Online communication between native and non-native speakers of English

A critical discourse analysis study

Ahmed Kadhum Fahad, University of Cincinnati

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Abstract

This study will investigate Facebook communication between native and non-native speakers of English. This communication is interesting and it is important to be studied for several reasons. First, the popularity of social networking websites especially Facebook and their use by ESL learners among themselves and with native speakers of English makes it important to investigate potential pedagogical implications of such kinds of interaction. Second, the analysis of this type of conversation mediated by technology in this context is essential to understand the power relations and the nature of the discursive practices used by ESL (English as a Second Language) learners when they interact with native speakers. The study will address the following questions: (1) what is the type of discourse involved between specialist native speakers of English (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) in an online environment? (2) How does the online environment of this discourse affect the interaction of NNS and how do power relations play a part in mediating this discourse and negotiating meaning? (3) What, if any, pedagogical implications does this kind of discourse have for ESL classrooms? The analysis will follow Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), specifically Fairclough’s approach of description, interpretation and explanation. A qualitative research methodology will be followed in analyzing the data for this study. The data set are transcripts of an online communication on Facebook between potential Iraqi graduate students and American educational specialists. The data is available on the Facebook page called StudyUSAIraq found at https://www.facebook.com/StudyUSAIraq. The transcripts are taken from one of the StudyUSAIraq Facebook posts on a subject related to MOOCS. The language used in this transcript is considered hybrid because it includes native and non native speakers of English. According to Kettle (2005), this text is called hybrid because it comprises a blending of both standard and non standard forms of English.

Presenter
Ahmed Kadhum Fahad

MA., Doctoral Student, School of Education, Department of Literacy and Second Language Studies
University of Cincinnati
FahadAk@mail.uc.edu

6 thoughts on “Online communication between native and non-native speakers of English”

  1. Thank you. I am the author of this. In case you have question, I am glad to answer you. Thank you

  2. Thank you for your interest in my poster. Sure, I am glad to share the following from the study. It is part of the data analysis and the discussion part. I will be grateful for any feedback fro you. Thank you:

    A qualitative research methodology was followed in analyzing the data for this study. The data set are transcripts of an online communication on Facebook between potential Iraqi graduate students and American educational specialists. The data is available on the Facebook page called StudayUSAIraq page found at https://www.facebook.com/StudyUSAIraq. The transcripts are taken from one of StudyUSAIraq faecbook post on a subject related to MOOCS. The language used in this transcript is considered hybrid because it includes native and non-native speakers of English. According to Kettle (2005), this text is called hybrid because it compromises a blending of both standard and nonstandard forms of English. For the sake of analysis, a focus was made on themes as they emerged from the data. This study is qualitative in nature and the analysis centered on the discursive practices involved in this online communication and what it might tell us about the research questions mentioned.
    Analysis:
    The analysis has focused on the readily available data set taken from one post of the StudyUSAIraq Facebook page. The turns were numbered for easy reference. Themes are not listed chronologically in the analysis as they were analyzed as they emerge from the data. Then, examples from different turns provided and grouped in the themes related to them. So, for the sake of analysis, I started by coding a theme, and applying CDA three dimensions analysis: text, interpretation and explanation. The analysis started with a text description followed by interpretation and explanations as per the model of analysis selected which is Fairclough’s three dimension analysis. In the following analysis the word “learners” means those turns produced by the NNs participants. The “administrators” refers to the native speakers of English in the interaction and who are the initiators of those talk and are the administrators of the Study USAIraq Facebook page.
    Themes coding and analysis:
    1. Trigger and motivation
    This theme is found at the opening of the post started by the administrators of the Facebook page. The purpose is to help the participants come and join the online discussion. Though the administrator is usually one person, but the statement started with the pronoun “we” to emphasize the institutional nature of this Facebook page. The subject presented is new to the participants who are mostly from a socialist country that has little experience in the online education. The second line of the initiation trigger is an expansion of the topics giving more information on what “MOOCS” are and what to expect. The key words here are “popularity” and “youth”. The emphasis on these words was meant by the administrators to encourage the learners who are mostly young looking forward to advancing their education by joining and getting more information. Another kind of trigger produced by the learners here is at the end of the discussion in turn numbers (29-33) where the participants typed in the profile name of some of their friends who were not present at the time of discussion. Typing in the name on the comment spaces means that Facebook will send a notification to those people to check in this thread discussion. This is an interesting strategy that the learners used to trigger their friends to join making use of the Facebook functions instead of using traditional notification means such as calling or sending an email or even a message over the Facebook. It also means that this discussion appealed to those participants and they wanted to have others get the benefit of this online communication. This is also a collaborative environment and showed the idea of giving and receiving feedback.
    2. Exploration:
    Most of the learners’ turns can be categorized as an exploration as the main aim of this discussion is to provide more information to the learners about MOOCs. Since exploration means asking question, it is apparent that the interrogative forms of “Wh-questions” and the “yes-no questions” were extensively used by the learners as it can be seen in turns numbers (2) and (4):
    (2): “Hello how we can join these courses and whether a certificate of participation will be awarded at the end of the course”
    (4): “Is there any requirements to take the courses? And I hope you can advice me with the best course for me, I’m a high school graduated and I have a Toefl test degree which is 580, and is there any other courses or scholarships that I can apply to? Thank you”
    Some questions forms were given using a statement or an indirect question as in turn number (2). This kind of questions is common in the Iraqi dialect (the learners’ first language) and this is why learners used this form spontaneously as a result of their native language intervention. Though this structure is also available in English and is usually said with a rising tone and question mark at the end of the sentence, the learners used it extensively and did not put a question mark following the Iraqi form showing the low English Grammar level they have. The exploration theme ranged between general inquires and social interest inquires. After the learners get introduced to MOOCs, its popularity and availability, their interest was made clear out of their question on specific MOOCs course relevant to their fields of study. This is apparent in the turns (4, 6, 11, 21, and 23):
    (4): “Is there any requirements to take the courses? And I hope you can advice me with the best course for me, I’m a high school graduated and I have a Toefl test degree which is 580, and is there any other courses or scholarships that I can apply to? Thank you”
    (6):” Is there any course for Optoelectronics engineering?”
    (11):” Is there for business management??”
    (21): “And is there for pharmacist??”
    (23): “Is there any course for industrial engineering?”
    3. Identity and power relations:
    The identity theme is apparent throughout the discussion. It is mainly that learners’ identity is those of ESL users of English and those who seek information. This is apparent from the structure of their questioning turns and the rather low English level they have. The administrators’ identity, on the other hand, is that of the experts and is clear from their answering turns and giving more information. We see that the administrators are those ones who hit reply for almost all the questions and are the ones who gave the information and accounted for them as they emerge from the learners. The identity balance between the two types of participant is reflected in the responsibilities of each participant and also in the way turns are introduced. The content of the turns is also a sign of the power relations that frame
    4. Meaning negotiation:
    This theme is of course dominant in this hybrid kind of text with ESL text produced by the learners using low level of English. We find that learners check understanding by asking for confirmation as in the turns (8, 17):
    (8): “Also free”
    (9): “Is it free??”
    Here again the learners used the indirect form of question or the statement question such as “Also free [?]” and again the learners forget to put the question mark. This is due to the fast ongoing nature of the conversation and also intervention of the learners’ native language which usually use this interrogative forms instead of the direct wh-questions and the yes-no questions. This is also related to the power relation among the participants. The administrators and learners are from two different cultures, namely capitalist versus socialist cultures and question and meaning negotiated regarding whether MOOCs are free or not is used by the learners as it might seem not common to see free higher education in the capitalist culture like USA where the administrators are from. The negotiated meaning here is not only because there are experts on one side and information seekers on the other side, it is also because the learners’ low comprehension and interpretation of English that the learners have so that they try to negotiate meaning in a form of a repeated indirect questions so that they ensure full understanding. The other forms of meaning negotiation that is also language and cultural background oriented are the learners’ questions about whether these MOOCs course are recognized and accredited or not as in the turn (2, 10, and 14):
    (2): “Hello how we can join these courses and whether a certificate of participation will be awarded at the end of the course”
    (10): “does those courses and the certificate clears the way to apply for a degree in the US universities”
    (14): “Is there credit for MOOCs?”
    In the socialist culture like the one where the learners belong does not recognize online learning yet and there are a lot of issues surrounding e-learning in that culture. The use of quick direct question in turn (14) was to make sure this point is clear so that further discussion can start. We also see that the administrators’ response to this question delayed after several other turns as this might seem not a core questions asked by people from a capitalist culture and needed sometime from the to figure out the meaning of this question by the administrators.
    5. Content discussion and topics expansion:
    Here also participants ask more questions to expand the topics and discuss the content. The administrators started the conversation by setting the tone to basic question about what MOOCs are and how to make use of them. Then we found that learners ask more questions on whether the MOOCs are accredited or not as in the turn (2 ) “Hello how we can join these courses and whether a certificate of participation will be awarded at the end of the course” which asks about the certificate of completion and about finding specific courses related to the learners’ background as in the turn (6 and 11) and also about the structure of these courses:
    (6):” Is there any course for Optoelectronics engineering?”
    (11):” Is there for business management ??”
    6. Error correction:
    Despite the many spelling and grammatical errors n the learner’s turns, we see no direct error correction from the administrators’ part. This is in part due to the fact that even with the errors, the turns are understood mainly from the context. It is also so due to the polite nature of the administrators’ language. However we saw some indirect correction related to the use of the vocabulary. In the turn pairs (4 and 5), we see that the administrators repeated the learners question using the correct words: they used the word “prerequisite” to replace the learners’ word choice of “requirement” for the course which is not the right word in this context:
    (4): “Is there any requirements to take the courses ? And I hope you can advice me with the best course for me, I’m a high school graduated and I have a Toefl test degree which is 580, and is there any other courses or scholarships that I can apply to? Thank you”
    (5): “Some advanced courses may need prerequisites, but most of the other courses do not. Just search for the course that matches your interest, get yourself enrolled and with this level of English, you will be doing great. Also, stay tuned because we will be posting about the best MOOCs out there and how we can help students navigate their way through them.”
    In the turn pair (14 and 15), the administrators replaced the noun form of “credit” used by the learners with the correct verb form “credited” in this context:
    (14): “Is there credit for MOOCs?”
    (15): “There are only six MOOCs that are credited so far. Read this link for more information https://www.coursera.org/signature/college-credit-guidebook”
    This is a great tool where collaboration by both the administrators and the learners regarding the meaning provide double benefits: both gain mutual understanding without feeling embarrassed, and learners gain authentic use of language which cannot be found otherwise.
    Discussion and Conclusion
    This study investigated the potential used of online communication between Ns and NNs interacting in English on a Facebook Page. Despite the fact that students are using this forum to find out more information on their future study in the USA, it also shows their level of English. Despite the low English level that most students have which is apparent from the formal analysis of their turns, we saw that they had the motivation and confidence to communicate in English with the English NS specialists who were the administrators of that Facebook page. Generally, the results showed that both learners and administrators were aware of each other’s needs in terms of the language and they used several strategies to ensure mutual understanding. From the administrator’s part, meaning negotiation, extending and answering turns were introduced in such a way as to ensure learners understand the meaning. The learners’ use of successive questions, Web.2.0 tools that Facebook offered as well as cooperation among themselves as strategies to understand the administrators’ turns. This synchronous communication seems to have effective pedagogical implication for the ESL classrooms. This online communication could be an effective supplemental tool for ESL classes as it eliminates much of the issues reported in the face to face interaction in ESL classes such as anxiety and the effect of power relations between learners and teachers. The different power relations usually seen in ESL classes due to the students’ realization of their low English level frustrates students and prevent them from taking the initiative to engage in classroom discussion. Other students’ presumptions especially in multi-cultural ESL classrooms where educational system encourage less classroom engagement and participation makes it even harder for students to interact inside classroom using the target language. The results in this Facebook communication shows that power relations and identity realization did not overwhelm the overall communication. As a synchronous communication, this interaction had double benefits: first the learners use practiced their English in an authentic situation that would have been not available otherwise. They learn new vocabulary, and socialize with others. Secondly, students felt motivated and willing to learn more as a result of their interaction on this page, and also believed that the page is a place where they could give and receive feedback from others.
    The results show how young learners with fair English level are highly motivated to improve their English in digitally-mediated environments. Unlike monolingual online communication seen on social networking sites, this hybrid language communication appears to have an impact on the educational practices and affect the ways students engage with language and culture. This is very promising considering the globally networked learning environments and the role that international interactions would play in enhancing the English language learning and achieve proficiency goals, help learners interaction, intercultural understanding and digital literacy skills

  3. Interesting analysis, and I would like to ask if there is a way to find the source of these NNS’s source of motivation to communicate in English using Facebook pages. In other words, would these NNS’s have the same level of motivation if they are communicating in Urdu, for example, or their level of motivation mainly depends on the language used no matter what is the medium of communication? Generally, it is an interesting topic to explore.

  4. This is interesting question. I believe that those Iraqi students were motivated enough because the content of the language is relevant to their needs. Those are mostly students who already won a scholarships and needed more information on studying in the U.S. This proves the sheltered language instruction which states that integrating languages to content is effective in the learning of a second language. You might apply the model to Urdu and find out on this.

  5. Hi There,
    I got my bachelor’s degree from UC! Your work is very interesting and comprehensive — good luck!

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