Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Misunderstanding during instructional communication as related to oral proficiency

Lizette de Jager, Rinelle Evans


This article explores misunderstandings identified in an instructional context where oral communication is the primary form of communication and focuses on the teacher as sender of the message. Although the misinterpretation of the teacher’s oral message may reside with the receiver, the speaker’s inaccurate expression may also cause misunderstanding. Data were collected through video recorded observations of authentic lessons presented by 26 pre-service teachers using English second language as the medium of instruction in the classroom. Misunderstandings were identified and described in terms of their occurrence, nature and frequency. Participants’ oral proficiency in English was rated using the International English Language Testing Score (IELTS). Focus group interviews helped gauge participants’ awareness of the occurrence of and reasons for misunderstandings. Findings indicated that misunderstandings chiefly resulted from the student teachers’ poor oral proficiency and inadequate speech act realisation patterns, indicating a lack of pragmatic awareness. Research to improve practice within the teaching and learning context needs to be ongoing since pre-service teachers should have a solid command of the language of instruction prior to embarking on their teaching careers. Teacher education programmes that focus on offering language support to prospective teachers may limit misunderstandings in multilingual instructional contexts.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2013, 31(1): 97–110
AJOL African Journals Online