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Frank M.
University Professor, Language and Literature
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Writing
TutorMe
Question:

I don’t have much time. Is it really necessary to write an outline?

Frank M.
Answer:

The only purpose of pre-writing activities such as mind-mapping and outlining is to make writing faster and easier. Although our ideas may seem fairly clear when we begin to write, we often struggle to get them down clearly and coherently. Some brief pre-writing activities can make the actual writing of the essay much quicker and more effective. A useful beginning for a writing activity can be a conceptual map (sometimes called a mind map). Mind mapping involves stating the central topic in a word or phrase in the middle of a page and drawing a circle around it. Lines extend from the circle to satellite circles encapsulating aspects of the central topic. These secondary circles may, in turn, have lines extending to other circles enclosing subcategories. A mind map is a tool for brainstorming. It allows us to bring together all the ideas we may have about the topic and shows how they may relate to each other. It also helps us to avoid leaving out things that we may later forget if we begin writing without a clear ordering of our ideas. During the mapping stage of writing, we can include all the ideas that occur to us even though we may later omit some of them. Because each idea is set down in a circle connected by a line to a more basic idea, the map helps us to clarify relationships, identify categories and combine related ideas into more general groupings. The mind map can also help us to make our main focus more specific. The mind map, however, does not necessarily give us a clear guideline for writing. By converting the map into an outline, we create a clear description of the order in which we want to discuss our ideas. Ordering ideas save time by eliminating the need to stop after each point and decide what we want to say next. Though we often make minor adjustments as we write, outlining helps us to put our points in the best order before we start, making our writing more rapid and organized. The structure that outlining provides to the paper also helps our readers grasp our ideas more quickly. Outlines may be made of words and phrases or of complete sentences. A sentence outline takes a little longer to construct but provides much more support as we write. Writing each item on the outline as a complete sentence forces us to clarify and complete our ideas as we outline. It gives us a more exact reminder of what we want to say that a word or phrase outline does. If we go through these preliminary activities, we will often find that we have nearly completed the writing task before beginning. With a sentence outline, we have practically written our introductory paragraph before beginning the writing itself. With the aids we have developed through mapping and outlining, we know where we are in our discussion at all times. We are aware of the point we are moving toward. We no longer need to agonize much about what comes next. And we can be more comfortable that our final product will include all the points that we want to make. This will make the writing process faster. The more detailed and complete our outline is, the more rapidly we will write our essay. It is when we have little time to write that an outline is most helpful.

Literature
TutorMe
Question:

How can I use ethnography of communication to analyze a piece of literature?

Frank M.
Answer:

Each piece of fiction introduces us to a world that parallels our own world in some ways but that has its own internal consistencies and logic. To enter into the story, the reader, like an ethnographer, must learn to recognize the patterns of behavior and the expectations that govern that world. Ethnography of communication is an approach to the study of communities that permits researchers to understand events in a foreign culture. The basic premise of ethnography of communication is that language can be understood only within interactions (speech events). Dell Hymes developed the SPEAKING grid, a list of aspects that might be considered in analyzing a speech event. These include setting, participants, ends, action sequence, key instrumentalities, norms, and genre. In considering speech events, the researcher using ethnography of communication seeks to understand speech events as they are understood by the participants. As an approach to literature, ethnography of communication reminds us to pay attention to everything that is happening in a speech event. This is useful in several ways. It keeps the reader’s attention on the details of what is happening in the story. It helps us to detect glimpses that reveal the attitudes and reactions of the participants. It permits us to notice language choices that affect our understanding of what is happening. In contrast to many other literary theories, ethnography of communication does not begin from a prior theoretical position about literary theory. The ethnographer is encouraged to approach an unfamiliar culture free of theoretical biases that might distort his observations or cause him to miss important information. Stanley Fish says that we find whatever we look for in a piece of literature. To fully participate in a story, then, the reader would be wiser to enter it without preconceptions. Once he has read the story and used the techniques of ethnography of communication to perceive what is happening, the reader may apply any other literary theory he wishes as part of his analysis. When we use literary theory to analyze a piece of work we often move away from the story or distort it to fit theoretical expectations. Ethnography of communication keeps us in the story. This makes it a necessary first step in the literary analysis, permitting us to learn what we can about the motivations and attitudes of the characters before we attempt to explain them.

English as a Second Language
TutorMe
Question:

As an older adult, will it be difficult for me to learn a second language?

Frank M.
Answer:

To answer this question we first need to settle upon a definition of language proficiency. Older theories of language learning considered the good language learner to be the one who most successfully mimicked the pronunciation of native speakers. More recent theories view proficiency as associated with communicative competence in interactions with native speakers. Chomsky’s theory of language acquisition, popular in the sixties, assumed a critical period in childhood during which language could be more readily acquired. To explain acquisition he postulated a temporary mental apparatus that he called the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). In later versions of his theories, he spoke of access to UG (universal grammar) which supposedly existed only during a certain period of childhood. These speculations were based partly on evidence that native pronunciation can be acquired more easily during the first two years of life and that ability to acquire pronunciation seems to decline at regular stages during childhood and adolescence. The critical period assumption also depended on questionable presuppositions such as the assertion that language acquisition is easy for young children. As more research has been done with older learners, it has become apparent that they have many strengths as language learners that children do not share. Older adults have greater knowledge of the world. They also have larger vocabularies as well as greater grammatical knowledge. These advantages permit them to progress beyond what a child is capable of in acquiring a new language. A related factor is the greater neurological development of their brains helping them to be better at making connections and integrating new information. Adults usually have a much clearer idea of how they learn. Knowing which strategies work for them helps them to be more efficient than children in language learning. Adults usually defined goals when they are learning a language and for working professionals, this can be a disadvantage. An adult learner may begin to stagnate when he acquires sufficient competence to accomplish the communication tasks he needs to accomplish in the second language. Older adults who are no longer working have more time for study and can continue to improve indefinitely. Although adults can employ a greater variety of learning strategies than children, they are less likely to benefit from some of the exercises that are frequently used in language classes for children. They may be slower to benefit from oral drills and from memorization drills while they are more likely to benefit from meaningful activities that allow them to apply their experience of the world and language. Overall, as an older adult, you are at an ideal moment to begin acquiring an additional language, though you will want to focus on techniques that work for you. You may also find that the process of language learning provides you with additional cognitive benefits beyond language.

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