Julie M. Sykes
University of Oregon
Center for Applied Second Language Studies

Proficiency and Pragmatics: Expanding Our Repertoire of Language Assessment

A foundational component of human interaction is person-to-person understanding through pragmatic behaviors, that is, the expression and understanding of meaning. While pragmatic miscommunications are easily identifiable as they occur, the majority of successful pragmatic behavior is not as salient. Furthermore, immense variety, individual choice, and an increasing number of interactional contexts, make the identification of patterns for communicating and interpreting meaning increasing difficult to define, teach, and assess. This presentation will discuss an empirically based framework for assessing the pragmatic abilities of language learners as related to language proficiency. In doing so, we will explore four dimensions critical to L2 pragmatic analysis and instruction – (1) knowledge, (2) analysis, (3) subjectivity, and (4) awareness.

For each of these areas, the presentation will draw on pilot data to address three questions:

(1)    What skills should be included in an assessment of pragmatic abilities?
(2)    In what ways can digital simulations and synthetic immersive environments facilitate meaningful assessment?
(3)    What are the implications for future instrument design and testing?

Placing skill development at the forefront of instruction offers a means to address the inherent variety, individual choice, and increasing number of interactional contexts. At the same time, recent technological innovations allow us to overcome previous barriers to assessment of these pragmatic skills.


Julie Sykes earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota with a focus on applied linguistics and second language acquisition. Julie’s research focuses on the use of digital technologies for language acquisition with a specific focus on inter-language pragmatic development and intercultural competence. She has taught courses on second language teaching and learning methodology and research, language learning and technology, Hispanic linguistics, and inter-language pragmatic development. Julie’s experience includes the design, implementation, and evaluation of online immersive spaces and the creation of place-based, augmented-reality mobile games to engage language learners in a variety of non-institutional contexts. She has published various articles on CALL-related topics, including synchronous computer-mediated communication and pragmatic development, gaming and CALL, and lexical acquisition in digitally mediated environments. Julie serves as the UO Scholar-in-Residence and is Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Oregon