Endless tutoring sessions, the time consuming yet indispensable dictionary, the annoying translator that does not always make sense, and the frustration of not being able to convert your thoughts into words because of your lack of vocabulary. These are some of the problems we, writers who speak English as a second language, experience everyday. The desperation and lack of control we experience when we are writing in a different language is exhausting, but the feeling of helplessness you get when you get your first grade is the worst. Disappointment, frustration, anger, and sadness all pile up to tell you what you already know: that you are a complete failure. The red marker all over your paper pointing at commas, apostrophes, and grammatical errors is telling you that you failed. That even though you used all of the resources available, you still failed, and that no matter how hard you try next time, you will probably still fail.
How can ESL writers be punished for breaking the rules when they don’t know the rules? ESL writers don’t need grammar police; what they need is a mentor. Someone who doesn’t just point out the errors, but who rather goes over them and explains how to correct them, so that they can actually improve their writing and grammatical skills.
Many professors and tutors believe that they have to be grammar experts in order to be able to help an ESL writer. This is not true. It is more about being patient and letting them know you understand their frustration. I believe that making them feel comfortable and showing them that you are willing to help them get through the language barrier is more valuable. ESL learners normally write better than they speak, sometimes all they need is a little push. It is our job to show them that writing a paper is not the end of the world, and that we are there to facilitate the process for them.
If we, the tutors, are patient with writers who are learning English and show ourselves positive about their work, they will change their attitude towards their assignments, and writing in general. Explaining to them why certain things are grammatically incorrect and teaching them ways to avoid those mistakes, will help them to adapt to the language little by little and to ultimately improve their writing skills. I know this because I went through this process, and even though I had a hard time in the beginning, I eventually understood that it is possible to succeed as an ESL writer, if one is provided with the right guidance, which is why I decided to become a writing tutor. I believe that helping ESL writers understand that writing is not a talent you are born with but rather something that takes practice, patience, and time, is more effective than just marking their papers.
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