“Birds Are Not Octopus:” Searching for Stages in Second Language Writing Development

  • Barbara Nykiel-HerbertEmail author
Part of the Second Language Learning and Teaching book series (SLLT)


The development of writing remains one of the least known aspects of second language learning. Learning to write is subject to a multitude of factors: cognitive, linguistic, social, cultural, and instructional. While the trajectory of writing development has been largely established for L1 speakers, no common developmental path for L2 learners has been found. Moreover, research agendas have favored college-level writing, leaving writing development in younger L2 learners underexplored. This case study tracks the development of writing in a 9-year-old beginning-level English Language Learner (ELL), a refugee with no previous schooling experience and no exposure to literacy in her mother tongue. Using the concept of writing purpose as the examination lens, the analysis of the subject’s writing samples reveals that her writing development falls into four distinct stages, each characterized by its own set of characteristics relating to content, text generation, and transcription. The article contemplates a possibility that, contrary to the current beliefs that L2 writing acquisition does not follow any predictable sequence, beginning L2 writers do progress through ordered stages, but the “variable noise” obscures the big picture. Since non-literate L2 learners do not experience a transfer of literacy knowledge and skills from L1, a longitudinal study of their writing development may allow us more accurate insights into the nature of this process.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LingworksRenoUSA

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