Cultural Conflicts

It is my experience, with an ESL student who is well-acquainted with the English language and culture, that there is a difference in what is considered good writing. The teacher’s comments on my student’s first paper begged for clarity. She had admittedly spent a long time replacing her own words with bigger words she had found in a thesaurus. Her view was that academic writing should be verbose and that sentence structure should be overly formal. And while it can be, good writing is not simply composed of embellished language; the ideas must be coherent and organized. She has benefitted from discussing her ideas with me colloquially. Often times, her verbal thesis is worded entirely appropriately for a written thesis; it is clear and concise and comprehensible which is more important to a reader than being impressed by a large vocabulary. Credibility is earned by good ideas, not verbosity. The discussion also helped her notice the way her own ideas naturally progress and how that is suited for written work. We discuss her topic and she defends her thesis verbally. This has helped her to bring order to her body paragraphs. It has showed her the importance of content and clarity. It was her expectation originally that I was going to proofread her papers, which I explained was not what tutors do. She now realizes the benefit of showing her how to develop her ideas in a paper on her own.

This article provided a very helpful perspective on the dynamic between ESL students and tutors. Head-nodding is something that all of my students do on occasion. They are too quick to agree with me. I think if this is the session would benefit from the tutor playing devil’s advocate when discussing the paper topic. Saying something that they agree with and following it by “But isn’t it also the case that….” might cause them to question at least one of the ideas at hand. A paper benefits from curiosity and skepticism. I think that’s really important to show a student.

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