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Review of  Teaching Academic ESL Writing

Reviewer: Elizabeth M. Erling
Book Title: Teaching Academic ESL Writing
Book Author: Eli Hinkel
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.775

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Date: Mon, 14 Mar 2005 04:18:37 -0800 (PST)
From: Elizabeth Erling
Subject: Teaching Academic ESL Writing: Practical Techniques in Vocabulary
and Grammar

AUTHOR: Hinkel, Eli
TITLE: Teaching Academic ESL Writing
SUBTITLE: Practical Techniques in Vocabulary and Grammar
SERIES: ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2004

Elizabeth J. Erling, Language Centre, Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin

Eli Hinkel's book offers an approach to teaching writing that emphasizes
contextualized grammatical practice and vocabulary building. As Hinkel
rightly notes, there is often too much emphasis on teaching the process of
writing in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses instead of on
teaching the practical skills that students need. Students with English as
an L2 then enter the academic community without sufficient practice in
scientific writing and are thus often not able to cope with the tasks set
in their mainstream university courses. While the book was written with
university ESL instructors in North America in mind, it is also applicable
for anyone teaching English writing at an advanced level. It offers
practical tips and activities based on corpus studies, research, and years
of experience. As each chapter ends with a list of suggested teaching
activities, questions for discussion in teacher-training courses, and
appendixes that provide supplementary material, the book can be directly
applied in both ESL academic writing courses and Master's level courses in
ESL pedagogy.

Part I provides a theoretical background to the volume. Hinkel presents
findings which show that ESL students' academic papers are often perceived
as vague and confusing, rhetorically unstructured, and overly personal
(4). She argues that this is a result of the process-writing curriculum,
which emphasizes content and structure while only sparsely and
inconsistently addressing grammar and lexis. Further investigation shows
that there is a disparity between tasks which students are assigned in ESL
courses and those which they have to complete in their mainstream courses.
Hinkel thus recommends the teaching of more relevant academic writing
tasks and presents an overview of essential language skills that every
student must have to perform well in their courses. In order to ensure
that students master these skills, Hinkel recommends that ESL instructors
offer extensive, thorough, and focused instruction in English academic
vocabulary, grammar, and discourse. She also recommends teaching the L2 in
contextual lexicalized chunks, thus creating an awareness of constructions
typically found in academic works. This section ends with guidelines for a
course curriculum, suggesting ways to encourage students to work
autonomously so they can improve significantly over a short period of
time. She stresses the importance of raising students' awareness to the
errors they consistently make by concentrating on four to six types of
errors per assignment.

Part II goes into the specifics of teaching advanced grammar and
vocabulary in a way that is directly meaningful and relevant for student
writers. Here Hinkel provides the core information that ESL students need
to be taught about English sentence and text construction, covering
sentence structure and word classes. She not only describes what should be
taught and why, but also suggests possible teaching strategies and
exercises. Hinkel points out that even advanced students do not have the
vocabulary range needed for their degree studies (96). She thus suggests
providing students with lists of the essential nouns, verbs, and
adjectives used in academic texts and stock phrases that they can employ
in their writing, all of which have been compiled from various corpus
studies (e.g. Nation's 1990 University Word List, Biber et al 1999). She
then presents ways that instructors can teach vocabulary in semantic and
contextually applicable clusters. This section also contains a chapter
describing the English tense and aspect system and a context-based means
of teaching it. Hinkel mentions that several linguistic constructions that
are traditionally taught in ESL courses are actually relatively uncommon
in academic texts and should thus have a low priority. For example, corpus
studies by Biber et al (1999) have shown that the perfect and progressive
aspects are seldom used in academic genres; therefore, Hinkel recommends
that instructors spend less time on them and more time on more common
linguistic elements of academic writing, such as the passive voice. This
section also contains useful lists of other features of academic texts,
like reporting verbs and evaluative adjectives, and exercises on how they
are employed in written discourse.

Part III of the volume goes beyond the sentence level to address
rhetorical features of the text that require specific instruction and
additional attention in the ESL classroom, such as connective adverbial
clauses, sentence transitions, cohesive ties, and hedging statements. This
section gives advice on teaching rhetorical features that enhance cohesion
and coherence in academic texts. These include chains from old to new
information, demonstratives, enumerative nouns, linking words, parallel
structures, and means of clarifying and giving examples. The final chapter
of this section offers advice on how to help learners expand their hedging
repertoire. Hedging involves the use of linguistic devices to show
hesitation or uncertainty, display politeness and indirectness, and defer
to the reader's point of view. As hedging is not usually addressed in
sufficient detail in ESL writing courses, Hinkel suggests specific
instruction in employing linguistic features like modal verbs, adjectives
and adverbs, which can project politeness and caution into a formal,
academic text. Addressing hedging in the classroom also helps students
learn how to avoid making overstatements as well as familiarizes them with
the difference between formal and informal genres.

As mentioned above, this book is extremely practice-friendly, as it offers
concrete advice and exercises for ESL instructors teaching at an advanced
level. Hinkel cogently argues that a shift in writing pedagogy is
necessary in order to address the needs of the ever-increasing number of
students who are using English as an academic L2. Her evidence is strongly
supported by corpus studies, the results of which she directly applies to
the language classroom. The only qualm that I have with this use of corpus
data is that it is entirely based on differences between L1 and L2
writers, which implies that L2 writers are deficient in comparison to
their L1 counterparts. However, studies in contrastive rhetoric have found
that while successful L2 English speakers may use the language
differently, this does not necessarily imply that their use is in any way
deficient (Prodromou 2003). Furthermore, Mauranen (2003) -- who has
compiled a corpus of L2 academic English -- argues that Anglo-American
standards should no longer be the reference point of a truly international
discourse community, and differences in rhetorical style must be accepted.
Hinkel's volume makes no mention of the fact that conventions in academic
writing are "socially and historically constructed to support the
interests of a dominant group within a given society" (Norton 2000:16),
and no recommendation is included about how teachers can coach students to
become aware of, or even resist, the ideologies that support this power
structure. Nevertheless, the volume will be of great use to anyone
involved with the pedagogy of academic ESL writing.


Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad S., and Finegan, E. 1999.
Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman.

Mauranen, A. 2003. The corpus of English as a lingua franca in academic
settings. TESOL Quarterly 37: 3, 513-127.

Nation, I. S. P. 1990. Teaching and Learning Vocabulary. New York: Newbury

Norton, B. 2000. Identity and Language Learning. London: Pearson.

Prodromou, L. 2003. In search of the successful user of English. Modern
English Teacher 12: 2, 5-14.


Elizabeth J. Erling has a PhD in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics from
the University of Edinburgh and is a lecturer of English at the Language
Centre of the Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin, where she has taught Academic ESL
Writing since 1998. Her research interests include the politics of the
spread of English and the effects of globalization on language teaching.

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