Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Teaching Spoken Discourse Markers Explicitly: A Comparison of III and PPP

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Teaching Spoken Discourse Markers Explicitly: A Comparison of III and PPP

Article excerpt


In a recent review of research into spoken language, Timmis (2012) highlights some findings, areas of debate and potential ways forward for future research. He describes how recent research in corpus linguistics has done much to provide a clearer picture of how spoken grammar and written grammar differ in at least some respects. Some key findings of Biber Johansson, Leech and Finegan (1999), Carter and McCarthy (1997, 2006) McCarthy and Carter (1995) and Leech (2000), for instance, show that spoken grammar contains features such as ellipsis, tails and discourse markers with greater frequency than we might intuitively guess.

At the same time, there has been considerable debate about whether teachers need to teach these forms to students wishing to be successful users of English or 'SUEs' (Prodromou, 2003, 2008), particularly those using English in lingua franca contexts. Timmis (2012) suggests that the debate revolves around the link between native speaker usage and cultural identity. A spoken corpus based upon native speaker data may tell us the most frequent forms in use but some of these may be linked directly to a particular cultural identity and therefore may not be the most useful items for learners.

However, as Timmis (2012) also acknowledges, there have been few empirical studies which have investigated the teaching and learning of spoken grammar in classroom contexts. This suggests that research which investigates how to best teach forms which could help learners to become SUEs is worthwhile, providing the forms chosen are appropriate for the context in which learning takes place. DMs are not highly idiomatic and do not seem to be a mark of cultural identity in the way that slang or colloquial language can be and are therefore likely to be worth acquiring for productive use in ESL classrooms. Data from spoken corpora indicate that DMs are very common in (at least) native speaker speech. 'You know' and 'I mean', for example, are the first and second most frequent two-word chunks in the CANCODE spoken corpus of British English (O'Keeffe, McCarthy & Carter, 2007:65). The frequency of DMs is as a result of them having a number of useful functions in speech such as showing listenership or opening conversation but their high frequency may also mean that they do not always stand out and can seem banal or irrelevant to learners (Jones, 2010). Despite this, they rarely appear in textbooks (Cullen & Kuo, 2007) and have only occasionally been the subject of classroom research. This study is therefore a small attempt to address the gap in empirical research which Timmis (2012) highlights by attempting to answer the following research questions:

RQ1. To what extent does explicit teaching aid the acquisition of spoken discourse markers by intermediate (CEFR B2) level Chinese EAP learners studying in the UK?

RQ2. Which explicit framework aids acquisition of the target DMs more - a PPP framework which practices the target DMs or an III framework which helps students to notice the target DMs but does not practise them in class?

RQ3. To what extent do the learners themselves believe one classroom approach to learning DMs (PPP/III) is more helpful than the other?


2.1. What are discourse markers?

Schiffrin (1987: 31) offers an early definition when she suggests that DMs are "sequentially dependent elements which bracket units of talk" and which help to make discourse coherent. She suggests that a DM connects directly to the "unit of talk" prior to it and following it. These units help to determine the choice of DM and the meaning speakers intend and listeners infer. Her analysis, based on native speaker corpus data, suggests that one function of DMs is to coordinate talk, which is defined on five different "planes": information state, participation framework, ideational structure, action structure and exchange structure (Schiffrin, 1987:35-40). …

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