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THE IMPLICATIONS OF TEACHING CONVERSATION IN THE CLASSROOM WITH SPECIFIC REFERENCE TO ADVANCED LEARNERS AND GENRE by Emma Metcalf
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This 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
are 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.

Therefore, 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 channel?'

Conversation 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:

Planning a conversation programme around the specific microskills, stategies and processes that are involved in fluent conversation…therefore fostering the students´awareness of conversational rules. (ibid.)

The 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 approach) because,

…individuals 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)**

Thus, 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?

*My 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 far as 'natural' conversation is possible in a classroom.
**** See appendix E.

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