A comparison of learner and native speaker writing in online self-presentations: Pedagogical applications

Abstract

This paper investigates the language used by learners of English to introduce themselves to their peers in an online community. A small corpus of self-presentations written by 220 first-year students majoring in English at an Italian university was compiled during the 2009-2010 academic year. The texts, posted in an online collaborative learning environment, represented a means by which the learners could get to know their classmates through talking about their academic and non-academic activities and interests. An ad hoc reference corpus was also created, consisting of self-presentations produced by students in higher education in English-speaking countries and posted on online forums. The paper describes some of the distinguishing features of the native speaker (NS) and learner language used in establishing common ground with peers and presenting themselves as members of an academic community. Preliminary research has discovered that, when talking about university life, the learners in question use a limited range of patterns which, while on the whole are grammatically acceptable, do not always correspond to those used by native speakers. The paper also illustrates how the findings from the analysis can form the basis of pedagogical materials that direct students\u2019 attention towards the differences between their texts and those in the NS corpus. The aim is not so much to eliminate student errors, but rather to raise awareness of how NS students write about themselves in an online context, widening the learners\u2019 range of expression and thus making them more effective communicators in an online academic environment and beyond

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