Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Strategies of Repair in EFL Learners' Oral Discourse

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Strategies of Repair in EFL Learners' Oral Discourse

Article excerpt


This study examines how EFL learners in the non-English speaking communities (Jordan and Germany) handle communication in story-retelling, and uncovers the repair strategies, which they deploy in order to overcome communication breakdowns and pass comprehensible messages to their interlocutors. The study also analyzes factors governing the EFL learners' preferences for employing repair strategies. It examines two repair strategies used by Jordanian and German EFL learners; self-initiated repair and repetition. The participants of this study were volunteer third-year students enrolled in the Linguistics Department at Chemnitz Technical University (Germany) and the University of Jordan (Jordan). Two short stories, selected from 100 free English short stories for ESL learners, were used to elicit data. The results of the analysis revealed that both German and Jordanian non-native speakers of English resort to strategies of repair in order to compensate for their lack of linguistic items or to gain time to retrieve linguistic item(s) and maintain conversation. Moreover, the results indicate that the Jordanian Arabic speaking subjects used strategies of repair more frequently, which was attributed to the fact that they produced more story events, which doubled the number of words in their oral production. Another finding was that repetition was used more frequently than self-initiated repair by both groups. The results of this study may provide some useful insights into syllabus design and English language teaching (ELT).

Keywords: communication strategies, self-initiated repair, repetition, discourse analysis, repair strategies, pragmatics, EFL learners

1. Introduction

Increasing numbers of students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds have a great interest in studying English as a foreign/second language since English is an international language, the language of the Internet, and the language of business communication worldwide. According to Watterson (2008, p. 378), "The international use of English as a lingua franca (ELF) - i.e. between non-native speakers of different nationalities, in situations where no native English speakers are present - has become an important feature of business, diplomacy, education, and personal relationships around the world".

Hence, non-native speakers are challenged with the inevitable task of communicating successfully with each other, i.e., sending and receiving comprehensible messages. They struggle to transmit a comprehensible message to their interlocutors, and they sometimes fail to do so. Therefore, Leonard (1983) suggests that competent communicators learn to regulate and modify messages within a conversation. Speech modification may entail planning to select appropriate words, reducing the complexity of utterances, or elaborating on a statement for clarification. When individuals do not properly regulate or modify messages, a communication breakdown may occur. Drew (2005) also claims that "It is fundamental in conversation that participants construct or design their talk so as to be understood in the way they wish to be understood" (p. 94).

One way of modifying, organizing and maintaining conversation is by using repair, as a communication strategy. Researchers suggest that using communication strategies to prevent communication breakdowns, and to get a message across to the listener lead to second language learning (Swain, 1985; Rababah, 2007). Such modified speech is referred to as comprehensible output (Swain, 1985). The comprehensible output hypothesis suggests that language is acquired when there is a communication breakdown, and language users are "pushed to use alternative means to get across... the messages... precisely, coherently and appropriately" (Swain, 1985, pp. 248-249).

Based on previous claims, the present research aims to investigate whether two strategies of repair: repetition and self-initiated repair are used in the oral production of German and Jordanian EFL learners. …

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