Monash University
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Second language interactional competence and its development: a study of international students in Australia

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posted on 2017-02-28, 04:02 authored by Barraja-Rohan, Anne-Marie
Recently second language interactional competence has become the central object of much research in the field of Conversation Analysis and Second Language Acquisition. This study contributes towards a better understanding of this construct and offers a substantial definition based on the data collected and past research. To achieve this aim, Conversation Analysis was supplemented with Ethnography to obtain a broader picture. The study focussed on four Non-English-Speaking-Background international students from Asia who came to study in Australia as undergraduate students. Conversation analysis was employed to examine their interactional competence in English as a Second Language, and to show how this competence developed over time by investigating ordinary conversation. Ethnography was used to investigate the students’ perceptions of their oral communication needs in relation to their academic studies and to explore their social networks. A total of eleven second language international students were recruited and interviewed, and four were retained for the longitudinal study. The four focal students were videorecorded over seven months interacting regularly in four dyads and one triad with native speaker local students, and once with other second language international students. Two types of conversation analytic study were undertaken: (1) a cross-sectional study documenting and comparing some of the interactional resources that the focal participants displayed during the observation period, and (2) a case study of one particular focal participant. In the ethnographic study a number of research instruments were employed, and a pilot study was conducted to refine the methodology. The conversation analytic study reveals that to develop second language interactional competence, key conditions need to be met: (a) an orientation to communication, (b) active listening-in-interaction, which includes orienting to the co-conversationalist(s), (c) producing action sequences involving turn expansions, such as expanded responses to questions and storytelling, (d) initiating different and new actions, and (e) having an ongoing social relation with an expert speaker. The focal participant with the most advanced linguistic competence, Akiko, was studied in depth from a conversation analytic perspective because she presented differently to the other focal participants. While they engaged in long turns-at-talk from the outset, Akiko mostly remained a listener. Over time Akiko gradually moved from recipiency to speakership and changed her focus from accuracy to communication. She progressively expanded her responses and engaged in longer storytelling employing an increasing range of sophisticated interactional devices, while her grammar became more complex. The ethnographic study indicates that the students generally perceived speaking skills as important in order to succeed in their academic studies. They also expressed a strong desire to befriend native speaker local students to learn about Australians and their culture, and to improve their spoken English. Developing social networks, particularly in English, had a positive impact on the focal participants’ wellbeing and their second language interactional competence. That social affiliation was an important factor in developing second language interactional competence was confirmed by the conversation analytic study.


Principal supervisor

Farzad Sharifian

Additional supervisor 1

Heather Bowe

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Department, School or Centre

Languages, Cultures and Linguistics


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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