The use of wait-time as a conversational management strategy in second-language conversations

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Successful management of conversations can bind human beings together in linguistic communication. Learning how to manage conversations in a second language is as important as learning the language’s grammatical structures. Among the conversational management strategies commonly employed is the use of pauses to buy time keeping conversational channels open, organize thoughts, or search for a suitable response.

This study described and compared these pauses, called wait-time, as they were used with other conversational management strategies by first- and second-year students and by third-year students engaged in conversations in three different conversational settings: a teacher-controlled conversation setting, a student-controlled planning setting, both in Spanish; and a researcher-controlled setting in English to compare and contrast patterns of interaction in the target language and English. Audio recordings made during the 1986 Virginia Tech Foreign Language Camps were transcribed and coded using a listing of conversational management strategies by Kramsch (1981) and the Observational System for Instructional Analysis IV (OSIA IV) developed by Hough (1980).

The following results were obtained from the study: (a) two kinds of wait-time are present in conversations: inter-speaker (2.41 seconds mean duration) and intra-speaker (1 .57 seconds mean duration); (b) speakers pause more frequently and for shorter periods of time within their own utterances than they do between the utterances of different speakers; (c) advanced Spanish students accord each other longer pauses between utterances than first- and second-year students; and (d) conversational management strategies of taking the floor, linking to previous points and reactive listening were used most as participants gave and asked for information.