Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Liskin-Gasparro, Judith E

First Committee Member

Fagan, Sarah M B

Second Committee Member

Muñoz, Kristine L

Third Committee Member

Nottingham-Spencer, Bruce

Fourth Committee Member

Plakans, Lia M

Fifth Committee Member

Yarbrough, Donald B


This dissertation centers on the under-researched construct of interactional competence, which refers to features of jointly constructed discourse. When applied to the testing of speaking skills in a second language, interactional competence refers to features of the discourse that the two students produce together; rather than the speaking ability or performance of each person individually. This dissertation describes the construct of interactional competence in a low-stakes, paired speaking test setting targeted at students in their second year of German instruction at the college level.

The purpose of this study is two-fold. First, the study analyzes the conversational resources that are co-constructed in the test discourse to maintain mutual understanding, which is considered the basis for interactional competence. Second, the study examines the impact of task (jigsaw task and discussion task) and speaking ability-level combination (same and different ability) in the test-taker pair on the co-constructed test discourse and thus on the deployment of the conversational resources to maintain intersubjectivity. In that respect, this study also seeks to analyze how the identified conversational resources are involved in establishing and negotiating language ability identities that are displayed in the test discourse.

Conversation analytic conventions were used to investigate the interactional resources that test takers deploy to maintain mutual understanding. The procedures of repair (self-repair in response to other-initiated repair, inter-turn delays, and misunderstandings as well as other-repair in conjunction with word search activities) that emerged from the inductive analysis of the test discourse have broadened the conceptualization of interactional competence in the context of paired speaking assessments.

Frequency distributions of the interactional resources were created to provide a better understanding of the impact of task and ability-level combination on the co-constructed repair procedures. The rationale behind this analysis is the general understanding of language testers that both resources and context influence test performance. The findings from the quantitative analysis suggest that there are more similarities than differences in repair use across the jigsaw task and the discussion task. In addition, even though some trends in the co-construction of repair procedures may be attributed to the higher or lower speaking ability of the test takers, the relationship between the ability-level combination in the pair and the use of repair seems to be rather variable.

Finally, to learn more about the interrelationship between test takers’ speaking ability and interactional competence, this dissertation also approached speaking ability in terms of test takers’ co-constructed language ability identities that are displayed in the test discourse. By means of single case analyses, the study provided a detailed picture of the relationship between language ability identities and the procedures of repair, both of which are co-constructed at the discourse level. The findings from the conversation analysis show that the speaker who provides the repair is usually able to position himself or herself as the more competent or proficient speaker in the test discourse.

Public Abstract

Anyone who plays tennis knows that the ability of one’s opponent—whether matched in ability, a stronger player, or a weaker player—has an effect on the way one plays. Thus, the tennis skills of both players influence the game. The type and condition of the tennis court may also have an effect on the match. Depending on the tennis court and the tennis players, it may be easy to keep the ball in the game. It may also require a lot of effort to have the ball going back and forth a few times.

The influence of the setting and the participants also holds true for interactions in a second language, although the degree and nature of their influence has hardly been studied. This dissertation studies how the task and the conversational partners influence the interaction in a speaking test for German as a second language. What role do the task and the participants’ speaking ability play in getting an interaction back on track when it was going astray? The interactions that two test takers produced in two different test tasks were analyzed to determine what the test takers do to maintain understanding between each other. The findings from this study may help develop appropriate test tasks and rating scales.


publicabstract, conversation analysis, interactional competence, intersubjectivity, language testing, paired speaking tests


x, 345 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 306-324).


Copyright 2015 Katharina Kley