Enhancing Efl Learners Writing Skill Via Journal Writing Education Essay

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The skill of writing has been for years considered to be important, but also demanding and challenging for foreign language learners. In Enhancing EFL Learners' Writing Skill via Journal Writing, Tuan points out that students' progress in writing is hindered by uninteresting nature of the skill itself (Hedge, 1991: 6), fear of correction and time pressure (Weir, 1990: 61). In his research, he aims at establishing whether the acquisition of writing skills can be facilitated and advanced by the use of journal writing. The experiment took place amongst 85 Vietnamese second-year students of English of similar writing proficiency. The subjects, divided into Control (CG) and Experimental Group (EG), were assigned various in-class writing activities. Members of the latter were also required to conduct a personal journal for a period of thirteen weeks. The results were analysed and compared according to quantitative (number of words produced, number of unfinished essays, number of mistakes and average scores) and qualitative methods (questionnaire survey).

The findings state that participants from the Experimental Group produced more words, made less mistakes and received better scores. Their motivation has also increased as they found the activity useful and pleasurable.

It is undeniable that the practice of writing journals helped Experimental Group learners develop their general composing skills, however, conducting the research in an academic environment seems somewhat inadequate, particularly when one takes into consideration Tuan's motives behind the study and the fact that academic writing is considerably different from that found in a typical foreign language classroom.

Britton (1972: 93), in his acknowledged taxonomy, divided writing into three types: expressive (exploratory), transactional (explanatory), and poetic. This distinction has been since supported by numerous scholars, including Phenix (2002: 50-52) and Browne (1999: 8-9). Transactional writing is related to academia, as it "prepares writers for participation in their academic or professional discourse community" (Babin and Harrison, 1999: 258), while private journals are classified as expressive writing seeing that they involve "language close to the self, revealing the speaker, verbalizing his consciousness, displaying his close relationship with the reader" (Britton et al., 1975: 88). White (1995: 201) placed journal writing amongst those techniques that help develop expressive, not explanatory writing skills. On this basis serious doubts can be raised against the value of journal writing in developing academic writing skills. White proposes that the progress in scholarly writing should not be achieved by means of writing, but reading:

Within academic writing, the link between reading and writing is highly important. Reading provides content as well as models. Students need training in summarizing and paraphrasing so that they can abstract ideas from sources and present them within the context of their own writing (White, 1995: 59).

It is highly likely that by writing journals students were forced to look for certain words and patterns in order to convey their thoughts and feelings, which developed their general writing skills and improved foreign language competence. It is however undeniable that such development is limited to specific, repetitious set phrases and discourse (e.g. daily routines) and does not enable students to compose in a wide spectrum of topics.

One of the criteria taken into account by the author when assessing findings was number of words produced. This benchmark seems however by no means related to accuracy and fluency - touchstones of judgment. Undoubtedly, a greater number of words does not ensure the meaningfulness of utterances. It can, on the contrary, cause wordiness as the participants use structures that are typical for this particular discourse (e.g. disjunct adverbials).

With reference to the arguments that supported undertaking the research, one assertion stated that students feel "uncomfortable about being corrected" and are therefore afraid of committing errors. The conversations however revealed that the students felt that they can learn and benefit from making errors, even if they encounter problems with expressing ideas and feelings over a limited linguistics repertoire. Another discrepancy between the reasoning behind the research and the actual outcomes is that the challenge of developing the habit of "thinking on paper" was not met by journal writing. Despite producing more words and making less mistakes, vast majority of Experimental Group students kept translating their ideas from the First to the Second Language.

Although the research has emphasised accuracy, rather less attention has been paid to fluency in terms of functional appropriateness. The interviews conducted by the researcher expose great diversity in discourse used by the participants. The language of the student who liked journal writing appears relatively correct, but sounds unnatural and awkward. Conversely, the student who did not like the activity, makes a few mistakes, but his speech comes across as much more natural and untaught. On the whole, the excerpts from students entries presented in the article are a mixture of formal and informal writing, with phrases like "I feel like writing journals" in one sentence, and "therefore" or "a meaningful present" in another. As a result, the final linguistic product sounds inelegant and artificial.

One advantage of journal writing is the development of certain, general writing skills. However, the merits of journal writing in developing academic writing skills remained unaddressed by the research. In the case of the investigation, it seems that students gained skills they should already possess or at least practice at the academic level: summarising, paraphrasing, critical thinking, and making their writing cohesive.

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