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First Certificate Speaking: Part 2. Avoiding
"ermmm": Adding coherence to spoken discourse
using discourse markers
by Jonny Frank
- 1

Introduction

I became interested in the use of discourse markers in spoken discourse after conducting a mock test with my First Certificate group. We focussed on part two and the transcripts, which can be seen in the appendices, were almost all lacking in discourse markers. Students can become nervous and freeze at this point in the exam, and, as Hedge observes "trying to produce language in front of other students can generate high levels of anxiety" (Hedge, 2000: 298). Even so, having examined the students' needs, I believe that discourse markers can de-freeze them as it were: from being more coherent to gaining time using discourse "fillers" to overcome their nerves and process their thoughts and language. By coherence I mean the relationships that connect discourse between utterances (Richards & Schmidt, 2002, 85); to stop talking about one photograph to talk about another, without contrast (however) or dismissing previous discourse (anyway), often leads to incoherence. Students tend to under-perform in part two of the FC exam, failing to provide examiners with "[in]adequate sample of language" (FC handbook, 2008: 55). Students are expected to "to show their ability to organise their thoughts and ideas, and express themselves coherently and in appropriate language" (FC handbook, 2008: 55). Due to this need for coherence and clarity, combined with my needs analysis of students, a range of spoken discourse markers is essential so that in the exam students produce adequate language.

Analysis

Thornbury goes as far to say that discourse markers are "not unlike the gestures and devices that drivers make use of to indicate their intentions in heavy traffic" (Thornbury, 2005: 66). One must assume that without them spoken discourse would be directionless and incoherent. Despite this importance, "there is no universally agreed way of classifying discourse markers" (Parrot, 2008: 302), making an analysis of the field challenging.
In part two of the FC speaking students should be "able to organize extended discourse" according to Cambridge ESOL's abridged CEF guidelines (FC handbook, 2008: 87). The discourse markers I use must consider part two of the FC exam, in which one of the four areas of assessment is "Discourse Management (Range, Coherence and Extent)". Those outlined below fit this context:

Discourse
marker
Contrast
Gaining
time
Causal
Dismissal
of previous
discourse
Examples However, on one hand, on the other hand, whereas.. Let me see, I mean, kind of.. Therefore, because, then.. At least, anyway, in any case, anyhow..
Source Parrot: Grammar for English Language Teachers Swan: Practical English Usage
Thornbury: Beyond The Sentence
Crewe: 'The illogic of logical connectors' ELTJ article Swan: Practical English Usage

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