An ELT Glossary : Communication Strategies/Coping strategies



By definition, someone learning a foreign language will not be fully proficient in that language. There will be many linguistic items, lexical and structural, which they do not yet know, and even if they are known may still be part of receptive rather than productive competence - ie they will be understood when encountered in speech or writing, but may not come spontaneously to mind when the learner is attempting to express his or her own ideas. Similarly, when listening or reading s/he may come across items which are unknown

In order to compensate for this, the learner can use communication strategies (also called coping strategies) to "fill the gaps". These include eg :


  • circumlocution strategies : when the learner cannot think of the specific word /he wants to use, s/he can explain it - eg, It's the thing that you put on a horse's back when you ride.
  • avoidance strategies : an idea can be expressed more simply - eg instead of I'd have gone if I'd known, a learner who was unsure of the formulation of the third conditional structure might say I didn't know so I didn't go
  • asking for clarification : if a speaker uses an unknown word, the learner may ask "What does XXX mean?"


More from the Notebook

Developing CIrcumlocution Strategies