Posted by: Jason | April 14, 2013

Transactional and Interactional Speaking

Hello everyone, I hope that you are all fine and dandy. I’ve just spent a lovely day at the Fukuoka zoo with my family and I’m feeling very well. Spring has certainly arrived and I’m loving the warm weather.

As some of you might know, I belong to a group called JALT ( which stands for the Japan Association for Language Teaching. It’s a group for language teachers, such as myself, to come together and share ideas and techniques. I find it very interesting.

Last night, we had our monthly meeting and our presenter, a Mr. Alun Roger of Sojo University was speaking about testing Interactional speaking. Now, that talk was a bit technical and not really all that necessary for you guys. I don’t think you need to know about statistical modelling of testing. I don’t think I need to know about statistical modelling of testing. But, something very interesting came out of the talk and that is the difference between what is termed transactional and interactional speaking.

The difference between the two is this: in transactional speaking, you and the listener or listeners are trying to share information in as efficient way as possible. Think of calling the bank. When you call your bank on the telephone, you want specific information – say the amount of money in your savings account. You ask very direct questions and there are many social rules in this conversation. You wouldn’t ask the other person about the weather, for example. That would be very strange and would be breaking the social rules of this conversation. You and the other people in the conversation stay on topic and when that topic is finished, you end the conversation, usually.

By interactional speaking, we are looking at casual conversation. Two or more people sitting around chatting about many things. The rules are completely different in this style of conversation. Topics will change very often, a conversation that starts about the weather might move into sports and then into current news before ending. There are still many social rules in this type of conversation, but the rules are very different.

In interactional speaking, we use many rejoinders, such as, “Really?” or “Oh no!”. We often interrupt each other, where one person will stop the other person from speaking by asking a question. In transactional speaking this would be very rude and is generally not done. That sort of thing.

What this Means for You

Ok, I’ve written quite a lot there and by now you are probably thinking, “so what?” You know that different social situations need different ways of speaking. But, when you study on your own, do you ever examine what you are looking at?
Quite a lot of textbooks do one type of speaking or the other, but they never really tell you which is which. And, quite often in classrooms, when we are trying to practice interactional speaking, we often use transactional patterns. For example, this is something I’ve had happen to me many, many times on the street:

Young person: Hello! What’s your name?
Me: My name is Jason McDonald.
Young person: Where are you from?
Me: I’m from Canada.
Young person: What color do you like?
Me: Ummm. Yellow.

This isn’t an interactional conversation. It’s an interview. A is asking questions and B is responding. There’s no back and forth. The topics do not link to each other at all. It’s just questions and answers. The student has never been taught how to take the language that he or she knows and use it in a way that sounds natural because in the classroom all he or she ever does is this sort of interview style.

When you are in class or practising English somewhere else, pay attention to the social cues of conversation. You never want to just interview someone. That’s not very friendly and it can be quite impolite. When you are looking at your textbooks, look at how the conversations work. How do the different people in the conversations move the conversation back and forth?

Well, that’s all for today. I hope you’ve learned something new. Now, go out there and enjoy the warm weather.


  1. i just really wanna say thank you, it helps a lot to do my english report about this, youre a blessing 🙂 thank you so so so much

  2. thanks :>

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