Use of Informal Vocabulary in Academic Writing by Saudi ESL/EFL Learners (Dissertation Sample)
the client wanted the writer to write the first chapter of a dissertation on Use of Informal Vocabulary in Academic Writing by Saudi ESL/EFL Learners. the chapter includes: introduction; Statement of the Problem; Significance of the study and Review of Literature (includes about 10 studies).
English-medium universities as well as colleges assess their students through written tasks. In the process several stages of writing are examined beginning with understanding the requirements to proof-reading (Bailey, 2006, p.66). As a result, writing is most critical for students to whom English is a second language and are expected to use the language for academic purposes. Extended texts such as theses and dissertations are some of the requirements for most graduate degrees. Furthermore, students and graduates at advanced levels in many disciplines are required to publish their final drafts in L2-medium books or journals.
Traditionally, language has been divided into the following components; discourse, syntax, morphology, phonology and vocabulary. Realistically, not even the highly educated native speaker can be expected to have a complete mastery of all the aspects of a community’s language. Then it follows that such an expectation for the second language learners would not be realistic. Particularly, in contexts where the language is needed only to perform some functions.
Other than fulfilling interpersonal and academic functions, the writing process is equally essential because of how it may enhance better L2 learning. According to Savile-Troike (2006, p.165), for effective language specific processes of writing acquired in L1 to be transferred to L2, a certain threshold level of L2 structural knowledge must be attained. But then, both knowledge on the content used in the formulation of concepts that are to be expressed and knowledge on the context used in deciding on the appropriateness and relevance are not language specific therefore it is possible to access them even when there is limited knowledge of L2 linguistic elements.
Saville-Troike (2006, p.167) further highlights the requirements of effective academic writing. It includes substantial amount of knowledge on linguistic elements at all levels of syntax and morphology, vocabulary among others. Nowadays, exclusive courses wholly devoted to academic L2 writing are offered in language institutes.
Over the years, more students from overseas have enrolled in universities and colleges in countries that dominantly use English. Considering that students’ demonstration of knowledge is through written work, literacy on academic writing is essential (Cumming, 2006, p.1). In addition, the language used in academic writing is formal. Moreover, the vocabularies used tend to be subject-specific in other subjects thereby contributing to the formality of the language.
Hyland (2006, p.60) points out that the use of academic vocabularies is one of the challenging aspects of student’s learning. The author further explains that L2 academic essays in most cases have been characterized by a smaller range of vocabularies compared to L1. Moreover, their essays take on stylistic features that are more of informal speech rather than written discourse. Chamot (2005) clearly brings out the challenges faced by second language writers in the following manner:
“Writing in a second language is arguably the most difficult of modalities in which to achieve communicative competence. Beginning level students struggle with finding the words they need and remembering grammatical conventions, whereas advanced students find it difficult to link their ideas with coherence and produce appropriate target language discourse.” (p.10)
With regards to language skills, speaking requires less vocabulary items compared to writing. Whereas speaking requires receptive understanding, writing involves productive use of vocabularies. Therefore, apart from understanding the general meanings of phrases and words, a writer has to know how to spell the words he chooses to use. Vocabulary use by writers depends on both the register and modality (Celce-Murcia & Olshtain, 2000, p.127).
Features of ESL students’ texts
The writings of ESL students vary across individuals as well as situation. Depending on the level of proficiency, most ESL students are still in the process of gaining better understanding and command of the language. For that reason, they may not be in a position to compose sentences that are grammatically sound. This is because in most cases ESL writers have not grasped the rules of grammar and may not recognize the errors by themselves.
Even if language proficiency generally impacts on the quality of the written text, the link between the level of writing and language proficiencies is not as simple: the ability to fluently speak English does not necessarily imply that one will produce quality texts. Some of the ESL writers can even write better than native English speakers. This may also be the situation with some foreign students who have learnt the art of English writing. On the other hand, others may be good at speaking and have acquired idiomatic and colloquial expressions yet their writings do not correspond with their high levels of fluency in speaking (Matsuda & Cox, 2011, p10).
Whereas much research has been conducted on English as a second language in various settings including Spain, France and China, research on ESL research have increasingly widened towards other settings in Asia and Middle-East. Despite Saudi Arabia’s high profile image globally, not so much research concerning Saudi ESL/EFL has been published or conducted. Primarily, the language that is governmentally-sanctioned in Saudi Arabia is Arabic.
In Saudi Arabia, the Educational Policy permits the students to learn at least a foreign language for purposes of interacting with people from other cultures. This explains why English is taught in Saudi high schools for a period of six years. Conversely, learning a foreign language is an enormous task to ESL learners. In order to perform like a native speaker, one needs to learn thousands of words. Additionally, there is a need for an individual to discover the kind of words to be combined and those that are essential in mastering the rules of the language. For that to happen, it takes years of effort to attain.
Formations of Arabic words as well as scripts significantly differ from that of English in the sense that each word is founded on three consonant sounds and symbols (Milton, 2009, p.98). This provides Arabic speakers with a fast route of decoding. Unlike Arabic words, English words require that the learner uses word recognition and therefore when ESL Arabic learners employ the same decoding strategies in English they tend to limit their ability to access the less frequent words. In most cases, those words are frequently used in writing rather than speaking. Consequently, their ability to develop a large lexicon and orthographic is deterred.
The phonological system for the two languages completely differs in terms of sounds used and also places great emphasis on vowels and consonants in expressing the meaning. Some of the reasons that explain the Arabia accent in English include: Arabic is characterized by more energetic articulation which stresses more syllables but have few clearly articulated vowels hence a dull staccato effect, once in written form and Arabic tend to be reluctant in omitting consonants. Additionally, Arabic utilizes glottal stops before initial vowels thereby breaking up the natural catenations of English.
Concerning orthography, Arabic is a cursive system that runs from right to left in which only the long vowels and consonants are written. Consequently, ESL Arabic speakers have to learn an entirely new alphabet and thereafter master its unconventional spelling patterns. In some languages, for instance Arabic, differences in modality tend to be marked highly. This is because of the difference existing between the varieties of the vocabulary of the language spoken locally and that of written vocabulary. As a result, learning the skill of writing becomes more challenging than in languages where the vocabularies of both varieties significantly overlap such as in English. Writers vary their lexical selections depending on the formality or informality of the act of communication.
As it occurs, second language learners develop and continuously enrich their vocabularies throughout their lives. Generally, selection of vocabularies is tied up with factors such as what is being written, how it is being written, who is writing and to whom. But then, Saville-Troike (2006, p167) points out the fact that acquisition of vocabulary knowledge occurs at varying degrees. At first the learners recognize the words they see or hear and thereafter they produce them in limited contexts and eventually they gain full control of their accurate and appropriate use of vocabularies.
Even so, L2 speakers may never be in a position to completely acquire knowledge of some words including collocations, connotations associated with synonyms, metaphorical uses as well as constrains regarding stylistic register. For the last two decades, research on second language writing has enormously grown and even received more attention. Certain areas have been explored including language group effects on second language academic writing. A large number of studies have highlighted on various issues concerning the characteristics and writing strategies of the second language writers. It is no doubt that L2 students face difficulties while writing their first language. Consequently, for second language writers writing in the second language is an added challenge. This implies that the writer has to work on challenges that are common to both languages.
Kroll (1990, p.37) identifies that although there may be a relationship between the act of writing in both the first and the second language they are also somewhat different. The differenc...
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