Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Investigating Interviewer-Candidate Interactions during Oral Interviews for Child L2 Learners

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Investigating Interviewer-Candidate Interactions during Oral Interviews for Child L2 Learners

Article excerpt


One common procedure for oral performance testing of Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) learners is one-on-one interviewing wherein the interviewer asks questions and the child candidate responds to them. While existing research has focused primarily on outcomes elicited by such procedures, this study examines the processes involved. During the present interview test for Japanese FLES students, the interviewers were permitted to provide support but without specific advice on how interviewers should give support to the candidates' problematic responses. Under such circumstances, (a) there were apparent inconsistencies between and within interviewers in the way they dealt with erroneous responses, and (b) the child candidates were not able to initiate the negotiation of meaning or repair processes. This study also suggests that, when interviewer support is taken into account in ratings of oral performances, such ratings may be significantly higher than ratings without interviewer support that are determined simply by the frequencies of correct responses to initial prompts and correctly formulated questions.


Recent studies have increasingly taken the view that performance outcomes are actually the products of collaborative achievement between interviewers and candidates, and that the extent to which the interviewers provide support for or accommodate the candidates' abilities should be more carefully examined and discussed for future interviewer training (e.g., Cafarella, 1997; Katona, 1998; Lazaraton, 1993; McNamara, 1997; Ross, 1992, 1996; Ross & Berwick, 1992). However, the studies that have focused on the interviewing process have primarily investigated dyadic interaction processes between interviewers and adult L2 learners. Despite the notable development of performance-based oral tests for child L2 learners during the last decade (e.g., Carpenter, Fujii, & Kataoka, 1996; Rhodes & Thompson, 1990; Swender & Duncan, 1998), scant attention has been paid to interactions between interviewers and child L2 candidates during the interviewing processes, especially interactions involving interviewer support and subsequent candidate reactions.1

The existing research on child L2 oral assessment focuses primarily on performance outcomes (e.g., Day & Shapson, 1987; Donato, Antonek, & Tucker, 1994; Donato, Tucker, Wudthayagorn, & Igarashi, 2000; Traphagan, 1997). Although a special issue of Language Testing (Rea-Dickins, 2000) raised various reliability and validity issues involved in the assessment of child L2 learning, we still know very little about child-adult interactions in oral assessment settings. To what extent do interviewers provide support for child L2 candidates' communication problems during the interviews, and how do the candidates react to such support? How might the use of interviewer support influence ratings? The present study explores these issues by investigating interactions between interviewers and child L2 candidates who participate in a Japanese FLES program.

Previous Research

In a recent study, McNamara (1997) raised the issue of interaction in performance assessment, especially the assessment of spoken language through interviews and role-plays, arguing that oral performance assessment is a social act and that the social aspect of interaction needs to be much more seriously considered in future L2 assessment research. McNamara was not the first to call for the reexamination of the interviewing process. Earlier, Van lier (1989) argued that the interaction process of interviewing is not the same as that in "authentic conversation" and examined how the interviewer maintains control over the course of discourse influencing the candidate's performance. Stimulated by Van Lier's view, several follow-up studies were conducted to investigate contextual factors influencing the interaction processes of oral proficiency interviews for adult L2 learners such as interview topic, candidate proficiency and gender, and familiarity with the interviewer (e. …

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