Muriel Harris’ article entitled, “Cultural Conflicts in the Writing Center: Expectations and Assumptions of ESL students” was incredibly relevant for my writing tutoring experiences thus far. I concur with Harris’ statement that ESL students, as well as traditional students, view the tutor as easier engage in a conversation in comparison to their teacher and therefore the interaction between tutor and student can be more personal. This is one aspect of being a tutor that I cherish because as a student who has difficulties speaking in class, I find that the more personal and smaller the interaction, the better I will respond and hence the more I will get out of the session. Harris demonstrates her affirmation when she expresses that ESL students “see tutorials as their opportunity to ask the kinds of questions they hesitate to ask in class or cannot ask elsewhere” (210). Furthermore, Harris discusses multiple instances where cultural differences impede the learning process for both the student and the tutor. Harris states that such problems can simply be avoided if the tutor took the time to acknowledge the cultural differences and attempt to teach the student in a manner that is culturally acceptable to that given student’s culture. Differing cultural norms too often create unnecessary barriers to learning. Harris ingeniously recognizes that simple chatter before a session actually begins can help to alleviate this awkward tension that a student and tutor may experience and can additionally help the tutor assess the situation. I could relate to this idea because when I first met my two ESL students and talked to them I quickly realized that although they were both relatively new to the English language, they both could speak it well. However, the way they spoke simply did not translate onto paper and therefore I was given the advice that these students should record our conversations so that they could later go back and replay the tape and hear how it should sound with proper grammar. In addition, this friendly chatter before the session can help to bring the tutor and student closer so that the student can feel comfortable enough to ask questions they may perceive as “dumb” and consequently be embarrassed to ask.
Harris additionally mentions some things that ESL students felt were important features that were integral in having good writing. One such feature was having a good and broad vocabulary and Harris states “we need to pay more attention to ESL students’ requests for help with vocabulary. We may dismiss these requests or put them on the back burner…especially when there are other problems to address” (215). I can relate to this thought because one of my ESL students stated during his first session that he wanted to improve his vocabulary and incorporate “bigger and more sophisticated” words into his essays and I basically dismissed this thought. At the time I was more concerned with his inability to create a coherent sentence as well as his ability to pass the class and therefore the broadening of his vocabulary seemed an irrelevant problem. However, after reading Harris’ thoughts on this and remembering that I should take into account what the student wants and take their needs seriously, I will focus on improving his vocabulary if that is still an aspect of his writing that he wishes to improve on.