I absolutely adore working with ESL students. They are hardworking, refreshingly curious, and can easily take constructive criticism, unlike many native English-speakers (myself included). One of the main reasons that I decided to apply for an internship in our center here at Boise State was that I would have the chance to work with ESL students. As someone who has had first hand experience in being a stranger in a strange land, I have a special appreciation for the struggles ESL students go through. All that to say, I thoroughly admire them.
I've only worked a couple of months in the writing center, and already I've got a couple of "regulars"--that is to say, I see them a lot more often than I see other students. Both have been living in the U.S. for a few years, and have a fairly strong command of spoken English. When I first started meeting with them, I was a little overwhelmed. Their papers were riddled with errors, and I wasn't even sure where to begin. My obsessive-compulsive drive to edit would flare up, and I would have to tear the pencil from my hand and replace it in the holder in order to stop myself from doing a sentence-by-sentence editing job. This seemed, in the beginning, however, to be what each student expected and desired. I took a suggestion from a fellow consultant and tried to break out of the habit. As I had more sessions with each student, I found various ways that I could put them in control of the session. For one, who was an international student, it was as simple as putting a pencil and a pad of paper in front of her and asking her how she would re-construct a particular sentence. For the other, who was a refugee and hadn't learned any English in her home country, talking it out and using specific examples worked best. After some sessions, I would have to berate myself for editing too much, but thankfully, I've learned to tell exactly when I need to put the pencil down.
Yesterday, I had my first real "SUCCESS!" moment. When one of the "regulars" came in to see me, I was able to think back and compare the paper in front of me with the one she had come in with the first day I met with her, two months ago. It was drastically different. She had used more sophisticated words and more complex sentence structure, and was a heck of a lot more organized and coherent than she had been in the beginning. I kept looking at her with awe during the session, and eventually said, "Dude, you seriously rock at life." I don't think she completely understood what I was saying, but she smiled like I'd just given her a medal. I like to think that maybe she gained a little bit more confidence in her writing that day.