Conversation Analysis of Repairs in Second Language Classroom Discourse (Grade 10)

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2018

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3



Conversation analysis (CA) "is the systematic analysis of the talk produced in everyday situations of human interaction” (Hutchby and Wooffitt 2008: 11) on the basis of transcripts of naturally occurring interaction. The aim of CA is to uncover “how participants understand and respond to one another in their turns at talk, with a central focus on how sequences of actions are generated" (Hutchby and Wooffitt 2008: 12). One common everyday situation of human interaction, everyone has encountered in their lives, is the so called “classroom discourse”, the interaction occurring in classrooms in an institutional setting.

This paper will focus on conversation analysis of classroom discourse in second language classrooms1. Since there are many different aspects to spoken discourse, such as turn taking, openings and closings, etc., I chose to focus on repairs as error corrections, which is common for classroom discourse. Therefore, I will analyse which type of repair is the most dominant among all four types that one would encounter in second language classrooms.

To give an overview on the field of research, I will give a brief introduction on what classroom discourse is and what aspects of spoken discourse are special about it. Furthermore, there will be a close description of the types of repairs and repairs in the second language classroom. Subsequently, my conversation analysis of a transcript of a grade ten English lesson at a German school follows. My method will be to select examples of the different types of repairs that occur in the transcript I chose and analyse each individually, classify them as their type of repair and discuss their special features. Finally, I will summarize my findings and draw a conclusion.

The transcript I used in my conversation analysis was provided by the University of Saarland. It is based on a recording of a grade ten class at a school in Kassel, Germany. The file represents an English lesson with a female teacher who is a native speaker of German. I chose a transcript of an older L2 class, because the students already have a larger vocabulary and are able to speak more than, for example, a grade two L2 English class. With older L2 learners, the focus is more on conversation, pronunciation and the correct use of words and grammatical structures rather than using word chunks like younger L2 learners would.


In the following, I will focus on what a repair is in general, then present different features of classroom discourse and L2 classroom discourse. After that, I will introduce repairs in (L2) classroom discourse in more detail. I will not further discuss all features of classroom discourse, because it is not necessary for the course of this analysis.

In discourse, a general feature occurring in human interaction is the “repair”. It can take place in basic, everyday conversation and “refer[s] to practices for dealing with problems or troubles in speaking, hearing, and understanding talk in conversation” (Schegloff 2000: 207). It is used by speakers to correct a trouble-source themselves or by another party (Paltridge 2006: 119). There is often a misconception about repairs only being a correction of errors or mistakes. It is to be noted, that a repair is “neither contingent upon error, nor limited to replacement” and “nothing is [...] excluded from the class “repairable” (Schegloff, Jefferson and Sacks 1977: 363). This means, that not all errors or mistakes are corrected in the course of an interaction, because the recipient can still understand what the speaker intended to say without the need of a repair. In other situations, not every trouble-source is a mistake in the speaker’s utterance, but can also derive from the recipient not understanding the speaker, because of a louder source of sound, that drowns what has been said and therefore repetition of the utterance is necessary (Clift 2014: 104). To organize repairs, there are two major distinctions to be made: the initiation and the completion of the repair. Both can again be separated into two types: the repair of the trouble-source can either be initiated by the speaker, “self-initiation”, or by another person, “other-initiation”, and be completed by the speaker, “self­repair”, or another party, “other-repair” (Clift 2014 :104f). Therefore, repairs can be classified into four different types: the self-initiated-self-repair, the self-initiated-other-repair, the other-initiated- self-repair and the other-initiated-other-repair.

Classroom discourse, as mentioned before, is human interaction which takes place in the classroom. As noted by Drew and Heritage (1992: 26), the uniqueness of classroom discourse can generally be linked to three characteristics: first, the organisation of interaction in the classroom focuses on the participants to reach the particular “institutional goal”. For second language classrooms, the goal would be to learn the second language being taught. Another unique feature would be the different, unequal roles one encounters in the classroom: the power and “control of patterns of participation” is held by the teacher. Third, institutional interaction has its own special “fingerprint” (Drew and Heritage 1992: 26). Going more into detail about the unique “fingerprint” especially in the second language classroom, Seedhouse (2004) claims that there are three more features that characterize L2 classroom discourse: First, language functions as “both the vehicle and object of instruction” (Long 1983: 9) and second, there is an inextricable link between “pedagogic goals and interaction which takes place” (Yang and Walsh 2014: 464). . Third, the contributions by learners “are subject to evaluation by the teacher” (Yang and Walsh 2014 464).

L2 classroom discourse has four key areas that it is characterized by: the repair, the modification of speech to learners, questioning and the control of communication-patterns by the teacher (Yang and Walsh 2014: 464). The other three will not be further concerned in the course of this paper, the main focus is on the repair in L2 classroom discourse. Van Lier (1988: 276) claims, that the most dominant characteristic of “language classrooms is correction of errors”. There is an ongoing conflict within research whether error correction should be avoided, because it can be face­threatening for the teacher, or if a consistent error correction is a necessary feature of L2 classroom discourse (Young and Walsh 2014: 467). On the one hand Cazden (1988: 88) claims “that teacher correction may interfere with children’s progress” of independent learning. Furthermore, he states that “[i]mmediate correction depresse[s] both children’s self-correction and their accuracy scores” (1988: 88). On the other hand, Seedhouse (1997: 571) claims, that (adult) learners demand correction or repairs in order to acquire a second language and “within the interactional organisation of the L2 classroom, making linguistic errors and having them corrected directly and overtly is not an embarrassing matter” for language learners (Seedhouse 1997: 571). Repairs typically occur in the feedback move in the IRF/E-structure (initiation-response-feedback/evaluation-structure) and is crucial to learning. Repairs are also part of the teacher’s routine in their way of teaching and need to be decided on by the teacher considering various factors such as the flow of a lesson and whether it is going to be a(n) (in-)direct or overt/covert correction (Yang and Walsh 2014: 467).

In this paper, I will take all four types of repairs into account when analysing the L2 classroom discourse transcript. The main focus is on the question, which of the four types of repairs occur in L2 classroom discourse the most.


As the students are reading different parts of their text book together in class, the self-initiated-self- repair takes place in various occasions. In the following, I will present two examples: the student Frank reads the questions about the topic discussed in class. He initiates the repair within his turn. He recognizes the trouble-source in line 38 ‘where-’ and completes the repair in line 39 ‘whether’:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In the second example, the student Frauke is reading a text on elections in Great Britain out loud and there is a self-initiated-self-repair as well:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The “trouble-source”2 (Schegloff 2000: 205) as well as the self-repair are at line 191: the abbreviation MP is first mispronounced as [‘empai] instead of [‘empi:]. The student, like in the first example, realises her mistake and corrects [pai] by saying [pi:] within her turn. Self-repair improves the awareness of the student’s mistakes. In line 194, Frauke then pronounces the word MP correctly straight away. There are other mistakes in pronunciation in the last example - miNIster and se (l. 187) and pacually (l. 193). Whereas miNIster and se (l. 187) are not corrected, the teacher corrects pacualfy in line 193 by repeating the utterance by the speaker and exchanging pacually with the correct word particular. This is an example for an other-initiated-other-repair, because the teacher initiates and completes the repair of the TS in the utterance of Frauke. The initiation of the teacher is set in the next turn after the student’s utterance containing the TS. This is an example for the “next-turn-repair-initiation” (NTRI) (Schegloff 2000: 208), which means that a repair is initiated in the next turn. The following example shows another other-initiated-other-repair by the teacher immediately after there is a TSin a student’s utterance:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The TS in line 51 is the word whole, which the student pronounces as [hu:l]. The teacher initiates the repair by repeating the last part of the student’s utterance and stressing the word whole [haul] to identify it as the TS and to demonstrate the right pronunciation. The student repeats it correctly in the next turn. This process of teacher correction and student repetition is a very common one in classroom discourse. The teacher should even insist on the repetition by the student as this enables him or her to check whether the student achieved the correct pronunciation or not, to guarantee an improvement. It is to be noted, that there can be an interruption of the flow of the lesson, if every error or mistake is followed by a teacher’s correction and a student’s repetition. This links to the power of the teacher to decide when and how to correct a student’s mistake.

Eventhough didactically, self-repair is considered a better method for improvement for the students L2 competences, the other-repair by the teacher is more frequent in L2 classroom discourse. In the transcript I analysed, I was able to identify only four self-initiated-self-repairs, but sixteen other-initiated-other-repairs by the teacher. The reason for this is simple: correction of errors and mistakes is part of the teacher’s job to make sure the institutional goal of learning the L2 correctly is ensured.

The two other types of repairs, the other-initiated-self-repair and the self-initiated-other- repair, do not or barely appear in the transcript. I found two other-initiated-self-repairs (l. 410-417 and l. 423-427), where the teacher initiates a student’s self-repair, although the student does not repair it his- or herself, but another student shouts the correct word. Technically, it would then also be considered an other-initiated-other-repair, even though the teacher intended to initiate a self­repair. In the following example in line 410, the student pronounces the month of a date he reads as

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The teacher initiates a repair by repeating the first part of his utterance without demonstrating the right word used (line 411f). After Frank does not know the answer or is not able to either understand what the teacher is trying to say, the teacher again tries to initiate the repair by asking “(...) what month is the tenth” (l. 414) in order to make the student repair the TS in his first utterance. If it was a completed other-initiated-self-repair, in the next turn Frank would correctly answere with “october”, but in this case another student takes over and completes the repair by correcting the trouble-source/answereing the question.


My aim of this paper was to analyse, which of the four types of repairs one can encounter the most in L2 classroom discourse. While analysing my transcript, I noticed the majority of repairs being other-initiated-other-repairs and some being self-initiated-self-repairs. The other two types either did not occur in the transcript like the self-initiated-other-repair, or were not completed correctly, like the other-initiated-self-repair. The reason for the high frequency of the other-initiated-other- repairs lies in the main institutional goal of L2 classrooms: to ensure that the students learn the L2, in this case English, correctly. By correcting mistakes and - in many cases - demanding repetition of the correct pronunciation and/or use of a word, the teacher raises awareness and ensures the correct use of different vocabulary by the students in the future. The self-initiated-self-repair by students is a way for the students to raise such awareness and assurance of future correct use themselves. As second language learners, they sometimes do not recognize mistakes themselves and are reliant on the teachers other-repair-initiation. All in all, repairs are a crucial part of L2 classroom discourse and can be found in different ways in the course of a lesson.


1 second language classroom (discourse) will be referred to “L2 classroom (discourse)“ in the course of this paper

2 Trouble-source will be referred to “TS“ in the course of this paper

Excerpt out of 9 pages


Conversation Analysis of Repairs in Second Language Classroom Discourse (Grade 10)
University of Siegen
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ISBN (eBook)
Conversation Analysis Englisch Linguistics Sprachwissenschaft Classroom Diskurse Discourse
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Sophie Hardt (Author), 2018, Conversation Analysis of Repairs in Second Language Classroom Discourse (Grade 10), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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