A corpus analysis of L2 English group oral tutorial discussion: Engagement, interaction and confluence

Grant Data
Project Title
A corpus analysis of L2 English group oral tutorial discussion: Engagement, interaction and confluence
Principal Investigator
Dr Crosthwaite, Peter Robert   (Principal investigator)
Start Date
Completion Date
Conference Title
Presentation Title
Spoken Corpus, Tutorial Discussion, English for Academic Purposes, Assessment of Language Proficiency, Confluence
Language Development, Second Language Acquisition, Audiology
Block Grant Earmarked for Research (104)
HKU Project Code
Grant Type
Seed Fund for Basic Research
Funding Year
The purpose of EAP pedagogy is to provide novice academics with the linguistic competence to present and support their stance on an academic topic in a manner that meets the expectations and acceptance of the general academic community. Universities thus devote great effort to providing training in English for academic purposes (EAP) to bridge the gap between secondary and tertiary expectations of academic discourse before adopting the discipline-specific nuances of particular subject areas (e.g. Hyland, 2000; Hyland & Hamp-Lyons, 2002) known as English for specific purposes (ESP), marking the development of academic literacy up to graduation and beyond. As English is the dominant language in Hong Kong (HK) tertiary settings, university students must quickly adopt the communicative skills required to participate in an academic environment. Despite these issues, expectations regarding the effectiveness of initial EAP programmes remains ‘unrealistic’ (Bruce & Hamp-Lyons, 2015), and both teachers and students in HK and beyond express dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of EAP training (Abdolrezapour & Tavakoli, 2013). It is thus necessary to collect data that chart which aspects of EAP training are effective and which remain problematic over a student’s university life in terms of authentic student production. While the PI has investigated the development of written academic literacy by HKU freshmen, the spoken component of EAP has received less attention in corpus-based studies. While academic communication in either written or spoken modalities is intended to engage an academic audience via informed, careful, and well-supported presentation of stance on a given topic, researchers have pointed out that medium, audience and context are crucial to grammar choices, which by extension, means that EAP pedagogy and research must focus on more than just writing. While writers might orient towards a perceived academic ‘norm’ reader, speakers typically orient towards each other. Writing is also less bound by time, and the relationship between writer and reader is more detached than is found for speech, which is online, with speaker/listener involvement negotiated in real time. For example, some of the most frequent words found in spoken discourse are intended to be used by listeners (e.g. ‘yeah’, ‘right’), with other phrases used to signal convergence in oral discourse but not in written discourse (e.g. ‘exactly’, ‘definitely’). In addition, intonation, prosody, and other signals are used in place of written punctuation, and are crucial when interpreting the different degrees of engagement or attachment from what the speaker says. Thus, when considering the effectiveness of EAP students in presenting their stance orally, a number of questions arise. Do our learners effectively communicate with others? What kind of speaker/listeners are they? How effective are our learners in engaging their audience in oral communication? What is their repertoire of interactive words? More importantly, given that successful and fluent speaking and listening is co-constructed and mutually supportive, we need to consider not simply fluency but confluence (McCarthy, 2006, 2010), or the fluent co-construction of academic discourse. The key question, then, is whether our EAP training is effective at promoting confluence, and if it is not, what more needs to be done to achieve it. Fortunately, the development of user-friendly corpus tools and corpus-based research in spoken language has been developing rapidly over the past decade. The use of corpora as a tool in English language teaching may now be described as a 'marriage', rather than a 'fling' (Gabrielatos, 2005), allowing - in quantifiable terms – for the impact of EAP training on oral discourse to be measured. Thus, the present study proposes the construction of a new longitudinal HKU-CAES Group Oral Discussion Corpus, which will be used alongside last years’ seed-funded HKU-CAES Learner Corpus to tease out corpus-informed differences and distinctions between spoken and written English produced by our learners. In particular, I aim to investigate whether our students reach confluence in their oral discussion as a result of EAP training, asking to what degree students are able to effectively engage and interact with discussion group members. The research questions posed are as follows: RQ1: Does the EAP pedagogy of the CAES1000 course allow students to engage and interact with their peers in academic group tutorial discussion? RQ2: Do our learners achieve confluence in their group oral production, where academic knowledge and ideas are shared fluently and co-constructed between group participants during actual discussion RQ3: Which are the successful (and unsuccessful) features of student production during group discussion, and what the implications for pedagogy of such findings?