Writing academic papers in one’s first language can feel like a mammoth task. But many students in our campus community are learning, reading, and writing in English as a second or additional language. These students carry the same academic load while completing their assignments in a language that is not their first.
Over the years, the Wheaton College Writing Center has supported ESL (English as a Second Language) writers, including many international students. Since August 2017, the Writing Center has seen an increase in the percentage of clients who identified as ESL writers. In order to better support these students, undergraduate writing consultants have been given more ESL-specific training. However, our ESL specialists, Annette Barker and Martin Cluelow, remain the resident ESL experts in the Writing Center, and they have a wealth of experience and insight to share.
Meet our Specialists
Annette grew up in a German-speaking home, and she received bilingual education in English and French in Canada. She entered the field of teaching ESL while living in Japan, and since then, has had over 20 years of experience teaching ESL in the Chicago area. Annette joined the Writing Center as an ESL specialist about five years ago.
Martin has over 30 years of experience with professional writing in the computer industry, and he first started tutoring English language learners as a volunteer with his church, at the Pui Tak Center in Chicago. Later, he completed an M.A. in TESOL at the Wheaton College Graduate School and has been teaching ESL for many years since.
Annette and Martin are passionate about their work as consultants for ESL writers. Annette shared that “It’s really rewarding to see the growth in the students and see their fluency and skills developed in writing.” Some of the most rewarding moments come from “knowing I’ve helped them feel confident about their writing and … when a student comes back and says, ‘Hey, thank you so much for helping me with writing my paper!’”
Since many ESL writers return to the Writing Center as repeating clients, Martin particularly appreciates the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with writers: “I enjoy [when sometimes] it gets to the point that they feel very comfortable with me and I become a sounding board about things going on with school and professors or just life in general… it’s more than just working on a piece of writing with them. It’s actually getting to know them and sort of becoming a part of their life for at least a few years.” For international students who are in a linguistically and culturally unfamiliar environment, having someone who is willing to play the role of cultural broker and to offer advice or a listening ear makes all the difference.
Martin and Annette’s Expertise
Annette and Martin are skilled at explaining the nuances and technicalities of North American academic English to clients. In particular, they are familiar with the ways linguistic and cultural differences can pose challenges for academic writers. For example, spelling, use of prepositions, and punctuation conventions are different in American English versus British English; many international students study British English before coming to the US. When emailing professors on behalf of his clients, Martin sometimes notes his clients’ background studying British English. Furthermore, by convention, North American academic writing tends to be linear in its argument structure, which can be a challenge for students who come from cultures that tend to use other rhetorical techniques.
Learning from Each Other
Martin and Annette emphasize how much their ESL clients bring to the table. As Annette points out, “It takes a lot of courage and grit to study something in your second language. I have a huge admiration for our ESL and international students because it’s not easy.” Meanwhile, Martin appreciates the diversity of clients’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds: “I’m always learning new things from them, not only from their papers, but also from the discussions that we have.” Annette also believes that it’s important to preserve each writer’s voice and perspectives, especially when their language use gives them opportunities to present their ideas in a refreshing way that avoids cliché.
Getting Writing Support
Martin suggests that undergraduate and graduate writers seeking help with language conventions should schedule appointments with ESL specialists because they’re “used to teaching some of the finer points of the language, like grammar.” However, if undergraduate writers need help figuring out professors’ expectations for assignments, they can sign up for an appointment with an undergraduate consultant who can offer guidance from experience, especially for required classes like ENGW 103/104 or CORE 101. Ultimately, Annette emphasizes that ESL specialists are “not here to criticize the paper. We’re here to be supportive in any way possible, recognizing the particular challenges that ESL writers face.”
Students can access the ESL Writing Center schedule by logging in to WCOnline and clicking “Graduate and ESL Schedule” from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Both undergraduate and graduate ESL students can use this schedule to make 30- or 60-minute appointments with Martin or Annette. Students can also make standing/repeating appointments if they wish to receive more regular help with their written assignments.