The Contrastive Rhetoric English Language Essay


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Kaplan (1966) suggests the notion of "contrastive rhetoric" that writers 'different cultural and linguistic backgrounds will be reflected in their "rhetoric", with rhetoric typically seen as primarily as matter of textual structure. Therefore, first language interference is believed to expand beyond the sentence to paragraphs and longer stretches of text (Tony and Paul, 2002). As a second language writer, I do believe that Khmer cultural thought patterns influence our English writing and are reflected in our English written text. Because the ability to write well is not a naturally acquired skill; it is usually learned or culturally transmitted as a set of practices in formal instructional settings or other environments. Writing skills must be practiced and learned through experience. Writing also involves composing, which implies the ability either to tell or retell pieces of information in the form of narratives or description, or to transform information into new texts, as in expository or argumentative writing. Perhaps it is best viewed as a continuum of activities that range from the more mechanical or formal aspects of "writing down" on the one end, to the more complex act of composing on the other end (Omaggio Hadley, 1993).

Most ESL students studying in post-secondary institutions have writing skills. However, their purposes for writing are sometimes not the kind valued by Western academic communities. The nature of academic literacy often confuses and disorients students, "particularly those who bring with them a set of conventions that are at odds with those of the academic world they are entering" (Kutz, Groden & Zamel, 1993, p. 30). In addition, the culture-specific nature of schemata--abstract mental structures representing our knowledge of things, events, and situations--can lead to difficulties when students write texts in L2. Knowing how to write a "summary" or "analysis" in Mandarin or Spanish does not necessarily mean that students will be able to do these things in English (Kern, 2000). As a result, any appropriate instruction must take into consideration the influence from various educational, social, and cultural experiences that students have in their native language. These include textual issues, such as rhetorical and cultural preferences for organizing information and structuring arguments, commonly referred to as contrastive rhetoric (Cai, 1999; Connor, 1997; Kaplan, 1987; Kobayashi & Rinnert, 1996; Leki, 1993; 1997; Matalene, 1985), knowledge of appropriate genres (Johns, 1995; Swales, 1990), familiarity with writing topics (Shen, 1989), and distinct cultural and instructional socialization (Coleman, 1996; Holliday, 1997; Valdes, 1995). In addition to instructional and cultural factors, L2 writers have varying commands of the target language, which affect the way structural errors are treated from both social and cognitive points of view. Much of the research on L2 writing has been closely dependent on L1 research. Although L2 writing is strategically, rhetorically, and linguistically different in many ways from L1 writing (Silva, 1993), L1 models have had a significant influence on L2 writing instruction and the development of a theory of L2 writing. However, a look at two popular L1 models will give us some insight into the problem of developing a distinct construct of L2 writing.

Flower and Hayes (1980, 1981) model focuses on what writers do when they compose. It examines the rhetorical problem in order to determine the potential difficulties a writer could experience during the composing process. The "problem-solving activity" is divided into two major components: the rhetorical situation (audience, topic, assignment), and the writer's own goals (involving the reader, the writer's persona, the construction of meaning, and the production of the formal text). By comparing skilled and less-skilled writers, the emphasis here is placed on "students' strategic knowledge and the ability of students to transform information . . . to meet rhetorically constrained purposes" (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 116). However, the social dimension is important too. Indeed, writing "should not be viewed solely as an individually-oriented, inner-directed cognitive process, but as much as an acquired response to the discourse conventions . . . within particular communities" (Swales, 1990, p. 4). L1 writing ability may also transfer to L2. As a result, students who are skilled writers in their native languages and have surpassed a certain L2 proficiency level can adequately transfer those skills. Of course, those who have difficulty writing in their native language may not have a repertoire of strategies to help them in their L2 writing development (Sasaki & Hirose, 1996). These observations warrant consideration for L2 instruction and course design, especially for those courses in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) writing that include less-skilled writers or those who have never had the opportunity to engage in more knowledge-transforming tasks in their native languages.

Moreover, Mohan and Lo (1985) cite a study by Das which indicated that students had similarly deficient rhetorical strategies in their first language and in English. in other words, students who lacked first language strategies displayed a similar lack of strategies for writing their second language. Mohan and Lo suggest that this deficiency may be developmental - students who have not developed good strategies for writing in their first language will not have appropriate strategies to transfer to their second language. Edelsky's study (1982) of the writing of first, second, and third graders in a bilingual program also indicates that writing knowledge transfers across languages. Her results show that writers use first language strategies and knowledge t aid their second language writing. she concludes that writers apply their knowledge about writing from their first langue to writing in their second language writing, in order t form hypotheses about writing in their second language. in another study, Jones and Tetroe (1987) looked at ESL writers generating texts in their first and second languages, they found that these ESL writers transferred both good and weak writing skills from their language to English. This transfer was independent of language proficiency, which affected only quantity of planning.

Finally, I think that certain writing situations will be improved if ESL writers are able to use their first language at certain points while they are generating their texts. According to this vies, the first language would enable them to retrieve information about certain topics more easily with less constraint than if they had to translate the information before writing down any text. The research findings reveal that it is by no means harmful to use L1 in teaching L2 writing especially among the low proficiency students. The important issue is really when to use L1 rather than whether to use it or not. As Corder (in Snyder) says, learners are not slaves to their L1 in learning L2, but use it selectively, in situations where they feel it will be helpful based on various considerations.

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