Monday, January 26, 2009

Typing Away

I can’t believe that it is already about two months since my last blog. It’s amazing how time flies by when you are working on your PhD. The latest thing that I have been focusing on is typing up hand written essays for my thesis project. So far, I have about 800 essays, with about 250 having been written by non-native English speakers, and another 550 written by native English speakers. All of the students in my study are first year undergraduate students. Right now, I am focusing on typing up the essays written by the native speakers. It’s so fascinating doing this because I am really entering into the mind of a first year undergraduate student. It’s been almost 20 years since I first went to university, and I think I had forgotten what it was like to be a first year student. What has struck me the most so far is the ease with which they express themselves. I guess that with almost 10 years of looking only at papers written by non-native English speaking students, it was surprising how fluid and unlaboured the writing of the native speaking students is. Although I am focusing on a comparison of the use of less frequent vocabulary items between the two groups of students, again and again, it is the use of the simple clear language used by the native English speakers that is standing out. In addition to that, I have noticed the use of lexical bundling and collocations that provide clarity and precision to the native English speaking writing that seems to be lacking the non-native English speaking papers. However, taken as single words, these are not low frequency lexical items. Instead, the native speakers seem to be putting together the high frequency vocabulary differently than the non-native speakers. Interestingly enough, it seems to be the non-native speakers who are trying to use the “big academic” words, and then slightly misfiring with the meaning, while it is the native speakers who are using a high frequency set of vocabulary, but in such as way to convey precise meaning. I’ll have to think more about this.

Anyway, that is what I am up to right now. I figure I’ll be typing away for the next month (hopefully I’ll be done by the end of February). As soon as I’m done typing up enough native English papers, I provide some examples to support my musings above . . .

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