English & EAL

Why your Language Analysis doesn’t score as well as it should

Lisa Tran

May 10, 2011

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For many people Language Analysis is their downfall. Here is the main reason why. Many students don’t think about how language is used to persuade, instead they rely on lists of language techniques to tell them the answer. These sheets are usually distributed by teachers when you first start language analysis – see below.

Source: Insight Outcomes, Language Analysis section

Whether or not you’ve seen that particular document before, you’ve probably got something similar. You’ve also probably thought, ‘this sheet is absolutely amazing – it has everything I need and it tells me how language persuades!’ – I know I did. Unfortunately, this mindset is wrong. Don’t fall into the trap like so many other students have over the years.

The following comes from VCAA 2009 English Assessment Report:

…some students presented a simple summary [when analysing]…with little development. These responses did not score well as they did not fulfil the task as required.

The ‘simple summary’ refers to students who rely on those technique sheets to paraphrase the explanations regarding how language persuades. There is ‘little development’ because copying the explanations provided on these sheets doesn’t demonstrate enough insight into the article you’re analysing. Let’s have a look at the VCAA English Practice Exam published in 2009, ‘Chickens Range Free’ so that we can demonstrate this point. We will look at two students, both analysing the same technique. Compare the two and determine who you believe provides the better analysis.

Student 1: Emotive language such as “abominably cruel” and “dire plight” is intended to stimulate strong emotional reactions that manipulate readers’ responses.

Student 2: The use of emotive language such as “abominably cruel” and “dire plight” intends to appeal to people’s instinctive compassion for the chickens by describing their dreadful treatment, hence causing readers to agree with Smith that urgent action is required to save these animals.

It should be clear that Student 2’s example is best. Let’s see why.

Student 1 has determined the correct language technique and found suitable evidence from the article. This is a good start. However, Student 1 goes on to merely reiterate the explanations provided by language technique sheets and as a result, their analysis is too broad and non-specific to the article.

Student 2 conversely, understands that this last step – the analysing part – is the most important and vital component that will distinguish themselves from others. Instead of merely quoting that the article ‘manipulates the reader response’ like student 1, they provide an in-depth analysis of how and why reader feelings are manipulated because of this technique. Student 2 was able to use the information to illustrate the author’s contention that we should feel sorry for these caged chickens – and we do because of our ‘instinctive compassion.’ They explain that the sympathy expressed from readers encourages them to agree that some action needs to be taken to help the chickens. As you can see, Student 2 has gone beyond identifying that ‘strong emotional reactions’ will be displayed by readers, to establishing what emotions are involved, and the consequences of those emotions.

This is why it’s best to avoid paraphrasing language technique sheets. By all means, don’t totally disregard them altogether. They’re definitely great for learning new language techniques – just be mindful of the explanations given. The part regarding how the author persuades is the downfall of many students because even though teachers tell you to analyse more, they often don’t show you the difference between what you’re doing wrong and what you should be doing right.

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