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In her article What research on second language writing tells us and what it doesn’t, Eli Hinkel (2011) synthesizes the current research on L1 versus L2 writing differences and discusses the next step for research in this area. Teaching writing to students from various backgrounds and cultures can be a difficult task for English language teachers. As an English for Academic Purposes(EAP) instructor, this challenge is heightened by pressure to get students prepared for the different education streams they are pursuing.

While the list from Hinkel isn’t that long, a total of 22 items, I have decided to focus on 5 major areas that most of those points would fall into: audience factors; text organization; language usage; text components; and content.
Audience factors:
  • L2 writers often fail to anticipate how their audience will react upon reading their text. Hinkel mentions they “neglect to account for counterarguments”.
  • L2 writers also tend to misjudge the level of understanding that their readers will have on the subject.
Text organization:
  • L2 texts are often shorter and not as detailed.
  • L2 texts tend to not be a fluid or connected.
Language usage:
  • L2 writers often use repetition as a tool to paraphrase or to make connections with other parts of the text.
  • L2 writers tend to misuse and are inconsistent in their use of text cohesion devices.
Text components:
  • L2 writers tend to leave out critical components such as thesis statements, and detailed conclusions.
  • L2 writers tend to use more personal arguments and beliefs. Opinions, whether their own or others, tend to be used more than fact-based evidence. Some arguments are completely unsupported.
  • L2 writers often attempt to use emotion and morality as a persuasion tool.
A number of these points can be attributed to sociolinguistic factors such as cultural usage of language, or to a lack of linguistic tools such as a smaller lexicon and simplified grammar use. While reading this article, I wondered how much of this can be taught in the classroom and how much of this is merely the lack of focused exposure to that style of writing.
After thinking about this some more, I was led to consider the reasons behind the reading problems ELLs have, particularly with academic prose. It appears to me that many of these writing differences could also be affecting how they read a text. It may be that students are expecting a style of writing similar to what they are accustomed to and that may cause them to have difficulties understanding what is being transmitted through the text.
Taking the same five areas mentioned above, L2 readers may have problems:
  • understanding the use of counterarguments;
  • dealing with the level of detail given;
  • seeing the connection made throughout the text;
  • understanding the use of cohesion devices;
  • grasping the importance of each text component;
  • appreciating the use of fact-based evidence or the lack of emotional language.
As a result of reading this article, I plan on reviewing the writing problems that each student has and seeing if their is a correlation with their reading problems. Is it possible to anticipate reading problems by evaluating their writing or vice versa? While it appears that may be the case, I will attempt to explore this a bit more in my own classroom as an action research project.
I know a number of you have more experience and knowledge in this area. I would love to hear from you. If you have any links to material, such as journals or posts, on this subject, please let me know either in the comment section or send me a Tweet.
Thank you.
Hinkel, E. (2011). What research on second language writing tells us and what it doesn’t.  In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning Volume 2 (pp 523-538). New York: Routledge. Retrieved June 2, 2013 from  http://www.elihinkel.org/downloads/ch_32.pdf

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