Content Domain and Language Competence in Computer-mediated Conversation for Learning

Paola Leone

computer mediated communication, language learning, interactional dominance


This study addresses the issue of interactional dominance in Teletandem conversations, in which two speakers communicate via video calls and chat and alternatively use their L2, the latter being the native language of the interlocutor. In particular, the research focuses on the impact of language competence (native/non-native) and content expertise (minus/plus familiarity with the topic at hand) on the role assumed by each interlocutor in structuring conversation. The data consists of 3 hours of computer-mediated recorded and transcribed conversations during 3 meetings: meeting 1 comprises free discussion for mutual introduction; meeting 2 is a discussion in English of a topic chosen by the Italian native speaker; meeting 3 is a discussion in Italian of a topic chosen by the English native speaker. The participants' language proficiency in L2 ranged from upper-intermediate to advanced. The following indicators were considered: sequential dominance, determined by identifying and counting topic moves; interaction dominance, defined in terms of average turn length; interruptions. The research design considers behaviours that are potentially salient for language learning (e.g. clarification requests). Results show no tendency by the native speaker to control conversation flow: neither the English nor the Italian speaker is dominant during events in which her own native language is used. As regards content familiarity, this seems to have an effect when topic knowledge becomes expertise like during meeting 3, when the English native speaker produces more topic moves and longer turns in L2 than her partner.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies