Continued from previous post…
Number Six: Verb Tense and Forms
ESL writers will have problems with choosing the proper tenses; they will also be confused (as are our native speakers) by irregular verbs, such as lie and lay.
Number Seven: Active and Passive Voices
Most writers understand that they ought to avoid the passive voice. But ESL writers often hide behind the passive voice as a way of not taking responsibility for ideas and sentences that they aren’t sure about.
Number Eight: Sentence Structure/Sentence Boundaries
ESL writers (even more so than native speakers) often have trouble learning the boundaries of the English sentence and so are prone to fragments, run-ons, and convoluted prose. Going back to the basics will help these writers: explain to them the simple sentence, the means of coordination and subordination, and, perhaps most importantly, the limits of the English sentence. Often the idea that is expressed beautifully in Spanish, German, or Russian will break the back of the English sentence. Encourage the writers to be kind to their sentences. Help them to judge what an English sentence will bear.
Number Nine: Punctuation
Everyone has this problem, but ESL writers are plagued by it. Often, a writer will punctuate a sentence according to the rules of his language: a Russian will always place a comma before the word “that,” for example, simply because it’s done that way where he comes from. If you notice persistent punctuation errors, talk with the writer about her native language. You may find the root of the problem there, and solving it will be that much easier.
Number Ten: The Touchy Matter of Style, or “We Just Don’t Say It That Way Here”
For advanced ESL writers, the most persistent problem is one of style. It is difficult to catch a language’s music and subtle rhythms. Again, avoid the temptation of simply saying, “We don’t say it like that!” Engage the writer in a discussion about language (when time allows). You may, in this discussion, teach her something about the beauty and delicacy of your own language (and, incidentally, you may learn something about the beauty and delicacy of hers).
It is the goal of most faculty and students for students to excel in Academic English. And there is value in acknowledging and better understanding the additional effort students for whom English is a second language must put forth. Situating the writing errors your students may make into a larger context will help you be a more knowledgeable instructor, and may inform your response and feedback to students.