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.
Stanford University Class of 2013