Cultural Conflicts in the Writing Center: Expectations and Assumptions of ESL Students by Muriel Harris

Cultural Conflicts in the Writing Center: Expectations and Assumptions of ESL Students by Muriel Harris

Some of the students included in Harris’s survey stated that they view tutors as motivators. I think this is an important point to take into consideration. Often times, my students have excellent ideas but are not confident, which deters them from writing. I try to encourage them into articulating their thoughts into their writing by praising their ideas and lowering their overall level of frustration. Before working on the technical aspects of their essays, it’s important for the student to feel confident and comfortable in articulating their ideas into writing.  One way to help them feel comfortable is to relate to them on a personal level. With my students, I found that to be quite effective in making them more willing to take my advice.  It also allows for a better discussion about their ideas, once they are comfortable with opening up.

With ESL students, it may be more difficult to relate on a more personal basis, because it may seem inappropriate and wasteful depending on their cultural background. Conversations that I have with my non-ESL students may not be the type of conversations that ESL students would be comfortable having. I remember growing up, my parents would be annoyed with teachers who alluded to their personal lives in class and deem it to be highly inappropriate.  Because my parents were immigrants and had their own difficulties with learning the English language, I am pretty familiar with the cultural clashes that come into place when it comes to teaching writing.  My parents have a very different view of learning, similar to Harris’s description of how “nonnative students’ passivity in tutorials may stem from behavior learned in classrooms in other countries.   The student’s role is to study hard and to learn- sometimes by memorizing—what is presented.” (211) My mother has mentioned to me before that she finds it odd that we must come up with our own ideas and develop analytical skills to help us become better writers.  The passive student in my mother’s country was considered a good student who did not question what he or she was learning.

Overall, I agree with Harris about the importance of setting up a comfortable environment for the ESL student and understanding cultural differences so that a beneficial tutoring relationship can be established.



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