Review of Writing in Foreign Language Contexts: Learning, Teaching, and Research


Reviewed by Eric Perkowski ‚Äč

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Title: Writing in Foreign Language Contexts:  Learning, Teaching, and Research
Edited by: Rosa A. Manchón
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Year: 2009
Pages: 301
ISBN: 9781847691835

This book offers a critical review and analysis of the field of foreign language (FL) writing. Manchón states that it “pursues one basic aim:  to reflect critically on where we are now and where we need to go next in our exploration of foreign language writing at the levels of theory, research and pedagogy” (p. 20). This book is significant because it focuses on English as a Foreign Language and on settings where English is not the dominant language.

The book is divided into two sections:  Part 1 “looks back” on the field of FL writing, with emphasis on understanding the writing process in FL instructional settings, including current research methods, classroom practices, and other inquiries noted by each contributing author. Part 2 discusses the future of the field, or a “critical reflection of what lies ahead” (p. 20). Here, contributing authors look at the empirical research from Part 1 and use it as a “springboard” for future analysis in theory, research, and pedagogy (p. 26).

Part 1 examines past, in-depth research in FL writing. This includes the effects of L1 writing experience on L2 writing ability, the role of sociocultural factors in L2 writing ability, the age at which L2 learning is started; and other sociocultural, and socioacademic factors that affect FL writing.

Part 2 presents a brief history of FL writing encompassing three decades, empirical studies from Part 1 are reviewed, and challenges facing L2 writing teachers and students in language education programs are summed up. The last chapter challenges some of the lofty ideological goals embraced by various TESOL and teacher training programs, instead asking “hard questions” about what should be done to make these programs more effective in preparing L2 students.

Although this book is five years old, it is still incredibly salient to the field of L2 writing because it provides a very inclusive view of the field. A major strength is the number of contributing authors, all discussing their own studies and research projects, focusing on L2 writers and sociocultural factors affecting them. Another strength of the book is that each study focuses on a very diverse selection of L2 writers, from Dutch middle schoolers to Spanish university students to Chinese PhD students. This allows for a wider understanding of the issues that L2 writers face in many contexts, not just within one setting.
I found the second part of the book about “looking forward” to be short and rushed in comparison to Part 1. Although the studies from Part 1 and their implications and suggestions form the backbone of this book and provide an invaluable cross section of the issues and complexities related to L2 writing, the editor set a high bar for Part 2, promising more insight and suggestions for the future of L2 writing research and practice. Perhaps including additional authors to Part 2 to summarize the findings from Part 1 and offer extrapolations for the future of L2 writing research would have balanced the book more.
Despite the imbalance between the two sections, this book is extremely relevant to teachers of L2 composition. The key significance is that it concentrates on L2 writing in foreign rather than domestic contexts. Much associated literature focuses on issues in L2 writing in settings such as English-speaking universities, whereas the literature presented in this book focuses on L2 writing in non-native contexts. This is a major contribution to the field of L2 writing, as situations in which an L2 speaker will need to write go far beyond being an international student or immigrant to an Inner Circle Country. The book identifies English as a global, rather than a second language, meaning L2 speakers can use English in their own countries (or others where English is not spoken) for academic, professional, and social purposes.

Eric Perkowski has a Master’s Degree in International Relations from The Pennsylvania State University and is currently enrolled the TESOL Master of Arts program at Concordia University Chicago.

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