Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


School of Community and Language Studies


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Terry Williams

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Susan Kaldor


This thesis is a theoretical and empirical investigation of communication strategy use in the receptive behaviour of second/foreign language learners. The investigation is descriptive in design, and seeks to describe the phenomenon of communication strategies both as a constituent of communicative discourse and as a part of that discourse, in inter-relationship with other constituents. The theoretical framework for the research is an interactional one. Description is sought from analysis of the dynamics of communication. The need for a study on communication strategy use in reception lies in the fact that second/foreign language learners see reception as being particularly problematic, and in the fact that very little research has been done in the area of learners' solutions to problems in reception. The thesis concerns itself to define, describe and explain strategy use in reception. The theoretical investigation leads to the definition of communication strategies as: action taken at points in communication where limiting conditions prevail, or where there is distance between speaker and hearer communicative systems which is recognized, perceived as a problem, and which the individual seeks to reduce. The empirical investigation reveals that while this definition indicates the primary purpose of communication strategy use, there appears to be a secondary purpose, which is to manage impressions. Communication strategies are described as issuing from two different responses to communication problems achievement behaviour, where the problem is tackled, and avoidance behaviour, where it is not tackled. In the empirical study, these two responses appear, realized as achievement and avoidance strategies. Explanation for variation in strategy selection is sought from examination of a whole array of factors which operate simultaneously in any interaction. The empirical study finds that selection is related to the way factors operate at three levels. These are: the way communicative systems are used in particular interactions, the social constraints in operation in those interactions, and the personal constraints which are imposed by perceptions, attitudes, goals and capacities of the participants. The research has application to the study of native speaker/non-native speaker role-relationships. It is suggested that achievement strategies maintain the balance of power which usually exists between native and non-native speakers, and that avoidance strategies may alter that balance. There is also application to second and foreign language teaching. Some suggestions for teaching seem to be prescriptive, and to imply that learners should only use achievement behaviour to solve communication problems. This prescriptive approach is seen as unhelpful to learners.