Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Use of Discourse Markers in Paragraph Writings: The Case of Preparatory Year Program Students in Qassim University

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Use of Discourse Markers in Paragraph Writings: The Case of Preparatory Year Program Students in Qassim University

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to identify the discourse markers used by Saudi EFL learners in their paragraph writing. The study was conducted on fifty students of the Preparatory Year Program at Qassim University. Data were collected from one hundred paragraphs written by the students at the end of the first and second semesters of the academic year 2012/13. These paragraphs were analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively in terms of the number of discourse markers used and their categories preferred in written paragraphs by three raters. The findings of the study revealed that the students overused the additive connectors followed by the causative, the contrastive and the illustrative ones. In addition, the students' use of writing discourse markers is too limited and the ones that were most frequently used are "and", "in addition", and "for example". The findings also indicated that the subjects of the study wrote too many simple sentences in their paragraphs in a choppy and immature manner and that their use of discourse markers did not develop as they progressed in education. The results also showed a positive and direct relationship between test scores and the use of discourse markers. A number of reasons were found to underlie the lack of using discourse markers on top of which were the teaching materials and examinations. The study concluded that students' ability to use discourse markers should be developed as a condition to improve their writing fluency and that their writing instructors should bridge the gaps in writing course books by suggesting necessary supplementary materials. The study suggests further extensive research investigating the misuse of discourse markers in the different language skills among students of different majors.

Keywords: discourse markers, cohesion, lexical density, writing quality

1. Introduction

The Preparatory Year Program (henceforth, PYP) is a mandatory one-year prerequisite for students who will enroll in the university's various undergraduate science and health programs. The main purpose of the PYP is to foster a smooth transition from the Arabic language teaching/learning setting in the secondary schools to an English medium college where most of the subjects are taught in English being the most commonly used language of communication all over the globe. English writing, as one of the important means for communication, is very important in English learning. Jalilifar (2008) argues that with the status of English as an international language and the expansion in the use of English, an increasing number of second/ foreign language learners are engaged in academic pursuits that require them to write well. However, developing the writing skill has always been the most complex and difficult aspect of language teaching because writing is seen basically as a process of four main stages: planning, drafting, revising, and editing (Haselow, 2011). Thus, EFL learners need to be aware of the different components of writing that would assist them to write effectively and teachers are advised to focus on the process of writing more than the finished product since various operations and strategies applied during the completion of a writing task became important (Assadi, 2012).

Although mastery of vocabulary and grammar rules is important to write grammatically correct sentences, yet it is not enough to help learners produce meaningful sentences that are value coherence in pragmatic level and cohesion in semantic level (Dergisi, 2010). In this context (Schiffrin, 1987) states that knowledge about the discourse markers (henceforth, DMs) amongst other things, is used to improve writing skill. According to Carter and McCarthy (2006), DMs are words and phrases which function to link segments of the discourse to one another in ways which reflect choices of monitoring, organization and management exercised by the speaker or the writer. Similarly, Carter & Fung (2007) define DMs as "intra-sentential and supra-sentential linguistic units which fulfill a largely non-propositional and connective function at the level of discourse, (p. …

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