Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Advice for ESL Writers

For the most part, multilingual writers or students writing English as their second or third language need the same support as native English speakers: feedback on drafts, opportunities to revise, tutoring, examples of good writing to emulate, and a community of other writers. But ESL writers may also benefit from some of the advice and resources listed below.

Begin your papers sooner. Although the Writing Center suggests that all students begin writing early, having time to draft and revise is especially important for ESL writers.

Work from macro to micro. While it’s important that you learn to write clear, error-free prose, most student writers—ESL or native speakers—should focus first on the larger parameters of the assignment. Don’t labor over making every sentence correct until you have a strong thesis, have written about your sources, and have begun to organize your ideas. If you follow the first suggestion above, you’ll have time to write an entire draft of your essay before worrying about editing for language errors.

Use tutors. The Residential College Writing Tutors and the Writing Partners have experience with many Yale writers, ESL and non-ESL. They know the fundamentals of good college writing and will be able to help you prioritize those language issues you need more help with. If the tutor thinks that you need additional help on ESL-specific issues, she or he can recommend several additional resources.

Talk about your papers. To become an expert language user, you need frequent opportunities to read, write, speak, and listen in your target language. If you talk through the topics you’re reading and writing about for courses, you’ll be able to write about these same topics more fluently. It doesn’t matter if the students you talk to know the material or not—ideally, in fact, you’ll talk to some people in each category.

Begin a language notebook. If you want to become a truly expert writer, start collecting writing that you admire. Every time you read, look for phrases, sentences, and techniques that make this writing good. Try out some of these techniques in your own writing. If you can’t figure out what makes a given passage effective, show it to your tutor or one of your friends and discuss what you like about it.

To check in about additional resources available to international students taking writing courses, email Assistant Writing Center Director Ryan Wepler (ryan.wepler@yale.edu).