All posts tagged multilingual learners

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.

Supporting Multilingual Learners– No additional degree required

by Jessica Samens

Being a community of experts, we can begin to believe certification is prerequisite for good work. However, some of our good work can come without extra degrees.  I began working with multilingual learners unexpectedly when I was offered a pubic speaking course for international students in 2007. My task consisted of hosting interviews with each student who wanted a spot in the course and deciding who needed the course the most. 30 students were trying to get into 12 spots, and by the end of the interview process I knew I had a group of students I desired to help and a calling. My students learned a great deal, and I learned anybody can offer support and understanding.

My crash-course in working with multilingual learners– and the experience I’ve gained since– suggest ways any teacher can begin to engage these vibrant, often overwhelmed, students:

Use of common language

Several of the students I have worked with ask for help deciphering their course assignments. The academic language they can decode, the slang terms aren’t so easy. What we may decide is “common sense” because we have heard a phrase or term all of our lives doesn’t always translate to everyone. Plain language makes the assignment easy for anybody to understand and adds clarity to the directions.

Acknowledge drafting and process

The most terrifying line on a syllabus is “After three grammatical errors, the paper will be returned.” While I value accurate grammar and mechanics, the message this sends to students is “content is secondary.” Instead, offer content support and then focus on editing. Make sure students realize their content was strong but editing was the issue. Provide feedback that highlights the strength of the content and make recommendations on where to find editing support.

Honor diversity of experience

We come from different backgrounds and experiences. I had a student who was unable to write an assignment because her family structure didn’t fit any of the examples given in the assignment. Her apprehension to share her family structure (which she feared would be judged) was even more difficult. Have conversations, learn about students’ lives, and make sure students would feel comfortable talking to you if they can’t relate to the assignment.

Embrace conversation

When I work on- on-one with students, we build trust and connection. English learner students can feel isolated or disconnected from peers in the classroom, making other social support critical. Asking students to share their stories, hobbies, or why they chose their degree builds connection, which leads to trust, which leads to the ability to provide healthy, constructive criticism in assignments and to offer academic support.  One student with whom I worked was starting a church with her husband. Learning about the excitement she had and hearing about the progress on finding members for the new church helped me to understand the drive behind her earning a degree. I was also able to share some of her accomplishments with other students to show how hard work and dedication can go a long way.

Identify early

I often talk with students who are finally told they need to seek writing support late sophomore or junior year. While the conversation is often tough to have, it is very important. Writing difficultly often translates into a low GPA which can impact acceptance into programs with high GPA requirements and limit students’ opportunities. Not understanding exam structure means the inability to showcase knowledge. Trying to write down PowerPoint notes during lecture can mean not getting the explanations provided. Hold a conversation, connect a student to a TA or other support on campus to get help early on in their academic career.

Being excellent educators means building accessible curriculum, identifying student needs, and building interpersonal relationships to keep the conversational door open. We can all provide these kinds of support for multilingual students– with no additional degrees required.

For more on beginning good work with multilingual learners, view Jessica’s Prime Time Presentation “Starting the Conversation: Building Connection with Multilingual Learners.”