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Extensive writing: A way to foster metalinguistic awareness and literacy development

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Title: Extensive writing: A way to foster metalinguistic awareness and literacy development
Authors: Schneider, Cindy
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: In a small community in Vanuatu, speakers of an endangered dialect have expressed concern about code-switching to other varieties, sensing it to be a sign of dialect decline. In an effort to promote a dialectal standard, a visiting linguist convened an orthography workshop. An alphabet and writing conventions were agreed upon. Yet the post-workshop writing session revealed massive orthographic variation across writing samples. In retrospect, this is unsurprising: most community members do not regularly read or write in any language. Inexperienced writers tend to write not by convention, but by the sounds they perceive. It was therefore unrealistic to assume that participants would, after one workshop, internalise and reliably reproduce standardised letter-phoneme correspondences in a language they have no previous experience with writing. This begs the question, then, as to whether it is necessary or even desirable to force a standard orthography on small indigenous languages for which writing has no history, and holds few prospects.

An alternative model would be to teach a baseline orthography and then encourage students to write extensive texts, without fixating on spelling standardisation or uniform representation of word boundaries. Extensive writing helps the writer to develop fluency and self-confidence (Rorschach & MacGowan-Gilhooly 1993 :4; Herder & King 2012: 128). It builds a corpus that others can read to improve their own literacy competence.

Moving beyond self-initiated writing activities, Heath and Mangiola (1991) encourage ESL learners to record and analyse the natural spoken language of others. This activity could be reconceptualised in the context of an indigenous language classroom, where students are asked to record and transcribe discourse in various domains. By transcribing large volumes of data, (1) their technical writing skills improve by dint of sheer practice; and (2) they become consciously aware of the code-switching that occurs in natural speech. This then provides fodder for community discussion about code-switching. By then editing these texts to transform them to the ‘true’ dialect, students’ metalinguistic skills are further enhanced.

Furthermore, this approach provides a way for linguists lacking a strong pedagogical background to engage with local teachers in a meaningful way in the compilation of literacy resources. Also, by examining the data from native speaker perspectives and analysing speaker-produced representations of spoken language, they enrich their own understanding of native speaker intuitions.

Heath, Shirley Brice & Leslie Mangiola. 1991. Children of Promise: Literate Activity in Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Classrooms. Washington, DC: National Education Association/Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy/American Educational Research Association.

Herder, Steven & Rebecca King. 2012. Extensive Writing: Another fluency approach for ESL learners. Extensive Reading World Congress Proceedings 1, 128-130.

Rorschach, Elizabeth & Adele MacGowan-Gilhooly. 1993. Fluency First in ESL. Report for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, Washington DC. 209 pages. <>, accessed 26th August 2014.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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