Writing

Language learners face the challenge of having to learn to formulate ideas using new words, grammar, and structure in a foreign language. In general, most writers struggle with what to say and how to say it. They make mistakes and have to edit and revise before completing their work. The same process applies to second language learners, only they face the additional obstacle of having to relay their thoughts and communicate in a language that’s unfamiliar to them.

In helping second language students to develop their writing abilities, it is key to consider that different students will be at different stages of writing, so the process each student may follow to improve his/her writing will vary. For instance, some language learners have never even held a pencil before. These students first require practice in developing fine motor skills. It is important to have them practice writing meaningful text and not just working on their A,B,C’s. There will be other students that were already writing in their native language so they may be familiar with the different aspects and purposes of writing, for example how to brainstorm ideas, organize thoughts, and convey ideas to an audience.

In addition, all language learners at the beginning stages of writing need plenty of modeling. For beginning writers, teachers may use a variety of strategies such as writing their ideas down for them or providing opportunities where learners can copy straight from the text. As students progress through different stages of writing proficiency they may also experiment with invented spelling or use high frequency words that they can already read. Remember that reading and writing are intertwined and are often developed simultaneously.

Once students reach a basic writing proficiency, organization of thoughts and material proves to be a major challenge. Teachers and tutors may want to assist these students by providing strategies and tools that acts as promptsprior, during and after writing, such as the use of familiar topics and graphic organizers.

In teaching second language learners how to write, one of the first steps is encouraging them to put their thoughts on paper. This is why correcting language learners’ errors always present a challenge. Thus, it is essential to note that numerous corrections will only overwhelm the student and will probably inhibit his/her writing. Instructors should try to concentrate on making one type of correction at a time. For example, try concentrating on verb tense corrections initially, since they tend to be the most significant errors. Once the student has grasped the concept, move on to a different correction such as word-choice, articles, prepositions, and lastly, spelling. The instructor should be aware of the needs of each individual student, focus on what aspect of writing that particular student needs to improve, and develop instructional activities accordingly. For this reason, initial and continuous assessment of students’ writing proficiency in English is essential to be able to plan effective and appropriate instruction.