The Chinese On-line Writing Lab

Increasing the Vocabulary of Chinese Writers Through Contrastive Rhetoric

Ted Knoy
National Tsing Hua University (Taiwan)

The article describes how to increase the vocabulary of Chinese writers by using contrastive rhetoric through identification of the intended meaning prior to translating into English. Choosing the precise word to prevent ambiguity is a daunting task for many ESL writers who realize the limited scope of their vocabulary power. By adopting a contrastive rhetoric approach to teaching ESL writing, the fluent NES (native English speaking) instructor can facilitate an increased vocabulary and proper word usage. Vocabulary is developed through the identification of a particular word's intended meaning. Based on that intended meaning, alternative English words with parallel meaning can then be used. An example of using contrastive rhetoric in an ESL writing class is also described.

Reid (1993) challenged ESL teachers to take into account their students' varied cultural and linguistic heritages by helping them identify their preferred learning styles and strategies. To effectively respond to this challenge, fluent NES (native English speaking) instructors can use contrastive rhetoric in the classroom to help students improve their language skills. The Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics (1997) defines contrastive rhetoric as

the study of similarities and differences between writing in a first and second language or between two languages, in order to understand how writing con- ventions in one language influence how a person writes in another. Writing in a second language is thought to be influenced to some extent by the linguistic and cultural conventions of the writer's first language, and this may influence how the writer organizes written discourse, the kind of script or scheme the writer uses, as well as such factors as topic, audience, paragraph organization, and choice of vocabulary or register.

Providing ESL writers with word alternatives not only increases variety in the manuscript, but also hones in on the writer's original meaning prior to English translation . By adopting a contrastive rhetoric approach to teaching writing, the fluent NES instructor can assist students to increase their vocabulary and use words that are closer to their intended meaning. The article describes how contrastive rhetoric is used in a technical writing class to increase the vocabulary power of Chinese ESL learners.

Vocabulary problems faced by Chinese ESL writers
Chinese ESL writers are often concerned with increasing their vocabulary power, realizing that they use too few words, which are not specific enough to parallel the original meaning. Unable to choose a particular word to express the specific meaning , they instead rely on words that are directly translated from Chinese. Such words are often weak, particularly in expressing degree. Direct translation of the Chinese characters [jeah juay], for instance, the Chinese writer would most likely use "solve." There are however, different variations of "solve" that are unknown to the Chinese writer : [sow wei jeah juay or sho dzuhn] alleviate, modify, alter; [wan chuan jeah juay] eliminate, eradicate. Inability to find a word that closely parallels their intended meaning, forces the to writer opt for "solve", regardless of its degree or extent. Consider another example, the Chinese characters [wen ti]. Directly translating these Chinese characters into English, the Chinese writer would most likely use "problem." However, the ESL technical writer must describe more clearly what kind of problem is being referred to: an obstacle, limitation, restriction, shortcoming, drawback or phenomenon? Therefore, when Chinese ESL learners write the phrase "Solve the problem" to express [Jeah juay zigguh wenti], they need to ensure that the English words used closely parallel their intended meaning. The instructor facilitates students to increase their vocabulary by identifying the intended meaning of a particular word. Based on that intended meaning, alternative English words can then be used that more closely parallel it.

The following table lists common English words that Chinese ESL writers use to parallel their intended meaning. Depending on the sentence's context, alternatives are also provided .

Alternative to when the Chinese meaning is would be
affect [eeng shawng] influence, impact
agree [tong ee] correlate with, correspond to
carry out [jer sheen] implement, execute, promulgate
change [hwahn][gi bee en] modify, adjust, alter, vary
check or prove [dzen meen][dzen chuay] verify, confirm, demonstrate
complicated [foo dzah] complex, cumbersome
consider [kow lu] evaluate, assess
correct/incorrect [dzen chuay, boo dzen chuay] precise/imprecise,
depends on [ee li] relies on, hinges on
different [boo tong] various, varied, varying, distinct
find [zow] obtain, derive, attain, locate, identify
help [bang chu] assist, facilitate, guide, direct
important [jong yowel] critical, crucial, essential,
pertinent, relevant, significant,
improve [gi sahn][gi jeen] enhance, upgrade, elevate
is made of [ yo…dzor tzen ] consists of, comprises of
little, few [ hun sowel] slightly, seldom, negligibly
make clear [nong cheen chu] elucidate, clarify
make sure [chuay deen] ensure, assure
meet [ man joo ] satisfy, fulfill, adhere to
much, strongly, greatly [fay tzong] [hen dor] markedly, significantly, substantially
problem [wen ti] obstacle, limitation, restriction,
shortcoming, drawback, phenomenon
needs [shue yowel] requires, stipulates
propose [tee chu] presents, describes
realize [lee ow jeay] comprehend, perceive, understand
solve [jeah juay] alleviate, modify, resolve, eliminate,eradicate
suitable [sih her ] appropriate, adequate
tries [sih kahn] attempts, aims, aspires
usually [tong tzong] normally, typically, generally
very [fay tchong] highly, rather, quite, extremely
way [fahn fah] method, means, approach, strategy
whole [chooen bu] [wan chooen] complete, entire, comprehensive

Use of Contrastive Rhetoric in an ESL technical writing class
The technical writing course (asynchronous distance learning) offered by the Department of Computer Science, National Tsing Hua University (Taiwan) instructs graduate students on how to develop basic copy editing skills, organize research papers and prepare for publication. The course also adopts a contrastive rhetorical approach to teaching Chinese ESL writing students how to increase their vocabulary. Citing English sentences written by Chinese technology professionals, the NES instructor constantly drills the students on the author's use of words in a sentence and provides alternative English words that could be used to more closely parallel the writer's intended meaning.

The article has described how contrastive rhetoric can be used in a writing class to increase the vocabulary of Chinese ESL learners. By adopting a contrastive rhetoric approach to teaching writing, the fluent NES (native English speaking) instructor facilitates an increased vocabulary, thereby enabling writers to use words that are closer to their intended meaning.

Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics (1997, p. 84)
Reid, Joy M. (1993) Teaching ESL Writing. New Jersey, Prentice Hall Regents
Knoy, Ted (2000, February). Overcoming Chinese Colloquial Habits in Writing. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 2
Knoy, Ted (1993). An English Style Approach for Chinese Technical Writers. Taipei, Taiwan: Hua Hsiang Yuan
Knoy, Ted (2000). An Editing Workbook for Chinese Technical Writers. Hsinchu, Taiwan: C Web Technology
Knoy, Ted (2000), Advanced Copyediting Practice for Chinese Technical Writers