Communicative approach to the analysis of extended monlogue discourse and its relevance to the development of teaching materials for English special purposes
Straker Cook, R. H.
This study began by describing a particular set of problems encountered in teaching English to overseas postgraduates in a particular institution. But what attracted us to the Newcastle situation in 1971 was a feeling that it was representative of the difficulties faced by many other institutions proposing to offer EFL tuition to students specialising in a variety of disciplines and. studying them or researching in them through the medium of English. It is hoped that some of the solutions which have been suggested here will prove to be applicable to the development of a range of ESP teaching materials. Aural comprehension has been used to illustrate possible applications of the descriptive system because it is one the student's most urgent requirements when he arrives at the receiving institution, and priority must be given to the development of suitable practice materials. But the approach could well be applied to training in productive skills, particularly to the verbal presentation of reports and research proposals; for there are various speaking situations in which overseas students may be called upon to produce sustained monologue. Although the differences between written discourse and monologue were stressed in Section 2.4.2, the similarities are nonetheless sufficient to suggest that the descriptive apparatus might be helpful in developing a functional approach to written discourse, and eventually in the production of reading and writing practice materials. The system has certain shortcomings, of course, and would no doubt benefit from application to a larger body of data. It was suggested in Section 3.3.4 that the distribution of rhetorical functions may well vary from discipline to discipline and even from one topic to another: the system would be considerably refined if it were called upon to handle samples of discourse from a carefully selected range of disciplines. The system is clumsy in handling discontinuous relationships at the rank of move: it is quite possible that in the sequence c₁ + res + q, the qualification relates to the causative rather than the resultative, and one could envisage circumstances where several acts might intervene between the two. What is more, it also fails to reveal complex discontinuous relationships at higher levels of organisation, where a sequence of episodes, say at D in the structure of an exposition, may not be contiguously related. In the sequence .... m n o p..., it is quite possible that n and o both depend directly from m, rather than o being related linearly through n to o, and it is also quite possible that they do not relate at all to p, that the line of argument runs from m to p, leaving n and o as digressions. Of course, we have been concerned with coherence rather than cohesion, and many of these discontinuous relationships may well be indicated by devices of cohesion. But it must also be said that just as the level of discourse impinges upon the grammatical level at one end of the scale, so also does it impinge at the other end on the level of content. Though content analysis is clearly not a linguistic enterprise, there may be pedagogical benefits to be derived from investigating the organisation of the information itself. As we noted at the beginning of this Section, in 4.1.1, the paramount question in comprehension is 'What is the information the speaker is conveying? ', and at least in the case of aural comprehension there is some justification for examining the logical relationships inherent in the information conveyed. Despite these shortcomings, it is felt that the descriptive system has provided a coherent account of the structure of extended monologue, and that this in turn can form the basis of comprehension practice materials aimed specifically at an increased awareness of the patterning of lecture discourse. One hopes that it will equip the foreign student to extend and sustain his understanding of the hours of lectures and talks to which he will be subjected, and that he will less easily succumb to a seemingly endless flow of words.