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Writing Center: Chapter 4: Reading an ESL Writer's Text

A guide to information to help you research and write more effectively.

Summary of Chapter 4

Jessica Awad
Chapter summary of ESL Writers by Bruce and Rafoth, Second Edition
Chapter 4: “Reading an ESL Writer’s Text” by Matsuda and Cox
            The approach for reading an ESL student’s paper is not very different from the approach for reading papers written by native English-speaking (NES) writers. The writing of ESL students and NES writers may differ on many levels. Though many tutors may feel distracted or frustrated by them, differences are not necessarily problematic.
            ESL writers and texts vary greatly from person to person, but they have some genral characteristics. ESL writers are still trying to develop an implicit knowledge of English and may not be able to easily create grammatical sentences. Also, some ESL students are better English speakers than writers while others are the exact opposite. ESL writers’ texts are also partly shaped by their prior experiences with literacy.
            Readers of ESL writing take one of three stances. Accommodationists seek to teach the writer new discourse patterns without losing the old. They point out differences that may be seen as problems, but the writer decides how “native” the writing should sound. Separatists encourage writers to maintain separate linguistic identities thereby preserving the differences. The assimilationist stance is avoided. It seeks to protect writers from readers by making the writing like NES writing, but it inadvertently turns differences into deficiencies.
            It is usually a good idea to start a session with a quick reading of the writer’s text out loud by the tutor. Afterwards the tutor can reread and make brief marks near details that jar the reading process.
Key points:
·         Overgeneralization of ESL writers and writing should be avoided.
·         Never take the assimilationist stance towards ESL writing.
·         Tutors must be aware of their own responses as readers to ESL writing.
·         Tutors can prioritize by paying attention to their own reactions to errors that interfere with their understanding of the meaning of the text.
·         If the number of errors in a text causes the tutor to stumble too often while reading it, then it is best to just read the text silently.
·         Tutors may want to focus more on global errors (errors that affect the comprehension of meaning) than local errors (errors that do not affect meaning).
·         Read ESL writing all the way through since the point of the paper may not become clear until the end. Focus on what the writer is trying to communicate.
·         Give the writer the benefit of the doubt-the logic in the text may not be immediately apparent, but organization may still exist.
Questions to consider:
·         At what point exactly might we move from a separatist approach to an accommodationist approach?
·         What are some occasions when the assimilationist approach might be tempting?

Summary of Chapter 4

Sean Davidson
Chapter Summary of ESL Writers by Bruce and Rafoth, Second Edition
Chapter 4: “Reading an ESL Writer’s Text” by Matsuda and Cox
            In my reading of chapter four, “Reading an ESL Writer’s Text,” by Matsuda and Cox, I began to understand how writing by ESL students represents different linguistic, cultural, and educational backgrounds, which would easily standout to the eyes of a natural English speaker. At the same time, if an open mind is kept, the NES will be exposed to fascinating details and figurative language that will amaze them. The more narrow-minded approach would focus on surface-level errors and “wrong” or odd structures and miss out on an enriching experience.
            There are three main ways of reading an ESL text. First, the assimilationist stance encourages the writer to bend to the ways of the dominant culture, mistaking differences for deficiencies. The accomodationist stance’s goal is to help the writer sound as native as they want to, without losing out on his cultural traits. Lastly, the separatist stance is supportive of maintaining the separate linguistic and cultural identities, and encourages the reader to read “generously” with an appreciation for multicultural writing. The stances come down to the individual tutor, and if your goal is to “correct” differences, explain the differences, or overlook the differences. The book leans toward resisting the assimilationist stand, as it is unrealistic, and read with a more cosmopolitan and less parochial eye. Overlooking local errors and grammar, and concentrating on the comprehension of meaning are preferred for a meaningful session. It is of the utmost importance to work in an atmosphere of respect and collaboration, turning differences into opportunities for growth for the reader and the writer.
Key points:
·         Respect and appreciate differences in writing styles.
·         Go with the methods that make the student comfortable.
·         Overgeneralization should be avoided.
·         Recognize most ESL writers are still developing an intuitive understanding of English.
·         Relationship between language proficiency and language proficiency isn’t simple.
·         Don’t overemphasize grammar in the Writing Center.
·         Error Gravity studies show professors are more tolerant.
·         Each writing center session demands different approaches.
·         In reading the draft, use the most comfortable method for student.
·         If you get overwhelmed with surface errors, you may miss the meaning.
·         Use brief marks at areas that are surprising or jarring to the reader.
·         Unexpected occurrences are “teachable moments.”
·         Don’t become distracted by curiosity and become a tourist instead of a tutor.
Question to consider:
·         How can I not revert to natural assimilationist thinking?