Proficiency in the use of discourse markers in english as a second language(ESL)writing: the case of grade twelve pupils' written discourse in selected secondary schools in Kitwe,Zambia

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Mumbi, Mulenga Clara
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The University of Zambia
This study investigated proficiency in the use of discourse markers (DMs) in the written pieces of English composition produced by a sample of Grade Twelve (G12) learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) selected from three secondary schools in Kitwe district, Zambia in the 2014 academic year. The purpose of the exercise was to establish proficiency in the use of discourse markers by the participants in order to determine the extent to which such use enhanced discourse coherence. The investigation was motivated by concerns, raised annually by Chief examiners of ‘O’ level English composition regarding the quality of written pieces of composition produced by the G12 learners, which include inadequate and inappropriate use of DMs. Two types of DMs were examined: propositional DMs which relate the propositions or messages conveyed by sentences and non-propositional DMs which show how information is organised and facilitate thematic progression by signalling aspects of discourse structure and management. The data were collected from 300 scripts comprising samples of written pieces of discourse produced by 150 G12 pupils learning and using English as Second Language (ESL). Of the 300 scripts, 150 were based on free style narrative composition while 150 on a comparative/contrastive guided composition exercise. The writing tasks were administered and written under ordinary classroom conditions as the learners reported for the English lesson. A four-stage qualitative approach was applied in data analysis. The first involved marking and scoring out of 20 each of the 300 scripts. The scores were useful in assessing the link between use of DMs and discourse coherence and comprehensibility. The second comprised locating the DMs used in each of the 300 scripts and highlighting them by means of a highlighter. Thirdly, each of the DMs was classified according to its communicative function as either propositional or non-propositional. Finally, identification and cataloguing of instances of appropriate and inappropriate uses of DMs was done. Appropriate use, as evaluated by the researcher, constituted manifestation of proficiency in the utilisation of discourse markers while inappropriate use implied lack of proficiency. Enumeration of the occurrences of the various types of DMs was also conducted to determine the frequency with which each of the DMs was used. The findings indicate participants’ awareness of the relevance of DMs in facilitating discourse coherence and comprehensibility. There is also evidence of insufficient proficiency in the use of DMs by the participants on account of both limited and inappropriate use. The findings also indicate that proficiency in the use of DMs, as reflected in their appropriate or correct use, contributes to discourse coherence and comprehensibility resulting in higher scores while lack of proficiency, indicated through inappropriate or limited use of DMs hampers discourse coherence and comprehensibility resulting in lower scores and, finally, that while use of DMs is necessary for discourse coherence and comprehensibility, it might not be sufficient as other aspects of writing such as vocabulary selection and grammar also play a significant role. The major recommendations proposed by the study for pedagogy include: incorporation of all the propositional and non-propositional DMs in the Secondary School English Language Syllabus; progressive teaching of all the DMs from Grade 8 to Grade 12 and progressive engagement of learners into regularly practising the appropriate use of all the DMs from Grade 8 to Grade 12. With regard to further research, the study recommends longitudinal studies on the development of proficiency in the use of DMs in English composition writing by grade level; extent of inappropriate use of discourse markers arising from first language interference; functional roles of DMs used in positions other than initial and proficiency in the use of discourse markers in essays written by students in tertiary institutions of learning in Zambia
English--Teaching(discourse)--Zambia , English--Teaching and learning--Zambia