for Teaching International Students
explicit about your expectations and try to give examples or model
what you are talking about.
on meaning first and grammar and style later.
fluency in communication along with correctness.
not to foster the student's fear of errors.
the student's strengths while explaining what he/she still needs
to work on.
that students may be differently acculturated to classroom situations.
assume that a student who looks "foreign" is an international
student or that one who exhibits writing difficulties is necessarily
a non-native speaker.
Students who are Non-Native Speakers
students who come from non-English-speaking countries, as well as US students
who were raised in a household where English was not the primary language
spoken, may find their academic performance affected in several ways.
These non-native speakers may combine the patterns of their primary or
secondary language with English patterns. Students who are deaf may experience
a similar form of language interference in their written work if their
primary language is American Sign Language.
who are aware that they exhibit such patterns in speaking and in writing,
or who perceive that their English vocabulary is less extensive than their
classmates, may be hesitant to speak out in class discussion. In extreme
cases, it may be difficult for other students to understand what they
say, and their remarks may be ignored or even interrupted. Nonnative speakers
may also have difficulty understanding the idiomatic language or fast-paced
speech that characterizes many class discussions. This perpetuates a cycle
that makes it difficult for such students to participate. Yet participation
is crucial if students are to improve their oral skills and become confident
about their abilities, as well as to become part of the classroom community.
To encourage non-native speakers to contribute to class discussion, consider
using the following techniques:
In the classroom:
make unclear remarks, paraphrase them before building on them ("so
you are saying that . . .?"). This gives such students an opportunity
to correct you if you have not understood what was meant; other students
also understand the comment and so are less likely to ignore it. To avoid
singling out international students, apply this technique to American
students' comments as well.
sure students understand directions and assignments. Students from
many cultures-and many individuals-believe it is polite to nod in response
to someone's words. When such a nod masks lack of comprehension, difficulties
arise. If students have misunderstood previous directions, check with
them individually after class about future assignments. Instead of asking,
"Do you understand this assignment?" say, "Tell me what
you need to do for Wednesday." You can clarify directions for all
students by having a volunteer rephrase them during class.
it down! Use visual aids and write down key terms during lectures
or while giving directions. This will help non-native speakers significantly
with their comprehension of the material.
students who hesitate to speak in class contribute first in small groups
or through electronic discussion groups on Instructional Toolkit.
who hesitate to speak on the spur of the moment, provide assignments
or questions that the student can prepare beforehand. To avoid favoritism,
you can give these assignments or questions to all students.
the Center for American English Language and Culture (CAELC, 924-6166)
on behalf of students who have serious language difficulties. If you
are concerned about an international student's lack of participation in
class, for example, he or she may be interested in practicing fluency
and conversation with a native speaker through CAELC's language consultant
program. CAELC also offers an array of courses to help students with their
written and oral English. For more information about these services, see
the CAELC website (http:// www.virginia.edu/provost/caelc/).
speakers may also experience problems in their written work and may express
a strong anxiety over correctness, which dominates any concerns over the
content of the material. If their problems seem relatively minor, this
support might come from you or from a writing handbook (see especially
a chapter on editing for ESOL in Diane Hacker's The Bedford Handbook,
used in ENWR courses and readily available at student bookstores). For
more severe writing problems, encourage or even require students to use
the Writing Center regularly, preferably with a standing appointment with
to judge how much writing assistance a non-native speaker might need is
to examine the types of errors being made. Typically, non-native speakers
with writing problems will have repeated and consistent patterns of nonstandard
usage that seriously hinder their communication of their ideas. Such patterns
could include the following errors:
- verb forms
(e.g., "It is important that science conducting experiments")
(e.g., "I went of house")
("a," "an," "the") (e.g., "I went
to house," "the science is important").
use of nonstandard verb forms indicates a more serious linguistic interference
than the use of nonstandard articles or prepositions, which are the last
part of a language to be mastered, particularly in English. As mentioned
above, if a student exhibits only minor nonstandard article and preposition
usage, and this usage does not hinder his or her oral or written communication,
you need not take any special action.
Differences for International Students
students' relations to other cultures may continue to affect their academic
performance and learning responses in ways beyond language interference.
For instance, students from some Asian, European, and Latin American cultures
may have been taught that it is a sign of disrespect to look directly
at teachers when they are speaking, to question them directly, or to differ
from their opinions. Understandings of audience expectations differ between
cultures as well; students may have been taught that to state their opinions
directly and forcibly in discussions or writing is egotistical as well
as disrespectful. They likely have also been taught not to speak in class
unless called upon. Depending on their school culture, they may have had
more experience memorizing information than critiquing arguments or asking
questions. For this reason, students from such cultures may be more hesitant
to speak up in class discussion than some other students. Their writing
may also rely heavily on abstract and passive constructions that obscure
the direct presentation of their ideas. Such cultural differences may
be combined with gendered differences, and so may particularly affect
female students from such cultures. To respond to these cultural differences,
consider the following strategies:
In the classroom:
students to contribute their opinions without forcing them to criticize
directly another person's (and particularly your) views. You can focus
at times on reaching consensus rather than on raising a debate.
that all students are welcome to come by during office hours to ask
a question or follow up on an idea from class or to contact you by email
or phone, if you prefer.
to student writing:
than assuming that international students do not have a strong thesis
or handing back their papers with a cryptic comment ("Write more
clearly" or "Needs strong thesis"), let students know
they have permission to express their ideas directly in their written
work, and that in our academic culture, we encourage them to do so. Give
them specific directions for the direct style you prefer. A model
or example can be very instructive.
first on the meaning and organization of the essay and only after
that on the grammar and style.
on errors in terms of general patterns of language use, rather than
on discrete instances. That is, group the errors together (a problem with
articles, or verbs, inconsistent past and present tense, etc.), and comment
on the main rule, rather than circling each individual error.
a hierarchy of errors and focus on the most important. Comment on
the rules you most want the student to learn. Since the student cannot
learn to correct everything within the confines of your course, focusing
on a limited number of kinds of errors will give both you and the student
a sense of progress. To enhance this sense of progress, you may even wish
to focus at certain times on errors that can more easily be corrected
rather than on those that are most important.