First Language versus Foreign Language

Fluency, Errors and Revision Processes in Foreign Language Academic Writing

by Esther Odilia Breuer (Author)
©2015 Thesis XIV, 340 Pages
Series: Textproduktion und Medium, Volume 14


First Language versus Foreign Language deals with the «battle» that takes place in writers’ heads when writing in a foreign language. Most academics today need to write in another language than in their first language (L1) in order to publish in internationally recognized journals. However, as writing research has shown, writing in a foreign language (FL) presents difficulties. The study compares L1 and FL writing, analysing written texts and the writing processes in terms of fluency, errors and revision. It takes a closer look at the «battle» between the L1 and the FL and offers useful insight. The findings allow a glimpse at the processes that take place in the brain, calling for new didactic approaches to FL writing.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 A bilingual version of Jackendoff’s Parallel Architecture and its implications for ‘node-switching’
  • 2.1 Jackendoff’s Tripartite Architecture
  • 2.1.1 The role of the lexicon in Parallel Architecture
  • 2.1.2 Simpler syntax
  • 2.2 The integration of FL into Parallel Architecture
  • 2.2.1 The bilingual lexicon
  • 2.2.2 The Bilingual Tripartite Architecture
  • 2.3 Orthographic structure
  • 2.4 Genre
  • 2.4.1 The academic genre
  • 2.4.2 Cross-cultural differences in academic writing
  • 2.5 Node-switches
  • 2.6 Summary
  • 3 Cognitive Aspects of Writing
  • 3.1 Writing components
  • 3.1.1 Idea generation
  • 3.1.2 Planning
  • 3.1.3 Formulation
  • 3.1.4 Execution
  • 3.1.5 Revision
  • 3.2 External factors and working memory
  • 3.3 Parallel processing in writing
  • 3.4 The processes in FL writing
  • 3.5 Writing fluency
  • 3.6 Strategies for problem solving
  • 3.7 Summary
  • 4 Methods
  • 4.1 Study-design
  • 4.1.1 Participants
  • 4.1.2 Tasks
  • 4.1.3 Planning strategies
  • 4.1.4 Questionnaires and interviews
  • 4.1.5 Evaluation of the final texts
  • 4.2 Analysis of productivity and fluency
  • 4.2.1 Keylogging
  • 4.2.2 Foci of analysis
  • 4.3 Error categories
  • 4.3.1 Subcategories of orthographic node-switches
  • 4.3.2 Syntactic node-switches
  • 4.3.3 Semantic node-switches
  • 4.3.4 Genre node-switches
  • 4.3.5 Miscellaneous
  • 4.3.6 Content
  • 4.4 Error analysis and the analysis of revisions
  • 4.4.1 Error Analysis
  • 4.4.2 Categorization of revisions
  • 4.5 Limitations of the study
  • 4.6 Summary
  • 5 Productivity and fluency
  • 5.1 Text lengths of the final essays
  • 5.1.1 Number of words in the final essays
  • 5.1.2 Number of characters in the final essays
  • 5.1.3 Individual results with respect to text lengths
  • 5.2 Production rates
  • 5.3 Time
  • 5.3.1 Time required to complete the tasks
  • 5.3.2 Time distribution among the different writing processes
  • 5.3.3 Time for execution and time for pausing
  • 5.4 Bursts
  • 5.4.1 Numbers of bursts per task
  • 5.4.2 Words per burst
  • 5.4.3 Characters per burst
  • 5.4.4 Individual results of characters per burst
  • 5.5 Ends of bursts
  • 5.5.1 P-bursts and r-bursts
  • 5.5.2 Bursts ending in mid-word
  • 5.6 Summary
  • 6 Error analysis
  • 6.1 Errors in the L1 essays
  • 6.1.1 L1 Errors in miscellaneous
  • 6.1.2 Orthographic node-switches in the L1 texts
  • 6.2 Errors in the FL texts
  • 6.3 Total number of errors per participant
  • 6.4 Categorical distribution of the FL errors
  • 6.4.1 Phonological node-switches
  • 6.4.2 Orthographic node-switches
  • 6.4.3 Punctuation node-switches
  • 6.4.4 Syntactic node-switches
  • 6.4.5 Semantic node-switches
  • 6.4.6 Genre node-switches
  • 6.4.7 Code-switches
  • 6.4.8 Typing mistakes
  • 6.4.9 Miscellaneous
  • 6.4.10 Content
  • 6.5 Summary
  • 7 Revisions
  • 7.1 Number of revisions
  • 7.2 Types of revisions
  • 7.2.1 Revision of content
  • 7.2.2 Revisions in miscellaneous
  • 7.2.3 Revision in orthographic node-switch
  • 7.3 Double revisions
  • 7.4 Revisions in planning
  • 7.4.1 Number of revisions in the plans
  • 7.4.2 Distribution of the revisions in planning
  • 7.4.3 Revisions of typing mistakes in planning
  • 7.4.4 Revisions of content in planning
  • 7.4.5 Revisions in miscellaneous in planning
  • 7.5 Revisions in the process of writing the proper essays
  • 7.5.1 Revisions of typing mistakes in writing the proper essay
  • 7.5.2 Revision of content in writing the proper essay
  • 7.5.3 Revision of miscellaneous in writing the proper essay
  • 7.6 Revisions in the final revision
  • 7.7 Revisions in p-bursts and r-bursts
  • 7.8 Summary
  • 8 Conclusion
  • 8.1 Results
  • 8.2 Possibilities for future research
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix
  • A – Abbreviations
  • B – Overview of participants
  • C – Introductory questionnaire
  • Questionnaire 1:
  • D – Tasks
  • Task 1: Simple essay
  • Task 2: FLN
  • Task 3: L1N
  • Task 4: L1F
  • Task 5: FLF
  • E – Questionnaires on the essays

List of Tables

List of figures

1  Introduction

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.
(Mark Twain [1902] 1935: 380)

In the academic community, writing has always enjoyed pride of place as the most important of all forms of communication (Russell 2002: 4, Swales 2004: 2). The written exchange of information, the publication of the results of academic and scientific work, and the communication of ideas across cultures have been fundamental to the generation and development of knowledge in science and in the academia. Internet, e-mail and other electronic channels, as well as better and cheaper travel opportunities, have simplified cross-cultural communication and international cooperation. As a result, we are experiencing an explosive growth in publishing opportunities in the form of printed and electronic international journals and websites, as well as an increase in the number of virtual and ‘real’ academic communities (Rijlaarsdam et al. 2012: 191).

To include as many participants as possible in this communication process, it has always been vital to find a common language for the exchange of information. For many centuries this language was Latin; then for a time it was German (Kretzenbacher, 2001: 447). As English is nowadays the language that is taught in most countries in the world as the first foreign language and is often the language of the media, it has become the language that offers the highest convergence as a lingua franca (Crystal 2003: 4, Dewey and Jenkins 2010: 333, Swales 2004: 43): Most international conferences are held in English even when they do not take place in an English-speaking country and when the topic has nothing to do with English, for example the conferences of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft (German Association for Linguistics) in Germany. It is the language in which most academic communities communicate in their e-mail lists and forums. The same is true for academic journals with an international distribution, regardless of the fact that neither the writers nor the readers are first language English speakers (Jenkins 2011: 932, Yakhontova 2002: 216). Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory 2010, for example, shows that 67% of academic periodicals are published wholly or partly in English (Lillis and Curry 2010: 19). It is also the case that many universities in non-English-speaking countries offer a significant number of classes in English (Genç and Bada 2010: 143). ← 1 | 2 →

One can therefore say that it is no longer enough to master one’s chosen topic or field in order to become a successful academic or scientist: one must also be able to speak and write in English at a high level (Armstrong 2011: 153, Crystal 2003: 93). This, in turn, means that the majority of the participants in the academic community (but also in the economy or in politics) cannot participate in their professional world in their first language (L1) but need to do so in a foreign language (FL).

The result being that writing can become fastidious for FL academic writers. They must be able to formulate their thoughts in a language which they do not have the same command of as they do in their first language. They need to apply a different orthographic system (Grabowski 1996: 74, Pike 1947: 57 ff., Rijlaarsdam et al. 2005: 129), as well as different demands on the target genre (Belcher 2014, Grabe and Kaplan 1996). Since the context expects not only content but also language and genre to be on a superior and target-group related level (Swales 2004) the cognitive demands on the writers can become so great that they feel as if they have literally been asked to enter a ring in which they must fight down their first language, while trying to beat their complex messages across to the other. FL writers need to find ways of dealing with these demands and it is probable that their text generation and final texts will not meet the ideal processing and results in many aspects, as would their L1 writing and L1 texts do.

For linguists, however, the disadvantage of the high cognitive demands for the FL writers, their struggles, and their weaker texts have one distinct advantage, as the complexity and difficulty of the task may offer a view on the ‘battle’ that takes place in the writers’ minds. It can potentially open a window into the underlying processes in FL writing and into the relationships between these processes which in turn can help finding ways in which FL writers could train their text production and enhance their final texts, and thus could win the battle of L1 versus FL. As Muhammad Ali said: “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”

In this book, fluency, errors and revising processes in L1, as compared to FL writing will be the three key elements of analysis. Each of these aspects throws light on the methods and strategies in dealing with the challenges and cognitive demands that academic writers face, and in particular those who attempt writing in a foreign language (Manchón and de Haan 2008: 3). These consciously or subconsciously applied strategies of FL writers for coping with the cognitive ← 2 | 3 → demands of their writing tasks may in turn have a negative impact on other factors in the writing process and thus on the final text. The use of the L1 during FL writing (for example Poulisee and Bongaerts 1994, Wolfersberger 2003: 1) can affect the linguistic and the genre appropriateness as well as the target group appropriateness of the texts.


XIV, 340
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (February)
Linguistik Schreiben Fremdsprache Schreibprozesse Akademisches Genre
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIV, 340 pp., 47 tables, 33 graphs

Biographical notes

Esther Odilia Breuer (Author)

Esther Odilia Breuer is Head of the Centre for Writing Competency at Cologne University. Her main interests in writing research are foreign and second language writing, writing processes and neurological processes in writing. She is an active member of the SIG-Writing group and of the EATAW (European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing).


Title: First Language versus Foreign Language
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356 pages