Teaching Conversation and Negotiation Skills

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Teaching Conversation and Negotiation Skills in English Using Teacher-Made, Semi-Scripted Conversation Models (New Zealand) Heather Denny

Statement of the Issue For many years now I have been teaching English as an additional language to adult migrants and refugees from Asia, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa in a New Zealand tertiary institution. I believe that it is vital that my students learn the skills and cultural norms of conversation and negotiation in the local variety of English as quickly and as efficiently as possible. It is therefore important that the models from which they learn are close to the language of the context in which they will be living, so that they do not have to ‘re-learn' in the 'real' world.

The challenge for the teacher is to find readily accessible, authentic (ie real world) samples of the target language suitable for classroom use and to devise appropriate activities to facilitate this learning. Learners are surrounded by ‘authentic’ language in their daily lives but it is heard fleetingly, and simple absorption by exposure is not the most efficient way of learning, as the data is too complex and seldom has the built-in redundancy necessary for efficient learning. One could presumably record the language of the street and use it in the classroom, but there are ethical and practical barriers to this. Even if recorded samples of actual language use could be used (and some theorists advocate this), the data may be too complex for most learners to handle in the classroom. Textbooks provide models, but they are not always very authentic and they may be derived from a context that is very different from the one in which the learner is to live. The many parts of the English speaking world have varying linguistic and cultural norms for casual conversation and other genres such as negotiation and service encounters, and the transfer of language and socio-cultural strategies from a different part of the world has the potential to lead to miscommunication. Even Australian models do not reflect he particular blend of Pacific and Asian culture that contributes to the New Zealand context today.

Literature Review I will briefly survey the literature that most influenced my approach to addressing this issue.

In an article introducing Teachers’ Voices 6 (de Silva Joyce & Slade, 2000), Helen de Silva Joyce and Diana Slade summarize the literature to date on analyzing and teaching casual conversation, outlining the problems that arise from using the scripted dialogues often found in traditional

textbooks as models. They point out that these dialogues are often based on the grammar of written language, omit or distort many of the important features of real life oral interaction and fail to model longer turns which are so often part of natural conversation in English. They ignore the insights gained from recent linguistic analysis of the features of casual conversation (Burns, 2001; Eggins & Slade, 1997). In the same article de Silva Joyce and Slade describe how the features of conversational genres can be taught, using a methodology called the teaching/learning cycle (see de Silva Joyce & Slade, 2000 pxiii) with an authentic model to help learners identify the stages of the genre (the organizational sequence of a typical exchange) and the key language features within it. In addition they point out the importance of teaching the micro aspects of discourse (for example formulaic expressions used in conversation, typical question and answer responses and turn-taking) and describe the typical problems learners have with these.

In the same volume Butterworth (2000) explains how it was possible to create authentic models for classroom use for lower level learners from semi-scripted role-played dialogues. The semiscripting involved giving native speakers a scenario based on real life interactions he had encountered and asking them to role-play an exchange without a word for word...
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