Discourse functions in a dialogic speaking test task

and Cecilia Varcasia
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  • Free University of Bolzano-Bozen, Bolzano, Italy
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  • Cecilia Varcasia currently teaches language teaching methodology at the Free University of Bolzano and language acquisition at the University of Cagliari. Her research interests lie in language testing, especially of speaking, and conversation analysis, cross-cultural pragmatics and multilingual communication.
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This paper explores, through the use of the observation checklist and Conversation Analysis (CA), the discourse functions elicited by the dialogic task of the Free University of Bolzano (IT) speaking test. It aims to contribute to content validation, which has been claimed to be especially relevant in paired speaking tests, where interaction is co-constructed by participants. Lazaraton has argued that the investigation of the process of the assessment of speaking competences represents, for todays’ research, a question of almost the same importance as outcome scores. The paper investigates the predictions of the construct through the actual elicitation of functions in the task performance of the test. Results are analysed qualitatively with respect to informational, interactional, and management-of-interaction functions. Some quantitative analysis was also conducted to determine the relative frequency of each function. Outcomes were found to be in line with previous research in the proportion of use of the three different types of functions, informational, interactional and management of interaction. The paper finally discusses the advantages and disadvantages of exploring test content through the lenses of observation checklists and CA, the first providing a general framework in which discourse functions can be outlined, and the second providing a more fine-tuned view of the data and of the complexity of exploitation of each function.

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Language Learning in Higher Education, the journal of the European Confederation of Language Centres in Higher Education, deals with the most relevant aspects of language acquisition at university. It publishes contributions presenting the outcomes of research on language teaching, blended learning and autonomous learning, and language assessment, as well as aspects of professional development, quality assurance and university language policy.