Types of Communicative Strategies

Marianne Celce-Murcia, Zoltan Dornyei, and Sarah Thurell (1995) listed down five types of communicative strategies. These include avoidance or reduction strategies, achievement or compensatory strategies, stalling or time-gaining strategies, self-monitoring strategies, and interactional strategies.

Avoidance or Reduction Strategies

Also called message adjustment strategies (Corder, 1981), these include message replacement, topic avoidance, or in instances where a communicator completely refuses to take risks, message abandonment. Non-native speakers of English who are just beginning to learn the language could not say what they want to as they generally have limited vocabulary and insufficient grammatical knowledge. However. since it is necessary to speak the language in order to learn it, they must learn to tailor their message according to their limited linguistic resources. 

Achievement or Compensatory Strategies

These are used to achieve the purpose of communication despite difficulties in conveying one’s message due to the lack of linguistic resources. Compared to the avoidance or reduction strategies, these are used when speakers are willing to take risks in order to communicate their ideas and accomplish their goals for communicating. The most common types include circumlocution, approximation, all-purpose words, non-linguistic means, restructuring, word-coinage, literal translation from one’s native language, foreignizing or pronouncing words using the phonological rules of one’s native language, code-switching, and retrieval (Celce-Murcia, et al., 1995).

Stalling or Time-Gaining Strategies

These are employed when a communicator hesitates or needs more time to express his thoughts and yet wishes to continue the conversation. These involve the use of fillers, hesitation devices, and repetition of one’s own and the other person’s messages. While the over-use of fillers may affect one’s fluency, the intentional and appropriate use of fillers may act as a strategy to gain time while thinking of a response.

Interviewer: What are you planning to do after this?
Interviewee: Well…actually… I haven’t really thought about that yet. But…

Self-Monitoring Strategies or Self-Initiated Repair

These strategies include monitoring one’s own speech and correcting lapses or errors committed during the conversation. It also involves rephrasing or over-elaboration. For instance, teachers often elaborate when they think their students don’t understand what they are talking about or when they haven’t received the reaction they are expecting from their listeners. In this example, a student employs self-monitoring strategies in explaining his feelings regarding homework during vacation:

I hate doing homework. I mean, during weekends, holidays, and summer break, you know? I understand the importance of homework…why we need assignments… projects… but when you’re on vacation or when you’re on a trip somewhere, you can’t really enjoy the moment when you’re thinking of something you need to do… something… some school work you haven’t done yet.

Interactional Strategies

These are similar to achievement and compensatory strategies but while the latter kind is non-cooperative, that is, the speaker makes use of his or her own linguistic resources, the former is cooperative in that the speaker asks for assistance from his or her interlocutor. The following are categories and examples for each interactional strategy.

  1. Appeals for help may come in the form of a direct question such as when the speaker forgets the term for a word (e.g., What do you call…?) It may also be in indirect form such as the use of nonverbal symbols, for instance, giving the interlocutor a confused expression.
  2. Meaning negotiation strategies used to indicate non-understanding or misunderstanding include requests, expressions of non-understanding, and interpretive summary. Requests maybe used to repeat (e.g., “I’m sorry? Could you please say that again?”), clarify (e.g., “What do you mean?”), or confirm information (e.g., “Did you say…?” or “Did I understand you correctly?”). Expressions of non-understanding may be expressed doneverbally or through words (e.g., “I don’t understand.” or “Sorry, but I couldn’t follow you.”) or nonverbally (e.g., blank expression). Interpretive summary may ask what the speaker means by stating how one understands the speaker’s message (e.g., “You mean to say…?”).
  3. Responses include repetition, rephrasing, repair, expansion or reduction of the message, confirmation, or rejection. For instance, you may repeat a word used by the speaker in a rising tone to indicate that you are unfamiliar with the term.
  4. Comprehension checks are demonstrated by answering the following questions:

    Does the listener understand what the speaker is saying?
    (Am I making sense?)

    Is the statement grammatically correct?

    (e.g., How do you say this…?)

    Is the interlocutor listening attentively?

    (e.g., Are you still there? Do you still follow?)Can the listener hear the speaker clearly?
    (e.g., Can you hear me?)