L2 interactional competence as increased ability for recipient design

Simona Pekarek Doehler, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland

Throughout the past decades, an extensive body of research has provided important insights into the development of a second language (L2) over time. Yet, to date, little is known about how peoples’ capacity to engage in specifically oral communicative interaction is affected in their L2, nor how their ability to participate in such interaction evolves over time. It is only recently that we witness a growing body of longitudinal conversational analytic (CA) research addressing exactly this issue (see e.g. Hellermann 2008, and some of the papers collected in Hall et al. 2011): How do second language speakers use the linguistic resources at their disposal to accomplish social actions in coordination with others? What does the development of interactional competence in an L2 consist of? Is interactional competence simply transferred from the L1 to the L2 or is it re-elaborated in the L2?

In this paper, I address these questions by critically reviewing the empirical evidence provided by existing CA work (including my own work) on L2 interactional development as regards the most central organizational principles of social interaction: turn-taking organization, sequence organization, repair organization, and preference organization. I argue that existing findings support an understanding of the development of L2 interactional competence as involving a diversification of members’ ‘methods’ (in the ethnomethodological sense of the term) for accomplishing social interaction, which ensues in speakers’ growing ability to recipient design talk and to deploy context-sensitive conduct, i.e. conduct that is tailored to the local circumstantial details of the interaction. Because social interaction is based on a minute synchronization and coordination of mutual conduct, this precise tailoring of speakers’ actions to the local circumstantial details of the ongoing course of action and to co-participants’ current expectations, needs and states of knowledge, represents the very essence of interactional competence.