Foreigner Talk vs. Caretaker Talk | TESL Issues

Foreigner Talk

Foreigner Talk

The three functions of foreigner talk can be identified:

  • It promotes communication through simplifying utterances and making them easier to process or clarifying what has been said (Hatch, 1983).
  • It signals, implicitly or explicitly, speakers’ attitudes towards their interlocutors. It can create an affective bond between the native speaker and non-native speaker.
  • It teaches the target language implicitly. It is implicit because the native speakers do not usually have any pedagogic intent in interaction.

Meisel (1980) suggested that there are two types of simplification: restrictive and elaborative. Restrictive simplification serves the purpose of achieving an optimal result in communication, while elaborative simplification occurs when learners are trying to complixify their interlanguage system.

Foreigner talk, compared to caretaker talk, has fewer yes/no questions. In the case of grammatical FT, three processes are evident: simplification, regularisation and elaboration.

An interesting question is how native speakers come to be able to adjust the level of their FT to suit the level of individual learners. Hatch (1983) considered three ways:

  • Regression: native speakers move back through the stages of development that characterised their own acquisition of language until they find an appropriate level.
  • Matching: native speakers assess a learner’s current interlanguage state and then imitate the forms they observe in it.
  • Negotiation: native speakers simplify and clarify in accordance with the feedback they obtain from learners in communication with them.

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