Saint Mary's University Writing Centre

Halifax, NS

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Response to “Educating and Recruiting Multilingual and Other Graduate Students for Writing Center Work” Writing Lab Newsletter, 42:1-2 (2017).

A response to “Educating and Recruiting Multilingual and Other Graduate Students for Writing Center Work”

Sheelagh Russell-Brown, Senior Tutor, Saint Mary’s Writing Centre and Academic Communications.

Lin, Hsing-Yin Cynthia and Katherine deLuca.  “Educating and Recruiting Multilingual and Other Graduate Students for Writing Center Work.”  WLN 42:1-2 (2017).

I came to this article with curiosity based on my experience over the past more than twenty years working with English language learners and my lifelong interest in linguistic issues.  I must admit that my own attitude to the use of native language in English language teaching has been somewhat conflicted because of the rules under which I have worked. This article has helped to reinforce in me the need for reflection, particularly on the usefulness/limitations of “English only” policies such as those in place in the European international school and Canadian language school where I have taught.

The authors give an account of how the Writing Center at Ohio State University, recognizing the shift in demographics that has affected many North American universities towards a higher percentage of non-native English speaking students, made the move to recruit graduate students with other language abilities as well as the usual undergraduate tutors (or Writing Consultants as the OSU Writing Center calls them).

Some of the authors’ points caused me to recall moments in my own experience where knowledge of what they identify as “differences in writing process, language usage, and idea development” across cultures can be effective in addressing writing issues in English.  They also present situations where languages other than English can be used in the tutoring sessions.  I’ve found that sometimes just pointing out similarities and differences between an English word and a word in the student’s native language can inspire an interest in how the word can be used in speaking and in writing.  It can also encourage the student to try to teach me some features of his or her language–a sharing of interests that can open up different approaches to brainstorming and writing.

Another significant issue raised in the article is one that I found myself referring to in teaching just this week when trying to convey to a class the importance of using specific instead of vague language.  That is the fact that rather than there being a strict distinction between Lower Order Concerns, such as grammar and vocabulary, and Higher Order Concerns, such as content development and organization, they tend to “bleed” into each other.  In other words, without the ability to husband vocabulary and grammar in another language, it is difficult not only to develop a thesis and supporting content effectively, but also to even begin to “think” that content.  Although it is true that the ability to think in the new language without translating is a goal to which language learners aspire, I can see more and more, after reading this article, how valuable the permission to think in the native language is as a bridge to writing in English.

This is an article that I’m sure I will return as I see more of its applicability in my own work.