Walking a linguistic tightrope: learner development in writing job application letters

Portman, Daniel (2014). Walking a linguistic tightrope: learner development in writing job application letters. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d5c1

Abstract

This thesis focuses on tracking the development of 17 tertiary English language learners (ELLs) studying how to write job application letters. The research took place within the context of a Business Writing in English module, in which the pedagogy was informed by a Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) approach to genre. While much genre-based research in educational settings examines pedagogic practices, Cheng (2006) urges genre researchers to focus on learner development. In this project, learner development in writing job application letters was of interest for two reasons: (a) the letters were new to the learners, in the project's national context and (b) the letters required the complex task of both: demonstration of suitability for jobs and maintenance of appropriate social relations with presumed readers.

Within their coursework, the 17 learner-participants wrote three job application letters, in response to three job advertisements, at three points in time. For the 17 participants, demonstration of suitability for the jobs was examined. For three of these participants, a mor.e detailed analysis was carried out, concerning their management of social relations with their presumed readers. Analysis for tracking development was informed by SFL and focussed on the lexicogrammatical and register strata, in relation to the generic staging of a job application letter. Participant interviews and feedback from Human Resources professionals supplemented the linguistic analyses.

From the findings, three main conclusions are drawn and presented with reference to Halliday's (2004) language learning triad: (a) 'learning language' - genre development can be seen through the participants' appropriate expansion, organisation, and variation of repertoire; (b) 'learning through language' - genre development can be seen through the participants' 'resemiotisation' (ledema, 2003) of themselves as job applicants; (c) 'learning about language' - genre development can be seen through the participants' demonstration of 'practical' and 'discursive' knowledge (Giddens, 1984). Based on insights from the research, policy and practice implications are offered. Finally, further research directions are suggested.

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