Wait-Time and the Use of Target or Native Languages


  • Judith L. Shrum

    1. Virginia Tech
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      Judith L. Shrum (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is Assistant Professor of Curriculum & Instruction and Foreign Languages & Literatures at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA


ABSTRACT In the second language class, interactions between teachers and students serve as the focal point for learning how to use the language. After the teacher asks a question, students mentally process their answers. They hear the question, decipher its sounds and figure out its meaning and begin to form an answer. How long does it take to answer a question? How long should a teacher wait for an answer? Does it take longer to answer a question in the target language than in English? These are some of the questions that this study investigates.

This article reports the results of a descriptive study of wait-time–the pause for thinking after questions and answers–in selected first-year high school Spanish and French classes. Over 7500 classroom events were recorded and coded in order to measure and find the variance in time of3270 instances of post-solicitation and post-response wait-time. The average durationofwait-time was 1.91 seconds (S.D. = 1.64) after questions; wait-time averaged 0.73 seconds (S.D. = 0.63) after responses. Post-response wait-time in all cases was short and of limited variance, indicating very little time for revision of thought in reaction to responses. Wait-time was significantly longer after questions in the native language.