Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Challenges Face Arab Students in Writing Well-Developed Paragraphs in English

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Challenges Face Arab Students in Writing Well-Developed Paragraphs in English

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study aimed to investigate problems facing Palestinian Arab students from Israel who are majoring in teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in developing well-written paragraphs in English. They usually transfer the stylistic features of their first language, Arabic to the target language, English. For example, they tend to write long sentences with coordinating conjunctions (Al-Khatib, 2001), repeat themselves and argue through presentation and elaboration (Almehmadi, 2013), and often talk around the topic and repeat phrases before stating the main points (Alsamadani, 2010). The data had been accumulated for the last fourteen years include samples of 205 students, which show similar repeated types of mistakes and errors made by the participants of the first year writing course. The accumulated data show that students face many problems in writing good topic as well as concluding sentences, supporting details by adding examples and reasons and using discourse markers appropriately. To help these learners write good samples of paragraphs in English, a variety of approaches such as contrastive analysis, error analysis, and the process approach have been employed. The findings indicated that by the end of their first school year, most of them succeed in writing topic and concluding sentences. However, (1) providing supporting details including examples and reasons is not fully mastered; (2) the style of English is not completely acquired: Some students continue transferring the style of Arabic writing; and (3) developing a cohesive paragraph using the right coordinators and transition words still needs a lot of practice.

Keywords: writing problems, paragraph development, methods of instruction

1. Introduction

1.1 The Difficulties of Writing among Arabic Speakers

Generally speaking, writing is a difficult skill for native speakers and nonnative speakers alike because writers must balance multiple issues in their writing such as content, organization, purpose, audience, vocabulary and mechanics which means using the right punctuation, spelling and capitalization. Writing in a second language is even more demanding because it is "a complex, challenging, and difficult process" (Alsamadani, 2010) since writers are expected to produce written samples that are syntactically accurate, semantically acceptable and culturally appropriate. Arab students are not an exception. They face many difficulties writing well- developed paragraphs and essays in English. Since English and Arabic linguistic and orthographic systems differ, it is excepted that Arab learners of English encounter difficulties learning English as a second/foreign language (Alsamadani, 2010). They usually transfer the stylistic features of Arabic as their first language. For example, they tend to write long sentences with coordinating conjunctions (Al-Khatib, 2001; Oshima & Hougeas cited in Almehmadi, 2012), repeat themselves and argue through presentation and elaboration (Johnstone as cited in Almehmadi, 2012). They often talk around the topic and repeat phrases before stating the main points (Dweik as cited in Alsamadani, 2010).

In addition, the degree of explicitness and implicitness of the message poses another difference between Arabic and English stylistics (Mohamed as cited in Mohamed & Omar, 2000). For instance, Arab writers usually avoid conveying their messages explicitly, assuming that readers are responsible for understanding the message. They also tend to transfer their first modes and patterns of thinking in their first language.

Besides these difficulties, the emphasis of writing instruction for many years has been on the product rather than the process. Therefore, writing instructors emphasize grammar and punctuation rather than content and organization of ideas. Many students tell me they have been exposed to the rules of writing and grammar without developing their ability to express their ideas. …

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