Differences in the task-supported negotiations of younger and older EFL children: From repair into Prevention


Abstract  The benefits of task-supported interaction are especially noticeable when negotiation of meaning occurs. During the negotiation process, learners receive comprehensible input, as well as feedback on their output, which is often modified. This provides opportunities for language learning (Mackey, 2012). However, despite the numerous studies carried out within the interactionist framework (Pica, 2013), children’s interactional behavior in foreign language contexts is still an under-researched area (García Mayo, 2017). This field of research cannot be informed by studies on different populations such as adults or children in second language contexts due to their very different characteristics (Shehadeh, 2012). Within this backdrop the present study has analyzed the oral interactions of two groups of 40 Spanish young learners of English as a foreign language (aged 8-11) with a beginner proficiency level when performing an oral communicative task (a picture placement game). Following previous studies on negotiation of meaning, the different interactional strategies that our learners employed in their negotiations, namely, clarification requests, confirmation checks, comprehension checks, acknowledgements and repetitions have been examined. In addition, and following a recent categorization by CO-AUTHOR and AUTHOR (2017), we have analyzed the functions that these strategies serve: (i) repair breakdowns; (ii) prevent breakdowns; (iii) confirm successful communication and (iv) focus on form. The results show significant differences between the two age groups. Younger children (ages 8-9) negotiate mostly in order to repair communication breakdowns and display a larger number of clarification requests. On the other hand, older learners (ages 10-11) show a greater concern about their interlocutor’s needs, and frequently use negotiation strategies to let them know that the message has been successfully understood by using a greater number of acknowledgements. As in previous research addressing this population, comprehension checks and focus on form strategies were rare in the production of either group. With the current study we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the role and nature of young learners’ negotiations during task-supported interaction.

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