IMPLICATIONS OF TEACHING CONVERSATION IN THE CLASSROOM WITH
SPECIFIC REFERENCE TO ADVANCED LEARNERS AND GENRE by Emma
leads us to the fluency/accuracy debate that is consistently
associated with speaking. I agree with Johnson that accuracy
is important. But there is nothing more
frustrating when a non-native speaker labours excessively
over every word uttered just so that it is 'correct.' Teachers
are used to listening to non-native speakers yet many people
not and learners may find native speakers impatient when trying
to maintain a conversation. If this happens, communication
breaks down just as it would if the learner is so inaccurate
the receiver cannot understand what is being said. It would
seem that definitions of fluency differ.* Van Ek and Alexander
state how fluency is, 'reasonable speech' with 'sufficient
precision' and 'reasonable correctness' (grammatically, lexically
and phonologically.) (1980) In contrast, Fillmore describes
fluency as a 'mastery of the semantic and syntactic resources
of the language,' (1979,p.93) and Hieke describes fluent speech
as consisting of three conversational maxims: (1981, p.150)
Be error free
¨ Be Intelligible
¨ Be in control of the communicative channel.
accuracy is a component of fluency, rather than a dimension
of conversational skill. Perhaps the debate should not be
accuracy versus fluency but rather accuracy versus fluidity.
The students that Johnson describes are not fluent-but-fossilised
because, if part of being fluent is being accurate, then this
is a contradiciton in terms. Hieke goes on to describe fluent
speech as, 'the cumulative result of dozens of different kinds
of processes.' (1985, p.140) But what are these different
kinds of processes and what is meant exactly by 'the communicative
is a multifaceted activity which makes the teaching of conversation
so complex. Dörnyei states how, 'many people believe
that informal everyday conversation is random and unstructured,'
but there are in fact, 'subtle rules determining who speaks
and when and for how long.' (1994, p.40) In order to converse,
the speakers (and receivers) adopt certain stategies such
as turn-taking, interrupting, backchanelling, returning to
topic, topic shift, hestitation devices/fillers, repair and
upshot. (See appendix D for more details.) So, it would seem
logical to make students aware of and practice these stategies
in class. This leads to the second approach described by Dörnyei
et al. as an direct approach which involves:
a conversation programme around the specific microskills,
stategies and processes that are involved in fluent conversation
fostering the students´awareness of conversational rules.
direct approach allows us to avoid the classroom situation
so vividly described by Johnson. McCarthy highlights a common
problem with roleplay (a typical activity using the indirect
are so intent on formulating their contributions and making
them at the 'right' moment as determined by the activity rubric,
they pay little attention to the contribution of others and
the natural patterns of back-channel, utterance completion
and so on. (1991, p.128)**
many activities do not produce 'natural' conversation.***
Another argument for
explicit teaching of these conversational stategies is that
they increase with general language proficiency. (The more
proficient the learner, the more stategies are required.)
Furthermore, some stategic areas are acquired before others.
(Scarcella, 1983, cited in McCarthy, 1997, p.51) Many adjacency
pairs, for example, are highly formulaic and are easier for
lower-level students to learn. Students can quickly learn,
for example, the expected response to greetings and leaving
taking.**** So which strategies are most appropriate for advanced
learners? And how do we go about teaching them?
director of studies has even described fluency as the 'ability
to talk quickly.'
** To avoid this situation, the appropriate language could
given on the role card to remind students to use the language.
I often do this.
as 'natural' conversation is possible in a classroom.
**** See appendix E.
page 3 of 7
the lesson plan
to the articles index