Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Beginning Learners' Development of Interactional Competence: Alignment Activity

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Beginning Learners' Development of Interactional Competence: Alignment Activity

Article excerpt


It has long been recognized that the ability to speak a language develops through interaction with other interlocutors. In the case of second language (L2) learning, interaction with other members of the speech community not only helps learners analyze and process linguistic forms (Long, 1996), but also allows them to participate in meaningful social activities (Jacoby & Ochs, 1995). Research in the area of L2 social interaction deems the construct of interactional competence (IC) as central to becoming a competent speaker in an L2. Previous studies in L2 IC have documented the array of interactional resources that allows learners to partake in social interactions and achieve communicative goals in immersion contexts (Cekaite, 2007), telephone conversations (Yagi, 2007), tutoring sessions (Young & Miller, 2004), classroom settings (Hall, 1995; Ohta, 2001; Seedhouse, 2004), and assessment contexts (Galaczi, 2014), or while studying abroad (Dings, 2014; Ishida, 2009; Masuda, 2011; Taguchi, 2014). However, most of these studies have focused on adult L2 intermediate or advanced learners. A review of published research suggests that only one investigation (Ohta, 2001) has examined how beginning L2 learners develop their interactional capabilities. Although this study made a significant contribution to the field, additional research is needed to better map the ways in which peer-to-peer classroom interactions influence beginning learners' development of IC.

The current study focused on how beginning learners of Spanish expressed alignment, a type of interactional resource, in two sets of instructional peer-to-peer conversations-that is, in what this study refers to as equal-power conversations in an institutionalized setting (i.e., the foreign language classroom) for an institutional (e.g., pedagogical or assessment) purpose. In addition to documenting the types of alignment moves used by novice L2 learners, the study also investigated changes in participation patterns.

Literature Review


Concern for the interactional nature of communication has been present since the genesis of the communicative competence framework. In one of its first and most infl uential formulations (Canale, 1983; Canale & Swain, 1980), communicative competence comprised four major components: (1) knowledge of the rules of grammar, (2) knowledge of sociolinguistic rules, (3) knowledge of communication strategies, and (4) knowledge of discourse rules. It was not until the mid-1980s, however, that the term interactional competence was explicitly used within the second language acquisition (SLA) field. Reacting to the ACTFL's description of language profi ciency as a measure of functional competence, Kramsch (1986) argued that the ACTFL guidelines to assess speaking performance failed to fully address the interactional features of natural conversation and, as a consequence, did not capture the true nature of communicative competence. Some 10 years later, He and Young (1998) further claimed that participating in spoken communication requires, in addition to knowledge of the four aforementioned competencies, knowledge of the interactional resources needed to manage and maintain conversations. However, in their view, IC was not only a mere fifth component of the communicative competence model, but also "how those [interactional] resources are employed mutually and reciprocally by all participants in a particular discursive practice" (Young, 2011, p. 428).

As such, in addition to providing an analytical framework for looking at the interactional features displayed by L2 learners during communicative events, IC also broadens the understanding of the role of interaction in spoken communicative exchanges by stressing the importance of coconstruction (Jacoby & Ochs, 1995; Kramsch, 1986). Conversation requires interactants to be constantly monitoring their actions and orienting themselves to those of their interlocutor(s). …

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