Luận văn Giving suggestions for effectively teaching business correspondence writing in Haiphong University

The survey was carried out with the cooperation of one class (42 English majors) namely K5B. They are third-year students of English department. They are in their early twenties ranging from 21 to 23 years of age. The Business English course for those students began at the beginning of December 2006 and completed in April 2007. The course is obligatory to all students of the class.

These 42 students had to take part in the national entrance exam in which English accounts for one third of the exam score. This means that these students studied English when they were at high school for three to seven years. For the first five semesters, they were provided with General English in language skill practice such as listening, speaking, reading, listening, which is why they have obtained certain basic language skills especially writing skills when they started the Business English.


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aching approaches have come into being. However, there are strong similarities with product approaches and, in some ways, genre approaches can be regarded as an extension of product approach. Like Product Approach, Genre Approach regards writing as predominantly linguistic but, unlike Product Approach, they emphasize that writing varies with the social context in which it is produced. So, we have a range of kinds of writing- such as business letters, research articles, and reports-linked with different situations . In the ELT field, Dudley-Evans (1997:154) also identifies three stages in Genre approach to writing. First, a model of a particular genre is introduced and analyzed. Students then carry out exercises which manipulate relevant language forms and, finally, produce a short text. To write in a particular genre, whether a formal report or a historical romance, the formal patterns that shape a text must be aware of. Students need to be familiarized with the schemata associated with the particular genres they will require. Genre analysis can therefore provide the vocabulary and concepts to explicitly teach the text structures we would like our students to produce. It places language at the center of writing development by allowing shared understanding and explicit guidance. The Genre Approach offers students a relatively fixed discourse model that they can use for reference, thus students will gain confidence in producing a text that serves its intended purpose. On the other hand, as to the negative side, the Genre Approach is prescriptive rather than descriptive, which is likely to lead to lack of creativity and de-motivation in the learners. Students will feel this teaching approach boring and in their practical writing, their products will be found stereotyped. Sometimes, the Genre Approach may prove to be a text-centered approach, focused on the reproduction of the product, rather than a student-centered one. What is more, in practical teaching, teachers can not provide students with all sorts of genres in the classroom. Therefore, the Genre Approach also has its limitations in the teaching of writing. To sum up, with brief review of the thee approaches commonly applied in teaching writing as Product, Process and Genre approaches, both advantages and drawbacks are defined and looked into. Of course, there cannot be a single perfect approach to teaching students writing especially writing their business writing. The question here is laid down to ESP teachers is that he should pick up the most advantageous strengths of each approach and appropriately combine them into a synthetic approach so that the teaching and learning will be of maximum effect. A synthesis of approaches will be suggested in Part C of this study. 1.3. Error classification In order to give suggestion for an appropriate approach to teaching business correspondence writing for English majors in Haiphong University, error identification is made because it is one of the useful techniques in teaching-learning process. Correction and Assessment are really in-separate because they both help the learners to assess their learning and self-value their products. Error correction in writing is often made on students’ written work such as homework, exercises, assignment. In writing classes, students’ errors are often pointed out by teachers on different performance aspects of a written task and then students will be shown the appropriate ways to improve . Hereinafter we will look at different types of errors, including mistakes (Edge, 1989) as follows: Errors of meaning are language products that are correct in linguistic form but fail to mean what the producer means to say. In comparison with errors of form, errors of meaning are more difficult to be discovered and understood. Errors of meaning can also be pieces of language with correct linguistic form but are socially unacceptable because they affect understanding , they are more important than errors of form. Errors of organization are involved in the text that fails to follow the conventional organization which makes it easy to follow and pleasing to read. Errors of presentation The errors in presentation involve those do not follow the conventional format, lay-out of a cover letter as well as style, spacing, letter font or size. Errors of language form, according to Ur (1996), are mainly referred to when teacher give their feedback, which makes students believe that these are what matters. The first reason is that “errors in spelling and grammar catch the eye and seem to demand to be corrected.” Additionally, students themselves always want their language errors to be corrected. And one more possible reason is that language errors are much easier to be found out and corrected than errors of contents and organization. In short, all the above-mentioned errors should be paid much attention to because writing skills require a combination of elements. For the wrong pieces that can be recognized as mistakes, not errors, students should be encouraged to correct by themselves and hopefully the repetition of these mistakes may be avoided. As for mistakes that are almost impossible to be corrected in a short time as fossilized ones, there should be specially designed exercises to raise the students’ awareness on the knowledge . And for those that are caused by the lack of necessary knowledge, teachers need to provide students with the knowledge of right and expected items. Based on the analysis of errors made by students during their learning process an appropriate approach can be suggested and applied. CHAPTER TWO: METHODOLOGY 2.1. A description of the current business course to be taught for English majors in Haiphong University 2.1.1. The course syllabus The Foreign Language Department of Haiphong University consists of 3 major sub-divisions: The English, Russian and Chinese departments. Students who have passed the national entrance exams will be sorted into two types of groups: The teacher training groups and the remaining students will be in non-teaching groups. The ESP course is allocated for the non-teaching groups only. After graduation, students of these groups will look for a job in business or manufacturing enterprises and use their English for office work. That is why they are supposed to learn a variety of ESP subjects such as: English for Education, English for Finance and Banking, English for Economics, Business English, and so on, so that they can obtain technical terms and specialized knowledge for their targeted subjects. The time allocation for Business English course is as of the following: Semester Credits Periods Requirements IV (Business I) 3 3x15 Introduce and practice basic skills and techniques for business communications. V (Business II) 3 3x15 Develop and further practice the skills used in business situations and greatly focus on business language functions. VI (Business III) 2 2x15 Business correspondence writing Business English is taught when students have obtained basic language skills in General English like listening, speaking, reading and writing. Based on this syllabus, Business English for students is aimed to help students: To understand authentic Business texts To use relevant Business language functions to business contacts To master their basic skills and techniques for writing business correspondence and to produce simple but correct business letters, memos, faxes and reports. To participate in business contexts giving personal information, exchanging information and expressing opinions. 2.1.2. The business English course Time allocation: 30 x forty-five minute periods Course Objectives To obtain fundamental overview of Business English Correspondence To Focus on writing Business letters, memos, reports and job applications To practice some key office activities such as Job Seeking Process, dealing with office problems, sending fax, emails, photocopying, etc. Course Components Business Letter Writing Application Forms (Cover letters) Curriculum Vitae/ Resume Job interviews Thank-you letters Letters of complaints Letters of Invitation Letters of Reference Letters of Resignation Agreements & Contracts Class features The class size for Business English courses in Haiphong University is rather large, ranging from 40 to 50 students per group due to the lack of infrastructure facilities and ESP teachers. Contrary to other English language courses, the English courses for business communication are content-based because it combines the teaching of language knowledge with the subject matter of business conventions. Within 30 periods, both fundamental knowledge and practical skills on business affairs should be taught to students with a focus on writing business correspondence, especially job-seeking procedures such as cover letters, curriculum vitae, and job interviews. Another feature of this course is the fact that all students are of semester VI/ third year students of English majored department, which means that they have obtained basic linguistic skills like reading, speaking, listening and writing. That is why they share the same first language (Vietnamese) and the same level of foreign language (English). During the class, the language used in teaching and learning is English. However, Vietnamese language is sometimes used for the certainty of achievement of the content’s objectives and avoidance of ambiguity. The student assessment of the course is carried out in the form of a 60-minute written exam to be held at the end of the term. Students have to present what they have learned as business writing skills and do writing business correspondent test: writing a CV and a job cover letter. Based on the exam results obtained, we have found that various kinds of mistakes have been made and spotted students’ weaknesses when they encounter with business writing. Therefore, this can be interpreted that the teaching and learning of business correspondence writing have not been of success and therefore need much improvements. 2.1.3. Teaching business letter writing In business communication, letters play a very important role in establishing and maintaining business relationships, both within a company and with external contacts. To accomplish this, many specific genres and sub-genres have been developed, which have been the object of linguistic investigation and which are taught in specific courses, as great importance is attributed to them in business studies. Moreover, this genre has a long-standing tradition, and the study of its forms in differing historical contexts has pointed out its varying aspects and its dynamic nature. There are many modern communication methods available today, but the traditional business letter remains an important means of sending printed messages. The business letter acts as an ambassador for the company, and also it conveys an impression of the company or of the writer in many ways. Developments in technology have made it possible to have instant communication all over the world. Speed is now becoming the key to successful business communications. As a result fax messages, e-mail are taking the place of many business letters. However, in many aspects of life and work, nobody can deny the existence of written communications- one of which is the use of application form or cover letter when you start your own job hunting process. As defined by Martin (1993:36), genres can be identified by their overall shape or generic structure by the genre linguistic functions. Additionally, the communicative purpose can decide some of the grammatical and lexical structures and other characteristics that make the discourse type distinctive. A genre can be a general or large genre, that is when a genre consists of several different genres. The genre of business correspondence includes business letters like complaint letters, invitation letters, job application letters, resignation letters, and some other business letters. The very purpose of all these sub-genres is doing business Business letters belong to written business correspondence and must conform a number of linguistic features of the genre. Business letters must be of standard written language, which means correct use of grammar, spelling, vocabulary usage, and conventions of capitalization and punctuation. Business letters are the basic means of communication between companies. They are documents typically sent externally to those outside a company but is also sent internally to those within a company. Besides, the language used in business letters should be appropriate, or of appropriate style. Business letters should be formal, concise, impersonal and informal language must be minimized. As Ann Raimes (1983) mentions that business letter writing also gives us the chance to deal with a variety of forms and functions that are an essential part of language mastery. We write letters to invite, inquire, explain, apologize, commiserate, congratulate, complain, order, apply, acknowledge and thank, in other words for various social and business contacts. Once students have known the form of a business letter, they can be given communicative writing tasks that lead them to practice useful form. The writing of business letters in the classroom can be tied in a very neatly with lessons on the functions of language e.g. how to make a complaint, job cover letter, letter of invitation, letter of resignation and so on. As mentioned earlier due to the limitation of the scope of this study, the focus is on the steps for writing a job cover letter: Step 1: Defining the audience and purpose: Personalize the letter and try to find out as much as possible about the person/ the company you are writing the application form to. Step 2: Creating a work plan: gather information about the company, the job applied, work experience, education background. Step 3: Collecting and evaluating data Step 4: Working out an out line Step 5: Writing draft version Step 6: Revising the letter Step 7: Proofreading, finalizing and start writing 2.2. The survey 2.2.1. Target Population The survey was carried out with the cooperation of one class (42 English majors) namely K5B. They are third-year students of English department. They are in their early twenties ranging from 21 to 23 years of age. The Business English course for those students began at the beginning of December 2006 and completed in April 2007. The course is obligatory to all students of the class. These 42 students had to take part in the national entrance exam in which English accounts for one third of the exam score. This means that these students studied English when they were at high school for three to seven years. For the first five semesters, they were provided with General English in language skill practice such as listening, speaking, reading, listening, which is why they have obtained certain basic language skills especially writing skills when they started the Business English. 2.2.2. Objectives of the survey The survey was conducted with a view to: Finding out students’ background and motivation to learn business English Finding out students’ opinions about the current teaching approach of Business English course in Haiphong University Finding out difficulties students have encountered and then possibly analyzing mistakes made through their writing tasks 2.3. Data collection procedures 2.3.1. Need analysis questionnaire survey In order to achieve the objectives of the study, a survey questionnaire on the above said study will be made and given to students. The content is designed carefully so that when they are collected all data answered will be easily analyzed. Questionnaires were chosen as a data collection instrument in this study as it was the best way to gather objective responses. According to Gillham (2000) and Nachmias (1996), the respondents are not put under pressure of time i.e. they answer the questions in their own time and at their own pace, and in an anonymous style of responding, they undoubtedly feel free and comfortable to answer questions and give reliable responses, therefore, the information collected was objective and reliable. 2.3.2. Questionnaire The content of the questionnaire consists of : SECTION I: Background Information and Motivation of the students’ English and Business studying. This section includes four questions on students’ interest, purpose for future profession, and the number of students in the class SECTION II: Business English / Business correspondence course There are eight questions about the Business English course and related issues as learning difficulties, materials, time allocation, and students opinions about the course’s strengths or weaknesses. SECTION III: Writing Approaches The questions in this section are used to check or point out the most suitable approach for teaching and learning business letter writing. Also their opinions about teaching performance, classroom activities are required. SECTION V: Error Identification Questions regarding students’ reaction on error recognition, identification and correction. 2.3.3. Procedures The questionnaire was designed based on the objectives and purposes of the survey and then questionnaire papers were delivered to students and collected a week later. The respondents were informed of the purposes of the questionnaire and the way to answer the questions. The results of the questionnaire were summarized in tables and figures. 2.3.4. Limitation Though almost all of students have completed the questionnaires given, we can not be quite sure that they truly reflect their genuine attitudes and thoughts. Partly, this is due to the anonymous questionnaires or they feel quite free to complete it. However, with quite clearly mentioned purposes to students, we strongly hope to rely on the reliability of the survey 2.4. Error analysis of cover letters written by students Due to the limitation of time, in this study the researcher will only conduct the survey and analyze students’ outputs through their practical writing on the subject of cover letters. After the students have obtained lectures on writing cover letters (format, lay-out, checklist, writing tips), have been given with cover letter samples and also they have done some practice exercises (e.g. gap filling, letter rearrangement, drafting letters), they were asked to write cover letters in response to a real-life job advertisement and then all their products were collected and checked for error analyses. Students have to write their personal cover letters in response to the following Job Advertisement: Haiphong Daily Newspaper # 2436/ April 17, 2007 ****************** JOB OPPORTUNITY A 100% Japanese invested company requires a bilingual secretary for their manufacturing factory in Nomura-Haiphong Industrial Zone. The candidates must be bilingual in English and Japanese; one or more other Asian language would be welcome (e.g. Chinese preferable). Competitive salary, chances of promotion and overseas training, are offered to 18-22 year olds with excellent secretarial skills, the ability to communicate and an outgoing personality. Applications with recent passport photos as well as CVs addressed to the Administration Dept. (Mr. Kohno Takeuchi-Personnel Manager), are welcome. After all the cover letters written by the students have been collected, the analysis will be made in order to find out whether they will be the source for the answer to the questions the study was intended to answer. CHAPTER THREE: DATA ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION I will make use of the data analysis approach provided by Strauss and Corbin (1990), in which the researcher who is concerned with accurately describing what he has understood, reconstructing the data into recognizable reality for the people who have participated in the study. Therefore, I will combine my understanding of the process teaching writing in the university that I select and the view provided by the teachers to arrive at certain interpretations. Based on that, I will suggest some implications or suggestions for the implementation of teaching writing application forms. In the following, the study data will be presented and an analysis of these data will be made 3.1. Need analysis questionnaire survey 3.1.1. Students’ background and attitude towards the business course The total number of questionnaire respondents is 42, of which 6 are male and 36 are female with the average age of 22. Based on the result of the survey, it can be said that the English majors have high and positive attitude towards learning English as most respondents (38/42) accounting for 90% say that they study English for finding a good job in the future. The remaining accounting for 10% claim that they study English for other purposes such as traveling, overseas study or others. As far as motivation is concerned, 83% of the respondents find English very essential for their future job and career advancement. Meanwhile, only 14% of them have a very short term target as to pass the English examinations only. In short, we can find that approximately 85% of the respondents have positive views towards the learning and teaching of English language among English majors. Figure 2: Students’ motivation towards English language 3.1.2. General opinions of the course For this section the question was: “What do you think of the business course?” Out of the 42 respondents, there are 27 ticks (accounting for 64%) for the box “Interesting” and 10 ticks (accounting for 24%) in the box “Very Interesting”. The other 5 ticks are for “No Idea” or “Boring”. We can see that around 88% of the students surveyed showed their interest in learning English-especially business course. The answer is that they really need Business English for their future job after their graduation. The office work will deal with various kinds of both spoken and written language and that is why they need professional English for their job. Figure 3 below shows the students’ awareness of the usefulness of the Business English course. However, this may be different from the real needs in their future. Figure 3: Students’ general opinion of Business English course 3.1.3. The necessity of business English course We can reason their opinions on the course by analyzing the necessity of the course over their short term and long term objectives. The reason why they find the course important and interesting is that they all find that the course contents are very useful and practical for their future profession when they start to work in company offices. As questioned “How do you find the role of the course to your future career?” 37 out of 42 respondents claim that the course is important and very important to them, accounting for nearly 90%. Figure 4 will show the necessity of the Business course Figure 4: The necessity of business English course 3.1.4. Difficulties faced by the English majors in Haiphong University When we ask students to give their opinions about the level of difficulty of the course, 76% thinks that the course is of medium level and the remaining 24% finds the course difficult. Perhaps, the reason here is, apart from the common social and cultural topic their knowledge and experience on business matters remain limited. That is why when they come across with a new subject they find this quite a challenge. Additionally, the time allocation for the course is rather short: 30 forty-five minutes periods (50% say that it is quite a short time and 50% think it is medium) Figure 5: The Level of difficulty of business English course Students’ subjective difficulties are classified as the lack of language skills and abilities, the lack of practical and professional knowledge as well as the lack of practicing writing business correspondence. In fact, so far 50% of the students claims that they have never had any chances to experience and/ or obtain real-life professional activities because Business English course mainly provides them with some basic business-related knowledge but very little business practice. 72% mentions that they encounter some difficulties in the course due to their poor language ability such as vocabulary or structure when they start practicing writing business letters. 36% thinks due to their lack of confidence. Some others point out the reasons of native language interference or barrier, etc. Figure 6: Students’ difficulties 3.1. 5. Students’ feedback With the above background information surveyed in the questionnaire regarding students’ motivation, background knowledge, objectives and time allocation of the Business English course we can find out some key positive features on the course as well as the course difficulties. However, with very c

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