Vol. 7. No. 2 A-6 September 2003
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L1 to L2 Writing Process and Strategy Transfer: A Look at Lower Proficiency Writers

Mark Wolfersberger
Brigham Young University


This article examines the composing process and writing strategies of three lower proficiency Japanese subjects in their L1 and L2. This study found that while some L1 strategies may transfer to the L2 writing processes, lower proficiency writers struggle in utilizing all strategies that could help their writing process in the L2. The results suggest several compensating strategies for dealing with L2 language issues and facilitating L1 composing process transfer. Finally, suggestions for teachers are given so that teachers can help students discover and utilize existing strategies within their L1 and L2 composing processes as well as compensating strategies to improve their L2 writing.

Review Of Literature

Writing in a second language (L2) is a challenging and complex process. While the first language (L1) writing process includes producing content, drafting ideas, revising writing, choosing appropriate vocabulary, and editing text, writing in an L2 involves all of these elements jumbled with second language processing issues. In the case of lower L2 proficiency writers, these L2 issues can overwhelm the writing process, even to the point of a complete breakdown of the process (Bereiter & Scardimalia,1987).

L1 Use to Drive L2 Writing

Writing in a second language (L2) is a challenging and complex process. While the first language (L1) writing process includes producing content, drafting ideas, revising writing, choosing appropriate vocabulary, and editing text, writing in an L2 involves all of these elements jumbled with second language processing issues. In the case of lower L2 proficiency writers, these L2 issues can overwhelm the writing process, even to the point of a complete breakdown of the process (Bereiter & Scardimalia,1987).

L1 Use to Drive L2 Writing

Although many L2 writers use their L1 in some way while writing in the L2, the amount of L1 used during L2 writing is not the same for all L2 writers. In general, proficient L2 learners do not depend heavily on the L1 to drive the writing process because they have a sufficient level of L2 automaticity and knowledge to think and plan in the L2 (Jones & Tetroe, 1987). However, lower L2 proficiency writers rely more heavily on their L1 during the writing process in order to sustain the process and prevent a complete breakdown in language (Arndt, 1987; Cumming, 1989; Raimes, 1985; Uzawa & Cumming, 1989). [-1-]

Uzawa and Cumming (1989) observed two distinct strategies that helped sustain the writing process of their lower L2 proficiency subjects. One they termed "keeping the standard" and the other "lowering the standard." Keeping the standard strategies were used in L2 writing in order to maintain the level of writing achieved in the L1. These were strategies such as taking more time, revising extensively, and seeking assistance. Lowering the standard strategies were used in order to complete the writing task within a reasonable amount of time and without excessive mental effort. These were strategies such as reducing information, simplifying syntax, substituting lexical items, and ignoring reader concerns. The subjects in the study produced L2 papers that had less content than their L1 writing, but about equal quality to their L1 writing. Overall, the L1 aided in keeping the standard. If the L1 was not used, we can surmise that the quality of writing would have been lower than it was and the standard would have had no checks and balances in place to keep it on a higher plane.

Several studies have looked at the effect of composing in the L1 and then translating into the L2 (Cohen & Brooks-Carson, 2001; Kobayashi & Rinnert, 1994). These studies have found that the lower L2 proficiency writers benefited from composing in the L1 and then translating into the L2, a result that highlights the importance of using L1 composing strategies for lower L2 proficiency writers.

Jones and Tetroe (1987) did a study on the effect of L1 use during L2 writing. They found that the lower L2 proficiency writers who did not use their L1 were less effective in their planning. The writers who did use their L1 produced more details during the planning stage of L2 writing. Furthermore, the L1 facilitated more abstract thought during planning.

Research Question

Although we have some understanding of how lower proficiency writers cope with the demands of writing in an L2, our picture is still incomplete. One area in which we still have little understanding is the degree to which L2 writers transfer their L1 composing process and strategies to their L2 writing. While it is given that L2 writing poses challenges that are unique from L1 writing and thus require unique strategies to deal with, it is reasonable to assume that parts of the composing process are similar or even the same in the L1 and the L2. The purpose of this study is to investigate the degree to which lower L2 proficiency writers transfer their composing processes and strategies from L1 writing to L2 writing. The question that this research sought to answer is: What L1 composing processes and strategies do lower L2 proficiency writers transfer to L2 writing?



Three native Japanese-speaking subjects were selected from an intensive English program in the U.S. to participate in this research. They were chosen for their beginning English proficiency, their wider experience with writing in Japanese, and their limited experience with writing in English. All three subjects were female and their ages ranged from 26 to 28 years old. All three subjects were high school graduates, and two of the three subjects had also graduated from 2-year colleges. [-2-]


Six think-aloud protocols were collected while the subjects composed essays in Japanese and then in English. Each subject individually participated in two composing sessions in which the subject wrote an essay while thinking aloud. In the first session subjects wrote a Japanese essay and in the second session they wrote an English essay. The sessions were video and audio taped for subsequent transcription, analysis, and comparison.

Each session followed a similar pattern. First the researcher explained the purpose of think-aloud protocols and gave a brief demonstration of the process by composing the first paragraph of an essay while thinking aloud. The subject then practiced the protocol method while the researcher checked for quality and subject understanding of the process. Subjects were then given an essay topic (see Table 1). Both essay topics came from the test bank of TOEFL essay topics.

Japanese Essay TopicEnglish Essay Topic
When people need to complain about a product or poor service, some prefer to complain in writing and others prefer to complain in person. Which way do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer. When people move to another country, some of them decide to follow the customs of the new country. Others prefer to keep their own customs. Which one do you prefer? Support your answer with specific details.

Table 1—Essay Topics

The topic for the Japanese essay was written in Japanese and the topic for the English essay was written in both Japanese and English. The subject began the protocol by reading the topic aloud. The subject was allowed to take as much time as they needed to compose their essay and they signaled the researcher when they finished composing.


Two protocols for each of the three subjects were collected, transcribed and then reviewed and analyzed for composing processes and strategies. The descriptions below highlight the main features of each subject's Japanese and English essay composing process and strategies. They also compare and contrast those processes and strategies for similarities and differences.


The format and length of Katsue's prewriting varied between the two essays. During the Japanese essay, Katsue spent 8 minutes making a list of ideas under two separate headings before beginning to draft her essay. The ideas were embodied in a variety of words, phrases, and sentences under each heading. The idea generation for the English essay took 18 minutes and looked more like a first draft without any organization.

Despite the identical structure of the two essay topics, there were no headings to identify the two options in her English essay prewriting as there had been in her Japanese. Katsue wrote down her ideas completely in English as she brainstormed in Japanese. Similar to her Japanese prewriting, she used a mixture of words, phrases, and sentences to write down her ideas; however, unlike her Japanese prewriting, Katsue did not use an even balance of all three but used mostly complete sentences. Part of her idea generation for her English essay was finding the English that best expressed her ideas. This was evidenced by the numerous revisions made to these sentences before Katsue began composing her essay. [-3-]

While composing her Japanese essay, there were three triggers that caused her composing process to cycle from writing into various combinations of rehearsing ideas, revising, editing, and reading. These triggers were completing a sentence, searching for a word to more clearly express an idea, and not knowing how to complete a thought.

After completing a sentence, Katsue would usually reread what she had just written, sometimes evaluating it before continuing on with the next sentence. For example, Katsue finished composing the sentence, "When I think about it, I abandon my complaint halfway through" (see Appendix A). When she completed the sentence, Katsue went back and reread it, giving her a new idea that pushed her to write the next sentence, "This is because even though I think it in my heart, it is very difficult for me to say it in words." After completing this sentence, Katsue thought of a summary idea, but decided not to include it in her text. She then reread her last sentence, which gave her a direction for the next, and she began writing it down.

Being unable to think of the right word mid-sentence also caused Katsue to reread what she had written, occasionally make revisions, and rehearse words to match the idea. In one section of the protocol, Katsue was in the middle of writing the sentence "However, neither of these apply to my approach." She stopped writing and wondered what word to use halfway through the sentence. Then she reread the sentence and came up with the right word, "apply." As soon as she had thought of this word, she continued to write her sentence.

Running out of ideas mid-sentence would also cause her to reread, make revisions, and then rehearse an idea to complete the sentence. Katsue had composed a sentence to this point before she ran out of ideas: "Even though I think it in my heart, for me, compared with the ill service, saying it is . . . ." The first thing she did was reread the sentence from the beginning. Then she realized that the comparative structure of the sentence made it difficult to finish her idea, so she deleted the comparison portion and reread the sentence without it. At this point Katsue paused to consider the sentence and then continued writing. The final sentence read: "This is because even though I think it in my heart, it is very difficult for me to say it in words."

The examples mentioned here are only samples of these three cycles that recur throughout Katsue's Japanese protocol. Nevertheless, these patterns demonstrate a consistent and recursive composing process while Katsue was drafting her Japanese essay and established rereading as a key strategy within that composing process.

In contrast, the patterns and cycles of composing while drafting her English essay were much more broken and fragmented than those of her Japanese essay. Katsue's writing never fell into a recognizable cycle during her English essay. Her writing patterns were perforated by struggles with English. Her writing would usually be interrupted mid-sentence by a language concern, whether spelling, grammar, word choice, or doubt about the meaning conveyed by language she had assembled. The struggle of putting her ideas into coherent English seemed to dismantle the smooth, reciprocal cycle of writing which was so readily apparent during her Japanese essay. [-4-]

One section of Katsue's English essay protocol clearly illustrated her fragmented composing processes. In this section, she was writing the sentence "Some people think our own custom is commonsense, but it is wrong." Before writing the sentence, she reread three previously written sentences. Using Japanese, she evaluated these statements and came up with the idea that people think their own customs are just commonsense. So far this follows the read and rehearse composing processes found in her Japanese essay, but this was where the similarity ended. She immediately began looking up the Japanese word for "commonsense" to find a translation into English. Once she found a translation, she tried to recall a previous encounter with the English word "commonsense" and then wrote the word down. Then she began reassembling her original idea and wrote it down in a simple sentence. She sensed that this new sentence lacked some elements of her idea and began to back-translate it from English to Japanese. This triggered an additional idea and she added it to the sentence after translating it. She then reread part of the sentence, back-translated part, and made a compromise between her original idea and what she felt she could effectively express in English. From this point Katsue continued to move further away from her original idea and never ended up coming back to it.

The composing processes for the remainder of Katsue's English protocol continued in a similar vein. She was not able to find the pattern that she established while composing her Japanese essay. Overall the process for composing the English essay was more fragmented and stilted than it was for her Japanese essay.

The way in which Katsue used English and Japanese while composing the English essay revealed that Japanese was the language that Katsue functioned in while composing. The majority of functional English in her protocol was used in reading and writing remarks. Rehearsing remarks that generated ideas of any kind were in Japanese. Katsue used Japanese in her protocol to describe problems with word choice, grammar, and spelling in the essay. These remarks did contain English in them, but the English was encased in Japanese, which showed that Katsue was thinking in Japanese. Translation remarks were also mainly in Japanese. The only English in these remarks were the words being translated into English.

Katsue's data clearly showed that she was not able to effectively use her Japanese composing processes for her English essay. Katsue was confronted with too many language problems that pulled her attention away from her Japanese composing processes, which would have allowed her to focus on her essay development. Furthermore, Katsue did not bypass her English deficiencies by relying on Japanese to drive her composing processes. Because the essay had to ultimately be in English, Katsue choose to mix English into every part of her composing processes. This strategy for using English broke up Katsue's English composing processes until they were dissimilar to her Japanese composing processes.


Miyoko's prewriting patterns were similar in both the Japanese and English essays. Miyoko spent one minute for the Japanese and about two and a half minutes for the English essay deciding which choice from the topic to support. Once she had decided, she did not change her position throughout each essay. In each essay, evidence of this is seen in her first and last paragraphs, which express the same opinion. Although she had moments when she did question her decision in both her Japanese and English essays, she did not change the initial direction of her essay. [-5-]

Rereading her own text was clearly the lifeblood to her composing processes for the body of her Japanese essay. Rereading was sometimes followed by rehearsing, but it always led her back to writing. Her essay was the physical representation of her stream of consciousness–a continuous flow of connected and related thoughts from which Miyoko extracted ideas central to the essay topic. Because the process of writing down her stream of consciousness could not keep pace with the speed of her thoughts, she would reread her text in order to pick up her stream of consciousness where it left off.

Occasionally, Miyoko's composing process of rereading short phrases did not give her enough momentum to push her toward her next idea. In these instances Miyoko reread a larger chunk of her text, rehearsed some ideas, and then began writing again. Rereading always brought Miyoko back into her stream of consciousness and pushed her essay forward again. If rereading a sentence or two did not do it, then rereading a larger chunk of text did.

It is important to note that every time Miyoko reread while composing her Japanese essay, there was new text to reread that had not been there during the previous rereading. The strategy of rereading and writing down the ideas that came to her always provided her with new text to read when she needed to find her stream of consciousness again. Both rereading and writing existed in a codependent relationship within Miyoko's composing processes. The new text provided a forward momentum to her ideas just as the ideas fueled her text. Without one, the other would stumble.

Miyoko's English essay provides further evidence for the codependent nature of rereading and writing within her composing processes. As with her Japanese essay, Miyoko was not able to write down her ideas fast enough to keep pace with her stream of consciousness. Furthermore, the process of writing down her ideas was drastically inhibited by the need to translate her ideas into English. Her stream of consciousness flowed in Japanese, but the words Miyoko wrote on the page were in English. This resulted in a complete breakdown in her composing processes and very little text written on the page (see Appendix B). Without any new text to reread, her ideas became stale and subsequently broke her stream of consciousness. Putting her ideas into English was such an overwhelming task that it only occurred when Miyoko could think of the language relatively easily.

Her English essay protocol is mostly made up of rehearsing. It was occasionally spotted with writing, but only in small chunks. Most of the ideas that she rehearsed never made it into her essay. For example, in one five minute period she wrote two words, "Japanese custom." Over the next five minutes she revised, read, talked to the researcher, made extraneous remarks about things unrelated to the essay, and spent lengthy periods of time rehearsing before she wrote her next idea down, "I like another country custom too". Miyoko was not able to take the ideas from her stream of consciousness and translate them into text while composing the English essay. Her Japanese composing process of think, write, and reread was completely disrupted. [-6-]

Another factor that influenced Miyoko's composing processes for both the Japanese and English essays was the external requirements that Miyoko assumed were placed on her. Rather than focusing on how her essay was developing and how well she was answering the question, Miyoko was concerned with the length of her essay and the assumed 30-minute time requirement, which she was in fact told was very flexible. Even at the very end of her Japanese essay she expressed doubt in her performance in that she had not written for thirty minutes. For her English essay, after thirty minutes Miyoko had only been able to produce four simple sentences in English, all of which repeated the same idea. By comparison, her 30-minute Japanese essay contained four paragraphs in which she compared and contrasted ideas. In essence, she was able to complete the task satisfactorily in Japanese, but could not even begin to meet the requirements of the task in English.

In conclusion, the one strategy that drove Miyoko's Japanese writing process, rereading, was absent from her English writing process because there was simply nothing to reread. A more effective strategy for Miyoko might have been writing down her ideas in her L1 first while they emerged from her stream of consciousness. Then, after compiling some complete thoughts on paper in Japanese, she could have translated them into English. This strategy could have allowed her to use rereading to drive her English essay as it did her Japanese essay.


For Keiko, the amount of time spent on prewriting was similar for both essays. She spent just over five minutes on prewriting for both her Japanese and English essays. The composing processes used during prewriting were also similar for both essays. Keiko began by reading the topic, writing down headings for the two choices provided by the topic, and listing her ideas as she thought of them under the headings. Rather than focusing on one heading at a time, Keiko brainstormed ideas for both headings at the same time for each essay.

The similarities in structure for Keiko's prewriting for both essays may have been due to her completing both while using Japanese. When Keiko began the English essay, she read only the essay topic as it was written in Japanese. All of her brainstorming was done in Japanese and even her list of ideas was written in Japanese. It was not until she was ready to begin writing the text for her essay that she read the essay topic in English and began to assemble some ideas in English. It is important to remember for the next part of this discussion that when Keiko began writing the essay, she was not creating new ideas for her essay. She had already brainstormed the direction of her essay and the ideas she would use to support her opinion.

After she finished her prewriting, Keiko's composing processes for her Japanese essay can best be viewed holistically. She used a very systematic approach in constructing her Japanese essay and began by borrowing the language from the essay topic to create her introduction. Then she used a very tight organizational style to explain the disadvantages and advantages of both written and face-to-face complaints. Her second and third paragraphs were completely parallel in their organization. Finally, her last paragraph was a brief articulation of her opinion (see Appendix C).

As she went about constructing the second and third paragraphs, Keiko used the ideas that she brainstormed during her prewriting. While she was writing the disadvantages of a complaint letter in her second paragraph, she checked her brainstormed list and found the ideas that represented disadvantages for writing a complaint letter. Then she reworded these ideas to fit the context of her essay and better express her complete idea. After including all the ideas that were disadvantages, she followed the same process for writing about the advantages of complaint letters. The third paragraph followed the same pattern. Keiko used the ideas from her brainstormed list that were disadvantages and advantages of complaining face-to-face. After refining the language, she wrote them into the body of her essay. Finally, as she struggled to write the conclusion, she went back to the body of her essay and spent about five and a half minutes reviewing which helped her write the last paragraph of her essay in less than two and a half minutes. [-7-]

The way in which Keiko wrote the first paragraph of her English essay was similar to the process she used for the Japanese essay in that the language of the topic was central to the introduction. While writing the introduction for her English essay, Keiko had trouble getting her ideas from Japanese to English. For example, she could not find the English translation for the Japanese word awaseru. Eventually, she discovered a suitable translation from the vocabulary in the essay topic. After reading the topic in English, she realized that she could use the word "follow" to express the Japanese idea contained in the word awaseru.

Just as in her Japanese essay, Keiko moved to the second paragraph of her essay after completing the introduction. She attempted to articulate a few ideas for the topic sentence of the second paragraph, but after failing to come up with suitable ideas and language to express those ideas, she skipped down to the conclusion. This jump to the conclusion was a major change from her composition process for the Japanese essay in which she moved sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph down the page from the introduction to the conclusion. This non-linear writing style of her English essay may have been part of the reason for the resulting limited overall organization and disjointed ideas in the second paragraph.

While writing the text for her English essay, Keiko was constantly distracted by language concerns. Her protocol was interspersed with frequent translations. In addition to using an electronic dictionary, Keiko would frequently ask the researcher about word translations, spelling, or grammar. Evidence of Keiko's struggle to express herself in English can be seen throughout her protocol as she struggled to understand the meaning of and use unfamiliar terms.

Keiko spent a lot of time and energy on English language concerns during this essay. The result was that she did not incorporate the ideas from the brainstorming session well into the body of the essay. She also struggled to find the relationships between ideas and could not tie them together well in the body. Her English protocol does not contain any words that express relationships between ideas. This was one difference from her Japanese protocol where she tried out different Japanese words for "weakness" and then used the words "strength" and "weakness" throughout her essay to demonstrate the relationships between her ideas.

Keiko's difficulty in linking ideas in her English essay may have been the result of a limited English vocabulary. The final draft of her English essay clearly demonstrated the weak connections between the ideas. For example, the second paragraph only listed and described customs in the United States without explaining their relationship to Keiko's decision to follow them or not. While composing the body of the Japanese essay, Keiko referred back to the ideas that she brainstormed during the prewriting. However, before she wrote these ideas into the body of her essay, she further played with the ideas and changed them to better fit the point of her essay. Keiko also experimented with Japanese words in order to more clearly express these ideas. In contrast, while composing the body of her English essay, Keiko referred back to her brainstormed list of ideas but did not play with the ideas, which is the key difference in her writing processes between the L1 and L2 essays. This difference resulted in limited idea development during the L2 composing process and in the final product of the essay itself. [-8-]


Many studies have looked in detail at the composing process and strategies of L2 writers; however, few have examined the transfer of L1 composing strategies and processes to the L2 writing process (see Kamimura, 1996). This study suggests that L2 writers faced with writing tasks requiring an L2 proficiency level above that of the writer do not transfer L1 strategies to the L2 writing process, even though the writer may have a multiplicity of strategies available when completing the same task in the L1. One implication is, then, that L2 writers faced with difficult writing tasks need to be taught compensating strategies in order to allow the transfer of L1 strategies to the L2 writing process.

Compensating Strategies that Facilitate L1 Composing Process Transfer

A compensating strategy is any strategy that breaks the writing task down to allow the L2 writer to focus on smaller chunks of the task at one time and thus reduce the cognitive load. The most widely examined compensating strategy in the literature is translation, where lower L2 proficiency writers first write a draft in their L1 in order to solidify content and organization before dealing with the L2 issues of translation and rhetorical style (Arndt, 1987; Cohen & Brooks-Carson, 2001; Cumming, 1989; Jones & Tetroe, 1987; Raimes, 1985; Uzawa & Cumming, 1989). This method of translation appears to appeal to some writers, but not to others, which suggests that individual preference plays a large role in the utility of this compensating strategy. Teaching only translation as a compensating strategy may not be enough. Writers may need to be exposed to a variety of strategies so that they can select strategies that match their individual preferences and writing styles.

In addition to translation, another compensating strategy that may be more effective for some writers is using the L1 mainly during the brainstorming and idea organization stages of the writing process rather than writing a whole draft in the L1. Then, after all the ideas are on the page with a general understanding of how they will be organized into the paper, writers can generate the actual text for the essay in the L2 while following the previously established sequence of ideas. This strategy may work well for writers whose L2 proficiency is not high enough to allow them to compose completely in English but also is not low enough to warrant writing a complete draft in the L1. [-9-]

Keiko's English essay protocol lends some support to this strategy. Keiko brainstormed and organized her ideas in Japanese for the English essay and began her essay by using the wording in the essay question to produce her introduction. However, when she failed to produce a satisfactory topic sentence for the second paragraph, she went straight to her conclusion. If Keiko had followed the ideas and organization she had already created for the essay and simply transferred her ideas into English, she would have produced a significant amount of text within the body of her English essay. This could have also improved the conclusion of her English essay by allowing Keiko to use the same strategy for writing her conclusion that she used while working on the conclusion of her Japanese essay. For her Japanese essay, when she found it difficult to come up with a conclusion, she spent over five minutes rereading the body of her essay in order to generate ideas. This produced a final spurt of confident writing and she wrote the concluding paragraph of her Japanese essay in less than two and a half minutes. Unfortunately, she did not transfer this strategy to her English essay. She spent a great deal of time pondering on what she should write without either following the brainstormed outline she had already created or rereading the English text that would have been on her page had she simply used her L1 brainstorm to create the text.

A third compensating strategy that this research suggests may be helpful for lower L2 proficiency writers is maintaining a high tolerance for error and ambiguity in the L2 during the initial drafting stages. The subjects in this study were concerned with English surface-level accuracy to the point that it hindered their focusing on the deeper aspects of content and organization within their essays. Katsue struggled to move on in cases where she was unsure of correct word choices and spellings. Miyoko's English essay was stilted and abbreviated because she was overwhelmed with writing in English. Keiko struggled to follow her brainstormed outline and write down her ideas because she was so focused on producing the L2 correctly the first time. In each case, the composing process was completely interrupted as subjects struggled with vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. The result was that the flow of ideas was constantly halted and a significant amount of time was spent in trying to recover thoughts and continue writing. Lower L2 proficiency writers need to be taught that L2 errors in the initial stages of writing are not only acceptable but are expected. Undue concern over these micro-level language errors can result in macro-level problems and a product that is not up to the standard that the writer is capable of. Writers need to recognize that in the writing process, numerous drafts allow first, idea generation, then idea manipulation and re-formation, and finally the chance to correct word choice, grammar, and spelling.

Strategies for Dealing with L2 Language Issues

In order to deal with the L2 vocabulary and spelling issues that inevitably arise during L2 writing, the subjects in this study either used their L2 knowledge, referred to a dictionary, or asked the researcher. Oftentimes, the subjects would perform a real-time translation of their thoughts while they wrote. In other words, the subjects were speaking in Japanese while writing in English. These real-time translations could have only been derived from the subjects' immediate knowledge of the L2. This was the quickest, most efficient, and generally most accurate strategy for producing L2 text in this study. With this in mind, L2 writers should be encouraged to rely on their own L2 knowledge. They need to be taught to trust in their best guess. This strategy has further benefits in that it keeps the composing process going, making it less likely to stall, and teaches L2 writers to become more independent by seeking inward, rather than outward, to produce the necessary language.

When a subject did not know the English equivalent of a Japanese word, the first tendency was to look it up in a bilingual dictionary. This strategy seemed to work well if the word was immediately accessible. However, when the word could not be found immediately, dictionary use distracted the writer from the original idea. This strategy seems to only be effective when the writer has preserved their idea in writing so that it cannot be lost. In this situation, dictionary use can add depth and breadth to the vocabulary L2 writers use in their writing without detracting from overall content. [-10-]

Occasionally, a subject asked the researcher for help in translating a word. While asking assistance on word choice from a native speaker is not always possible, these dialogues between researcher and subjects seemed to bring about the best word choice in the final essays. Through the negotiation of meaning while discussing the word, the subjects came to a clearer understanding of the meanings their word choice expressed.

Another strategy that the lower English proficiency subjects used was back-translating their own English text in order to help interpret its meaning. After writing words or sentences in English, sometimes these subjects wanted to verify that the English they used conveyed the ideas they intended. They would do this by using an English to Japanese dictionary or asking the researcher for the Japanese equivalent. Lay (1982) also found the same pattern with the writers in her study suggesting that the writers used back-translation to verify the connotations of words. This strategy seems to make writers more comfortable with the L2 word choices they eventually settle upon.

Suggestions For Teachers and Implications

The findings of this research suggest several directions for second language teachers. First, simply teaching writing strategies, but not compensating strategies, to writers may be ineffective if the writers already have developed solid writing strategies in their L1. The subjects in this study had sufficient L1 strategies to complete the writing task in their L1. However, without any compensating strategies, the subjects' L1 composing strategies did not transfer naturally to the L2 composing process in most cases. Consequently, teachers may need to help students bridge the gap by teaching compensating strategies that further break down the composing process, reduce the cognitive load, and allow students to utilize strategies developed in their L1.

In addition, teachers need to be aware of the effect the academic depth of the writing task has on the transfer of composing processes. If the task requires language that is beyond a student's L2 proficiency level, then the difficulty of producing a text in the L2 becomes exponentially greater. In classrooms where L2 writing students have a low L2 proficiency level and are faced with high level writing tasks, it may be advantageous for the teacher to discuss and practice compensating strategies for accomplishing real-world writing tasks that require an L2 proficiency level beyond that of the students. Without having any strategies for accomplishing such a task, it is possible that these L2 learners may become frustrated and give up on the task. If they do persevere and finish the task, the quality of the final product may possibly be below their potential had they been aware of some compensating strategies.

A final implication for teachers of L2 writing is that writing instruction for lower L2 proficiency students should be coupled with language instruction. The main target of L1 writing instruction may be teaching students about the writing process and how to use it. However, L2 writing instruction should contain not only writing instruction but also language instruction in reading, listening, speaking, grammar, vocabulary, and anything that the writing teacher believes accelerates the acquisition of overall language fluency. Instruction that speeds up the acquisition of the L2 will help students quickly get beyond an L2 proficiency level that potentially inhibits their ability to transfer their L1 composing processes. [-11-]


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About the Author

Mark Wolfersberger has an MA TESOL from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, USA and currently works as the writing coordinator at Brigham Young University's English Language Center.


Appendix A Back to the main text

Katsue's Japanese and English Essays

The essays are typed here just at they appeared in the final handwritten version.

English Translation of the Japanese Essay

I would like to write about what kind of measure I prefer when complaining about something I've bought or about poor service.

We can divide response types broadly into two categories. These are a written complaint and a direct complaint. However, neither of these apply to my approach.

Probably, because I am the ultimate coward, it takes a big effort for me to tell my complaint or dissatisfaction to the person concerned. When I think about it, I abandon my complaint halfway through.

This is because even though I think it in my heart, it is very difficult for me to say it in words. Unable to say it at the shop, I usually go home, and afterwards grumble to my friends or family about it.

Once I found a plastic foreign object in a rice cake I bought at a convenience store. At the time I tried to make a claim in writing to the manufacturer, but gave up halfway through. That was because, halfway through I felt it was too much trouble.

If I was asked to choose, I suppose I'd take the written approach. This is because with the written approach, I wouldn't have to confront the person concerned directly. My preferred approach is to deal with things in a calm manner.

English Essay

I prefer to decide to follow the customs of the new country because I should respect for it. Some people think that our own customes are commonsenses and they insist on it. Then they make some problems by the reason. But I think it's mistake. Because my own custom is my country's only custom.

I think that we don't need to forget our own customs. However I think we should obey to the customs, when people move to another country. It is the best way that imigrant get better for living in another country.

Appendix B Back to the main text

Miyoko's Japanese and English Essays

The essays are typed here just at they appeared in the final handwritten version.

English Translation of the Japanese Essay

I think I prefer the written approach to making complaints.

When I have to front up to someone and make a complaint, there are times when I can't say what I want to. That is because if I say something rude to hat person, I don't want to look at their pained expression. Also, even if I don't know that person, I want to preserve good relations with them. Because I want to live life with a good feeling, when something unpleasant happens, I try to avoid it. This is why I prefer the written approach to making complaints.

However, I think that there are some times when we need to make complaints directly. This is because there are times when you want to communicate your feelings directly to the other person. This is because if you just moan and grumble, a solution will never be reached. Therefore, I think there are times when the direct approach is needed.

If I had to say which approach I preferred, I think I prefer the written approach. That is because it's not a friendship relationship and it's to do with goods. I think the written approach is best.

English Essay

I like Japanese customs becaus I am Japanese. I to get use to Japanese customs.

but I like another country customs too. because I have free time.

But I like to keep Japanese customs.

Appendix C Back to the main text

Keiko's Japanese and English Essays

The essays are typed here just at they appeared in the final handwritten version.

English Translation of the Japanese Essay

When you want to make a complaint about something you've purchased or about poor service, there are two ways of doing this: the written complaint approach and the direct approach.

The shortcoming of the written approach is that you cannot be sure that the person it is addressed to will read it. Also, you write too harshly. The strong point is that you can write anonymously and your face (identity) is not made public. Moreover, you can say what you want to say.

The shortcoming of the direct approach is that you cannot say your words well because you get all excited and you have lots of regrets afterwards. The strong point is that because you can speak while seeing the other person's attitude you can read their thoughts.

I feel that distinguishing between the written approach and the direct approach according to the time and situation is the most advantageous for me. I use both approaches.

English Essay

Each country has customs. When people moved to another country, it is very difficult. This is because the people have to follow to the customs.

The different customs are food, language and so on. For example, most American don't cook meal and don't cleaning in house everyday, but gaiety and likes interest thing. Most Japanese people are shy and don't tell to themselves, but can endure to everything and on time to everything.

I live in America now, but some part I follow customs or accept. I think that case by case is better.

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