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The Properties Of Foreigner Talk

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1741 words Published: 8th May 2017

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Describe the properties of “foreigner talk” and discuss its role in L2 learning. In your discussion, be sure to include supporting examples for foreigner talk and discuss them in light of Krashen’s Input Hypothesis (1985) and Long’s Interaction Hypothesis (1981, 1983a, 1996).

Particular over the past two decades, related work on input comprehensibility has focused on the nature of the linguistic environment available to learners and its relationship to Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Recent work has taken as basic the notion that conversational interaction in a second language (L2) forms the basis for L2 development rather than being only a forum for practice of specific language features (Wagner-Gouch & Hatch, 1975; cited in Schorkhuber, 2007). In fact, some contemporary studies have shifted the focus to an examination of the learner’s linguistic environment which is the target language available to the learner and how it affects the learning process.

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It has been observed that native speakers (NSs) adjust their speech in conversation with non-native speakers (NNSs) in multiple ways. This modified register has been termed ‘foreigner talk’ (FT) by Charles Ferguson (1975). He (1975) asserts that foreigner talk is the reduced and simplified version of a language that native speakers use to address other speakers for whom the language is not a native one, especially speakers who do not know the language at all. Due to the similarities between this type of speech and the speech that is usually directed at children, it is also sometimes called “baby talk” (e.g., Ferguson 1971). According to him, foreigner talk is the basis of the emergence of pidgin and Creole. It is also suggested that foreigner talk promotes learning as well as communication with the learner.

In general, foreigner talk adjustments reveal speech patterns that would not ordinarily be used in conversations with NSs (Gass & Selinker, 2001:261). Instead, Gass and Selinker (2001) claim that foreigner talk shares features in common with young children speech. According to Ferguson (1975), in phonology, it is characterise by a slow rate of delivery, loudness, clear articulation, pauses, emphatic stress and exaggerated pronunciation. In lexis, it is characterised by occasional use of words from other languages, substitutions of items by synonyms, or paraphrases, use of high frequency words and few idioms (Chaudron, 1979; cited in Tarone, 1980 ). In syntax, modification is presented through repetitions, elaborations, omissions and fill in the blank for learner’s incomplete utterances. In discourse, foreigner talk involves restating wh-questions as yes-no or or-choice questions, and so on (Hatch, 1979; cited in Tarone, 1980). Examples (1) and (2) show some of the characteristics of foreigner talk:

(1) NNS: How have increasing food costs changed your eating habits?

NS : Well, we don’t eat as much beef as we used to. We eat more chicken,

and uh, pork and uh, fish, things like that.

NNS: Pardon me?

NS : We don’t eat as much beef as we used to. We eat more chicken and

uh, uh pork and fish…We don’t eat beef very often. We don’t have

steak like weused to.

NNS: Oh, okay.

(2) NS : What classes are you taking at 10 o’clock?

NNS: Sorry? 10 clock?

NS : What classes at 10 o’clock?

NNS: 10 o’clock, classes, uh…Science.

From the examples above, the functions of foreigner talk can be detected quite effortlessly where in example (1), NS repeated and elaborated more fully the statement once the NNS indicated a lack of understanding in order to provide the NNS a comprehensible input. Likewise, NS practiced repetition in example (2) but in a more simplified form. Moreover, clue was provided to the NNS that 10 clock supposedly should be said as 10 o’clock. Therefore, the comprehension of the NNS was again aided.

Essentially, input is seen as a highly important factor in acquisition in many approaches to SLA. Krashen’s Input Hypothesis, which largely predated Universal Grammar approaches to SLA research, continues to make the strongest claim about the role of the linguistic environment in SLA. It states that L2 input must both be comprehensible and be at a stage slightly beyond the learner’s previously acquired linguistic competence (i+1) in order to be acquired (Krashen, 1982; cited in Schorkhuber, 2007). In brief, within Krashen’s framework, if input is understood, the necessary grammar is automatically provided; however, if input is not comprehensible, it cannot serve acquisition at all. That is to say, comprehensible input that occurred in the examples above, delivered in affective filter situation, is held to be not only a necessary condition for acquisition, but actually causing acquisition to the NNS.

On top of that, the line of research that focuses on interactional structure of conversation, such as foreigner talk was developed in many years by several researchers (e.g., Gass and Varonis, 1985, 1989; Long, 1981, 1983; Pica, 1987, 1988; cited in Gass, 2007:234). The emphasis is on the role which negotiated interaction between NSs and NSSs and between two NNSs plays in the development of L2. According to Gass (2007:234), conversational interaction in a L2 like foreigner talk discourse also forms the foundation for the development of L2 rather than being only a platform for practice of particular language features, more specifically when it comes to the negotiation of meaning. In fact, this claim has been proposed by Michael Long (1996: 451-2) as the Interaction Hypothesis.

In the similar situation like which Long (1996: 451-2) has stated, foreigner talk posits interaction between NNSs and NSs, creates a naturalistic Second Language Acquisition environment where the NNSs learn through negotiation of meaning and attention is focussed (Mackey, 1999; cited in Gass, 2007) on gaps in their target language knowledge. Therefore, the acquisition of L2 could be facilitated well because foreigner talk connects input, internal learner capacities, particularly selective attention, and output in productive ways (Long, 1996). One of the examples of conversation of foreigner talk is as follow:

(3) NS : There’s.. there’s a drinking bottle on the table.

NNS: A what?

NS : Bottle, drinking bottle to drink water?

NNS: Boar?

NS : You drink water from it, if you are thirsty. Drinking bottle.

NNS: Ahh, ahh, bottle to drink, you say drinking bottle!

NS : Yes.

Throughout the conversation of foreigner talk, the NNS acknowledges the fact that the new word drinking bottle came from the interaction and especially as a consequence of the negotiation work. The Interaction Hypothesis has been proven where it establishes that when a learner or NNS is attempting to negotiate conversation in the target language, the gaps in his/her abilities are revealed to him/herself. Generally, these abilities include pronunciation, syntax, grammar and vocabulary. Subsequently, the Interaction Hypothesis concludes that this self-realisation, brought about by authentic interaction, will encourage the NNS to produce target language output to negotiate meaning and seek out the knowledge they lack. Also, the interaction between the learner who is a NNS and other NNSs or NSs, results in language acquisition on the part of him/herself, meaning he/she has internalised and modified that chunk of language and will be able to produce correct output later when necessary.

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In the meantime, Interaction Hypothesis reveals that “checks” are the key to the SLA process (Long, 1983b; cited in Brulhart, 1986). One way the learner realises the gaps in their knowledge is by checking with the person they are having a conversation with during foreigner talk. The simplest of which are known as modification checks. There are several different types of interaction modification checks that take place during a natural conversation which assist the learner advance in the target language. The first one is clarification requests which the learner recognises a word that they are strange with and they ask for clarification. In general, clarification requests are formed by questions but may consist of wh- or yes-no questions, as well as tag questions. For example, “What did u mean?” After this, the interlocutor (NS) is required either to furnish new information or to recode information previously given. Secondly, it is confirmation check which the learner reacts to a sentence uttered by the other speaker and uses the L2 to confirm that they understood correctly. They always involve repetition of all part of the interlocutor’s preceding utterance (Long, 1980: 81-2, cited in Hasan, 2008: 41).

The example is as below:

(4) NNS : Do you want to come over and study tonight?

NS : Sorry, I have to do my landry.

NNS : Your..laundry? (comfirmation check)

NS : Yeah, my laundry. My clothes dirty.

The third modification check is comprehension check (Long, 1980; cited in Hasan, 2008). The learner asks a question to the other person in the conversation to confirm that they understood the meaning of the learners’ sentences. For instance, “Do you understand?” In effect, this production of checks could provide the learner with opportunities, builds positive affective feelings of confidence and learning opportunities. Also, conversational breakdown could also be avoided.

In conclusion, foreigner talk has meant a focus on the linguistic and discourse structure of the NS’s input to the learner (NNS), with a view to eventually determining the influence of that structure on L2 learning. Besides, the modification checks which are carried out during foreigner talk could assure that comprehension of the learners is checked explicitly, and utterances which are unclear are clarified and understood. Therefore, as Foster (1998; cited in Hasan, 2008: 42) claims that checking and clarifying problem utterances (negotiating for meaning) ensures the learners receive comprehensible input and generate comprehensible output, it should be noted that foreigner talk is truly helpful and crucial to SLA.


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