Negotiation: Language Acquisition Essay

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Interaction and Negotiation in the Language Classroom: Their Role in Learner Development

1. Introduction: three views on the contribution of classroom interaction to language development. We cannot claim to know nearly enough about what it is about language classrooms that enables classroom language learners to develop, more or less well, their command of a second or foreign language. And yet our collective experience as professionals does lead us to believe that success, or failure, in classroom language learning typically has something, if not absolutely everything, to do with the nature of the interaction that takes place during lessons. It makes good sense, therefore, for us to want to try to understand the contribution of classroom interaction to language development. This has indeed been the focus, under a number of different headings, for a considerable amount of work over the last few decades (for example: Allwright, 1976, 1984a, 1984b; Breen and Candlin, 1980; Long, 1981; Seliger, 1977, 1983; Swain, 1985). From this work there have emerged several importantly different suggestions, however, about the way in which classroom interaction might contribute to language development, and about the way the notion of 'negotiation' relates to the notion of interaction. Some of these are best seen as 'methodological proposals', or advocacy positions, where the perspective is presented more or less baldly as a methodological prescription. Others are more descriptive in intent, 'conceptual proposals' that seek to describe what is the normal state of affairs, rather than what should be (see Allwright, 1982). Still others move, sometimes uneasily and even unhelpfully, between 'description' and 'advocacy'. In this paper I will set out three of the major positions1 and attempt to make out a convincing argument for just one of them as being the one most likely to aid us in our search for understanding - a search for understanding which I would also wish to argue is our surest route to sensible responses to immediate practical, as well as to long-term conceptual, problems. The first position is associated with mainstream thinking about communicative language teaching, and as such it advocates the active promotion of interaction as a productive teaching technique. The second is the 'weak' form of my own 'interaction hypothesis' (Allwright, 1984a), which intends only to describe what is seen as an inevitable role for classroom interaction, whether or


not it is 'advocated' as a teaching technique. The third position I will consider is the 'strong' form of my 1984 interaction hypothesis - the claim that interaction (in the form of syllabus negotiation, inter alia) can and should be advocated because it is synonymous with the learning process itself. This is the position (a conceptual proposal used to motivate and support a methodological one) that is historically most closely related to the notion of the process syllabus. I will argue that the first position, though probably the standard view in the profession, is largely irrelevant to the important practical and conceptual issues this volume seeks to illuminate. The third position, by contrast, is directly and centrally relevant but is at the same time too bold for its own good. It makes too strong a claim to be considered entirely convincing as a

methodological proposal properly derived from a conceptual one, since it moves, I will argue, too awkwardly from 'description' to 'advocacy' (see also Allwright, 1984c). That will leave me with the 'weak' form of my own interaction hypothesis, which I hope I will be able to show offers us the most promising way forward in our attempt to understand what it is in language classrooms that enables language development to occur. I will then argue that it is therefore this 'weak' notion of the role of interaction that will eventually help us address productively the practical problems we face in the language classroom. Finally I will set