Refusals (Span)

Refusals in L2 Spanish

Review the expressions used to give a refusal (direct and indirect refusals, and adjuncts to refusals) here (Refusals), and read the articles below which examine the effects of pragmatic instruction for the teaching of compliments and compliment responses.

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. & Cohen, A. D. (2012). Teaching pragmatics in the foreign  language classroom: Grammar as a Communicative Resource. Hispania 95(4), 650-669. 

This study focuses on the teaching of pragmatics in the Spanish as a foreign language (FL) classroom and examines the role of grammar as a communicative resource. It also aims to highlight the importance of teaching pragmatics from beginning levels of language instruction, with the spotlight on speech acts at the discourse level.  After the concept of pragmatic knowledge is reviewed, as one component of communicative language ability, proposed pedagogical models for the teaching of pragmatics are evaluated. Then, there is a presentation of ways for teaching grammar as a communicative resource through a look at the pragmatic functions of grammatical expressions used to express communicative action, such as the conditional, the imperfect, tag questions, impersonal expressions, and adverbials. The importance of classroom input and the role of pragmatic variation when teaching pragmatics in the classroom are also addressed. Finally, a four-step pedagogical model is proposed for the teaching of pragmatics with online activities that can be used directly in the classroom. The article closes with a recommendation that pragmatics be integrated into the language curriculum.

Teaching Refusals in the Foreign Language Classroom 

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2006). Teaching the negotiation of multi-turn speechacts. Using conversation-analytic tools to teach pragmatics in the classroom. In K. Bardovi-Harlig, C. Félix-Brasdefer, & A. Omar (Eds.), Pragmatics and Language Learning, vol. 11 (pp. 165-197). Manoa, HI: Second Lanaguage Teaching and Curriculum Center University of Hawai'i.

Refusals function as a response to an initiating act and are a speech act by which a speaker “denies to engage in an action proposed by the interlocutor” (Chen, Ye, & Zhang, 1995, p. 121). Like other speech acts, refusals are sensitive to social variables such as gender, age, level of education, power, and social distance (Brown & Levinson, 1987; Mills, 2003). Refusals are complex speech acts that require not only negotiation and cooperative achievements, but also “face-saving maneuvers to accommodate the noncompliant nature of the act” (Gass & Houck, 1999, p. 2). In order to expose learners to the pragmatic variation between male and female speech, the refusal data provided in this paper include refusal responses from both male and female native speakers (NSs) of English and Spanish. By emphasizing gender differences in the classroom, teachers may also raise an awareness of cross-cultural differences and sensitize learners with regard to politeness and (in)directness and how these notions may differ among males and females.

Bringing Pragmatics into the Classroom

Teachers are constantly looking for various ways to implement effective teaching techniques and strategies to improve learners’ pragmatic competence. The following pedagogical recommendations are provided in order to enhance the teaching of pragmatics at the discourse level (Félix-Brasdefer 2006). 
  • . One way for teacher educators to incorporate pragmatics in the classroom is to expose language instructors to both oral and written pragmatic input. It may be useful for teacher educators to expose language instructors to selected conversational sequences taken from television shows, film, or debates on the radio, focusing attention on the dynamic aspects of the interaction. Preferably, oral input should be drawn from natural conversation, but teachers may also benefit from the use of role plays in the classroom to elicit interactional data (Cohen, 2004; Hinkel, 2001).

  • Pragmatically appropriate input, such as conversations featuring various speech acts, should not be presented as a whole and as unanalyzed material, but rather, teacher educators should direct language instructors’ attention to relevant features of the interaction such as openings and closings, the organization of turns, repairs, delays, restarts, and how speech acts are realized across turns. 
  • Another way for teacher educators to enhance pragmatic competence in the classroom is to help language instructors develop an awareness of and sensitivity to cross-cultural differences and speech act variation. One way to accomplish this is to encourage language instructors to pay attention to how NSs negotiate various speech acts in conversation and how speech acts may differ between the L1 and target cultures. 
  • Teacher educators to provide language instructors with various opportunities to use speech acts at the discourse level and in various contexts. 

Materials for this activity:

Teacher Resource: Refusing in Spanish

Student Handout: Learning How to Refuse in Spanish

Pedagogical Model to Teach Refusals in the Classroom

1. Identification of Communicative Actions (refusing, requesting, complaining, apologizing)

 a. In order to gain an understanding of the concept of actions, students are provided with short samples of speech acts in both English and Spanish in which they are asked to identify various communicative actions. Language instructors should emphasize that actions refer to the speaker’s intention and that the realization of actions may be accomplished differently in formal and informal situations. Different degrees of politeness and (in)directness may be used according to the situation and the culture. Some of the actions may include apologies, compliments, complaints, refusals or suggestions. (Additional samples in Spanish and English are provided on the website).

Example: Email message sent to a female professor by a male American student:

Prof “X”: Here is today’s homework.  Thank you very much for allowing me to do this. Also, I was wondering if it would be possible for you to tell me how many absences I have this semester.  Thank you again.

                        Identification of speech act: Expression of gratitude, request.

b. Once an understanding of the notion of communicative actions has been established among students, the instructor introduces the action of refusing. The instructor explains that there are different ways to say ‘no’ in Spanish and English, ranging from being direct to indirect or vague. Since a refusal is often not the expected response, speakers need to be careful to refuse politely and to include the appropriate information necessary to negotiate a successful refusal. The instructor should emphasize that refusals may differ according to the level of social status and that it may take a series of exchanges or turns to accomplish a successful refusal.

2. Developing a Cross-Cultural Awareness of Refusing in Spanish and English 

The purpose of this activity is to develop an awareness of cross-cultural differences between Spanish and English in one situation of informal status: declining an invitation from a friend. Students are asked to read the role play situation below and to share their responses in English and Spanish with another classmate.

Situation: Declining an invitation in Spanish

Imagine that you are in (Spanish-speaking country of your preference). You are walking across campus when you run into a good friend of yours whom you haven’t seen for about a month. You and s/he have been studying in the same program at the University for three years, and have studied and written papers together in the past, but you don’t have any classes together this semester since you have been doing an internship off-campus. S/he invites you to his/her 21st birthday party at his/her house next Friday night at 8:00 p.m. S/he tells you that a group of mutual friends that you both used to hang out with and whom you haven’t seen since the semester started will also be there. You know that this would be a good opportunity to see everyone again and to celebrate this special occasion with him/her. Unfortunately you cannot make it.

Declining an Friend's Invitation in Mexican Spanish

Declining a Friend's Invitation in US English

  • How do speakers express politeness?
  • How polite are the speakers when refusing in Spanish and English?
  • What expressions do speakers use when refusing in Spanish and English?
  • What differences do you observe at the end of each the refusal?  

3. Exposure to Pragmatic Input

Specific expressions in the refusal responses below are highlighted in bold in order to direct students’ attention to relevant features of refusals. Instructors should be familiar with the classification of refusals. This classification comprises various strategies including direct and indirect refusals, and strategies which may be used to reinforce the interlocutor’s positive face (expressions of empathy, positive opinion, or agreement). A classification of refusal strategies and examples of these strategies can be found here (Refusals)

 This section is divided into two activities:

a. Students read different male and female refusal responses in English and Spanish. Working with a classmate, students compare refusal responses in English and Spanish when refusing a friend’s invitation to a birthday party. The English responses come from NSs of American English and the refusals in Spanish come from NSs from various Spanish-speaking countries, but mostly Mexico. Male students should read the male refusals and females should read the female refusals in both languages. The refusals below include responses as realized in one complete turn. Each response contains a refusal head act which may be preceded or followed by additional information as part of a complete refusal response. It is recommended that instructors direct students’ attention to the refusal response in one turn first, and then build from one turn responses to the negotiation of refusals across multiple turns. The negotiation of refusals across turns is explained in section B. Refusing an invitation to a friend’s birthday party:  Equal status (Friends)

See examples in Student Handout

4. PRACTICE. 

Practice the following role-play situation with another classmate:

Actividad en clase: Con un compañero, practique la siguiente situación.

Un/a estudiante hace la invitación y el/la otro/a responde.

Imagine that you are in (Spanish-speaking country of your choice). You are walking across campus when you run into a good friend of yours whom you haven’t seen for about a month. You and he have been studying in the same program at the University for three years, and have studied and written papers together in the past, but you don’t have any classes together this semester since you have been doing an internship off-campus. S/he invites you to his/her 21st birthday party at his/her house next Friday night at 8pm. S/he tells you that a group of mutual friends that you both used to hang out with and whom you haven’t seen since the semester started will also be there. You know that this would be a good time to see everyone again and to celebrate this occasion with him/her. Unfortunately, you cannot make it.