“Do students have difficulty writing even in their own language?”

“What is the difference between reader-oriented and author-oriented writing?”

In answer to the first question: very probably.

Professor Florkowski from Poland, and a professor at the University of Georgia, highlights an important point:

Whenever I talk about how to write in English, I stress that an article poorly written in one language, remains a poorly written article in English after being translated (unless the translator re-writes the whole thing).

Professor Anchalee Sattayatham, from Mahidol University in Bangkok, one of Thailand’s top universities, told me:

They find it difficult to write or organize an essay because this task is difficult even in their own language. About 50% of my students cannot connect the idea between paragraphs. In the introductory paragraph it’s still difficult for them to lead the idea from a very general to a specific idea.

This has fundamental implications for the way you teach writing.

You cannot assume that your students know how to write well (in any language – their own or English). You have to teach them the skills that they need to do so.

A big difference between the way English tends to be written today and the way many other languages are written is in the role that the reader is expected to play and the effort they are expected to make. Congjun Mu, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Shanghai Institute of Technology in China explains:

A key factor in Eastern rhetoric is reader-responsibility, which means that the reader is responsible for making all the connections between sentences, paragraphs and overall ideas that the author has laid out in his/her paper. This is distinguished from writer- responsibility in English rhetoric, where the reader is expected to make less effort and can thus hopefully absorb the argumentation rapidly. There are, however, advantages to reader-responsibility in that by having to make more effort and by having to work out the logical process the reader is more likely to retain the information received.

Research has also shown that some nationalities tend to show higher levels of persistence when faced with difficult tasks. This implies that Americans, for instance, will be willing to make much less effort to read a difficult text, than will, for example, the Japanese. This is because native English speakers may think that if they don’t understand something, the fault may well be with the author (or teacher) rather than with themselves, whereas the opposite may be true for people who come from the Far East and other countries.

Adrian Wallwork

Big thanks to Wojciech Florkowski, Anchalee Sattayatham, and Congjun Mu for sharing their thoughts with me. The text was originally published in the first edition of English for Writing Research Papers, Springer, 2011.

Categories: EAP