University of Minnesota
CLA Media Mill

CLA Media Mill

Kit Hansen

Drawing upon her experiences abroad, Kit addresses the challenges that multilingual writers face, including plagiarism and writing process.

Kit Hansen

Maija Brown
Johanna Mueller
Zack Pierson

Johanna Mueller
Zack Pierson

Farha Ahmed
Daniel Balm
Linda Clemens
Debra Hartley
Huy Hoang
Kirsten Jamsen
Katie Levin
Mitch Ogden
Kim Strain

© 2010, Center for Writing
Please do not quote without permission.

Not knowing English perfectly, of course, is a challenge. Encountering a lot of academic vocabulary that is new, you’re not familiar with, the cultural implications... there are things that you just can’t be expected to know. What you need to remember when you’re teaching someone who is a non-native English speaker is that, even if they’re quite fluent, they may not have all of the nuances of the language that they’re speaking. So I learned my German working in an orphanage. And you can imagine the kind of language I picked up from the kids. And then when I was taking a Poli Sci class, and I had to leave the seminar early, of course, I excused myself, and I in essence said, “I’ve gotta split.” And there was this shocked look. But I had no idea the difference between “abhauen [German slang for “to leave”]” and a more polite form of saying “Excuse me, but I have to leave early.”

Another thing that we focus a lot on is understanding what plagiarism and scholastic dishonesty/ scholastic honesty means. If there was one thing that I wish that all instructors could understand is that this really is a cultural territory, and what is so black and white to us is really gray for somebody else. And I’ve had students over and over say to me-- when I said, “This is plagiarized.”-- they’ll say, “But I cited it.” And I say, “Yes, you cited it, but you’re using exactly the same words. What do you need to add?” “Oh, the quotation marks.” And the fact that they’re still falling into that kind of misconception says to me--and these are the brightest of the bright that are coming here-- says to me that this is not as easy to learn and that we have to fight our.. for me it’s still a natural tendency to assume, “You’re cheating!”

I’m interested in the structure of the paper, first and foremost. So does it have a motivated introduction? So what? Who cares? Why should I be involved? Does it have a clear focus? Is there a logical organization and development of the ideas? Is there analysis if there needs to be? And all of the language that supports that is far more important to me than articles, an occasional misspelling, or.... There are a lot of things, like sometimes a missing part of a relative clause, that still is not going to destroy the meaning. And so it is the structure; can I basically understand what the person is saying? And I focus on those language errors that are going to interfere with it. If you feel that it is basically a good essay, except for English problems, then the feedback I like to give is, “This is-- in terms of its structure, its analysis, its content-- this is an A essay, but because of the kinds of language problems-- some of which we have talked about before and you’re still having problems with-- your grade on this is a B. But I can see it from the student’s perspective too: that they spent hours and hours, way more than most native speakers do trying to create good output, and they still don’t necessarily get a grade that is reflective of the effort they put into it. But at some point, language does have to count for something because it does interfere with your ability to effectively communicate.

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