AL Forum

AL Forum News, Volume 27:1 (November 2006)

by User Not Found | 11/02/2011
AL Forum AL Forum

November 2006 Volume 27 Number 1
A periodic newsletter for TESOL members.

In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • From the Chair
    • From the Chair-Elect
    • From the Editors
  • Articles and Information
    • Corpus Grammar Applications to Sentence Combining in the Composition Classroom
    • Register Distinctions in Teaching Academic Writing
    • Assessment Tools for Grammar-for-Writing Instruction
    • Attending to Prosodic and Segmental Features to Improve “Nonnative” Accents

Leadership Updates From the Chair

Isaiah W. Yoo, Sogang University, Seoul, Korea,

Dear ALIS members,

An-Nyoung-Ha-Se-Yo! ("Hello!" in Korean) You may be wondering why I started this from-the-chair piece with a greeting in Korean. As some of you may remember, I last wrote to you from Cambridge, Massachusetts, but I'm now writing to you from Seoul, Korea. After 16 years in the States, I came back to the place where I had spent the previous 17 years of my life.

Naturally, my interest has somewhat shifted from ESL to EFL. Directly reflecting this shift in my interest is the InterSection I've organized with the EFLIS, entitled "Bringing Culture Into the EFL Classroom Through Technology," for TESOL 2007 in Seattle, Washington. Featuring a series of presentations by such distinguished panelists as Marianne Celce-Murcia and Donna Brinton, this panel will discuss some critical differences between teaching ESL and teaching EFL, the importance of bringing culture into the EFL classroom, and how to use current technology to achieve that goal. Howard Williams, chair-elect this year, has also put together an exciting Academic Session, which he briefly describes in his letter to the ALIS members.

The abstract-review process for TESOL 2007 went swimmingly, no small feat considering that each of the 105 abstracts submitted to our IS had to be read online by three reviewers in 2 weeks' time. Of the 105 abstracts, we were able to accept only 21 individual papers and 2 colloquia, five fewer than last year's presentations. Also, it seems like yesterday that half of our ALIS open business meeting was spent complaining how difficult it was to use OASIS, the software program that TESOL started to use about 5 years ago for organizing conference abstract submissions. But for the past couple of years, no members of our IS have expressed any concerns about OASIS. If you haven't participated in the abstract adjudication process, it is a very good place to start getting involved in the various activities of our IS.

As usual, the ALIS open business meeting at TESOL 2006 in Tampa, Florida, allowed members a forum to discuss with each other topics of interest and concern to our IS. Concerns about Essential Teacher, for example, generated passionate discussions among members, especially those who have been members of TESOL for a long time. The main concern was the fact that the publication–unlike TESOL Matters and TESOL Journal, both of which Essential Teacher is supposed to replace–does not represent the voice of our members. Some members went so far as to say that they consider Essential Teacheran affront to them as teachers and expressed their interest in opting out of receiving it. Another issue raised was the lack of transparency in the TESOL board's decision-making process, especially regarding how and why TESOL Journal and TESOL Matters came to be replaced with Essential Teacher. The news of the resurrection of a new TESOL Journal, probably within the next 3 years, was met by subdued enthusiasm as it will be an online version, with a bound version of all issues available for purchase at the end of each year.

As you can see, our open business meeting at the annual TESOL convention, which is held at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, provides members with a valuable opportunity to share with each other various topics of interest and concern to themselves and to the ALIS. So please take advantage of this great opportunity next year. Finally, I would like to thank David Olsher and Noel Houck for their contributions to the ALIS as past chair and chair, respectively, during the 2005-2006 year. They made my job so much easier and so much more enjoyable!


From the Chair-Elect

Howard Williams, Teacher's College, Columbia University,

My name is Howard Williams, and I am this year's ALIS chair-elect. I was grateful to have been nominated at the Tampa conference and am honored to follow in the footsteps of predecessors Isaiah Yoo and David Olsher. I look forward to meeting many ALIS members in the coming year.

My background is in linguistics and in TESL. I first taught English overseas in Germany from 1979 to 1981; after returning to the United States, I picked up a MATESL degree at the University of Washington and taught at community colleges and university AEPs for a while, eventually ending up in Los Angeles. I received my final degree at UCLA, focusing in my dissertation on the logical connective expressions in English; for most of my time in Los Angeles, I also taught ESL at Santa Monica College. For the past 8 years I've been working at Teachers College in New York teaching pedagogically oriented linguistics courses in the TESOL/AL program. My major interests are in syntax and pragmatics and how these can interface with TESOL/AL interests.

Now, a word about what's planned for Seattle in March. Next year's AL Academic Session will be called "Language As Content." A panel including Marianne Celce-Murcia, Ann Snow, and Barbara Hawkins, among others, will defend the proposition that language itself constitutes a legitimate focus of inquiry in an ESL/FL class—a focus every bit as "contentful" as gender roles, aquatic birds, or the greenhouse effect. Some of the panelists will sketch interesting lines of research on classroom "talk about language" that will hopefully succeed in challenging a common sentiment that content focus and language focus are somehow mutually exclusive, if not at philosophical odds with each other. I am not sure whether the issue has ever been framed in quite this way at a TESOL conference. We also look forward to presentations on teacher's language play in L2 classrooms, on metaphor and metonymy in grammar teaching, on pedagogical aspects of humor, on the research consensus on the efficacy of oral feedback types, on the application of conversation analysis to classroom listening activities—and, of course, on a variety of other AL-related topics to be announced.

Hoping to see as many ALIS members as possible next March in Seattle!


From the Editors

Scott Phillabaum, California State University, Dominguez Hills,,
and Lorena Llosa, New York University,

Greetings to everyone as we approach the end of 2006.

In this issue (27.1) we are pleased to feature three articles by presenters of the TESOL 2006 Applied Linguistics IS Academic Session in Tampa, which was entitled "Grammar in and for Academic Writing." All of the authors have extensive experience in both grammar and academic writing and offer various perspectives on the intersection of these crucial areas. We believe researchers and practitioners alike will find these articles appealing and useful.

Jan Frodesen argues for focusing on essential grammatical structures and proposes that we use corpus grammars to identify them. She then provides guidelines for creating sentence-combining exercises to help students develop fluency in the use of those structures in academic writing. Recognizing the limitations of what can realistically be taught in an L2 writing class, Eli Hinkel also proposes focusing on a core set of academic vocabulary and advanced grammar structures that are most prevalent in academic writing. Finally, Patricia Porter and Deborah vanDommelen present a number of innovative and useful discourse-based procedures for assessment in a grammar-for-writing context.

In addition to the articles from the Academic Session, we have included a piece by Hee Jin Bang on issues related to pronunciation instruction for adult ESL learners.

We greatly appreciate the contributions of all submitting authors and hope you'll enjoy this issue of the ALIS Forum!

Articles and Information Corpus Grammar Applications to Sentence Combining in the Composition Classroom

Jan Frodesen, University of California, Santa Barbara,

Like many composition teachers, I have found recent corpus linguistics research to be an extremely valuable source of information on the ways in which grammatical structures are used in academic registers and on the relationships between grammatical forms and lexical items in academic writing. Corpus grammars, concordances, and other sources help us describe much more accurately than previously how grammar functions in discourse as well as identify the lexical items that frequently co-occur with certain structures. Moreover, as Douglas Biber (2005) noted in his recent Applied Linguistics Forum article, corpus analyses have proved some of our intuitions about grammar to be incorrect. It remains a challenge, however, for composition teachers to translate many of these interesting findings into classroom applications. In this article, I consider how the information in a corpus grammar can offer fresh perspectives on an "old" sentence-based pedagogy, namely sentence combining. But first, a brief history of sentence combining in L1 and L2 composition in the United States is in order.

Most L2 composition teachers have, at one time or another, taught sentence combining or clause/phrase rearranging strategies to help students create semantic links between ideas expressed in multiple sentences or to background information that is less important through embedding, or, in general, to develop discourse fluency. The process involves joining two or more short sentences into a longer one using embedding of various types, subordination, coordination, substitution, and deletion. Sentence-combining exercises in ESL grammar and writing books have typically focused on transforming sentences into adjective and adverbial clauses to be joined to another sentence, as in this example from Steer and Carlisi (1998):

I tied a string around my finger. I wanted to be sure to mail my Mother's Day card.
(One possible combination: So that I would be sure to mail my Mother's Day card, I tied a string around my finger.)

Those who are familiar with the development of L1 composition studies from the early 70s on will recall that sentence combining was once at the forefront of discussions about writing development. In "The Erasure of the Sentence," Robert Connors (2000) noted that between 1976 and 1983, no fewer than 49 articles about sentence combining were published in major journals, in addition to hundreds of papers and conference presentations. The reasons for the sudden turning away from sentence-based rhetorics in general and sentence combining in particular are, as Connors recounted, multiple and complex. But certainly a major objection to the method was that, as a composing strategy, it focused on form at the expense of attention to content. Critics such as Peter Elbow (1985) argued that sentence combining involved arhetorical, mechanical exercises rather than authentic writing for real purposes. By the early 1980s, however, it was clear that many proponents of sentence combining were attempting to transform the methodology so that it did reflect rhetorical concerns—audience, purpose, tone—and related more authentically to developing writers' composing and revision processes (Daiker, Kerek, & Morenberg, 1985). As Connors has stated, the popular view that research determined sentence combining to be ineffective in improving writing quality is simply not true.

In the decades that followed up to the present, many ESL grammar and composition textbooks have offered students sentence-combining exercises and practice, both to build fluency and to serve as a draft revision strategy. One reason the "old" sentence-combining methods lacked relevance for much of academic writing is that they focused heavily on expressive writing. In contrast, L2 composition teachers today have drawn on findings from functional linguistics research that examines sentence- and clause-combining practices in a range of academic genres. Research by Schleppegrell (2004), for example, explained how clause-combining strategies depend on register and expectations of readers as well as textual properties in the surrounding discourse and the writer's goals.

Turning back to the topic of corpus linguistics applications, let us consider what corpus grammars offer for effective sentence-combining practices. For one, these grammars have identified the discourse functions of grammatical patterns across spoken and written registers and within academic prose. As just one example, we can see the many types of fronted (sentence initial) structures that are used to create cohesion across sentence boundaries as well as to focus or emphasize information. In revising drafts through sentence combining, writers may consider how structures such as adverb clauses or prepositional modifiers can be fronted for these discourse purposes. One interesting fronted structure Biber, Leech, Johansson, Conrad, and Finegan (1999) identified as common in academic prose is the sentence initial predicative, such as far more important or most interesting of all—phrases that often express some sort of comparison. Here is a sentence-combining example, with sentences (b) and (c) to be joined:

(a) Star Wars was one of the most successful films ever in terms of box office sales.
(b) However, Titanic was more successful. (c) It was the highest grossing film of the 20th century.
Combining (b) and (c): Even more successful was Titanic, the highest grossing film of the 20th century.

In an exercise, the fronted predicative could be prompted, with students completing the sentence. In teaching the use of fronting for cohesion or emphasis, I had not previously considered this structure; however, from the corpus data it appears that predicatives are more commonly fronted in academic writing than are other structures.

With the tremendous amount of data from corpus linguistics research now available, certainly an important consideration for applications of corpus grammar to sentence combining is how to select structures to use in the classroom from among the many findings. I would like to suggest a few guidelines, drawn from the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (LWSE) analyses in Biber et al.(1999), with examples from their data in parentheses. The registers represented in the LSWE corpus are conversation, fiction, newspaper writing, and academic writing.

1. Consider structures that are common in academic writing but are uncommon or even rare in conversational English.
Writers will have less familiarity with these forms and should benefit from practice using them in activities such as draft revision or other focused exercises. The fronted predicatives discussed above are, of course, one example. Others are the possessive relativizers whose and which (e.g., They knew that only another planet, whose orbit lay beyond those already recognized, could explain the behavior of the nearer planets; The wheel drives a similar but smaller wooden-toothed wheel, the other end of which carries only a large open-spoked wheel) Though these two relativizers are rare in conversation, they are rather common in all written registers. Thus, for advanced writers, we should provide practice using these less familiar constructions in combining sentences in addition to the more common relativizers which, who, and that.

2. Consider grammar patterns in academic writing that differ from more familiar patterns in other written genres such as narrative fiction.
Corpus findings on the distribution of past perfect verbs are a good example of this.
In fiction, past perfect verbs are most common in adverbial clauses (e.g., When everyone had drunk two or three hours, Nwakibie sent for his wives) and in complement clauses (It came almost as a shock to realize that her night had been peaceful). ESL grammar textbook examples typically use adverbial clauses to illustrate the past perfect, reflecting a narrative mode. However, in academic writing, it turns out that the past perfect is most common not in adverbial clauses but in relative clauses (e.g., The 245-year-old was a remnant of the old-growth lodge-pole pine that had originally covered the area of all three stands). As such, the past perfect encodes backgrounded information about nouns. This discourse grammar finding seems important for application to sentence-combining activities in composition classes.

3. Consider structures in academic writing that differ from other registers in the semantic properties of co-occurring lexical items.
In regard to the possessive relativizers whose and of which, the analyses in Biber et al. show that in the newspaper register, whose modifies human head nouns about 70% of the time (e.g., He was only eight when Bruce Lee, whose 1973 film Enter the Dragon made him an international star, died mysteriously). In striking contrast, about 75% of the occurrences of whose in academic writing modify inanimate nouns (e.g., A crystal is a piece of matterwhose boundaries are naturally formed plane surfaces). Clearly, sentence-combining practice using these forms for academic writing should include a large percentage of inanimate head nouns, not just persons or collective nouns.

Another structure often used for sentence-combining practice is the appositive. Here, too, we see a great difference in usage across newspaper and academic registers. Biber et al.'s research revealed that 90% of appositives found in newspaper writing describe a proper noun, and the majority of these refer to a human (Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright). In contrast, appositives in academic prose exhibit a great range of functions, and often modify nonhuman head nouns (the various life-history events [i.e., oviposition, hatching, and maturation]). One implication of this finding is that combining practice should include types of nonhuman head nouns found in academic writing across the disciplines, and incorporate functions such as explanatory glosses, the listing of items in a class, and chemical and mathematical formulas.

For one last example, consider relative adverb where clauses, yet another structure often used for sentence combining. As Biber et al. discussed, in the registers of conversation, fiction, and newspapers, head nouns with where clauses typically indicate a physical location (the hospital where she spent 63 hours). In contrast, head nouns with where clauses found in academic prose typically do not indicate physical but rather logical locations (the kind of situation where this type of work is helpful). In this as in other cases, ESL textbooks tend to use the forms that are less common in academic writing. Thus, for more authentic and relevant academic writing practice, we should focus on the head nouns commonly used to express logical locations, such asarea, condition, example, point, and situation.

In summary, by drawing selectively on the findings of corpus grammars, composition teachers can better facilitate students' writing fluency development and draft revision activities that involve combining, rearranging, and focusing information in sentences. As these examples indicate, patterns identified as common in academic registers are often not the ones that we generally see in grammar or composition textbooks.

Biber, D. (2005). What can corpus linguistics tell us about English grammar? Applied Linguistics Forum, 26.2.

Biber, D., Leech, G., Johansson, S., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Longman Publications Group.

Connors, R. (2000). The erasure of the sentence. College Composition and Communication, 52, 96-128.

Daiker, D. A., Kerek, A., & Morenberg, M. (Eds.). (1985). Sentence combining: A rhetorical perspective. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Elbow, P. (1985). The challenge for sentence combining. In D. A. Daiker, A. Kerek, & M. Morenberg (Eds.), Sentence combining: A rhetorical perspective (pp. 232-245). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Schleppegrell, M. J. (2004). The language of schooling. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Steer, J., & Carlisi, K. (1998). The advanced grammar book (2nd ed.). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Register Distinctions in Teaching Academic Writing

Eli Hinkel, Seattle University,

Today, it is an established fact that the academic writing skills of many L2 students in U.S. colleges and universities have much room for improvement (e.g., see the ICAS, 2002, report prepared in California by the joint Academic Senate of approximately 132 institutions). In the past several years, the academic writing skills of L2 learners have been the subject of intense discussions and debates at all levels of education in various countries where English is a primary medium of instruction, such as Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, and the United States.

It seems largely self-evident that learning to write in the L2 is fundamentally different from learning to write in the L1. L1 writers, who are native speakers of English, already have highly developed (native) language proficiency in English, whereas most nonnative speakers must dedicate years to learning it as a second language. To this end, instruction in L2 writing, as well as other L2 skills for academically bound learners, needs to address the development of these students' language foundation, and should include focused curricula in academic vocabulary and grammar.

The teaching of the academic core vocabulary and advanced grammar constructions allows L2 students an opportunity to learn the language skills requisite in academic writing. For many (if not most) L2 students to have access to a university-level education, they need to be enabled to produce writing more syntactically and lexically advanced than can be attained by means of exposure to spoken interactions and conversational discourse. In general terms, academic vocabulary and advanced grammar constructions cannot be learned in conversational exchanges simply because they do not occur there. As Kamil and Hiebert (2005) noted, "the relationship between vocabulary and literacy is impossible to separate. To be literate necessitates and supports a rich vocabulary" (p. 19).

Academic Vocabulary and Grammar: Basic Curricular Necessities
Research has demonstrated that English-language academic writing is governed by several rigid conventions in its discourse structure and language features. Based on the findings of numerous studies and in simple terms, the curriculum foci in academic courses should aim for maximum gain for minimal work by capitalizing on the rigidity and conventionalization of written academic prose in English.

Investigations into L1 and L2 written academic text have identified a range of lexical and grammar features that require intensive teaching and concerted effort from both teachers and learners (e.g., Dudley-Evans & St. John, 1998; Jordan, 1997; Hinkel, 2002, 2003, 2004a; Nation, 1990, 2001; 2005).

Essential Curricular Elements for Academic Writing

  • An expanded accessible repertoire of common academic nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs (e.g., analysis, constrain, dramatic, evidently)
  • Contextual functions and uses of verb tenses in discourse (e.g., the simple present tense can be suitable in a wide range of texts, with the exception of case studies, as in Berger (1989) calls for the expansion of experimental research to aid in the development of sociological theory)
  • Functions and uses of the passive voice in academic text (e.g., Sociology is concerned with the study of society. The hydrogenation of fat was originally developed for making soap)
  • Functions of adverbs in pivoting discourse and information flow (e.g., generally speaking, in this case, to be specific)
  • Regularities in phrase and sentence construction (subject-verb agreement and intervening prepositional phrases, as in Berger, along with collaborators, asserts that. . .)
  • Backgrounding information in subordinate clauses (e.g., Although sociology emerged only recently in the early 19th century, today it comprises a large cluster of sub-fields that examine . . .)
  • Textual features of cohesion and coherence in discourse (e.g., synonymy and lexical substitutions, as in cluster-array-body-group-range-set, but notlots, batch, bunch, clump, hunk, wad)
  • Functions and uses of hedges in academic prose (e.g. Sociobiology is probably one of the newest subdisciplines/fields to branch from a merger of sociology and biology) (adapted from Hinkel, 2004b)

Common academic vocabulary, grammar structures, and collocations can be learned and practiced in the context of reading, writing, or grammar instruction at practically all levels of student proficiency. Because academic vocabulary, grammar, and other specific features of academic prose represent integral components of L2 academic writing, the suggested curriculum and teaching techniques work with these concurrently.

In addition, many language features that are traditionally included in L2 teaching but hardly ever found in academic prose are not particularly useful in instruction.

Rare in Academic Writing
(but common in conversational discourse)

  • Personal narratives and their attendant features, such as personal examples and experiences as rhetorical support
  • Conversational reporting verbs (e.g., go, say, speak, talk, tell)
  • Vague nouns (e.g., human(s), human being(s), people, stuff, thing(y), -ever nouns [whoever, whatever, whenever], world)
  • Tentative verbs (e.g., attempt, desire, expect, like, plan, try, want)
  • Simple public verbs (e.g., agree, explain, promise, say, show, speak, state, suggest, tell)
  • Simple emotive and private verbs (e.g., believe, feel, forget, hear, know, learn, prove, remember, see, study, think)
  • Resultative nouns (e.g., finish, end, result)
  • Phrase conjunctions (and, or, but) and sentence transitions often overused in L2 writing (e.g., first, second, third, finally, (at) last, moreover, furthermore, therefore)
  • be as a main verb and predicative adjectives (e.g., Berger is famous)
  • Intensifiers of any type (e.g., absolutely, a lot, always, complete(-ly), for sure, highly, hugely, total(-ly))
  • Indirect pronouns (e.g., everyone, no one, nothing; anyone, some, something)
  • Progressive verb uses, commonly associated with conversations (e.g., Berger was researching . . .); the past perfect tense (e.g., had seen, had been)
  • Universal pronouns (some-/any-/every-/no- words, e.g., somebody, nothing, everyone, anything)
  • Rhetorical questions (e.g., Do you know what the purpose of life is?)
  • Causative clauses/constructions (e.g., because, because of)

In the finite space of an L2 writing course, a teacher can provide instruction in only a small subset of the universe of written language. It would be beneficial for students if the curriculum focused on the language features that the students actually need in their academic writing outside of the ESL classroom.

Additional Resources

  • The University Word List (UWL) contains 836 essential words that occur in introductory course textbooks in various disciplines (e.g., abstract, accurate, civic, friction, mature, random).
  • The Academic Word List (AWL) contains 570 word families and a total of 3,110 academic words, selected according to their frequency of use in academic texts (developed for university preparation) (e.g., accept: acceptability, acceptable, unacceptable, acceptance, accepted, accepting, accepts).
    (Nation, 1990, 2001)

Dudley-Evans, T., & St. John, M. J. (1998). Developments in English for specific purposes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hinkel, E. (2002). Second language writers' text. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hinkel, E. (2003). Simplicity without elegance: Features of sentences in L2 and L1 academic texts. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 275-301.

Hinkel, E. (2004a). Teaching academic ESL writing: Practical techniques in vocabulary and grammar. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hinkel, E. (2004b). Tense, aspect, and the passive voice in L1 and L2 writing. Language Teaching Research, 8, 5-29.

ICAS. (2002). Academic literacy: A statement of competencies expected of students entering California's public colleges and universities. Sacramento, CA: Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates of California Colleges and Universities.

Jordan, R. (1997). English for academic purposes. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.

Kamil, M., & Hiebert, E. (2005). Teaching and learning vocabulary: Perspectives and persistent issues. In E. Hiebert and M. Kamil (Ed.), Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice (pp. 1-26). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Nation, I. S. P. (1990). Teaching and learning vocabulary. New York: Newbury House.

Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I. S. P. (2005). Teaching and learning vocabulary. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research on second language teaching and learning (pp. 581-596). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Assessment Tools for Grammar-for-Writing Instruction

Patricia Porter, San Francisco State University,,
and Deborah vanDommelen, San Francisco State University,

Because assessment should always mirror instruction, we recommend procedures based on the integration of reading, writing, and grammar with the goal of helping students learn and practice strategies for improving their expression and accuracy. Our approach includes asking students to self-assess, providing meaningful discourse contexts, and focusing on the development of personalized systems for editing that include learner-created reference materials. Because students are often unfamiliar with this approach to assessment, we recommend that teachers explicitly demonstrate how the procedures described in this summary¹ can contribute directly to learning.

Diagnostic Assessment
Diagnostic assessment, done initially and throughout the semester, helps both teachers and students discover strengths and problems, as well as motivates students who claim to have "studied it all before" in spite of persistent inaccuracies in their writing. An in-class writing sample is a common diagnostic measure and, to "bias for the best," (Brown, 2004)—that is, to design the assessment so that students can perform as well as possible—the prompt should be based on a short reading that students have had time to discuss and think about before they write, and students should have time for editing (15 to 30 minutes) during the next class session. In feedback to students, we recommend minimal marking of papers in two possible ways: (a) highlight or underline selected errors and give students another chance to correct them or (b) mark each student's three most serious problem areas and list these at the end of the paper. In either case, the feedback should also focus on content by giving the student a short list of primary concerns (e.g., providing sufficient background information, making connections that illustrate the author's ideas, tying ideas together in the end).

To diagnose students' grasp of grammar metalanguage (especially important with a mixed class of recent immigrants, generation 1.5 learners, and international students), we give students a short paragraph and ask them to (a) circle subjects and underline main verbs to determine their understanding of basic clause structures and (b) match selected underlined words with items from a list of terms (e.g., noncount noun, action verb, infinitive) to find out what they know about other grammar terminology and forms. To diagnose editing skills, we recommend giving them a paragraph with relevant errors to edit, asking students to mark up the text in ways helpful to them so that we can see their editing strategies. Another means of diagnosis is a dictation or dictocomp based on a short paragraph that has particular grammar features embedded in it. Students can correct their own work (in a different color ink) and then analyze their "mis-hearings" and missing words and endings. Teacher feedback and the students' analysis of diagnostic writing samples help convince learners that grammar accuracy is important.

General Self-Assessment and Goal Setting
One major benefit of the next assessment step, self-assessment and goal-setting activities, is that students have a direct hand in determining what they want to get out of the course and thus become more directly involved and responsible for their own learning. In addition, such ongoing assessment activities make goals and skills explicit in language that students can understand, with students coming back to earlier goals to review and reformulate them.

As an initial assessment, students can look over the content of the course textbook and syllabus to identify grammar and writing features they can confidently use and those that they find challenging or unfamiliar. Using this information and feedback from their diagnostic writing and activities, they can then write out explicit goals for the course or unit, including naming the goal, giving examples, and noting material in the textbook for their reference. Another more interactive way to help students develop their goals is through a whole-class activity in which students brainstorm grammar and writing skills they want to work on. (These are written on the board.) Students note particular areas they individually need to work on, then, working together, brainstorm ways to improve their skills and check their progress. As facilitators, teachers can help make links between writing skills and grammar skills (e.g., using correct verb tenses when writing about readings; using subordinators to make clear statements of main ideas).

Students can also do self-assessment throughout the semester. For example, they can keep a Log of Feedback on Papers, in which they analyze and distill teacher comments by recording strengths, skills they need to work on, and relevant reference materials they can use to improve. At the midterm and end of the semester, we recommend use of a Midterm/Final Self-Assessment Form on which learners provide evaluative information about their performance on papers, homework, quizzes, exams, participation, and other features of the course (such as developing and using grammar reference materials). They then list their strengths in the course, goals they have met, and accomplishments in meeting their goals. At midterm time, they can state goals for the rest of the course, and at the end of the course, they can give themselves a grade. We find these self-assessment forms not only allow students to participate in evaluating, but also encourage them to take a realistic view of their performance; in addition, this information helps the teacher to catch problems and plan individualized assistance.

Self- and Peer Assessment of Writing
One way to promote self-assessment of writing is to provide learners with editing guides that take them through clear steps for identifying explicit grammar features and editing incorrect usage of them. These editing guides should focus the students on interacting with their text by analyzing and then correcting, rather than simply answering yes/no questions. For example, an editing guide on verb tense consistency would ask students to underline verbs, mark instances of tense shifts, and come up with a reason for each tense shift. Students are most successful with editing guides that have a consistent system for marking and clear references to relevant grammar information in the textbook.

Often thought of as a controversial activity, peer assessment of grammar, in our view, can be effective when done in an editing workshop. On the day of the peer review, students bring in a paper, revised for content and edited for specific grammar features, with comments in the margins where they have questions about their editing choices. They can then work in pairs or groups focusing on those questions, ideally with class time provided for putting examples from the papers on the board to discuss. The goal of the self-assessment with editing guides and the peer assessment in workshops is to help students develop strategies for interacting with their own and others' texts and to develop a "toolbox" of techniques for taking responsibility for their own editing work.

Another productive procedure is the preparation of a self-assessment cover sheet to go with a paper (whether a draft for discussion in a student-teacher conference or a final draft); on it students respond to various prompts about their paper (e.g., what I like, what I did well in content and grammar, what I had difficulty with and how I overcame it, what part I would most like to improve). Such self-assessment provides the teacher with a more complete context for evaluating the paper and gives students a sense of ownership of their work.

Teacher Feedback on Grammar and Writing
For teacher assessment of students' compositions, the goal should be to provide clear comments and guidance for future writing. We recommend minimal marking of errors with a focus on the student's major problems, using simple labels familiar to the students (e.g., VT for verb tense, art for article, WF for word form), along with end comments about the content, focusing on progress. We recommend using a multitrait grading rubric that includes components for + , check, or - grading: (a) a short list of content descriptions, some directly related to the tasks in the writing prompt (e.g., "Your discussion of the article is clear and presents information that is relevant to your experience") and some more global (e.g., "You successfully tie your ideas together in the introduction and conclusion"); (b) statements about grammar and editing that specify the features in focus and evaluation of the student's editing/proofreading draft; and (c) a statement about mechanics. The teacher can then include a summative comment and a grade. We have found that such a system simplifies the assessment and grading procedure, helping us avoid excessive comments and questions that our students are often unable to process. This feedback serves as a guide for future work for the students, such as when they write out selected corrections of errors that have been marked, list the feedback in their Log of Feedback on Papers, and set new goals for the next paper.

In addition to out-of-class compositions, a grammar-for-writing class will undoubtedly include other formal graded assessments such as quizzes, selected homework activities, and in-class tests. For in-class writing, we would like to emphasize the importance of accessible and familiar prompts, time for editing, and task-specific rubrics for scoring.

In conclusion, assessment, of which "testing" is only a part, needs to be closely integrated with instruction and with student learning. In addition, assessment should mirror salient features of a communicative language classroom such as a focus on meaningful communication, the building of student autonomy within a community of learners, and teacher-student collaboration.

Brown, H. D. (2004). Language assessment: Principles and classroom practices. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education.

Destandau, N., & Wald, M. (2002). Promoting generation 1.5 learners' academic literacy and autonomy: Contributions from the learning center. CATESOL Journal 14(1), 207-234.

Genesee, F., & Upshur, J.A. (1996). Classroom-based evaluation in second language education. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Goen, S., Porter, P., Swanson, D., & vanDommelen, D. (2002). Working with generation 1.5 students and their teachers: ESL meets composition. CATESOL Journal 14(1), 131-172.

Porter, P. (2005). Focusing on form: Seven habits of highly skillful teachers. In J. Frodesen & C. Holten (Eds.), The power of context in language teaching and learning. Boston: Thomson Heinle.

Porter, P. A., and vanDommelen, D. (2005). Read, write, edit: Grammar for college writers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. See also "Assessment" on the publisher's Instructors' Web Site for the text at

Shih, M. (2001). A course in grammar-editing for ESL writers. In J. Murphy & P. Byrd (Eds.), Understanding the courses we teach: Local perspectives on English language teaching. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

¹ Most of the procedures and forms described here can be found in Porter and vanDommelen (2005) or on the publisher's Instructors' Web Site for the textbook at

Attending to Prosodic and Segmental Features to Improve “Nonnative” Accents

Hee Jin Bang, New York University,

According to the general consensus, children who begin to learn a second language before puberty are more likely to achieve a native-like proficiency in the L2 than those who start to learn after the onset of puberty (Ioup, 2005). Research supports the existence of this critical period and, when complemented by studies on fossilization, seems to send the message that L2 acquisition by adult learners is bound to fail or fall short of target-like norms (Han & Selinker, 2005). This notion is particularly discouraging for adult L2 learners, many of whom spend a great deal of time and effort trying to improve their accents, hoping to sound like a native speaker. Here, I attempt to eliminate some of this discouragement first by identifying the most likely reason for the widely acknowledged difficulty in acquiring a native-like accent. I then present an instructional program demonstrated to be effective in modifying nonnative accents.

In linguistics, segmental features of a language's sound system refer largely to the vowels and consonants, whereas suprasegmental features refer to the stress, intonation, and rhythm of the language (Seferoglu, 2005). It seems logical to expect that instruction aimed at reducing L2 learners' accents will address both of these aspects. The traditional approach, however, to teaching pronunciation of a target language focused heavily on segmental features and involved using patterns of minimal pairs to practice sounds that do not exist in the learners' L1 (Bronstein, 1960, as cited in Sefero?lu, 2005). More recently, communicative approaches have focused on suprasegmental features. Research indeed indicates that prosodic patterns have a greater impact than does pronunciation of individual sounds on the comprehensibility of speech (Major, Fitzmaurice, Bunta, & Balasubramanian, 2002). Nonetheless, evidence suggests that some language teachers continue to devote substantial instructional attention to correcting nonnative-like productions of phonological segments.

One example is provided through Derwing's (2003) study on adult immigrants in Canada. The majority of the study participants felt that pronunciation contributed to their communication problems. While some could not describe their pronunciation problems, those who could articulate them stated that the source of these problems was a small number of segmental units that usually do not affect the intelligibility of their speech. This finding suggests that segmental units were most likely the focus of the pronunciation instruction to which they had been exposed. Because suprasegmental features appear to contribute more greatly to the intelligibility of one's speech, the participants in Derwing's study may well have experienced fewer or less serious communicational challenges if their language-learning experiences had focused more on the prosodic patterns of the L2. Indeed, this conjecture is supported by the findings of a study that Derwing and Rossiter (2003) conducted to examine the effect of different types of pronunciation instruction on adult ESL learners. Among students who received segmental instruction, prosodic instruction, or no instruction, only those who were exposed to prosodic instruction experienced significant improvements in comprehensibility and fluency of their speech when judged by six experienced ESL teachers. Those who received segmental instruction or no specific instruction were judged to have made no significant improvements in comprehensibility, accentedness, or fluency. Thus, it is speculated that a misplaced instructional emphasis on the segmental aspects of L2 may be partly responsible for the widespread notion that adult learners are bound to have difficulties in the pronunciation of a target language.

The necessary emphasis on suprasegmental aspects of L2 in pronunciation instruction has been facilitated by the recent development of multimedia software and sound-processing technologies. In one longitudinal project, known as the Technology Enhanced Accent Modification (TEAM) Project, Arthur Schwartz, a professor specializing in speech and hearing, led a team of researchers and engineers in developing software aimed at improving the accent of international teaching assistants (ITAs). The software addresses both the segmental as well as suprasegmental features of accent, but places greater emphasis on the prosodic features of speech. In addition, the software provides multisensory instruction and feedback that allows learners to hear their speech and see the graphic representations of their utterances. An accompanying curriculum covers 15 topics of speech that have been identified as playing a role in accent comprehensibility, including contrastive stress, phrasing, and word focus; each topic is exemplified through 120 model utterances that have been digitally recorded. The rationale is to have learners start with trained tutors who use model graphs and drawings to demonstrate where to position the tongue and lips to produce specific speech sounds and prosodic patterns. Working with a tutor, learners acquire the skills needed to recognize cues that indicate how to change speech patterns to match the model utterances. They evaluate and compare their attempts with the models; articulate the reasons for differences between the model utterances and their own; and suggest changes they can adopt to match the target features (Schwartz, 1996).

This instructional software program distinguishes itself from other computer-assisted programs (e.g., Kay Elemetrics Visi-Pitch II, IBM Speech Viewer III, and The Indiana Speech Training Aid) with its greater emphasis on prosodic features of speech, self-efficacy, and metacognitive abilities that learners can develop from monitoring their own speech. Such characteristics are the most likely factors contributing to the success experienced by the project participants. According to the evaluation of the TEAM Project, the ITAs involved in this project experienced statistically significant improvements in their oral proficiency and improved comprehensibility as reported by their students (Schwartz, 1996). They also maintained their accent modifications as demonstrated by test results 6 months following the initial instruction period. Other computer-based programs listed above also use visual feedback to explain acoustical information (Ferrier, Reid, & Chenausky, 1999), but the instructional emphasis is placed on segmental errors commonly made by nonnative speakers, rather than on prosodic features. A comparison of the TEAM Project and these other programs reveals that for L2 learners to improve their accents, two main components need to be in place in the instructional program: (a) emphasis on the aspect of speech that more greatly contributes to intelligibility, and (b) guidance enabling learners to develop the metacognitive abilities necessary to monitor and modify their own speech (Graham, 2004).

As useful a learning tool as this software may be, it must also be emphasized that "native-like speech" is ill-defined, as is the identity of the "native speaker." Thus, the shifting of emphasis away from segmental features toward prosodic patterns should be accompanied by reassurance for students that a "native-speaker accent" is not required for comprehensible speech. Moreover, not all native speakers of English use "standard" American or British pronunciation, a message that should be conveyed in language classrooms. Nonetheless, for those wishing to attain a "native-speaker accent," technological advances and research indicate that instruction can be designed to assist them in minimizing L1 accents. Such programs may well be most effective when serving to increase comprehensibility by focusing on suprasegmental over segmental features.


Derwing, T. M. (2003). What do ESL students say about their accents? The Canadian Modern Language Review, 59(4), 547-566.

Derwing, T. M., & Rossiter, M. J. (2003). The effects of pronunciation instruction on the accuracy, fluency, and complexity of L2 accented speech. Applied Language Learning, 13(1), 1-17.

Ferrier, L. J., Reid, L. N., & Chenausky, K. (1999). Computer-assisted accent modification: A report on practice effects. Topics in Language Disorders, 19(4),35-48.

Graham, S. J. (2004). Giving up on modern foreign languages? Students' perceptions of learning French. The Modern Language Journal, 88(2), 171-191.

Han, Z., & Selinker, L. (2005). Fossilization in L2 learners. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 455-470). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Ioup, G. (2005). Age in second language development. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 419-435). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Major, R., Fitzmaurice, S. F., Bunta, F., & Balasubramanian, C. (2002). The effects of nonnative accents on listening comprehension: Implications for ESL assessment. TESOL Quarterly, 36(2), 173-190.

Schwartz, A. H. (1996). Technology Enhanced Accent Modification (TEAM) for International Teaching Assistants (ITAs). Cleveland State University, OH, Department of Speech and Hearing. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED414836)

Seferoglu, G. (2005). Improving students' pronunciation through accent reduction software. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 303-316.