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Goh, C. C. M., & Ho, G. L. J. (2009). Talking beyond the here-and-now: Singaporean preschoolers' use of decontextualized language. In R. E. Silver, C. C. M. Goh, & L. Alsagoff (Eds.), Language learning in new English contexts: Studies of acquisition and development (pp. 32-54). London: Continuum.
Decontextualized oral language skills enable individuals to communicate clearly and explicitly with interlocutors who share limited background knowledge (Snow, 1991). It is a linguistic ability that is valued highly in formal education systems. Some researchers have argued that preschoolers’ ability to use decontextualized oral language can provide an indication of their potential success in school (Snow, Tabors, Nicolson, & Kurland, 1995). This chapter reports a study that examined decontextualized oral language skills of three preschoolers when performing two oral tasks in English – picture description and story narration. These skills are examined according to three criteria: grammatical accuracy, cohesion and coherence, and vocabulary. The study also explored whether oral interaction between parent and child during shared book reading was a factor in the children’s decontextualized language abilities. The results showed that the three children, who came from similar socio-economic and language backgrounds, had rather different abilities. Their acquisition of Standard English syntax was also observed to lag behind English children of a similar age-group in English monolingual contexts. The study gave some preliminary indications that parent-child oral interaction during shared book reading lacked the type of talk that could promote the development of decontextualized oral language in children. Furthermore, it was observed that all three parents used a non-standard variety of English when talking to their children. These results are discussed with reference to the Singaporean context where preschool children usually have multiple caregivers and non-standard English is used frequently in many situations at home and even in schools.
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