Report on Teleconference
February 19, 1999
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
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
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.
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
- Students choose a topic that everyone
(including teacher) knows something
- Each student supplies at least
one fact pertinent to the topic (depends on
class size); opportunity to discuss facts vs. opinions disguised
- 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
- 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
C. What form (genre) may the
D. What constitutes evidence?
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"
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
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.
that there was no direct feedback from the audience, I am unable
to estimate the relative usefulness/success of the activity.
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