Volume 7 (2016) Issue 1 - Article Utenga, Nyinondi, Mhandeni & Mohamed
JLLT 7 (2016) 1

Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching

Volume 7 (2016) Issue 1 (PDF)

The Role of Input Simplification and Interactional Modification Strategies in the Tanzanian English-Language Classroom

Adriano Utenga (Dodoma Tanzania) / Hashim Issa Mohamed (Morogoro, Tanzania) Onesmo Simon Nyinondi (Morogoro, Tanzania) / Abdulkarim Shaban Mhandeni (Morogoro, Tanzania)

Abstract (English)

This paper presents a classroom-based research on input simplification and interactional modification strategies used by English language teachers to make their oral input comprehensible to their learners. The main objective was to examine the input simplification and interactional modification strategies used by English language teachers in EFL classrooms, focusing on lexical and syntactical aspects of the language. Data were collected from four English language teachers and 183 students from four selected classrooms and a review of English language syllabi in Tanzania. The study was carried out by means of audio recordings, classroom observations and interviews.The findings show that teachers employ different linguistic simplifications and interactional modification strategies in EFL classrooms to enhance students’ comprehension and interlanguage development. The findings further revealed that the use of input simplification and interactional modification strategies is crucial for students’ comprehension and language development. A combination of factors - personal style of teaching, lesson content, methodology, students’ proficiency level and linguistic background - was found to influence foreigner talk (FT) strategies. In the present paper, it is recommended that linguistic simplifications and interactional modification strategies in EFL classrooms be systematically used and streamlined in the methodology of teaching EFL. The authors also recommend that the knowledge of native speakers' (NS) / non native Speakers' (NNS) discourse for various contexts, tasks and addressees need to be explored to establish triggers of FT, and then discover which discourse modifications, if any, actually facilitate foreign language learning.

Key words: Input simplification, strategies, English as a foreign language

1 Perspectives on Input Simplification in the Language Classroom

1.1 Introduction

When teaching English, teachers use different strategies, including different kinds of feedback in second language interaction in order to mould students’ interlanguage and thus assist them to approximate the grammar of the target language (Cabrera & Martinez 2001, Martinez & Cabrera 2002).

In this way, language teachers create an opportunity for learners to acquire or learn the foreign language because the EFL classroom is one of the few areas where English is used for communication. Outside the classroom, English use is limited to areas such as international relations and trade, commerce, the hospitality industry, the media (e.g. newspapers, Radio and TV stations), higher courts of law, and information communications technologies (e.g. Internet services, which are still concentrated in the urban areas) (Rubagumya 1990, Rugemalira 2005) According to the input-and-interaction hypothesis, there is a widespread conviction that input must be comprehended by the learner if it is to assist the acquisition / learning process (Park 2002). As Long (1982) observes linguistics input in both spoken and written modes has to be comprehensible in order to facilitate the process of second or foreign language acquisition.

Thus, several methods have been proposed for making input comprehensible. Among others, these include simplified (input) simplification or linguistic adjustments (Krashen 1985), interactional adjustments / interactional modifications or negotiation strategies (Sarab & Karimi 2008). Simplified input means the use of simplified code by the native speaker (NS) or L2 teacher. Interactional modifications / adjustments, on the other hand, mean that an NS or a more competent speaker interacts with an NNS, and that both parties modify and restructure their interaction to arrive at a mutual understanding (Park 2002). These are the attempts of a teacher / native speaker and a learner to overcome comprehension difficulties so that incomprehensible or partly comprehensible input becomes comprehensible through negotiation of meaning.

With regard to the input-and-interaction hypothesis, several studies (Chaudron 1983, Young & Doughty 1987, cited in Oh 2001, Cabrera & Martinez 2001, Park 2002, Sarab & Karimi 2008, Shirinzarii 2011 cited in Maleki & Pazhakh 2012) have been conducted in different parts of the world, regarding the sources or ways of making input comprehensible so as to facilitate learners’ comprehension and, subsequently, language acquisition or development. The main focus has been on the question of what makes input comprehensible to learners?

The majority of these studies have focused on comparing the results of the three potential sources of comprehensible input (i.e. simplified / elaborated input, interactionally modified input and modified output in interactions). Unlike interactional studies, the majority of these studies have predominantly considered modification of written texts and little on modifications of oral input. Thus, based on these grounds, the present study on investigation of oral input and an examination of individual input simplification as well as interactional modification strategies was carried out in 2013.

1.2 English Language Teaching and Learning in Tanzania

Ever since its independence in 1961, both English and Kiswahili have remained official languages and languages of instruction in Tanzania. Kiswahili is the language of instruction in all public and some private primary schools, and English is meant to be used in secondary schools and higher education. However, this practice is in contrast with the language policy statement which requires Kiswahili to be the language of instruction in all primary education, and English in secondary and post-secondary education (United Republic of Tanzania 1995). This is because the government legalized the introduction of English-based schools for both public and private primary schools in the 1990s (Swilla 2009).

Although the government introduced English as a medium of instruction in secondary schools and above, the teaching and learning of English at these levels has continued posing challenges to teachers and learners of English, leading to an even poorer performance of learners.

Several factors were cited as a source of students’ poor performance in English; these include a lack of appropriate teaching methods and techniques, a shortage of instructional resources, a shortage / lack of qualified English language teachers, a poor teaching and learning environment in the classrooms and a limited home-supporting environment (United Republic of Tanzania 2010, Komba, Kafanabo, Njabili & Kira 2012, Mosha 2014).

However, studies (e.g. Wilson & Komba 2012, Kinyaduka & Kiwara 2013, Mosha 2014) on the teaching of English in Tanzania, which students’ poor English language performance did not pay attention to the actual English language teaching and learning processes in secondary schools in Tanzania. Instead, these studies were, according to Numi (1991), product-oriented in that they tended to focus on the outcomes, such as national examination results and falling standards of English, which were judged in terms of students’ performance in national examinations. Researchers did not investigate what went on during the process of English language learning in the classroom. A relative small number of studies that tackled the practical perspective of the English language teaching and learning process in secondary schools in Tanzania include Mbaga (2015), who investigated classroom practices in order to understand how teachers facilitate learners participation in the lesson as a siginifcant aspect in language learning, and Kapoli (1998), who investigated the impact of teachers’ oral input on the pupils’ written products. Accordingly, the need to investigate the process of English language learning in the classroom is the trigger that motivated the current study.

1.3 Theories and Concepts

Most of the studies about input were considered important during the era of behaviourism. During the era of innatist theories, interest shifted to the internal mechanisms that a learner brings to language learning situations. Learners were therefore viewed as creators of language systems and the language input they received was considered as being of minor importance. With the emergence of social theories in language learning, however, the role of input once again became an area of research interest (Gass & Selinker 2008).

Corder (1967) distinguishes between input and intake in that input refers to a string of information which the learner is exposed to, whereas the intake refers to that amount of input which forms part of learners’ uptake (or is ‘taken in’) and is utilised by the learner in some ways. Gass & Selinker add that “input can be thought of as that language (in both spoken and written forms) to which the learner is exposed” (Gass & Selinker 2008: 305). Gass & Selinker (2008) further point out that the nature of such an input takes the feature of the speech directed towards linguistically deficient individuals, for example, young children or NNSs of a language whereby NSs or L2-teachers make adjustments to their speech in the areas of pronunciation, grammar and lexicon. This is done in order to make input comprehensible.

Generally, studies on input are essentially based on the input hypothesis, developed by Krashen in the 1980s as part of his overall sketch of language acquisition. The input hypothesis is linked to the natural order hypothesis in that it claims that we move along the developmental continuum by receiving comprehensible input. The basic claim of the input hypothesis is that the availability of input, which is comprehensible to the learner, is the only necessary condition1 for language learning to take place - provided that the learner is predisposed to pay attention to it (Mitchell & Myles 2004).

According to the input hypothesis, in order for L2 acquisition to proceed, learners must be exposed to target language data which they can access. This is what Krashen termed comprehensible input. According to Krashen (1985), comprehensible input is the second language input just beyond the learner’s current second language competence in terms of its syntactic complexity, arguing that if a learner’s current competence is i, and then comprehensible input is i+1, which is the next step in the developmental sequence; and if the input is either too simple (already acquired) or too complex (i+2/3/4...), it will not be useful for acquisition. Linked to this hypothesis, Krashen added two further ideas:

    • Speaking is a result of acquisition and not its cause. Speech cannot be taught directly but ‘emerges’ on its own as a result of building competence via comprehensible input. (Krashen, 1985: 2)
    • If input is understood, and there is enough of it, necessary grammar is automatically provided. The language teacher needs not attempt deliberately to teach the next structure along the natural order - it will be provided in just the right qualities and automatically reviewed if the student receives a sufficient amount of comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985: 2).

Despite the significant influence the input hypothesis has had on second and foreign language acquisition research, it was found to have limitations and received strong criticisms from some researchers (e.g. Gregg 1984, Swain 1985, White 1987, Gass 1988). For example, White (1987) contends that incomprehensibility or comprehension difficulties can provide important negative feedback to the learner and is of the opinion that such negative feedback is necessary for L2 acquisition.

Gass (1988, 1997) holds that crucial attention should be given to the concept of comprehended input2 rather than comprehensible input; and as Swain (1985) argues, comprehensible output was no less important for the success of language acquisition than comprehensible input. Moreover, Long (1983, 1996), in his interaction hypothesis, holds the position that input is most effective when it is modified through negotiation of meaning between the interlocutors.

Notwithstanding the fact that Krashen’s input hypothesis has been challenged by a number of researchers (e.g. Long 1983 and 1996, Gregg 1984, White 1987, Gass 1988), it has by far been the most influential theory on the role of input and has had a huge impact on the history of second language literature, providing many valuable empirical studies on input interaction (e.g. Park 2002, Long 1996). In summary, it is now widely recognized that the presence of input is not, in itself, sufficient for successful language acquisition among second and foreign language learners. .

The limitations and criticisms against Krashen’s input hypothesis led to its review and modification by other linguists through the addition of other hypotheses. For example, in the early 1980s, Long (1982) advanced the interaction hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, interaction is seen as a multidirectional source of information, whereby learners are actively involved in modifying the input they get. The more the learners question and rephrase this input, the more it will become comprehensible and useful to them.

The second extended inspiration from Krashen’s work is that of the output hypothesis developed by Swain (1985). Swain argues that a student may be able to roughly understand second language texts while only making sense out of them in part. In Swain’s point, output is what actually compels learners to completely process language forms and thereby develop second language syntax and morphology. According to Swain, this means that the oral output of learners has the function of creating the necessity for them to analyse the target language syntactically.

In short, Swain (1985) argues that in addition to comprehensible input, comprehensible output is also necessary for second language acquisition, and that learners will be obliged, and therefore, making their output more comprehensible if communicative demands are put on them. Swain’s (1985

All the three theoretical claims (i.e. input hypothesis, interaction hypothesis and output hypothesis) have led to extensive empirical work examining the detail of target language input, output and interaction, involving second language learners, and seeking to explain its relationship with interlanguage development. These theoretical claims are also closely related and interdependent: separating one from the other would be difficult. However, the present study adopted and has been guided by the theoretical underpinnings of Long’s (1982) interaction hypothesis.

As established ealier, Long’s interaction hypothesis puts much emphasis on learners’ involvement in interaction. Long (1982) conducted a comparative study between two sets of speakers, one set involving sixteen pairs of native speakers only and another set involving sixteen pairs of both native and non-native speakers. His findings showed that although there were minor linguistic differences in the conversations between the two sets in terms of grammatical complexity, there was significant difference between these two sets of speakers in terms of conversational management and language functions, whereby the set of native and non-native speakers was found to have communication difficulties which did not occur in the set of native speakers only. Therefore the set of native and non-native speakers frequently used conversational tactics such as repetitions, confirmation checks, comprehension checks or clarification requests to solve communication problems.

These conversational tactics, were found to be mainly applied by native speakers to seek clarification from their non native counterparts. These collaborative efforts are quite useful for language teaching (Long 1982) as they struggle to maximize comprehension and enable NS-NNS to negotiate their way through trouble spots. EFL teachers also use these conversational tactics to facilitate learners' language development. That is, they collaborate to ensure that the learner receives i+1, in Krashen’s terms, rather than i+3, or, as the other extreme, i+0 (Mitchell & Myles 2004). Also, as Mitchell & Myles (2004) put it,

Modification of the interactional structure of conversation (...) is a better candidate for a necessary (not sufficient) condition for acquisition. The role it plays in negotiation for meaning helps to make input comprehensible while still containing unknown linguistic elements and, hence, potential intake for acquisition. (Mitchell & Myles 2004: 144)

Given the importance of input comprehension in language acquisition, the majority of current SLA research has tried to identify what is it that makes input comprehensible (or incomprehensible) to the learner, and its role in the language learning process. Of particular interest has been the effect of the input that is provided to learners, the interactions which learners are engage with, and how input and interactions facilitate comprehension and foster SLA (Park 2002).

The use of input / linguistic adjustments (or simplified speech code) is called foreigner talk (FT) when occurring at natural settings and is named teacher talk when taking place in second / foreign language classroom (Ellis 1985, Bruhart 1986).

Input in both spoken and written mode to (NNSs) or L2 learners is modified in various ways to make it comprehensible. Two of these ways as suggested by Krashen (1985) include “the use of context by the learner and the use of simplified input by the teacher”. (Krashen 1985, cited in Sarab & Karimi, 2008: 30)

Long (1983) distinguishes between interactional modification and linguistic modification. The former entails modification of inputs at higher level such as the discourse level, while the latter entails the type of modification identified by Krashen (1985) as simplified input or input modification.

Unlike the two identified ways of making input comprehensible highlighted in the previous paragraphs, other researchers (e.g., Park 2002, Hasan 2008, Maleki & Pazhakh 2012) have considered comprehensible output or modified output as the third way of making input comprehensible. The theoretical basis of the importance of output was first put forth by Swain’s (1985) comprehensible output hypothesis. This hypothesis holds that comprehensible input, interactional negotiation as well as interactional exchanges are all essential in second language acquisition (Park 2002), whereby learners strive to refine their own spoken or written texts.

Therefore, with regard to what or how input is made comprehensible, three ways have been identified:

    • pre-modified input or input simplification, which constitutes an environment characterised by input that has been modified or simplified “in some way before the learner sees or hears it” (Park, 2002:2)
    • “interactionally modified input, in which NS or a more competent speaker interacts with an NNS and where both parties modify and restructure the interaction to arrive at mutual understanding”(Park, 2002:3).
    • “Modified output, in which a learner modifies his / her output to make it more target-like, thereby making it more comprehensible to the interlocutor”. (Park 2002:3).

After having identified the ways of making input comprehensible, in the following sections, we will discuss how each way facilitates comprehension, and subsequently, leads to acquisition or language development. This discussion is based on both theoretical and empirical evidence from studies that have been conducted thus far.

1.4 Input Simplification

It has been noted in section 1.3 that second and foreign language researchers have attempted to identify what it takes to make input comprehensible to the learner by investigating input comprehension in different kinds of linguistic environments.

In describing modifications / simplifications that different speakers make, researchers analyse, in particular, the adjustments to input that are usually made by native speakers of a language during their interactions with learners of that language. That is, the analysis is refers to what is termed caretaker talk or motherese, which is frequently used by adult caretakers or mothers in conversations with young children learning their first language, and to foreigner talk, which is used in conversations with NNS. The paper focuses a little bit more on the latter, that is, foreigner talk .

Foreigner talk (FT) contains linguistic modifications that are believed to make a given message easier to understand. FT may be characterised by short simple sentences, or even bullet-form communication, stylistically neutral high-frequency vocabulary items (idioms and low-frequency vocabulary items are avoided), and regular grammatical forms that are familiar to the learner. Other salient features specific to foreigner talk include a slower rate of speech, a louder volume, longer pauses, more deliberate articulation and a greater use of gestures (Park 2002). These linguistic and non-linguistic modifications found in foreigner talk may ostensibly assist non-native speakers in the immediate comprehension of the message (Cobb 2004).

Similarly, as Bruhart (1986) argues, two aspects need to be borne in mind when discussing what role input modification can play: What is input and how is it modified? With respect to what (target of modification), different linguistic levels of modification have been investigated, namely phonology, lexis, syntax, and higher level discourse.

For example, at the phonological level, it was found that Native speakers are more cautious when talking to non-native speakers (Bruhart 1986). Similarly, at the lexical level, researchers (e.g. Chaudron 1983, Bruhart 1986) found that NS teachers used more 'basic' vocabulary with NNS learners as opposed to NS learners.

Further, in several several studies (e.g. Chaudron 1983, Ellis 1994), it has been found that, at the level of syntax, native speakers prefer shorter utterances when speaking to non-native speakers than they do when speaking to native speakers. They added further that EFL teachers or native speakers simplify their speech in accordance with language proficiency of the learners.

As to the question of how input is modified, two different aspects, namely simplification and elaboration, are involved (Kim 2006, Maleki & Pazhakh 2012). Simplification is defined as “a kind of intralingual translation whereby a piece of discourse is reduced to a version written in the supposed interlanguage of the learner” (Moradian, Naserpoor & Tamri 2013: 133). Publishers of second-language reading materials have made frequent use of this approach. As it has been observed (e.g. Moradian, Naserpoor & Tamri 2013: 133), “simplification has been and is still very extensively used to prepare materials for second language learners” with the assumption that the comprehension of the input depends on how simple or complex the input is at the word or sentence level.

Another aspect of input modification is elaboration, whereby repetition, paraphrasing and apposition are used instead of a removal of complex structures (Chaudron 198). Chaudron (1983: 439) distinguishes between simplification and elaboration as follows. Simplification is more in the linguistic sense (shortening of sentences, artificial simplification of syntactic structures, deletion or regularisation of irregular forms etc.). Elaboration is more in the cognitive sense (building cognitively more explicit speech through redundancy and other clarifying modifications). Thus, elaboration can be viewed more as modification of input that adds redundancy and clarifying elements to the input.

Both simplification and elaboration are said to facilitate second and foreign language comprehension. However, much credit is given to the latter by many researchers since in elaboration, the unfamiliar word / item is not removed, but it is given a word which is well-known or of high frequency of use in appositions. Therefore, through these appositions and paraphrases, the learner has an opportunity to comprehend simplified texts while learning the unknown vocabulary.

Even though the notion of providing L2 learners with such modified input is intuitively appealing, relatively little is known about which type of modification actually facilitates or possibly hinders comprehension. For example, Cabrera & Martinez (2001) observe that not all language features found in teachers speech facilitates understanding. In this regard, there is a desideratum to conduct a study to investigate which features support learners’ comprehension.

2 The Study

2.1 Statement of the Problem

There is no doubt that students in secondary school, who are exposed to English language instructions for the first or second time in their lives, face some difficulties in understanding the subjects taught in the classrooms. Thus, it is common to hear secondary school students complain that they do not understand the subjects taught because their English proficiency is poor as they are used to Kiswahili as the medium of instruction in primary schools. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that English is not widely used as a functional language in communication outside the classroom

The question is what actually takes place in classrooms between the teacher and students - in a situation in which learners have little knowledge about the language of instruction?.The question is even more complicated, given the Tanzanian language learning context where learners have different language needs in ESL and EFL situations because of students' different degrees of exposure to the language outside school and the different roles English plays both within the education system and in the wider community. Linked with studies of input and interactional hypothesis, in which oral input / modification was given little attention than modifications of written input / texts, there was need to examine teachers’ oral input modifications (i.e. input simplification and interactional modifications) when trying to render their language intelligible to form-one and form-two students experiencing English instructions for the first and second time, respective-ly.

Therefore, the current study examines the input-simplification and interactional-modification strategies used by English language teachers to EFL learners. The study also makes an assessment of the roles played by each of these linguistic and interactional modification strategies to enhance learners’ comprehension and language development.

2.2 Methodology

The present study was carried out for form-one and form-two classes in two secondary schools in Dar es Salaam. School A, which is located in Temeke District, was chosen to represent public (i.e. government-owned) secondary schools. School B, which is locsted in Kinondoni District, was chosen to represent non-governmental (i.e. private) secondary schools.

The target population in this study included English-language teachers and students of form-one and form-two classes. The study sample comprised 187 respondents. There were a total number of four English-language teachers from both schools (two from each school). In each school, one teacher was selected from a form-one class and the other one from a form-two class. Among these teachers, three were women and one was a man. Students’ respondents were 183 in total, whereby eighty six were from School A, and ninety seven from School B. Among these students, ninety five were boys, and eighty eight were girls.

The choice of form-one and form-two classes was deliberate and purposive. These classes constitute the majority of students who are not used to English language instructions, with the exception of those who attended English medium primary schools. Thus, the researchers believed that the language addressed to this group in the classroom would be accompanied by input simplification and interactional modification strategies to enable students to comprehend what is being presented by their teachers.

Teachers were selected purposely for observation and the recording of their behaviours / activities during classroom interactions to explore their input simplification and interactional modification strategies as demanded by the study. Students were recorded together with their teachers during classroom interactions. Their views during the interviews also provided useful information about their listening strategies / processes, the problems and the strategies they found useful from their teachers while speaking and interacting with them. Students' interactions with teachers in the classroom and their written classroom activities or compositions revealed their linguistic characteristics and depicted that for their linguistic level, the use of input simplification and interactional modification strategies was inevitable for them to comprehend the language and classroom instructions given by their teachers.

Several data gathering techniques were employed in this study. These included observation, audio recordings and interviews. In the present study, the researchers used two classroom observation forms as observational guides. The first one was specifically designed to guide the researchers in observing input simplification strategies (linguistic adjustments) used by English language teachers in the classroom with regard to aspects of syntax, lexicon and phonology. The second one enabled the researchers to observe teachers’ interactional modification strategies (interactional adjustments) in trying to make their oral input comprehensible to learners.

In addition to note-taking, the researchers also recorded non-linguistic behaviours in a notebook, that occurred during the lessons. These included, for example, students' clapping hands, laughing, a raise of hands before responding to questions, teachers randomly picking students to answer questions, teachers walking around the classroom so as to encourage students to respond, and also the sitting arrangement. The researchers managed to attend three lessons for each teacher in School B, and four lessons for each teacher in School A. This makes a total of six lessons for school B (with two were teachers being involved) and eight lessons for school A (with two teachers being involved). In the two schools, different numbers of sessions were attended due to the availability of teachers. On the average, each observation was conducted for 55 minutes.

Classroom verbal interactions were also audio-recorded, using a high-tech V-25 8-GB Digital Voice Recorder with MP3 to obtain extracts which were later transcribed to analyse different input simplification and interactional modification strategies in the teachers’ talk. Since recording went hand in hand with observation, two classroom sessions / lessons were recorded for each teacher in School B; and three lessons were recorded for each teacher in School A3.

Interviews were conducted to enable the respondents to express themselves in depth with regard to input simplification and interactional modification strategies. Each teacher whose lesson was observed was interviewed for the purpose of understanding his or her knowledge about input simplification strategies and also for soliciting his or her views and opinions regarding the role of input simplification and interactional modification strategies to their learners.

Five students from each classroom were purposively selected and interviewed for the purpose of soliciting their views and opinions on their listening strategies, their possible problems and the question of if they noticed and preferred any strategy used by their English-language teachers while speaking and interacting with them. NThe note-taking technique was mainly used to record the interviews. Each individual respondent was interviewed individually.

The data were analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively. For example, information regarding input simplification and interactional modification strategies were qualitatively presented from observation and interviews through detailed descriptions of key themes. The data from transcribed extracts were accompanied with quantitative explanations through the use of tables and figures showing frequencies and percentages.

Technically, the (audio) recordings were listened to and transformed into written text verbatim. Thereafter, the transformed texts were organised into utterances, using a definition of utterance by Shewan (1988, cited in Crookes 1990), according to which an utterance is “a complete thought, usually expressed in a connected grouping of words, which is separated from other utterances in the basis of content, intonation contour and / or pauses.” (Shewan 1988, cited in Crookes 1990: 188). In the text, utterances are distinguished by double slashes.

Once the transcripts had been organised into utterances, the researchers began to analyse each utterance, searching for features of input simplification such as paraphrase, repetition, apposition, and simple vocabulary. The analysis also involved search for interactional modification strategies, such as confirmation checks and comprehension checks or clarification requests. Then, students’ written compositions were analysed so as to study and characterise their interlanguage. An assessment of the role of the teachers' input simplification and interactional modification strategies in making their input comprehensible for the development of learners’ interlanguage, was then taken into account.

3 Findings and Discussion

3.1 Teachers’ Input Simplification Strategies

This section addresses the first research objective which aimed at identifying input simplification strategies used by English language teachers to make their oral input comprehensible. Under this category, an examination of syntactic and lexical aspects of the language was done.

3.1.1 Syntax

As far as syntax is concerned, the researchers found that the speech used by the English language teachers when talking to students appeared to be simple. This is because, at first sight, these utterances were short. The sample of this study ranged from 688 to 850 utterances (teachers' utterances) in the lessons recorded in the classrooms. The mean number of words per of utterance (MLU) was measured was as follows:

Table 1: Mean Length of Teachers' Utterances

As can be seen in Table 1, the four subjects of this study used relatively short utterances.

Also, there are more outstanding features in Table 1 that need to be depicted:

    • Teacher 1 (T1) used the shortest utterance of all during normal teaching, and through examining students’ particulars; it was found that this group comprised the youngest children (aged from 12 to 15 years).
    • When teachers were telling a story, the utterances became longer as can be seen in T2 and T4 (Table 1). However, T3 showed a different result with respect to this aspect because of her unusual style of segmenting written sentences into two to three shorter utterances in order to enable students to comprehend and drill those utterances. She paused even in areas where there were no punctuation marks. Other teachers (T2 & T4) showed a different approach. They only paused where there were punctuation marks and read full sentences where they appeared to be so in the story. This can be subject to students’ proficiency level, that is, T3 had form-one students while T2 and T4 had form-two students.

These findings are in line with Chaudron's (1983) findings which show that teachers use shorter utterances and slow speaking pace of when teaching.

The teachers favoured the use of simple syntactic structures instead of complex ones by avoiding an excessive use of subordinate clauses, subordinate clauses being rarely used. By studying the examples in the example below, it was found that each teacher always used the same kind of subordinate clause(s):

Example 1: Teachers’ Use of Subordinate Clauses

T1: T1 //If you want to be out, I can say yes! //

//When we are talking about ‘Am I’, you are talking of yourself.//

T2: //If you have already marked it, it's ok! //

T3: //If you know ‘own’, you know ‘possess’//

//If they get them correct, then we are finished with possessive pronouns.//

T4: //When we have many people gathering somewhere, is called a crowd.//

//If the answer is true or false, you raise up your hand.//

Therefore, it was found that these subordinate clauses had become “routines” of the teacher talk because teachers did not intend students to learn these subordinate clauses but just happened to use them in the way of elaborating on other aspects.

In other classes (C3) and (C4), the teachers’ utterances were accompanied by occasional code switching and mixing between English and Kiswahili as teachers were giving different explanations. Each utterance is a mixture of Kiswahili and English expressions, the Kiswahili expressions in each utterance being represented in bold-face, and the English version of each utterance being provided in brackets):

Example 2: Teachers’ Code-Switching

(a) (T3): //naomba mtu atuthibitishie kwenye stori kwamba, the student did not allow the teacher to take the bicycle.//

(I ask somebody to prove to us from the story that the student did not allow the teacher to take the bicycle)

//you come here, kututhibitishia kama kweli, a half minus a quarter equals a quarter.

(You come here to prove to us if really a half minus a quarter equals a quarter)

(b) (T4): //What does it mean? / ina maana gani?//

//sasa sisi tunasema/, helping verb, and main verb// lakini main verbyetu inatakiwa in past-participle.//

(Now, we say helping verb and main verb, but the main verb must be in the past participle)

The findings of this study also reveal that teachers make some Wh-questions by fronting the Wh-words at the end of the English language sentence as shown in example 3 below:

Example 3: Teachers’ Wh-Questions

//Can you borrow what? //

//To blow a whistle means what? //

//They have spoken what? //

// Could you like what? //

Other syntactic modifications presented through omission, expansion and replacements or rearrangements as predicted by SLA researchers were not used by these teachers.

Teachers’ attributes (i.e. sex and educational level) also had an influence on the use of some syntactic simplification strategies. For example, with regard to educational level, teachers of C3 and C4 employed more code-switching, mixing and translations in their utterances (example 2) than teachers of C1 and C2. Teachers in the first group (i.e. C3 and C4 - who were found to code switch more frequently - were mostly those who had a earned diploma level of education; in Tanzania a Diploma is a qualification below the Bachelor's degree, but above a university-certificate level. Teachers in the second group (i.e. C1 and C2 - who were found to code switch less frequently - were mostly those who had earned a Bachelor’s degree. These findings imply that the level of education of teachers also determined the strategy they used. Gender, however, was found to have no impact on the teacher’s use of syntactic simplification strategies.

3.1.2 Lexicon

The findings of this study reveal that teachers frequently used very simple vocabulary. The words were basic to learners because the classroom topics covered aspects and events which are frequently and immediately witnessed by students in their daily lives, for example, describing things / characteristics of different objects (C1), talking about celebrations / ceremonies (C2), describing an accident (C3) and talking about events (C4).

During an interview, students were asked to cite problems which they faced in listening to their teachers. Fourteen out of twenty students interviewed, i.e. 70%, reported that understanding new or difficult vocabulary was their major problem in listening. The other six students (30%) reported that the English language as a whole was a problem to them because of their poor English language background. Teachers were also asked to reflect on the problems that might affect students’ listening skills and then hamper their comprehension. All teachers stated that, among other things, new or difficult vocabulary was a challenge to many students.

The observation of teachers’ lessons, however, revealed relatively few words that could be claimed to be difficult or too technical for students to understand (e.g. confirmation, Good Friday, obviously, to be worn out, spectators or suitor). Even though, for students, many words were counted as difficult or too technical. In relation to this problem of new or difficult vocabulary, the findings of this study revealed that teacher talk was characterised by the occasional use of words from other languages (translations to Swahili), the substitution of items by synonyms and paraphrases, or vocabulary elaborations as shown in example 4 below:

Example 4: Teachers’ Lexicon Simplification Strategies

T1: //These are possessive pronouns, / ni ‘pronoun’ zinazoonesha umiliki//

(These are possessive pronouns are pronouns which show ownership)

T1: // Do you know make-ups? / urembo, ok!

(Do you know make-ups? Adornments ok

T2: // Good Friday/. On that day we are not celebrating because we are sad, / We remember that our Lord was crucified. // (elaborating more about the concept of celebration by showing the contrast)

T1: // When you say ‘pleasure’, it is the same as ‘happy’ ok! / or glad//

However, teachers behaved differently with respect to these alternatives of simplifying the lexicon. For example, when asked to name the strategies they used to simplify the vocabulary, the teachers of C3 and C4 stated that among other methods, like elaboration, and avoiding the use of a high number of unfamiliar words, translating some words to Swahili was inevitable to learners in their classes. This aspect also shows in the teachers’ responses they gave when being asked to give their opinions regarding the use of Kiswahili in their classes:

Example 5: Teachers’ Responses to Code-Switching

T1: As teachers, we need to improve our English and avoid direct translation. I don’t think if it helps students to learn English. We need to give elaborations rather than translate English words to Kiswahili.

T2: I totally discourage the use of Kiswahili in my classes, and even myself, I don’t use it when teaching.

T3: I use Kiswahili because students have different levels of English, and the majority do not understand the language.

T4: Translating to Kiswahili is inevitable because our students do not understand the English language. In reality, we can’t focus on English only without switching to Kiswahili for Tanzanian students.

The teachers of C1 and C2, on the other hand, discouraged the practice of translating English words to Swahili in EFL classrooms despite the fact that all students interviewed (100%) proposed that their teachers should elaborate new or difficult words through translating them to Swahili. Instead, T1 and T2 advised each teacher of English to be as elaborative as possible to make sure that students comprehend the content through the target language (English).

Concomitantly, the researchers developed interest in examining teachers’ code-switching in EFL classrooms when simplifying vocabulary so as to make its acquisition easier for learners. The percentages of teachers’ code-mixing or code-switching were calculated from the first 200 words introduce by each teacher. The results are presented in the following table:

Table 2: Percentage of Teachers’ Code-Switching in EFL Classrooms

As can be seen in Table 2, T3 had the highest rate of code-switching in the EFL classroom, followed by T4. The other teachers, T1 and T2, displayed the lowest (one word in 200 words) rate of code-switching or translating English words into Swahili in their classrooms (also consider the data in example 6 below). These responses are consistent with the findings the from teachers’ answers provided during the interview with the researchers. For example, T3 almost translated nearly half of the utterances that were made in English, trying to simplify her oral input:

Example 6: Teachers’ Code-Switching / Code Mixing

T4: //Yes/, do you know the meaning of confirmation? / kipaimara, right!//

T3: //An accident, / ajali! //

//Today, I witnessed an accident / leo nimeshuhudia nini? /... ajali!

// kwahiyo ‘silent’ maana yake nini? / not shouting, si ndiyo eh?/

Kwa neno moja la Kiswahili ‘silent’ ni? / ...“kukaa kimya!’//

(Therefore, what is the meaning of silent? Not shouting, is it? In a single Swahili word, silent is....?)

T1: // A crowd of people, / tunasema watu wengi //

(A crowd of people, we mean many people).

//ukiwa na ‘speak’, / past participle yake inakuwa nini? //

(When you have ‘speak’, what is its past participle?)

As in syntactic simplification strategies, the teachers’ educational level in conjunction with his or her personal teaching style was found to have an influence on the use of vocabulary elaboration, paraphrases and the translation of English words to Swahili. For instance, as examples 5, 6 and Table 2 show, the teachers of C3 & C4 displayed a greater percentage of code-switching and translation of English words to Swahili than their counterparts (T1 & T2).

3.2 Teachers’ Interactional Modification Strategies

Another communicative strategy employed by the teachers in this study to make their input more comprehensible for FL learners was the modification of learners’ utterances. In the transcripts, the modification of learners’ utterances took the form of paraphrasing or adding information to what the learners had said. Here, it was found that the teachers tried to put the learners’ utterances into the appropriate form. In other words, the teachers cited the students' model utterances and transformed them into their appropriate form by paraphrasing and / or adding new information (e.g. grammatical function(s)) to the preceding utterances, as in example 7 below:

Example 7: Modification of Learners’ utterances

(C1) Teacher: What did we learn last period?

Student: To make questions!

Teacher: How to make questions!

(C2) Teacher: What is taking place during some different celebrations or parties?

Student: Eating!

Teacher: Yes, people are eating, kind of a buffet, serving yourselves.

(C3) Teacher: This is called a purse /pɜ:s/. Say purse!/ /pɜ:s/.

Students: Purse! /pɑs/

Teacher: Not purse, /pɑs/ purse! /pɜ:s/

Students: That’s correct.

(C4) Students: Crowd!

Teacher: Yeah. This means a large number of people in one place, right?

These examples show how the four subjects expanded the learners’ utterances. However, as has been witnessed in other strategies, teachers also did not behave consistently as a group in using modifications. They used significantly different numbers of modifications of learners’ utterances, as shown in Table 3 below:

Table 3: Number of Learners’ Utterances Expanded by each Teacher

As can be seen in Table 3, these expansions were determined by the teachers' personal teaching style and the respective content of the lesson. The occurrence of many expansions for Teacher 2, for example, was due to the use of a student-centred approach, as opposed to Teacher 4, whose lesson was structured in such a way that chances for students to speak were reduced.

3.3 The Role of Input Simplification and Interactional Modification Strategies

In this section, an examination of the role of teachers’ input simplification and interactional modification strategies will be presented. This aspect addresses the third research objective as stated in Section 2. To arrive at this goal, data were obtained through a combination of classroom observation, interviews and the examination of transcripts.

3.3.1 Syntax

With regard to syntax, for example, in this study, it was found found that teachers used simple and short utterances accompanied by a lot of pauses. They avoided subordinate clauses, and some used occasional switches and mixings between Kiswahili and English. Through an observation and examination of teachers’ transcripts, the use of simple, shorter utterances, accompanied by a lot of pauses, was found to be done deliberately by the four teachers for the purpose of enabling students to comprehend and to make a follow-up on what was being presented. Simple and short utterances, accompanied by a lot of pauses, were found to facilitate students’ easier processing, retrieval and understanding of the intended message.

Above all, this practice was found to be going hand in hand with students’ proficiency level and their linguistic background. That is, in form-one classes, teachers' utterances were found to be shorter as compared to their fellow counterparts, as shown in Table 1. In appealing to the researchers’ question which inquired teachers to explain the role of their use of simple and short utterances, the following were some of their arguments:

Example 8: Teachers’ Responses to Their Use of Simple and Shorter Sentence

T1: To build a long term memory in their minds and then comprehension.

T2: It helps them (students) to understand the subject.

T3: To ensure comprehension since students have a poor level of English.

T4: To ensure comprehension and class participation.

In addition, through classroom observation and a thorough examination of the transcripts, occasional code switching and mixing between Kiswahili and English, as shown in example 2, was done for the purpose of making students comprehend the topic or question addressed. Also, it was found that this tendency of switching was employed so as to emphasise and boost the flow of conversation between the teacher and his or her students. This was built on the grounds that teachers found their students unable to comprehend them fully through English.

3.3.2 Lexicon

Under this aspect, the findings have shown that teachers used simple and basic vocabulary, gave elaborations to some words and also simplified the input through translating words into Kiswahili. Through classroom observation and an examination of the transcripts, lexical simplification strategies were found to be employed for the sole purpose of ensuring that students comprehend the topic under discussion.

It was also found that the use of different lexical simplification strategies was influenced by the fact that students at this level comprehended content from the meanings of individual words, not from the whole utterances as done by adults. Some of these strategies, such as vocabulary elaboration or paraphrases and the use of synonyms, were found to be highly useful for students to build their own lexicon and learn through the target language. This is shown in example 9 below:

Example 9: Teachers’ Vocabulary Elaboration

T1: //Wave, you do like this / (demonstrating), as if you are saying goodbye, / it is one way of greeting people. //

T1: //Crowded, means having large number of people. / When we have many people gathering somewhere is called a crowd. //

T3: //Good Friday/. We remember the day our Lord was crucified. //

T4. //When you say pleasure, this is the same as happy, ok! / or glad!//

Unlike other factors, such as the teachers' teaching style, students’ linguistic level and background knowledge, were found to be the major factors for the teachers’ use of various lexical simplification strategies. For example, in their interviews, T3 and T4, explained that their students had different linguistic and education backgrounds hence the use of Kiswahili for some words (i.e. translating) was inevitable to make their students comprehend, as the majority did not understand English (Example 5).

The study findings also show that code-switching and / or translation into Kiswahili were also found to play other roles (in square brackets), such as giving and clarifying instructions for classroom activities, putting emphasis and giving additional instructions, and checking for students' understanding and as shown in Example 10:

Example 10: Different Roles of Teachers’ Translation in EFL Classrooms

T3: //naomba mtu atuthibitishie kwenye stori, / kwamba the student did not tell the teacher to take the bicycle. [emphasis and additional instructions[)

(I want someone to prove to us from the story that the student did not tell the teacher to take the bicycle.)

T3: //Today, I witnessed an accident, / leo nimeshuhudia nini /...ajali! // [repetition and emphasis[

T3: //I want you to remember, / accident ni nini? / .....ajali! // [emphasis[

(I want you to remember, what an accident is...)

T2: //crush maana yake nini? / pondaponda si ndiyo eh! [direct translation[

(What is the meaning of the crush?...grind, is it?)

However, in this study, it was also found that code-switching played a negative role in students' comprehension and learning of the target language. Through classroom observations, in classes in which Kiswahili was widely used (e.g. C3 and C4), it was found that this tendency hindered students’ creativity since they also responded and interacted with their teachers in Kiswahili. Code-switching also cultivated a habit of fear among students when trying to respond in English, unlike in other classes (G1 and G2), where students actively interacted with and responded to their teachers in English.

3.4. The Role of Interactional Modification Strategies

The modification of learners’ utterances was also found to be an important interactional strategy to enhance students' comprehension and interlanguage development. An examination of the transcripts and classroom observations showed that the modification of the learners’ utterances was of high potential for EFL learning. It was found that such modifications were used to correct students' pronunciation and grammar. Through this form of recast, the students were also given the chance to reformulate their utterances in an appropriate form. The modification of students' utterances was therefore found to have a positive impact on their comprehension and interlanguage development because teachers demonstrated to students how their utterances were encoded by native speakers of English (Example11):

Example 11: The Role of Expanding Learners’ Utterances

C3: Teacher: What did we learn last period?

Student: To make questions!

Teacher: How to make questions!

C1: Student: Excuse me aunt, can you give your bag?

Teacher: Can you give me!

Student: Can you give me your bag?

C2: Teacher: What is taking place during some different celebrations or parties?

Student: Eating!

Teacher: Yes, people are eating, kind of a buffet, serving yourselves.

This finding is similar to Hasan's (2008), who commented that modification has the potential for language acquisition since modifications that restate learner’s utterances may enhance their syntactic development by providing new or alternate language acquisition.

Teachers’ modifications of learners' utterances were also found to be done by giving more elaborations and explanations to the concepts discussed so as to enable students to learn more about these concepts (Example 11c). In connection to this, Hasan (2008) argues that modification is used to adjust and evaluate the learners’ responses and, in consequence, to make teacher-student interaction more comprehensible. He adds that in this sense, such modifications can be considered as some sort of a repair strategy of incomplete responses. And this sort of formulation is usually used for negotiation of meaning, and it helps in the development of learners’ utterances.

Considering the information presented, the findings indicate that teachers simplify input through various linguistic features so as to make their oral input comprehensible to EFL students. They use simple and short utterances accompanied by numerous long and short pauses; they use occasional code switching and mixing between languages and avoid overusing subordinate clauses. Also, simple, basic and frequently used words accompanied by direct translations and vocabulary elaborations or paraphrasing were witnessed.

Lexical features were found to enable students to comprehend the given topic and build their own lexicon via vocabulary elaboration. In addition, code-switching and translating, as lexical simplification strategies, were found to be used for clarifying instructions, for emphasis, checking students' understanding. However, code-switching and translating were also found to hinder students’ creativity and cultivated a habit of fear among students to respond in the target language.

4 Recommendations

In this section some recommendations based on the findings and the discussion presented in Section 4, are presented.

Teachers should avoid, or at least reduce, code-switching and direct translation of English words to Kiswahili by trying to employ input simplifications and input elaborations in the target language. Our findings have shown that excessive code-switching and translation are not helpful for foreign language learning.

Teachers should employ student-centred approaches and teaching methods, which give students more chances to exercise what they hear from their teachers and peers. Through interaction (negotiation of meaning), students’ interlanguage is tested, and they have direct or indirect chances to correct their errors.

While it seems to be generally agreed that the learner’s linguistic environment represents an important aspect of the acquisition process, it seems that teachers are not aware of the linguistic adjustments they make with their foreign language students; neither do teacher training curricula address input and interactional adjustments and the types of lessons which affect them. Therefore, we also recommend these adjustments to be taken into teacher trainings. Despite that, the variations in the teachers’ use of adjustments in this study suggest that some teachers may have an intuitive ability to fine-tune their lesson activities so as to promote discourse patterns to suit the language learners’ needs. However, other teachers may need to be taught how to do so optimally.


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Adriano Utenga

Assistant Lecturer

University of Dodoma

School of Humanities

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E-mail: adriano.utenga@udom.ac.tz

Onesmo Simon Nyinondi

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Sokoine University of Agriculture

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Abdulkarim Shaban Mhandeni


Sokoine University of Agriculture

College of Social Sciences and Humanities

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Hashim Issa Mohamed, PhD

Senior Lecturer

Sokoine University of Agriculture

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1 Krashen originally claimed that comprehensible input alone was both necessary and sufficient for SLA. Later on, after criticisms, comprehensible input has been held to be a necessary, though not a sufficient condition for SLA (Long 1983, Krashen1985, Park 2002).

2 Gass (1988, 1997, cited in Park 2002) distinguishes comprehensible input from comprehended input. The former implies that the speaker controls comprehensibility, whereas in the latter, the focus is on the learner and the extent to which the learner understands.

3 The variation of recording in the two schools resulted from the fact that the audio recorder developed a technical problem before finishing a third recording for school B. In order to have a balanced data from teachers in the two schools, only two audio recording from each teacher were analysed from each school.