Issues Specific to Multilingual Students
Writing in English is a challenge for native speakers and writers, and poses an even greater challenge to our multilingual students. Think about the process needed to produce a publishable journal article in your own fields of interest. What can we do, then, to facilitate the process for our students? It is possible to help them to achieve success in their writing if we take several small steps steps that are not too time-consuming to help them understand assignments, evaluate our expectations, and follow the process that will help them produce what we, ultimately, hope to read!
As you plan your assignment, consider the language you use to describe what you expect.
How many steps do you imagine students having to take in order to accomplish the task you have set before them? If you see that there are potentially seven steps in the process, delineate them for the students. You needn’t give all of the steps, but if you offer 3-4 suggestions, and stress that this is only the beginning, it will help students focus on the tasks that they need to follow to arrive at the expected conclusions. For example, if students are asked to compare/contrast two pieces of music or the works of two different composers or works from two different time periods (or a piece played by two different soloists/conducted by different conductors), help students imagine how they should break down the tasks. You might begin by emphasizing the difference between comparison and contrast. In order to complete an assignment accurately, it is helpful to briefly analyze the two words and be precise about the expectations. Will there be more contrast than comparison? How much attention should be given to comparison of the two selections as compared to highlighting the differences? This need not take much time, but a few minutes of explanation/reminder will give students ideas to think about even before they approach the assignment on their own.
A solid piece of writing is one that is developed with several drafts and over time, a resource that our students often lack. Multilingual students must be reminded that the draft process is a good way to bridge some of the language gaps that exist between them and their native English speaking counterparts. Just as we write drafts of our own works, be it writing a journal article, book or musical composition, we need to provide our students with opportunities to do the same. There are several ways to accomplish this.
Journals and low-stakes writing assignments can be collected at various points in the semester and read, perused, or simply counted.
For multilingual students, drafts are crucial not only for clarifying ideas but for separating content revision from sentence editing. Too often, multilingual students edit for errors and consider that an adequate revision, whereas we expect a revision to reflect changes and improvements in content. Editing, the last step in the writing process, focuses more on sentence style and grammatical issues. (Interestingly, often, as a student’s content improves, so does the grammar!)
Research and Plagiarism
Once students have left their freshman year courses, they are expected to know all about how to research and write a paper. However, this is truly a learning process that is ongoing (even for faculty) as students are exposed to different content areas, new resources, the next level of expectation (think BA vs. MA, for example, or Gen.Ed. level courses vs. courses in the major) and different professors. Review what plagiarism means in your course and mention ways it can manifest itself in a student’s paper. In China, quoting the great philosophers by heart in written work without exact sources would be evaluated very differently from the way we might evaluate such a paper, and our Chinese international students are often puzzled at the seemingly rigid way we designate this as plagiarism stealing! We assume that our students know and easily process everything that constitutes plagiarism and, to a large extent, they do. However, they need continual guidance as to the nuances that shade how we use the works of others. You need to be part of that process. Help them evaluate less obvious forms that might fall into the category of plagiarism. (We are not referring to the obvious lifting of papers off of the Internet although we need to warn students of the consequences of this as well.)
Tips for Reading Multilingual Students’ Papers
It’s important to realize that, while student certain errors will persist for longer than anyone wishes, there are ways to help students improve and perfect their written English.