LALS public lecture: Chinese University students’ ability to recognise irony
The purpose of this study was to investigate Chinese University students’ ability to recognise irony. To this end, a test was developed that included literal and ironic items and focused on the students’ ability to identify which of the items were ironic.
A total of 112 first- and second-year Chinese university students completed the test, a C-test as a measure of language proficiency, and a language experience questionnaire. A total of 24 native speakers completed the irony test and C-test to provide a baseline for comparison. Results showed that the learners’ scores were markedly lower than the native speakers on the ironic items but not on literal items.
Both learners and native speakers had difficulty with the positive irony items. The learners’ response times were also markedly slower than the native speakers. There were significant but relatively weak correlations between the learners’ irony scores and their proficiency and the amount of time they had spent in an English-speaking country. Overall, the results of the study confirm the findings of previous studies, namely that irony is a late acquired aspect of L2 pragmatic competence. Professor Ellis concludes that unlike native speakers, even those learners with quite advanced language proficiency rely on explicit processing strategies to detect irony and propose explicit instruction is needed to help learners acquire the ability to recognise irony.
Professor Rod Ellis is an Applied Linguist and has worked in language teacher education for forty five years. His focus is on how teachers can create effective contexts for language acquisition in the talk that takes place in classrooms.