L2 teachers from around the world may be familiar with the experience of speaking with teachers of ‘content’ subjects and finding that they have little idea of the difficulty and complexity of the work which L2 teachers do in the classroom. I often hear people say, ‘if you can speak the language, then you can teach it’. An engineering colleague told me that his job was much more difficult than mine because engineering is in a constant state of change whereas languages never change!
The main point I would like to make in this chapter is that the methodology we have predominantly used to observe and describe L2 classroom interaction understates the complexity and fluidity of our interactional work to a considerable extent. It is suggested, however, that a change in methodology may be successful in revealing the extreme demands which the dual nature of language as subject and vehicle places upon us, as well as in portraying the interactional skill and professionalism of language teachers.
According to Levinson (1983:286), there are two major approaches to the study of naturally occurring interaction: Discourse Analysis (DA) and Conversation Analysis (CA). DA uses principles and methodology typical of linguistics to analyse classroom discourse in structural-functional linguistic terms (Chaudron, 1988:14). According to DA, utterances can be translated into speech acts or interactional moves; for example, ‘Could I borrow your pencil?’ could be mapped as ‘request’. Once sequences of speech acts or moves have been plotted, a set of rules can be written which show how the units fit together to form coherent discourse. Then, hierarchical systems which depict the overall organization of classroom discourse can be developed. The two