Working with ESL Writers

English as a Second Language (ESL) writers are an integral part of the SVSU campus, adding their various cultures, experiences, and backgrounds to our student population.  To assist these students in the classroom, faculty are encouraged to consider ways to engage and support these students. 

If you find a ESL writer in your course that you believe could use additional help with their writing skills, feel free to refer that student to the Writing Center and/or the International Student Writing Assistance Center (see below).


  • The Writing Center (best for help with brainstorming topics, organizing ideas, developing and supporting ideas, and learning about different types of citation and format).
  • The International Student Writing Assistance Center or ISWAC (best for help with language aquisition, recognizing/correcting pattern errors, reading strategies, and communication skills.)   ISWAC is located in Wickes 278, and staffed by staffed by ESL faculty Mondays - Thursdays, with specific hours posted each semester on the door.  For more information, call (989) 964-4473.
  • Keys for Writers, 6th ed. by Ann Raimes.  (the SVSU First Year Writing textbook): Part 9:  “Writing across Cultures” 

Aspects to Consider:

  • Second language writers will probably always “write with an accent”
  • Learning a language by formal study is different from learning a language by acquisition
  • Use of translators is common
  • Language acquisition can take 6-10 years
  • Students may not have developed an effective writing process
  • Cultural differences may impact teacher/student relationships and classroom behaviors
  • There are multiple “world Englishes”
  • English is a particularly challenging language to learn:  large vocabulary (500,000 words), irregular grammar patterns (e.g., verbs:  go, went, gone), many idioms (e.g, break down), ever-changing slang (that chick is a hottie)
  • Understand that American definitions of plagiarism are not universal (Americans value individuality, originality, intellectual property, whereas other cultures may value collective wisdom, respect for authorities)
  • Understand that English organization patterns (linear, hierarchical, deductive  - e.g., thesis statement and points) are not universal (some cultures prefer inductive patterns, points leading to possible conclusion).  Logic is culture specific.

Strategies to Use:

  • Use a variety of speaking/writing strategies
  • Understand the “logic” of errors
  • Recognize native language transfer patterns (see Ann Raimes' Keys for Writers, pages 511 to 516), while also being aware of individual differences
  • Work on higher order concerns (focus, argument, development, organization) before grammar
  • Identify and prioritize individual student pattern errors, including:

            sentence structure and word order errors
            verb and verb form errors
            noun errors
            article errors
            wrong word errors (prepositions, pronouns)
            idioms (must be learned one by one)   


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