Tag Archives: International Students

Intercontinental Ink: Culture Portrayed through Writing

Many students come in to The Writing Center not confident in the work they’ve produced. It’s not that they’ve written it “wrong,” but that ideas are unclear due to wording or organization. And now that I’m graduating in a week, I’m getting rather sentimental; so please humor me as I reminisce on some of my fondest writing center appointments (it’s relevant, I swear).

When I began learning Arabic and Saudi students would coincidentally schedule appointments with me, I would, without fail, get overly excited. But I wanted to be discrete about how I went about telling these students that I was studying Arabic. I’d grumble an occasional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Arabic under my breath, hoping the students would catch on. Or I’d leave my laptop open, revealing my Arabic/English keyboard, hoping the students’ eyes would catch my conspicuous cry for approval. But once we’d start the consultation, I’d let it drift to the corner of my mind as I redirected my attention to their writing.

Which, as it turns out, is fascinating.

Arabic is written poetically, deliberately, and to evoke emotion. It’s descriptive and heavily sprinkled with metaphors; Arabic poetry is the most beautiful, passionate prose. Often, this style transfers into Arabic-speaking students’ English writing. This sort of contrastive rhetoric has provided me with some of my most cherished appointments. I am able to see exactly how someone is thinking and how it translates from one language to another.

English is direct and oftentimes dry. Although “fluff” in moderation or having craftily worded sentences can make English writing more interesting, it is still a precise, formulated approach. Non-native English speakers use their inherent understanding of language (which can create some strangely formulated grammatical phrases), but it also generates ideas and comparisons that aren’t readily available to me given my personal understanding of language.

Literacy isn’t just writing. It’s understanding. It’s being able to communicate well. It’s knowing how to accomplish something through some means. Just because you write differently than someone, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It shows the awesome complexity of societal and cultural understanding through language. And regularly witnessing this fascinating phenomenon will be one of my most missed experiences as I finish out my time here at The Writing Center at MSU.

Intercontinental Ink: Struggles with the English Article System

As a consultant here at the MSU Writing Center, I’ve noticed one item in particular that almost all Writing Center clients who are non-native speakers of English struggle with: the English article system. Articles like a and the are an inherent knowledge native English speakers take for granted. Sure, if something is definite, it is preceded by the, like the frog. Indefinite would be a frog.

Simple, yes? No.

Let’s look at plurals. The frogs is fine, but what about a frogs? Or simply frogs? Then we can get into uncountable things, like life, which doesn’t need an article. But the life has a different, more colloquial meaning, so using this article unknowingly could create unintentional meaning.

Mid-way though a writing center consultation, I’ll find myself confidently tromping down the path of explaining the English article system, only to stumble over my shoddily crafted rationales.

I’ll say, “Yeah, all nouns need an article!” Haha, no. “Okay, well, if it’s plural then you don’t. Usually. Sometimes. I think?”

Then I’ll backtrack with, “Um, no, actually just some… like… well let’s just look at an example in your paper,” as I continue to not sufficiently explain anything of value.

After I’ve finished this awkward conversation with myself, praying that the client still thinks I possess some fragment of credibility, I determine that honesty is probably best in this situation: I don’t know how to explain the English article system. Articles are like prepositions in that you just have to know when to use them.

Latin doesn’t use articles. Japanese doesn’t use articles. Russian doesn’t use articles. Why, then, does English? Unfortunately, it’s just the way it works. And on behalf of English and those who cannot explain it, I’m sorry.

Intercontinental Ink: Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English

Audience. It is arguably the most important factor to keep in mind when constructing a document. In a university setting, this could include classmates, friends, professors, future employers, academic communities, or review boards. Although it’s necessary to think of your readers as a whole, do you also remember the audience’s culture? More specifically, their language?

It may not be immediately apparent when considering your audience, but chances are high that someone who doesn’t speak your native language will be reading your writing. Do you write pieces that are posted online? Anyone in the world can access these documents—don’t exclude them because you forgot about them! So if you’re a native English speaker and your readers are Korean or Saudi Arabian or Chinese, you need to be aware that not only is English not their native language, but they also carry along different cultural values associated with his or her ability to understand and process your writing.

Here are some items to consider when writing to international audiences:

  • Be concise. Know what you’re saying; say it clearly.
  • You might get a kick out of idioms, but it’s possible your audience can’t make heads or tails of it. Avoid when possible.
  • Don’t not end your sentence in a preposition if re-arranging it is going to make is sound awkward. If it sounds strange to a native English speaker, it’s going to sound strange to a non-native English speaker.
  • Although the word that can sometimes make English sentences seem wordy, many other languages mandate their equivalent of that to be used in writing in order to make grammatical sense. Just because you can omit it in English and the sentence will still make sense, doesn’t necessarily mean a non-native English speaker will understand the sentence without using that.
  • Literal is safe. Not to discourage humorous or innovative writing styles, but if there’s a possibility your reader doesn’t have as strong of a command of the English language as you, then be precise.

Writing is a part of culture. When taken into consideration, it allows for a more expansive, comprehensible, and accessible document.

The Writing Center’s New Locations: The MSU Union and McDonel Hall

South entrance to the MSU Union

The MSU Union

The Writing Center would like to invite you to check out our two new satellite locations at The MSU Union and McDonel Hall.

These new satellite locations have been opened to offer new and diverse locations to get the same great help as all of our other Writing Center locations. Whether you live just behind Albert Road or are a graduate student in Owen, these two locations have been open with our clients in mind.

The MSU Union location is a great place to come if you live in West Circle, or after you stop into the “original” Biggby and grab a cup of coffee. The MSU Union location is open 5pm-10pm on Sundays and 6:30pm-10pm Monday through Wednesday.

West entrance to McDonel Hall

McDonel Hall

Our new satellite location in McDonel Hall is located in room 105c and has extremely easy access to the Sparty’s in the next room over. This location provides easy access to The Writing Center services whether you live in Owen, Holmes, or McDonel itself. Graduate students, International Students, Lyman-Briggs students, and all kinds of students alike are welcome to check out this new location on Sunday from 5pm-10pm, Monday from 2pm-9pm, or Tuesday and Wednesday 6pm-9pm