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Title:How grammar matters in NNS academic writing: the relationship between verb tense and aspect usage patterns and L2 writing proficiency in academic discourse
Author(s):Min, Kyung Eun
Advisor(s):Davidson, Frederick G.
Department / Program:English as an Intl Language
Discipline:Teaching of English Sec Lang
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):grammar teaching
non-native speaker usage patterns of English verb tense and aspect
L2 writing proficiency
academic discourse
Abstract:Grammar teaching in ESL/EFL classes has been controversial as it tackles various issues such as the necessity, scope, contents, and methods of teaching grammar. This thesis addresses the significance of teaching grammar in ESL/EFL academic writing courses by restating the question of “whether or not to teach grammar” to “how and when to teach which grammar.” This study used 120 de-identified academic essays written by NNS students—40 essays from three levels of students—during the official English Placement Test writing exam at UIUC. By counting the raw numbers of the English verb tense and aspect combinations in four main aspectual categories and analyzing the functional uses of each tense and aspect from actual student writing samples, this study aimed to investigate whether the usage of verb tense and aspect would have a positive relationship with the students’ language proficiency. Although it was possible to hypothesize that more proficient students would have better knowledge of verb tense and aspect and use more variety of verb structures, the results strongly suggested that grammatical knowledge represented by the NNS’ usage patterns of verb tense and aspect system was not the only factor; rather, the analysis of students’ writing samples highlighted the role of academic discourse as a significant variable to the frequency of each verb structure. Moreover, the error analysis of students’ writing samples implied that merely counting the frequency rate of “correct uses” or “avoided uses/ non-uses” did not fully reflect their L2 writing proficiency; it seemed to have close relationship with their knowing of more variety of functions each verb tense and aspect and their ability to make opportune uses of each function for the appropriate content. Put in another way, these findings suggested that patterns of using English verb tense and aspect was relevant to the students’ L2 writing proficiency because higher level students were able to incorporate their grammatical knowledge to the paper’s purpose, contents, and discourse register. Thus, this study concludes by proposing that “grammar” is neither an opposing iii component of “contents” when teaching L2 academic writing nor a competing factor against “structure or coherence” when assessing students’ writing proficiency. It would be most ideal and reasonable to choose grammar content that does not stand alone but have significance in meaning, function, and purpose as they merge into the entire writing process.
Issue Date:2013-05-24
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Kyung Eun Min
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-05-24
Date Deposited:2013-05

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