The Teachability of Communication Strategies

A Critical Survey of Some School Books for the Gymnasium

Bachelor Thesis, 2009

85 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. A Theoretical Introduction into Communication Strategies
2.1 The History of Communication Strategies Research
2.2 Communication Strategies: Approaches and Definitions
2.3 Communication Strategies: Taxonomies and the Range of Strategies
2.4 The Practical Implications
2.4.1 The Effectiveness of the Use of Communication Strategies
2.4.2 The Teachability of Communication Strategies
2.4.3 Communication Strategies: Teaching Concepts
2.4.4 Variables in the Choice of Communication Strategies

3. The Empirical Part
3.1 Examination and Evaluation of Communication Strategies in the Curriculum
3.1.1 The Curriculum for ‘Sekundarstufe I’
3.1.2 The Curriculum for ‘Sekundarstufe II’
3.1.3 Comments on the Findings in the Curricula
3.2 Examination of Text Books
3.2.1 Quantitative Examination
3.2.2 Qualitative Examination Categories 1 and 2: Range, Frequency and Quality of CS Teaching Categories 3 and 4: Potentially Useful Teaching Material
3.2.3 Evaluation of Results
3.2.4 A Critique of the Corpus

4. Suggestions for Improvements of the Curricula and the Teaching Situation

5. Conclusion



List of Abbreviations

Glossary of Terms

List of Communication Strategies

1. Introduction

While I was doing an internship in several English classes in a ‘Gym- nasium’ in 2007, a teacher asked me to take a test in his class (8th grade) of the vo- cabulary of a certain unit in their textbook. I did so and graded the tests according to his requirements. Every incorrect word led to zero points regardless of how ‘wrong’ the word was. In one case the students were supposed to give the English word for “Süßigkeiten” which, of course, is “sweets”. While some simply gave no word, others gave solutions that were wrong, yet creative, for instance a circum- locution, “sweet things” or newly coined word, “sweetys”. It did not seem fair to me to disregard these solutions, as someone using them in a communicative situ- ation would be able to better communicate his intention than by simply saying no- thing. From this experience I got the idea for my B.A. thesis to deal with the topic of communication strategies1, to which these examples belong, and to further ex- amine their role in language learning.

This thesis is an attempt to inspect what CSs are and what their part in education could and should be, respectively actually is. In the beginning I will present a summary of the history of research in the field of CSs and I will give an overview of existing (and often varying) theories, definitions and taxonomies of CSs. After introducing this background knowledge I will examine the practical implications of CS research. By discussing studies and theories by various re- searchers I will prove that the employment of CSs in communication is useful and effective and that teaching CSs in school is both possible and sensible.

I will then go on in the empirical part to examine the curricula for ‘Sekun- darstufe I and II’ of the ‘Gymnasium’ in North Rhine Westphalia with regard to CS teaching. I will also look at various school books to see to what degree results from CS research have been taken into consideration in their design, i.e. whether or not they teach CSs, and if so, how they do it. I will evaluate these results and make suggestions for possible improvements. In the conclusion I will sum up my results and make suggestions for further research. The appendix includes various material used for this thesis that is helpful and sometimes necessary to understand the text, such as taxonomies of CSs or charts showing results of my research. At the end of the thesis is a list explaining common abbreviations used in this thesis, as well as a glossary of important terms that are used and a list of communication strategies that are mentioned in this thesis, explaining what they are concretely.

2. A Theoretical Introduction into Communication Strategies

The term “communication strategies” here is a specific term in the scien- tific field of linguistics and particularly that of language teaching and learning. It is a term for a number of strategies that a language user employs to cope with dif- ficulties encountered in communication, such as giving a definition in case the word for the intended expression is not known. If, for instance, someone wants to explain that he could not go skiing as the snow had already started melting away, but does not know the word “to melt”, he could instead say “the snow became water”.

2.1 The History of Communication Strategies Research

The topic of communication strategies appeared for the first time almost four decades ago when: researchers first raised the notion of second language (L2) communication strategies (CSs) at the beginning of the 1970s, following the recognition that the mismatch between L2 speakers’ linguistic resources and communicative intentions leads to a number of systematic language phenomena whose main function is to handle difficulties or breakdowns in communication. (Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 174)

In an article in 1972 “that first introduced the term ‘interlanguage’ “ (Ellis, 1995: 351), Selinker coined the term ‘communication strategy’ “as one of the five cen- tral processes involved in L2 learning” (Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 175) without go- ing into further detail; at the same time Savignon “published a research report in which she highlighted the importance of coping strategies (the term she used for CSs) in communicative language teaching and testing” (Ibid.). A year later, in 1973, Varadi “gave a talk, at a small European conference, generally considered the first systematic analysis of strategic language behavior” (Ibid.). This talk, even though the paper was read by his colleagues during the 1970s, was first brought out in 1980. Around 1976/1977, “Tarone and her associates […] had published two studies specifically focusing on [CSs]” which included the first definition of what is called ‘communication strategy’ and presented a taxonomy of these strate- gies (Ibid.).

In 1980, respectively 1983, Canale and Swain saw CSs as one of the four subcategories of communicative competence, calling it strategic competence (cf. Brown, 2007: 219f.). Others also viewed CSs in this wider context of communi- cative competence, even though Canale and Swain’s model [see appendix 1] of this competence was often modified, for instance by Bachmann [see appendix 2] in 1990 (cf. Brown, 2007: 220f). Instead of viewing CS competence as a subordinate element of communicative competence he considers it: as an entirely separate element of communicative language ability … [that] … almost serves as an ‘executive’ function of making the final ‘decision’ among many possible options, on wording, phrasing, and other productive and receptive means for negotiating meaning” (Brown, 2007: 221).

In the 1980s the topic of CSs was further dealt with: Faerch and Kasper published an edited volume called Strategies in Interlanguage Communication containing several articles, some written by them and some by their colleagues, (cf. Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 176). In this decade Bialystok and Kellerman, Faerch and Kasper, Paribakht, Tarone and Yule, among others, conducted more research in the field of CSs and published new books on that topic (Ibid.).

One group that operated in the second half of the 1980s will be mentioned specifically because of their intensive research in the area of CSs: several re- searchers in the Netherlands at Nijmegen University, among them Bongaerts, Poulisse and Kellerman, were involved in a major study, the so called ‘Nijmegen Project’, that examined some CSs which Dutch learners of English use (Ibid.).

In the 1990s many of the researchers from the 1970s and 1980s continued to investigate the field of CSs.2 Others joined them in their work, among them S.

Q. Chen, Dörnyei and Scott, Cook, Thurrell (cf. Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 176), Mc Donough, Rost and Ross (cf. Brown, 2007: 137). A major project in this decade was the volume Communication Strategies: Psycholinguistic and Sociolinguistic Perspectives edited by Kasper and Kellerman and published in 1997. It contains 15 articles by 24 authors shedding light on various aspects of communication strategies.

Numerous people have done research in the field of CSs and have publish- ed their notions and results over the last four decades, so that, as Brown (2007: 137) puts it, “the speculative research of the 1970s […] has now led to a great deal of attention”. The new millennium, however, has not yet witnessed any new groundbreaking insights into CSs. Among those currently associated with the to- pic of CSs are Anderson, Brown, Chamot, L. Chen and Saville-Troike (cf. Brown, 2007: 137) as well as Yule (cf. Yule: 2006).

2.2 Communication Strategies: Approaches and Definitions

As researchers have differing theoretical perspectives, they also take differing approaches to the field of CSs. Consequentially there are different definitions of CSs and different ways of classifying them in taxonomies. The range of CSs is also not a universally accepted one.

Some researchers take a psycholinguistic approach to CSs and are mainly concerned with mental processes underlying the use of CSs. Others however take an interactional or sociolinguistic approach. Sociolinguistic here means that CSs are examined “as part of socially situated interaction” (Kasper & Kellerman, 1999: 275). For sociolinguists the focus in CS research is on the actual linguistic output and not so much on the mental processes. In the following these varying approaches will be discussed.

In one of the first major research projects in CSs an interactional approach was taken in which Tarone defined CSs as “a mutual attempt of two interlocutors to agree on a meaning in situations where requisite meaning structures do not seem to be shared” (Tarone, 1980: 419). Her typology [see appendix 3] of CSs was one of the first and it “focused on describing the strategies used by different learners and on identifying the factors that influence strategy choice” (Ellis, 1995: 397). However her concepts were criticised for being “frequently not reliable” as well as “not psychologically plausible” (Ellis, 1995: 398).

Instead a psycholinguistic approach was introduced by Faerch and Kasper in 1983. They defined CSs as “potentially conscious plans for solving what to an individual presents itself as a problem in reaching a particular communication goal” (Faerch & Kasper, 1983: 36). For them CSs:

are located within a general model of speech production, in which two pha- ses are identified: a planning phase and an execution phase. The aim of the planning phase is to develop a plan which can then be executed to allow the speaker/hearer to achieve communicative goals. […] Communication strate- gies are seen as [a] part of [this] planning process. (Ellis, 1995: 398)

Faerch and Kasper see Tarone’s interactionally defined CSs as a mere subset of psychologically defined strategies (Faerch & Kasper, 1984: 45ff). In their own typology [see appendix 4] they distinguish between avoidance and achievement strategies (cf. Ellis, 1995: 398) which is a description of the underlying mental processes, and not a description of the linguistic results of the strategies themselves, the product, as Tarone did it in her typology. Faerch and Kasper see CSs “as ‘strategic plans’, which contrast with ‘production plans’. Strategic plans differ from production plans in two main respects: (1) problem-orientation and (2) consciousness” (Ellis, 1995: 399).

Bialystok, who herself takes a psycholinguistic approach, criticised Faerch and Kasper in 1990 for these two defining criteria of CSs, that is problemorientation and consciousness (cf. Ellis, 1995: 399). She argues:

that it is not clear how the distinction between ‘production plans’ (which are non-problematic) and ‘strategic plans’ (which are problematic) manifests itself in actual language processing. (Ellis, 1995: 399)

The same kind of linguistic behaviour might in one case be considered a nonproblematic instance of language use, for example in a definition, and in another case it might be considered a problematic use, e.g. in a circumlocution (cf. Ellis, 1995: 399). In Bialystok’s point of view:

Communication strategies used by second language learners are consistent with descriptions of language processing where no problem is perceived. Strategic language use, that is, is not fundamentally different from nonstrategic use. (Bialystok, 1990: 146)

Bialystok further states that it is not possible to decide which plans can be con- sidered as conscious and which plans can not, so that “one is left to assume that all plans are potentially conscious” (Bialystok, 1990: 5). She makes a distinction between knowledge- or analysis-based and control-based CSs [see appendix 5]. The former “involve the speaker in making some kind of adjustment to the con- tent of the message […] as in a definition or circumlocution” (Ellis, 1995: 400). In the latter, “the speaker holds the initial intention constant and manipulates the means of expression […] as in the use of many L1-based strategies and mime” (Ibid.). Bialystok’s distinction into these two categories is in accordance with her overall “theoretical framework that informs her whole work” (Ibid.).

In the aforementioned ‘Nijmegen Project’ Bongaerts, Kellerman and Pou- lisse, who were involved in this major study, again adopted a psycholinguistic approach. They investigated only lexical compensatory strategies, which can be viewed as a subset of CSs (cf. Ellis, 1995: 400f). They defined these CompSs as:

strategies which a language user employs in order to achieve his intended meaning on becoming aware of problems arising during the planning phase of an utterance due to his own linguistic shortcomings. (Poulisse, Bongaerts & Kellerman, 1984: 72)

As a result of their research they introduced another taxonomy of strategies which is clearly process-oriented and divides CSs mainly into ‘conceptual’ and ‘linguis- tic’ or ‘code‘ strategies, [see appendix 6] in similarity to Bialystok’s approach (cf. Ellis, 1995: 401). According to Kellerman (1991: 149ff) conceptual strategies are used when “learners […] manipulate the concept so that it becomes expres- sible through their available linguistic (or mimetic) resources”, while linguistic or code strategies are employed when learners “manipulate the language so as to come as close as possible to expressing their original intention.” Conceptual stra- tegies can be “further subdivided into Analytic and Holistic Strategies” (Poulisse, 1993: 163). The former signifies that one “refers to the intended concept by listing some of its criterial properties” (163) which would, for instance, be the case in a circumlocution. The latter implies that one “refers to the intended concept by using the word for a related concept which shares some of the criterial features” (163). An instance of this would be an approximation. Linguistic or code strate- gies are “either based on processes of Morphological Creativity or Transfer” (163, emphasis added). An example for the first is the coining of a new word; for the se- cond it is the transfer of an L1 word into the L2. Ellis comments that the “distinct- ions between ‘analytic’ and ‘holistic’ and between ‘transfer’ and ‘morphological creativity’ constitute poles in a continuum of options rather than discrete options” (1995: 401), so that in one case both may be combined (cf. Chen, 2005: 43).

In 1993 Poulisse modified the Nijmegen project’s taxonomy of CompSs as she reconceptualised these strategies “within a coherent model of speech product- ion” (Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 181). She now distinguished CompSs into three ca- tegories [see appendix 7]. If the first, substitution strategy, is being used, “one or more features of a particular chunk are either changed or omitted in the search of a new lexical item” (Poulisse, 1993: 180f). The second category, substitution-plus strategy, is described as the “out-of-the-ordinary application of L1 or L2 morpho- logical and/or phonological encoding procedures” (Ibid.). The third, reconcept- ualization strategy, is characterized as “a change in the preverbal message invol- ving more than a single chunk. This change can take various forms” (Ibid.).

Many important researchers in the field of CSs took and currently take a psycholinguistic approach, such as Kellerman, Bialystok and Poulisse as well as Yule; however also Tarone now has accepted this view of CSs (cf. Kasper & Kel- lerman, 1999: vii). Others however take an interactional or sociolinguistic approach similar to that of Tarone in the late 1970s and early 1980s, for instance Wagner and Firth and nowadays Kasper as well (cf. Kasper & Kellerman, 1999: viii). Wagner and Firth criticise the current CSs research for placing too much emphasis on psycholinguistic orientations and showing less regard for socio- linguistic points of view (cf. 1997: 285ff). They argue that this imbalance has led to a “skewed perspective on discourse and communication, one that is accom- panied by an analytic mindset that conceives of the FL speaker as a deficient com- municator struggling to overcome an underdeveloped L2 competence, striving to reach the ‘target’ competence of an idealized NS” (295f). Instead they promote a more “holistic” (296) approach to language acquisition and demand a “reconcept- ualization” (285) of the current research. They support their claims by giving examples of cases where communication between a native speaker and a language learner works despite a misunderstanding in the beginning. By interacting with each other in communication and by negotiating for meaning, both are finally able to understand each other (cf. 289ff). Clearly the causes of the misunderstanding are social: the native speaker and the artificial communication situation are the reason and not merely the language learner due to his ‘deficient interlanguage’.

2.3 Communication Strategies: Taxonomies and the Range of Strategies

As there is neither one definition of communication strategies nor one approach towards them, at the first sight the taxonomies of CSs also seem very different from each other [see appendix 8]. However, as Bialystok puts it: “they differ primarily in terminology and overall categorizing principle, rather than in the substance of the specific strategies” (Bialystok, 1990: 61). Dörnyei and Scott list and compare nine taxonomies of CSs [see appendix 8], showing that three3 of them “recognize a basic duality in strategy use” (Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 195), that is the distinction between reduction vs. achievement strategies (cf. 198). Five4 of the taxonomies listed are based on the “properties of the language devices con- cerned” (198) which is a base that has been criticised by Bialystok and the Nij- megen group for being “psychologically unfounded and often over detailed” (Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 198). In accordance with their own approach, deeply rooted in psycholinguistics, their taxonomies [see appendix 6 and 7] are relatively simple and process rather than product based. In their view a taxonomy of CSs should be psychologically plausible, generalizable in the sense that it applies to all normal speakers and parsimonious, implying that there should be as few cate- gories as possible (cf. Bialystok & Kellerman, 1999: 31). Kellerman, a participant of the Nijmegen project, and Bialstok have synthesized their taxonomies (the Nijmegen group’s and Bialystok’s) in a two-by-two matrix [see appendix 9] so that the two do not seem to contradict but rather complement each other. Bialy- stok’s distinction into analysis strategies and control strategies refers to “a distinc- tion between two kinds of cognitive operations [or processes]” (35, emphasis add- ed) and should be regarded as a continuum between the two types where every strategy involves more or less of both processes (analysis and control), not as an exclusive either analysis-process or control-process typology. The Nijmegen group’s distinction into conceptual and code strategies refers “to a distinction be- tween two kinds of mental representation” (35, emphasis added), so that concept- ual strategies operate on the basis of meaning representation and code strategies on the basis of language representation (cf. 35ff). Bialystok and Kellerman also compare the Nijmegen group’s taxonomy with Poulisse’s from 1993 [see appen- dix 10] and argue that her revised set of categories is merely new nomenclature that leads to overlapping with the Nijmegen taxonomy’s categories (cf. 38ff).

Another issue that divides researchers concerns the range of strategies considered as CSs. While some have a very broad concept of CSs, for instance Canale, as well as Dörnyei and Scott (cf. Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 179.187.195), others have a rather narrow concept. On a broad-narrow continuum the former have the broadest concept of CSs: Canale proposed in 1983 that CS “involve any attempt to enhance the effectiveness of communication” (Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 179). Similarly Dörnyei and Scott’s idea of CSs “concerns L2 problem-manage- ment in general” (1997: 195), so that their scope of CSs involves “every poten- tially intentional attempt to cope with any language-related problem of which the speaker is aware during the course of communication” (179). On the other end of the continuum are the “Nijmegen Group and Poulisse (1993), who explicitly re- stricted the scope of language phenomena examined to lexical compensatory stra- tegies [only]” (Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 187.195). Yule and Tarone (cf. 1999: 17) explain these different approaches by calling the former group of researchers ‘Pros’ and the latter group ‘Cons’ (see illustration in appendix 11). They consider the ‘Cons’ to be “rather conservative” (17) in the sense that they try to keep their taxonomies of CSs as simple as possible, not including any new categories or stra- tegies (cf. 17ff). The ‘Cons’ are mainly interested in the mental processes involve- ed in the formation of CSs with only a secondary interest in the linguistics (cf. 19). The ‘Pros’ are considered to be rather “profligate in their liberal extension of categories” (17) by including reduction or interactive strategies as CSs as well and they are mainly interested in the output of speech production with secondary inter- est in the psycholinguistics (cf. 18f). Thus the distinction between ‘Pros’ and ‘Cons’ can approximately be seen in analogy to the distinction between socio- linguists and psycholinguists.

Dörnyei and Scott, who could be labelled as ‘Pros’, have a wide range of strategies which they consider as CSs, contrasting the rather limited range of CSs of the Nijmegen Group, whose participants could be labelled as ‘Cons’. In 1995 Dörnyei and Scott attempted “to integrate several lines of previous research” (Dörnyei & Scott, 1997: 179) which lead to a very detailed list [see appendix 12] including almost all CSs ever mentioned in the literature. Here they list and de- scribe 33 different strategies (respectively 41 because some are divided into sub- categories again), which in part (22 of them) have been described by other re- searchers before. However Dörnyei and Scott also add their own newly identified strategies, e.g. the use of fillers. They argue: that because a primary source of L2 speakers’ communication problems is insufficient processing time, (…) [strategies, like the use of fillers,] (…) that help speakers gain time to think and keep the communication channel open are also problem-solving strategies. (178)

As it was stated before problem-solving or problem-management in Dörnyei and Scott’s view is what defines a strategy as a CS (cf. 195). They have, however, not merely listed CSs but have themselves integrated them into their own taxonomy [see appendix 13] that is based on the main distinction into three “basic cate- gories: direct, indirect and interactional strategies” (198). “Direct strategies pro- vide an alternative, manageable, and self-contained means of getting the (some- times modified) meaning across” (198, emphasis added) and includes, for instance circumlocution. “Indirect strategies (…) do not provide alternative meaning struc- tures, but rather facilitate the conveyance of meaning indirectly by creating the conditions for achieving mutual understanding” (198, emphasis added). The inten- tion here is to keep up the communication; the use of fillers, as an example, is such a strategy. Finally “interactional strategies involve a third approach, where- by the participants carry out trouble-shooting exchanges cooperatively” (199, em- phasis added); an appeal for help, for instance, is an interactional strategy. Dörnyei and Scott further distinguish four types of communication problems: (1) resource deficits, (2) own-performance problems, (3) other-performance prob- lems and (4) processing time pressure (cf. 183). They relate the three main cate- gories to the four types of communication problems, “resulting in a 3-by-4 matrix not every cell of which is filled” (199) [see appendix 13].

This introduction into the differing theories concerning communication strategies has by far not covered nor touched everything that is to be known about CSs, but it has given an impression of the progress made in research, however di- verting the results may be from each other. Dörnyei and Scott’s attempt to com- pare and integrate various views may be seen as an effort to reconcile and unite the opposed views. L. Chen concluded in 2005 after discussing the varying ap- proaches towards CSs: “Clearly, it is not possible to have a detailed and accurate definition of communication strategies” (Chen, 2005: 37). However he did not stop here but gave some own ideas concerning the “main distinguishing character- istics of communication strategies” (37) by stating that CSs are “intentional”, “problem-oriented”, “conscious or potentially conscious”, “behavioural and men- tal as well” and “part of the language user’s communicative competence” (37).

2.4 The Practical Implications

So far the varying approaches to the field of CS research have been dis- cussed and to some degree it has been clarified what CSs actually are. But what are the practical implications of this research? Clearly it needs to be shown in what way the use of CSs is actually helpful or harmful for effective commu- nication and which role CSs can play in language teaching and learning.

2.4.1 The Effectiveness of the Use of Communication Strategies

Canale and Swain, Bachmann (cf. Brown, 2007) as well as Oxford (cf. Ox- ford, 1990) [for Oxford’s strategy classification system, see appendix 14], among others, regard CSs as a part of an overall and positive communicative competence, as it has been mentioned before (in 2.1). There is wide agreement among research- ers that the employment of CSs is useful for both the enhancement of communi- cation as well as for language learning. Allen (1984) shows that learners who use CSs are able to understand each other despite many mistakes in their language production (cf. 103ff). Firth and Wagner (1997) argue that the use of CSs in a FL leads to successful communication (cf. 296f). Poulisse and the Nijmegen Group also consider CSs to be useful for communication, they differentiate however: combinations of holistic and analytic strategies as well as mere analytic strategies are considered to be most comprehensible. On the contrary transfer and holistic strategies are considered to be least comprehensible (cf. Poulisse, 1990: 186). Corder (1978) differentiates between ‘risk-avoiding’ strategies5 on the one side which he considers to be rather harmful, and ‘risk-taking’ strategies6 on the other side which he considers to be useful for the contribution to successful language learning (cf. Ellis, 1995: 403). Tarone (1980) however “holds a different view, suggesting that CSs of any kind help learners to negotiate their way to the right target language forms” (Ellis, 1995: 403). Similarly “Larsen-Freeman and Long (1991) point out that all CSs are helpful for acquisition because they enable lear- ners to keep the conversation going and thereby provide more opportunities for in- put” (Kasper & Kellerman, 1999: 6).

CSs, at least some of them, clearly have a positive effect on communi- cation and language learning. Brown (2007), however, mentions areas that suffer from the use of CSs. While they enhance communication they may themselves be- come a source of error (cf. 266), especially if transfer from the L1 to the FL/L2 takes place (cf. 263). Olsen (1999) states that it may be a good starting point if the L1 and the L2 are related, e.g. when the use of articles in the L1 leads to recog- nising the necessity of using them in the L2 as well (cf. 193). But in general Olsen agrees with Brown that this interlingual transfer may indeed be a source of error (cf. 191ff). Ellis remarks that research shows that “strategic competence develops at the apparent expense of linguistic competence” (1995: 403) and Manchon adds that, even though communication becomes more efficient by the employment of CSs, the accuracy of the speakers’ language output suffers (cf. 2000: 21).

2.4.2 The Teachability of Communication Strategies

The question whether CSs should be taught or not divides researchers. The aforementioned groups of researchers, labelled “Pros” and “Cons” by Tarone and Yule, have different views on this matter. The latter argue that L1 CSs and L2 CSs are the same and should therefore not be taught in the L2 as they already exist in the L1 (cf. Tarone & Yule, 1999: 21) because the same mental processes are in- volved (cf. 24). In the Cons’ view CSs are “perceived […] to be essentially cog- nitive processes and that teaching them would amount to an attempt to teach cog- nitive processing” (28). So it becomes clear why the Cons oppose teaching CSs: They consider this to be unnecessary and impossible. Hence their strong com- ments against it can be understood, as Bialystok puts it: “what one must teach stu- dents of a language is not strategy, but language” (Bialystok, 1990: 147) and Kel- lerman states in like manner: “Teach the learners more language and let the strate- gies look after themselves” (Kellerman, 1991: 158). So at the first sight it seems that strong theoretical arguments speak against teaching CSs (cf. Dörnyei, 1995: 60). There are, however, a number of reasons why CSs should be taught.

The proponents of teaching CSs, termed “Pros” by Tarone and Yule, criti- cise the Cons for not taking into consideration the linguistic differences between L1 CSs and L2 CSs (cf. Tarone & Yule, 1999: 22) and for not bearing in mind that some CSs are more effective and successful than others (cf. 24). The propo- nents of teaching CSs work with different taxonomies than the Cons, taxonomies that are more detailed and that include strategies of varying effectiveness (cf. 29). They also have a different concept of what is meant by ‘teaching’ and they have a different pedagogy (cf. 29).

Proponents of teaching CSs have conducted several studies on the teach- ability of CSs. Dörnyei (cf. 1995: 65ff) surveyed 109 Hungarian learners of Eng- lish, of which 53, the treatment group, received specific training in CSs (three dif- ferent strategies: 1) topic avoidance, 2) circumlocution, 3) fillers and hesitation devices) over a period of six weeks (18 times 20-40 minutes altogether). The stu- dents were tested before and after the training and the results of the treatment group were contrasted with those of the remaining 56 students, the control group.

24 of them received no training at all and 32 received some general conversational training. The results show a trend in favour of the treatment group (cf. 65ff). This group demonstrated an increase in the quality of circumlocutions and an increase in the frequency of fillers and circumlocutions after the training (cf. 78ff). The use of fillers had a positive effect on the speech rate and students had positive atti- tudes towards the training, unrelated to their level of competence (cf. 78ff), indi- cating in Dörnyei’s interpretation that CSs should be taught early. The conver- sational training for one half of the control group showed some improvement in CSs as well which could be attributed to some indirect practice in the use of CSs (cf. 65ff), contrasting the direct practice in the treatment group but still having some limited positive effects on CS performance. While results of this pilot study were promising, they were far from being doubtlessly persuasive in favour of teaching CSs (cf. 78 ff), as the sample size and the time for the training were limi- ted (cf. 65ff).

Another study in 1995 by Cohen, Weaver and Li, designed in a fashion si- milar to the one by Dörnyei, examined whether there was a correlation between an increase in the use of a certain strategy and the gain in a certain performance (cf. 1995: 1ff). While a treatment group received specific training in strategies, a con- trol group did not. The results were positive in general; however distinctions have to be drawn. The study was concerned with the effects of strategies-based in- struction in general, not merely CSs. While CSs like ‘using idioms and routines’ and ‘redirecting a topic’ led to an increase in self confidence and a higher rating for the performance of vocabulary, respectively grammar, strategies like ‘substi- tuting a word by another’ and ‘skipping a topic’ led to a lower rating for voca- bulary and in the latter case also for grammar (cf. 16ff). The CS of ‘making up a new word’ had ambiguous effects: on the one side it correlated positively with an increase in comprehension, on the other side it correlated negatively with the rat- ing for vocabulary (cf. 16ff). So some CSs seem to be rather positive and useful for learners while others do not. Again the study was limited; it measured mainly frequency and not success; correlations between the use of a strategy and performance do not automatically imply causality (cf. 31f). So the authors concluded that there is a need for a larger study (cf. 32).

Researchers in favour of CS teaching quote several works and studies showing that CS teaching is both possible and desirable (cf. Dörnyei, 1995: 61f; Tarone & Yule, 1999: 29; Faucette, 2001: 10f.). It may, however, be very likely that Tarone and Yule were still right in 1999 by stating that “the definitive study on the value of communicative strategy teaching remains to be done” (1999: 29). A more recent study by Maleki (2007) involved 60 Iranian students, one half of them receiving specific instruction in CSs and the other half not, for a period of four months with examinations at the end to check results (cf. Maleki, 2007: 583ff). While the sample size was again rather small, the advantage of this study over studies previously described clearly was that it lasted over a longer period. The results of the study showed that teaching CSs is “pedagogically effective” (583) and that it fosters the use of interactional strategies (cf. 583). CSs are help- ful for language learning and “language teaching materials with communication strategies are more effective than those without them” (583).

Besides the studies supporting the teachability of CSs further arguments can be found that speak in favour of CS teaching: While this is no argument for teaching CSs, it should be noted that the Cons’ opposition to teaching CSs is not founded “on the basis of an educational research project […] to find out whether teaching has a beneficial effect or not” (Tarone & Yule, 1999: 28), but instead it is based on theoretical considerations mentioned above. Dörnyei takes a critical look at the controversy of teaching CSs and gives explanations why views contradict each other (cf. 1995: 60f). He states that “there is variation within CS with regard to their teachability” (61), meaning that in his point of view some CSs may be de- sirable to teach (e.g. circumlocution or appeal for help) and some may not (e.g. message abandonment) (cf. 62). However he argues that even strategies consi- dered suspicious and negative (such as pause fillers or topic avoidance) may be worthy to be taught because they “provide the learners with a sense of security in the L2” (80). Ogane disagrees with Dörnyei in this point. Japanese learners of English already use avoidance strategies which hinder communication in the classroom, leading to frequent phrases like “I don’t know” or simply silence. Ogane does not consider these strategies to be effective and, of course, does not think they should be taught (cf. 1998: 2).

Further reasons for teaching CSs can be found. Manchon also speaks out in favour of this notion. She states that the learner’s L2 will never be perfect; so that the learning and employment of CSs is both necessary and acceptable (cf. 1999: 15). Learning CSs will help the learner to bridge the gap between classroom and real-life communication and, as a consequence of teaching, an increase in the use of CSs will add to and contribute to the learner’s security, self-confidence (especially that of low achievers) and motivation to communicate (cf. Manchon, 1999: 20f; Gallagher Brett, 2001: 54), a point that is supported by studies as well, such as the one by Cohen, Weaver and Li (1995) mentioned before.

Many researchers see the competence to use CSs as an element of an over- all communicative competence. They argue that this communicative competence should be developed through teaching, and therefore the element of strategic com- petence should consequently be developed as well (cf. Dörnyei & Thurrel, 1991: 16ff; Dörnyei & Thurrel, 1992; Dörnyei & Thurrel, 1994: 40ff; Manchon, 1999: 18f; Cohen, 1995; Brown, 2007: 140ff; Faucette, 2001). A goal of modern day language teaching is learner autonomy. Many researchers claim that teaching CSs will contribute to this learner autonomy (cf. Gallagher Brett, 2001: 54; Manchon, 1999: 17; Faucette, 2001: 8ff). The purpose of strategies-based instruction (in- cluding CSs) is “to develop self regulated learners who can approach new learning tasks with confidence and select the most appropriate strategies for completing the task” (Chamot & Malley, 1994: 387f). Faucette explains that this autonomy in- cludes an effective use of strategies: “Research regarding ‘successful’ and ‘un- successful’ language learners indicates that active, effective learners tend to use appropriate strategies to reach their learning goals, whereas ineffective language learners are less expert in their strategy choice and use” (2001: 3). Brown mentions three factors that determine whether learners will benefit from a strate- gy: First, if they understand the strategy, second, if they perceive it to be effective and third, if they do not consider its implementation to be overly difficult (cf. 2007: 140ff). Therefore, to see CSs in the wider context of communicative competence and learner autonomy is another reason speaking for teaching CSs.

2.4.3 Communication Strategies: Teaching Concepts

Dörnyei states that “the notion of teaching allows for a variety of inter- pretations” (1995: 62) and he argues for a broader interpretation of teaching in the case of CSs, an interpretation that includes six key procedures which he explains in further detail (cf. 62ff). The first procedure is to raise learners’ “awareness about the nature and communicative potential of CSs” (62), which includes make- ing them conscious of already existing L1 CSs (cf. 62). The second procedure is to encourage the use of CSs which contains the promotion of taking risks and the creation of an atmosphere where it is not problematic to make errors (cf. 62ff). In this point Dörnyei does not differ from opponents of teaching CSs like Bialystok and Kellerman (cf. 62ff). The latter proposes to create classroom situations that encourage the use of CSs; Kellerman supports tasks for the performance, not the build up of CSs (cf. Kellerman 1991: 160). So Dörnyei is right by saying that the notion of teaching CSs can be interpreted differently because Kellerman dis- tinguishes between teaching CSs and encouraging them and only recommends the latter (cf. Dörnyei, 1995: 62ff). As a third procedure of teaching CSs Dörnyei suggests the provision of “L2 models of the use of certain CSs” (63) so that the learners can inductively learn CSs. The fourth procedure is to highlight cross-cul- tural differences in the use of CSs (cf. 63f). This is a point which the ‘Cons’ did not consider as they were mainly concerned with Dutch learners of English in the Nijmegen project, with the Dutch culture being very similar to the British culture. With learners in dissimilar cultures, the conditions appear quite differently. In support of Dörnyei’s view Faucette states that for Japanese learners of English it is very difficult to use a CS like asking for repetition or clarification, because asking questions is considered to be inappropriate in Japan as it would let the per- son asking appear to be either ignorant or inattentive, both of which lead to lose- ing reputation (cf. Faucette, 2001: 8). Ogane adds that for Japanese learners of English it may also be difficult to use nonverbal CSs like miming in a com- munication situation outside the classroom because Japanese and British nonver- bal signs differ greatly and could lead to mutual misunderstanding (cf. 1998: 15). So due to cross-cultural differences in the use and appropriateness of CSs one can not expect a simple transfer of CSs from the L1 to the L2, instead some instruct- ion may indeed be necessary. The fifth procedure of teaching CSs that Dörnyei re- commends is that CSs need to be taught directly because certain vocabulary or automatized phrases may be necessary in the L2 to use a strategy, so that a cir- cumlocution can be produced or an appeal for help can be expressed (cf. 64). Therefore it is more complex than to simply claim, as the “Cons” do, that L1 CSs will be automatically transferred into the L2 without any training (cf. Manchon, 1999: 19f). Faucette gives examples of what may be necessary to learn first in or- der to successfully produce CSs such as approximations and circumlocutions: the ability to express superordinacy (“x is a type of y”) or the ability to express sy- nonymy (“x is similar to y”, “x means y”) (cf. Faucette, 2001: 7). Actually Kel- lerman, an opponent of teaching CSs, again does not differ very much from the proponents of teaching CSs in this point by calling for the teaching of ‘more language’ (cf. Faucette, 2001: 8). Dörnyei’s sixth and final procedure is to provide opportunities for practice in strategy use; the goal here is automatization by speci- fic focused practice (cf. Dörnyei, 1995: 64). Again Kellerman agrees with this point; however he does not view this as teaching, because strategies are merely performed and not built up (cf. 1991: 160). Some years later, however, he seems to have to admit that teaching CSs might be useful to some degree: “Two strong arguments can be made in favour of incorporating lexical CS into an L2 teaching programme: a subset of psycholinguistic strategies helps develop learners’ ana- lysed lexical knowledge, and interactional strategies can serve to supply new lexi- cal material in unanalysed or analysed form.” (Kasper & Kellerman, 1999: 9f)

Besides Dörnyei’s six procedures stating some general goals and methods the question of how CSs should be taught concretely in a classroom remains. As researchers have various concepts of how language teaching should go about in a classroom, of course in the matter of teaching CSs also various approaches exist (cf. Faucette, 2001: 10f). While these varying approaches will not be discussed in detail, a core of common ideas can be traced in the literature. Manchon suggests that there should first be an instruction phase about a certain strategy, followed se- cond by a practice phase where the CS is actually trained (cf. 1999, 22f). This two-stage training scheme is also what Dörnyei and Thurrel basically use as a foundation for their teaching programme (cf. 1992). Chamot supports the first phase by arguing that “explicit instruction is far more effective than simply asking students to use one or more strategies and also fosters metacognition, students’ ability to understand their own thinking and learning processes” (Chamot, 2005: 123).


1 To be abbreviated from now on as “CS” or “CSs” for plural. For other abbreviations see “List of Abbreviations”.

2 However without Faerch who had passed away in 1987.

3 Those by Tarone, 1977; Faerch & Kasper, 1983b; Willems, 1987.

4 Those by Tarone, 1977; Faerch & Kasper, 1983b; Bialystok, 1983, Paribakht, 1985; Willems, 1987.

5 That term is similar to the term “avoidance” or “reduction” strategies, used for instance by Faerch and Kasper.

6 That term is similar to the term “achievement” strategies, used for instance by Faerch and Kasper.

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The Teachability of Communication Strategies
A Critical Survey of Some School Books for the Gymnasium
Bielefeld University
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Diese Bachelorarbeit entstand durch die Auseinandersetzung mit dem Thema "Kommunikationsstrategien" im Zusammenhang mit Erfahrungen in einem Schulpraktikum. Inhaltlich geht es zunächst um den theoretischen Hintergrund der "Kommunikationsstrategien", also um Strategien, mit denen man Mängel in einer erlernten Fremdsprache ausgleicht oder versucht auszugleichen. Dann wird gezeigt, dass diese Strategien im Schulunterricht gelehrt und gelernt werden können, was an Hand einiger Schulbücher untersucht wird.
Kommunikationsstrategien, Kompensationsstrategien, Schulbücher, Fremdsprache, Englisch, Englischunterricht
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Bachelor of Arts Holger Meier (Author), 2009, The Teachability of Communication Strategies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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