Methods of Investigation
To learn how to participate in conversation, you will have
to observe it, ba a part of it, think about it, and learn from your
experiences. Interaction is different than other types of things you learn
in English, such as grammar or writing skills, because there is a limit to
how much a teacher can teach you in the classroom. The question "How do
people interact in English?" has no definite answer. It varies from person
to person, situation to situation. Therefore, you must learn from experience in
your own environment to find what's most useful for you. This means forming your
own questions and pursuing the answer yourself--the most successful language
learners are careful observers. This also means changing your habits in
order to apply what you learn. Only when you can do these things will you
get the result that you want.
These methods are similar to those used by anthropologists to
investigate new cultures. They are also useful for uncovering patterns of
language use. Let's look at an example and take it through the five basic
1. Predict: What do you believe you know about
this type of speech behavior? What do you expect
- For example, have you ever noticed that Americans seem to
give a lot of compliments to each other? Why do they do this? Do
they really mean it? Who should you give them to? Here is an example of
how to pursue an answer to these questions:
expect to find? Discuss your prediction with
your classmates or teacher.
Plan: Where do you think you can observe this behavior or
find this information? You can use
- Maybe you think that, for Americans, giving
compliments is just a habit, like saying "Hello" and they
don't really mean it. Also, you get the feeling women give compliments
to each other more often than men.
observation or your own experience, interviews of
native speakers to find out what they would say or
react, or you can use resources like books or the
3. Collect Data: Go out and get your
information, from different sources if you can.
- To try to find out if your impressions are true, you need
a plan. Maybe you could go to a women's' clothing store at the mall and
listen. Or you could prepare a list of questions about complimenting
behaviors and ask different native speakers. You could even get an
example on tape and ask native speakers how they feel about it from a cultural
point of view. Remember, there are many different ways to look at any
question. What different ways can you think of?
4. Analyze: What did you find out? What
do you think you learned? Did you
- This is where you go out and follow your plan. See
the Warning below. Remember, you may have to change your
plan or try it more than once for it to work.
uncover any patterns? In this step, be ready to
report your insights to your classmates and teacher.
Get their feedback to help you develop your own
Reformulate: This is especially important. How is what
you've learned useful for you? How
- Look carefully at the data you collected. What do
you see? Are there any patterns? Did you uncover anything you
didn't already know? Also, consider why you think the ideas you formed
are true. How did you arrive at your conclusions? If you're having
trouble at this point, you may want to ask your teacher or another native
can you reformulate your own behavior in interaction
to make it more appropriate?
- So now you've uncovered some interesting and useful
information. How can you or other students use it? What should you
do? How can this help you improve your conversational skills?
Warning: This process may not be as easy as
these five steps make it seem. Remember, however, that the answers are
there if you learn how to look. Some helpful advice I can give you
- "Right" and "wrong" answers may not be clear. Different
native speakers have different ways of doing the same thing.
- You may need to investigate the same speech behavior more
than once and from more than one source to get a good idea.
- Collaborate with your classmates and check with your
teacher often. This will help you gather more ideas form better guesses
about what you are investigating.
- Think about how you are looking at or investigating a
question. Is there a better way? Can you look at the same question from
another point of view? This may help you find what you are looking
Check out Discovering
Characteristics of Another Culture for more advice on finding what you're
How can you make contact with native speakers? Try
joining a club. A listing of all of the clubs and student organizations at
UF can be found at Student
Clubs and Organizations.