Commenting on Language

Studying in a second language is very challenging, and goes beyond just needing to grasp new terminology in different disciplines. As instructors read and comment on NNS writing, it's good to keep in mind that many grammar forms, and both word meanings and forms, may not yet be internalized for students, particularly if their own language does not contain the same things. It takes many tens to hundreds of exposures to typical syntax patterns and word meanings for someone to actually know them well enough to use them, so what is commented on in one paper may show up in the next paper as well. Instructors can be part of that repeated exposure to correct language and grammar forms, keeping in mind that a great deal of understanding and thought can be shown while not producing perfectly written English and grading accordingly.

Focusing on content is most important, but most international students also want to learn how to write in such a way that their meaning is not lost or their product is not stigmatized due to errors they cannot identify themselves. This is where direct feedback from an instructor is most valuable.

However, there are many aspects of language that students can receive indirect feedback on and be held responsible for in their writing, both to ensure the correct patterns and rules become internalized and to allow instructors to focus on only what interferes with comprehension, is stigmatizing, and cannot easily be fixed by the students themselves.

This section contains detailed advice about what aspects of language instructors should provide for students and what aspects of language they should only identify for students to correct on their own.