The interview consisted of:
conversation aimed at gathering a range of information about the student and his
environment: family circumstances, activities and interests in school, outside school and
involving the family, about his or her language use, and so on. Taking all the students in
the sample, this section produced, on average, around 125 turns of phrase per student.
section based around an explanation of a well-known popular festival, chosen by the
student. Given the interview dates (between February and May 1999), the majority chose the
lamb festival, while some chose the Carnival and others a Moroccan marriage ceremony.
narrative giving an explanation of the students favourite film or television
A section based
on an explanation of the basic rules of a game chosen by the student
(hidenseek, snakes and ladders, Ludo, a penalty or offside play in
The enacting of
a moral dilemma which the student has to discuss and resolve: You know that one of your
best friends has stolen a valuable object (a toy, a video game, a watch
another good friend What would you do and why?
A section on
reading habits and recollection of books read in the past, in which the student had to
tell us about the last book he/she read or one that he/she particularly liked.
exercise (of the narrative) and activities aimed at evaluating text comprehension and
provision for re-writing the narrative in the students own words.
interview time was around one hour (with extremes of half an hour to one and a quarter
hours) and was transcribed following the principles of the international CHILDES programme
on language learning.
4. Methods used for data analysis
As far as the oral
sections were concerned, grammatical knowledge and oral proficiency were analysed.
elements of grammatical knowledge were taken into consideration:
In all cases,
errors and output were studied. When it came to analysing errors, the oral character of
the study was borne very much in mind, leaving aside elements that are common in the
speech of students of this age. In addition, given that we did not have any objective data
on these elements, only those errors that cropped up with particular frequency were taken
The analysis and
assessment of oral proficiency proved a methodological challenge. After several attempts,
a communication system was devised in the form of an interview, based on a series of
questions and answers, with the aim of gathering information on the student and his or her
experiences. Given this situation, the most relevant unit of analysis seemed to be the UIR
(Unit of Referential Information), which is defined as every piece of verbal output
produced by the student containing a relevant item of information that allows the
conversation to progress. An UIR can be made up of a single word or by complete sentences.
The criteria of relevance was determined by the question, or comment, from the interviewer
which requires a response. Thus, for example, when the Student is asked his or her date of
birth, the corresponding UIR is the complete date. Or, when the Student is asked to
explain a festival, it is hoped that sufficient information is divulged to form a clear
idea of what is involved: perhaps the time of year, the meaning and the key features of
The most obvious
difference in communicative proficiency in the sample lies in the ability to be able to
react appropriately to the situation, providing the information requested. Students who
have just arrived need more help and are less able to provide relevant information than
those who have been in residence for longer.
It would seem,
therefore, that some of the more significant indicators include the number of turns of
phrase needed to complete a single UIR: some students in the sampleneeded four turns of
phrase before they were able to give their date of birth or provide other information. The
relationship between the total number of turns of phrase used by the student and the total
number of information units (UIR) provided shows the students speech density,
and indicates the degree of help they require from the interlocutor to be able to provide
the minimum of information required.
In other speech
situations that require more than just correct data, such as the explanation of a
festival, or of a book, a film or the rules of a well-known game, another important point
of reference emerges that we have termed speech autonomy. This consists of the
ability to link a number of relevant pieces of information in a single turn of phrase.
There are many
turns of phrase containing information that is not considered relevant for the
conversation to progress; for example, simple statements that do not answer direct
questions or full interviewing; repetition of statements made by the interviewer or the
subject, and so on; these, therefore, have not been taken into consideration in the
On the other hand,
other points of reference have been taken into consideration when it comes to
evaluating ability, with regard to subject development, in specific areas of speech that
cause problems or when qualitative elements beyond those deemed to be essential are used