Working with ESL Students

ESL students at the University of Richmond come from a variety of situations. Some have been studying English for most of their lives while others only a few years. It is important for consultants to avoid stereotyping ESL students. One should never make assumptions about a student's ability based upon their accent or the color of their skin. While each ESL student should be treated as a unique individual, precautions can be taken to limit some of the general predicaments arising when consultants assume ESL students have adopted the American way of composition. A specific strategy for consultations with ESL students cannot be offered simply because every case will be different. Here are but a few suggestions:

1. Go to great lengths to put the ESL student at ease. Many may feel uncomfortable with a one-on-one session. Consultants should be inviting and non-threatening as they encourage students to ask questions. It is important to note that many cultures view questions as disrespectful to the consultant's authoritative position, so welcome all questions pertaining to any confusing statements made on your part. Because the Business Portfolio instructions and competencies may too be unclear for the ESL student, plainly ask if they understand the expectations.

2. Offer suggestions and directions plainly to insure their comprehension. Monitor their expressions to see if they understand what you have said. Consultants can resort to asking students to give examples based on what has been said. ESL students can sometimes be too ashamed of their lack of understanding to ask a vital question. Be sensitive to this fact, and offer to explain things again.

3. Serve as a scribe for the ESL student to reduce the overwhelming burden of handling the tasks of listening, reading, thinking, speaking, and writing all in a foreign language during the session. Jot down the points you have made for their future use.

4. Keep an open mind when responding to the text of an ESL writer. Many of their assumptions about the world or life in general may be quite different from American's--some even to the point of being offensive. This would be a good opportunity to politely share with them how American culture differs from theirs. Remember to continue to respect the student's right to their own views while still challenging their unexamined assumptions.

5. Remain sensitive to the fact that ESL students must expend more time, effort, and energy to accomplish the same tasks as native speakers. Therefore it is important for portfolio consultants to be self-motivating, energetic, creative, spontaneous, efficient, and tolerant to avoid the frustration of both parties and to minimize the feeling of isolation by the second-language students.

The following suggestions were compiled from Leigh Ryan's The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, Angela Carrasquillo's Teaching English as a Second Language, and Ilona Leki's Understanding ESL Writers.

Some Helpful ESL Resources on the Web

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