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Practising negotiation of meaning

How do you negotiate meaning in English as a lingua franca? In this exercise, participants test their ability and reflect on their experience.
© University of Surrey

The following exercise tests your ability to interact and negotiate meaning through English as a lingua franca.

Try to explain one of the three everyday actions shown below. However, you are not allowed to use any of the words indicated. This simulates the fact that, when speaking English as a lingua franca, you need to make yourself understood to others and therefore find ways of explaining things and concepts rather than using the most direct strategy or word.

You may also find yourself making up new words to replace those you are not allowed to use. This simulates the fact that in ELF interaction, some speakers may make use of a different vocabulary, either because of the specific variety of English they have been socialised in or because they do not know the best or most direct way of saying what they intend to say.

You can do this exercise in a number of different ways:

  1. Recruit a friend or family member and let them try and guess what the activity you are describing is.
  2. Record yourself and share the link to the recording in the comments section and ask other learners for feedback. If you’d like to use this method, you can use your preferred file sharing platform (e.g. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive etc.) to host your audio file and then paste the recording’s sharing link into the comments. Alternatively, websites like Clyp provide a platform for you to sign-up, record or upload and then share your recording.
  3. Write out how you’d try to explain these everyday actions within the comments section, and see how creative you can get!

How would you explain…..

How to open a screw top bottle without using the words bottle, hand, cap, thirsty and twist

How to fill a kettle with water without using the words tap, kettle, runs, grab, fill and water

How to pay for an item at a store using cash without using the words purse, wallet, coin, cheap, banknote, expensive, pay and till

When you are finished, reflect on the exercise with the following conversation prompts and share your thoughts:

  1. What was your experience of this exercise?
  2. Which negotiation of meaning strategies did you use particularly successfully or frequently?
  3. Were there any strategies that would have helped you get meaning across more successfully?
© University of Surrey
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