Helping Non-native Students Write English

I myself am a non-native speaker of the English language, so I know from my own experience that writing in a foreign language is often challenging, and this is particularly true when it concerns academic work.

A considerable portion of the available research reports and study material in our study field is providing numerous tips and suggestions on how we can help undergraduate non-native speakers and writers.

Having said that, graduate students somehow seem to be receiving far less attention regarding this subject in the provided literature. Still, non-native graduate students are facing an even greater number of challenges when it comes to writing their academic pieces, and my personal experiences have also made that very clear to me. Time to do some research.

I asked several non-native applied linguistics graduate students to share with us their experiences in the field of academic writing. I was asking them the following three questions:

  • What are your biggest challenges in writing that you come across as a non-native English speaking graduate student?
  • What helpful advice/assistance have you been receiving so far in grad school to help you with your writing?
  • What do you think that universities/colleges/graduate programs/study advisers could do more or better to alleviate non-native graduate students writing issues?

It’s generally known that graduate programs require lots of independence work and learning from students. They must plan their own time for writing, and decide what and when to write.

This is quite unlike all my previous experiences (in my MA studies), where practically all my writing was directed and more closely monitored by my professors.

My Polish MA thesis, guided by Dr. Frelik, had taken me around three semesters to complete and the entire process of writing my thesis was quite similar to a sort of writing seminar, be it that now I was having more time to work out the various arguments.

About what and how I wrote, there was given a lot of independence, but when I started out with my UMaine MA program, all my papers had to ready and submitted by the end of each semester, so I had less time, and the entire process was far more challenging to me.

Another big challenge that I want to address here is the transition from literature work to studies on second languages. The difficulty lies in the fact that you need to shift from practicing textual-based knowledge to more empirical-based writing, and switching from MLA to APA is definitely requiring lots of brain rewiring.

In the beginning, the fact that I am a non-native writer was quite an issue for me, but the longer I was writing English, and the more I was reading about studies on writing, the more self confident I became about my language skills.

I do think that being bilingual is an asset, not an obstacle, particularly for students who are engaged in cross-language research projects, and discovering a ‘Translingual Writing’ scholarship definitely contributed to this perspective.

It could be a great idea for both students and faculty to discuss the issues they’ve encountered  regarding in study groups. When all is on the table, they may then come up with possible solutions to solve the addressed problems.

All graduate writers, not just non-native speakers, but native English speakers as well, will definitely experience their own issues, and they could even come across the same problems in writing.

I think that one of the reasons why writing in English is often seen as intimidating by non-native English speakers lies in the circumstances that they often tend to think that native English speakers are not facing any problem in writing, and based on mu studies I know that this is certainly not the case.

Getting students and faculty together offers grad schools a great chance to improve their students’ writing skills by alleviating the writing challenges that they face.