ESL (English as a Second Language) students represent a unique subsection of the students who seek help at writing centers. Cultural backgrounds and attitudes, first languages, and command over English are all factors that affect writing, and also how students interact with writing centers. It is therefore important that centers identify and address the unique needs that ESL students have as tutees by developing strategies that cater to such students.

In the article “Listening to and Learning from ESL writers”, the author, Shanti Bruce, writes about the experiences with writing centers that ESL students have recounted. One particular subject she touched upon was students who feel intimidated or ashamed about going to a writing center due to their cultural background and how to better accomodate them. It is imperative that tutors maintain an upbeat and warm attitude in regard to their tutees to help soften feelings of insecurity that students may face. Bruce mentions a situation in which one of the students felt as if she was being criticized for “abusing” the writing center, leading her to become defensive. While in some cases being firm is necessary and perhaps the tutor did not intend to be aggressive, in the case of ESL students misunderstandings can arise due to language barriers and the misinterpretation of body language and vocal tone. For ESL students, it is particularly important to ensure that open communication is encouraged among all parties involved to minimize the level of misunderstanding.


Another issue addressed in the article is the lack of knowledge or intimidation regarding writing centers and their ability to help. Being proactive by reaching out and telling people about positive personal experiences that you or someone else has had with a writing center can go a long way in encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone and ask for help. This is true even for non-ESL students who similarly may come from cultural backgrounds that discourage seeking help.


Michael Cox

Stanford University Class of 2013

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One Response to

  1. Alexandra Christie says:

    Hi Michael, I agree with what you have said about ESL students often approaching the notion of a writing centre from a negative outlook. I have observed international students, often struggling silently with writing essays in my courses. As Myers pointed out, the ability to write in another language often comes last in the learning process. Indeed, the proficiency with which university students are expected to write, in terms of sophisticated vocabulary, sentence structure and phrasing, is sporadic even amongst native speaks in the university population. Therefore, when dealing ESL students who have come forward to the writing centre we must treat them with even more care and consideration than students that have English as their mother tongue. The courage it requires to come forward and admit you are struggling should be recognized as admiral in writing centres and from the outset students should be congratulated and welcomed; and in the case of ESL students even more so.

    As you have noted there is a gap in knowledge about writing centres amongst most students. It is important to note this ‘gap’ is often larger when it comes to ESL students. Education for foreign and international students about the services offered by writing centres should be more easily accessible. Having identified one of the most vulnerable academic groups at our writing centres it is important to make sure all students suffering similar problems with writing have a change to improve and gain confidence through tutoring.

    Alexandra Christie – University of Sydney

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