Interpersonal encounters for language practicing and language learning.

Building and expanding on cutting-edge research in second language learning from a usage-based perspective and second language interactional competence from an ethnomethodological perspective, the purpose of this project is to move from a dominating pedagogical focus on grammatical knowledge in language teaching to a view of language learning according to which knowledge is fundamentally usage-driven and experiential. The project thus explores the pedagogical consequences of a myriad of empirical evidence that have recently been brought forth in support of a usage-based, interaction-centred approach to language learning and teaching. In concrete terms it will do so by encouraging language students in the bilingual programme (Danish or German and English) in international business communication at the University of Southern Denmark, Sønderborg, to socialize in the community where use of the language is natural and an everyday activity – and by providing the students with feedback on their activities and advice on how to propel them further.

This project combines ethnomethodology and conversation analysis (EM / CA) and usage-based linguistics (UBL) to investigate how intermediate to advanced L2 users talk about language encounters and learning outcomes, how they use the objects of the language encounters (reading material) in the process, and to what extent they develop their linguistic resources to do so over time. The project thus falls within the well-established frame of CA-SLA (Kasper & Wagner, 2011) – but broadens the perspective by also drawing on UBL, a set of linguistic models that find kinship in the assumption that language structure emerges in and through use, and that such linguistic structure is always and everywhere meaningful.

Recent research has substantiated many of UBL’s assumptions, e.g., that L2 learning is an exemplar-based process where L2 users gradually abstract common regularities among concrete recurring expressions and link them in experience as schemata of varying complexity and abstractness (e.g., Eskildsen, 2012; Ellis et al., 2013). The social-interactional situatedness of construction learning, however, is much overlooked. Given the usage-based assumption that our biographies of L2 use informs and determines our L2 competence, with constructional schemata emerging from specific occasions of use (Tomasello, 2003), it is a paradox that the relationship between such biographical history and emergent L2 repertoires remains unexplored (but see Eskildsen, 2011, 2012; 2015; Eskildsen et al., 2015).

Combining CA and UBL the project investigates the usage events which form the basis of construction learning, using out-of-classroom Danish L2 data, recorded by students of Danish at the University of Southern Denmark, Sønderborg. The data consist of audio and video recordings of interactions from a range of different activities with the same students over a period of up to three years. Although the students’ participation in these activities overlap in time, i.e., they may do activity 1 and 2 around the same time in their learning biography, the order in which the activities are presented present some chronological orderliness:
Activity 1: The students get to know other students. The students get together with L1 speaking students from the other language branch of the study programme. They have not been instructed to talk about anything in particular, but have simply been encouraged to do things together.
Activity 2: Service encounters: the students do their everyday business in Danish. The everyday business includes going to shops (incl. asking for directions to get there), buying tickets, setting up a bank account, registrering as member in a sports club etc.
Activity 3: The students invite Danish speaking friends for dinner. They record themselves while preparing the meeting, from agreeing on what to eat, through grocery shopping and cooking to eating. In addition, the students have asked their Danish speaking friends to prepare to discuss up tothree themes (e.g., current affairs, work-related issues, study programme contents, politics etc.).
Activity 4: The students discuss non-curricular texts they have chosen to read, primarily news articles, the primary focus being on the extent to which the texts served as good sources of language learning. Preliminary analyses indicate that in situ discussions about new vocabulary draw heavily on embodied actions as the students use gestures to identify and reach agreement on word meanings.

The students’ activities form part of a larger project formed around on-going attempts to build a social infrastructure for advanced L2 learning in Sønderborg. This is necessary because we know that the students do not take sufficient advantage of having access to the L2 on their doorsteps – andwe know that the students are aware of the problematic consequences for their L2 learning potential. We do this through developing scaffold-building machinery; some high-tech (apps to locate potential conversation partners, an interactive game of language challenges in Sønderborg, a user-driven dictionary for smart-phones) others low-tech (encouraging the students to get together and later to start cooking clubs, asking the students to talk about reading material). Without these opportunities for inteacting, practicing and learning that we organize as part of a pedagogical infrastructure, many of our students do not move beyond basic L2 skills to be employed in recurring, routinized environments of a simple social fabric (e.g., service encounters, talk about weekend plans, agree on going to the movies etc.). In this particular project the focus is on interactional data from the low-tech condition as we examine the L2 speakers’ methods to talk about learning and to ascribe learning-related importance to objects, as well as investigate how the speakers develop these methods, including their linguistic resources, in comparable settings over time.


Ellis, N C., O’Donnell, M. B. & Römer, U. 2013. Usage-based language: Investigating the latent structures that underpin acquisition. Language Learning 63: Supp. 1, 25–51.

Eskildsen, S. W. 2011. The L2 Inventory in Action: Conversation analysis and usage-based linguistics in SLA. In G. Pallotti & J. Wagner (eds.), L2 learning as social practice: Conversation-analytic perspectives, 337–373. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai‘i, National Foreign Language Resource Center.

Eskildsen, S. W. 2012. Negation constructions at work. Language Learning 62, 2, 335–372.

Eskildsen, S. W. 2015. What counts as a developmental sequence?: Exemplar-based L2 learning. In J. Hulstijn, R. Ellis & S. W. Eskildsen (Eds), Language Learning [special issue: Orders and sequences in L2 acquisition: 40 years on], 35-62.

Kasper, G. and J. Wagner. 2011. A conversation-analytic approach to second language acquisition, in D. Atkinson (ed.): Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition. Taylor & Francis.

Tomasello, M. 2003 Constructing a language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.