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Title: Meaning negotiation through task-based synchronous computer-mediated-communication (SCMC) in EFL learning in China : a case study
Author: Xu, Mingfei
ISNI:       0000 0004 7228 1622
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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There has been a strong advocacy of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) in China since the 1980s. One underlying assumption behind this approach is that acquisition is a process which depends on conversational interaction (Wagner-Gough & Hatch, 1975). A specific kind of interaction, meaning negotiation, which “includes routines or exchanges that involve indications of non-understandings and subsequent negotiations of meaning” (Gass & Varonis, 1991, p. 127) has long been considered to be a key factor in L2 development research. From the interactionist perspective, the facilitative role of meaning negotiation in L2 learning is that it provides comprehensible input, and elicits corrective feedback, helps learners to produce comprehensible output, and has the potential to draw learners’ attention to non-target-like aspects of language output. However, recognising the growing role of synchronous computer-medicated communication (SCMC) in language learning, how EFL learners negotiate meaning and whether the claim of the interactionist approach still holds true in this new medium needs further investigation. Moreover, considering the complexity of tasks used in eliciting meaning negotiation and the SCMC involved in negotiating meaning, the exclusively cognitive approach applied by previous studies seems insufficient to explain the meaning negotiation elaborated. For instance, considering the Chinese culture of learning, some Chinese students may be reluctant to produce negotiated interaction. Also, little research has been carried out to investigate the effect of social factors, such as the context and relationship between interlocutors, in generating meaning negotiation. Furthermore, there is little conclusive evidence in previous research regarding the effects of tasks on the quality and quantity of meaning negotiation. This case study investigated 48 EFL students studying mechanical engineering in a Chinese university. Using the variationist perspective on the interaction approach, this study aimed to investigate the features of learners’ negotiated interaction during task-based SCMC, and their similarities and differences with face-to-face negotiated interaction, based on the Varonis and Gass model. Moreover, it also investigates the relationship between task (i.e., task type and task content) and meaning negotiation (i.e., quality and quantity), and the perceived benefits and difficulties of the use of paired task-based SCMC interaction. Also, as previous studies have neglected the individual differences and social factors, the last aim was to investigate how the social and cognitive factors were inextricably intertwined by studying the participants’ perceptions and their actual performances. The main results of the study indicate a low ratio of negotiated turns in paired task-based SCMC interaction due both to linguistic and social factors. Moreover, task did have an influence on the meaning negotiation generated. However, the five-task typology (Pica et al., 1993) applied by most previous studies investigating meaning negotiation cannot fully explain the influence of task on meaning negotiation in peer-peer SCMC context. Apart from the two recurrent features in task definitions, “interactional activity” and “communication goal”, “task complexity” and “task difficulty” (Robinson, 2003) are also influential factors. Overall, this study argues that task, SCMC, the relationship between interlocutors and the learners themselves are all factors which can influence learners’ generation of meaning negotiation. Both personal information and learning contexts have the potential to shape not only the quantity and quality of meaning negotiation but also the attention to the interaction and further influence the production of learners’ language.
Supervisor: Evans, Michael Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Meaning Negotiaton ; SCMC ; Task-based Language Learning ; SLA