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DELTA Language Skills Assignment: Speaking

"Service encounters: an analysis and suggestions for helping learners at an intermediate level"
by Ben Facer

Centre number: Word count: 2482

Table of contents

1. Introduction 2. Analysis 3. Issues and Suggestions 4. Appendices 5. Bibliography

p. 1 p. 3 p. 7 p. 12 p. 21

1. Introduction This essay aims to help intermediate level learners who are studying on general English courses in the UK. It analyses the speaking difficulties they face when confronted with real-life service encounters and provides useful recommendations for teaching how to solve them. In carrying out my research I have found that not only are there certain skills that learners need to acquire in order to improve their performance during service encounters, but there is clearly also a certain level of language knowledge that they must attain. From my experience many intermediate level learners concern themselves wholly with becoming fluent speakers. However, accuracy is clearly still significant in producing intelligible sequences of spoken language. Much of the interactional language we hear, such as informal debates and discussions, are unstructured, unpredictable and often have no real purpose other than to entertain. Intermediate learners therefore often find them difficult to follow and to participate in. Whats more, I have found at this level that they can be difficult to teach and can have a limited degree of measureable success. Most intermediate learners studying in the UK find it far more useful to learn transactional language, as it is the kind of language they find themselves needing on a day-to-day basis. It is for these reasons that I have chosen this particular area of study.

2. Analysis What is a service encounter? Service encounters can be described as a situation in which one or more people use language to obtain or provide a service or product. Some examples of these are listed below: Buying clothes Returning a product to a store Booking a train ticket Using a taxi Booking a hotel room

They are considered transactional situations as opposed to interactional ones, whose main purpose is to maintain personal relationships. Nevertheless, they can often contain elements of interactional language. I.e. Nice weather today, isnt it? Functional language Halliday1 divides language into 5 broad macro-functions depending on purpose (see appendix A). Service encounters can be seen as containing much of what he calls regulating language, or language used to influence people or get things done. These kinds of utterances often come in easily retrievable combinations that are known as adjacency pairs2. The examples below illustrate this: Polite request please? Compliance Compliance Gratitude Enquiry Apology Could you tell me where menswear is Yes, of course. Its Here you go Thank you Do you have this in blue? Im sorry. Weve sold out

1 2

Thornbury, (2005:1: 89) Hedge (2002: 267) 4

Routine It can be argued that language follows specific routines according to its particular genre. Thornbury describes genres as any type of spoken or written discourse which is used and recognized by members of a particular culture or subculture . Whether they are telephone conversations, anecdotes or business presentations, each genre will tend to follow a fairly rigid and predictable formula. Bygate3 proposes two types of routine informational and interactional. An example of informational routines in service encounters might be as follows: Checking in at a hotel - personal details, room preferences, length of stay, payment details Buying a shirt details Using a taxi size and colour preferences, payment address details, directions

In each case, regardless of specific location and time, the interlocutors can predict with reasonable accuracy what kind of language to expect. Interactional routines on the other hand, concern themselves with knowledge of the number of interlocutors, the type of information and the order in which they speak. Below is an example of the kind of everyday routine seen in a shop purchase4:

Thornbury (2006: 91)

3 4

Bygate (1987: 23) Thornbury (2005:1: 73) 5

Here we can see that the encounter begins with a sale initiative by the assistant, followed by a request from the customer, then compliance by the assistant. There is then a sales enquiry by the assistant, then a further sales request and finally the sale and purchase. At the very end we see a purchase closure. Spontaneity Although following a particular routine, service encounters are transitory and unplanned. It is a process of improvisation that places both time and memory pressures on the speaker. As a result, speakers adopt techniques in order to facilitate speech production and give them time to formulate what they are about to say. Some examples of these are illustrated below5: i) Fillers: ErmCould I have the mmm, let me see could I have the fish please These act as crucial time-stalling devices. ii) Formulaic language: Ill take it! changing room Have a nice day!

Also known as chunks, formulaic language is defined as sequences of speech that are not assembled word-by-word but have been preassembled through repeated use and are now retrievable as single units6. Chunking saves on formulation time because they become
5 6

Bygate (1987: 15) Thornbury (2005:2: 23) 6

so easily memorable. iii) Ellipsis: New version, is it? it? Card ok? How much then, please? then please? instead of Is that the new version, is instead of Is a credit card ok? instead of How much is that

Competent speakers omit entire parts of a sentence in order to save time. iv) Simplifying structures: Its blue with a white collar and white stripes. Its dark blue. Its a size 32. It was over there yesterday. Or near the door I cant remember. Instead of Its a dark blue shirt with a white collar and white stripes in size 32. I think it was over there yesterday, however it might have been near the door. I cant remember. Using short clause-like chunks7 and parataxis, rather than embedding clauses within sentences, acts as another way of saving on formulation time.

Thornbury (2005:2: 4) 7

Achievement Service encounters will often require the use of achievement strategies in order to communicate effectively. Bygate outlines them as the following8: i) Guessing foreignizing (using mother tongue words with English pronunciation)

We went to the Caribbean on a. a bark [SPANISH SHIP] borrowing (using from mother tongue words in the hope it is understood)

Do you have a... how do you say? A catalogo [SPANISH catalogue] literal translation (from L1 to L2)

Its for use a a opencan to drink the beer [SPANISH CANOPENER] coinage (inventing a word or phrase using knowledge of L2

Shes a vegetarianist ii) Paraphrasing lexical substitution (using other same or similar words)

I want to buy a win money ticket [LOTTERY TICKET] circumlocution (i.e. using a superordinate, animal instead of dog).

It a like a small food for giving strong flavour [SPICES] iii) Co-operation asking for translation or for the word indicating the object by miming or pointing providing a syntactic frame: The telephone it comes with a charger?

Bygate (1987: 44) 8

3. Learning issues and suggestions for teaching Functional language Issues At this level learners will know some very common sentence frames such as Could you, Would you and common adjacency pairs such as How are you? Fine. However, learners can fail to respond appropriately due to the lack chunks of language needed to fulfil a specific function. It is important for learners to make the correct decisions regarding the discourse of these different genres. Failure to respond appropriately makes them appear rude, disorganized or incompetent. Suggestions i) Macro-functions Categorization is an effective way of raising learners awareness of the purpose of certain words or phrases. In the New Headway Intermediate Students Book9 learners are asked to listen to a number of short conversations and categorize the utterances according to whether they are offers of requests. Later, students are asked to perform a role-play in which they must use a series of short phrases with the correct sentence frames (See Appendix B). Although not all the phrases are related to service encounters, this activity could be easily adapted to be used in the context of a service encounter. ii) Adjacency pairs A simple but effective way of practising various adjacency pairs is through matching exercises (See Appendix C). Here pairs are cut up and jumbled up into pieces of paper each with one half of the pair on. Learners are put in pairs or small groups and have to match the pairs. Although a short activity it is a good way to introduce the idea to a lesson. From my experience students enjoy it and find it very helpful in clarifying certain doubt about how to respond appropriately. As with the previous suggestion, this activity could be easily adapted to incorporate pairs suited entirely to service encounters.

Soars and Soars (2003:37) 9

Routine Issues Thornbury emphasizes that it is necessary for competent speakers to have a sound knowledge of how to organize and connect individual utterances10 and to manage turn-taking. Failure to do so can result in communication breakdown at this level, making them appear rude, distant, uncooperative or disorganized. From my experience learners encounter four main problems: i) Difficulty in entering a conversation due to the rapid sequence of speech. ii) Difficulty in continuing to speak iii) Difficulty in interpreting signals for entry iv) Failure to signal understanding or lack of it Awareness of familiar routines and competency in using discourse markers will help learners improve in this area: Suggestions i) Flow diagrams In Role-play11 flow diagram is provided in order for learners to become familiar with the specific routines involved with certain genres (See Appendix D). Students follow the flow diagram according to the function of each utterance, thereby allowing them to focus on their accuracy and not their turn-taking or interactional skills. Familiarization with these predictable scripts means that learners can access them every time they find themselves in a given situation. This saves on the formulation time needed to articulate what they want to say. ii) Discourse markers Comparing a scripted piece of text with a similar text that contains markers is an effective way to raise awareness, as they are often left out of course book texts and transcripts 12. The example transcript in Appendix H could be transcribed again without any markers. Learners can then listen to the original dialogue and identify the markers used. Once the purpose of each marker is analyzed learners could then insert them appropriately into a similar scripted text. This type of activity is useful, although initial transcribing by the teacher may be fairly time consuming.

10 11 12

Thornbury (2005:2:49) Maley (1987: 39) Field (2008: 281) 10

Formulaic language Issues L1 speakers are adept at using facilitation in order to sound fluent. Intermediate level L2 learners lack these facilitation skills and are therefore can left feeling apprehensive about using a certain piece of language. This makes them more susceptible to using reduction strategies such as avoiding a particular language structure or even avoiding talking completely. Suggestions i) Awareness-raising activities Encouraging the use of chunking is a great way to equip learners with more natural sounding speech, whilst widening their lexical range. I have noticed from teaching language as chunks that as learners acquire more chunks, their grammar improves, as they begin to notice lexical patterns. An example of this is the chunk have a After learning have a walk, have a nap, have a dip in the sea, my students started using it freely in other collocations i.e. have a drink, have a break. Thornbury suggests giving learners a short text with which they have to underline any potential chunks13. They then consult a contemporary English dictionary for high frequency chunks to see if their guesses are correct. If no chunk appears in the dictionary, similar chunks using the same vocabulary are noted down from the dictionary. This activity is a useful awareness-raising exercise although it would need to be followed by some sort of production exercise in order to internalize the language. A disappearing dialogue activity is as an excellent way to memorize chunks14. A short text is placed on the whiteboard / IWB and students one by one have to remove between one and three words at a time. Each time they remove something they have to read out the text but including the missing information until only one word is left (See Appendix F). At this stage learners then have to reconstruct the text as accurately as possible. This can be adapted to include specific chunks related to service encounters. This is a challenging exercise and may be awkward for students with poor reading skills, as they have to read aloud. ii) Appropriation activities (pausing?) In Conversation Gambits15 a simulation exercise is provided to practise politely declining the buying of a product in a shop. In pairs learners enact 10 short dialogues using the chunks of language
13 14 15

Thornbury (2005:2: 55)

Rinvolucri (?????: 59)

Keller & Warner (1988: 65) 11

provided (see Appendix E). The exercise is rather controlled and limited to a few phrases that are similar in meaning. As a result, learners may not find it particularly challenging. As such, it could be adapted to use three of four more chunks but with fewer, longer pieces of unscripted dialogue in order to allow learners use more of the chunks in a freer practice. Ellipsis Issues Learners are often unaware that ellipsis is possible or may use it inaccurately. This may result in an utterance such as the following: I have enough money for the ticket but my friend doesnt have enough money for the ticket instead of I have enough money for the ticket but my friend doesnt A common mis-use of ellipsis at this level is the following: A: Do you like the pink one? B: No, I dont like instead of No, I dont At lower levels ellipsis is often corrected as it may hinder the learning of certain structures. However it is argued that it helps oral practice and improves fluency by reducing formulation time. Suggestions In New Inside Out Intermediate an awareness-raising exercise is provided in which learners have to listen to a conversation along with a transcript. The transcript provides two options for a number of different utterances one using ellipsis, the other not. Students must decide for each utterance which one is more natural sounding16 (See Appendix G).


Kay & Jones (2009: 10) 12

Achievement strategies Issues Intermediate learners are clearly adept at guessing, asking for translation and indicating objects through miming or pointing. What they often struggle with is paraphrasing. Many a time when playing back to the board, where students have to describe a word on the board to others, communication has broken down due to this. In a service encounter correctly describing a product or requirement can be vital. Failure to do this may result in complete communication breakdown or reliance on reduction strategies. Suggestions In Face 2 Face Intermediate Students Book a series of fixed expressions are given in order for students to better express what they are looking for whilst shopping. The expressions are categorized depending on function. Students have to select the appropriate heading for each category (See Appendix H). Students later simulate being in a shop and asking for items they dont know the name of. Clearly, these items would need to be selected according to the learners. For example, a group of business English students wont find it useful trying to describe what a dishcloth is.


Appendix A Hallidays list of macro-functions

Taken from Beyond the Sentence (Macmillan, 2005)


Appendix B

Taken from New Headway Intermediate Students Book (OUP, 1993)


Appendix C



Appendix D

Taken from Role Play (OUP, 1987)


Appendix E

Taken from Conversation Gambits (LTP, 1988)


Appendix F

Taken from Grammar Games (CUP, ????)


Appendix G

Taken from New Inside Out Intermediate Students Book (Macmillan, 2009)


Appendix H

Taken from Face 2 Face (CUP, 2006)


Bibliography Bygate, M (1987) Speaking (Oxford University Press - OUP) Hedge, T (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom (OUP) Field, J (2008) Listening in the Language Classroom (Cambridge University Press CUP) Kay, S & Jones, V New Inside Out Intermediate Students Book (Macmillan) Keller, E & Warner, S (1988) Conversation Gambits (LTP Language) Porter Ladousse, G (1987) Role Play (OUP) Redston, C & Cunningham, G (2006) Face 2 Face (CUP) Rinvolucri, M (????) Grammar Games (CUP) Soars, L & Soars, R (2003) New Headway Intermediate Students Book (3rd Ed.) (OUP) Thornbury, S (2005) Beyond the Sentence (Macmillan) Thornbury, S (2005) How to Teach Speaking (Pearson Longman) Thornbury, S (2006) An A-Z of ELT (Macmillan) Watcyn-Jones, P (??????) Vocabulary Games & Activities (Penguin)