Multilingual Writers: what comes first, writing to learn or learning to write?

In the introduction to Learning-to-Write and Writing-to-Learn in an Additional Language (2011), Manchón explains that that in the field of Second Language Writing  three perspectives converge. These perspectives are Learning to Write (LW), Writing to learn content (WLC) and Writing to Learn Language (WLL).  Although these perspectives have been informed by specific disciplines such as L1 composition, English for Specific Purpose, English for Academic purposes (in the case of LW and LWC) and Second Language Acquisition (in the case of LWL), researchers should look at the intersections of those three dimensions in order to fully capture and understand the nature of Second Language Writing (3-5). In particular, SLW researchers should closely look at the role of writing as a language learning point of departure, not the other way round as it has traditionally been understood. In “A biliteracy agenda for genre research” (2011), Gentil also emphasizes the mutual influences between knowledge on a language formal system and genre expertise and claims that despite of the fact that discourse communities with different languages may have sometimes similar or different genre expectations, multilingual students use their repertoires in both linguistic and rhetorical senses when dealing with unfamiliar genres (19).

Moreover, special attention should be paid to the social aspects  that inform the different purposes  (professional, personal, educational) of the WL dimension (Learning to write content, most particularly) and the fact that multilingual writers, whether they are writing to learn or learning to write new genres, are multi-competent and do make use of their prior knowledge when dealing with new writing situations (5-6).

In her chapter “Learning to Write in a Second Language, Multilingual Graduates and Undergraduates Expanding Genre Repertories” , Leki reveals that multilingual students are consciously aware of their transfers in new writing situations, showing their agency performance, something that, according to Leki “is inherent to the notion of far transfer” (104). Students knew what prior knowledge (both implicit and explicit) and when use it or  disregard it, demonstrating their flexibility in adapting to unfamiliar genres in dynamic ways.  Because students themselves acknowledged that by learning to write they were also writing to learn a set of options for different genres (mostly implicitly) in their L1 and L2, it is obvious that, when they enter a composition class (either SLW or first-year writing) they will bring that knowledge (most of it, tacit knowledge) to the class with them. Therefore, it seems obvious that teachers, as Leki states, “may need to find out what kinds of writing experiences the students have had, which may be in fact substantial, how they think about these experiences, and what their theories are about how to perform various writing tasks, and then to move forward from there” (106). This statement poses several questions:

1. In a writing class for diverse student populations with different cultural, personal and educational backgrounds, how do teachers find out their students´prior knowledge about writing in their L1 and L2/L3?

2. How do teachers assess the quality of students´transfers? Which of those transfer will impact their writing in positive ways and which will impact it in less positive ways?

3. Can second language/multilingual writers use their explicit knowledge on responding in dynamic ways to new writing situations to teach monolingual writers those same skills?


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