L2 Language Acquisition

Harklau, Linda and Rachel Pinnow.  “Adolescent Second-Language Writing.” Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research. Eds. Lelia Christenbury, Randy Bomer, and Peter Smagorinsky.  New York: Guilford Press (2009).  126-139.  Print.

One Sentence Summary

[Invoking Donald Rumsfeld] About Adolescent L2 wiritng, there are knowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns[/Rummy]: Some great work has been by L2 practitioner-researchers; studies sometimes muddy or contradict theory and practice that has come before; and much more research is needed.


Second Language Acquisition, L2, L1, ESOL, Writing, Basic Writing, Developmental

Key Quotes

“L2 writers are likely to make more errors and different kinds of errors in texts than monolingual students even after protracted learning and instruction (Silva, 1993)” (127).

“Some writing genres, particularly summaries, may be more linguistically demanding for adolescent L2 writers to produce than others (de Courcy, 2002)” (128).

“Research indicated, however, that even though such [selective, targeted] training is effective and improves adolescents’ L2 writing and revision process … and even when most teacher corrections are found to be unecessary and are ignored by students … the majority of students nonetheless resist such training … and prefer teacher editing and comprehensive marking of errors” (129).


It is the final quote above where I’ve found myself dwelling over the past few days.  There’s a pretty deep paradox here: in these studies, students crave feedback/correction, but after it’s given ignore most of it.  I can think of a lot of reasons why that might happen: teacher commentary/feedback is unclear, inconsistent,  not timely, or unhelpful; past experiences have taught/shaped/conditioned behaviors (both student and teacher); revision and editing practices are not taught; revising time is limited or not planned for, both in and out of the classroom.

To revise is to see again, and I wonder how best such practices might be taught.  In conversations with others in our program, it’s been suggested that quantification turns may assist in affording students the opportunity to see again their work with fresh eyes.  So, with L2 learners, perhaps simply counting parts of speech could be of use, or perhaps sentence (simple, complex, etc.) or clause types.  Such practices might not need to occur over the length of an entire essay, but in smaller doses, especially where error may be heaviest, they could aid students (and provide teachers with) a concrete approach to encounter thew text.  Another method: have students count the number of words in their sentences and create small bar graphs whose lengths correspond to the number of words counted.  If all the bars are short, it may tell the student something about pace, variation, and style.

Beyond those and other practices, though, I agree with the authors of this piece: slowing down and observing in rich, thick detail is likely the best way forward.



2 thoughts on “L2 Language Acquisition

  1. I agree with the reasons you gave as to why students may decide to more or less ignore instructor feedback (and I believe the reasons apply to native English writers as well), but would also add overly specific comments to the mix as well. Overt or explicit teacher feedback can be just as bad as vague or unclear feedback, as it may cause students to lose the ownership of their text to the instructor as well as not reinforcing the idea that revision is necessary to the writing process.

    I also like your suggestion of quantification, as it may push the students (again, I see this as potentially beneficial to native writers as well) to engage their text on a deeper level as they start to take apart what they put together and see how the smaller parts work to make the whole; in doing so students should start to see aspects of their own writing processes and begin to understand them, at which point they can work to enable and revise said processes.

  2. Creating bar graphs under the sentences to help students understand the pace, variation, and style of their piece is an interesting concept to me. I thought about trying it myself actually, but I think doing that might make it hard for me to finish my writing in a timely manner. Still, this sounds like a good way to help beginning writers understand their writing.

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