Discourse Analysis, Advanced
and the Cambridge CPE Exam
by Alex Case
4 - Listening
In looking at this paper, I was especially looking for two
things. Firstly, as someone who is reaching a fairly high
level in my second language, I tend to find that what I do
not understand in conversations with groups of native speakers
or in the media is not the 'language' so much as the 'shared
knowledge'. It is interesting to see how much this 'shared
knowledge' of native speakers is necessary to pass the exam,
especially as I was told on first starting to teach this level
that 'it's all about them finding out who Mrs Thatcher, Milk
Snatcher is'. The text includes several examples of this (see
Appendix 1), including references to a miners' strike. The
actual questions seem to deliberately avoid these points,
however, as do most EFL materials. This seems fair in a world
where sources such as CNN contain far less of such things
than the texts analysed here, but the question remains whether
students managing to pass even this exam would still find
themselves lost in a group conversation with native speakers,
and if so how much this should be taught. Given the sheer
volume of such information in authentic texts, the teacher
has little choice than to deal with it as it comes up.
second point was if students' understanding of native speakers'
use of stress and intonation was tested. Although one of the
questions focuses specifically on someone's reaction, all
of the questions could be answered simply by reading the tapescript.
Tone of voice did give important clues, however, especially
in the second text where the speaker 'grudgingly agreed' etc.
Speaking paper brings up an interesting point are far as the
testing of students' mastery of discourse are concerned. The
test seems to test the student's ability to speak in a long
turn much more than their mastery of turn taking. When I taped
native speakers doing CPE speaking tasks, the first thing
that became clear was their unwillingness to produce long
strings of improvised speech. The second is a clear pattern
of techniques used to give thinking time, especially repeating
or re-phrasing of the question, something language learners
seem unwilling to do. The third is a lack of overall structure
to each piece of discourse. Again, I have found that students
guided to use their common sense and think about a format
such as 'describe person, describe setting, make suppositions'
do this better than an uncoached native speaker.
Two of the Speaking provides students with the opportunity
to talk about where a piece of text might have come from and
how it ties in with the general theme. Whilst students are
being tested, quite rightly, on their language rather than
their ability to analyse the text, this does provide a perfect
opportunity to start students start analysing language as
discourse in a way that shows instant relevance to the exam.
See the attached lesson plan for one way to start this process.
The lack of interaction in the test poses the same question
as in the Listening. If the students are not being trained
for conversation with native speakers- something which, after
all, provides for endless challenge- what exactly is the test
for? The answer seems to be, again, English for academic purposes,
in this case perhaps university tutorials.
The tools that discourse analysis give us seem to be very
important for the CPE exam, very obviously in the writing
paper and more subtly but just as strongly in the reading.
In fact, as important as it is simply to pass the exam, the
weaknesses of the exam as a general test of English, such
as the lack of interaction in the Speaking, are precisely
where students are not being tested on things such as turn
taking, and hence where the teacher could let their students
down by concentrating too much on the exam. It will be interesting
to see how the revised exam responds to these short-comings.
'Discourse Analysis' Brown and Yule, CUP 1983
(2) 'Introducing Discourse Analysis' David Nunan, Penguin
(3) 'Cambridge CPE Handbook', UCLES
(4) 'Advanced Masterclass CAE' T.Aspinall and A.Capel, OUP
(5) 'Distinction' Mark Foley and Diane Hall, Nelson
1 Part One
Analysis of June 1992 CPE Paper
from analysis of text
· Wide range of referring expressions ( at the time, the event,
· Wide range of conjunctions (however, but etc.)
· Two large lexical sets: 1) agriculture/ hunting and
gathering ( the offerings of the animal and plant kingdom,
food source, cultivating, irrigation etc.)
2) groups of people ( family unit, tribe, camp etc.)
· Text seems to follow format of 'setting the scene
(before change), false start, first faltering steps in right
direction, big step, how big step happened.'
from analysis of questions
· 3 questions (26, 27, 30) test mainly vocabulary, of which
one ( 'seasonal offerings.....') is a synonym of other expressions
in text, therefore helped by knowledge of lexical chains.
Other two aided by examination of referring expressions.
· 1 question easier to answer with knowledge of overall
structure of text above
1 Part Two
Analysis of June 1992 CPE Paper
from analysis of text
Possible culturally specific references in text
· The (a) miners' strike
· The Consumers' Association
· The growth of 'green products' in western nations
· The idea of small shops competing with supermarkets
Alex Case is working as Senior Teacher (Materials and Teacher Development) and a freelance EFL writer in Tokyo, after working in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, Italy and the UK. He is also Reviews Editor of TEFL.net and you can comment on this article and other TEFLy things on his blog- "TEFLtastic with Alex Case" (www.tefl.net/alexcase)
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