April 18, 2024

Conversation Analysis in Language Learning

by Mateusz Wiącek

Conversation Analysis (CA) is a way of studying how people talk to each other, especially in everyday situations. It started in the 1960s and 1970s as part of sociology, which is the study of how societies work. CA looks at how people use language to interact and how they make sense of what others are saying.

What CA Focuses On

CA is interested in how conversations are organized and kept going. It looks at how people take turns to speak and how they understand each other. Instead of just looking at single sentences or words, CA looks at whole conversations. It’s like zooming out to see the bigger picture of how people communicate.

Where CA Comes From

CA grew out of another idea called ethnomethodology, which says that people use common sense to understand each other in everyday life. This means that we rely on shared knowledge and understanding to make sense of what’s happening around us.

How CA Studies Conversations

Researchers in CA listen to recordings of real conversations. They then transcribe these recordings word for word. By looking closely at these transcripts, they can see patterns in how people talk and interact.

The Importance of Turn-Taking

One key idea in CA is turn-taking. This means understanding how people take turns to speak in a conversation. Even though turn-taking seems simple, CA shows that it’s actually quite complex. People use signals like pauses and changes in tone to know when it’s their turn to talk.

CA in Different Settings

CA isn’t just about casual conversations. It’s also used to study how people talk in different situations, like job interviews, doctor’s appointments, or classroom discussions. By studying these settings, researchers can understand how language works in different parts of our lives.

CA in Language Teaching

CA has a lot to offer language teachers. By analyzing how people talk, teachers can understand how to help students communicate better. For example, CA can show teachers how to help students understand each other and solve misunderstandings.

Criticisms of CA

While CA is useful, some people criticize it. They say that CA focuses too much on how people cooperate in conversations and not enough on the rules of language itself. Others say that CA researchers need to be careful not to overlook important cultural differences in how people communicate.


Conversation Analysis is a powerful tool for understanding how we use language to interact with each other. By studying real conversations, researchers can uncover the hidden rules that govern our everyday interactions. In language teaching, CA can help students become better communicators by understanding how language works in real-life situations. However, it’s important for CA researchers to consider criticisms and continue to improve their methods.

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