COMMUNICATION & INTERACTION STRATEGIES
An action research project with Greek
teenagers at intermediate level
by Costas Gabrielatos
is the report of an action research project on oral communication
and interaction strategies I conducted in February and March
1992 for partial fulfilment of the RSA/Cambridge Diploma for
Overseas Teachers of English. The report was submitted in
April 1992. In this version I have made some changes in wording,
reference conventions and the numbering of sections. I have
also incorporated some footnotes in the text and combined
some extremely short sub-sections. Unfortunately, the transcripts
of activities and feedback discussions, as well as the tasksheets
and handouts are not yet available in electronic form, as
they were either hand-written, or typed on a 'traditional'
choice of this project was greatly determined by the fact
that very little attention had been given to fluency and student
interaction during the previous years of tuition of the group
of students concerned. As a result, students had developed
inhibitions towards using the target language which had a
negative impact on their oral performance. It would, therefore,
be an opportunity and a challenge for me to examine the effectiveness
of certain activities and techniques in helping students shed
their inhibitions and become more fluent communicators.
help students become more confident and fluent communicators
and encourage risk-taking.
To make students aware of certain communication strategies
(Bygate 1987: Ch. 5; Ellis 1985: 180-188), notably achievement
strategies (paraphrase and co-operative strategies) (Bygate
1987: 44-46, Ellis 1985: 184-185) and their importance in
facilitating oral production, as well as to provide the students
with opportunities to use them consciously.
To make students aware of the reciprocal nature of oral
interaction and certain features of "interaction routines"
(Bygate 1987: 34-35).
To elicit and present expressions through which the
above strategies and features can be realised.
To make students aware of the benefits of assuming joint
responsibility for the negotiation of meaning.
To provide opportunities for free practice in certain
routine types of interaction, notably informal discussion
and informal planning and decision making (see Bygate 1987:
1 dealt with the strategy of circumlocution.
Lesson 2 dealt with the following aspects of oral interaction:
signalling (lack of) understanding / interest / participation
through asking for repetition / clarification / elaboration
Lesson 3 dealt with time gaining devices, showing interest
and participation through expressing and asking for opinions
and ways of signposting a discussion.
Lesson 4 dealt with ways of expressing agreement / disagreement
(and their level of formality).
Lesson 5 was a consolidation and awareness-raising lesson.
Lesson 6 focused on helping students to become aware
of strategies they (do not) use, and provided more opportunities
for practising the strategy of circumlocution.
2. THE RELEVANT THEORY
Characteristics of Spoken Language
from instances when listeners are unable or not expected to
respond overtly (e.g. news broadcasts, lectures) speakers
have to take the listeners' feedback into consideration, for
instance they will have to rephrase their message or answer
to questions. Bygate (1987: 34-35) mentions features of interaction
routines involving feedback. The ones relevant to the aims
of this project are: "asking the other person for information
or language that he or she has forgotten", "asking
the other person's opinion", "responding to requests
for clarification from the listener(s), for instance by rephrasing,
repeating, giving examples or analogies", "indicating
uncertainty about comprehension", "indicating comprehension",
"asking for clarification", "expressing appropriate
agreement, reservations or appreciation of speaker's point",
"interrupting where necessary to express any of the foregoing".
Speakers will also have to take into account the listeners'
knowledge of the world and/or of the particular topic of the
interaction. This reciprocal nature of the interaction facilitates
communication as both speaker and listener co-operate to ensure
mutual understanding (Bygate 1987: 12-13).
have also to decide on what they are to say next and how to
express it while they are speaking. This fact may affect the
structure of the speakers' utterance and the density of communicated
Functions of Spoken Language
& Yule (1983a: 1-3; 1983b: 11-16) mention that language
can be seen as having two functions: transferring information
(transactional function) and establishing/maintaining social
relationships (interactional function). Interactional spoken
language is characterised by shifts of topic and short turns.
The accuracy and clarity of information in not of primary
importance, and facts/views are not normally questioned or
challenged. In transactional spoken language longer turns
are the norm and there is a clear topic. Since the effective
transference of information is the goal, interlocutors are
actively engaged in the negotiation of meaning. Brown &
Yule summarise the above stating that whereas interactional
language is "listener oriented", transactional language
is "message oriented".
On Native Oral Production
regards native oral production, one can distinguish some general
features of the spoken language (as opposed to the written
one). These features are the result of the speakers' efforts
to facilitate their speaking production and/or the time constraints
imposed on them by the nature of oral communication (Brown
& Yule 1983a: 15-17; Brown & Yule 1983b: 4; Bygate
1987: 14-21; McCarthy 1991: 143-144).
The syntax tends to be less complicated than in written language
(Brown & Yule 1983b: 4). Speakers seem to favour parataxis
(i.e. phrases linked not by subordination but by coordinating
connectors ('and', 'or', 'but'), or phrases that are understood
by the listener as being related to each other only by the
way they are uttered by the speaker), and ellipsis (i.e. omission
of elements of the sentence).
b. Instances of "ungrammatical" utterances are common
(if one considers the written medium to be the norm of grammatical
correctness). McCarthy (1991: 143) provides an example: "There's
another secretary too who I do not know what she's responsible
c. Pauses, repetition and false starts are rather frequent.
d. The use of "time-creating devices" ("filters",
"pauses", "hesitations") (Bygate 1987:
on these facts, Brown & Yule (1983b: 22 & 26) propose
that it would be irrational and unnatural to expect the EFL
learner to produce full, grammatically correct sentences when
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