Category Archives: Jaana Suviniitty

Interaction and lecturing in ELF: a final look

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We’re coming to the end of this multi-post overview of Jaana Suviniity’s PhD thesis on the role of interactive features in lectures delivered in English as a lingua franca (ELF) – when English is not a first language for the speaker or listeners. When students rated these lectures on a scale of “challenging” to “accessible”, it became apparent that a major difference between the more or less accessible lectures was the quantity of interactive features. After giving a general overview of her data and findings, I reviewed Jaana’s findings on control acts in ELF lectures. Now I’ll take the two other interactive features she examined – questions and repetitions.

“So what does it mean now?”

The abundance of questions posed by teachers in the more accessible lectures was what first motivated Jaana to investigate interactive features. The overall figures for the six lectures she sampled helped to clarify her first impressions – in total she found the teachers asked 59 questions in the challenging lectures, while the accessible lecturers asked 179. But what kind of questions are they? Jaana started with a broad division between audience-oriented and content-oriented questions.

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Let’s draw some wood cells: control acts & accessible lectures in ELF

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When I introduced the PhD research of the newly-minted Dr. Jaana Suviniitty, I concluded with her main finding – when lectures in English as a lingua franca (ELF) were rated by students as “accessible” or “challenging”, the major difference between the lectures was the presence of interactional features. The accessible lectures which students found more intelligible showed a markedly higher number of interactional features such as questions, repetitions, and control acts. The more challenging, less understandable lectures seemed lack these features.

In this next installment, I review her findings on control acts, one of the most frequently occurring interactive features which differentiated the accessible and challenging lectures. Control acts can be simply defined as statements intended to get someone else to do something. They don’t require a verbal response, but some sort of action, even an internal, mental action such as thinking or remembering. When comparing three accessible and three challenging lectures, Jaana found twice the number of control acts in the accessible lectures (73 vs. 34). In the outlier case of the most challenging lecture, only two control acts were found.

I’ll be focusing on the three most frequent control acts in Jaana’s data – directives, inclusive control acts, and advice.

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Good ELF in English-medium instruction

Note: this is the first in a series of posts reviewing the doctoral dissertation of Jaana Suviniitty, Lectures in English as a Lingua Franca: Interactional Features.

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The early posts of this blog have been dealing with the internationalisation of higher education in Finland, especially with current events in Aalto University. But Aalto’s Business School isn’t the first to switch to English-medium instruction (EMI), and ELFA project member Jaana Suviniitty has been deeply involved with the move to EMI in another division of Aalto – the Dept. of Forest Products Technology in the School of Chemical Technology. She recently defended her PhD, which is based on her work in language support in the early days of an MA program’s transition to English-only instruction.

In addition to providing support to department personnel, Jaana was tasked with evaluating lecturers’ English. To this end, she video recorded 21 lectures by different teachers, of which all but one were native speakers of Finnish. Since English as lingua franca (ELF) interaction necessarily involves speakers who don’t share a first language, only those lectures were included in which at least one audience member was not also a native speaker of Finnish. In addition to Finnish speakers, the students came from diverse first-language backgrounds: Swedish, Hindi, Spanish, Bengali, English, Japanese, Norwegian, Czech, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Estonian, German, Chinese, Hungarian, Thai and Lithuanian – typical ELF.

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