Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Teaching and Testing L2 Spanish Listening Using Scripted vs. Unscripted Texts

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Teaching and Testing L2 Spanish Listening Using Scripted vs. Unscripted Texts

Article excerpt


An enduring challenge for foreign language (FL) instructors is how to prepare classroom learners for real-world communicative contexts. Since the 1970s, the movement toward communicative language teaching has increasingly defined learn- ing outcomes in terms of the ability to communicate rather than knowledge of structural features (see Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Indeed, in the United States, the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages and ACTFL (2013) currently conceptualize language learning in terms of functional "can-do" statements that describe what learners at different proficiency levels can accomplish in interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive communi- cation. Recent decades have also seen a dra- matic change in the types of texts to which students have access: Twenty or thirty years ago, providing target language spoken texts involved either teacher talk or using video- or audiotapes that were often difficult to obtain, manipulate, and administer, and that were also relatively expensive. Advances in technology have made it increasingly easier for FL learners to have almost unlimited access to spoken texts in the target language through Web sites, foreign movies, and programs that are avail- able on television, on DVD, or through digital streaming.

Nevertheless, even with this great in- crease in the availability of spoken texts in the target language, many FL learners still find it difficult to understand native speak- ers in real-world settings, even after having studied the language for many years. A num- ber of researchers (e.g., Flowerdew & Miller, 1997; Gilmore, 2007; Lam, 2002; Wagner, 2014) have suggested that this dif- ficulty stems in part from the spoken texts to which learners are exposed in FL class- rooms. Because much of the spoken lan- guage that learners hear is scripted, simplifi ed, and overenunciated, learners have great difficulty comprehending un- scripted, unsimplified, and normally enun- ciated language outside the classroom. To explore this issue, this study assessed the comprehension performance of two compa- rable groups of intermediate university learners of Spanish as a foreign language: One group listened to two unscripted texts, and the second group listened to versions of the same texts that had been scripted to resemble traditional textbook materials.

Review of the Literature

Differences Between Scripted and Unscripted Texts

It is widely accepted that written and spoken language have different structural character- istics (e.g., Chafe, 1982, 1985; Flowerdew, 1994; Halliday, 1985; Lund, 1991; Shohamy & Inbar, 1991; Tannen, 1982). For the pur- poses of this article, which considers only spoken texts, these differences can be seen as analogous to the contrasts between unscript- ed spoken texts, involving extemporaneous language with little or no planning, and scripted spoken texts, in which the text is written, revised, edited, and polished before being read aloud. Tannen (1982) argued that spoken texts can be arranged on a con- tinuum of orality-with one end represent- ing informal texts with distinctly oral features and the other representing highly literate texts that are planned, written, and read aloud. Similarly, McCarthy and Carter (1995) described a continuum of texts that ranged from "speakerly" to "writerly" (p. 216).

Wagner (2014) explained that scripted and unscripted texts differ in three major ways: First, unscripted texts tend to have more pauses, fillers, and false starts, or what Griffiths (1991) referred to as "hesita- tion phenomena," than scripted texts. Sec- ond, lexico-grammatical characteristics differ greatly between scripted and unscripted texts. Finally, there are extensive differences in the phonological characteristics of scripted and unscripted texts: Most significantly, the connected speech that is characteristic of unplanned spoken texts differs from the "careful" speech characteristic of scripted texts. …

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