It’s good to talk. An investigation into target language use in the modern languages classroom.
Although there is a considerable body of research into various aspects of the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language, there appear to be few studies into the teaching of modern foreign languages (ML) to adolescents in the context of a secondary school setting. This thesis reports the findings of research aimed at identifying the strategies that ML teachers, considered examples of good practice, used to engage secondary school learners in interaction in the target language (TL) with the objective of developing their communicative competence. Four teachers’ lessons with their pupils aged 14-15, in their third year of learning a foreign language at secondary school, were observed and audio-recorded. Three of each of the teachers’ observed lessons were subjected to fine grained analysis with the aim of delineating their TL moves which appeared to influence pupils so that they used the TL themselves readily to communicate meaning ‘naturally’ as well as to practise structures in more controlled exercises. The teachers and a sample of their pupils were subsequently interviewed to provide confirmation or disconfirmation of initial patterns arising from examination of the observational data set. Although the data were analysed predominantly qualitatively, quantitative methods were also employed to provide a clear picture of the teachers’ TL use and the way it was deployed to assist learners in developing effective communicative skills. Goffman’s (1981) production and Wadensjö’s (1998) reception formats, not normally associated with the classroom, were considered appropriate to describe the participation frameworks within which the development of the learners’ communicative proficiency was supported. The findings display ways in which the TL used by the teachers helped to create a secure collaborative atmosphere where pupils were disposed to respond in the TL. The teachers’ use of different ‘types’ of TL, depending on the focus in the lesson, was viewed as supporting learners in preparation for communicating their own meaning in exchanges in ‘real world’ interaction outside the classroom. A particularly successful scaffolding strategy employed by the teachers was the provision of TL cues offered to the learners before they responded to initiations which enabled them to express their meaning in the TL. Revoicing of learners’ incomplete TL utterances also appeared successful in supporting learners to use their limited language resource effectively. Through its close analysis of classroom talk, this thesis offers an important contribution to the understanding of the complex nature of interaction in the ML classroom and the role that teachers’ use of TL plays in assisting adolescent learners to develop TL communication skills in interaction. Beginning teachers, as well as those more experienced practitioners, should benefit from the strategies identified, which appear to highlight the importance of establishing a collaborative classroom ethos which supports the learners, allowing them to contribute in the TL successfully.