Proficiency, task-type and gender effects on the use of communication strategies: a review
Díez Ibarbia, Paula
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It is safe to say that learners are bound to encounter communication problems, based on a target language (TL) deficiency, during their second language (L2) learning process. In order to cope with these situations, students may resort to Communication Strategies (CSs). In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in CSs. Several definitions have been suggested, none of which has become universal. Moreover, two different lines of research on the use of CSs can be distinguished: interactional, and psycholinguistic. This has resulted in several taxonomies, out of which two have received the greatest attention: Tarone’s (1983) taxonomy –which follows an interactional perspective–, and the Nijmegen project’s (Poulisse et al, 1990) taxonomy – which takes a psycholinguistic approach–. Additionally, several factors have been suggested to influence CS use. This paper reviews research conducted on the effect of proficiency, task-type, and gender on EFL learners’ strategic behavior. Concerning proficiency, two lines of research can be distinguished according to the methodology used: production-based research and self-reported questionnaire-based research. Findings are mixed in terms of quantity and types. While some findings report a lower use of CSs by advanced students, others observed a similar use of strategies across different proficiency groups. As for types, while some evidence points to a higher use of avoidance and first language (L1)-based strategies in less proficient learners, other studies have shown that low proficient learners favor TL-based strategies. Furthermore, on occasions, L1-based strategies’ reduction is compensated with TL-based strategies, although this seems not to always be the case. Focusing on task-type, studies have mainly explored production-based data. Different investigations seem to point that task-type influence CS use, although results for types seem to be inconclusive. Different task-related features have been suggested to influence strategic behavior, for example time constraints or the role of the interlocutor. Lastly, gender has also been looked into though participants’ production and self-reported questionnaires. Three features have been highlighted as regards the relationship between gender and CSs: quantity, choice, and effectiveness. Regarding quantity, two perspectives have been taken into account: interlocutor’s and students’ gender. The former appears to affect CS use while the latter has not been reported to exert an influence. In terms of types, findings seem to be mixed since some studies revealed the use of different categories across tasks while others did not. Lastly, some investigations have shown that female students use CSs more effectively.