Learner acquaintanceship and oral proficiency test pair-task performance

  • O'sullivan B
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This paper explores the effect on pair-task performance of test-takers’ familiarity with their partner. O’Sullivan (2000a), like McNamara (1996), sees test performance as being affected by a number of factors, related to the test-taker, the interlocutor and the task. Evidence from the psychology literature, and anecdotal evidence from language learners and teachers, suggests that familiarity with one’s partner in an interactive task might positively affect performance, although in the only published study to date, Porter (1991a) found no evidence to support this hypothesis.A group of 32 Japanese learners performed a series of three tasks (personal information exchange, narrative, and decision making), once with a friend, and again with a person who was not known to them. All performances were video-recorded, awarded scores by trained raters and transcribed for analysis. Results suggest evidence of an `acquaintanceship’ effect, with subjects achieving higher scores when working with a friend. However, analysis of the language suggests that there is no effect on linguistic complexity, and that there is a sex-ofinterlocutor by acquaintanceship interaction effect for accuracy.These results appear to support findings in the literature on second language acquisition, which suggest that learners vary their language when interacting with familiar or unfamiliar speakers (Plough and Gass, 1993; Tarone and Liu, 1995), although they contradict the findings of Porter (1991a). Despite its limitations, the results of this study confirm that any test format that employs tasks requiring interaction between individuals is in need of urgent and extensive study.

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  • Barry O'sullivan

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