by Angel Julio Alvarez Barceló, November 3, 2016
Contrasting rhetoric started in the US in the 1960s aimed at analyzing texts written by non-English speaking foreigners who study in United States universities. From its origins it has a theoretical and practical character becoming a very useful tool for teaching foreign languages, above all English. Which were the most common mistakes? And why were they made? They were two very important traits in these studies.
At the beginning the surveys were focused on writing paragraphs, since a paragraph is a relatively brief unit and easier to analyze than extended texts; however, surveys were later broadened to the text as a more encompassing unit. We must point out that computers played a major role in analyzing a great number of texts, mainly concerning repeated patterns in each text, such as preferring a specific verbal tense or certain kind of words, the prevalence of nominalizing or verbalizing, among others.
Contrasting rhetoric has been used to answer the above mentioned questions, for example: by comparing a text firstly written by a foreign student in its mother tongue and later in English as a foreign language, with a similar text written by an English speaking person.
As a result of these comparisons a fact has been proved: Producing texts in foreign languages is determined by the grammar and discursive structures of the producer’s mother tongue. Thus, we can see that students coming from Japan will prefer to use structures not so often used by Spanish or German students. These surveys also showed the importance of factors linked with the everyday life of each group of students.
Why is then the contrasting rhetoric important beyond the text analysis, to teach foreign languages, for example?
When teaching a foreign language, the individuality of students must be taken into account, rigid patterns shouldn´t be set since the learning and performance of students will be determined by their previous knowledge and the way in which they use their mother tongue. This lets us understand why a student can have more difficulties to get the intonation or why it´s so difficult to learn about articles or about some grammar structures not used or not common in their mother tongue.
What is your opinion on this matter? Is it just a scientific subject? Or have you experienced something like this as a professional?
Translated by: Juan Miguel Regueifero.