The More Money You Seek, The Uglier You Look!

Chapter I


For numerous reasons, second language testing is probably one of the most neglected areas in the field of applied linguistics. One reason is the complexity of language itself, and, another, the complexity of the individual second language learner. One particularly formidable problem for those involved in second language testing is evaluating the competence levels or proficiency of students studying a second language (Hinofotis, 1977). Considering the difficulty of defining the term "language proficiency," it is conceivable that the development of proficiency tests would involve complex steps. This may be one of the reasons for the slow progress of language proficiency test development. Some scholars believe that language proficiency testing is the least advanced area in all of language testing (Clark, 1972). One cannot separate language from the society in which it is used. Therefore, language testing involves multidimensional concerns from various areas of the social sciences. To this broad spectrum of language testing, the principles of educational measurement are added to make the already complex field of language testing more complicated and demanding (Farhady, 1980, p.6).

The functional approach to a second language testing is one of the most recent developments in the field of second language evaluation. The pragmatic competence test was designed to investigate the possibilities of constructing discourse-oriented measures of language behavior even through the use of a paper-and-pencil test. The study proposes a direction for the development and use of second language tests that is called "the functional approach." The social appropriateness of an utterance, who is talking to whom, when, and under what circumstances, is just as important as its linguistic accuracy, or grammaticality. The movement toward the development of a theory of language teaching based on this premise started in Europe in the 1970s and has been receiving increasing attention from methodologists in the United States (Campbell, 1978). Most second language instruction is mainly concerned with the formal structure of the target language. Consequently, learning a second language in most language classrooms is a matter of mastering grammar and pronunciation. As a result, little attention is paid to teaching language as a tool for communication in the real world. It is not enough to teach and test learners how to manipulate the structures of the foreign language. Students must also develop strategies for relating these structures to their communicative functions in real situations and real time. Foreign language teachers must therefore provide learners with ample opportunities to use the language themselves for communicative purposes. Foreign language teachers must remember that they are ultimately concerned with developing the learners' ability to take part in the "process of communicating" through language, rather than with their perfect mastery of individual structures (Littlewood, 1981, p.ix). Language use, what is said on a particular occasion, how it is phrased, and how it is coordinated with nonverbal signs, has become a widely researched field during the past two or three decades (Ervin-Tripp, 1964; Gumperz, 1971; Gumperz & Hymes, 1972; Lakoff, 1973, 1976; Munby, 1978; Paulston, 1974). The social aspects of language use rather than the formal aspects of language structure have become the objects of attention. As a result, the learning of a language is now viewed as including not only the grammar of that language but also "the capacity to use the language in a way that is appropriate to the situational and verbal constraints operating at any given time" (White, 1974, p.130). These constraints may come from the relationship between the speaker and the addressee, the nature of the topic, the medium that is being used, the specific occasion, other ritualistic conventions, and so forth (Coulthard, 1977; Criper & Widdowson, 1975; Ervin-Tripp, 1972; Hymes, 1967). Each culture or subculture poses a different set of constraints, and, for a second language learner, the formidable task is that of learning the target language within this framework of constraints. Using structurally correct utterances that violate certain social constraints at a given time may result in miscommunication and, consequently, misunderstanding on the listener's part and frustration on the speaker's part. Using structurally incorrect utterances, however, reveals the speaker's foreignness and solicits more tolerance from the addressee while violating linguistic norms (Lakoff, 1976). Therefore, helping second language learners achieve language appropriateness should be as important as helping them achieve grammaticality in the target language. Experience in learning a second language as well as past research in the field of language use (Cheek, 1974; Cheek, Kalivoda, & Morain, 1975) both point to the fact that there is a discrepancy between the situational reactions of second language learners and those of the native speakers. Suggestions have been made to teach the appropriate responses or "autonomous interactions" in foreign language classrooms (Cheek et al., 1975; Rivers & Temperley, 1978); but, without further knowledge of where the differences lie, any proposed remedies for classroom practice would be just a shot in the dark. Some past research studies have looked at language adaptations of native speakers in response to different purposes, intentions, strategies, or occasions (Blom & Gumperz, 1972; Ervin-Tripp, 1972; Grice, 1975; Halliday, 1973). Because the appropriate language choice depends on the characteristics of the addressee and relations with the speaker, more attention should be given to such relationships.

Statement of the Research Problem

In the language testing field of applied linguistics, there are few tests available today to assess pragmatic language proficiency. As the trend in teaching a second language has shifted during the past few decades toward a focus on communication, there should be language tests that assess examinees' communicative or pragmatic language skills. Because the notional-functional theory of teaching is considerably newer than other language teaching theories, it is not surprising that few practical advances have been made with respect to functional testing. The necessity for functional tests has been proposed by scholars such as Morrow (1977), Carroll (1980), and Farhady (1980). Today, however, the principles of functional or pragmatic language testing neither have been thoroughly identified nor have any feasible procedures been suggested. Thus, the goal is to develop such a pragmatic test in a form that can be easily and efficiently administered.

Background and Need for the Study

Because there are almost no language tests that attempt to measure the second language learner's ability to choose socially appropriate responses to clearly defined situations of interchange, the study will be a direct contribution to the field of assessment in a second language. Scholars and lay people alike have long realized that a major purpose of language is communication, but language as communication, rather than as form, was not studied intensively until recent decades (Schultz & Bartz, 1975). Foreign language students who have been taught under the methods directly derived from structuralism are often not able to communicate well in the target language and culture. They have learned numerous patterns and dialogs, know all the terminology for parts of speech, and can recite the grammatical rules in the book. They may even be able to produce completely grammatical sentences, but, when they are thrown into a real communication situation, they are often lost. The problem is that they have learned to produce sentences but were never instructed as to how, when, or with whom to use these sentences (Gregory & Carroll, 1978). The teaching and testing of second languages have changed as each historical period has led to new methodologies. Consequently, there have been considerable changes in the forms of language tests. Recent trends in applied linguistics perceive teaching language as a global and integrated phenomenon for communicative purposes rather than teaching the structure of language with no practical application (Widdowson, 1978). And language test makers have begun to develop measures reflecting the principles of these trends in language teaching. They, however, have been mostly oral and require an extended period of time to administer. There has been little progress in functional or pragmatic language tests that are efficient to administer and consequently there is no availability of these tests in the market. Hence, it is necessary to construct an instrument that can measure the second language learner's linguistic and communicative competence, that is, the ability to (a) understand "Speaking Rules" and (b) recognize degrees of formality, uses of silence, appropriateness and types of questions, gender- and age-related restrictions depending on with whom (i.e., familiar person, rank or social status) and when (social settings and psychological, emotional, mental, and physical states of interlocutors) he or she interacts with people.

Purpose of the Study

The main objective of the study will be to construct and validate an instrument, referred to as a functional or pragmatic language proficiency test, reflecting the principles of the newer-teaching approaches. This test will be titled the Pragmatic Competence Test (PCT) of second language learners. This objective will be achieved by developing an inventory of test items and conducting various statistical analyses, specifically item analyses, and criterion-related validation (concurrent validation--validating the new test against already established language tests as the criterion measure).

Theoretical Background

As far as language teaching, learning, and testing are concerned, there is almost no doubt that theories behind the "discrete point" (attempts to focus on one point of grammar at a time) and "integrative" (attempts to assess a learner's capacity to use many bits all at the same time) tests have been inadequate to handle the most important purpose of language, that is, communication (Farhady, 1980). Therefore, functional or pragmatic language tests following the principles of functional teaching should be more adequate than other existing tests following the principles of structural teaching. According to Farhady (1980, p.15), the main objective of functional teaching is to prepare language learners to become functionally competent. Therefore, the goal of functional testing should be the assessment of the learners' functional performance.

Research Questions

The general research question will be: To what extent is the test developed for this study, a valid measure of a student's pragmatic competence when compared to the criterion measures? The distinction between linguistic competence and functional, pragmatic or communicative competence is not necessarily as clear-cut as the research might lead one to believe. Because there is considerable overlap in the language skills being tested, the Farhady Functional Test probably taps the examinee's developing functional pragmatic competence, whereas the TOEFL (for example) taps the examinee's linguistic competence.

Significance of the Study

Measurement is a necessary part of human education. Thus, almost any new development in any aspect of language teaching and learning needs to be evaluated. Functional or pragmatic language tests, which should become very important in the field of applied linguistics today, will allow the testing of various language skills because the test items will be based on the use of authentic or real-life discourse rather than artificial language used for testing purposes. The inadequacies of structuralist (teaching structures of language without paying attention to how those structures are actually used) and existing cognitive methodologies in dealing with communicative activities and preparing functionally and pragmatically competent language learners led scholars to seek alternative methods for teaching and testing second languages. Because the development of communicative skills needs to be recognized as a pragmatic goal of second language teaching, teaching methods and tests must be constructed to further this goal. Pragmatic competence tests will eventually help applied linguists, administrators, and teachers assess the second learners' ability to use language appropriately in different social settings.


Source: Construction and concurrent validation of a written pragmatic competence test of English as a second language. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International. 1990. Pp. x, 198. EdD dissertation. Dissertation Abstracts International, 50,(8). University Microfilms No. 8926017. (c) 1990. Order#8926017