A short review of three articles concerning the teaching of L2 writing across cultural contexts
by Damian Rivers
Framed against the changing nature and attitudes toward second language writing, this article aims to review three published journal articles which focus on L2 writing in terms of teacher, student and target reader perspectives. The first article entitled [Sengupta, S., & Falvey, P. (1998). The Role of the Teaching Context in Hong Kong English Teachers' Perceptions of L2 Writing Pedagogy. Evaluation and Research in Education, 12(2), 72-95] takes an in-depth look at L2 writing from the perspective of teacher beliefs, attitudes and knowledge within the Hong Kong public school system. The second article entitled [Atay, D., & Kurt, G. (2006). Prospective Teachers and L2 Writing Anxiety. Asian EFL Journal, 8(4), 100-118] examines Turkish trainee teachers’ anxiety connected to L2 writing in an English language environment. The third article entitled [Al-Khatib, M.A. (2001) The pragmatics of letter-writing. World Englishes, 20(2), 179-200.] focuses on personal letter writing as a mode of cross-cultural communication between L2 writers and L1 readers. The main findings from each article will be highlighted and discussed.
Sengupta & Falvey (1998) examine the ways in which L2 writing is perceived and its pedagogy conceptualized by English language teachers in Hong Kong secondary schools. They adopt the theoretical foundation of Flower (1989), Nystrand et al. (1993) and Silva (1993) who contend that within any writing research, cognitive and contextual factors can be said to significantly influence the teaching and learning process. Flower (1989) acknowledges that how cognition and context interact within the classroom is not well documented and this is where Sengupta & Falvey (1998) aim to provide more conclusive research data. The authors also assert that through their exploratory investigation they wish to explore questions connected with how these beliefs are acquired, justified and explained by the teachers and what social and cognitive implications such justifications have for future curriculum development.
Raimes (1985) previously contends that L2 writers need to be taught: How to be aware of and make use of the processes involved in their writing; How to develop and organize their ideas and ; How to deal with language related concerns. In the article Sengupta & Falvey (1998) advocate that teachers should be aware of these factors stating “there is much more to the teaching of successful writing than the mere teaching of accuracy in lexis and syntax” (p.73). However, it has been documented that the majority of L2 teachers tend to rely on the teaching of grammatical rules at the expense of other writing areas. As Zamel (1987) notes - “it seems that ESL writing teachers view themselves primarily as language teachers, that they attend to surface-level features of writing and that they seem to read and re-act to text as a series of separate pieces at the sentence level or even clause level, rather than as a whole unit of discourse" (p.700). This is not surprising when we consider that writing is an artifact which has to meet certain standards of social acceptability (Widdowson, 1983). In many Asian societies, this social acceptability is directly gained through the quality of examination results rather than through any form of communicative competence. Indeed, Sengupta (1996) reports that L2 teaching in Hong Kong is primarily teacher dominated and product centered. Tse (1993) had also earlier highlighted that in Hong Kong studying to pass examinations is the norm and the teaching of writing is very much examination orientated.
Sengupta & Falvey (1998) identify two research questions as being central to their research. These were - What is/are the central aspect/s of writing pedagogy that Hong Kong teachers refer to when discussing writing? And, How do teachers rationalize their perceptions? They found that grammatical and lexical accuracy was the most commonly mentioned aspect of L2 writing that Hong Kong teachers referred to when talking about teaching and learning L2 writing. The teaching of writing is very much geared to writing structurally correct sentences. Language as a tool for making meaning was never discussed by the teachers and the quality of the language was paramount. Many teachers felt it was not their job to address issues of developing or formulating ideas. This would seem to support the ideas stated earlier (e.g. Zamel, 1987). It also reinforces those theoretical views from the 1960’s which essentially saw L2 writing as an activity in which there was absolutely “no freedom to make mistakes” (Pincas, 1982, p.91). In those rare cases where teachers were open to alternatives they cited the pressure of student examinations, unsupportive department heads and city officials as well as a lack of teaching ability as obstacles in changing the way L2 writing was taught.
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