University of Wisconsin–Madison

Helping Multilingual Writers Succeed in Your Course

Writing Across the Curriculum

How is a multilingual writing process different from a monolingual writing process? Research has shown that

  • It is more laborious and takes more time.
  • It requires more time to set goals, generate ideas, and organize materials.
  • It requires more revision, which can be difficult and not necessarily intuitive.
  • It asks multilingual writers to make complex decisions about how best to communicate across multiple cultural and linguistic differences.

How can instructors help multilingual writers succeed?

  • Acknowledge how talented multilingual writers are and how tough their job is.
  • Resist the tendency to lump multilingual writers together in your thinking. Not only are they from different continents, countries, cities, and home environments, they’re different students with unique bodies of knowledge and varying degrees of proficiency in English and in their other native language(s).
  • Talk often with multilingual students. If possible, hold one-on-one conferences throughout the semester to work with students on prewriting and drafts. And let your students do a lot of talking, especially to make sure they understand and have a good start on your writing assignment.
  • Carefully convey expectations for each assignment in both writing and in class conversation.
  • As much as possible, give multilingual writers more of everything that helps monolingual writers: clear assignments, time for multiple drafts, individual conferences, models of good writing. (Raimes).
  • Respect their cultures but resist pigeonholing them. In the past, scholars have made broad generalizations about, for example, how “Asian” writing differs from “Western” writing. While educational background and culture do impact students’ writing, they do not determine that one is culturally destined to write in one and only one cultural mode. Instead, the specific context in which one writes is far more important. Much like writing in one language, writing in another or in multiple languages varies enormously based on why the writer is writing (Matsuda). So assignments that are clear about their purpose, audience, and conventions are helpful to both multi- and monolingual students.
  • Teach students about citation conventions in the U.S. While many of your multilingual students will have some idea about style guides and citation conventions, many will not, and certainly might not know about its close relationship to plagiarism. Citation practices can differ by culture or language, so students need to be taught that when they use others’ words or ideas in their own writing, they must credit their source according to the conventions of the field in which they are writing.
  • Get to know the multilingual writers in your class. They bring intellectual curiosity, a range of experiences, and a unique perspective that your entire class can benefit from.