Vietnamese students’use of communication strategies in academic English as a lingua franca
The increasing use of English as a lingua franca (ELF) in a range of contexts speakers from varied backgrounds, 70% of whom are non-native speakers (Statista, 2016) has fuelled interest in the nature of ELF and how best to prepare English as Foreign Language (EFL) learners to effectively communicate in such environments. Communication strategies (CSs) play an important role in communicative competence, but although recent qualitative studies in ELF pragmatics have complemented earlier survey-based, problem-oriented SLA perspectives on CSs, they have focussed largely on casual conversations among highly proficient speakers in Europe. Moreover, while they have investigated various academic domains, informal academic, goal-oriented, out-of-class group discussions have been little studied. In addition, although ELF is context-dependent and thus likely to reflect differences in regions and domains, little is known about how Vietnamese speakers of English use CSs in an ELF environment. This study adopts a qualitative approach to exploring the functions and use of CSs in goal-oriented academic discussions in an Australian ELF environment in order to propose a function-based framework that will translate easily into language training for students in Asia. Multiple data collection techniques were used to investigate the use of CSs by Vietnamese background international students (VISs) participating in goal-oriented academic group discussions at an Australian university. The data comprise ten video-recordings of authentic communication between VISs from different disciplines and their peers (31 native and non-native speakers). Analysis of these was illuminated by follow-up interviews, and a communication questionnaire eliciting VIs’ background and perspectives. Findings show that VISs used a wide range of CSs including repetition, paraphrasing, repair, questioning strategies, non-verbal sources, backchannels, utterance completion, and different topic management techniques as they pursued their discussion goals. These strategies served three overall functions: 1) to arrive at shared understanding (comprehension); 2) to smooth the interaction (interaction); and 3) to enhance the completion of a discussion (production). These overall functions are further refined into the macro functions and micro functions they performed and how they could be realised in the discourse. In this way, a multi-level classification of CSs according to their functions is developed resulting in a function-based taxonomy which allows a clearer and broader view of how CSs actually operate in high-stakes ELF communication. Overall, this study contributes significantly to our understanding of the nature of CSs from an applied perspective. The taxonomy extends the role of CSs so that they are no longer concerned exclusively with solving communication problems and achieving mutual understanding; rather, they are used to both arrive at shared understanding at the lexical level and to progress the interaction towards a discussion outcome at the discourse level. The use of CSs therefore reflects the strategic, pragmatic and discourse competence of ELF speakers. The functional approach taken to their classification in this study thus offers a valuable starting point from which to prepare students in Vietnam or similar contexts in Asia with the strategies they will need to communicate effectively in their future ELF speaking environments.