Navigating Across Communicative Contexts: Exploring Writing Proficiency in Adolescent and Adult EFL Learners
AbstractThis thesis examines whether EFL learners deploy their language skills differently and successfully when writing across communicative contexts. Study 1 proposes an innovative construct register flexibility, which refers to the ability to flexibly use a variety of linguistic resources to appropriately address various audiences across communicative contexts. A total of 263 EFL learners from three native language groups (Chinese, French, and Spanish) participated in this study. Using the researcher-developed Communicative Writing Instrument (CW-I), each participant produced: a personal email to a close friend (colloquial) and an academic report for an educational authority (academic). Texts were analyzed for linguistic complexity at the lexical, syntactic and discourse levels. Consistent with previous research, findings revealed positive associations between participants’ English proficiency and the linguistic complexity of the texts produced. In contrast, the association between English proficiency and register flexibility was not consistent across the different linguistic levels and differed across the three native language groups.
Study 2 examined EFL writers’ use of metadiscourse markers (MDMs), and their contribution to writing quality within and across colloquial and academic contexts. The corpus consisted of 704 written texts from 352 participants (collected also with CW-I). Texts were coded for three subtypes of organizational markers (i.e., frame markers, code glosses, and transitions) and three subtypes of stance markers (i.e., hedges, boosters, and attitude indicators). Trained EFL teachers scored overall writing quality using a standard rubric. The study reveals the similarities and differences in MDMs used across communicative contexts. Findings also revealed that the diversity of organizational markers and the frequency of frame markers were positive predictors of both academic and colloquial writing. In contrast, diversity of stance markers and the frequency of hedges were positively associated with writing quality only in the colloquial register condition.
Findings from both studies inform EFL writing instructors to design instruction that focuses not only on teaching linguistic forms, but which also encourages EFL learners to contrast the functional use of these resources across communicative contexts.
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