Resources for ESL & ELL
Studying in a foreign culture is exciting. You planned for months on what to bring with you, you are ready to meet new people and study with U.S. students. You want to eat all the food that you heard about, and you want to travel and see all parts of the U.S.
Below are a few resources for students are visiting from abroad or learning English. They include a “what-you-can-expect” of cultural adjustment and some strategies to overcome the fears of being in a different country.
If you are concerned about communicating with your instructor, sending out an email, talking in class or asking for feedback, take a look at our resources below!
Once in the U.S., you might go through a number of adjustment phases. They usually are:
- Being excited and happy to be in a new culture. It is often called the honeymoon phase.
- Being disappointed, irritated, and overwhelmed with the new culture. It is called the crisis period, when culture shock sets in.
- Getting used to the new culture and participating in activities. It is called the adaptation stage.
- Being shocked when you go back home. It is called the reentry shock of being back at home where nothing much seems to have changed.
Your performance in class is often influenced by the stages that you find yourself in. If you are excited, it will reflect in your performance. If you are disappointed, you won’t put much time into your writing.
To make sure that you can see the good parts of the new culture that you joined:
- Talk to your classmates and find out what they do to perform well in class.
- Join a study group to get to know your U.S. peers.
- Practice speaking up in class.
- Practice sending an email to your peers or to your professor to clarify class materials.
Many of these experiences may seem scary, but with a little bit of practice, you can make yourself feel right back at home!
Instructors Accordion Open
If you are not used to talking to your professor, or if you only talk to your professor because you were called to the office, you should know that American instructors want to hear from you.
Talking to your professor is part of learning how to be a student in an American university. Professors in U.S. institutions often expect a high amount of interaction, and students are expected to talk to the professor if they have questions. Here are some common ways to interact with your professor:
- Join your classmates who ask questions before or after class. International students are expected to join in!
- Go to office hours. Office hours are not scary, and your professor will be able to tell you about course expectations.
- Send an email. Give professors 3 days to respond to emails. They are often busy meeting deadlines in addition to teaching their courses.
Professors teach, so do not ask your professor questions that you can find our from your course syllabus. Read the course syllabus before you talk to your professor. It’s good to ask for clarification, or for suggestions on whether your assignment topic is specific enough. If you are not sure what you want to write about, arrive with 2-3 ideas and be ready to respond to questions. This exercise often helps you write the paper!
Your classmates are also a good resource. Get their emails or text information. When you are absent or late, find out from your class peers what you missed in class. Follow the syllabus, and let your professor know that you are on task!
If you have to be absent, let your professor know. Do work ahead of time and give it to your professor in person.
Next steps and additional information
Feeling uncomfortable talking to your professor is not unusual. Not all your U.S. peers are comfortable talking to the professor either. The more you practice, the better you will get at talking to your professor, and the better the professor will be able to work with you. Here are some suggestions for talking to your professor:
- Take a friend! Have your friend wait outside of the office while you ask your questions. Think of the stories that you’ll have for dinner conversation.
- Talk to your classmates before talking to your professor. Sometimes you’ll learn new ideas and new ways of thinking about your professor’s lectures and homework assignments. Then check with your professor.
- While you can send an email, it is better to take a few minutes and talk to your professor, face to face. Professors often remember students who take time to talk to them.
- Arrive prepared. Always have your questions written down in case you get nervous. Start the conversation “I am here because…”
- Do not wait until the end of the course.
- Ask a Writing Assistant at The University Writing Commons.
Emails Accordion Closed
Email in college is often used for lengthy messages and for formal messages. It’s important to practice being professional, so use email (and not texting or tweets) with your professors unless they tell you differently.
A cultural difference with email is that high context cultures (many Asian countries, most Arab countries, Latin America, most African countries, Italy) often are informal and very friendly on email. If you study in a low context country (Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Canada, the U.S.), email is direct and to the point without the daily niceties of “Hello! How are you?”
Here is a brief list of how to use email with a professor:
- Address your professor as “Professor” or “Dr. [last name]” and do not use the first name unless your professor specifically asks you to. “Dear Professor” is respectful and formal.
- Always check your syllabus, course description, and assignment before asking questions about class, deadlines, or specifics of the assignment.
- Practice sending organized emails. Identify who you are (there are many students in many classes), state the purpose of the email, and provide information as is needed.
- If your email has multiple questions, then use a list instead of one paragraph:”Dear Professor,”
- I am enrolled in your X-course on MW, 10:10 a.m. I have three questions about the research portion of the assignment.
- 1) Are we allowed to …
- 2) Is it possible to …
- 3) Do we need to…
- Do we need to…While email is often informal, remember that all writing during your studies is good practice for the kind of writing you will have to do after you leave the university. It is a lot easier to switch to an informal tone than it is to a formal one.
- Use email when you know that you will be absent for a good reason: you are ill, you have a Fulbright meeting, you have F1-J1 meetings.
- Use email sparingly. It is best to talk to your professor before class, after class, or during office hours.
Next steps and additional information
Professors get much email every day. They appreciate it if you:
- Use email when office hours are are not available to talk to your professor.
- Always make sure that you check the course materials and the assignment before asking questions about the assignment.
- Practice being courteous and professional. Later, when you leave your studies, you will find it easy to address new colleagues on email
Talking in class Accordion Closed
For many international and U.S. domestic students, speaking up in class is not easy. Speaking up because you have something to contribute to the class discussion is a skill that you should practice. Professors use discussion participation to:
- See that you read the class materials
- See that you learned the concepts addressed in class
- Find out whether students can make connections to their own experiences
- Find out whether there are misconceptions about what needs to be learned
- Encourage engagement and participation so that class materials are remembered better.
Some students are very quick when they raise their hand. This does not necessarily mean that they are very good at contributing to class. It sometimes means that they raise their hand before they had a chance to think. You do not need to be the first one to raise your hand. You can take a minute while somebody else is talking to write down a few words that will help you talk.
Speaking up in class is not to call attention to yourself, but to add to your learning by asking questions or providing a relevant example. If your class is designed for students to interact with the professor and with each other, practice, practice, practice.
Soon enough, you’ll feel comfortable participating and contributing in the classroom.
Next steps and additional information
Even if you don’t have much experience speaking up in class, you can become successful in participating with class discussions. Here are some suggestions that can help you become more comfortable speaking up in class.
- Always arrive prepared and be ready to take notes and to listen to your professor and to your class peers. How do the other students participate in the class? Do they ask questions? Are they making a connection with a previous reading? Are they saying “I was thinking…” or “I read …”
- Choose a method of participation and then get ready to practice! You can start by saying: “When I read the chapter that you assigned, I noticed that the author…”
- Listen to your class peers and notice how they interact.
- Do not interrupt other students.
- Raise your hand when you are ready to participate.
- If you have trouble pronouncing a word, write it down and ask your class neighbor to say it out loud.
- Make it a game and see if you can participate at least once a week!
Asking for feedback Accordion Closed
Professors always expect for students to seek feedback on their writing before submitting for a grade. One of the best ways to get writing feedback while learning about your writing is to make an appointment with the University Writing Commons and to work with a Writing Assistant.
When you ask for feedback, remember that:
- The purpose for feedback to offer suggestions and advice on how you can improve the document.
- Feedback on your writing is not feedback on you as a person. Feedback is about the writing and not about the writer.
- If you notice that your friends and family members always say “It is beautiful!” and your professor consistently marks a “C,” you probably need a different reader.
While it may be tempting to ask someone to read over the entire document and edit every sentence, you won’t learn about your writing and how to meet the assignment’s expectations. Instead, work on your writing by focusing on areas of your writing. Here are three areas to focus on:
- Introductions. The very first part of the paper that your professor will read is the introductory paragraph. Does your introduction suit the writing assignment? Does it have a thesis statement, a purpose statement, a hypothesis? Is it clear from the introductory paragraph what the document is about? Revising and editing the introductory paragraph often determines what else you need to work on in the document.
- Topic sentences. Ask your writing assistant (or reader) to read the paragraph before your conclusion. Does the paragraph’s first sentence define the rest of the paragraph? Does the last sentence of the paragraph seem connected to the first one?
- Integrating sources. Does the source support your discussion point? Did you introduce the source and show how it’s connected to the previous idea/sentence? If the source doesn’t quite fit, what source would fit better?
These three areas are common characteristics of academic writing across disciplines. By choosing an area that you want to work on, you are eliminating the very large question “Can you read my paper?” or “Can you tell me if this is okay?” Instead, start with one of these three areas.
If you talk to your professor, ask for feedback on sections of your document. It will help you revise each section because you know have very specific feedback that you can use for your revisions.
If your previous experiences were not pleasant, do not give up! Everyone can have a bad day(s). There are 30+ Writing Assistants in the UWC. You are bound to find a good match among them.
Next steps and additional information
Asking for feedback shows that you are committed to improving your writing. Here are some suggestions to make the feedback experience successful
- Note sections in your writing assignment that were especially hard to write. Ask a reader to give you feedback on that area of your writing.
- Take notes during feedback sessions and apply the suggestions to your writing.
- Talk to your professor early on. Practice talking through your understanding of the content. Your professor’s feedback will help you when you write and revise your paper.
- Ask for feedback from different people. The more feedback you get, the better your writing will become.
- Visit the University Writing Commons and talk to a Writing Assistant.
- Start early!