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Zoltán Kiszely : The rhetorical organisation of Hungarian and English compositions interrelationships, explanations and pedagogical implications

The principal aim of this article was to compare the organisation of 30 Hungarian secondary school students’ L1 Hungarian and L2 English argumentative essays by applying discourse and topical structure analysis (DSA and TSA). This text linguistic research extended beyond the usual text-based contrastive rhetoric studies as it was complemented with a standardised essay assessment procedure and also with the exploration of students’ L1 and L2 writing processes and literacy backgrounds. Furthermore, it was intended to provide tentative explanations to the interrelationships across these factors and to allow for drawing pedagogical implications. The findings of the DSA demonstrated that the students organised their essays in similar ways; the only significant difference across the two essay groups was that they employed much more arguments to prove their points in their Hungarian texts, whereas in English the arguments and the counterarguments were discussed in a more balanced way. In contrast, the TSA revealed that the coherence patterns of the two essay groups were very different. Students’ writing processes showed some similarities and differences indicating that the composing process has both universal and specific characteristics. As far as their literacy background is concerned, the dominant text types these students had to write in English were informal letters and essays expressing their opinion on current issues, while in Hungarian literary essays and formal letters were in majority. In their commentaries, the students’ teachers of English mainly referred to grammar, whereas their teachers of Hungarian commented principally on content. Naturally, students did more self-initiated writing and reading in Hungarian; however, in Hungarian the most frequent text type they wrote was lists and the most preferred texts they read were women’s and tabloid magazines; therefore, they did not engage in quality literacy activities in their native language. The findings of this research may be useful for teaching both L1 and L2 writing for several reasons. First, the results can raise teachers’ awareness on students’ preferred rhetorical structures, their writing processes and literacy backgrounds. Second, on the basis of this research design teachers can carry out small-scale surveys on their own students’ writing backgrounds. Third, the finding that the topical structures of the two essay groups were different can raise the awareness of teachers of English as a Foreign Language with regard to integrating more tasks on textual coherence into their teaching practice. Fourth, teachers of Hungarian Language and Literature may use more writing tasks in their classes. Fifth, the research project revealed that the more well-designed the writing task is, the more likely the students will apply the expected rhetorical organisation.

MAGYAR PEDAGÓGIA 106. Number 2. 129-146. (2006)

Levelezési cím / Address for correspondence: Kiszely Zoltán, Kodolányi János Főiskola, H–8000 Székesfehérvár, Fürdő u. 1.


Magyar Tudományos Akadémia