Skip to content

Working with Multilingual Students with Sentence-Level Errors

We typically focus on sentence-level errors in two situations: when the problems are so egregious that they block the clear communication of the main ideas of the paper; and when there are pervasive patterns of error throughout the paper.

When you focus on a pattern of error, begin by modeling how to fix that grammar problem in a few places. Then put checks in the margins next to a few more examples of the same kind of error and invite the student to correct the mistakes. Finally, see if the student can identify and correct the error on his or her own.

Daphne Hobson offers the following useful suggestions for working with multi-lingual students. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines only.

  • Do not ask students who have difficulty with spoken English to read their work out loud in a consultation because this focuses too much attention on their speech instead of their writing. It can be useful, however, if you read parts of the paper out loud to them.
  • As in any consultation, check early to make sure the student understands the assignment and the reading. You may have to spend more time discussing readings than you would in most consultations; it is obviously essential that the student understand the material before starting to plan and write a paper.
  • Encourage students to use visual tools such as outlines, maps, and flow-charts. Using maps to generate ideas can free students from their usual patterns of composition in addition to decreasing their anxiety about writing grammatically perfect sentences. Try using outlines if students are having difficulty making their work conform to a conventional linear argument.
  • Students who are not proficient English writers may need you to “model” correct writing for them. While you should not write any part of a paper for a student, you can demonstrate how to compose an introduction or how to use quotations to support a point. If you can, direct students to Hacker’s Rules for Writers—or another hand-book, such as others by Hacker or one of those by Andrea Lunsford—so that they can read about this element of paper writing at greater leisure after the consultation.
  • When you work with students to identify and correct grammatical errors in an essay, try to limit your “grammar lessons” to one or two issues in each consultation. Again, “modeling” constructions and composing sample sentences can be very helpful for the student.