Generation 1.5: writing at the nexus of English language proficiency (ELP) and academic literacy (AL)

Year: 2013

Author: Williamson, Frances

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


A recurring theme is Higher Education has been the 'problem of student writing'; that is, the perceived inability of many students to write in ways deemed acceptable in academia. However, while this theme may be constant, approaches to student writing have varied from concerns over English language proficiency and communication skills (e.g. Bretag, 2007) to academic literacies (e.g. Lillis and Turner, 2001). This inconsistency has in part been due to the many different interpretations surrounding each construct, including to which cohort/s of students each most readily applies. The failure of universities and academic language advisors to articulate a shared and grounded understanding of the nature of language proficiency in the context of higher education has facilitated two equally counterproductive tendencies: firstly, to dichotomise English Language Proficiency (ELP) and Academic literacy/ies (AL); and secondly, to conflate these terms. Neither of these positions captures the ‘knotty tangle’ (Reid, 1998) that constitutes student academic writing. While the two domains of ELP and AL may at times be distinguishable, they are always complementary and overlapping. This paper examines this complexity through a case study of the writing of Generation 1.5 students. Generation 1.5 is the term given to students born in a non-English speaking country who emigrate as children or adolescents thus receiving the majority of their schooling in Australia.  As such, their language backgrounds and educational needs fall somewhere between those of recently arrived immigrants such as international students and English-speaking domestic students. Through an analysis of syntax, cohesion, lexis and text organisation in the writing of three Generation 1.5 undergraduate students studying at an Australian university, this paper argues that it is critical to construct ELP and AL as part of the one continuum. Moreover, the diverse and complex needs of most learners, not only those with language backgrounds other than English (LBOTE) cannot be met by an either/or approach.