Teaching discourse markers
Teaching discourse markers and transitionals
1 Basic exercises
The following are typical textbook exercises for transitionals. Unfortunately, however, the examples below are boring and pointless, and most importantly, they lack any real context. Isolated, contextless sentences like this are not helpful, since transitionals depend crucially on context.
A. Combine the following with an appropriate conjunction.
- Ralph takes the train to Busan. He likes to sit by the window.
- He was the first person to eat a slice of meat between two pieces of bread. The sandwich was named after the Earl of Sandwich.
- Akila was about to answer the final question. The buzzer sounded.
- Few soap operas remain on the radio. Daytime television is full of them.
B. Or with blanks as hints:
- She connected the speakers _____ the room was filled with glorious sound.
- The chimney spewed black smoke and soot _____ nobody complained to the local environmental agency.
The following exercises are slightly better, as they involve more contest and somewhat more interesting contents.
C. Combine and/or rephrase the following.
There are differences in math performance between boys and girls. These differences cannot be attributed simply to differences in innate ability. If one were to ask the children themselves, they would probably disagree.
Possible answer: The differences in math performance between boys and girls cannot be attributed simply to differences in innate ability. Still, if one were to ask the children themselves, they would probably disagree.
Adapting authentic materials for a more natural context (text adapted from a Wikipedia article):
D. Sample modified with poorer flow, for use as a pedagogical exercise.
Louis Armstrong was nicknamed Satchmo. He was an American jazz trumpeter and singer. He came to prominence in the 1920s as an innovative cornet and trumpet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence on jazz. He shifted the music's focus from collective improvisation to solo performers. Armstrong was _____ an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser.
Original article, with natural transitionals.
Louis Armstrong, nicknamed Satchmo, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer. Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an innovative cornet and trumpet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence on jazz, shifting the music's focus from collective improvisation to solo performers. Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser.
2 Flow: Why connectors are needed
The following are common problems that East Asian writers have with conjunctions (접속사) and other connector or transitional expressions in English academic writing.
Consider the following two versions of a paragraphCite error: Closing
</ref> missing for
2.1 Sentence adverbs
Sentence adverbs indicate the speaker’s attitude or assessment of the sentence’s contents. These are sentence adverbs, and are set off with commas at the start of sentences. These include words like incidentally, naturally, thankfully, hopefully, regrettably, and many others.
- Fortunately, we saved all the spruce trees from the infection.
- Regrettably, we could not save all of the trees from the disease.
2.1.1 Sentence adverb problems
- The information varies from the exchange rate and stock prices and to the current of national economy. Especially, economic predictions are useful for planning for long-term economic policy for several reasons.
- Economic predictions are useful or planning for long-term economic policy for several reasons.
- Economic predictions are especially useful or planning for long-term economic policy for several reasons.
- In particular, economic predictions are useful for planning for long-term economic policy for several reasons.
- Our study found several interesting findings. Especially important was the finding that the treatment had no effect at high doses.
- Especially in this research trial, participants were screened for health issues.
2.2 Variety of conjunctions
Asian students writing in English as a second language tend to overuse common conjunctions like but, so, then. It is not wrong to start a sentence with these words, but overusing them can make your paper sound too colloquial, so using a greater variety of conjunctions is better. It is not good formal style to start a sentence with and.
- But →
- So →
- Then →
How do these differ from each other?
- but, although, however
2.3 Topic transitionals
In my case,I had severe cultural shock when I went to Canada for almost 8 months. In case of daylight, it is composedequal intensity of color light in the visible spectrum. → Daylight is composed of ... In case of Turkey,if the buildings were designed properly, the severe calamity could have been reduced. → If the buildings in Turkey ...
East Asian writers may overuse there is / there are in academic writing, which can then sound colloquial. In English, this is used for topic shifts to introduce a new or related theme, and it is not used as commonly as in Korean. Instead, it can be deleted, and a sentence can start with a new noun subject; or a new paragraph can indicate a new topic; or sometimes, another intransitive verb could be used instead.
- There are some studies of this that have been conducted, but there are many different problems that have not been solved.
- → Some studies have been conducted on this, but some problems have not been solved.
- However, there is no fundamental limitation to OLEDs efficiencies.
- → However, there exist no fundamental limitation to OLEDs efficiencies.
2.4 Sequence markers
Korean writers tend to overuse the sequence markers first, second, third, probably as a result of preparation for TOEFL essay writing. This is fine for TOEFL essays, but these are less common in academic writing, as their overuse can sound mechanical and formulaic. These would mainly be used if the ideas or procedures being discussed are complex or abstract, and hard to follow mentally, and if they are needed to help readers follow the flow of ideas or procedures; otherwise, they can be omitted. Also, Koreans tend to confuse first / firstly, second / secondly...
- Second, in Korea, there is no specific high-stakes test for graduating from middle school or high school. ...Thirdly, most students in the US have not improved in school.
- What is the difference between these sets of numbering markers?
- First, … Second, … Third, …
- Firstly, … Secondly, … Thirdly, …
- First of all, …
2.5 Sentence fragments
Which of these sound more correct or formal, or colloquial?
- Adult language learners showed significantly higher scores for motivated learning behavior. Because they are facing the real world where English is a top priority for a well paying job.
- Adult language learners showed significantly higher scores for motivated learning behavior, because they are facing the real world where English is a top priority for a well paying job.
- Bilingual education can have a positive influence on young children’s cognitive development and academic development in second language learning. Because one study (Cambell & Sais, 1995) found that bilingual children have shown advantages in cognitive and linguistic levels before going to school.
- The classroom teaching may focus on teaching by rote without students’ active attention. Because the interaction could not take place at that situation much.
- University and adult language learner showed significantly higher scores for the motivated learning behavior. Because they are facing the real world where English is a top priority for a well paying job and to realize their dreams and goals.
The connective ‘because’ is a subordinating conjunction, which backgrounds the subordinate clause. In formal and academic English, a sentence with only the ‘because’ clause is grammatically incomplete – a sentence fragment. Thus, these would have to be combined with main clauses to be grammatically complete.
2.6 Other connectors
- The researchers do not yet know whether
or notthe test succeeded. (The phrase whether or not is colloquial; simply whether is used in formal or academic style.) Besides, they they were also unable to overcome their anxiety issues in class. (Besides is colloquial.)
- → In addition, they were … / Additionally, they were … / Furthermore, they were …
- As evidence / As support, the researchers found … (These expressions seem to be translations of 경우에(는), but these do not work well in English; it is better to use phrases like for example, furthermore, further evidence / support comes from … , or such.)
2.7 Style variations
Some connectors can come after the sentence subject or other phrase, i.e., not in sentence-initial position. How do these affect the flow? (Note that thus does not necessarily require commas when non-initial.)
- As an adult, however, learning a foreign language was his own decision, and so that strong motivation was essential to maintain and achieve his goals.
- Unlike the traditional research findings, however, instrumentality was not as significant a variable as for other age groups.
- The historical evidence thus does not support the standard hypothesis.
- Bilingual education at the preschool level is therefore quite effective.
- From http://grammar.about.com/od/developingparagraphs/a/exsbsignals.htm
- = [Especially important] adj-phrase [was] verb [the finding] subject that ...
- Sentence fragments with only a ‘because’-clause would be okay in colloquial English.
3.1 See also
- Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2004). Academic writing for graduate students. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.