ESL Resources Often Second Choice for Students

by Jennifer Kwon

A group of volunteers under the leadership of Bailey Ulbricht ‘15 tutors Syrian refugees to help them practice their English, and a number of Carleton students teach in weekly Adult ESL classes. But how are ESL students at Carleton receiving help?

Surprisingly, Carleton does not offer English language courses specifically designed for ESL students. Because the students are required to take SATs (or ACTs) and additionally TOEFL for non-native English speakers to apply for Carleton, the college assumes all the students have advanced command of the language.

Instead, the Writing Center offers one-to-one tutoring sessions held by designated writing consultants to help ESL students to improve their academic writing skills. The students in need of help usually voluntarily sign up for the services, but there are some cases when they are referred by professors or other students.

The Writing Center offers one-on-one tutoring sessions to help ESL students

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The Writing Center offers one-on-one tutoring sessions to help ESL students. (photo provided by Carleton’s Writing Center)

“What I want to avoid is the situation where a student feels they are being made to come here like a punishment,” explained Renata Fitzpatrick, the Assistant Director of Writing Center and Coordinator of Second Language Writing. “My goal is to support them if they want it, but nobody is trying to force anything.”

According to Fitzpatrick, often the students who ask help are not those who have trouble expressing themselves in English or didn’t have much exposure to English, but those who are already advanced and skilled writers.

“It’s not just a service for people having trouble or struggling, but it is also for people who care about writing,” Fitzpatrick clarified.

“I do need help in correcting grammar sometimes but mostly, the reason I go to the writing center has nothing to do with English language itself,” Jialin Jiang, a freshman from Ningbo, China, confirmed. “It has to do more with structuring essays and correcting the logic.”

Jiang did confess that when he writes in English, he is more prone to wander off from the topic in his paper than he would in his native language, Mandarin Chinese. “I’m less capable of structuring my essay stronger and coming up with new perspectives and ideas.”

Along with the writing center, the Office of Intercultural & International Life (OIIL) supports ESL students by creating a safe and supportive environment to foster conversations and practice the language in more social settings.

Beginning with the International Student Orientation, held a couple of days before New Student Week, international students have many opportunities throughout the year, such as International Term Dinners and the annual International Festival, to build and engage in a supportive, understanding community.

The OIIL office also assigns each student with a mentor, known as Peer Leaders, at the beginning of the year to offer personal guidance and build stronger relationships within the community.

“Often when you’re struggling with language, creating this safe space can allow those individuals to practice the language and feel more comfortable expressing their opinions,”

Brisa Zubia, the Assistant Director of Intercultural and International Life, explained. “Whereas in classrooms, it may be more difficult to do that.”

According to Zubia, when the students feel comfortable speaking out and making mistakes verbally instead of being ashamed or trying to cover them up, they are more likely to speak up in more restrictive settings like classrooms and perform better academically.

Jiang, who has been on campus for almost two terms now, shares the same sentiment. “I am a shameless speaker, often shamelessly confident,” he said. “I make mistakes but that is how we all learn, and I know I will get better in time.”

This article was published by The Carletonian (February 27, 2015)

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