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Writing: A Valid and Expressive Form to Reflect Language Ability

更新时间:2008-11-15:  来源:毕业论文

Writing: A Valid and Expressive Form to Reflect Language Ability
【Abstract】As a main language skill like listening, speaking or reading, writing is a valid and expressive form to reflect how well a student of English, especially a student who learns English as a foreign language (EFL), has mastered that language. This paper will explore the nature of writing as compared with the other three basic language skills, particularly speaking, discuss the purpose of teaching writing in the EFL context, and introduce requirements of EFL writing for Chinese college students.

【Key words】writing;language ability; EFL writing requirements

1.Nature of writing: compared with speaking

It is widely recognized that there are four main modes in which a language is used. The four modes, generally referred to as the four basic language skills in language teaching, are listening, speaking, reading and writing. Of them, reading and listening are called the passive or receptive skills and speaking and writing, the active or productive skills.

It goes without saying that the demonstration of language ability relies more on the active or productive skills like speaking and writing. As for the two active or productive skills, speaking is of course primary to language since human beings speak before they learn to write. It does not mean, however, that speaking reflects one’s language ability better than writing. In fact, many people, especially teachers, think otherwise. We can understand why writing is at least an equally, if not more, valid and expressive means to display one’s language ability by answering the question of what is the nature of writing.

As R. Neufeld said,

“It [Writing] is thought transformed into a visual form. In other words, writing is a visual expression of ideas. …Writing is the process of taking an idea from inside of one’s head and putting it in a code so that it can be shared with others ”(Neufeld: 4).

So, writing covers speaking in that it is more than speaking by pen to someone not present. In other words, the nature of writing is two-fold: the expression of ideas by means of a written “code” that calls for more careful and more exact demonstration of the mastery of vocabulary, grammar and even phonetic knowledge of the language in which one is writing.

Another reason that writing is a more valid and more expressive form to display one’s language ability is that writing can rely on nothing other than pure language itself to express one’s meanings. Speaking, on the other hand, can take advantage of the speaker’s facial expressions, gestures and, most of all, tones for communication.

Empirical facts also show the close relationship between writing skill and language ability (Yang Huizhong & C. Weir: 148), and that is why many important tests adopt writing as a means of judging learners. Take CET for example. If the score for the writing part is 0, then a candidate will fail no matter how high his total score is. No such penalty exists for other parts like listening or reading. 

2.Purpose of teaching writing in the EFL context

Considerable literature has been produced concerning the purpose of EFL writing. One of the most concise but comprehensive discussions is given by Jeremy Harmer in his book How to Teach English. According to Harmer, the reasons for teaching writing to college students of English as a foreign language are not only that writing is a basic language skill but also that writing can 1) reinforce acquired language ability, 2) develop language ability further, 3) help to learn style, and finally 4) serve as an authentic means of communication. (Harmer:79)

Reinforcement of acquired language ability
Harmer puts “Reinforcement of acquired language ability” first because he believes that people can acquire their mother tongues in a purely oral / aural way, but students of a foreign language in college tend to rely more on the written form to have a sound command of the language. Most college students say that they benefit more from seeing the language written down by themselves as well as by others. The visual demonstration of language construction is invaluable for both understanding how it all fits together and as an aid to committing the new language to memory. Students often find it useful to write sentences using new language shortly after they have studied it. (Harmer:79)
Further language development
It seems, though Harmer himself cannot be for sure, that the actual process of writing (rather like the process of speaking) helps us to learn as we go along. The mental activity that we have to go through in order to construct proper written texts is all part of the ongoing learning experience. For college students of English as a foreign language, writing is an especially effective way of further developing their language ability since it is such an active (compared with reading, which is receptive) and direct (compared with multiple choice exercises, which are indirect) form of language practice.

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