The use of and responses to a letter writing process to increase communicative competence in ESL learners : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Second Language Teaching at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
This thesis is a study of how a teacher can help learners to increase communicative competence through an interactive letter writing process. The study was triggered in response to a specific group of immigrants' apparent improvement in not only their written English, but also in their ability to communicate more confidently with native speakers after using the letter writing process as the consistent medium of instruction. The research seeks to describe and ascertain the effectiveness of the letter writing process to enable the learners to become more communicatively competent. In order to do this, it explores some of the inherent underlying conditions to which improvement in communicative competence is attributed, and how these are incorporated into the letter writing process. The research identifies the areas to which the learners attribute their improvement in their communicative language ability. It also outlines the conditions needed to set up this process, the strategies used, and the ways in which the letter writing is extended into an oral activity. The research is in the action research tradition with a qualitative orientation. The researcher focuses on letters written weekly by the teacher to the learners over a one-year language course. The following strategies were explored in relation to the learners' perception of their improvement in communicative competence and their actual improvement in their writing ability: the self disclosure of the teacher in the letter, the introduction of language used in everyday conversation in New Zealand, and the interaction with native English speaking conversation assistants. The results of the research suggest that the instructional material, the weekly letter, provided the authenticity, relevance, interest and enjoyment to enable learners to maintain high levels of motivation and increase the level of output and accuracy of their writing. Through analysis of the learners' letters, there is a significant increase in not only the length of the letters, but also an increase in sentence length, the use of idioms and colloquial language, and a decrease in tense error. Through an analysis of written questionnaires and taped interviews, learners clearly identify the letters as significantly contributing to not only an increase in their linguistic performance, but also to their increased cultural awareness and confidence with native English speakers. The research highlights the potency of teacher/learner interaction and invites further research into the influence of the teacher's personality and teaching style, as well as the effectiveness of the letter writing process in the hands of other teachers.
English language, Foreign speakers, Letter writing, Study and teaching