On papers of ESL students, students who speak and write English as a second language, teachers and tutors may want to adjust their commentary approach. Since these students are still learning English, their writing may require more grammatical assistance than the writing of native speakers. They may need assistance with proper subject-verb placement and American idiomatic expressions, for example. However, a teacher or tutor should resist the desire to address grammatical concerns first. Rhetorical issues remain the most important in student writing because they are an integral part of the writing process, responsible for effectively expressing students' thoughts. It is foolish "to focus initially on grammatical or mechanical problems which may disappear as a result of rhetorically-based revision" (Harris and Silva 531). When addressing rhetorical issues in ESL student writing, one might want to be more directive in suggesting revisions. Some ESL students are not comfortable with the casual interactions between teacher and student; they view the teacher or tutor as being the authority and the "teller". If requesting more information about an idea in an ESL paper, instead of forming questions beginning with "how" or "why", consider beginning with "please explain" (Harris and Silva 533).
Most importantly when commenting on ESL writing, a teacher will want to limit to two or three the number of problems he addresses. ESL students already face the obstacle of reading and writing in a different language, one does not want to overwhelm them with too much commentary. Limiting commentary produces the same result with ESL writers as native writers: "...going this slowly will probably not result in great improvements in a particular paper, but is more likely to facilitate learning and writing improvement over time" (Harris and Silva 532). For more information about commenting on ESL writing and ESL students in general, visit John Lee's project.
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