The Production of Speech Acts by EFL Learners



    1. University of Minnesota
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    • Andrew D. Cohen teaches in the Department of ESL, Institute for Languages and Literatures at the University of Minnesota. He has published numerous research articles on language teaching and learning as well as books on bilingual education, language testing, and most recently on language learning strategies (Language Learning, Newbury House/Heinle & Heinle, 1990).


    1. Tel-Aviv University
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    • Elite Olshtain teaches in the Schools of Education at both the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv University. She has taught, conducted research, and published widely in the areas of second language acquisition, discourse analysis, ESL materials development, curriculum design, and teacher training.


Descriptions are now available of the speech act realizations of native speakers in given situations and of expected deviations from these patterns in the speech of nonnative speakers. Still largely lacking is a description of the processes involved in the production of these speech act utterances. This paper reports a study describing ways in which nonnative speakers assess, plan, and execute such utterances. The subjects, 15 advanced English foreign language learners, were given six speech act situations (two apologies, two complaints, and two requests) in which they were to role play along with a native speaker. Retrospective verbal report protocols were analyzed with regard to processing strategies in speech act formulation. The study found that in executing speech act behavior, half of the time respondents conducted only a general assessment of the utterances called for in the situation without planning specific vocabulary and grammatical structures, often thought in two languages and sometimes in three when planning and executing speech act utterances, utilized a series of different strategies in searching for language forms, and did not attend much to grammar or pronunciation. In an effort to characterize the speech production of the respondents in the study, three different styles seemed to appear: metacognizers, avoiders, and pragmatists.