The Styles of Multilingual Writers

I work at the writing center on campus, and a lot of multilingual students come in every day for help. Many times English isn’t their first language, and they want to know how to write exactly like native English speakers. ESL (English as a second language) writers are a huge topic of study in writing center research. When students are learning to read and write English, they don’t always understand the cultural differences of English writing right off the bat. Sometimes I’ll be working with an ESL writer who will ask me if a certain phrase or sentence they wrote is correct. They might say something like, “I was in the store yesterday.” Some people might say this is wrong, and that the phrase should be “at the store.” But is saying in really “wrong”?

At the writing center we would say no, and we explain why. Although sometimes there are expectations of how English writing should “look,” those expectations don’t have to met in order for meaning to be clear. Just as people (ESL writers or not) speak with their own accents, they also write with an “accent.” Writing center researchers believe that these accents should be celebrated and not suppressed. It can be difficult when professors don’t understand or agree with this idea, and ultimately they are the authority in the classroom, not us. Still, your writing style is your own, and you shouldn’t have to apologize for it, as long as it gets the job done. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to make an appointment at the writing center. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “The Styles of Multilingual Writers

  1. stephaniebaur April 23, 2015 / 11:18 pm

    I have never thought of “writing with an accent,” but I love that way of wording this unique stylistic situation. I would like to read the essays of ESL students and see what they write. I think it is a good thing that this style is celebrated and not repressed.

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  2. alivalerio April 24, 2015 / 3:47 am

    Yeah, Stephanie, I think it’s such an interesting thing. One of the coolest things that have come from me working at the writing center is the fact that I can now sometimes read a piece of work and know that the student is an ESL writer just by their “accent.” I think it’s neat!

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  3. sdomingu1117 April 26, 2015 / 2:17 am

    This was a fascinating read to me. I had never considered how difficult it might be for someone who has come from another country to write in a ‘normal style’. I’m glad that the writing center celebrates the difference rather than diminishing it. Reading this reminded me of Tom Sawyer and how Mark Twain used a different voice to really make you hear how each individual sounded like. Granted, it was difficult for me to read and sometimes I had to read it aloud but, it was fascinating nonetheless.

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