This paper aims to emphasize that ‘learning is not about cramming in information. It is about learning by doing [my emphasis]’ (Tsui, 2006, p. 1). Autonomy in language learning has been explored by numerous scholars with different themes (GREMMO, 1998; Gremmo & Riley, 1995; Little, 1997; Moore, 1972). Such concepts of language learning autonomy have been deeply developed by Gremmo and Riley (1995) and Phil Benson (1996). The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) (Fernandez, 2000; Murray, 2005)and Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) (Blin, 2004)studies have been heralded as enhancing language learning autonomy (Murray, 2005; Reinders, Lamb, & Reinders, 2006). The emergence of mobile technologies is hoped to improve the ‘self-editing’ capability of student (Li & Hegelheimer, 2013). However, an effective language learning autonomy only occurs when a language learner knows how to identify clearly ‘the purposes for which they learn languages and the ways in which they learn them’ (Phillip Benson, 2013)or in terms of language awareness, autonomy implies that language learners could perform language task(s) ‘without assistance’ and with ‘flexibility’ (Little, 1997, p. 94). Approached f-rom a practical perspective, this paper aims to provide feasible and hands-on solutions to the editing of a piece of academic writing by using editing free-of-c-harge tools available on the Internet. This paper examines two (02) websites: Springer Exemplar (SE) at http://www.springerexemplar.com/, the British National Corpus (BNC) athttp://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/ to look at how a piece of academic writing can be self-edited at word and phrase level. Editing at sentence level is also briefly introduced. This work is significant in that it moves the debate on learner autonomy f-rom a theoretical to a practical level.
F-rom diagnosing to solving problem
In not a few cases, language learners identify their writing errors through written feedback (Ferris, Liu, Sinha, & Senna, 2013; Guénette & Lyster, 2013)in forms of teacher feedback, peer feedback or teacher-peer feedback (Maarof, Yamat, & Li, 2011). The feedback helps student correct their mistakes or recognize the mistakes that had been corrected by their teachers or peers. The obvious disadvantage is that the corrective feedback is not always available due to the absence of teacher or peer. In an Electronic Learning Environment (ELE) (Reinders et al., 2006), students rely on a series of ICT tools which assist them to diagnose their own writing problems and to work out possible correction strategies. Of many academic websites, the two websites mentioned above help language learners, especially EAL academic writers to cope with the self-editing challenge (Guerin & Picard, 2012, p. 1)at word and phrase level. For the purpose of illustration, I used pieces of academic writing as shown in the box (see next page):
a) Global Warming has been associated to both environmental issues and health issues. (1)
b) Having found that the items are operating equivalently across gender, an independent t-test was performed to investigate the difference of self-efficacy and attitude towards mathematics between females and males.(2)
At word level
At this level, the aforementioned websites were used to check the use of preposition. In checking this, a language learner is expected to have certain skills in using online tools for searching, say knowing what should be the key words to type in the search box. Let’s assume that a learner is wondering whether the preposition ‘to’ goes with the verb ‘associate’ as in example (a). Therefore, suggested steps are as follows:
Visit the website at http://www.springerexemplar.com/
Type ‘associated to’ in the ‘Search for - box’ to check the result. The result would appear as follows:
It says ‘Showing 1 to 25 of 53,938 matching articles’. This result might have made the learner feel quite secure in using the preposition ‘to’. Yet, if the learner limits the search to the ‘Environment’ category by typing the word ‘environment’ to the Subject box, the result reveals a stark difference with 1,655 matching articles.
It is somehow makes the learner safe in using this preposition. However, if s/he checks by typing ‘associated with’, the result was better with 22,637 matching articles shown up. In this case, the latter result should be employed. That said, the preposition ‘with’ is preferred.
The same example checked with the British National Corpus (NBC) produced the same response. Only 8 matching results were found for the phrase ‘associated to’ versus 6759 results for ‘associated with’. Clearly, by using these tools, academic writers, especially language learners can identify the right options for their case.
At phrase level
In example (a), the phrase ‘Global warming has been associated to’ is examined through Springer Exemplar. There was NO result for this phrase. Yet, there was ONE result for the phrase‘ Global warming has been associated with’. This helps check not only the preposition of concern, but the whole phrase going with it. Obviously, in this case, the latter is preferred to use against the former. Below is the search result for the phrase ‘Global warming has been associated with’.
Now, let’s check another example with the British National Corpus (BNC)
Using BNC to check the phrase ‘the difference of’ as in example (b):
Having found that the items are operating equivalently across gender, an Independent t-test was performed to investigate the difference of self-efficacy and attitude towards mathematics between females and males. (2)
EAL writers might have known that native speakers tend to use ‘difference in’. Therefore, it is suggested checking both ‘the difference of’ and ‘the difference in’ to see the frequency of use. A higher degree of language use awareness is required in this case. The phrase ‘the difference of’, when checked through BNC, came up with 84 results that read ‘Here is a random se-lection of 50 solutions f-rom the 84 found’.
But, a closer look at some of the solutions mentioned reveals that the general formula for the use of this phrase is ‘the difference of X’ [as shown in such solutions as A04, A0T, ADX, B16 etc.,] while the original document refers to the pattern ‘the difference of X and Y’. The same procedure that was applied for the phrase ‘the difference in’ came up with ‘50 solutions f-rom the 469 found’ (BNC). First, the frequency of use is higher with 469 versus 84. Second, most of the results showed the relevance of the concept of ‘the difference in X and Y’. In this case, the second check was preferred to employ.
At sentence level
Editing the whole sentence is much more complex as it requires the EAL academic writers to have a good command of English. Within the scope of this paper and f-rom my 10 years of working as a lecturer of English, I have found that one of the most common mistakes challenging EAL learners is their failure in having appropriate agreement between subject and verb. For illustration, I provided one example below:
The main structural c-haracteristics of cyclodextrins is different in polarity between the exterior and interior.3
In dealing with sentence self-correction, the software called Ginger is recommended. After a few simple steps for installation, learners can enter text into the pop-up window of Ginger and the result for sentence (3) is as follows (see next page):
The main subject is ‘c-haracteristics’ (in plural) requires a verb also in plural. This software helps identify such area and even make it easier to follow by colouring the wrong (in red colour) and the corrected one (in blue colour).
Also regarding sentence correction, one of the commonly-made errors is the confusion of identifying form of verb whether it is singular or plural as in the case of fixed expressions such as ‘a number of…’ and ‘the number of…’
Let’s examine the two following examples by using Ginger software:
The number of people going picnic is increasing. 4
A number of students wants to apply for a part-time job. 5
Once the Ginger is ready to run, learners just simply enter the sentences into the pop-up window and check the outcomes below:
Regarding sentence (4), confusion might arise f-rom the fact that EAL writers might have assumed that the real subject is ‘people’, therefore the verb followed should be plural. However, the correct subject is ‘the number of’ and as checked by the software, it goes with a verb in singular form (in this case, the verb ‘to be’ in the third singular person is required). In regard to sentence (5), the same procedure applied and the corrected one (in blue colour) is a verb in plural (in this case, the verb ‘want’ is required) instead the wrong one ‘wants’.
Ginger is quite powerful in helping check not only at sentence level, but also the text as whole. It gives more room for EAL writers to explore by themselves due to limited scope of this paper.
To make an effective use of these online tools, language learners or EAL academic writers are expected to have certain online search skills and the ability to sense how academic language works. Learner autonomy supported with technology should be perceived for the long-term development rather than a hit-and-run strategy. Of equal importance is that learner autonomy is not applicable to all types of learner, especially to ‘children or adults of low educational attainment, nor for “difficult” languages, or in examination-led syllabuses’ (Gremmo & Riley, 1995, p. 151). To conclude, I would like to emphasize that ‘our goal is to teach students to learn how to learn rather than merely passing information to them’ (Tsui, 2006, p. 1).
The author of this paper would like to convey special thanks to Dr Michelle Picard for sharing her teaching material for the purpose of illustration and for her inspiring ideas that help shape the article. The author also would like to thank Elizar who is presently a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide for sharing her learning material in this paper.
(1) & (3): examples taken f-rom Dr Michelle Picard’s lecture on Grammar for Researchers (up-dated as of 21 May 2014)
(2): example shared by PhD candidate Elizar’s learning material
(4) & (5): author’s own grammatical examples for illustration of how to use Ginger software for self-correction purposes.