It is sometimes difficult to explain the complexities of the English language to a native English speaker, let alone someone who is learning English as a second language. I am taking a course in Writing Center Theory and Practice, and we just recently covered this topic. It was very interesting and enlightening to see how one’s culture shapes their writing. Muriel Harris and Tony Silva hint at that idea in “Tutoring ESL Students” when they briefly discuss the idea that people of different cultures compose differently. In WCT&P, we discussed these differences in more depth. One’s culture can determine the structure and word choice that they choose for composition. For example, when composing essays we learn to typically state the thesis in the first paragraph and then use supporting evidence in each of the paragraphs that follow. In another culture, one may learn that the essay should end with a thesis and that the entire essay should work toward getting to that main point.
We also discussed how certain assignments might make ESL students uncomfortable; an ESL student may not know the right way to approach a certain assignment. For Instance, in some countries it is not acceptable to critique the government or to speak against people in government positions. So if an ESL student were asked to write an argument paper and discuss such a topic, they may not be comfortable or know how to approach the topic.
Here is my blog for WCT&P:
English is a complex language, and I think that as native speakers, we take that for granted. In “Come Again”, Jessie Reeder asks her audience to imagine taking a challenging graduate program in a second language. This is the reality for ESL grad students. Reeder writes, “They are swimming upstream through ceaseless waves of partially-legible information”. As tutors in the Writing Center, “we give them a chance to slow down the flood for a moment”. Tutors have the opportunity to not only help these students grow as writers, but to help them to build their confidence as students.
But first, as tutors we must understand how to help ESL students, and we must acknowledge the difficulties that they face as students. Doug Enders approaches this topic (as well as a possible solution) in “The Idea Check”. Enders notes that although it is not ideal for any student to focus primarily on corrections and to bring in papers late in the writing process, this is especially problematic for ESL students. These students often feel extra pressure to produce correct work.
The article details a procedure run by the Shenandoah University ESL program and the Writing Center. The program “requires all ESL students to make Writing Center visits an integral part of their process for each writing assignment”. At the first appointment, the student reviews his ideas with the tutor, and the tutor assists with organization and clarification. At the second meeting, a first draft is reviewed with global issues given the priority. The conclusions of the study of the implementation of this procedure show that the Idea Check program appears to have positively changed the way that ESL students use the Writing Center.
Writing Centers are a great resource for helping ESL students because teachers may not have the time to dedicate to continuous one-on-one conferencing with each student. Harris and Silva also discuss ways that tutors and teachers can help ESL student writers. One of their most important points is that “there is a tendency to think about ESL students as if they’re all alike when obviously they’re not”. So each student should be treated as an individual.
When peer tutoring, all errors should not be given the same priority. The authors note that when looking at first drafts by ESL students, sometimes the differences in writing style or the types of errors that the student makes might be overwhelming; the tutor may not know where to start. The first step is to acknowledge what the writer has done well. Moving forward, global errors that affect the reader’s understanding should be given priority. Reading aloud is not always an effective proofreading method for ESL students, Silva and Harris note, because some students are not proficient enough in English to “edit by ear”.
One of the most important things that I learned about tutoring/teaching ESL students is that one must understand that these students are trying to learn a whole new language at the same time that they are learning to be effective writers. One of the best things that a teacher/tutor can do is to help these students succeed in the long run by preparing them to not only succeed in college, but to also be successful in their future careers. In order to do that, we must resist the urge to over-correct or to do the writing for them by simply supplying students with better vocabulary choices and corrected grammar.