The teacher and learners as language models for learning English: language and interaction in the adult ESL classroom

Kim, Yoon-kyu
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The two major types of target language available to learners in the second language classroom are commonly through interactions with the teacher and with other learners. Research on language of teachers and learners in the language classroom has produced mixed results not clearly addressing what the two types of target language look like and how each relates to learners’ language learning process. The present study pursues a detailed descriptive analysis of the features of the language and interaction of the teacher and the learners and examines how the features relate to the second language learning process. For this study, I analyzed the discourse of adult ESL learners and their teachers engaged in task discussions on the same topic. The learners were grouped into three groups with one group interacting with the teacher and the other two interacting among themselves. Then, the learners were regrouped into three groups composed only of learners who had had different conditions in the previous task for a follow-up task discussion requiring similar language use, but for a different task. Analysis of the data showed that the teachers used facilitative language, repeated learner utterances, focused on the objective structures, and provided lexical items and corrective feedback. Learners, on the other hand, were able to use the objective structures but not in varied forms, and errors were not resolved likely due to limited language proficiency. Use of the dictionary was another feature found in the discussions among learners. The teachers and the learners both adopted interactional devices for negotiation in communication breakdowns. Interestingly, however, while almost all teacher-based discussions remained on task, the learner-based discussions often strayed off topic. When the interactions were examined carefully, the teachers were found to assist and mediate learners with pedagogical goals, and the learners also assisted each other by coconstructing utterances. In the follow-up tasks, the learners from the teacher-based groups were more adept at using the objective structures and various lexical items than learners from the learner-based groups. The learner-based group learners were unable to employ a variety of the objective structures, which was also the case for some learners from the teacherbased groups despite their attentive learning experience with the teacher. Learners from neither of the groups could properly address errors. In the follow-up tasks, learners almost always remained on task carrying out successful negotiations and assisting each other with learners from the teacher-based groups mostly organizing the flow of the task.