The writing center should recruit native speakers of foreign languages

As students gear up for final papers and exams next month, some will turn to the GW Writing Center for effective peer-to-peer guidance on their writing.

Appointments with the writing center can be useful, but they are limited to English-only sessions. The center should now expand its offerings beyond the one language.

The writing center should actively recruit native foreign language speakers to assist students taking a foreign language class with their written assignments. There are 3,310 international students at GW, and while some are native English speakers, many hail from countries that speak other languages. The University offers classes in 14 foreign, living languages, with eight more available through consortium schools, and there is no doubt that there are students from regions of the globe who speak all of them. These students bring with them a wealth of firsthand knowledge of their language, and officials should tap them for assistance at the writing center.

I have been required to go to the writing center twice for Spanish classes, and while the sessions were helpful, the conversations could focus only on content rather than grammar and conjugations. I have taken Spanish classes since age five, but I still have much to learn, especially in academic writing. Instead of relying on Google Translate, working with a native Spanish-speaking peer would have allowed me to understand and correct my mistakes before submitting my work for a grade.

Recruiting students who speak a language other than English could also help heritage speakers, who are people that learned and use the language informally and typically speak the language at home but not in academic settings. Although they may speak a language perfectly, they might not be able to list off grammatical rules like someone who learned it in a classroom. When I turn to a friend who is of Argentine descent for help with conjugations, she relies on context, rather than acquired grammatical knowledge, to aid me. Understandably, she doesn’t know what the pluscuamperfecto – the past perfect tense – is, but she naturally uses it when constructing a sentence. While there is no guarantee a peer from a Spanish-speaking country will know that exact term, their formal education in Spanish is a boon to language learners like me.

This is also an easy way for GW to separate its language program from those of its peer schools. A quick search reveals nothing similar at other D.C. institutions. Plus, for students like me who feel slighted by their abbreviated studies abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting with an international student, even for an hour, can help to recoup some of that lost time by developing language skills and cultural understandings with a native speaker. Meeting with a native foreign language speaker can also help prepare students for their upcoming study abroad experiences. The writing center should seek out these students, and their peers will undoubtedly benefit from their expertise.

Given the Elliott School of International Affairs’ prestige among international affairs educational institutions, shoring up the weaknesses in foreign language programs should be a priority. Offering learners additional peer-to-peer resources would further integrate international and domestic students and increase the quality of academic support.

Matthew Zachary, a senior majoring in Latin American studies, is a columnist.


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