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Negotiation of meaning in video-conferencing: The potential of online chats for student interactions

The Learning Languages area in the New Zealand Curriculum for secondary students emphasises opportunities for natural communication as a goal of second language (L2) learning. However, L2 learners often lack experience in spontaneous oral communication. One way to provide more opportunities for communication practice is through synchronous computer-mediated-communication (CMC) where students interact in real time via computers. These online exchanges are conducive to negotiation of meaning, where learners solve their communication problems in a social environment. Research on second language acquisition proposes that negotiation of meaning can assist to make language input more comprehensible, provide feedback and encourage learners to modify their output. The aim of this research is to examine CMC interactions between two classes of near-beginner German students via video-conferencing. Data were collected during four one-to-one Skype sessions to identify interactional features such as negotiation of meaning, turn-taking and other communicative strategies participants employed during the interactions. This examination forms part of a PhD thesis and draws on research on CMC, Interactionist Theory regarding effective second language acquisition and the Varonis and Gass model (1985) to explore students' focus on form. Findings indicate that learners use a variety of interactional strategies to facilitate comprehension of input and output and are able to resolve instances of non-understanding in the L2 without having to resort to English. Moreover, the organisation of turn-sequences shows that beginner-learners' interactions contain interactional elements beyond the immediate context, such as acknowledgements and dis/affiliative comments. Data from this study suggest that interactions conducted via video-conferencing have a positive impact on students’ interactional abilities and enable them to experience constructive, real-life interactions whilst attending to communicative problems.


Martina Simone Kopf    
School of Critical Studies in Education
University of Auckland, NZ
New Zealand

Martina is a PhD student in Education at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is also a Secondary school teacher for German and French and her main research interests are Computer-Assisted Language Learning and the teaching of speaking skills.


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