by Sarn Rich
inherent for adult learners
Discouraging factors - sociocultural
we always had the language at hand to express precisely what
we mean to say we would have no need of communication strategies.
Resorting to such means therefore puts on display a failure
in grammatical competence, a competence traditionally associated
with high status, education and power.' For this reason politicians
use communication strategies carefully, always giving the
impression of certainty, and masking their use of delaying
devices and avoidance strategies to convince us that they
are actually in control ('Let's be absolutely clear about
this.' 'I'm very glad you asked me that question.' 'But what
the people of this country really want to know is...'). From
discussions with learners in Poland, Taiwan and India my impression
is that there may be a universal presumption that grammatical
competence implies political competence, indeed social competence
the other end of the scale, over-use of communication strategies,
fillers in particular, can give an impression of uncertainty
or low social status - hence their use as a quick labelling
device in drama and TV. soaps. Once aware of our own use of
fillers or gestures we may try to do without, wary of the
impression we are putting across. If such factors influence
native speakers it would be surprising if they did not occur
also to adult L2 learners, in particular perhaps those whose
native culture emphasises the importance of 'face~ in social
relations - as well as male learners whose background forbids
them to express uncertainty.
factors - pedagogic
admission of defeat implied by resorting to communication
strategies is also a factor in its exclusion from the traditional
curriculum. The emphasis here is on grammatical competence,
with communication strategies considered, if at all, as tools
of last resort, usually in the hands of the teacher, not to
be passed on to learners. Once a learner can get across meaning
by these devices, progress in grammatical competence is arguably
put in danger.
are certainly people with the strategic competence to convey
ideas far beyond anything achievable with their other competences.
I stayed with an Uzbek woman in Tashkent whose use of gestures
in particular was so subtle and highly developed that she
could simultaneously engage two other people in long conversations
where none of us had even the basics of a common language,
so fluently that she gave the impression of being telepathic.
For her work, running a Bed and Breakfast, she had little
need of language lessons.
course this suggests that strategic competence in the classroom
is more problematic for the teacher than for the learner,
but there is another concern. A successful communication strategy
is not necessarily a desirable learning strategy. When an
for assistance takes the form of looking in a dictionary or
phrasebook, for instance, this simple and often effective
way of getting across one's meaning may not be good for one's
learning. For this reason teachers often discourage over reliance
on dictionaries in class. Communication strategies employing
Li are also generally frowned upon, where this might interfere
with developing skills. Whether for fear of fossilisation
or adverse effects on learning, a learner denied some tools
of strategic competence might understandably feel unsure about
the legitimacy of using the others.
used to traditional approaches may be put off by strategic
competence's unfamiliarity as a topic. Accustomed to listening
activities involving recordings of disembodied voices, they
may consider facial expressions or gestures irrelevant. Developing
'an ability to select an effective means of performing a communicative
act that enables the listener/reader to identify the intended
referent' (Yule and Tarone 1990:18 1 in Brown:228) might look
like a waste of time: why not just do what teachers have always
done and teach the vocabulary, so we can identify the referent
straightaway? And why waste time on 'avoidance strategies'
- we're learning English so we won't need them! If facing
a test the learner is more likely to be worrying about grammar,
lexis and phonology than about being tested for strategic
competence (Nic Underhill's 'Testing Spoken Language' (1987),
for example, makes no specific mention of strategic competence
or communication strategies.). Learners may feel that this
is not a proper area of study, that 'real' language learning
means learning the codes of grammatical competence. In such
situations the teacher is faced with the challenge of developing
learners' holistic understanding of communication, as composed
of complementary competences rather than of separate and distinct
elements, and of demonstrating the transferability of communication
strategies from situation to situation.
problems with fillers
do more than just fill. 'You know' gives the speaker more
time to think, but has an additional function (indicating
shared knowledge). 'You see' has another function, too (imparting
something new). A look at a few other fillers - 'I mean',
'Let's see now', 'Frankly', 'so', 'I'll tell you what' --
shows that they are unfortunately far from interchangeable.
When native speakers string fillers together ('Well, yeah,
I suppose, it's sort of... .... . you know...') we are not
using any old combination willy nilly, but are actually saying
something, at the same time as gathering our thoughts.
from meaning and function the learner has to consider appropriacy.
Use of fillers can convey decisiveness (such as those favoured
by politicians) - preferable in ajob interview to a collection
of fillers which together suggest dithering uncertainty. Overused,
other fillers can be irritating (I knew a Columbian learner
who was so pleased with 'Anyway' that she threw it around
at every opportunity, until her American flatmate begged her
to cut down.), or inadvertently amusing or offensive. In Cairo
I taught a charming business man and film enthusiast who was
disappointed to learn that in most
professional situations it would probably not be appropriate
to use the fillers he had gathered from Martin Scorcese films.
native speakers find it difficult to look closely at our use
of fillers. Like other discourse markers they tend to be used
without our being aware of them (Watts 1989, in McCarthy 1998:59).
They also magically disappear from normal speech when native
speakers are aware of being recorded, and are strangely difficult
to deliberately include (as I have found when asking native
speakers to make recordings of 'authentic dialogue'). This
is one of the many areas of discourse on which we can look
forward to the corpus projects shedding more light.
particular consideration for some learners arises from sociocultural
differences and attitudes. Whereas native speakers will resort
to fillers, repetition and even hums and grunts to prevent
silence from intruding, Finnish or Japanese learners, for
example, will be content to accept periods of silence and
use them for thinking. Unless sensitively handled, for a Japanese
learner to be told either to keep talking or to cram irrelevant
words and noises into these spaces may appear bizarre at best,
and insulting at worst.
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