For Brian Explain to me these papers. Learners’ Transfer of Writing Skills Between Languages R.Berman One hundred, twenty-six secondary school EFL studen

For Brian Explain to me these papers. Learners’ Transfer of Writing Skills
Between Languages


One hundred, twenty-six secondary school EFL students took part in this study,
which examines learners’ transfer of essay organization skills between languages.
Students were divided into three groups: (a) one receiving L1 essay writing
instruction; (b) another receiving equivalent L2 (English) instruction; and (c) a
comparison group receiving no such instruction. This article analyses students’
pre- and posttest essay organization and grammatical proficiency scores. It con-
cludes that many learners transfer writing skills between languages, and that
their success in doing so is assisted by their grammatical proficiency in the target

This article discusses part of a research project that was undertaken among
126 secondary school students in Iceland. It examines these learners’ ability
to transfer newly learned essay writing skills between Icelandic and English,]
and attempts to establish whether their level of English grammatical profi-
cienci affects such Ll-to-L2 transfer.

Advanced EFL and ESL curricula often include the teaching of essay
writing. However, research has not clarified whether instruction in such a
demanding task might be more effectively carried out in students’ first
language where possible. As Ringbour (1992) states, “Lip service is some-
times paid to transfer in comprehension and to positive transfer, but hardly
any systematic studies based on empirical data have been made” (p. 88).

Research in L2 reading by Clarke (1980) and Carrell (1991) presents strong
evidence suggesting, as Alderson (1984) says, “that some sort of threshold or
language competence ceiling has to be attained before existing abilities in the
first language can begin to transfer” (p. 20). In the field of writing, prelimi-
nary studies by Yau (1987) indicate that transferability of writing skills re-
quires a similar threshold of second language grammatical competence as
reported in the reading research. Uzawa and Cumming (1989) found that the
writing behaviors of their foreign language learners of Japanese were “uni-
que” compared with the behaviors of second language learners reported in,
the literature. Their foreign language students displayed “a kind of mental
dialectic” between composing processes in their first and foreign languages,
as they struggled between, on the one hand, their desire to “keep up the
standard” that they were used to achieving in their Ll writing and, on the

VOL. 12, NO.1, WINTER 1994


other hand, the pragmatic necessity of “lowering their standards” when
writing in Japanese, in order to complete something in a reasonable amount
of time (pp. 185-186).

Cummins’ (1991a) interdependence hypothesis seems to contradict the
findings of researchers mentioned above:

To the extent that instruction in Lx is effective in promoting proficiency
in Lx, transfer of this proficiency to Ly will occur provided there is ade-
quate exposure to Ly (either in school or environment) and adequate
motivation to learn Ly. (p. 77)

Of course the caveats “adequate exposure” and “adequate motivation”
may remove the contradiction. Cummins (1991b) also reviews a number of
Scandinavian and North American studies that support his view that school-
age learners who develop what he refers to as “decontextualized language
skills” through their first language tend to develop similar skills in their
second language. A study by Cumming (1990) of 23 Francophone Canadian
adults strongly supports this view, and moreover makes the point that
grammatical proficiency was not a factor in his participants’ ability to trans-
fer writing skills between languages: “People simply enacted composing
strategies, characteristic of their mother tongue expertise, in their second
language” (p. 122).

It is conceivable that whatever thoughts a writer generates before writing
can be expressed in a variety of ways not tied to a particular language. It
would follow that, to the extent that thoughts are transferable across lan-
guages, people should be able to apply the skills and knowledge that they
have acquired in first language writing to their L2 writing. In an L1 context,
Scardamalia (1981) offers the appealing suggestion that children should be
able to convey complex thoughts through simple vocabulary and elementary
sentences just as well as through difficult words and complex sentences. An
implication of this notion for the issue of transfer is that writers would not
need to be as proficient in their L2 as in their first language in order to
employ their L1 thinking skills in their L2 writing.

However, studies by Yau (1987) and Uzawa and Cumming (1989) present
reason to suspect that grammatical proficiency may playa part in people’s
ability to transfer their writing skills from one language to another. Perhaps
some foreign language writers, like the “low road”3 L1 writers described by
Bereiter and Scardamalia (1983), need to devote more of their memory capac-
ity to finding the right words and structures, leaving less mental capacity to
deal with global planning. .

A disagreement exists, then, between those who suggest that students’ L2
grammatical proficiency plays a part in their ability to transfer reading or
writing skills between languages, and those who either do not acknowledge
L2 grammatical proficiency as a major factor or who contend that it plays no


part in such transfer. The research questions addressed were therefore as
follows: (a) Do Icelandic secondary school students transfer essay writing
skills newly gained in Icelandic to their English writing? and (b) Does their
level of English grammatical proficiency affect their ability to transfer these
writing skills?

Iceland was an ideal location to base the study for, although Icelandic is
very much the nation’s first language, English is the language of the movies,
much television programming,4 and a great deal of the popular music, mean-
ing that Icelanders are exposed to English, to use Cummins’ term. Not only
is English prevalent, but it is also held in high regard by society, and
Icelanders are motivated to learn the language.s However, Icelanders’ gram-
matical proficiency in English varies greatly, as one would expect in a coun-
try where people are not in any formal sense (except in school) required to
know this foreign language.

The homogeneity of Icelandic EFL learners-the relative lack of diversity
of their education, socioeconomic status, and language background-was
also an advantage in locating the study in Iceland. This lack of diversity
(unlike the situation among ESL learners in North America, for example)
meant that students’ writing ability and English grammatical proficiency
would not be confounded with myriad other variables such as length of
residency in the country, language of the community, and so forth.

Finally, basing the study in Iceland meant that contrastive rhetoric need
not be an issue. Many L2 writing studies examining learners’ written product
have purported to show distinct and sometimes culturally inappropriate
rhetorical patterns surfacing in learners’ English writing as a result of
students’ “negative transfer” of discourse conventions from their L1. 6 It
would be folly to claim that all written discourse conventions in all written
genres are similar in Icelandic and English, but secondary school essay
writing instruction is similar in Icelandic and EFL secondary school curricula
in Iceland, and no apparent differences exist between the essay models that
are presented in the two language classrooms. 7

As far as essay organization is concerned, model Icelandic secondary
school persuasive essays possess the following features:

Thesis: A guiding idea is stated near the beginning of the essay.

Argument: A point of view consistent with the thesis is argued through
reference to relevant evidence and/ or through other relevant
appeals to emotion or logic.

Conclusion: A conclusion is stated that either presents the essay’s gist or
restates its thesis.

VOL. 12, NO.1, WINTER 1994


These organizational features are much the same as those of the English
secondary school essay, certainly as the genre is taught in Iceland.

Research Design

One hundred and twenty-six 17- to 18-year-old students at three schools took
part in the study. They were attending their second year of upper-secondary
school (upper-secondary school begins at age 16 and lasts four years). One
class at each of the three schools was randomly assigned to receive Icelandic
instruction in persuasive essay writing; together these 40 students comprised
Group Ll. A second class at each school was assigned to receive similar
instruction in English (Group L2; n=46). Finally, a third class at each school
received no essay writing instruction (the comparison group; n=40). Table 1
shows the distribution of students.s

All students had received some essay writing instruction in Icelandic in
the first year of their secondary school studies. The additional, highly
focused, essay writing instruction received by students in Groups L1 and L2
during this study was not a normal component of the second year cur-
riculum. Thus no ethical question arose with some students receiving essay
writing instruction and others receiving none.

All groups were similar in terms of mean age (about 17.5) and male-
female ratio (about 1:2). At each school, one English teacher taught all three
EFL classes. One teacher taught all L1 classes at School II, but two L1 teachers
were involved at each of the other schools: one teaching essay instruction
and the other teaching the regular Icelandic language curriculum. Regardless
of their treatment (or group), all 126 students followed the same basic Icelan-
dic and English language curricula, though students in Groups L1 and L2
received essay writing instruction in lieu of other writing practice such as
letter and journal writing (or, in Icelandic, in some cases instead of stylistics).
Regular English instruction included grammar and literature classes and

Table 1
Distribution of Participants by School and Treatment

L1 Teaching

L2 Teaching




School I School II School III Total

22 9 9 40
26 9 11 46
18 9 13 40

66 27 33 126


opportunities to practice speaking and listening. The regular Icelandic in-
struction also included classes in L1 grammar and literature.

Essay Writing Lessons
The study was to some extent a collaborative project undertaken with a
number of teachers in Iceland. The goal was to work cooperatively with local
educators so that they would be inclined to incorporate the study’s findings
into their teaching. To that end, the experimental intervention employed in
the study is intentionally based on the teaching approach currently
employed in Icelandic schools. Teachers were recruited who were interested
in teaching writing, and their ideas and approaches were incorporated into
the study’s design. I neither apologize for nor advocate the teaching ap-
proach that was employed in this study. However, the actual 14-class/10-les-
son course, as outlined in Appendix I, is not recommended, for it was far too
perfunctory and was seen as such by the teachers involved. (Unfortunately,
only 14 lessons could be spared for this study from the students’ busy

It may be noted in Appendix I that of the 14 (50-minute) “essay-writing
classes” taken by Groups L1 and L2:

1. Four were taken up administering the pre- and posttests.

2. Six were devoted to instruction (lectures, group, and individual seat-

3. Four were devoted to actual in-class writing.

In addition, each student wrote three draft persuasive essays. Each of
these was handed in, commented on by the teacher, and returned to the
student, who rewrote it. It was then handed back to the teacher, who com-
mented on it again and handed it back.

To confirm that the teaching conformed to the research design, all classes
were observed and audiotaped once, teaching materials were examined, and
27 students and all teachers were interviewed.

Pre- and Posttests
Before the study, various English essay topics were piloted on 100 Icelandic
17- and 18-year-olds. The particular topics chosen for this study are those
that were found to be equally well answered in the pilot, using holistic
scoring. Icelandic topics were not piloted; instead, Icelandic teachers recom-
mended topics and two of these were chosen. English and Icelandic topics
were therefore not the same. They are shown in Appendix II.

Both the English and Icelandic pre- and posttests were timed (40-minute)
essays and were counterbalanced, with about half of the randomly selected
students writing Test A (i.e., Essay Topic A) as pre-test, followed by Test B as
posttest. The other half of the students wrote B as pre-test and A as posttest.

VOL. 12, NO.1, WINTER 1994


Rating Pre- and Posttests
Two experienced EFL teachers and two experienced Ll teachers were trained
to score the essays. These independent experts scored the pre- and posttest
essays blind,9 using a scoring guide that had been piloted in Iceland in
advance of this study to reflect the particular characteristics of the persuasive
essay as it is written by this population.Various features of the genre (Thesis,
Argument, Conclusion, Register, Paragraphs, Transition Expressions) were
scored between 0 and 4, a 5-point scale that had the advantage of matching
the E-to-A grades with which raters were familiar. A score for Organization
was calculated by adding the scores for the features Thesis, Argument, and
Conclusion. A separate 0-to-4 holistic score for Grammar was also awarded
to each essay. The relevant sections of the scoring guide are outlined in
Appendix III. The length (number of words) of each essay was also calcu-


Interrater Reliability: Icelandic and English Essay Scores
Interrater reliability was assessed for both the Icelandic and English essays.
As shown in Appendix IV, Pearson correlations of the raters’ scores were
satisfactory, all being over 0.7 for the component scores of Organization. The
researcher personally rated a random sample of the Icelandic and English
essays and found that these scores correlated satisfactorily (r>0.7) with the
mean of the two raters’ scores. Therefore, the mean of the raters’ scores were
used in all analyses.

Factor Analysis of the Icelandic and English Essay Scores
Factor analyses (Appendix V) of both the Icelandic and English essay scores
suggest that all of the features may be grouped into three general factors,
which I have termed (a) Organization, (b) Fluency, and (c) Length. The most
important outcome of these analyses is the finding that the scores for most
features were not overly influenced either by an essay’s display (or lack) of
fluency, nor by its length. In other words, the raters scored what they were
supposed to score and were not distracted, for example, by written errors or
verbosity. An exception is the score for Argument in the English essays,
which is somewhat related to all three factors-Organization, Fluency, and

Test A and Test B Equivalence
T-tests carried out on the English and Icelandic pretest scores established that
essay topics A and B were equally well answered. Pre-test scores for all
features, as well as for Grammar and Length, showed no statistically sig-
nificant differences between the two different topics.


The Effect of Language of Instruction on
English Essay Organization
As shown in Table 2, larger gains were made by Group L1 and Group L2
than by the comparison group in all English organizational features. Group
L2’s mean Organization score rose by 1.56 (out of a possible 12), compared
with a gain of 1.47 by Group L1 and 0.64 by the comparison group. On the
other hand, gains in Length and Grammar did not differ noticeably between
any groups. Multiple regression analysesll of the test scores (see Appendix
V-A) showed that the mean Organization score gain made by the students
taught in English-but not by those taught in Icelandic-was significantly
higher (p<.01) than the mean gain of the comparison group. The Effect of Language of Instruction on Icelandic Essay Organization Table 3 shows that larger gains were made by Group L1 and Group L2 than by the comparison group on most Icelandic organizational features. Con- sidering the Icelandic essays' Organization score as a whole, Group L1 rose by a mean of 1.64, compared to a mean gain of 1.21 by Group L2 and a loss of -0.19 by the comparison group. Again, gains in essay length did not differ Table 2 Mean English Pre- and Posttest Scores (n=126) Instruction: L1 (n=40) L2 (n=46) Camp. (n=40) mean cr mean cr mean cr Thesis Pre 1.77 1.21 2.09 1.06 1.93 0.92 Post 2.50 1.06 2.62 0.83 2.04 0.99 Gain 0.73 1.26 0.52 1.21 0.11 1.40 Argument Pre 2.04 0.93 2.01 0.96 1.88 0.80 Post 2.24 0.94 2.25 1.03 1.96 0.88 Gain 0.20 1.24 0.24 1.24 0.08 1.11 Conclusion Pre 1.35 1.26 1.62 1.43 1.14 1.11 Post 1.90 1.28 2.42 1.27 1.59 1.23 Gain 0.55 1.46 0.80 1.68 0.45 1.68 ORGANIZATION Pre 5.16 2.90 5.73 2.70 4.95 1.97 Post 6.63 2.70 7.29 2.63 5.59 1.98 Gain 1.47 3.03 1.56' 3.09 0.64' 2.86 Grammar Pre 2.31 1.14 2.20 1.26 2.01 1.00 Post 2.44 1.10 2.54 1.10 2.39 0.99 Gain 0.13 1.05 0.34 0.94 0.38 1.03 Length (Words) Pre 201 75 202 82 203 66 Post 237 69 257 65 241 83 Gain 36 83 55 79 38 62 TESL CANADA JOURNAUREVUE TESL DU CANADA 35 VOL. 12, NO.1, WINTER 1994 Table 3 Mean Icelandic Pre- and Posttest Scores (n=99)12 Instruction: L1 (n=31) L2 (n=37) Camp. (n=31) mean 0" mean 0" mean 0" Thesis Pre 2.28 1.15 2.31 0.98 2.36 1.07 Post 2.85 0.87 2.80 0.82 2.39 0.98 Gain 0.57* 1.23 0.48# 1.25 0.03'# 1.43 Argument Pre 2.06 0.98 2.19 1.00 2.14 0.84 Post 2.56 0.95 2.30 0.96 2.28 0.77 Gain 0.50 1.26 0.11 1.32 0.14 1.12 Conclusion Pre 1.86 1.05 1.85 1.25 2.04 1.11 Post 2.44 1.15 2.47 1.02 1.67 1.24 Gain 0.57* 1.60 0.62# 1.50 -0.36'# 1.68 ORGANIZATION Pre 6.21 2.11 6.34 2.66 6.54 2.30 Post 7.85 2.29 7.57 2.18 6.35 2.22 Gain 1.64' 2.83 1.21# 3.23 -0.19'# 3.01 Length (Words) Pre 205 65 255 94 226 71 Post 254 64 258 71 253 74 Gain 49 69 3 76 27 65 '# Pairs of symbols denote means that are significantly different at the 0.05 level, as computed by the Multiple Range Test (LSD method) of the SPSS One-way procedure. noticeably between any groupsP Multiple regression analyses showed that pre- to posttest gains in Thesis and Conclusion, as well as in Organization as a whole, were significantly higher (p<.05) by the students taught both in Icelandic and English than by students in the comparison group. The Effect of Writing Ability Obviously, students who obtained high pre-test scores did not stand to make the same gains as those who obtained low scores. It is therefore useful to pay special attention to the performance of the less able writers, for example the learners whose English pre-test Organization scores were below 8 out of 12. Group L1 contains 31 such students; Group L2, 36; and the comparison group, 37. 14 As shown in Table 4, these less able writers-the students who had the most to gain from instruction-often did improve in their English essay organization 'as a result of either L1 or L2 instruction. Between pre- and posttest, Group L1 improved by an average of 2.51, Group L2 gained 2.26 and the comparison group made a mean gain of 1.01. A Multiple Range Test (least-significant difference procedure) of the SPSS One-way analysis of variance shows both Groups L1 and L2 to have made significantly (p<.05) different gains from the comparison group. 36 ROBERT BERMAN Table 4 Less Able Writers' Mean English Pre- and Postlest Scores (n=104) Instruction: L1 (n=31) L2 (n=36) Compo (n=37) mean () mean () mean () Thesis Pre 1.38 1.03 1.81 0.93 1.82 0.86 Post 2.38 1.11 2.56 0.89 2.13 0.93 Gain 1.00* 1.20 0.75 1.13 0.32* 1.21 Argument Pre 1.65 0.64 1.76 0.81 1.84 0.80 Post 2.28 0.91 2.06 1.03 1.91 0.88 Gain 0.62 0.97 0.29 1.30 0.07 1.14 Conclusion Pre 0.92 1.05 1.03 0.97 0.94 0.91 Post 1.81 1.26 2.25 1.29 1.57 1.22 Gain 0.88 1.34 1.22 1.59 0.62 1.61 ORGANIZATION Pre 3.95 2.00 4.61 1.74 4.61 1.60 Post 6.46 2.67 6.87 2.72 5.61 1.97 Gain 2.51x 2.35 2.26# 2.96 1.01x# 2.60 Grammar Pre 2.15 1.10 2.03 1.31 2.02 1.01 Post 2.37 1.21 2.41 1.12 2.34 1.01 Gain 0.21 1.14 0.38 1.01 0.32 1.03 Length (Words) Pre 182 53 191 79 202 65 Post 237 74 252 62 237 84 Gain 54 74 61 76 36 64 *x# Pairs of symbols denote means significantly different at the 0.05 level, as computed by the MUltiple Range Test (LSD) of the SPSS One-way procedure. The Effect of English Grammatical Proficiency Table 5 reveals the interesting effects observed when students are sub- divided according to their English grammatical proficiency. The effects of grammatical proficiency can first be analyzed by splitting the 104 less able essay writers into two groups, the 53 who obtained an averaged grammar score15 of less than or equal to 2.25 out of four (the less able writers with poor Grammar) and the 51 whose averaged grammar scores were greater than 2.25 (the less able writers with better Grammar). The less able writers with' poor Grammar made a mean gain of 1.48 points in their Organization score between pre- and posttest, whereas the less able writers with good Grammar gained a mean of 2.32. (From here on, students' averaged pre- and posttest grammar score will be referred to as simply their grammar score.) The difference between the mean gains of the two grammatical profi- ciency groups is especially interesting in view of the fact that those with low grammar scores also tended to receive low pre-test Organization scores,16 meaning that although the less able writers with poor Grammar were among those who stood to gain the most in terms of improved organization over the TESL CANADA JOURNAUREVUE TESL DU CANADA VOL. 12, NO.1, WINTER 1994 37 Table 5 Organization Score Gains of Less Able Writers Separated by Level of Grammar Score (Gain=Posttest minus pre-test score) n=104 (Averaged) Grammar Score Poor (::;2.25) n=53 Better (>2.25) n=53










research period, it seems that some may have been held back by their poor
grammatical proficiency.

As shown in Table 6, the combined effects of grammatical proficiency
plus language of instruction creates a complex pattern. On the one hand, it
appears that grammatical proficiency was not a crucial factor among the
students taught in English. The mean gain in the Organization score made by
the 18 less able writers with poor Grammar who were taught in English was
2.15, a gain not very much less than the 2.37 gained by the 18 less able writers
with better Grammar.

On the other hand, among the students taught in Icelandic, it appears that
their English grammatical proficiency may have influenced the posttest gain
of their English Organization scores. In Group U, the mean gain made by the
15 less able writers with poor Grammar was 1.92, which is substantially less
than the gain of 3.06 made by the 16 less able writers with better Grammar.

Over the short research period of this study, the secondary school EFL
students taught essay writing in English improved in their English essay
organization to a significantly greater extent than those not taught essay
writing. On the other hand, students taught in their U also improved in their
English writing, though not with gains significantly different from those of
the students in the comparison group.

The study also indicates that learners’ transfer of writing skills from their
U to English depends on their English grammatical proficiency. However,
this indication was perhaps heralded by the former result. That is to say,
students’ transfer of writing skills was not as evident into the L2 (a language
in which some students were not grammatically proficient) as was such
transfer into the U (in which the students were all grammatically proficient).

Of course, we have to be careful not to jump to the conclusion on the basis
of these results that it is necessarily more effective to teach EFL writing in
English than in students’ U, for it is difficult to make such a claim based on


Table 6
Organization Score Gains of Less Able Writers (n=1 04)

Separated by Language of Instruction
(Gain=PosUest score minus pre-test score)

Language Org. Org Org. Org.
of Instruction Pretest Gain (J Grammar Pretest Gain (J

Poor 3.49 1.92 1.79

L1 3.95 2.51 2.36

Better 4.39 3.06 2.73

Poor 4.34 2.15 2.95

L2 4.61 2.26 2.96

Better 4.88 2.37 3.05

Poor 4.80 0.54 2.05

Camp. 4.61 1.01 2.60

Better 4.38 1.56 3.09

the tiny difference (“statistical significance” notwithstanding) between the
mean English organizational gains made by the groups taught writing in
their L1 and L2.

Uzawa and Cumming (1989), in reference’ to Canadian learners of Japa-
nese, ask whether writing in a “distinctly foreign language” might “differ
more markedly from mother tongue or second language composition” (pp.
178-179). It does appear that we must be careful not to generalize findings
made in the second language context to the foreign language classroom, for
example, expecting that transfer of academic skills “will occur,” given ex-
posure and motivation (Cummins, 1991a, p. 77).

The EFL situation may differ from the ESL and the native language
contexts largely in the degree of grammatical proficiency possessed by stu-
dents. Carrell (1991) speculates, in reference to reading research, that foreign
language and second language learners may differ largely in their “absolute
level of proficiency in the second language” (p. 168). It may be a lot harder for
students in a foreign setting, where they are unable to “emulate the behavior
of native speakers of the second language in their local surroundings”

VOL. 12, NO.1, WINTER 1994


(Uzawa & Cumming, 1989, p. 189), to attain the necessary level of grammati-
cal proficiency required for efficient Ll-to-L2 transfer of skills.

Many ESL students may well possess the grammatical proficiency that
permits such transfer-just as we can assume the Icelandic learners in the
present study’s Group L2 possessed the Icelandic grammatical proficiency
that allowed them to transfer these skills, learned in English, to their Ll
writing-but many other EFL students may not possess sufficient English
grammatical proficiency. Perhaps these less able EFL writers with poor
English grammatical proficiency need to devote far more of their memory
capacity to finding the right words and constructions, leaving less capacity to
deal with organization.

As a curricular approach meant to improve English writing, Ll instruc-
tion should probably be restricted to those learners who possess a high level
of English grammatical proficiency-a level, it should be added, that
motivated, exposed ESL learners may reach more quickly than their EFL
counterparts. In discussing the pedagogical implications of her L2 reading
study, Carrell (1991) states, “Some readers, especially foreign language
readers, especially those at lower proficiency levels, may need relatively
greater help with second language skills in order to transfer their good
reader skills from their native language” (p. 169). The present study suggests
giving similar advice to teachers of L2 writing. EFL and ESL teachers should
be aware of the potential usefulness of the Ll in teaching writing, but should
realize that the extended use of students’ native language may not be espe-
cially beneficial for those whose English grammatical proficiency is low.

lThe students of this study began learning Danish as a foreign language at age 11 and English at
12. In almost all cases, however, their English is far more advanced than their Danish proficiency.

20thers have referred to this competence as language proficiency. I use the term grammatical
proficiency to make a sharp distinction between it and writing skill.

3Bereiter and Scardamalia (1983) make the following distinction between “low road” and “high
road” writers: Whereas “low road” writers’ mental capacity is applied exclusively to the task at
hand-transcribing language-for “high road” writers “writing becomes a task of representing
meaning” while simultaneously devoting “conscious attention to style” (p. 25).

41n a survey of a randomly selected week of broadcasting on Icelandic State Television 50% of the
programming was in English with Icelandic subtitles. A newspaper’s entertainment guide on a
randomly selected day revealed the following entertainment being performed or shown in
Reykjavik: 2 plays in Icelandic; 1 opera in Italian; 2 films in Icelandic; 3 foreign (animated) films
dubbed in Icelandic; and 25 (different) films in English, with Icelandic subtitles.

5Phillipson (1992) argues that “English can be regarded as a second language rather than a
foreign language in the Nordic countries” (p. 25). In terms of the commercial, professional, and
social value of English in Iceland, its status approaches-though, I would say, does not reach-
that of a second language. A survey of four bachelor’s-level courses in nursing at …

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