The Importance of Understanding Differences in Rhetoric


In many cases, the ESL student may not have a problem with syntactic structure, but rather with writing about themes, creating a thesis statement, or how to compose ideas in an essay examination. This difficulty may be attributed to the fact that students from other countries are taught to write in a different manner than Americans are. According to Robert Kaplan, the "cultural differences in the nature of rhetoric supply the key to the difference in teaching approach" (399). Until recently, many languages were taught in a mechanistic manner, which stresses a prescriptive way of teaching. However, lately the prescriptive has been eliminated from the teaching of language, and the trend that has emerged incorporates a compromise between the prescriptive and descriptive methods. More specifically, academic, written English tends to be highly linear in its development. Unfortunately for writing center tutors and ESL students, each language possesses its own "organizational patterns." Part of understanding how to teach a student how to write in "academic" English involves recognizing that each language has its own unique paragraph order. At the same time, the tutor must help the student master the logical process that accompanies writing in English. While it has been determined that cultural variations can significantly affect a tutorial for an ESL student, logic is also a cultural phenomenon that affects conferencing strategies.

Logic is the basis of all rhetoric and evolves within a culture. Therefore, it is not universal. Many people assume that because a student can read and write an essay in his or her native language, he or she will have the same success in any other language. However, the typical ESL student's writing tends to lack "focus" because of the fact that he or she "[is] employing a rhetoric and sequence of thought which violate the the expectations of the native reader" (Kaplan 401). With the introduction of more ESL courses in American colleges and universities, this fallacy has become more and more apparent and thus, writing center tutors or fellow must learn how to more effectively assist those for whom English is a second language.

The Value of Contrasting Various Discourses

How to Help An ESL Student

The Role of an ESL Tutor

Resistance To Foreign Rhetoric

For more Information

Back to Front Page