Foreign students sharpen writing skills

The University Writing Center’s small conference table was almost completely full with nine non-native English-speaking students on Friday. They ranged from freshmen to graduate students, but all came with one thing in common: a desire to learn how to write well in English.

The meeting was part of a new program that reaches out to non-native speakers who often have difficulties writing papers for their classes.

The center’s director, Dr. Evelyn Schreiber, said she decided to incorporate a program specifically for non-native speakers after noting the success of a weekly small discussion-based group at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

“They have a full-time person who works with non-native speakers,” Schreiber said. She followed suit, planning for her sessions to be in a relaxed setting.

Darren Gao, a Chinese graduate student, said he sometimes has trouble writing in English.

“Languages are cumulative. We go directly into analytical writing and do not have a sense of English writing. Its very hard to get over it,” he said.

Gao and other non-native speakers have used the center in Rome Hall as a resource before, but this is the first time there has been a program specifically tailored to their needs.

The sessions are also intended to help non-native speakers “get to understand American and University culture,” Schreiber said.

With more than 49 percent of the center’s sessions taking place with non-native speakers, Schreiber thought it necessary to implement a program catering to their needs.

The sessions, called “coffee hours,” are held at the center on Monday and Friday afternoons as a new writing and speaking group. The center has also tried to focus specifically on non-native speakers in the past, participating this summer in a national conference to discuss their work assisting non-native speakers.

Many of the students who attend the coffee hours are actually strong writers in their native languages but fall short in English.

“With my native language, it’s not a problem at all,” Gao said. “But it’s very hard in English.”

Despite nearly 10 years of experience with the English language, Gao has only been writing formally for four years. He knew he needed help and had already sought out four private sessions with Writing Center tutors prior to the coffee hour program.

Maggie Dunlop, a graduate student studying international education, is the discussion leader. She used several handouts to facilitate the discussion, which covered everything from targeting students’ personal writing strengths and weaknesses to reviewing a sample piece of writing together.

She hopes the students will continue to improve as the sessions continue each week.

The session ended with students exchanging e-mails and planning to attend the next meeting.

“They are really helpful here,” Gao said. “It’s the best thing about GW.”

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