Conversation Strategy (21)

Writing is. Speaking does.

With these four words Halliday encapsulates the difference between written and oral communication.

As teachers we spend a great deal of time teaching the strategies involved in writing, but the unpredictability and spontaneity of conversation makes teaching conversation strategy a much tougher proposition.

Research of Conversation Analysis has listed so many features of conversation, for example:

  • Adjacency pairs
  • Turn-taking
  • Repair
  • Hesitation
  • Repetition
  • Redundancy
  • False starts
  • Non-standard grammar
  • Fillers
  • Cooperative overlap
  • Interruption
  • Backchannels
  • Cooperative principles (including Grice’s Maxims)
  • Finishing other’s sentences

But how useful is this in the language classroom? Can CA help CLT here?

Attempting to teach all these features would seem a rather daunting task. For a start, the concepts involved would seem beyond most young learners. And who would want to teach and practice hesitating or interrupting? Or non-standard grammar or false starts etc? It might be possible to teach some characteristics like turn-taking or finishing other’s sentences, but it would require a fair bit of class time, not to mention the time and energy needed in having to sell it to the students; daunting and painstaking.

However it may well prove beneficial to raise students’ awareness of these features (which are most probably present in their mother tongue). But any explanation would almost certainly be needed in the students’ L1, practically impossible in a multilingual class.

This interface between language and culture is fraught with complication.

Nevertheless there is one glimmer of hope. One of these features is within reach, and can be profitably taught: backchanneling.

It is this aspect which is discussed in the book, a rich source of accessible and effective conversation strategy for ESL students.

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