Generation 1.5 and ESL

Who Are Generation 1.5?

Generation 1.5 refers to students who are U.S. residents or citizens but whose first or home language was not English, although for some of these students, English does, in fact, function as the primary language. Generation 1.5 is extremely diverse and difficult to categorize. Their language needs range from extensive to minimal. Only a small proportion of ESL research focuses on Generation 1.5 learners partly because of the diversity of 1.5 experiences and because this group of learners is difficult to even quantify.

Challenges

While it can be difficult to make generalizations, Generation 1.5 learners who demonstrate a need for additional language support often face these challenges that separate them from most native-speakers:

  1. They are still acquiring language.
  2. They have less familiarity with grammar rules than either international students or native speakers.
  3. They have less experience reading and writing in English which makes the transition to academic writing difficult.
  4. They are less familiar with the metalanguage of academic writing.

Strengths

It is important to note that Generation 1.5 also brings significant strengths to the classroom, even though these strengths are often overlooked. As Linda Harklau, Meryl Siegel, and Kay Losey point out, "efforts of native English-speaking monolinguals to acquire a foreign language in foreign language and comparative literature departments are accorded the status of major disciplines, while at the same time bilingual students' considerably more sophisticated skills in two or more languages are often defined only in terms of perceived deficiencies in English" (11).  Generation 1.5 learners have these advantages in developing writing skills:

  1. As multilingual learners, they have more sophisticated linguistic skill than most native-speakers.
  2. They have a greater understanding of the cultural underpinnings of the English language than most international students.
  3. Their (typical) oral fluency gives them the advantage of being able to "speak into writing" and verbalize their writing process.

Language, Culture, and Identity

Generation 1.5 resists easy categorization, and to simply label students as "ESL" can inadequately capture the students' skills; it can also flatten their complex identities and even culturally marginalize them. Across research, it has been demonstrated that Generation 1.5 learners do not want to be classified as ESL and are not interested in enrolling in ESL writing courses. According to one study, the more proficient a student sees him/ herself in English, the less interested he/ she is in enrolling in a non-mainstream writing course (Matsuda 69).

Multilingual U.S. residents and citizens' relationship to writing is informed by the complex interplay of language, culture, and identity. A study by Yuet-Sim Chiang and Mary Schmida of UC Berkeley composition courses, the students of which can be presumed to be similar to Stanford students, reveals insights about Generation 1.5's language identity. Chiang and Schmida found:

  1. Students defined a bilingual individual as someone who identifies with a "heritage" language other than English, regardless of how that individual uses the heritage language.
  2. Students felt conflicted about their relationship to English and the heritage language. Often, they felt they had incomplete knowledge of both. As Chiang and Schmida argue, "They are faced with the double whammy of having a cultural home language in which they have the culture but not the full linguistic ability, and with English (for many a home and school language) in which they have the linguistic ability (however varying it is) but not the culture that, according to the students, means mainstream culture" (88).
  3. While not students' first language, English is, in fact, many students' primary language of use. That is, students think in English and actually have more extensive knowledge of English than the cultural home language.
  4. At the same time, students had a deep emotional connection to the heritage language, although they often had imprecise knowledge of it.

Facilely labeling a student as "ESL" runs the danger of misconstruing students' real language usage, denying their complex experiences, and excluding them from mainstream American culture. As Linda Blanton cautions, grouping Generation 1.5 learners with international students challenges their membership in the community and ignores their status as citizens or residents (125). In addition, students often internalize the expectation that they will make conventional linguistic errors associated with the term "ESL," ultimately undermining their confidence in their writing (Chiang and Schiamada 93). 

Oral Proficiency and "Ear learning"

Several scholars identify Generation 1.5 learners as primarily "ear learners." Ear learners acquire language through "trial and error" in real communicative contexts (Ritter 95). That is, they learn most by listening and speaking in informal English immersive settings. One common challenge is that ear learners write like they speak, which can lead to academic prose that is overly colloquial and grammatically imprecise. International students, on the other hand, are characterized as "eye learners." They learn English through the study of formal rules in an academic setting, with primary practice in reading and writing. Many international students, in fact, are better-versed in the formal rules of English than Generation 1.5 students and native speakers generally.

Jennifer Ritter and Trygve Sandvik identify these common errors of ear-learners (94):

  1. Errors based on oral English. An ear-learner might write in English as it is spoken, or as the student has mis-heard spoken English. For example, a student might write "think on," instead of "think of," because he/she has heard it spoken like that or because the preposition "of" is not emphasized orally in this phrase and is therefore easily misheard.
  2. Phonetically-based spelling mistakes
  3. Punctuation and other features that are not present orally
  4. Run-on sentences

Strategies for working with Generation 1.5

While this group is vastly diverse and defies easy characterization, in general, it can be said that Generation 1.5 learners possess considerable potential for self-editing (Ferris 152). Non-directive feedback, then, works particularly well with this group. Moreover, their oral proficiency and familiarity with American cultural norms can be significant assets in the development of their writing skills. The best strategies for working with these learners is to harness their facility for oral communication and their potential for self-editing.

Some tips for working with Generation 1.5 learners include:

  1. Ask students to share their academic writing experience to assess their familiarity with the metalanguage of writing and critical analysis (Johns 170). You can then tailor your feedback to this level of experience.
  2. Ritter and Sandvik advocate the use of "indirect guidance and corrective feedback." Instead of directly pointing out an issue, they suggest the tutor/ instructor use a "quizzical" tone to read aloud a particular error. Then, the tutor asks the student about his/ her intent in writing this passage (97).
  3. Connect to a student's oral proficiency by using oral-based language, for example, saying that something doesn't "sound right."
  4. Use intuitive "manageable" rather than complex grammatical language (Ritter and Sandvik 98).
  5. When working on a passage that "sounds" wrong, if a student does not suggest a correction, use "corrective feedback"—ask questions that lead the student to be able to identify the particular error and then brainstorm strategies for revision.
  6. Ritter and Sandvik suggest a particular strategy for modeling academic writing in writing center tutorials: The tutor first asks students to verbally explain the assignment prompt and the essay. In talking through the text, the tutor regularly overtly refers back to the prompt in order to model how to effectively respond to assignments (99). Throughout the session, the tutor pays particular attention to referring to key features of academic writing (eg. thesis, topic sentence).

References

Chiang, Yuet-Sim D. and Mary Schmida. "Language Identity and Language Ownership: Linguistic Conflicts of First-Year University Writing Students." Generation 1.5 Meets College Composition : Issues in the Teaching of Writing to U.S.-Educated Learners of ESL. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1999. 45-60.

Ferris, Dana R. "One Size Does Not Fit All: Response and Revision Issues for Immigrant Student Writers." Generation 1.5 Meets College Composition : Issues in the Teaching of Writing to U.S.-Educated Learners of ESL. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1999. 143-157.

Harklau, Linda; Meryl Siegel; and Kay Losey. "Linguistically Diverse Students and College Writing: What is Equitable and Appropriate?" Generation 1.5 Meets College Composition : Issues in the Teaching of Writing to U.S.-Educated Learners of ESL. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1999. 1-14.

Johns, Ann M. "Opening Our Doors: Applying Socioliterate Approaches (SA) to Language Minority Classrooms." Generation 1.5 Meets College Composition: Issues in the Teaching of Writing to U.S.-Educated Learners of ESL. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1999. 159-171.

Matsuda, Paul Kei; Tanita Saenkhum; and Steven Accardi. "Writing teachers' perceptions of the presence and needs of second language writers: An Institutional Case Study." Journal of Second Language Writing 22 (2013): 68-86.

Ritter, Jennifer J. and Trygve Sandvik. "Meeting in the Middle: Bridging the Construction of  meaning with Generation 1.5 Learners." ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors. 2nd ed. Ed. Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook, 2009. 91-104.