Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Using Native Speakers in Chat

Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Using Native Speakers in Chat

Article excerpt


SLA research indicates that negotiation promotes interlanguage development and that learners are most likely to negotiate if opportunities for oral interaction are provided. In the case of campusbased students, learners' progress is supported and monitored mainly through classroom interactions. If students do not attend classes on campus, how do they gain the reported benefits of oral interaction? Recent studies indicate that chatting provides opportunities for the negotiation of meaning, as occurs in oral interaction. However, most of these have been conducted on interactions between learners, with teacher supervision, often in task-based instructional settings. This study considers implications for distance language learning of negotiations by a group of intermediate learners of Italian interacting in dyads on a Web based Italian native speaker (NS) chat program. The research specifically explores (a) whether live chat with native speakers offers opportunities for negotiation of meaning in open ended tasks carried out in single session interactions with unfamiliar NS without teacher supervision, (b) the principal triggers for negotiation and modification of interlanguage in these interactions, and (c) whether public NS chat rooms are likely to offer an optimal environment for SLA, even for learners studying at a distance who need to chat without supervision. Chat logs indicate that learners do in fact negotiate for meaning and modify their interlanguage when engaged in open ended conversational tasks with unfamiliar interlocutors, with lexical and structural difficulties triggering most negotiations. Though further research needs to probe whether these negotiations and modifications lead to acquisition in the longer term, they would be particularly valuable for distance learners who need opportunities to negotiate within authentic target language contexts.


It is essential that distance language courses provide learners with opportunities for oral interaction since it is within this context that negotiation of meaning and interlanguage development are most likely to occur. Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research findings are in fact based mainly on face-to-face conversational interactions:

   Negotiation for meaning is the process in which, in an effort to
   communicate, learners and competent speakers provide and interpret
   signals of their own and their interlocutor's perceived
   comprehension, thus provoking adjustments to linguistic form,
   conversational structure, message content, or all three, until an
   acceptable level of understanding is achieved. (Long, 1996, p. 418)

Though not conclusive, there is evidence of a connection between conversation, negotiation and interlanguage development, as articulated by Long's (1996) Interaction Hypothesis:

   ...negotiation for meaning, and especially negotiation work that
   triggers interactional adjustments by the NS or more competent
   interlocutor, facilitates acquisition because it connects input,
   internal learner capacities, particularly selective attention, and
   output in productive ways (pp. 451-452)

In campus-based courses, classroom interactions provide opportunities for speaking practice while at the same time allowing the language teacher to support and monitor learner progress. Even though distance language courses enjoy an increased popularity, many potential students believe they lack the same levels of interactivity and teacher support as campus-based courses. In particular, many would-be distance language learners do not perceive how they can learn to speak the language. This is despite the increased integration of computer mediated communication (CMC) tools in language courses being delivered in combined distance/online mode (Goodfellow, Manning, & Lamy, 1999; Kotter, 2001; Shield & Hewer, 1999). As part of the Cassamarca Foundation project Italian Online at the University of South Australia, the potential of online chatting as a bridge to face-to-face interaction and which is conducive to negotiation in Italian is being explored. …

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