Conversation Analysis - A Discourse Approach to Teaching Oral English Skills

By Wu, Yan | International Education Studies, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Conversation Analysis - A Discourse Approach to Teaching Oral English Skills


Wu, Yan, International Education Studies


Abstract

This paper explores a pedagocial approach to teaching oral English-Conversation Analysis. First, features of spoken language is described in comparison to written language. Second, Conversation Analysis theory is elaborated in terms of adjacency pairs, turn-taking, repairs, sequences, openings and closings, and feedback. Third, under the theoretical framework of Conversation Analysis, a syllabus for improving learners' oral English skills is designed in consideration to learner profile, needs analysis and communicative events and materials employed in teaching. And a teaching model is explored with reference to Riggenbach(1999). Finally, two types of assessment are discussed to provide insights for teachers on the effect of teaching and learning. All the issues discussed above will provide teachers and scholars with a clear instruction on how to apply conversation analysis to teaching oral English skills and the discussion will lead to the feasibility of applying a converstion analysis approach to teaching learners' oral English skills.

Keywords: conversation analysis, syllabus desgin, assessment

1. Introducation

Oral language teaching demands a variety of concerns, such as the features of spoken language compared with written language. People learn language primarily for communication with others. The participants in communication involve speakers and hearers. Therefore, we cannot speak without the consideration of the hearers. Moreover, communication happens in social life and it takes place in a certain situation, like coffee bar, office or classroom, and inside a certain culture. Therefore, we cannot speak without the consideration of the social and cultural context. Then, how should oral language skills be taught with regard to the social and cultural context? In contrast to traditional way of teaching oral English, discourse analysis provides a new window on teaching and learning oral language. It focuses on "the skills needed to put the knowledge into action and to achieve successful communication." (Cook, 1989, viii) This paper takes a perspective of conversation analysis within the field of discourse analysis, attempting to explore the ways of applying discourse analysis to classroom teaching and the effectiveness of fostering oral English skills.

2. Features of Spoken Language

While we are teaching spoken language, we know that we should adopt different approaches to teaching. However, we should bear in mind about the differences and similarities between spoken and written language, so that we can make informed decisions on planning teaching class.

As to the similarities and differences between spoken and written language, systemic functional linguistics has provided a systemic description (Burns, Joyce & Gollin, 1996, p. 2). From a systemic functional perspective, language consists of a set of choices from which language users make choices and make sense. Therefore, spoken language and written language share the same language system. Nevertheless, they differ in lexicogrammatical choices in terms of the situational and cultural context embedded in language. By employing the language continuum (Burns, Joyce & Gollin, 1996, p. 50), we can see that spoken language is more context-depended. Joyce and Gollins (1996, pp.53-58) find out two characteristics of spoken language, namely "grammatical intricacy" and "lexical density". By 'grammatical intricacy', they indicate that spoken language consists of incomplete sentences, contrast to the complete sentences in written language. By 'lexical density', they indicate that spoken language includes less content words, such as nouns.

The similarities and differences between spoken language and written language can serve as foundation for language teaching as well as learning.

3. Discourse Analysis and Conversation Analysis

3.1 A Brief Overview on Discourse Analysis

While most sentence linguists are concerned with the formal forms of language, Zelling Harris (Harris, 1952, cited in McCathy, 2002, p. …

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