Ferenz and Social Network Impacts on Writing

Unfortunately in transitioning from annotating the notes for the reading and the writing of this blog for it, I needed to switch computers and cannot recover my Hypothesis notes. As such my looking back through the reading for points of discussion may be a little less in depth.

This article puts forth a few points centered around what it refers to as L1 and L2 writing, with L1 being native language and L2 being second language. The general focus of the study is how academic literacy of non-native English speaker may be affected through social networks. Academic literacy for this body of students is defined as “…[encompassing] knowledge of the linguistic, textual, social and cultural features of academic written discourse as well as knowledge of English as used by their academic disciplines” (Ferenz). The study was done using a body of graduate students from an Israeli university and conducted in the form of interviews and questionnaires.

One of the strengths of this research is, as they point out at the beginning of the rationale section, that the research is done based on an “interconnection” of theories. One of the most powerful moments for me of writing (or in this case for doing research) is synthesizing different sources into a unique document and idea. Here, one of these sources is a theory that the social environment influences social practices. It follows, then, that because the social environment of a school is academic in nature, that the general environment of these L2 students is an academic one. The study then described how it may be difficult for these students to thrive in the realm of academic literacy if, as is noted, there is an L1 to L2 translation in their minds when they are doing work. But the study goes on to comment on findings which speaks to that initial concern.

The second concept which Ferenz uses for the study is the idea that social networks, which is more specifically featured as a student’s “discourse community,” impact a student’s writing and academic ability as well as their socializing and “enculturation.” Ferenz goes on within that section to clarify that although people make their own choices based on self-actualization and individuality, they often seek social groupings to enhance and strengthen these beliefs in themselves and assist in solidifying their identity. Here as I was reading this is when I became particularly interested. I’ve always felt there is something of a give-and-take to a person’s identity in a given place based on where they are coming from as well as who they are with. But apropos of this theory, Ferenz postulates that some students do not socialize for their identities in settings which are analogous to the social settings which would help their academic literacies.

Working into the Methodologies section, the author specifies on procedures and concerns. Interviews were used because this study involves largely experiential-based data, so self-reporting is likely one of the best avenues for data collection. The author then clarifies that, as a qualitative study, the data and conclusion to the research question is not intended to be taken objectively. Six graduate students from an Israeli university from different departments were selected from previous studies done to participate in this research. The importance of selecting students of varied departments I believe is that, as the research eventually documents, there is found a variety of social environments the students choose to exist within, as well as different personal literacies which impact their speech and writing. Of six interviews for each participant, of which the lengths varied, two distinct segments occurred. In the first interview segment, general and personal questions were asked to allow the participants to clarify on where they believed they stood academically as well as socially. The second segment then focused on questions pertaining to academic literacy and norms within the different networks with which they engaged in school. The two settings which the study was concerned with were academic settings, relating to instructional mediums, academic contacts and literacies, etc., and social settings, relating to contacts and situations outside the academic. At the end of the Methodologies section, Ferenz again relates the theory that who people choose to socialize with, as it intrinsically relates to goals that person has and who they are, who also have an impact on that person’s sense of self, is a direct factor in what academic literacies that person likely has.

As a second language for these students, English seems to exist academically for them in different ways. There is a gradation of what extent to which readings and conversations are held in either English or Hebrew academically, which does impact L2 acquisition. For instance, one participant, Miriam, is a psychology student who cites how her readings are primarily in English. Her learning was facilitated largely in English, and she claims to retain her thinking in English for these times. Conversely, a student like Leah claims to translate from English to Hebrew when storing information. The study goes on to say that the social settings these students are in, both academic and social, lead them to utilize their friends and academic supports to more or less specific and rigorous academic means.

What this means is that different groups of people within social circles function differently for students in how they help with academic literacy. If academic supports like professors and academic advisors are a student’s primary means of discussing L2 material, as was the case with a few of the participants here, then higher-level academic discussions are typically had. Things like ideas, structure, and methods are the takeaways. In contrast, if peers are the participant’s primary social avenue for discussing L2 material, more basic topics are covered instead. But the study goes deeper into the reasons behind these social choices. For some of the participants, like David who is a computer science student, the choice of with whom he communicates is not random but based on both academic and professional considerations. This is one of the main takeaways of the research I believe, which is that some fields, and some students really, approach their social networks not only from where they exist as students but where they exist as students relative to their careers. Those like David who utilize social networks within their professional fields in tandem with their scholastic ones, as opposed to some whose singular social network is academic, have different methods of L2 acquisition.

As the study approaches its latter findings and conclusions, the takeaway from the research seems to focus on goals. Ferenz points out that “During the process of writing, it may be said that language use is dependent upon the language in which knowledge was acquired and mentally stored.” Much of the interview material centered around how the students in the study took in, stored, and recycled information, much of that even based on what language the students did all of that in primarily. This information was then further specified on in what goals the students set for themselves in their L2 acquisition as graduate students. What the conclusion of the Results section has to say ultimately is that if the student questions their L2 usage in the efficacy of their work, or translates L1 to L2 in their work, then their academic literacy may not be as substantive as the students who immediately integrate L2 into their material and do not translate native to secondary language. It is then for the environment of the university to promote a higher level of L2 acquisition through sustained, meaningful advising from staff, and the goal-driven mentality of the students to seek peer-to-peer discussion.

I did enjoy this reading, certainly. On my own time, my leisure readings sometimes center around what effect socializing has on one’s sense of self, and how one’s self likewise impacts others. If I believe that there is a mirroring of humanity in each other then it stands to reason that in specific ways this would be true. What goals we have for ourselves as they translate to whom we choose to socialize with, may necessarily create social-academic environments. If people we socialize with for the sake of bolstering our academic literacy are either in academic advisory roles or professional-personal ones, then what we glean from them will differ.