Pro Tips for Helping Multilingual Writers with Grammar

by Kristen Nichols-Besel

Put a writing assignment in front of almost any students, and their first reaction is fear: “I have to write?  Do I know enough to write about this? What if I don’t have enough to say?  What if I don’t sound good?”

Put a writing assignment in front of a multilingual student, and you can multiply the fear by more than you might imagine.

For students who already doubt their language skills, a writing assignment requiring few to no grammatical and mechanical errors can prompt paralysis.  

Because we don’t want our students to be paralyzed by our writing assignments, I suggest three ways to support our multilingual learners:

1. Instead of requiring “few to no errors in grammar and mechanics,” focus on patterns of error. For     instance, instead of counting every misuse or missing article as an error, group all article errors together as one pattern of error.Typically, multilingual learners will struggle with

— Articles (a/an/the) – these take years to learn for students who didn’t grow up speaking English

— Prepositions (in/out/beside/beneath…) – also nearly impossible to perfect without years of practice

— Verb tense (“I have been to the Mall of America last summer”/“I went to the Mall of America last summer”)

— Subject/verb agreement (“My friends is coming over tonight”/“My friends are coming over tonight”)

— Singular/plural nouns (“The womens helped me find the clothes”)

2. When giving students feedback on their writing, correct the grammar and mechanics for the first couple paragraphs.

The students are likely to make the same patterns of errors throughout the paper, and highlighting every mistake is overwhelming – for you and for the student.  But the more often students see grammatically correct writing and practice this writing, the better chance they have of eventually correcting their own writing.

3. Connect students to resources.  The Writing Center is a great resource for all students (and I’ve heard we have a multilingual support specialist).

Multilingual students also have access to GES103/203 Writing Studio for Multilingual Learners which provides weekly one-on-one writing support.

As we approach the end of semester when student stress is already at its peak, consider these tips to help our multilingual writers avoid paralysis and accomplish their best writing.

Kristen Nichols-Besel
Kristen Nichols-Besel is Multilingual Support Specialist in the CAS Writing Center, a College Writing instructor, and a supervisor of student teachers. Her interests include literacy education, writing center pedagogy, and young adult literature.

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