L2 Writing and L1 Composition in English: Towards an Alignment of Effort

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ABSTRACT. In North American university contexts, the language diversity found in English mainstream composition ("L1") classrooms resembles more and more that found in ESL ("L2") writing classrooms. As these two groups become less differentiated, those specifically trained in L2 writing might well wonder whether the needs of the non-native speakers of English are acknowledged and addressed in the mainstream classrooms. The author examines several different theoretical constructs that have informed and continue to inform the literature on L1 composition pedagogy, demonstrating that some of these allow for the inclusion of linguistically diverse groups better than others. Fortunately, the recent turn to social and critical approaches to teaching composition reflect well the preoccupations of both L1 and L2 writing teachers. More and more attention is being paid to discussions of "linguistic diversity," a term which now includes non-native speakers. This suggests a future convergence in the activities of instructors of L1 and L2 writing, leading to benefits for linguistically diverse groups.


RÉSUMÉ. Au sein des universités nord-américaines, la diversité linguistique des classes ordinaires de composition anglaise (« L1 ») ressemble de plus à plus à ce que l'on retrouve dans les classes de rédaction ALS (« L2 »). Au fur et à mesure que les différences de ces deux groupes s'atténuent, les intervenants formés spécialement en rédaction L2 pourraient fort bien se demander si les besoins des personnes dont la langue maternelle n'est pas l'anglais sont reconnus et pris en compte dans les classes ordinaires. L'auteure examine plusieurs constructions théoriques différentes qui ont étoffé et continuent d'étoffer la littérature sur la pédagogie de la composition L1, démontrant que certaines permettent une meilleure inclusion des groupes ayant des profils linguistiques différents que d'autres. Heureusement, le récent virage favorisant des approches sociales et critiques de l'enseignement de la composition reflète bien les préoccupations des professeurs de rédaction L1 et L2. De plus en plus d'attention est apportée aux discussions sur la « diversité linguistique », un terme qui englobe maintenant les personnes dont la langue maternelle n'est pas l'anglais. Cette situation donne à penser qu'il y aura une convergence dans les activités des professeurs de rédaction L1 et L2, qui entraÎnera des avantages pour les groupes de divers profils linguistiques.


As a university instructor in English academic writing for non-native English speaking students in Québec, my job has been to prepare students for the type of composing that they will be expected to perform in other university settings. In this way, I have seen myself as "a means to an end," engaged in an insular activity, but hoping to develop links in my class to my students' other university classes. However, I have often felt that I was unaware of the future experiences of these non-native English ("L2") speakers as they leave their specialized ESL writing classrooms and confront university ("L1") writing. I am using the terms "ESL students/writers" and "L2 students/writers" to refer to international students from many countries, first and second-generation immigrants to Québec who spoke or learned French rather than English upon arrival, and francophone Québec citizens writing in English. English may very well be a third or fourth language for these students. These terms, therefore, are admittedly used for convenience. "L1" is generally used here for groups that consider their first or strongest language to be English.

My own ignorance about the expectations and demands of L1 composition instructors is matched by unfamiliarity with their approaches. In my own formal training in the fields of TESL and applied linguistics, I never came into contact with L1 composition instructors. …