USIA English Language Programs

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs


Report on Teleconference with Egypt:
February 19, 1999

By Robert B. Kaplan
University of Southern California

About the Specialist

Robert B. Kaplan is Professor Emeritus, Applied Linguistics and past Director of the American Language Institute, University of Southern California, where he was a member of faculty since from 1960 to 1995. He also currently serves as Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Graduate School of Applied Language Study, Meikai University, Japan. He currently resides in Port Angeles, Washington.

Dr. Kaplan is the past Editor-in-Chief and currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, which he founded in 1980; he is also a member of the Editorial Board of the Oxford University Press International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, and he serves on the editorial boards of several scholarly journals. He has authored or edited 32 books, more than 130 articles in scholarly journals and as chapters in books, and more than 85 book reviews and other ephemeral pieces in various newsletters, as well as 9 special reports to government in the U.S. and elsewhere. He is currently co-editor, with Richard B. Baldauf, of Language Planning in Malawi, Mozambique and the Philippines (Multilingual Matters 1999), co-author with Richard B. Baldauf of Language Planning from Practice to Theory (Multilingual Matters 1997), Editor-in-chief of a new journal—Current Issues in Language Planning (Multilingual Matters, from 2000), and Editor of the Oxford University Press Handbook of Applied Linguistics (OUP 2001).

Over a relatively long career, he has presented more than 200 talks, papers, and invited plenary sessions at national and international conferences. He has specialized in written discourse analysis, and his named has been widely linked with the notion of "contrastive rhetoric." He has performed language planning research in some dozen countries in Australasia, East Asia, and the Middle East, and he has lectured at universities in some 35 countries around the world. He has held three separate Senior Fulbright Fellowship Awards (Australia, 1978; Hong Kong, 1986; New Zealand, 1992), two Vice-Chancellors' Awards (Britain, New Zealand), and a special research award from the New Zealand Council on Educational Research (1979). He received the first Distinguished Faculty Service Award from the Academic Senate, University of Southern California, and the first Distinguished Service Award from the Black Administrators' Alliance, County of Los Angeles. He also received the American Association for Applied Linguistics Award for Distinguished Scholarship and Service.

He has previously served as President of the following organizations: American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL), Association of Teachers of English as a Second Language (ATESL), California Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (CATESOL), National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA), Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL International), and the University of Southern California Faculty Senate.


Areas of Specialization

Contrastive Rhetoric
Discourse Analysis
Language Policy
Language Planning
Applied Linguistics
ESL/EFL Teaching



Report on Program

USIA contacted me some time ago to invite me to go to Cairo for the first International Conference on Contrastic Rhetoric at the American University in Cairo; unfortunately, my other commitments were such that it was not possible to accept the invitation. Subsequently, USIA contacted me again to invite me to participate in a teleconference with Cairo. A set of questions originating with the conference participants was delivered to me. I outlined responses to the questions. On 19 February, at 7:25 a.m. Port-Angeles time, I was connected with the conference site in Cairo. There were, I understand, approximately 35 individuals in the audience. The questions were asked, in rotation, by John Aydelott of AUC, Ms. Mounira El Tatawy of Alexandria University (whom I had met in 1994 when I visited Alexandria University), and Ms. Nagwa Kassabgy (also of AUC). Eight of the questions, and brief summaries of my responses, appear below:

1. In your opinion, what are the most important lessons we have learned from the field of contrastive rhetoric that language teachers can apply directly in the classroom?

It seems to me the most important contribution of contrastive rhetoric lies in the idea that languages differ not only at the phonological and syntactic levels but at the discourse level as well. It seems to me that students need to be made aware that the way their L1 structures discourse is probably different from the way the L2 structures discourse. In other words, a L2 learner who has good syntactic control cannot necessarily produce discourse.

The awareness of discourse differences between the L1 and the L2 involves an awareness of genre and an awareness not of grammatical structures in isolation but of grammatical structures as they operate in text. Ann Johns, in her recent book Text, Role, and Context: Developing Academic Literacies [Cambridge 1997], , in Chapter 3, quotes R. M. Coe:

The most important lesson for student writers to learn is that genres are socially real and that to participate effectively in a discourse community, one usually must adapt to (or around) readers’ generic expectations. Students should learn to notice genres, to make sense of genres, and even to renovate genres (Coe 1994:165).

She suggests that starting with what she calls ‘homely’ genres is useful; she suggests genres like wedding announcements and obituaries, which are fairly universal, and looking at the ways in which they vary across cultures. The awareness of discourse difference between the L1 and L2 also implicates not merely an understanding of sentence structures but an awareness of their different frequency and distribution across genres in the L1 and between the L1 and the L2. Awareness of both genres and the frequency and distribution of sentence structures can be taught in the classroom and are, in my opinion, necessary to the ability to communicate in the L2.

2. From contrastive rhetoric we have learned that our students are not necessarily wrong when they use a different organizational structure in their writing than what was expected; we have learned to appreciate and respect their differences. How do we balance this respect for difference with the necessity to teach them to conform to expectations?

There are two different issues implicated here. First, as the question implies, English is no longer the property of English speakers; on the contrary, many varieties of English have developed across the world. Second, there is the issue of the purposes of instruction. Teachers need to be aware of the influence of Australian, British, and American styles, among others, and they need to be aware of the local style as well. Which to teach when is determined by the objectives of the particular course or syllabus.

3. What kind of research studies would you like to see in the field of contrastive rhetoric in the future?

Although contrastive rhetoric has been available for more than thirty years, it is still a very young field, and its scope has not yet been fully defined. Ulla Connor, in her book Contrastive Rhetoric: Cross-cultural aspects of Second-language writing (Cambridge 1996), suggests a number of areas which might be pursued, and Nils Eric Enkvist, the Finnish scholar, in an article entitled "Why we need contrastive rhetoric" (1997 Alternation 4.1: 188 - 206), suggests a number of areas of research. So too does Ilona Leki in her article "Twenty-five years of contrastive rhetoric: Text analysis and writing pedagogies" (1991 TQ 25: 123-143). The whole area of genre analysis has hardly been developed, and there is a need to study the frequency and distribution of syntactic structures in the context of various genres.

4. How can some of the latest research findings be put to practical use in EFL/ESL writing classes? Some examples might be useful.

In Grabe, W. and R. B. Kaplan Theory and Practice of Writing: An applied linguistic perspective [Longman 1996], we have tried to answer precisely that question. In trying to answer the question, we found several key variables impacting the answer. What language(s) do the learners speak and what kind of rhetorical awareness do they bring to the classroom? How old are the learners? At what level of language learning are the students? How much instructional time is available? How well-trained is the teacher? What is the objective of instruction? What assessment instruments will be employed to determine the relative degree of learner success? We have devoted a chapter each to the beginning level, the intermediate level, and the advanced level, and we have provided a set of 75 themes for writing instruction.

I will describe one particular activity:

  • Students choose a topic that everyone (including teacher) knows something about;
  • Each student supplies at least one fact pertinent to the topic (depends on class size); opportunity to discuss facts vs. opinions disguised as facts.
  • Students arrange facts into related sets; sets that are very long may be limited; sets that are very short need to be expanded.
  • Students arrange facts in each set.
  • Students arrange sets.
  • Students write topic sentence for each set of facts.
  • Students write topic sentence for all sets.
  • Students write composition.

5. What are some activities that could be used in the EFL/ESL classroom that would help make learners more aware of some of the differences in theway they organize their thoughts on paper in their native language as opposed to the way they organize their thoughts in English?

Students must be made aware of five questions that face any L2 writer;

A. What may be discussed?

B. Who has the authority to write?

C. What form (genre) may the writing take?

D. What constitutes evidence?

E. How can evidence be convincingly arranged?

Also consider John Hinds's useful typology of reader-responsible vs. writer responsible languages. In practical terms, ask students to look at some familiar genres in their language and then to look at parallel genres in the language they are trying to learn, and lead them to see the differences between the examples. Once the students have worked through a few ‘homely’ genres and have accepted the idea that there are differences, then the students should be encouraged to look at examples of the genres they are expected to learn.

6. What is your opinion about knowing the native language of the EFL/ESL learner? Is knowing the native language of the learners necessary in order to see clearly how the shifts can be made by a learner from the rhetorical style of the native language to a more "English-like" rhetorical style?

There is another question implicit in this one; i. e., the differences between the Native English speaking teacher (NEST) and the non-native English-speaking teacher (Non-NEST). A discussion of this matter is provided by Peter Medgyes in his book The non-native teacher [1994 London: Macmillan]. The NEST is likely to know the structures of English but to have a less well-formed sense of the structures of the students’ language; the Non-NEST is like to know the structures of the students’ language but to have a less well-formed sense of the structures of English. Mohammed Sa’Adeddin, in his article "Text development and Arabic-English negative interference" [Applied linguistics. 10: 36 – 51], has addressed English/Arabic contrastive rhetoric; I don’t entirely agree with what he says, but his article is an important caution concerning the dangers of misperceptions developed by the NEST. Knowing the students’ native language is an advantage because the Non-NEST can explain difficult concepts in the students’ language and can understand the rhetorical structure of the students’ language. The NEST, while s/he understands the structure of English text, is limited because s/he can only explain in English and because s/he does not have a solid grasp of the rhetorical structure of the students’ language.

7. Writing teachers, particularly non-native English speaking teachers,easily identify direct translations from the native language in their students’ writing. They often advise their students to "Try not to translate. Try to think in English." The question here is How? How can we help our students to think in English? How can we help our students to develop an "English" self, one that internalizes the shapes and modes of English academic writing?

Part of this problem lies in the fact that we expect too much of our students. It takes years to develop sufficient competence in a language to be able to think in that language. The amount of instructional time granted in most educational systems is far from enough. Students are expected to become proficient over an instructional duration which is far short of the optimum; learners simply cannot achieve the expected level of proficiency in the allotted time. I would suggest that the teachers, who have had far more exposure to the language than their students, often have not achieved the level of proficiency the students are expected to achieve more or less instantaneously. It is simply unlikely that students will "develop an ‘English’ self, one that internalizes the shapes and modes of English academic writing" while they are in your class. Further, the chances are that the L2 being learned in the classroom is used daily only in the classroom. Once the student leaves the classroom, s/he accomplishes everything s/he needs in the native language. Classrooms may diminish motivation, because the language they employ is often unmotivated. Students will not learn to think in English when they are not motivated to use the language in real communication situations. If, however, students are made aware of the fact that the L2 doesn’t organize text in the same way the L1 does, they may be less tempted to translate.

8. To what extent should contrastive rhetoric be included in pre- and in-service teacher education programs?

Whether or not contrastive rhetoric per se is included in pre- and in-service programs constitutes a local question, but specific instruction in the teaching of writing must be included in teacher training. Teacher-training curricula should include significant segments on the teaching of writing, the teaching of reading, the teaching of listening, and the teaching of speaking, and these basic skills, I think, are only tangentially involved with grammar, and spelling, and pronunciation. Instead, they should be involved with thinking and with communication. The skills should be motivated; not mandated. Grammar, spelling, and pronunciation are necessary but not sufficient conventions that underlie communicative systems.

Given that there was no direct feedback from the audience, I am unable to estimate the relative usefulness/success of the activity.


Suggested Bibliography

References for the Cairo Project:

Baumgardner, R. 1992. ‘To Shariat or not to Shariat?’ Bilingual functional shifts in Pakistani English. World Englishes. 11: 129-140.

Baumgardner, R. 1987. Utilizing Pakistani newspaper English to teach grammar. World Englishes. 6: 241-252.

Berman, R. and D. Slobin. Eds. 1994. Relating events in narrative: A crosslinguistic developmental study. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Biber, D. 1984. A model of textual relations within the written and spoken modes. Los Angeles, CA: University of Southern California. Ph.D. Diss.

Bickner, R. and P. Peyasantiwong. 1988. Cultural variation in reflective writing. In A. Purves (ed.) Writing across languages and cultures. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. 160-174.

Clyne, M. G. 1987. Cultural differences in the organization of academic texts: English and German. Journal of Pragmatics. 11. 2: 211-247.

Connor, U. 1996. Contrastive rhetoric: Cross-cultural aspects of second- language writing. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Daoud, M. 1991. The process of EST discourse: Arabic and French native speakers’ recognition of rhetorical relationships in engineering texts. Los Angeles: University of California. Ph.D. Diss.

Deacon, T. W. 1997. The symbolic species: The co-evolution of language and the brain. New York: Norton.

Donald, M. 1991. Origins of the modern mind: Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Elman, J. L., E. Bates, M. Johnson, A. Karmiloff-Smith, D. Parisi, and K. Plenkett. 1996. Rethinking innateness: A connectionist perspective on development. Cambridge, MA: A Bradford Book.

Enginarlar, H. 1990. A contrastive analysis of writing in Turkish and English of Turkish high school students. Hacettepe University. Ph. D. Diss.

Enkvist, N. E. 1997. Why we need contrastive rhetoric. Alternation. 4. 1: 188 – 206.

Ertelt-Vieth, A. 1990. Kulturvergleichende Analyse von Verhalten, Sprache und Bedeutungen im Moskauer Alltag. Beitrag zu einer empirisch, kontrastiv und semiotisch ausgerichteten Landeswissenschaft. [Beiträge zur Slavistik, Vol. 11.] Frankfurt am Main.

Ferris, D. 1994a. Lexical and syntactic features of ESL writing by students at different levels of proficiency. TESOL Quarterly. 28. 2: 414-420

Ferris, D. 1994b. Rhetorical strategies in student persuasive writing: Differences between native and non-native English speakers. Research in the Teaching of English. 28. 1: 45-65.

Ferris, D. 1993. The design of an automatic analysis program for L2 text research: Necessity and feasibility. Journal of Second Language Writing. 2. 2: 119-129.

Ferris, D. 1992. Cross-cultural variation in ESL students’ responses to an essay prompt. Sacramento, CA: California State University.

Ferris, D. 1991. Syntactic and lexical characteristics of ESL student writing: A multidimensional study. Los Angeles: University of Southern California. Ph.D. Diss.

Ferris, D. and J. S, Hedgcock. 1998. Teaching ESL composition: Purpose, process, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Folman, S. and G. Sarig. 1990. Intercultural rhetorical differences in meaning construction. Communication and cognition. 23, 1: 45 - 92.

Grabe, W. and R. B. Kaplan. 1996. Theory and practice of writing: An applied linguistic perspective. London: Longman.

Halliday, M. A. K. 1993. Towards a language-based theory of learning. Linguistics and education. 5: 93 -116.

Hatim, B. 1991. The pragmatics o f argumentation in Arabic: The rise and fall of a text type. TEXT. 11: 189 - 199.

Hinds, J. 1987. Reader versus writer responsibility. In U. Connor and R. B. Kaplan (eds.) Writing across languages: Analysis of L2 text. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. 141-152.

Kachru, B. B. Ed. 1992. The other tongue: English across cultures. 2nd ed. Urban, IL: University Illinois Press.

Kaplan, R. B. 1988. Process vs. product: Problem or strawman? Lenguas modernas. l5: 35-44.

Kaplan, R. B. et al. Eds. 1983. Annual review of applied linguistics, 3. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Kaplan, R. B. 1966. Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education. Language learning. 16: 1-20.

Kasper, G. Ed. 1996. The development of pragmatic competence. [Special issue

of Studies in Second Language Acquisition. 18.2.]

Kellerman, E. 1995. Crosslinguistic influence: Transfer to nowhere. In W. Grabe, et al. eds. Annual review of applied linguistics, 15. New York: Cambridge University Press. 125-150.

Leki, I. 1991. Twenty-five years of contrastive rhetoric: The state of the Art. TESOL Quarterly. 25. 1: 123-143.

Lux, P. and W. Grabe. 1991. Multivariate approaches to contrastive rhetoric. Lenguas Modernas. 18: 133 - 160.

Manoliu-Manea, M. 1995. Discourse and pragmatic constraints on grammatical choices: A grammar of surprises. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.

Mauranen, A. 1993. Cultural differences in academic rhetoric. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. [Scandinavian University Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol. 4.]

Oktar, L. 1991. A contrastive analysis of specific rhetorical relations in English and Turkish expository paragraph writing. Ege University. Ph. D. Diss.

Ostler, S. 1987. English in parallels: A comparison of English and Arabic prose. In U. Connor and R. B. Kaplan (eds.) Writing across languages: Analysis of L2 text. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. 169 - 185.

Reid, J. 1988. Quantitative differences in English prose written by Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and English students. Ft. Collins, CO: Colorado State University. Ph. D. Diss.

Sa’Adeddin, M. A. 1989. Text development and Arabic-English negative interference. Applied linguistics. 10: 36 - 51.

Schmidt, R. 1993. Awareness and second language acquisition. In W. Grabe,et al. (eds.) Annual review of applied linguistics, 13. New York: Cambridge University Press. 206 – 226.

Skyum-Nielsen, P. and H. Schröder (eds.) 1994. Rhetoric and stylistics today. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Soter. A. 1988. The second language learner and cultural transfer in narration. In A. Purves (ed.) Writing across languages and cultures. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. 378 - 388.

Ulijn, J. M. and J. B. Strother 1995. Communicating in business and technology: From psycholinguistic theory to international practice. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Selected Recent References, Personal:


Kaplan, Robert B. 1995.The teaching of Writing in the Pacific Basin (Ed.). Journal of Asian Pacific Communication. 6, 1-2. [Special issue]

Grabe, W. and R. B. Kaplan.1996 Theory and practice of Writing: An Applied linguistic perspective . London: Longman.

Kaplan, R. B. and R. B. Baldauf. 1997. Language Planning From Practice to Theory. Clevedon, Avon: Multilingual Matters.


Kaplan, R. B. and P. Medgyes. 1992. Discourse in a foreign language: The example of Hungarian scholars. International journal of the sociology of language. 98: 67-100.

Kaplan, R. B. 1992. What is really involved in reading and writing. Lenguas Modernas. 19: 77-87.

Kaplan, R. B. 1993. The hegemony of English in science and technology. Journal of multilingual and multicultural development. 14: 1-2. 151-172.

Kaplan, R. B. 1993. Conquest of paradise: Language planning in New Zealand. In M. Hoey and G. Fox, eds. Data, Description, Discourse: Papers on the English language in honour of John McH Sinclair on his 60th Birthday. London: Harper-Collins. 151-175.

Kaplan, R. B. 1993. TESOL and applied linguistics in North America. In S. Silberstein (ed.) State of the art TESOL essays. Alexandria, VA: TESOL, Inc. 373-381.

Kaplan, R. B. 1994. Language Policy and Planning: Fundamental issues. In W. Grabe, et al., eds. Annual review of applied linguistics, 14. New York: Cambridge University Press. 3-19.

Kaplan, R. B. 1994. Language Policy and Planning in New Zealand. In W. Grabe, et al., eds. Annual review of applied linguistics, 14. New York: Cambridge University Press. 156-176.

Kaplan, R. B., S. Cantor, C. Hagstrom, L. Kamhi-Stein, Y. Shiotani, and C. Zimmerman. 1994. On abstract writing. Text. 14. 3. 401-426.

Kaplan, R. B. 1995. Foreword, In R. B. Kaplan, ed. The teaching of writing in the Pacific Basin. [Special Issue of the Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 6, 1-2 .] 1-3.

Kaplan, R. B. 1995. The Teaching of Writing Around the Pacific Basin. In R. B. Kaplan, ed. The teaching of writing in the Pacific Basin. [Special Issue of the Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 6, 1-2 .] 5-12.

Kaplan, R. B. 1995. Contrastive rhetoric. In T. Miller (guest ed.) Functional approaches to written text: Classroom applications. Paris: TESOL France & USIS France. 21-38. [The Journal of TESOL France, 2. 2.]

Kaplan, R. B., E. E. Touchstone, and C. L. Hagstrom. 1995. Image and Reality: Banking in Los Angeles. Text. 15. 4. 427-456. [Special issue, J. Ulijn and D. Murray, eds.]

Kaplan, R. B. and V. Ramanathan. 1996. Audience and voice in current L1 composition texts: Some implications for ESL student-writers. Journal of Second Language Writing. 5. 1. 21-34.

Kaplan, R. B., E. E. Touchstone and C. L. Hagstrom. 1996. ‘Home sweet casa’--Access to Home loans in Los Angeles: A critique of English and Spanish home loan brochures. Multilingua, 15. 3: 329-349. Special issue, ed. U. Connor.

Kaplan, R. B. 1996. Language teaching: Causes of failure, causes of success. In J. Sarkissian,(ed.) Perspectives in foreign language teaching, Vol IX . Procedings of the 19th Annual Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and Literatures. Youngstown, OH: Youngstown State UniversityPress. 61 - 84.

Kaplan, R. B. and V. Ramanathan. 1996. Some problematic channels in the teaching of critical thinking in current L1 composition textbooks: Implications for L2 student-writers. Issues in Applied Linguistics. 7. 2: 225 - 249.

Kaplan, R. B. and W. Grabe. 1997 The writing course. In K. Bardovi-Harlig and B. S. Hartford, (eds.)Beyond Methods: Components of Second Language Teacher Education. New York: McGraw Hill. 172 - 197. [with W. Grabe.]


Kaplan, R. B. 1997. Palmam qui meruit ferat. In W. Eggington and H. Wren (eds.) Language policy: Dominant English, pluralist challenges. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, and Canberra: Language Australia. xi - xxiii.

Kaplan, R. B. 1997. Contrastive rhetoric. In T. Miller (ed.) Functional approaches to written text: Classroom applications. Washington, DC: United States Information Agency. 18 - 32.

Kaplan, R. B. 1997. Introducing Contrastive Rhetoric: What is it? What is it for? How can it be used? SPELT Newsletter. (March 1997). 12. 1: 2-28.

Kaplan, R. B. 1997. An IEP is a Many-Splendored Thing. In M. A. Christison and F. L. Stoller (eds.) A handbook for language program administrators. San Francisco: Alta Book Center. 3-19

Kaplan, R. B. and W. Grabe. 1997. On the writing of science and the science of writing: Hedging in science text and elsewhere. In R. Markkanen and H. Schröder (eds.) Hedging and discourse: Approaches to the analysis of a pragmatic phenomenon in academic texts. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. 151 - 167.

Kaplan, R. B. 1997. Is there a problem in writing and reading texts across languages. In M. Pütz, Ed. The cultural context in foreign language teaching. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. 19 - 34. [Duisburg Papers on Research in Language and Culture, 32.]

Kaplan, R. B. and R. B. Baldauf. In Press. Not only English: "English only" and the world. In R. D. Gonzalez and I. Melis (eds.) Language ideologies: Critical perspectives on the Official English Movement. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Kaplan, R. B. In Press. Language Education Policy in the Pacific Region. In B. Spolsky, ed. Concise Encyclopedia of Educational Linguistics. Elsevier Science.



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