ESL Writing

Julia Eun-Young Kim (English)

What Native English-Speaking Writing Tutors Attend to in ESL Writing: Case Studies

Second language researchers and theorists have long noted that one of the most optimal environments for second language acquisition occurs when a nonnative speaker interacts with a peer. In this sense, a writing center provides an ideal context because learners are actively engaged in meaningful interactions, testing their language hypotheses and receiving feedback on their linguistic choices from native peers. Indeed, many ESL writing teachers require visits to the writing center for their ESL students in a justifiable hope that various learner errors will be detected and addressed by native-speaking tutors. Yet, it is frequently observed that many of the language learners’ errors often remain in the writing even after a visit to the writing center.  Although several studies have been conducted on the issues of error gravity in the field of second language acquisition, relatively little research involving writing centers exists. Studies on error gravity and judgment in non-writing center contexts indicate that, in general, native speakers are more lenient about language learners’ errors than non-native English speakers; the former tends to respond more to lexical errors whereas the latter focuses more on syntactic errors. This qualitative study, analyzing audio-recorded writing sessions of three advanced learners of English, along with retrospective interviews and stimulated recalls, will investigate what native-speaking tutors attend to in non-native English speakers’ writing. This study will provide an in-depth look at the discourse that goes on between native-speaking tutors and non-native speakers of English and help identify factors that guide native speakers’ judgment of errors. The findings of this research will yield significant implications for ESL writing pedagogy.

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