Help me teach an informal ESL class on writing?
February 20, 2013 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Hi! I often eat in a certain restaurant, and one of the people who works there asked if I would help her with her writing in English. I am very happy to help, but I have no idea how to do this. She speaks very good English, but she said her writing is very bad. (Her first language is Spanish.) I am meeting with her (and maybe a few of her co-workers) for the first time this week -- any ideas on what we should do? I thought I'd start out with dictation, but any ideas would be much appreciated!
posted by caoimhe to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Would checking out a simple Spanish language children's book from the library and having them write out the English translation be helpful? It might help to visualize the sentence structure.
posted by troika at 11:35 AM on February 20, 2013

One exercise is to write down the words of a song she likes, in English.

It's harder than you think!

Don't think of it as ESL writing, think of it as writing.

So little exercises that tap a bit into creativity.

1. Write a letter of complaint to a business.

2. Write a letter of commendation for an employee.

3. Plan an itinerary for a dream vacation.

Here's a site with more ideas.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:35 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might start by asking her what it is that she's unsure about. Spelling? (In which case your dictation idea would be the way to go.) Grammar? Differences between spoken English and the written English you'd use in various kind of letters or in other contexts where she'd be writing in English?

From my own experience as a non-native English speaker writing in English: I used to be nervous about writing in English (and my ability to make myself clear and not be weird or inappropriate). What helped me to get over it was having to describe the Dutch healthcare system in writing to some English-speaking IT consultants.

Not what you asked for, but: giving her a subscription so Metafilter (or encouraging her to join a forum about a topic that interests her) might be helpful in getting started writing English. It certainly helped me.
posted by rjs at 11:44 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

See if you can do some research for her on local adult schools or other places that may offer free classes, which would probably be more useful to her if she can find the time. Although not enough people realize it, ESL teaching is an actual profession (and a particular specialty, for that matter). While it's great that you're looking for resources, it's not something that any random native speaker should be expected to be able to do. It takes training and knowledge that don't come automatically with knowing how to read/write in a language.

If you and she want to go ahead anyway, check a university library for books on ESL tutoring. There are a few out there. (Non-academic libraries probably won't have them, though it's worth a try.)
posted by wintersweet at 12:08 PM on February 20, 2013

Don't forget the internets for ESL teaching materials! I love ERIC, the Dept of Education database of education materials often free, in full-text, to download. (more details on the blue)
posted by whatzit at 12:21 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Yes, I definitely know ESL is an actual profession and I think she is looking into classes. But I think she's just looking for an extra half hour of help she can squeeze into her really, really busy work and child-care schedule, and I'm glad to help any way I can.

These are really helpful -- thanks! Keep 'em coming!
posted by caoimhe at 1:18 PM on February 20, 2013

Start out by asking her/them to write something for you: a brief "about myself" paragraph, or a description of something (remember "what did you do on your summer vacation?" every September in school?) or a letter she needs to write. This will help you to get an idea of where she's starting--is she really as bad at writing as she thinks? If so, what's the problem--spelling, grammar, level of formality?

This could also give you an idea of whether you're really up to this task or not. Can you recognize problems in her writing? Knowing what her problems are, do you have a better idea of what to do to help her--or does knowing what is wrong at least enable you to look up the right resources?
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:41 PM on February 20, 2013

I've done a fair amount of ESL. You might want to consider asking them if they want to bring in the kinds of actual writing they have to do, including letters that they have to write or whatever. Something more structured or just from the ground up would be nice, but they probably have current things they have to deal with.

In the course of doing their projects, you can get some general principles in. I used to meet with a couple of my students outside of class when they needed to write job applications or things for work. One guy was a chef who had to write action plans. You have to watch out so that you're empowering them to do the work instead of just writing the stuff for them. (Well, you can do that, and I have done it when there was time pressure but these people are not asking you to perform as a free secretary and nor would you want to).
posted by BibiRose at 3:52 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to help a co-worker with his English. We usually went through his writing samples, and now and then I prepared handouts. Look up "common mistakes Spanish speakers make" (example 1, example 2), and if you want to be geeky about it, "Spanish language interference", which might yield articles like these.
posted by pimli at 8:59 AM on February 21, 2013

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