMTB  has
recently  been  used  in  many  studies  of  L2
motivation (e.g., Baker & Macintyre, 2000),
because it reduces administration time while
measuring  the  basic  constructs  of  the
original AMTB.   
Data collection procedures
A  pilot  study  was  conducted  prior  to  the
main  study  to  determine  the  practical
feasibility  of  the  inquiry  and  to  ensure
clarity of the questionnaire and the discourse
completion  test.  In  the  main  study,
participants  first  signed  a  consent  form
confirming  their  willingness  to  participate.  
The  researchers  provided  the  participants
with  detailed  instructions  about  the  tasks  in
their  L1.    The  instruments  were
administered  individually  and  each
participant  was  asked  to  complete  the
written  open  DCT  first  and  then  the
background  information  and  motivation
Data analyses
A statistical analysis of the data was carried
out  using  version  14.0  of  the  Statistical
Package  for  the  Social  Sciences.    Tests  for
normality  of  variables,  multicollinearity
among  variables,  and  interrater  reliability
were taken to prevent against validity issues
and  to  improve  the  reliability  of  the
quantitative  analyses.    Descriptive  statistics
were  used  and  the  means  for  level  of
pragmatic  competence,  amount  of
interaction in English, length of residence in
the  target  environment  and  motivation  were
converted  to  standardized  scores  (z  scores)
for  each  participant.    The  standardized  data
were then analyzed by performing a Pearson
product-moment  correlation  and  multiple
regression (α = .05).   
Pearson’s  r  correlation  coefficients  were
carried  out  to  examine  if  there  is  a
statistically  significant  correlation  among
three  independent  variables  (motivation  for
learning  English,  the  amount  of  interaction
in English, and length of residence in the L2
community)  and  Korean  ESL  learners’  L2
pragmatic competence.  
Following  bivariate  (correlational)
relationship  analysis,  multiple  regression
analysis  was  performed  to  determine  the
joint  effects  of  all  independent  variables  on
the  dependent  variable.    A  multiple
regression  analysis  was  conducted  to
determine  if  the  findings  in  correlation
coefficient  analysis  are  upheld  by  the
multiple regression analysis.   
This study aimed to account for the different
levels  of  pragmatic  development  among
fifty  graduate-level  Korean  ESL  learners
and whether the learners’ pragmatic ability
was  influenced  by  motivation  levels  for
learning  English,  the  amount  of  interaction
in  English,  and  length  of  their  residence  in
the target-language community.   
First,  univariate  descriptive  statistics  were
conducted  to  obtain  mean,  standard
deviation,  skewness  and  kurtosis  of  the  raw
data  for  each  observed  variable.    Table  2
displays a summary of univariate descriptive
statistics for the three observed variables.

The mean level in the DCT representing the
L2  pragmatic  competence  of  the  Korean
ESL  learners  when  performing
complimenting  behavior  indicated  that  the
Korean  ESL  subjects  attained  a  relatively
high level of English pragmatic competence.  
A  mean  of  1.85  suggests  that  the  Korean
ESL  learners’  DCT  rating  is  close  to  the
“acceptable”  category,  which  means  that
their  dialogues  contained  small  errors  with
respect  to  pragmatic  norms.    The  total
amount  of  time  the  participants  spent
interacting in English each week had a mean
of  32.04.    The  seven-point  scale  to
determine subjects’ level of motivation for
learning English had a  mean of 4.67, which
implies that the participants had a favorable
attitude toward learning English.  
Measures  of  skewness  and  kurtosis  were
examined  to  ensure  that  the  data  of
individual  variables  represented  a  normal
distribution.    As  seen  in  Table  2,  the
skewness  and  kurtosis  values  of  the  three
variables all lie between ± 1.0, which means
that  all  three  variables  fall  within  the
“excellent” range as acceptable variables for
further  analyses  (George  and  Mallery,
The  Pearson  Product  Moment  Correlation
was  used  to  examine  the  degree  of
consistency  in  the  two  independent  raters
who  scored  the  participants’  DCT  scores.  
There  was  a  correlation  coefficient  of  .61
using  Eisenstein  and  Bodman’s  (1993)
nativeness  rating  scale  for  assessing  the
participants’  pragmatic  competence.  
Meanwhile,  multicollinearity  was  found  to
pose  no  threat  to  the  reliability  of  the
subsequent regression analyses.   
DCT rating results
Results  of  the  DCT  rating  showed  that  71
(35.5  percent)  of  the  dialogues  achieved  a
rating of 1 (native-like).  A large number, 92
(46  percent),  obtained  a  rating  of  2
(acceptable)  and  contained  small  errors  that
did  not  affect  understanding  or
appropriateness.  Thirty-one dialogues (15.5
percent) received a rating of 3 (problematic)
which  meant  that  they  contained  errors  that
might cause misunderstandings.  There were
6  dialogues  (3  percent)  that  were  rated  as  4
(not  acceptable)  meaning  that  they  were
difficult  to  comprehend  and/or  there  were
instances of a violation of a social norm.
The  analysis  of  factors  that  contribute  to
success  in  achieving  L2  pragmatics  were
performed using DCT scores as the criterion
measure  of  learners’  pragmatic  skills.  
Correlation  coefficient  analysis  was
performed  to  investigate  the  relationship
among the four variables of interest.   
Research Question One
The first research question examined to what
extent  learners’  pragmatic  competence  is
related  to  their  degree  of  motivation.    To
examine  this  relationship,  a  Pearson
product-moment  correlation  analysis  with
alpha set at .05 was performed.  The analysis
indicated  a  significant  and  strong
relationship  between  DCT  scores  and  the
level of motivation (r = -.305, p = .031).
Next, we examined which subcomponents of
motivation  are  correlated  with  pragmatic
competence.  Descriptive  statistics  (table  3)
show  that  the  measures  of  skewness  and
kurtosis  of  the  five  motivation  subscales
were within acceptable levels and consistent
with  a  relatively  normal  distribution.  Thus
we followed with the correlation analysis.

As  shown  in  table  4,  motivation  subscale
showed  the  highest  correlation  (r  =  -.287,  p
=  .043)  with  participants’  DCT  scores,
followed  by  language  anxiety  with  the
second  highest  correlation  (r  =  -.245,  p
=.086).    Both  constructs  show  moderate,
statistically  significant  correlations.    The
positive  relationship  between  anxiety  and
pragmatic  competence  was  rather
unexpected  because  previous  studies  in
general  have  found  a  negative  relationship
between  anxiety  and  L2  achievement
(Gardner,  Day,  &  MacIntyre,  1992).  
However,  some  researchers  have  found
experimental evidence that anxiety could be
beneficial  in  language  learning  (Brown,
Robson, & Rosenkjar, 2001). 

The  other  subscales  on  motivation  survey
(integrative  and  instrumental  orientation,
attitude  toward  learning  situation)  and  the
pragmatic  competence  did  not  reveal  any
statistically significant relationships.   
Research Question Two
The  second  research  question  examined
whether learners’ pragmatic ability is related
to  amount  of  interaction  in  the  target
language.    A  Pearson  product-moment
correlation  matrix  was  used  to  examine  the
relationship  between  the  amount  of
interaction in English and the students’ level
of L2 pragmatic ability.   
Contrary  to  what  was  expected,  the
correlation  coefficient  for  amount  of
interaction was not statistically significant (r
= -.194, p = .177).  Research has shown that
the  type  of  interaction,  rather  than  the
amount  of  interaction,  is  instrumental  in
developing  pragmatic  ability  (Parr,  1988;
Freed,  1990;  Ward  &  Rana-Deuba,  2000).  
Thus, a Pearson product-moment correlation
matrix between separate types of interaction
in  the  target  language  and  the  learners’
pragmatic competence was performed.
Descriptive statistics in Table 5 show mean,
standard deviation, skewness and kurtosis of
the raw data for the four types of interaction.

A  review  of  the  summary  statistics  showed
an  abnormal  distribution  for  two  of  the
subcomponents  of  amount  of  interaction
variable  (speaking  and  writing).    Thus,  a
data  transformation  on  the  variables
(speaking  and  writing)  which  did  not  show
normal distribution was executed.
Table 6 presents the correlation between the
participants’ DCT performance and the three
interaction subfactors.   

The  correlation  coefficients  between  the
different  types  of  interaction  and  the
pragmatic  competence  were  small  and  a
salient  relationship  was  identified  only
between  time  spent  reading  books  and  the
DCT scores (r= -.315, p = .026).   
Research Question Three  
The  third  research  question  examined  to
what  extent  achievement  of  L2  pragmatic
competence  is  related  to  the  length  of
residence  in  the  second  language
community.    The  correlation  analysis
showed  that  the  relationship  between  the
two  variables  was  in  the  desired  direction;
that is, longer length of  residence was more
likely  to  lead  to  better  outcomes  in  L2
pragmatics.  However,  the  correlation
coefficient  (r=  -.141,  p  =  .329)  was  not
Regression analysis
The third phase of our analysis  consisted of
multivariate  statistical  analyses.    When
examined individually, the regression model
of  the  effect  of  motivation  on  pragmatic
competence  was  significant  and  about  10
percent  of  the  variation  in  the  dependent
variable  (R2
=.093)  was  accounted  for  by
motivation  variable.    However,  the  model
including  either  amount  of  interaction  or
length  of  residence  as  the  independent
variable  failed  to  demonstrate  the  powerful
relationship between these variables and the
dependent variable.   
Multiple regression modeling was then used
to  analyze  the  overall  contribution  of  each
independent  variable  with  the  influence  of
other  independent  variables  controlled  for,
evaluating  the  contribution  of  total
independent  variables  to  the  total  explained
variation in the dependent variable.  The aim
was  to  examine  two  questions:  Was  it
possible  that  students’  L2  pragmatic
achievement  was  best  predicted  as  a
combination  of  all  three  predictor  variables
of  motivation,  amount  of  interaction,  and
length  of  residence?  Or  did  a  single
predictor  variable  yield  greater
predictability?  To answer these questions, a
series  of  multiple  regressions  were
performed  by  first  entering  two  predictor
variables  (amount  of  interaction  and  length
of  residence)  after  controlling  for  the
strongest  predictor  identified  based  on  the
correlation analyses (motivation).   
Inspection  of  the  squared  multiple
correlations  (R2)  suggests  that  overall,  7.5
percent  of  the  variance  related  to
participants’ L2 pragmatic competence was
explained  by  two  variables  (amount  of
interaction  and  length  of  residence).  Based
on  Cohen  (1988),  this  effect  size  is
considered to be small and not significant (F
(2, 47) = 1,899, p = 0.161).  
Next,  in  order  to  explore  the  presence  of
possible  relationships  between  predictors
and  outcomes,  all  three  independent
variables (motivation, amount of interaction,
and  length  of  residence)  were  added  to  the
model,  and  changes  in  the  values  and
direction  of  parameter  estimates  as  well  as
changes  in  the  significance  and  the  size  of
the  R
  were  recorded.  When  motivation
predictor was added to the model, the value
of R2 did change substantially (from R2=.075 to  R
2=.154).    Inspection  of  the  squared

multiple  correlations  (R2)  suggests  that
moderate  and  statistically  significant
relationships  were  found  among  these
predictors, F (3, 46) = 2,802, p = 0.050.  The
three  independent  variables  explained  about
16 percent of the variance.
To  explain  the  degree  to  which  the
independent  variables  (motivation,  amount
of  interaction,  and  length  of  residence)
affect  the  L2  pragmatic  achievement  of  the
learners,  the  weight  of  their  respective
standardized  regression  coefficient,  or  beta
(β),  was  calculated  for  each  predictor
variable.    The  predictor  variable  of
motivation  yielded  a  beta  of  -.286  and  a  t
value  of  -2.083  resulting  in  a  significant
relationship  (p  =  .043)  while  the  predictor
variable  of  the  amount  of  interaction  and
length of  residence  yielded a beta of  -.197/-.206  and  a  t  of  -1.395/-1.477  resulting  in  a
non-significant  relationship  (p  =  .170/.147),
Findings  from  multivariate  regression
analysis  are  consistent  with  those  obtained
through  examination  of  simple  correlations,
and  suggest  that  among  all  predictors
considered  in  the  present  study  motivation
was  the  main  predictor  of  the  criterion
variable (pragmatic competence).  
Discussion and conclusions
This  study  was  undertaken  in  an  attempt  to
account for Korean ESL learners’ pragmatic
competence, as functions of their motivation
levels  for  learning  English,  amount  of
interaction  in  English,  and  length  of
residence in the target-language community.  
Pearson’s  r  correlation  coefficients  were
calculated  to  assess  which  variable  was  the
better  predictor  of  participants’  pragmatic
competence.    The  correlation  between
pragmatic  competence  and  motivation  was
moderately significant; contrary to what was
expected,  however,  the  correlation
coefficient for the amount of interaction and
length of residence was relatively low.   
The  results  support  other  research  findings
that  indicate  motivation  as  an  important
factor  in  second-language  pragmatic
acquisition  (e.g.,  Cook,  2001;  Niezgoda
&Rover,  2001;  Schmidt,  1993;  Takahashi,
2001,  2005).  With  respect  to  this  finding,
data  was  further  examined  to  check  the
extent  to  which  the  subcomponents  of
motivation were related to the participants’
L2 pragmatic competence.  The results show
that  learners’  pragmatic  competence  is
associated  with  some  motivational  factors
but  not  with  all  motivation  subscales.    In
particular,  the  learners’  motivational
intensity  was  found  to  be  closely  related  to
their  pragmatic  competence.    The  one
exception  to  this  finding  was  a  positive
relationship  between  language  anxiety  and
the  participants’  pragmatic  performance.  
This  finding  is  incongruent  with  other
research in which language anxiety has been
shown to correlate negatively with language
achievement  (Gardner  &  Macintyre,  1993;
Horwitz,  2001).    Our  results  are  not
unexpected  given that some studies indicate
what  would  typically  be  labeled  as
detrimental  anxiety  could  be  sometimes
facilitative  for  language  learning  (Brown,
Robson, & Rosenkjar, 2001).
Our  study  indicates  that  the  relationship
between  amount  of  interaction  and
pragmatics  competence  was  weak  and  non-significant. The findings of the present study
are  inconsistent  with  the  findings  of  some
previous  studies,  which  found  a  statistically
significant  relationship  between  interaction
and  students’  pragmatic  abilities  (Bacon,
2002;  Hashimoto,  1993;  Lapkin,  Hart,  &
Swain, 1995).  Our findings, however, agree
with  some  other  studies  indicating  that
informal  contact  does  not  necessarily  result
in  pragmatic  development  (e.g.,  Bouton,

1994;  Masumura,  2003).  The  fact  that
increased  opportunities  to  interact  in  the  L2
did  not  necessarily  result  in  L2  pragmatic
achievement is an important issue for future
research.    Possible  explanations  might  be
that  the  amount  of  interaction  itself  was
insufficient  and  thus  failed  to  contribute  to
increases  of  learners’  pragmatic  knowledge.  
Lapkin,  Hart,  and  Swain(1995)  suggested
that  many  factors  affect  how  informal
contact  relates  to  acquisition,  including  the
type  and  quality  of  informal  contact,  and
individual  differences,  such  as  students’
second-language level, language experience,
learning  style,  attitude  toward  the  host
culture,  awareness  of  cultural  differences  in
language  use,  and  willingness  to
accommodate  to  pragmatic  norms  in  a  L2
and  motivation.    Related  to  this  suggestion,
Siegal  (1994)  and  LoCastro  (1998)  focused
on  learners’  pragmatic  development  in
relation  to  their  subjectivity  and  agency.
McKay  and  Wong  (1996)  argued  that  we
should  study  L2  learners’  subjectivity  when
we  examine  their  L2  use  and  development.  
As  DuFon  (1999)  asserted,  little  is  known
about  how  individual  learners  take
advantage  of  opportunities  to  interact,  and
what  factors  influence  their  willingness  and
ability to do so.   
Additionally, Schmidt (1993) argued:  
Simple  exposure  to  appropriate  input  is
unlikely to be sufficient for acquisition of L2
pragmatic  knowledge  because  the  specific
linguistic realizations are sometimes opaque
to  learners  and  the  relevant  contextual
factors  to  be  noticed  may  be  defined
differently or may not be salient enough for
the learner (p.36).   
Also,  Kasper  (1998)  proposed  that  while
authentic L2 input is essential for pragmatic
learning,  it  does  not  secure  successful
pragmatic development.   
Another  major  finding  of  the  study  was  the
lack  of  correlation  between  the  learners’
pragmatic  competence  with  their  length  of
residence in L2 community.  This is contrary
to the findings of studies which revealed the
positive  effects  of  length  of  residence  on
pragmatic  competence  (Churchill,  2001;
House, 1996; Kuriseak,  2006).  While these
studies claim that a lengthy  residence in the
target-language  area  would  tend  to  promote
second-language  learning,  many  questions
remain about the validity of that assumption.  
Regarding  this,  the  result  in  the  present
study  supports  findings  from  other  studies
that  show  length  of  residence  may  have  a
negligible  effect  on  the  eventual  attainment
of  pragmatic  skills  in  English  (Bouton,
1994;  Kondo,  1997;  Roever,  2001;
Rodriguez, 2001).   
One might expect that students living for an
extended  time  in  the  target-language
community  take  advantage  of  the  many
opportunities  to  interact  in  the  L2  and,  in
turn, would have shown greater achievement
in the target language.  However, additional
variables  that  influence  language  learning
success  have  been  incorporated  need  to  be
taken  into  consideration.    For  example,  it  is
possible  that  people  with  greater  interest  in
long-term  stay  (e.g.,  U.S.  permanent
residents  and  naturalized  citizens)  would
display  a  greater  willingness  to  relinquish
aspects  of  their  native  culture  and
acculturation  into  the  host  country.  
International  students,  on  the  other  hand,
might  be  more  committed  to  maintaining
their  cultural  heritage,  and  therefore  show
lower  acculturation  to  life  in  the  United
States.    Clearly,  there  is  a  need  for  further
investigation  into  the  relationship  between
pragmatic  competence  and  the  experiences
that  students  have  during  their  stay  in  the
target community, which are greatly affected
by the myriad of factors that are experienced
differently by each learner.
Additionally,  as  noted  by  Ward  and  Rana-Deuba (2000), we do not know whether it is
the  quality  or  quantity  of  informal
interaction  that  is  of  primary  importance  in
language  learning.  Thus,  it  may  not  be  the
amount but rather the type of interaction that
most  affects  the  level  of  participants’
pragmatic  ability.    Our  results  demonstrate
that  the  time  subjects  reported  reading
books,  magazines,  or  English-language
newspapers  was  a  significant  predictor  of
the  criterion  measure.    These  results  agree
with  Freed’s  (1990)  study  that  show
interactive  contact  with  native  speakers  did
not  predict  changes  for  students  at  the  high
intermediate  and  advanced  levels.    Freed
concluded  that  perhaps  the  amount  of
interaction  in  L2    has  less  influence  on
advanced  students’  L2  pragmatic
achievement.  There  is  a  need  for  future
studies  to  explore  the  possibility  that
different  types  of  activities  interact  in
different  ways  with  the  process  of  language
learning at different stages in the acquisition
process.  Learners  vary  in  terms  of  how
linguistically  and cognitively  ready  they  are
to  seize  opportunities  and  to  benefit  from
them  once  they  do.    This  study  documents
examples  of  these  complex  interactions.    It
remains  for  future  studies  to  identify
additional variables that influence learners’
pragmatic  acquisition.    Such  interactions
may  help  explain  the  enormous  individual
variation one sees in learning outcomes  and
underscore  the  importance  of  studying  such
variables together rather than in isolation.     
The  study  has  limitations  due  to  the  data
collection  methods  (Eslami  &  Mirzaei,  in-press).  We  used  self-reported  data  to
measure the amount and type of contact and
pragmatic  performance  of  the  learners.
Future  studies  should  also  use  qualitative
information  such  as  daily  diary,  interviews,
and  collect  more  detailed  information  about
type  and  context  of  interactions.
Furthermore, we only focused on the speech
act  of  complimenting  and  compliment
response.  Additional  research  is  needed  to
further  examine  the  effect  of  motivation,
interaction,  and  length  of  residence  using
different  pragmatic  measures,  in  other
speech  acts,  and  with  different  groups  of
In conclusion, our findings show that simple
exposure  to  language  is  unlikely  to  be
sufficient  for  acquisition  of  L2  pragmatic
knowledge  because  the  specific  linguistic
realizations  are  sometimes  not  salient
enough  for  the  learner.    For  L2  pragmatics
to  develop,  input  should  be  noticed  and
some  explicit  techniques  such  as  input
enhancement  and  form  focused  instruction
that  would  make  the  learners  attend  to  the
targeted linguistic features are necessary.

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