L1 vs L2 Writing Skills

28 Jun

Question: For a group of B2/C1 teenagers that have done FCE, which language do you think they will write better in, L1 or L2?

My Answer:  L1, of course.

Their Answer:  English.  We don’t do anywhere near as much writing in L1 (Spanish in Argentina, BTW) as we do in English.  We’re much better at structured writing in English.

Could this really be the case?  My Spanish isn’t good enough to judge their writing but I might get a colleague to look at some of their Spanish compositions.

Has anyone else encountered this?


Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Activities


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2 responses to “L1 vs L2 Writing Skills

  1. marcus murilo

    June 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    That doesn’t really surprise me. I’m a NNEST from Brazil – and I’m assuming that because Brazil and Argentina are so close geographically, they also share some similarities as far as education is concerned.

    In my regular school writing classes all we ever did was write essays in response to teachers’ prompts, which often came in the form of morose texts about topics we couldn’t relate to on a personal level. The teacher would then set the topic and the students would write away, hand their work in and get it back a week later with a scribbles of red ink on it. That’s how the writing process was – and still is – conducted in many regular schools in Brazil (and, sadly, I’m guessing in many other countries as well).

    In my EFL classes, however, things were quite different. Teachers would get us to discuss topics as a class so we could generate ideas together. Besides, some teachers would also have us experiment with different textual genres – essays, articles, reports, leaflets, reviews, etc. – which, in my view, is essential for students to understand how text type informs the writing process. Also, I had some teachers who would use peer correction in class, make personal comments in my compositions, etc. In short, teachers that really used a process approach to writing instruction as opposed to merely focusing on the end product.

    I’m very confident to assert that I learned how to write in my EFL classes and, therefore, it’s more of a struggle for me to write in Portuguese than it is in English – not because of my linguistic competence in Portuguese. As a native speaker of Portuguese, I’m well aware that it far outweighs my competence in English. However, because I was taught in an EFL environment, it’s often easier to do writing in English as it’s no “uncharted territory” for me since I’ve done it multiple times and have learned what tools I can make use of, for example.

    Recently, a Brazilian teacher carried out research for her doctoral degree into how writing is taught in L1 and in L2. If you’re interested in the results, you might like to take a look at these:



    Oops, apparently I got a tad too excited about this comment and it looks more like a blog posting 😛

    • Gordon Scruton

      June 28, 2011 at 12:46 pm


      Thanks for the links. I have to go off to teach soon so I’ll check them out a little later. It makes me start to realize, or should I say re-realize, that we sometimes have an uphill battle teaching students how to do something in L2 that they don’t even know how to do in L1.

      With regard to your point about “morose texts about topics we couldn’t relate to on a personal level”, I think that tends to describe a lot of Cambridge exams right there! Obviously there is a big emphasis on exams here in Argentina (is it the same in Brazil?) so I am over the moon that Cambridge has finally introduced the “for schools” series of tests. However, schools and institutes seem to be slow to adopt these more appropriate texts. Changing the subject to reading, I remember privately tutoring one poor Mexican 12-year-old who was having to intensively read Jack London and Mark Twain! Who looked at that and thought, ‘let’s use this with Non-Native kids!’???

      Thanks for the insight. Now I need to figure out how to use it. 🙂


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