Coherence and understanding in informal conversations between native and non-native speakers of English

  • Muna Morris-Adams

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study investigates informal conversations between native English speakers and international students living and studying in the UK. 10 NNS participants recorded themselves during conversations with native speakers. The audio-recordings were transcribed and a fine-grained, qualitative analysis was employed to examine how the participants jointly achieved both coherence and understanding in the conversations, and more specifically how the NNSs contributed to this achievement. The key areas of investigation focused on features of topic management, such as topic initiations, changes and transitions, and on the impact which any communicative difficulties may have on the topical continuity of the conversations. The data suggested that these conversations flowed freely and coherently, and were marked by a relative scarcity of the communicative difficulties often associated with NS-NNS interactions. Moreover, language difficulties were found to have minimal impact on the topic development of the conversations. Unlike most previous research in the field, the data further indicated that the NNSs were able to make active contributions to the initiation and change of topics, and to employ a range of strategies to manage these effectively and coherently. The study considers the implications which the findings may have for teaching and learning, for second language acquisition research, and for non-native speakers everywhere.
Date of Award2008
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSue Garton (Supervisor) & Keith Richards (Supervisor)


  • NS-NNS
  • interactions
  • topic management
  • side-sequences
  • conversational coherence
  • understanding intercultural communication

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