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CLeaR Fellows 2020 – Dr Ana Maria Benton Z

Academic writing as a language barrier

Dr Ana Maria Benton Z

Dr Ana Maria Benton Z

Ana Maria has worked in education and language teaching for 23 years with a diversity of students. She came to Aotearoa New Zealand in 2014 to do her doctorate, in which she examined the work of a unique indigenous immersion and bilingual school. She is currently a Language Learning Adviser at the University of Auckland.

Ana Maria’s CLeaR project originated from a critical reflective perspective of her own educational and teaching practice in two contrasting university contexts, and her own doctoral journey through academic writing. She maintains that English academic writing may become a language barrier shared by English as a Second Language (EAL) students, indigenous students, and other diverse groups. She believes that English academic writing is a language in itself and that some students may need to develop their own voice in order to benefit from further support.

How to prevent academic writing and academic aspects of English from becoming a barrier for diverse university students? My project consists on the design of a dedicated transitional program to address the development of academic writing for incoming students, especially within the postgraduate and PhD programs.

It is apparent that students getting entrance to universities come from more diverse backgrounds gradually. Diversity is becoming the norm, so increasing numbers of international students, indigenous students, immigrants, and also local diverse students are being accepted at prestigious universities, such as the University of Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Even though the mentioned groups are clearly distinctive in many aspects, they may have the common challenge of academic writing to initially cope with their studies. Furthermore, the learning journey of some students can become problematic when they first encounter English academic writing in their university studies. In this vein, a transitional program for students with emerging writing academic skills may have a wide positive impact on academic success at university and may allow these students to reach their potential and use their talent to make valuable contributions.

Indeed, English academic writing can be experienced as a language barrier by some students whether they identify as international EAL students – who speak English as an additional language – or if they identify as local students. A central issue, additional to international EAL students, refers to local Indigenous students who may have a good command of English conversational fluency, what Cummins (1984) calls ‘basic interpersonal communication skills’ (BICS), but might still need work to reach the level of ‘cognitive academic language development’ (CALP) that academic writing demands at university level. As Cruz Medina argues, “[m]ultilingual students experience monolingual ideology in their education, which undermines their abilities to communicate, make meaning, and be effective writers” (2019, p.73).

My project consists of the design of a learning framework that may clarify and facilitate the provision of academic writing support for students. This learning framework offers insights and an innovative perspective to guide teaching interventions and facilitate students’ transition into English academic writing.

Cummins, J. (2008). BICS and CALP: Empirical and theoretical status of the distinction. Encyclopedia of language and education, 487-499.
Medina, C. (2019). Decolonial Potential in a Multilingual FYC. Composition Studies, 47(1), 73-94.

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Academic writing as a language barrier (3.4MB)