ESL & Composition Pedagogy


All of these sources have to do with English as a Second Language (ESL) learners in the classroom. Many of our composition students will be approaching English as a Second Language, with a fairly developed L1. For these students, the teacher needs to be prepared with the recent theory on L2 instruction and focus on form. Not all of the sources are written for the purpose of FYC, but many of them have overlapping themes and ideas that dovetail, because all composition teachers are also language teachers to some extent.

  1. Bachman, Lyle F. and Adrian S. Palmer. Language Testing in Practice. Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.317-324.

This has relevance because of testing practices in the classrooms. It is primarily concerned with finding the correct Target Language Use (TLU), and writing reliable tests that accurately measure the construct that you are testing for. This is the reason we principally write rubrics in order to grade our assessments. We want to make sure that we are measuring the correct TLU. Recently, Georgia State University | Perimeter College nixed the ESL language test in favor of giving the regular entrance test to all students. Predictably, the enrollment went down.

-> We need to make sure that our TLU is correct in First Year Composition (FYC). <-

2. Wardhaugh, Ronald. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Blackwell Publishing, 2006, pp.26-57.

Wardhaugh wrote a rather exhaustive study of the relatively new field of sociolinguistics. In the work, he makes a distinction between a dialect and a patois. A dialect has a rule-governed grammar that can be codified. A patois may be spoken but have no literary output. Generally, a dialect is higher prestige, but a patois less so.

-> Dialects of English such as African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) should be treated as such. It is not bad grammar <-

3. Kachru, Braj B. and Cecil L. Nelson. “World Englishes” Sociolinguistics and Language Teaching. Edited by Sandra L. McKay and Nancy H. Hornberger. Cambridge UP, 1996, pp.71-102.

English as a language has more teachers that do not speak it as a mother tongue than teachers for whom English is a native language. Thus, there are many World Englishes that have developed, where English is used as a lingua franca, or a language that helps cross linguistic boundaries. Kachru’s circles have become de rigeur in the field of ESL. He saw three primary circles. The inner circle includes countries where English is the primary language, the outer circle is where English is a secondary language used in government and law, and the expanding circle is where the influence of English is felt in a country that speaks a different language.


-> FYC teachers should be aware that students may come from the  outer circle or expanding circle.<-

4. Selinker, Larry. “Interlanguage.” IRAL – International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, vol. 10, no. 1-4, pp. 209-232.

Larry Selinker’s seminal paper in the field of Second Language Acquisition discusses the term that he coined: “interlanguage.” This describes the intermediary language between a student’s L1 and L2 that is usually fossilized, and therefore will never resemble a native speaker’s pronunciation. The argument of Selinker in the paper is that interlanguage forms are unavoidable. The goal of the ESL/EFL instructor is to minimize anxiety about speaking the L2, not to eliminate all non-standard forms.

L1 <—————————————————–(you are here)->X————————————->L2

-> ESL students in the FYC classroom may not be capable of perfect pronunciation or grammar. Think about your encounter with foreign language! <-

5. Schiffrin, Deborah. “Interactional Sociolinguistics.” Sociolinguistics and Language Teaching. Edited by Sandra L. McKay and Nancy H. Hornberger. Cambridge UP, 1996, pp.307-328.

The key subject of Schiffrin’s article is the work of two primary sociolinguists in the field John Gumperz and Irving Goffman. Gumperz defined the concept of social interaction in terms of sociolinguistics. One primary concept is that of face. It is defined by Gumperz as “the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact.” Really, ESL students are trying to save face in the classroom by using nonstandard forms, especially AAVE.

-> Students who use AAVE are not trying to defy you as a teacher, but are trying to preserve their face<-

6. Fishman, Joshua. “The Impact of Nationalism on Language Planning: Some Comparisons between Early Twentieth-Century Europe and More Recent Years in South and Southeast Asia.” Can Language be Planned? Sociolinguistic Theory for Developing Nations. Edited by  Joan Rubin & Bjorn Jernudd Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2018.

Fishman’s article touches upon a number of concepts, some of which are not relevant to FYC. But his focus on “ethnic authenticity” is important to point out. Third world countries use this for language planning: they will teach the language that is “ethnically authentic.” If you don’t think that happens here in the U.S., see about California State congressman Ron Unz’s proposal to eliminate bilingual education in favor of ‘English only’ classrooms.

-> The reason why we may hyper-focus on certain grammar forms may be because of our idea of ethnic authenticity<-

7. Matsuda, Paul Kei. “Teaching Composition in the Multilingual World: Second Language Writing in Composition Studies.” Exploring Composition Studies. Edited by Kelly Ritter and Paul Kei Matsuda. Utah State UP, 2012, pp.36-51.

“Another possibility, which is more deeply rooted in the history of U.S. higher education in general, is the myth of linguistic homogeneity, in which the state of English monolingualism not only is considered an ideal goal but has already been taken for granted” (Matsuda, 37).

Discussing the history of U.S. higher education, Paul Kei Matsuda demonstrates a shift from parochial privileged education to mass education. Along with this development, one must grapple with the ‘myth of linguistic homogeneity,’ or the idea that there is but one standard form of English that we must teach. Composition classrooms are increasingly becoming multilingual, and teachers have to reflect this change in their pedagogical choices.

-> There might be more than one form of English that you wish to address in the FYC classroom<-

8. Larsen-Freeman, Diane. “Teaching Grammar.” Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language.  Edited by Marianne Celce-Murcia. Heinle & Heinle, 2001, pp. 251-266.

“If they knew all the rules that had ever been written about English but were not able to apply them, we would not be doing our job as teachers” (Larsen-Freeman 255).

FMU chart

I use this chart from Larsen-Freeman incessantly as an ESL teacher.

-> Helping students improve their linguistic repertoire is a central aspect of ESL and FYC respectively.<-

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s