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Optimizing Interaction in the Second Language Classroom. (Linguistics)

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In recent years we have witnessed a significant shift of emphasis as far as second language acquisition research is concerned. This shift is reflected in the fact that many researchers have started to recognize the importance of the processes taking place in the classroom in second language development. Such a change of heart was effected by the failure of most input-output studies to produce conclusive results on the efficiency of various teaching methods and, consequently, by the recognition of the second language classroom as a cultural entity in which the whole learning process is predetermined by the interaction taking place between its participants as well as by the context in which this interaction occurs (cf. Allwright 1988; Allwright -- Bailey 1991).

As a result, a considerable amount of research has been carried out on interaction in second language classrooms as well as the factors that influence it. Researchers have focused their attention on participation which constitutes a direct manifestation of interactional processes. In an attempt at discovering the participation structure in an instructional context, much attention has been paid to turn-taking, initiative, teacher talk, learning strategies and repair. A considerable amount of research has also been directed towards pinpointing the differences in interaction between naturalistic settings and the second language classroom and finding out what sort of influence these differences can exert on second language development (cf. Allwright -- Bailey 1991; Ellis 1992, 1994; van Lier 1988).

The main goal of this study is to explore the ways in which the quality of interaction taking place in a typical polish high school second language classroom affects the teaching of speaking skills. An attempt will also be made to determine how different aspects of educational discourse can be shaped in order to make the acquisition of these skills as effective as possible. At the outset the relationship between the notions of input and interaction will be addressed, and a few comments will be made on the facets of classroom interaction to be investigated. Then an analysis of two sets of transcribed data will be carried out in accordance with the ethnographic tradition. The first set of transcripts, or the baseline data, will make it possible for us to determine to what extent the interactional patterns found in an instructional setting deviate from those encountered in general conversation, and in what ways they can be altered to promote real-life interaction and negotiation of meaning. The data collected in the second stage of the study come from English language classrooms in which some aspects of interaction were modified to make discourse more similar to communication in naturalistic settings. The patterns of interaction found in those classes will be analyzed and some comments will be made as to whether the modifications made the classes more conducive to the development of the speaking skills.

2. Input and interaction in second language acquisition

Research theory and practical experience all point to the fact that the samples of target language that learners are exposed to, often referred to as input, play a crucial role in second language acquisition. The recognition of the second language classroom as a social setting in which language learning takes place by means of "meaningful interaction", however, made it necessary for researches to explore the relationships between input and interaction. Although the indispensability of exposure to the target language was not called into question, some researchers argue that input in itself can no longer be regarded as the only factor determining the route and rate of second language acquisition.

The paramount importance of input, and to be more precise "comprehensible input" in language learning was emphasized by Krashen and later became the cornerstone of the so-called natural approach. …