Word for Word: Dear ESL students…

Word for Word

By Deanna Giasson:

Dear ESL Students:
Stop apologizing for your “poor” English—you’re doing better than you think.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down in front of a tutee who prefaced his or her session with “I’m sorry . . . it’s really bad,” usually from one of the growing number of students whose first—or even second—language isn’t English. They’re embarrassed of their accent, of the fact that they just can’t seem to figure out where an article goes in a sentence or remember which form of a verb goes with a plural noun. Growing up in a country whose loudest voices bounce from cruel parodies of foreign accents, to open berating of immigrants for speaking anything but English, I’ve seen firsthand the damage this can do to a new language-speaker’s confidence. I see it in the face of every ESL writer who apologizes for misspelled words and missing commas.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that ESL students are a step ahead of the rest. For starters, just the word “bilingual” automatically makes a resume more attractive. Employers jump at the chance to hire an individual who can attract and communicate with a whole new demographic of customers. Plus, the ability to process information in two or more languages, and consider problems from vastly different cultural perspectives, allows non-native English speakers to problem solve in ways others may have never considered.

As far as intelligence is concerned, verb-tense disagreement can hardly be considered a gauge for how smart a person is—or how well they can speak a language. Written grammar is “taught” so poorly in American primary schools that even native speakers struggle with writing essays; in fact, in the six years I’ve been tutoring, I’ve never seen a mistake on an ESL essay that I haven’t also come across in a native speaker’s writing. Just by speaking and understanding two languages, bilinguals have access to double the vocabulary, double the ways to communicate and express themselves.

So, ESL students, next time you sit down in front of a tutor, don’t apologize for your grammar; you’re writing a college-level essay in a language you might have only just learned. How many of your native-English-speaking peers can say the same?


This column about writing and the writing process is created by the Amarillo College Writers’ Corner tutors. The name “Word for Word” pays tribute to Robert W. Wylie (1923-2011), who worked at Amarillo College from 1963 until 1992.  He was chairman of the English Department from 1984 to 1992, served as Writer-in-Residence at AC for several years after his retirement and wrote a weekly column for the Amarillo Globe-News called “Word for Wordfrom 1992 through 2003.

The Writers’ Corner provides free tutors who review assignment requirements, provide constructive feedback, and guide students through all phases of the writing process.

The Writer’s Corner also offers

  • One-on-one tutoring sessions with trained tutors
  • Small workshops throughout the semester covering various aspects of academic writing
  • In-class presentations on the role of the Writers’ Corner
  • A waiting area for walk-ins and early arrivals
  • Coffee for students with appointments

The Writers’ Corner is located in Ordway Hall, Room 102 and can be reached at writerscorner@actx.edu or (806) 345-5580. Learn more at https://www.actx.edu/english/writerscorner.


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