I studied abroad in France for the Spring 2016 semester. During that time, I took mainly literature courses in French and lived in a residence primarily for first-year students, which offered a few rooms to International students like myself. When the other students learned I was American, they pretty quickly began to ask for help with their English classwork. Many degrees at the university required a certain number of English courses, and what the students wanted was someone who understood English and could help them understand it as well. Many professors at the university were reluctant to help students outside of class.
I met with a fair number of students over the semester, working with them on anything from emails for friends in America to oral presentations for class. As a Writing Center consultant, I knew there was a good way to make sure these students understood what to fix in their writing, and tried to follow the format of our regular consultations as much as possible. In my informal “consultations,” I made sure to first ask for an overview of the assignment, then tell them I wanted to read the writing aloud. This was probably the most important thing I could do for them–English being a second language for all of the students I helped. Most things I addressed with the student related directly to the English language being so foreign, even if the student had been learning it for years. This included many difficulties with homophones, such as the words “there” and “their,” “to” and “too,” and other problems even native English speakers have. Punctuation and sentence structure, particularly sentence fragments and word order, were also challenging for many students.
Another prevalent issue was students using what seemed like French-English cognates, but were not correct for what they wanted to express. In those cases, it was especially helpful for me to be fluent in French, because it meant I could ask for an explanation in French, and help the student come up with a better word or phrase in English. Most of the time, when I found something to address, I paused to ask the student if he or she knew what the problem was and how to fix it. Often, they could identify and fix their mistake.If they did not understand their mistake, I made a point to explain it or to look up an example in French.
After being in France and learning the issues French students face with English writing, I have come to better understand some issues that John Carroll students may face as well. This semester, I am working on ways to best help students who do not know solutions to problems they encounter, and I think I am better able to assist such students after my time in France.
Ellen Ulinski has been a consultant at the Writing Center for two years. She’s a senior, double majoring in English Literature and French.