The Role of Writing in Second Language Acquisition

Writing is an undoubtedly important, if somewhat misunderstood component of second language acquisition.  The purpose of any writing task must be clearly considered and defined in order for it to be effective.  It is important to note that writing can be both a support skill and a cognitive activity.  Short tasks designed to develop spelling, grammar, and cohesion skills are vital elements to classroom activity.  However, it is important for foreign language teachers to appropriately distinguish these activities from those in which writing is a cognitive activity: i.e. crafting a composition that requires more in depth thinking.

For such compositions, current approaches to foreign language teaching emphasize the process over the product.  Formerly, the final assignment or paper was considered the end-all-be-all for gauging a student’s development in L2 acquisition.  Recently, however, a push has been made to focus on how the composition is developed:  the formulation of ideas, outlining, editing, etc.  Current approaches emphasize recursive writing over linear writing, highlighting the importance of student review and editing.  Pre-writing activities such as relevant vocabulary review and content questions can help students in this critical thinking process.  Furthermore, instructors must negotiate clear expectations with their students.  If activities are properly planned and structured, even the most novice students can incorporate writing into their L2 acquisition.  Thus, the challenge truly lies with instructors to create and plan activities that are both engaging and appropriate to students’ skill levels.


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