Intentional Plagiarism? Teaching Language Learners Academic Integrity

By Ellen Yeh

Ellen Yeh is Director of the English as an Additional Language Program at Columbia College Chicago and author of the article “Intentional Plagiarism? Strategies for Teaching Language Learners Academic Integrity,” which appears in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of October.

“Learning English? Easy. Learning American? Hard.”–Jeff Yang (in Smith, 2017)

Too often, language learners struggle not only with learning the target language but also with the academic culture of the target language community. In my article, “Intentional Plagiarism? Strategies for Teaching Language Learners Academic Integrity,” I aim to examine the difficulties language learners encounter in source-based writing and to offer pedagogical practices for teachers to help struggling students overcome these challenges.

Previous literature has suggested that inappropriate text borrowing is a problem of academic literacy rather than of academic dishonesty (Hyland, 2001; Ouellette, 2008). Several research studies concluded that language learners’ inappropriate text borrowing practices are a result of the process of learning and development rather than of plagiarism. Both experienced and novice language-learning writers use paraphrasing strategies to avoid plagiarism. Limited research, however, focuses on ways learners employ different types of text-borrowing strategies and patterns depending on their linguistic proficiency and background knowledge, as well as cognitive and sociocultural factors.

Therefore, the purpose of my article is to help teachers understand language learners’ source-based writing processes and to scaffold instruction of academic integrity for learners adjusting to the U.S. academic community. The study illuminates the following crucial questions:

  • How do language learners use linguistic text-borrowing strategies and practices (e.g., patchwriting, paraphrasing) to improve their academic writing?
  • How do language learners use cognitive text-borrowing strategies and practices (e.g., synthesizing, summarizing, reading for specific purposes, metacognitive techniques) to improve their academic writing?
  • How do language learners use sociocultural text-borrowing strategies and practices (e.g., synthesizing and integrating information, becoming familiar with academic genres, metacognitive techniques of culture and identity) to improve their academic writing?

Results of this study indicate immediate needs for enhanced literacy education and academic integrity competency in not only English as a second language curricula but also in teacher education programs. Addressing these needs may enable learners to become mature users of secondary sources and to avoid unintentional plagiarism. My article suggests a model of literacy training that teachers can integrate into their curricula by engaging students with practices such as paraphrasing, critical-thinking, and building language-learning writer identity. With the implementation of these practice-oriented pedagogies, teachers can help students achieve smooth transition and adjustment to the academic target language community.


Hyland, F. (2001). Dealing with plagiarism when giving feedback. ELT Journal, 55(4), 375–381.

Ouellette, M. A. (2008). Weaving strands of writer identity: Self as author and the NNES “plagiarist.” Journal of Second Language Writing, 17(4), 255–273. Smith, L. (2017). Six words fresh off the boat: Stories of immigration, identity, and coming to America. Kingswell.

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