1. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    potential reader

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ohmyrichard, Sep 25, 2008.

    Hi,everyone. I am a Chinese teacher of English writing at a university in eastern China. In the past month I have finished reading the book Teaching Writing in Second and Foreign Language Classrooms by Jessica Williams, a female American professor,who works at University of Illinois at Chicago. This book focuses on ESL writing and touches upon EFL writing. After my reading of the book, I am still confused about the issue of potential reader in the EFL writing situation. I mean, who would be that potential reader when students are writing in English as a foreign language, their non-native speaker teacher,who may not have that good feel for the English language either, or the native speaker? As I always think that the foreign English majors' ultimate goal in learning English is to acquire the ability of communicating in English with native speakers or non-native speakers who enjoy English proficiency in the end, it would produce a better teaching result if the teacher always asks his/her students to have the potential reader of the native speaker in mind whenever they are engaged in an English writing activity.In this way students will try their utmost to express themselves in the ways that are acceptable to native speakers or just the way native speakers write or speak. And then it would be a virtuous circle. If the teacher is also not sure of something in his/her students' essays, he or she also need to consult native speakers for possible solutions. Only in this way can the quality of students' English essays be guaranteed. In this triangle relationship, the teacher only acts as a representative of native speakers or a judge. Please tell me, Is my assertion sensible? What's your understanding of the issue? I plan to write an article on this topic---the potential reader for EFL writers, so I need your answers to my questions badly.
    Thanks.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First off, I have to say I found it difficult to follow what you were asserting, and what you were asking, The massively compound sentences that tried to say too many things in one sentence was one difficulty.

    Another was that you put the entire blob in a single paragraph. A paragraph should build upon a point made in its thematic sentence.

    I d believe your students need to learn to think in the language they are writing, and think as a native speaker would think But if this is indeed an Englishj as a First Language (EFL) course, that would already be the case.

    A teacher's role is to assist the writers in achieving clarity foremost, and then to assistthe writers in developing their own unique voices. I do not believe it is sufficient for theteacher to act as a broker between the writer and native speakers, whether we are talking about English as a First or a Second lanhuage.

    I also believe that learning to critique writing is an important didactic component. It closes the regenerative loop of creation, analysis, and correction so the student learns to be capable of executing all the phases for continual improvement.

    The first step for any writer is to write clearly in th etarget language. The result may seem stiff or formal, but it trains the student in the fundamentals. The next step is todevelop a voice with a native feel to it, which will require learnig idiomatic expression, as well as mastering the lanhguage to express ideas vividly, and with rich metaphor. That mastery doesn't always even come naturally to native speakers. It must be cultured and nurtured.

    And now I will step down from my soapbox.
     
  3. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    focus

    Thanks for your reply. Your ideas are really great, but my question was about the potential reader of the EFL writer. I think I made my assertion clear in that post though I agree with you that the paragraph was too long. I had already made self-criticism in that post;this is why I always try to seek better teaching theories and guidelines for my students' benefits. There is a big difference between writing in English as a native language and writing in English as a second language or a foreign language, but research on EFL writing is insufficient so far.
    When I, a teacher who has never been to an English speaking country, teach students English writing, I'm afraid I need to think of a lot more than American writing teachers have to. Some of American writing experts' theories may apply in my classes while some may not. My students not only lack ideas but also language proficiency; they do not know what to talk about and how to put ideas in appropriate English. They may unnecessarily repeat what they have already talked about in the same essay using different words. The big headache is that many of them rely heavily on word-for-word translation, which is so easy for a Chinese reader to understand but will surely get a native speaker confused.
    I have never been to Hyde Park or Central Park as I said above. But if you like, please stand at the podium again and enlighten me about the issue of potential reader.
    Thanks.
     
  4. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I imagine that EFL stands for English Foreign Language, and ESL stand for English Second Language.

    You are an EFL writer correct? Based on how you construct sentences and the phrases you use I would guess so. So how does someone like me, who's first language is English, read what an EFL writer writes? For the most part they are understandable, but even if they have a good grasp on the English language I can tell it is not their first language.

    I believe they will have to live with native English speakers for some years, interacting with them as much as possible, before they can write in English as though it was their first language.

    There are even differences between native English speakers. If I pick up a novel written a Scottish writer, I can tell. One of my friends on Paltalk is A Jew, and her first language is Hebrew. The other day she asked me, "What can keep my friends hair from falling?" I said, "You are thinking in Hebrew again, because you should have said, 'hair from falling out,' and she was like oh wow, I did do that. I knew she was thinking in Hebrew because I read Hebrew.

    I am sure other Chinese people will have no problem understanding a EFL Chinese writer, because they think the same way, but an American might have trouble understanding them. Have them go online if they can, to a free voice chat program like Paltalk, and practice with native English speakers as much as possible. I believe that is the only way they can profect their English.
     
  5. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    You are right

    You are right about EFL and ESL. Yes, you are right again about other Chinese people having no problem understanding an EFL Chinese writer. Sometime we even don't need to read what he/she writes;we just cast a glance over the paragraphs and then we can guess what the whole essay is all about. The reasons are that we think the same way and that the EFL writer may rely on word-for-word translation of Chinese into English. Of couse in this case, the writer didn't remember to have the potential reader of a native speaker in mind or he just take this surface level translation as writing in English.
    Living with native speakers for some years is still what many Chinese cannot afford even though we can always see reports of China's economic properity in the press. We are longing for such opportunities but we are not able to make it.
    Thanks for your reply.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, I had the wrong acronyms :)
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I am sure you have a lot of people who visit china that are native English speakers. Try to have them interact with the those that visit. I understand it is hard for many Chinese to get online, and I heard that you are even limited in some places as to what sites you can go to, or what software you can use.

    But if they are able to download paltalk.com and use it, then they should. It is a free voice chat program. There are voice chat rooms on there that are dedicated to helping people learn English. They sit around all day taking turns talking with native English speakers. A lot of them are Asian that come in there to learn.
     
  8. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    ohmyrichard,

    If I study Chinese in Shanghai, will I be able to speak it fluently in every part of China? Would Mandarin Chinese serve me well in Hong Kong where they speak Cantonese? Is formal Mandarin spoken in remote villages along the Mongolian border or do they use variations that require regional understanding?

    My point is, Chinese dialects vary regionally, just as do English dialects. When you teach ESL, you teach proper or formal English, often devoid of idioms and slang. Such writing is technically correct but lacks the nuances that make it enjoyable for the EFL (English as a First Language) reader. Here's an example: if I read a story in which a character says "Knock me up at seven", I know that character (or the writer) is from somewhere in the UK. Why? Because that expression about "knocking" someone up means something entirely different in the US. It means to get a girl pregnant!

    Here is another example of writing confusion, and it is from your original post. When you say "EFL" in conjunction with the well known term "ESL" (English as a Second Language), the natural inference is that "EFL" means English as a First Language. If you are writing for native English speaking readers, then it is incumbent on you to clarify terms like this that might not be understood by context. Clarity in writing English demands attention by the writer for such details, details that come naturally to the native speaker.

    As far as your teaching, you mentioned that the EFL writer may ". . . rely on word-for-word translation of Chinese into English." In my opinion, this is not the best way to teach English as a second language. English is one of the worst languages for deviating from the dictionary meaning of a word (or phrase). Many years ago, I studied the University of Minnesota's course on teaching English as a second language. They emphasized learning by repetition and induction. As such, their program incorporated many idiomatic expressions into the curriculum so that my students would experience some of the deviations-from-the-rule that make English sound and read naturally. In fact, children learn to speak any language by mimicking general expressions. Only when they are old enough to attend formal school do they begin expanding their vocabulary and studying "proper" language. As a result, they learn the idioms and slang long before they study grammar, spelling, vocabulary and formal writing. If ESL was taught the same way, your English writing problem would not exist.

    So, the real question is . . . how do you, as a non-native English speaker, teach idioms and slang that you have never experienced? The answer is you don't! As architectus pointed out, you need places where you and your students can invest time learning the unusual variations in English. I suggest you take him up on his suggestion to visit paltalk.com. If I was you or one of your students, I would volunteer my time as an interpreter for foreign English-speaking visitors/tourists to China. This would provide ample opportunities to speak English and experience lots of dialectic variations.

    In summary, Cogito "hit the nail on the head" (a common idiomatic expression that would not translate literally) with his advice. I would suggest you re-read his post, contact the website suggested by achitectus and incorporate the advice from both of their posts into your teaching.
     
  9. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks, NaCl.A follow-up question for you: Besides visiting paltalk.com and working as an interpreter, is watching TV dramas or video clips about life in English speaking countries also a good way to learn idioms and slang words and learn how they are actually used? I find many such websites, especially those created by native speakers, quite helpful. Do you agree with me on this?
    Thanks.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Yes, I would also recommend Youtube.
     
  11. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    YouTube and

    Thanks, architectus. I visit YouTube very often but it is sometimes blocked by the Chinese government, which never would like its people to seek truth. I read in a post at a forum that VOA is now accessible to Chinese listeners and viewers after the 2008 Olympics and I entered the URL and got it. But generally speaking, we Chinese have more freedom in choosing what to view and what to listen to. We can log on to most foreign news network websites and enjoyed programs offered. I like to watch ABC,CNN and CBS online and download theire programs, but it always takes time to get it down due to the snail Internet speed here in China. I find something very interesting: Our domestic media tend to give positive reports and foreign media like to reveal the dark side of the same incident and if I combine their reportings, I will always have a complete picture with everything displayed. This may be called global vision.
    Thanks again for your advice.
     
  12. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes . . . and no. Hollywood produced television dramas have a bad habit of using too many clichés in their scripts and the actors don't really talk to each other the way people do in daily life. You're on the right track though. A lot of American universities offer educational programs online for their students, teaching anything from science to music to languages. Some of these televised classes feature question and answer sessions between students and teachers. This kind of non-scripted dialog offers the best examples of natural speaking. Most such university public classes are found under .edu searches. You can also get a good feel for how natural expression of English by reading comments in blogs. Blogs attract people from all walks of life, depending the topic, and you'll be exposed to a broad sample of natural speakers. Some people on this site engage in blogs and you/your students are free to read them.

    Another good place to see/hear natural speaking is any post-event analysis. For example, announcers discussed issues after each event at the Olympics that were recently held in your country. The dialog in such discussions is not scripted and contains lots of natural language, complete with clichés, idioms and colloquial expressions. Every weekend, sports events are broadcast around the world in English speaking countries . . . soccer (Europe), rugby (Australia), American football, baseball, horse racing, tennis, golf. After each of these sports events, there is a lot of post-play discussion.

    I recently listened to the post race commentary after a NASCAR Sprint Cup event. NASCAR is a form of auto racing in the USA using "stock" cars. It historically attracts a blue collar audience and the announcers are usually former race car drivers, a bit lacking in their English education. I laughed as some of them used double negatives and others threw out "down home" redneck expressions. While their English was not good, I am sure their viewers understood every word they said as "natural" talk.

    At the other end of the social spectrum, golf attracts a highly educated crowd and the post tournament analyses reflect more refined speech patterns. Despite that, they also use certain idiomatic expressions, regional colloquialisms (golf in USA versus golf in the UK) and sport-specific terms that come naturally to EFL (English as a First Language) speakers.

    When your students can fully understand and write using the nuances expressed in conversational English (such as in the post sports event analyses), then their writing will become indistinguishable from that of a natural speaker.

    Hey Cogito, you know everybody in this site. Who in here has a good blog that you can reference for our friend to read some natural dialog?
     
  13. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Or a book.

    I think it's best if you read books recently written in America or UK 75 years or so.

    Immerse yourself in American and English books. Read pulp fictions with their incredible simple sentence and easy handling of grammatical syntax and sentence structure. Hell, try Stephen King. He is a master at crafting fluid sentences, even though he may ramble on and on.
     
  14. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks a lot. Now I know which direction to take though it is a big challenge for me. You gave me great advice.
     
  15. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks for your suggestion. I will take your advice and read more books in my spare time. I will not just leaf through my books;instead, I need to read them carefully and take notes if necessary. Thanks again.
     

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