NEGOTIATION, GUIDED NEGOTIATION
- It has been noted that L1 use circumvents the necessity for negotiation of meaning,
thus the role of L1 in language classrooms is extremely limited, if not nonexistent.
This argument requires closer examination. In this chapter, I first outline what
negotiation is, and then examine transcripts from EFL and ESL contexts to determine
the extent to which this argument is applicable to EFL classrooms.
- 2.1 Negotiation of Meaning
- When learners use L2, they become accustomed to expressing themselves using their
available resources. When difficulties arise, learners are prompted to "push
to the limit their emerging competence" (Nunan, 1991, p. 50). By doing so, they
are able to test hypotheses regarding language form (eg. Skehan, 1994, p. 177) by
creatively constructing novel utterances, and subsequently receiving feedback on
the comprehensibility and accuracy of their messages. This feedback is best provided
through the process of negotiation (Pica, 1996), defined as "the modification
and restructuring of interaction that occurs when learners and their interlocutors
anticipate, perceive, or experience difficulties in message comprehensibility"
(Pica, 1994, p. 494).
- It is important to distinguish between acquisitional strategies and communication
strategies. Feedback focusing merely on comprehensibility is insufficient in acquisitional
terms in that learners' interlanguage systems are said to improve through noticing
differences between their hypotheses of language and the L2 system, allowing learners
to re-evaluate their beliefs in light of new evidence (see, e.g., Sharwood Smith,
- There are limits on negotiation, however. Student-initiated negotiations of meaning
are not always forthcoming due to an "intimacy factor": Students more often
initiate communication with teachers either one on one or within small groups, and
not in front of the whole class (Musumeci, 1996, p. 318). The reluctance of students
to announce when they do not understand can cause them to feign understanding, rather
than initiate negotiation (Doughty & Pica, 1986, p. 319). Even if learners request
clarifications, they may feign comprehension rather than persist in negotiation after
initial attempts fail (Ellis et al, 1994).
- Furthermore, negotiation "doesn't occur when topics and referents
are so mutually familiar that learners and interlocutors are confronted with few
impasses in their communication over which they can negotiate" (Pica, 1996,
p. 258, italics in original). Negotiations of meaning are most frequent when both
partners are language learners (Varonis & Gass, 1985). However, there is an inverse
relationship between similarities between learners and the need for negotiation of
meaning: The greater the similarity between learners, the less the need for negotiation
(in Lynch, 1996, p. 10). Negotiation and modified input is highest when all participants
are non-native speakers of varying proficiency levels and different L1s (Doughty
& Pica, 1986). Doughty and Pica point out that "these results are encouraging
to teachers, as they reflect the makeup of small groups in most second language
classrooms" (p. 321, italics mine).
- So where does this leave foreign language classrooms, where learners share
very similar backgrounds and identical L1s? Below, I examine teacher/class and learner/learner
negotiations and the comprehensibility of learners' messages with an eye on the suitability
of negotiation-driven proscriptions of L1 in EFL classrooms.
- 2.2 "Barranquismo"
- The following transcript appeared in an account of "an in-service training
project designed to raise [teacher] trainees' awareness...of the degree of communicativeness
in their classroom interactions" (Thornbury, 1996, p. 279). An elementary EFL
class in Spain arrives at "a breakthrough point" (in the teacher's words,
p. 286) which, for the first time ever, initiates extended negotiation to bridge
an information gap.
[An elementary class has been working on the language of making suggestions]
- S1:What about go to mountains?
- T: What about...?
- S1: What about going to mountains, we can do 'barranking'. [Ss. laugh]
- T: What is 'barranking'?
- S2: Is a sport.
- T: Yes, but what do you do exactly?
- S3: You have a river, a small river and ... [gestures]
- T: Goes down?
- S3: Yes, as a cataract.
- T: OK, a waterfall [writes it on board]. What's a waterfall, Manual? Can you
give me an example? A famous waterfall. [draws]
- S1: Like Niagara?
- T: OK. So what do you do with the waterfall?
- S4: You go down.
- T: What? In a boat?
- S4: No, no, with a ...¿Como se dice cuerda?
- S3: Cord.
T: No, rope, a cord is smaller, like at the window, look. [points].
S2:You wear? Black clothes...
T: Repeat [student repeats]...[...] This sounds dangerous, is it dangerous?
Ss: No, no.
- S3: In summer, no much water.
- T: Sorry?
- S3: Poco...poco...little water, river is not strong.
- T: OK...and you have done this? What's it called in Spanish?
- S4: Barranquismo. In English?
- T: I don't know. I'll have to ask somebody.
- S2: It is good, you come? ¿Como es dìu? Let's go together.
- T: I don't think so. [laughs]
- S4: Yes, yes, you come, we can go in summer.
- T: Well, in the summer, not now, it's too cold.
- Ss: No, no.
(Thornbury, 1997, pp. 285-286)
- This teacher comments that prior to this lesson, the students "had displayed
reluctance in initiating discussions" and asking questions, but later, while
listening to the taped extract, "they surprised themselves...with the volume
of language produced" (ibid, p. 286). In the following sections, I analyze this
extract in detail.
- 2.2.1 Discourse Shift
- This extract starts with what is apparently an exchange in which the focus is
clearly on the form of the utterance as language samples. S1 produces, "What
about go to mountains", and the teacher's feedback points out the error. The
student complies with the correction, yet a shift occurs: this time, with the addition
of "we can do barranking", the utterance is ambiguous insofar as it could
be interpreted as having genuine propositional value. Willis (1992) describes how
this type of shift can be initiated by students "deliberately escaping from
(the) formal constraints imposed by (the) teacher" (p. 176), and indeed, "humor
can be generated" (ibid) by these shifts, although it is unclear if the ensuing
laugher was caused by this shift or by the creation of an "English" gerund
from barranco [ravine, gorge]. The teacher, by following up with a genuine
question ("What is barranking?"), accomplishes two things at once:
- His response is to the content, not the form -- note that he did not provide
feedback (e.g. "Good" or "Right") on S1's corrected utterance.
This upgrades the status of S1's utterance from a possible Response (to the initial
correction) to an Initiation (and thus the teacher's own utterance becomes a Response/Initiation,
see Francis & Hunston, 1992). In short, this becomes quite similar to a real
- Sanctioning S1's "escape" from rote practice of forms, without censure,
indeed by using the term "barranking" himself, may have provided the right
trigger to encourage the rest of the students in this hitherto quiet class to participate.
- 2.2.2 L1
- S3 produces what appears to be two false cognates (cf. Carter & McCarthy,
1988, p. 14) which the teacher recognizes and subsequently corrects. The first, "cataract",
is quite similar to catarata [waterfall]. While true that one English meaning
of "cataract" is indeed "waterfall", it is a literary word for
large waterfalls, and not very common (Collins COBUILD Dictionary, Sinclair, 1995).
The second, "cord" for cuerda [thin rope] follows S4's L1-encoded
translation request (¿Como se dice cuerda? [How do you say "thin
rope"?]). The teacher does not, however, know barranquismo. Some Spanish
Internet sites on barranquismo provide ideas of what this sport entails. Apparently
one descends into ravines or gorges containing rapidly flowing water, using climbing
ropes to brace against the current. From a photo, it appears that S2's "black
clothes" means "wetsuit".
- 2.2.3 Negotiation of Form During Negotiation of Meaning
- It is interesting that the teacher and students pursued this with a very real
focus on negotiation of meaning. Not only the students, but also the teacher no longer
focused on the "language of making suggestions" which was initially being
highlighted; when S2 and S4 say "you come?", the teacher reacts not to
the form but to the propositional content.
- However, during the negotiation, S2 mispronounces "special clothes",
which is corrected, with S2 repeating the correction. This plus the corrections of
false cognates (2.2.2) indicate a dual focus: the primary focus is on meaning, with
an incidental focus on forms which occur during the negotiation.
- This dual focus is desirable; Seedhouse (1997) argues in favor of correction
which helps maintain a dual meaning/form focus, without correction itself achieving
"interactional prominence" (p. 341). We must ask why the teacher's incidental
focus on form did not extend itself to addressing "You come?".
- An explanation is suggested when we note that the incidental focus on form is
systematically selective, focusing only on those utterances which would potentially
interfere with communication between the students and an outsider with no Spanish
knowledge. "You come?" is understandable in context, despite lacking the
semi redundant attachments of native-like forms. That these forms were what the students
were ostensibly studying must have seemed irrelevant to the teacher at the time,
given the general excitement generated by the novelty (for this class) of the communicative
process. Given the circumstances, I cannot easily fault his decision to (momentarily?)
let them pass. In fact, if the "understandability" criterion were consciously
present, I commend his decision.
- 2.2.4 Participants
- If we view the extract as a dialog between two participants, it resembles the
negotiation found in the literature of NS/NNS negotiation interactions. The crucial
difference, though, is that this negotiation is between a teacher and a classroom
- S1, whose invitation initiated this negotiation, did not participate in it. S1's
only further contribution was solicited ("What's a waterfall, Manual?...."),
perhaps simply to keep him involved. Other students self-nominated themselves to
pick up the negotiation, a situation undoubtedly familiar to both EFL and ESL teachers.
Even more familiar (to EFL teachers, at least) is one student asking another in L1
for an L2 word or phrase to further the negotiation process.
- 2.2.5 Discussion: Barranquismo, Guided Negotiation
- I found it interesting that attempts to bridge the information gap (which did
exist) did not result in the teacher fully understanding what the students were inviting
him to do, as no clear picture of barranquismo emerges. It can be argued that
this point is product-based, not process-based, but surely if the end result is satisfying,
the process is enhanced as worthwhile in the minds of the learners. I hope that the
teacher did later find out what barranquismo was to report back later as promised.
- However, the enthusiasm evident in this extract shows that it is satisfying.
Furthermore, much has been accomplished in that two false cognates and a pronunciation
fault were uncovered, two (apparently new) words were provided (but see 18.104.22.168),
and S3's "no much water" was pushed towards the more accurate and meaningful
"river is not strong". And importantly, as the conversation unfolded, students
received linguistically rich input (e.g. "What do you do with the waterfall?",
"I'll have to ask somebody", and so on) which was evidently understood.
Most likely, these features would not have found their way into the pedagogical corpus
if the class had remained focused on meaning-impoverished samples of language.
- The use of L1 as a strategy was interesting, with students using both L2 and
some L1, and the teacher soliciting L1 to aid the negotiation. Arguably, if S1 had
not used L1 to make his meaning known to the others, they would not have been able
to help in this negotiation. Furthermore, if this were a classroom in which L1 were
proscribed, this "breakthrough point" for the class might not have happened.
Last, the teacher's L1 knowledge helped move the negotiation forward.
- Thus, this extract illustrates guided negotiation, a process usefully
enhanced by an allowance of limited L1. Guided negotiation coupled with L1 finds
precedent in Atkinson (1987), who notes, "clearly once it is established (through
L1) what the learners want to say, the teacher can then encourage them to find a
way of expressing their meaning in English or, if necessary, help out" (p. 342).
When teachers know the meaning, yet guides the expression, it is a guided negotiation
of (meaningful) forms, not unlike when one "abandons the role of 'knower'"
(Ellis, 1988, p. 116) in order to participate in information gap activities despite
already knowing the answers. A dual focus (negotiation of both meaning and
form) is only present when teachers do not fully understand what the students are
attempting to express. Full prior understanding is not necessary; the supportive
encouragement is the main factor, as illustrated by Lynch (1997) in the next section
- Before moving on, though, I must voice one reservation. The teacher in "barranquismo"
was perhaps too quick to supply the correct items for the false cognates. The guided
negotiation would have been enhanced if he had first tried soliciting L2 words from
others in the class, thus making the process more salient. S3 may not have even noticed
that "waterfall" was a correction of "cataract", which could
potentially result in an addition ó as opposed to a replacement ó to the learners'
language systems. This criticism is made, however, knowing only too well that such
"real time" decisions are affected by many factors, including the surprise
of lessons taking unexpected turns.
- 2.3 Hotchkiss
- The next extract (2.3.1) features an extended negotiation of meaning prompted
by a Japanese learner's use of the word hotchkiss. In Japanese, this word is
[hotchkisu, stapler], a loanword oft-cited as "Japanese English"
as its use as English is firmly entrenched. The origin of the word is obscure, but apparently it is from an early producer of staplers
(see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Hotchkiss Stapler No. 2 (circa 1886). Note the
engraved name HOTCHKISS.
- In the following extract from Lynch (1996, 1997), the learners are engaged in
a pre writing task to create explanations of technical terms from their professional
fields. There are four people present, although only three take part. T is the teacher,
P is a Japanese doctor, Q is a microbiologist from Thailand, and R, silent throughout
the exchange, is a Japanese veterinarian .
- P: yeah so we we can + cut gall bladder and sew this injury with some kind of
scissor and hotchkiss
- Q: hm?
- P: + + you know hotchkiss? + hotchkiss?
- T: no we don't know hotchkiss
- P: hotchkiss means + + we can use paper
- T: scissors?
- P: no + clip + uh clip?
- T: ah
- P: do you know maybe + + many people use like clip with paper
- Q: paper clip?
- P: yeah paper clip + + or paper hotchkiss + + um hotchkiss + + (takes two
sheets of paper and pinches them together with her fingers) hotchkiss
- T: hotchkiss?
- P: hotchkiss
- T: hotchkiss + + I recognize it as a name but I didn't know it was a clip
- Q: I know clip
- P: so maybe most people have ever used + + (finds a stapled set of papers)
ah ah this is hotchkiss
- Q: ah st- + um staple
- T: staple
P: staple yes + I'm sorry + in Japan hotchkiss (laughs) so with scissors and
with staple through the other two holes + + so patients can discharge within one
week because we only open three holes.
(Lynch, 1996, pp. 74-75; Lynch, 1997, pp. 320-321)
- This extended exchange is initiated when Q indicates that "hotchkiss"
is an unfamiliar term. P, obviously believing it is English, then repeats it twice.
However, the teacher confirms Q's query ("No, we don't know 'hotchkiss'"),
so P tries a number of different ways of getting her meaning across; despite gestures
and circumlocution, the meaning is conveyed only when she finds an actual staple
to show the others.
- 2.3.2 Nudging
- Lynch (1997) used this extract to illustrate "teachers contributing by nudging
the learners towards a solution, rather than providing one themselves" (p. 324).
Thus "nudging" does not imply any false pretence regarding the true extent
of the teacher's knowledge -- the teacher can legitimately not know the answer, or
the teacher can allow other learners a chance to jump in first with the solutions.
- 2.3.3 Shared L1
- Of particular interest to me is the fact that R, who is also Japanese, does not
utter a word during the exchange, despite undoubtedly knowing the word "hotchkiss".
Lynch's explanation (1996) of R's silence does not refer to the L1 which he and P
share, but to the similarities of their professions: "I believe the reason why
R did not contribute more to the negotiation is that he did not need to; his own
professional field ...was close to P's, so he was probably familiar with the technique
she was explaining" (p. 146). Thus when Lynch notes that "separating students
from same or similar backgrounds...would have widened the information gap...and would
have encouraged more active negotiation" (ibid.), he means professional backgrounds,
although he agrees that "learners' need to negotiate meaning varies from group
to group (even using the same text/task), primarily according to whether the learners
share an L1 or a common L2, apart from English" (Lynch, personal communication,
e-mail, 3 January 1998).
- The most credible explanation for why R did not aid P is that he too did not
know the English word for "hotchkiss" (or thought "hotchkiss"
was English). Because this extract is from an ESL context, negotiation among
learners occurs, yet if R and P were performing the same task in an EFL classroom
in Japan, with other Japanese learners, it is fair to assume that negotiation would
not have occurred.
- 2.4 "Ong ha"
- This short section complements 2.3 in that we once again see that members of
a linguistically heterogeneous group receive L1-influenced slips in different ways,
depending on each member's own L1. "Hotchkiss" in 2.3 was a lexical slip;
in this extract, again from Lynch, the slip is phonological.
- Lynch (1996) illustrates how negotiation of meaning among students can result
in negotiation which makes speech more comprehensible, yet not more accurate, with
the following conversational except. The learners are discussing the QE2 cruise ship:
- E: it must be very nice to travel on her. (sounds like "ong ha")
- A: yes.
- E: it must be very nice
- H: to travel
- E: to travel ong ha
- H: ong?
- E: ong ha
- H: ong ha?
- E: ong ha + and next?
- H: what's + what's mean 'ong ha'?
- A: a ship + on a ship
- H: a ship?
- J: that's the ship + the boat + you know? + the Queen
- A: okay
- J: she is mentioned the Queen + the vessels or ship they are + they always
- H: okay okay
J: always she
(Lynch, 1996, pp. 118-9)
- Lynch comments that
- E's faulty pronunciation of 'on her' is not explicitly corrected. Student H asks
for clarification but gets only repetition from E. Finally student J explains that
the word her/she refers to ships, but he assumes that H has recognized 'ong ha' as
'on her'. (ibid)
- In other words, J misdiagnoses the source of H's problem. Unexamined, but more
relevant for my purposes, are A's contributions. Earlier in Lynch, we learn that
E and A are both Japanese, while H is from Spain and J is from the Faroe Islands.
Reexamining the excerpt with this in mind, we see that when E says "It must
be nice to travel ong ha", A, also Japanese, immediately agrees ("yes"),
indicating that she understood what E was saying. Negotiation only starts when H,
with a different L1 background, asks what "ong ha" means. Perhaps A did
not even notice that E's pronunciation was faulty, a supposition supported by A's
later attempts to move the negotiation forward by responding to H's "what's
mean 'ong ha'?" with "a ship + on a ship" instead of clarifying the
pronunciation. If this group were comprised of only E and A, this negotiation, like
"hotchkiss", would not have been forthcoming.
- 2.5 Conclusion
- What emerges from "ong ha" and "hotchkiss" is a realization
that what works in ESL settings is unlikely to achieve similar results in EFL settings,
as ELF homogeneous-L1 classes operate under different constraints. The primacy of
negotiation of meaning, with its attendant purpose of providing opportunities for
learners to notice gaps in their current interlanguage systems, runs aground when
learners share the same L1 and their shared errors or common slips are simply not
recognized as such. When these shared problems do not cause communication breakdowns,
negotiation for meaning is not forthcoming.
- This is not a claim against the value of negotiation itself in EFL settings,
nor a recommendation that it be eschewed. This is simply to make the point that negotiation
cannot be considered sufficient or central in addressing the systematic problems
typical of EFL learners. As such, negotiation-driven teaching strategies should be
approached with caution, applied with caveats, and monitored.
- This is, however, a claim against banishing L1 from the EFL classroom on the
grounds that recourse to L1 circumvents negotiation. As we saw in "barranquismo",
a leniency towards limited L1 is as effective in EFL settings in promoting "noticing"
if the guided negotiation, with incidental focus on form, is profitably applied.
L1 proscriptions would circumvent the utility of guided negotiations, which are enhanced
by limited but timely L1. The "trigger" for guided negotiation is not always
a breakdown of meaning, as often the meaning can be
- supplied through L1 (whether produced intentionally or unintentionally)
- provided through the teacher's familiarity with the individual learner's interlanguage
system (cf. Pica, 1996)
- provided through the teacher's knowledge of errors typical to that L1 group
- With the interpretation intact, the negotiation would be in terms of encoding
(i.e., a negotiation of form) with selective focus on what would be misunderstood
by non-L1 speakers.
- Furthermore, in 2.1.2, it was noted that for various reasons, student-initiated
negotiations are not always forthcoming. However, teacher-initiated negotiations
prompted by L1 use appear to provide both motivation and opportunity for student
output. Both "hotchkiss" and "barranquismo" were supported
by teachers who admitted not understanding. Perhaps more often in EFL contexts than
ESL, this triggers a role reversal situation in which the instructor, despite expert
knowledge of the code, willingly admits to lacking the knowledge which the rest of
the participants possess. The co-construction of the exchange, with learners conveying
the information and the instructors guiding/nudging the encoding, differs significantly
from situations in which the onus of initiating negotiation rests with the learners.