Relationships between syntactic awareness and writing ability for adult ESL learners. (2021)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
This thesis investigated the relationship between syntactic awareness and writing in English as a Second Language (ESL) among Chinese adult learners. In order to assess this relationship, additional measures that have been identified as predictors of writing ability in children and adult writers were included in the study. These were grammatical competence, phonological awareness, orthographic awareness, morphological awareness, and vocabulary knowledge, and a second aspect of the study aimed to determine whether syntactic awareness was more predictive of adult ESL learners’ writing than these other language skills. The study also considered potential differences between higher and lower proficiency adult ESL writers in terms of the relationships between these assessed language skills and writing performance.
Students from two universities in China (N = 222) participated in the study. Following adaptation, piloting and amendments, nine measures were given to these students. These were measures of syntactic awareness (a Syntactic Judgement Task and a Syntactic Word Oder Task), grammatical competence, phonological and orthographic awareness (a Write the Correct Word Task), phonological awareness (a Sound Like a Word Task), orthographic awareness (a Correct Spelling Task), morphological awareness (a Correct Derivation Task and a Morphological Production Task), and vocabulary knowledge were given to the participants. The participants were also asked to write an essay based on a given topic which was scored using the Jacobs et al. (1981) ESL Composition Profile.
Correlational analyses indicated that all language skills measured in this study were associated with adult ESL learners’ writing ability, with syntactic awareness correlated to a larger level than the other language skills. Regression analyses confirmed theassociations identified and suggested that syntactic awareness was the most predictive of writing performance among the variables. However, these findings also indicated that only a relatively small amount of variability in writing ability was explained by the language skills assessed in this study. Regarding the higher and lower proficiency groups, the statistical analyses showed that across the language skills tested in this study morphological awareness was a common predictor within both groups, and that phonological awareness was more predictive of writing ability in the lower proficiency group while syntactic awareness and grammatical competence were larger predictors in the higher proficiency group.
Correlational analyses were also conducted between the language skills and the sub- components of the Jacobs et al’s ESL writing rubric. Syntactic awareness was correlated to language use and content sub-components to a larger level than the other sub-components suggesting its potential involvement in text production processes in writing, rather than more basic word production processes that may be more associated with phonological/orthographic processes. Based on these findings, possible explanations for the relationships were discussed and future studies focusing on potential predictors of writing ability were considered. These findings were used to present a possible theoretical explanation of writing performance among such adult second language students, and to suggest practical implications that may support the teaching of English within similar cohorts of students.
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