Students for whom English is not their first language face special challenges at any American university, and these difficulties can be magnified by National's accelerated schedule. Though all international students are required to meet a certain standard of English proficiency, many still have difficulty writing in English. In addition to their writing problems, some ESL students have difficulty following readings, lectures, and class discussions in English.
Instructors also face a dilemma when it comes to assessing and grading these students' written work. Some instructors feel it is unfair to penalize students who seem to know the material but who, have not mastered Standard Written English. Others, however, believe that it is unfair to pass or graduate students who do not have a basic skill which employers and graduate programs will expect of university graduates.
The problem is a difficult one, with no single satisfactory solution. Ideally, ESL problems alone should not prevent a student from being able to complete a degree, provided that they are not too severe and that the student can work to improve them. However, students must not be given the false impression that such skills are unimportant, and we should offer students every opportunity to improve their English skills. Strategies for responding to the needs of ESL students should be determined in part by the nature of the discipline and the requirements of the professions for which students are preparing themselves. The following suggestions may help instructors anticipate and balance these two concerns.
Typical Problems of Advanced ESL and International Students
The writing of ESL students can present a wide range of problems. At one extreme, they may be unable to write intelligible sentences, due to uncertainty over English syntax and/or vocabulary. ESL students who have largely mastered these elements of writing may still persist in certain errors, even while their English skills are otherwise quite sophisticated. Often students who are fluent speakers will continue to make numerous noticeable errors in their writing. Certain errors characteristic of such "advanced" ESL writers are among the most difficult to eliminate, because they tend to be idiomatic rather than rule-based: they are matters of convention, learned through regular use of the language rather than by learning and following seemingly logical rules. The more typical of these errors include
Course and Syllabus Design
There are several ways to design your course and your assignments to balance both goals:
Grading the Writing of ESL and International Students
The University does not have a specific or uniform policy on the grading of students with ESL problems. In deciding how to resolve this dilemma, you might want to consider the following:
If ESL problems hinder the success or effectiveness of student writing, it is only fair to let those students know that these problems, if not addressed and corrected, will have consequences for their success in school or in their careers. Grades are the most persuasive way to make this point. In degrees or classes within disciplines where error-free writing is important-journalism, for example-it is only fair to students to hold them to strict standards. Students who still need to overcome significant ESL problems in order to succeed should not be encouraged with false expectations about their future success in fields where such problems are not tolerated.
The Little, Brown Essential Handbook specifically addresses certain common ESL errors, so you can refer your students to the appropriate section of this reference for help with particular problems.
The Writing Centers are an excellent resource for ESL students. Writing Center instructors have experience with ESL students and can offer them exercises targeting their specific needs. Recommend that such students make the Writing Centers a regular part of their writing process in all of their classes; it is only through repeated practice over time that ESL errors are overcome.
You may want to suggest that ESL students get assistance from friends in editing their writing, but warn them that they, not their friends, are ultimately responsible for the results. Any such help should be limited to checking for "surface-level" grammatical errors; any more substantial editing has the risk of changing the meaning of their text. They should also consider whether such help represents a "crutch" on which they may become too dependent, and which will not be available to them when they need to write in future classes or on the job.