This is an abstract from my EDUC 7002 assignment (pp 9-11), which I submitted in January 2008.
Theory: Differences Between L1 and L2 Writers

According to Grabe and Kaplan (1996) cited by Hyland (2002), there are a number of noteworthy differences between L1 and L2 writers. Research has shown that there might be

  • different organizational preferences, approaches in argument-structuring and to incorporating material from text into writing (paraphrasing, etc)
  • different perspectives on reader-orientation, on attention-getting devices and on es tim ates of reader knowledge
  • different uses of cohesion markers which are less facilitative and create weaker lexical sets
  • differences in the ways overt linguistic features of the text are used (such as less subordination, more conjunction, less passivisation, fewer free modifiers, less noun-modification, less specific words, less lexical variety, predictable variation and a simpler style) (p. 38)

It must be noted that the issue of differences and similarities is controversial, because, as Hyland (2002) puts it

The practical aim of contrastive rhetoric has been to change the behaviour of second-language writers by encouraging them to adopt the rhetorical patterns of native speakers. This is now something of a contested goal. (p. 39)

It is not clear whether it should be treated as a mistake when learners from more reader-responsible cultures than English language ones use their L1 writing conventions when they write in English (see APPENDIX VI. Contrastive Rhetoric). Findings of first- and second language process-writing research broadly suggest that although L2 writers have more difficulty setting goals and generating material, and produce less accurate and effective texts, general composing patterns seem to be similar in L1 and L2. (Hyland, 2002, p. 26) This discrepancy is easy to explain if you accept the views that 'language knowledge is collocational knowledge' (Nation, 2001, p. 321) and that people are a symbolic species (Deacon, 1997). The American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce distinguished three categories of referential associations: icons (those rely on similarity), indices (those describe spatial or temporal correlation), and symbols (those refer to conventional negotiated or assigned meanings). The human brain is capable of comprehending symbols of various degrees of complexity, but it is the compounds or chunks that present the most difficulty for foreign and second language learners, for the structures of corresponding chunks in L1 and L2 are almost always different due to individual differences in the perception of their constituents (icons and indices) and how they should be put together.

Another thing to reflect on when analyzing students' work is Chomsky's 'Minimalist Program' (2000) cited by Mitchell & Myles (2004) , in which he argues that the word store or the lexicon forms the core of human language and consists of content words or lexical categories such as nouns, verbs and adjectives, and grammar or functional categories such as auxiliaries and determiners as well as principles that guide the ways the content categories are manipulated ( p. 54 ). According to the scholar, it is the differences within the latter that cause variations in morphology, word order, etc between languages. Many contemporary EFL/ESL coursebook writers seem to share this view, for they overemphasize the teaching of structures (functional categories), and the communicative competence (the ability to get the meaning across as quickly as possible using the language acquired so far) at the expense of the precision of vocabulary used, and, thus, forget that one of the ultimate goals of SL, especially college-bound, learners is 'to increase the accuracy of their production' (Conzett, 2000, p. 73). What is often neglected is the semantic differences between languages (i.e. the fact that the same concept may not only be viewed from a different perspective or have more or fewer dimensions, but also broken down into smaller concepts or be part of a bigger concept in L2), polysemy and homonymy. Students seldom look up words that they are able to process for meaning assuming that they 'know' them. It seldom occurs to many a student (unless you tell them explicitly) that to really know a word means to be able to use it in a sentence without making mistakes. Personally, I perceive it is the main reason why most errors in my students' writing and in the quoted essay written by an advanced EFL/ESL student in Nations Learning Vocabulary in Another Language (2001) are with high-frequency words (p. 186). Hill (2000) even suggests that overemphasizing grammar is a major factor in preventing learners from moving on from the intermediate plateau (p. 47).

Last modified: Friday, 26 September 2008, 08:07 PM