Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Language learners spend a considerable amount of time interacting with other learners in both second and foreign language classrooms. The idea that peer interaction has increasingly been considered as a context for language learning has been matched by a growing body of research examining different aspects of peer talk. Previous literature has provided important insights into varied aspects of learner-learner interaction. Studies from interactionist perspectives often focus on the provision of interactional feedback, output production and modifications in the process of negotiation for meaning. These studies also investigated the attention paid by language learners to language forms. Research from a sociocultural perspective often examines the collaboration among learners in the construction of the language knowledge. However, no comprehensive framework has been established to enable the integration of various features. Recently, engagement with language, proposed by Svalberg (2009) has emerged as a more encompassing concept which integrates cognitive, social and affective aspects of learnerlearner interaction. Nevertheless, as a cognitive construct, there is a lack of a framework with which to identify evidence of engagement with language during peer interaction. This study aims to examine the potential of Halliday’s (1978) systemic functional linguistic theory to provide a nuanced and systematic description of learners’ engagement with language during peer talk.

The findings of this study provide a detailed picture of how a group of EFL Vietnamese learners engaged with English language during oral classroom peer interaction. That is, how they employed the English language to communicate. Their engagement with language was depicted using the linguistic tools offered by the systemic functional linguistics framework. The learners’ engagement with the target language was firstly demonstrated through the structure of their discussion (i.e., generic structure) which was evident during their interaction. In addition, the learners engaged with the process of making meanings (i.e., experiential meanings and interpersonal meanings), thus construing their classroom learning experiences and enacting their roles and attitudes. Genre analysis provided insights into the learners’ cultural ways of participating in group discussion. The analysis of experiential meanings represents their knowledge of the topic and knowledge of language. Both generic structure of their talk and the experiential meanings describe the learners’ cognitive engagement with language. On the other hand,the interpersonal meanings depict both learners’ social and affective engagement with language, that is, how learners initiated talk, negotiated to maintain the talk, and provided mutual support as well as enacted attitudes towards other interlocutors and the talk.

While SFL tools provide linguistic evidence for the learners’ engagement with language, observational notes and interviews offer additional insights into the learners’ group discussions, as well as the factors perceived by them to affect their engagement with language. This study does not only contribute to a new understanding of engagement with language from an SFL perspective, but also offers a model for the linguistic description of this construct during learner-learner interaction. Based on the discussion of the findings, implications for teachers and researchers are provided for the purpose of increasing students’ engagement with language during group work to maximize the pedagogical potential of peer interaction in second language learning.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.