The people who influence second language learners’ writing tasks
Current research has recognized the social nature of second language (L2) writing processes. Sociocultural theories contend that writers are not only influenced by their own mental processes, but also by the context in which the writing takes place. L2 writers might be influenced by textbooks, classroom discussions, the instructor, and their classmates. These influences can have a positive or negative impact on them.
One of the most prominent influences are social relations with other individuals. These other individuals play an important role in the writing, shaping the entire development of the task from idea to polished submission. Interested in these factors, Dr. Subrata Bhowmik explored the individuals who were directly or indirectly involved in a writing assignment completed by English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
Dr. Bhowmik worked with 31 international undergraduate students in a 1st year writing course at an American university. The course was designed to give students the essential skills and understanding necessary to succeed in their post-secondary careers. Dr. Bhowmik sought to understand who the individuals that affect L2 writers are, and how they influence the writing process.
The students received help from different sources at various stages during their writing. Some of the key groups of people were identified by the students included: instructors, friends, tutors, and family members.
The instructor was a considerable influence for almost all of the students, and was the most frequently discussed individual. Given that the instructor was responsible for introducing and marking the assignment, the students looked to the instructor for feedback throughout the writing process. The students’ writing was also indirectly influenced by the instructor through how the students perceived the instructor’s expectations and personality. An ‘easy-going’ instructor could prompt a different response than a stricter one.
Friends and classmates were also a major source of influence. Individuals in this category were seen as accessible, and the students sought help from these people in both casual conversations and in study group settings. Some students even traded support with their English-speaking friends by supporting them in their foreign language learning. However, some students felt pressured to perform as well as their peers, and sometimes attempting to mimic a friend’s style could negatively affect their writing.
25% of the students sought help from tutors at the university’s writing center. These tutors provided revisions to their grammar, specific expressions, and with the flow of their text. While the students found this to be helpful, they reported that they could sometimes be overwhelmed with the information provided by these tutors, or that different tutors would provide conflicting advice.
Almost 40% of the students sought help from family members, whether near or far, about their writing. Relatives provided students with encouragement, inspired ideas, and provided revisions to their grammar. Some students brought up their topics while in regularly scheduled conversations, and others reached out to their family members specifically for assistance with their writing task.
Dr. Bhowmik’s study provided insights into how ESL students in the writing course were influenced, whether directly or indirectly, by other individuals. This dynamic process involved the writer and the context influencing each other. These individuals influenced the content, organization, and revision of the writing; this highlights the inherently social nature of L2 writing, and the need to understand the role a writing context plays in these writing assignments.
While the instructor plays an important role in helping international students adapt to the expectations of the academic culture, the students may give up some of their own autonomy and depend on the suggestions of the instructor to guide their writing tasks. It is therefore important to consider the influences that students integrate consistently into their writing, and those that they reject. Helping students to use the sources they have access to more effectively can also be beneficial to promoting the success of these students.
See more from Dr. Subrata Bhowmik on his profile
Bhowmik, S. K. (2017). Exploring the social nature of L2 writing: Insights into the division of labor of an EAP writing task. Language and Sociocultural Theory, 4(2), 124-155.