Some Hobart and William Smith students speak and write English as a second language. The errors that occur in their writing may be caused by the differences between their first language and English. Students may not realize they are imposing their own first language rules on a new language or they may still be learning the new rules.

When reading drafts from an ESL student, it might be helpful to note any pattern of error that is found and the corresponding change that is required. The student can then be asked to study the pattern and make further changes in the draft independently. Incorrect use of prepositions, verb endings, and articles (a, an, the) are some of the most frequent patterns of error for ESL students. Very often the student will make two or three errors over and over again. Explaining the new rule will be most helpful for the student since the new rules often seem illogical when compared to the student’s first language until a reason is established for the rule.

Of course, for every rule that can be established in the new language, an exception can be cited as well. These need to be pointed out honestly, with the recognition that regular practice in the new language will eventually help the student see the exceptions and the rules.

It is also important to keep in mind cultural differences that may contribute to how a student approaches a writing assignment. Students from some cultures, for example, will find the western tradition of stating an argument explicitly to be brash and forward. Again, discussion and understanding will help bridge this difference.

Remember to contact the Center for Teaching and Learning so that ESL students needing extra support can receive even more individualized attention to their writing.

For a helpful internet site, visit Grammar and Style Notes.


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