First Advisor

Susan Conrad

Date of Publication

Spring 5-19-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics




English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Foreign speakers, Academic writing -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Foreign speakers, English language -- Grammar -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Foreign speakers



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 88 pages)


Writing for an academic purpose is not an easy skill to master, whether for a native English speaker (L1) or an English language learner (ELL). In order to better prepare ELL students for success in mainstream content courses at the university level, more must be known about the characteristics of student writing in the local context of an intensive English program. This information can be used to inform ELL writing instructors of which linguistic features to target so that their students produce writing that sounds appropriate for the academic written register.

Two corpora of 30 research essays each were compiled, one of L1 student writing done in various departments at Portland State University, and the other of ELL writing produced in an advanced writing course in Portland State University's Intensive English Language Program. The corpora were compared for the frequencies of 13 linguistic features which had been previously found in significantly different frequencies in L1 and ELL essays (Hinkel, 2002).

The tokens of each feature in each essay were counted, and the frequency rate was calculated in each case. The results of the Mann-Whitney U test found 6 features with significantly different frequency rates between the two corpora. The following features were more frequent in L1 essays than in ELL essays: modal would, perfect aspect, passive voice, reduced adjective clause, and it-cleft. In addition, the type/token ratio was found be significantly higher in L1 essays than in ELL essays.

An analysis of how each of the significant features was used in the context of ELL and L1 essays revealed the following: Both student groups were still acquiring the appropriate use of modal would; the majority of students in both groups did not utilize it-clefts; the lower type/token ratio in ELL essays meant that these students used a more limited vocabulary than did L1 students; and ELL students were still acquiring the accurate and appropriate uses of perfect aspect, passive voice, and reduced adjective clauses, whereas L1 students used these features grammatically and for the standard uses.

To apply these findings to the ELL writing classroom, instructors should help students raise their awareness of these six features in their own academic writing by leading students in identifying grammatical and ungrammatical uses of these features and providing practice in differentiating between uses which are standard to the register of academic writing and uses which are appropriate only in conversation. Two sample activities are included to illustrate how to implement these recommendations.


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