Examining EFL writer’s social networks: Impact on advanced academic literacy development

Orna Ferenz,  holds a PhD in Linguistics from Bar Ilan University, Israel. She is a senior lecturer in the EFL Unit at Bar Ilan University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate EFL courses. In her article, she conducted an experiment based on six Hebrew speaking, NNSE graduate students, with experience in a required EFL academic writing course. Everything took place in 2003/04 at a large university in Israel.

With each participant having a different major (2 Ph.D and 4 M.A.), the purpose of this study was to see how a socially driven environment affects the students’ advancement in English literacy. Ferenz wants to know if social networking beyond the basic groups (teachers, classmates and etc) will progress the students’ abilities in building social and academic relationships. In order to achieve these goals, Ferenz conducted interviews and post interviews. Unfortunately, she doesn’t believe it is possible (341). From her small sample, she recognized the trouble students were approaching. It seems as though, the students were focused on improving their growth only within the university because they didn’t have many options for diverse English learning (343). 

I had to read this twice. It was that the concept was hard to comprehend, but I think I began overthinking what Ferenz was aiming to prove. The other articles that we have been reading conduct research that comes out a bit more confusing. I considered different possibilities, such as Ferenz, herself, not being a native English speaker or she is and moved to Israel for Hebrew learning continuation. She did say that she interviewed the six and wrote their answers verbatim, which threw me off trying to understand their thoughts. My natural instinct was to correct the word order or question what they were saying. But is it possible, this is Ferenz’s point? If more exposed to English literacy in social or academic networking then the students’ approach and word usage may be different. 

I think this study could have been done differently. Out of 31, 200, to choose only six representatives ( 5 females and 1 male), is not proper. I understand choosing different academic departments, but I think Ferenz could’ve used more samples, split the six into an equal gender amount (3 boys and 3 girls), or expand the study outside the university to possibly other universities with similar departments and/or increased the length of time for the study (half a year). If they’re using social networking, could it be the type of network being used or is it a particular social media?


Medea wrote a comment on, “Ferenz talks about social circles being necessary to advanced academic literacy. Aren’t they ubiquitous? Why or why not?”

Before I replied to her comment, I admit I wanted  to define Ferenz’s key words because although I may know the meaning sometimes it’s good to have a wider perspective. Ubiquitous means found everywhere, present. If I consider academic literacy to mean the ability to understand a range of vocabulary (academic). Then I am accepting that it is possible to gain an advancement in my vocabulary by simply being around people. I think this is true to an extent. Social groups choose to speak if their own lingo and associate themselves in a narrow minded way that suits them (personal interest), topic, location and purpose. If in an academic setting then I agree but it can be said that not uncommon to have a diluted form of vocabulary amongst casual group mates. We, meaning all people, will gain some form of vocabulary from various circles, that doesn’t necessarily mean academic like. Especially with social media involved within most groups, then we might as well get it directly from the internet. If we choose to remain within a small sample or parameter, then we won’t be able to progress.

EFL Writer’s Networks: Impact on Advanced Academic Literacy Development.

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I found this article very informative in helping me to figure out how to format my own proposal. It also reinforced to me how important it was for me to include pertinent information in my proposal and to make sure it was placed in the proper place. I liked the layout of this article because again it helped me to restructure mine in a more concise way. Learning about EFL and L1 and L2 language learners was interesting to me thanks to the Global English linguistic course I took with Dr. Ruth Griffith last semester. So for me this article was taking everything I learned a step farther by applying it to the impact that EFL writer’s social networks have on their academic and language development. I was immediately intrigued and was excited to learn more. The main purpose of this research paper was two fold and posed two questions: One, what type of relationships do English as a Foreign Language graduate students form in order to develop L2 academic literacy? Two, What impact do these relationships have on a student’s acquisition of L2 academic literacy and writing. What is important to note is that the findings show that social networks do in fact play a key role in L2 learners academic literacy acquisition and practice as a disciplinary communication.

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The introduction of the article highlights the key concept of the research which is the effects the social environment has on and plays in L2 academic literacy and learning. The purpose of the study: “Is to investigate the role of the social environment in developing graduate students’ L2 advanced academic literacy within an English as a foreign language setting. (Ferenz, 2005). By adopting and analyzing the students social networks the researcher was able to make connections and build on the premise that these relationships and the environment the students are in all play a important role in their learning, writing and language acquisition. Data is provided from interviews and post interviews of various students, six with advanced MA and PhD NNSE writing students. In the following paragraph the theoretical background and rationale is explained. Dr. Nelson points out this section is similar to that of a literature review. In it an important fact is raised and that is how each student’s unique and distinct identity plays a important role in their learning. Two factors, one literacy is a social practice related to identity. Two, social networks relation to their to identity. The research shows that when you are considering the advanced academic literacy of students again there are two important key components to remember: “One, literacy practices are acquired through socialization with practitioners of the valid literacy. Two, a writer’s identity may impact the writer’s motivation for acquiring L2 advanced academic literacy since literacy is a function of a writer’s identity and are valued by a writer according to his or her social identity.” (Ferenz, 2005) In order to understand the impact a social network may have on a person requires clarifying the concepts of identity and social identity. Even though most peoples self-definition is dynamic and unique most individuals seek memberships in social networks or groups that are beneficial to them and their goals.

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The methodology is not specifically named but it seems to allude to that of phenomenology. The researcher refers to students “perceptions and descriptive investigation” reinforces this fact. A qualitative method in the form of interviews was used. I agree that those pre and post interview’s were effective for this particular study. These interviews were vital for gathering important information and facts from the student’s. The use of a smaller sample of students allowed for a more in depth analysis. Interviews were the best choice because it helps identify student’s perceptions of their social and academic environments. Most important it is that it draws on self reported data. The study was conducted in a large Israeli University. The predominant language spoken was Hebrew except for the English Language and Literature department. The students are required to participate in EFL academic writing courses, to help expose these students from diverse disciplines to the experience of EFL academic writing. This requirement allowed for a population from which a sample could be drawn and tested for academic literacy. Graduate students were chosen based on their familiarity with L1 academic literacy and their acquisition of disciplinary knowledge. The data collection included six interviews which were audiotaped with permission. The interview was conducted in both English and Hebrew. The analysis process was the interviews being transcribed verbatim and then categorized according to four emerging and reoccurring patterns and themes from the data analysis, the themes were similar to the variables we need to use and implement in our research proposal. The next few pages included charts with various background information on the participants. They were small charts, very clear, and very concise which made the data even easier to read and analyze. One chart included the academic environment which included: the learning materials and language. Another chart was the academic environment: which included the people and language. The final two charts included the social environment: participants social networks and lastly the participants desired social identity. I liked the use of the charts which were not overwhelming to read. I was able to clearly interpret the information. The data collection and instruments used were that following the initial interviews the participants were asked to complete a post interview questionnaire aimed at verifying explicit language use within their social networks. The participants were asked to identify the people with whom they interact within three settings: work, home and university, to identify the languages they used with each of the people, and to estimate the extent to which they use either English or Hebrew within the academic setting.

In conclusion the study found that within an EFL environment, the participants identities and goals appear to impact the nature of their social networks which in turn influence each student’s L2 language acquisition. The academic oriented social networks were shown to reinforce the social and cultural features of advanced academic literacy, utilizing disciplinary avenues for knowledge production and representation, as well as modeling English language use. In contrast the non academic oriented social networks were reported to emphasize general literacy practices. The second part within this conclusion of the study highlights what was found in the participants identity literacy practices. Identity was crucial in this research study. For the students with a non-academic oriented identity, their goals were professional or personal, and they undertook their L2 literacy practices initially in L1 and then L1/L2, focusing on ideas. For the non academic oriented students, functioning in the academic institution would require a switch for them in their literary practices from one setting, their work, to another, the university, and acquiring a set of literacy practices appropriate to each setting. But the data did show that not all the participants wanted to acquire a deeper understanding of L2 advanced academic literacy practices. The result was that not all EFL graduate writers developed a social environment capable of assuming a role in the socialization process towards L2 literacy. The students who encounter any difficulties with L2 discourse production processes may look for help to advisors, who may not be giving them the appropriate assistance in achieving L2 literacy. I think the results of this study are important for FL learners and teachers. Through this study we know how a student’s identities and goals influence their motivation to acquire L2 academic learning. This is an important finding and shows the significance of staring by having a discussion with students about their individual goals and their identities. Another important finding is that a writer’s use of L1 and L2 may serve as a diagnostic tool indicating the extent of L2 language acquisition this would be a good starting point for language instruction. I’m glad we had the opportunity to read and interpret this research article because it helped me to take a closer look at my research proposal and see what I need to work on and how to divide it up to make it clear and cohesive like this article was. I embedded this video below which I think is a really interesting Ted Talk about one ESL teacher’s experience of how he teaches his students English. In some ways it relates to the article we read and overall I thought it was very informative in giving us a glimpse into the teacher’s role in EFL student’s education and goals. I’m excited for the presentation this Monday! Hope you are all well and staying safe! Xo.

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