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Applied Linguistics & Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Applied Linguistics & Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

In the Department of Arts & Humanities

Apple Lecture > Apple Lecture 2006

Apple Lecture 2006

2006 William Grabe

Success with L2 Reading: From Research to Teaching

Interview in TC Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, Vol 6, No 1 (2006)
TESOL/AL Times Newsletter Article

Over 100 students, alumni, and visiting scholars attended the 2006 APPLE lecture titled, “Success with L2 Reading: From Research to Teaching” by Dr. William Grabe, Professor of English at Northern Arizona University and former President of AAAL (2001-2002). Teachers College Columbia University Working Papers in TESOL & AL had the honor of speaking with Dr. Grabe on the morning of the lecture. The following is an excerpt from the interview. Please visit for the full interview.

Dr. Grabe, as you describe in your review of L2 writing theory and practice, L2 writing models are derived in part from L1 writing research and theory-building. How might L1 writing theory and practice benefit from greater awareness of the research by their colleagues in L2 writing?

This is an academic and political question. […] Here is one way to think about it: L2 writing people tend to have a burden and the burden is called generative linguistics. How do you talk about language teaching and skills when your training is in generative linguistics? We all have to come to grips with this.

In the first language, they have the same burden—it is not the same source. They have to deal with postmodern critical interpretations. Most people in composition and rhetoric live in English departments and they have to work with their literature colleagues and they have to deal with this theory. That really shapes and defines how they talk about writing and how they think about writing, just like in applied linguistics we have these other backgrounds that may not make us the most effective for teaching writing or helping learning, but that is part of our background, too. So we are coming from really different worlds. […]

In L2 writing, we are more confronted with accountability. If we are not successful with L2 writers they do not get into universities or they really fail. […] Having said that politically, what can L1 writing people learn from L2 people? There is a good 1992 book by Ilona Leki in which she compares resident immigrant type populations coming up through the American school system with international students, and how they are so different in the classroom. That is just the best discussion of why L2 writing is going to be different from L1 writing professionals can learn from L2 writing people.

If you are not talking about the immigrant American population, the 1.5 generation, […] and you think about international students—well, the international students have no problems with seeing vocabulary and grammar instruction as useful and relevant. They really want feedback. They actually ask for more feedback. They tend to read it more carefully, they really see correction as something helpful and useful—after all, it is their second language. If you correct their second language, well, of course, they want it—they are perfectly comfortable and secure in their first language. You are not threatening the first language. But if you are talking about  1.5 generation and immigrant students—a lot of times English is their first language and are you threatening their language. It becomes a very different situation. It means that L1 people really have to understand L2 populations.