Videos to Contextualize Indirect Speech Acts


Indirect speech acts can be difficult for learners. This is especially true in Japan, where students are often told that English is a ‘straight’ language where people express their true thoughts and feelings very directly. However, this is not really true, and English does employ indirect speech, especially for politeness. Furthermore, although the expressions
seem very simplistic, EFL learners do not always recognize the intent of the speaker when one of these expressions is used. For example, “I don’t know” is often used to express disagreement, dissatisfaction, or refusal, and is signaled in part by the fact that the speaker very much DOES know. Consider example (1) below:

(1) I don’t know if I like that color.

Of course, the speaker knows whether or not they like the color (in fact, they are the only one who possibly COULD know whether or not they like it). Therefore, this expression is likely not being used to signal uncertainty so much as disagreement or dissatisfaction with the given color. However, since “I don’t know” is a very common phrase, many learners assume they already know the phrase and all of the situations and contexts it can occur in, despite not being aware that it does not always indicate uncertainty.

Since indirect speech is often used as a politeness strategy in conversations in English, it is important to understand the context in which the phrase or expression is used. Therefore,
the ATEM East Japan Branch SIG on “How the English of Movies, TV Dramas, and YouTubes Can Contribute to the Development of Practical English Education” used the COCA corpus to find several examples of expressions commonly used in indirect speech and examples of these used in spoken contexts (i.e., mainly from the television and movies
section of the corpus). We recontextualized the examples to be in very neutral settings and to have just enough information that they could be made into short video clips. We then filmed two short videos for each expression and uploaded them to a searchable YouTube channel:

We also implemented these videos within a series of multi-modal flashcards that allow users to check what type of indirect speech act each expression is, hear and practice speaking an example, and also provide the video clips that represent the expressions being used in conversational contexts. The multi-modal flashcards are also available here:

We hope the videos and flashcards might be helpful for other learners in the future!

-Ryan Spring,
on behalf of the members of the ATEM East Japan Branch SIG “How the English of
Movies, TV Dramas, and YouTubes Can Contribute to the Development of Practical English
Education” (Atsuko Otsuki, Keina Hamagami, Sachiko Nakamura, Ryan Spring)