An exploration of the nature of the discourse negotiated between nine primary five candidates and their respective examiners in the Picture Conversation task: production or reproduction?

Yeo Young Muay

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 2004


In the field of language testing, increasing emphasis is being placed on the communicative approach where active knowledge of language is seen in the context of actual use. It is in this informed view of language teaching and testing that the present study is conceived.

The study looked at the performance-based oral component of the English Language examination at the primary level, and specifically the Picture Conversation test task at the Primary Five EM2 level. Three teacher-examiners were involved in the test task with nine pupil-participants, yielding a total of nine Picture Conversation texts which were then subjected to conversation analysis. Essentially therefore, qualitative tools were employed in a process-based research involving empirical data. In addition, the study gained a quantitative dimension through survey data collected from sixteen upper primary English teachers and the three pupil-participants.

The study aimed to identify the speech event specific to the Picture Conversation discourse which would in turn address the issue of whether the resulting discourse is an act of production or reproduction and whether the test task is a form of communicative language testing. An informed understanding of these aspects of the test will benefit test-developers and users alike in working towards a closer alignment between teaching and testing in the context of communicative approach. As yet, these areas have not been actively explored in the local context.

At this preliminary level, resulting findings have raised concern in the areas of test-wiseness and washback, along with a mismatch between the intended (a conversation) and the realized (a hybrid between an interview and a classroom discourse) in the Picture Conversation discourse.