Confirming the value of confidence in L2 communication.

by ideaslanguagetech

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The project
‘Autocues for Language Learning’  (click on the link for details) aims to prepare students at 3rd year undergraduate level for their end-of-year oral exam, familiarize them with current affairs, and develop research autonomy.

After developing the project for 3 years, a transferable end-product was finally created, integrating and highlighting employability. The feedback for the project emphasized how much confidence the students gained from the methods used. In the pressured environment of a film studio where they are put on the spot,  they had the visual support of autocues to help them accurately convey their initial presentation. Once they had read the presentation from the teleprompter they seemed to transfer the confidence they had acquired to the post-presentation discussion with their  classmates.

The dynamics reflected in their feedback comments was that reading from the teleprompter helped them build confidence prior to ad-libbing questions and answers. It could be inferred that the time spent supported by autocues enabled them to get used to the pressure of the environment, without the fear of making mistakes in a non-native language, and they garnered enough confidence to talk unaided by the support of the autocues when the time came to do so.

As noted by Clement in his article Motivation, Self-Confidence, and Group Cohesion in the Foreign Language Classroom. Language Learning 44:3, September 1994, pp. 417-448,  ” […] a self-confidence process becomes the most important determinant of an attitude and effort expended toward L2 learning.”

Self-confidence is the extroversion of a person’s identity, and leads to communication acts that propose an affective or intellectual binding with the interlocutor. Low self-confidence is the result of  reinforcing existing doubts and compounds introversion into degrees of alienation from the interlocutor.  These factors become exaggerated or amplified by classroom dynamics, and can occur as a result of them. When students are put on the spot in front of their classmates the attributes of confidence are exacerbated. This important paradigm will be examined in more detail in a subsequent analysis and comparison of different classroom settings.

Tied into the improvements of L2 learning and production brought about by increased self-confidence is the increased semantic value of the discourse that a confident L2 learner will produce.  On a purely linguistic level we can turn to Emile Benveniste’s theory of pronominal reciprocity to theorize the basic concept of reciprocity between speaker and interlocutor, as quoted by Brandt in his chapter “Enunciation: Aspects of subjectivity in meaning construction” :

” I use I only when I am speaking to someone who will be a you in my address. It is this condition of dialogue that is constitutive of person, for it implies that reciprocally I becomes you in the address of the one who in turn designates himself as I. Here we see a principle whose consequences are to spread out in all directions. Language is possible only because each speaker sets himself up as a subject by referring to himself as I in his discourse. Because of this, I posits another person, the one who, being, as he is, completely exterior to “me,” becomes my echo to whom I say you and who says you to me.”

If the use of ‘I’ invokes a corresponding ‘You’ via the mirroring of the semantic fields of both speaker and interlocutor, we can also infer that the qualities of the speaker’s discourse are responded to by the interlocutor’s semantic field. If the speaker’s enunciation is produced with enthusiasm and confidence, the interlocutor will respond in a similar manner, unless he is being very contrary, in which case he will have to interpret a semantic field influenced by confidence to respond in a uncommitted or introverted way. At any rate the speaker’s confidence will project the message more forcefully, and thereby potentially make the interlocutor reciprocate with similar confidence, whether it be transformed into a negatively charged or contradictory statement guided by prior assertions, or reciprocated into constructive dialectics.

In Manfred Clynes, Emotion: theory, research and experience. Volume 1: Theory of emotions he termed the scientific study of dynamic emotional communication sentics. He goes on to talk about the reciprocal nature of essentic forms:

” The nervous system appears to be programed in such a way as to be able to both produce and recognize these forms precisely (one of these sentics is auditory patterns, see Bentley & Hoy, 1974). . They thus represent windows across the separatin between individuals and allow contagion of emotion to take place, and they provide emotional understanding of one another.”

At a psycholinguistic level it would be relevant and interesting to investigate how neurone pathways are influenced,  from reception by the auditive faculty to the processing of the semantic information, by more or less confident speech. At a very basic level though we can easily construe that self-confidence brings about enunciatory ease in the speaker, and produces a clearer response from the interlocutor, whether it be positive or negative.

At any rate, the following diagram might go some ways into clarifying the cycle of communication between speaker and addressee, and give an idea of the potential impact of self-confidence in speech production:

The constant communication in conversation

As shown in Mass Media & Society, edited by Alan Wells, Ernest A. Hakanen.

 If you imagine that any of the qualities of the field marked ‘Interpreter’ will inevitably be encoded  and transferred to the message that will subsequently be decoded by the addressee, then it is clear that the attribute ‘Interpreter/ Self confidence’ will produce a brighter message. Whilst it may not always be correct in the context of L2, it will have the attribute ‘Communicative’, because the speaker is not being inhibited.

 Whereas the feedback forms and performances from students completing the project ‘Autocues for Language Learning’ indicated that confidence was an important factor in L2 production, the underpinning theory of the cycle of communication and its application to confidence issues has made me think of another important issue. From the above diagram one may also understand that an instructor’s self-confidence will have an effect on the student, and whilst this is most desirable in a traditional classroom setting, the pressure on the instructor to be confident is perhaps coveted less directly in projects that are underpinned by students’ self-motivation and research autonomy.