Writing with an Accent by Daynee Rosales

Post date: Oct 11, 2017 7:46:54 PM

I immigrated to the United States as a pre-teen, and for a very long time I struggled with establishing authority in a language that was not originally mine. I think that self-consciousness is normal for second language speakers. When I was first learning English, I was full of questions and anxieties: did I use the right verb tense in _____ conversation? What is the plural for this noun? Who on earth is Smokey the Bear?? There was so much about English and American culture that did not make sense to me, and having an accent did not make it any easier. Even once I figured out who that bear character was, I pronounced it Smo-kee deh ber, and if I was asked to write it out, I would do it the way it sounded in my head: Smoki deber. The more I read and wrote, the better I got: Smokie the bear. Still, it took a long time to get it just right. My teachers marked my papers so heavily it looked like the pages were bleeding, and I was so overwhelmed by their comments that I rarely made it past the first page and shut down. The process of learning a new language can be very difficult and disheartening, but a little encouragement goes a long way. This is something very important to keep in mind for instructors and Writing Center consultants working with ESL learners. I try to remember my own experiences with learning a new language in order to approach writing with sensitivity and openness.

When in a consultation with a second language speaker, I ask myself the following questions:

Do they seem nervous about the consultation?

Are they prepared for our meeting?

Do they understand the assignment they’ve been given?

What are their specific concerns regarding their piece of writing?

What are their professor’s concerns with their writing?

I praise them for things their paper is doing well. And then, when I see things I don’t understand, I ask a lot of questions and suggest solutions.

It’s important to accept that ESL writers might write with an accent (the manner in which they speak). It is also important to understand that learning grammar takes time, and writing academic papers without an accent takes even longer. At the Writing Center, our consultations are only forty-five minutes. As so, it makes no sense to spend our entire consultation on a grammar lesson if the paper will have one or two massive rewrites in the future. That time is better spent on other aspects of the client’s writing, such as their thesis or their claims.

We consultants are not proofreaders. We’re here to aid clients in the writing process, not put the finishing touches on a house that’s not yet built.

A frequent metaphor that Gina (our great and fearless leader) uses at the Writing Center is that of the house: if you have a shaky foundation, how do you expect the walls and roof to stay up? Why should you worry about the paint when the walls are barely standing in place?

Grammar is not the foundation of a client’s house, and as long as the paint is not eating away through the walls like some wild and mutant acid, it can probably wait.