Working with English Language Learners
I have worked with English Language Learners of all ages, ranging from a second grader to doctoral students as well as helping my mom with her master’s thesis and my dad with his doctoral dissertation. They have all been native Korean speakers, whose first language is Korean. I think I will write about the doctoral student I am currently helping edit her articles and dissertation proposal. I guess I’m in a slightly different position from the students I work with because I am most comfortable communicating in English but I am also comfortable speaking in Korean (as long as it is not in a formal setting because I lack a lot of complex vocabulary in Korean). I am most struck by my student’s courage to study at the PhD level in a second language. For myself and many other native English speakers I know, writing a dissertation is a daunting task but ask any of us to write it in another language, then, I think we would honestly be at a loss. However, my student is very positive and approaches the language barrier as just one hurdle to deal with and she does this in a very matter-of-fact way. She knows what she wants to say and knows her research inside and out, so it is just a matter of communicating it in a way that her audience can understand it. As I read her writing, I notice that she tends to write in the language that I have come to associate with academic writing – writing that I sometimes have to read over and over again before I can make sense out of it. I think this has something to do with Korean syntax. Formal Korean tends to take on a very passive voice. For example, it is the type of writing where, “the ball was thrown to me” rather than “John threw the ball to me.” So, I find myself switching gears in my head as I read her writing – from trying to visualize what she is saying, to trying to connect it to anything I know. Koreans also tend to struggle with using articles in their writing or using the correct article because we don’t use articles before a noun. A monkey is “monkey” and “please pass the salt” is “salt to me pass, please.” I still don’t know how to teach my students to use the correct article in their writing. I think this is something that has to be innately learned through being immersed in the English language for a long time. My dad still has trouble with it.