John, thank you; you do know the issues I'm dealing with.  Interesting
that your schooling somewhat parallels mine, as well as your teaching
jobs.  I wonder if the conclusions you and I have come to are a case of
"you had to be there" -- people who haven't worked with these different
types of students wouldn't realize the differences in their approaches to

I'm reluctant to even call what these students do to/with their writing
"problems."  I'm getting more and more uneasy with the notion that college
English is "standard."  If we recognize that differences in dialects are
as vast as differences in languages, we might have a more enlightened
approach to our teaching.  In China, people who live in southern regions
cannot understand the spoken Chinese of other regions.  The USA is not
all that different. Regional dialects in Great Britain can be mutually

Why should we expect a student who is fluent in one dialect be equally
fluent in academic English -- anymore than we would expect a monolingual
American to be fluent in Spanish? Even more, why should we consider lack
of fluency a character flaw, or a sign that the student "isn't college
material?"  I've heard that one all too often.

On Sat, 2 Aug 1997, Jon Ausubel wrote:

> This, I feel, is the real issue in defining ESL students.  Especially in
> freshman composition classes to monolingual/monodialectic English speakers,
> I emphasize the generic nature of SWE (or SEAE, or whatever).  I have found
> the monodialectic part the hardest to tackle, because these students need
> first to learn about levels of language.  Stylistically, monodialectic
> students write like they talk,

There are at least 5 good solid avenues of study right here in the middle
of your sentence! I wish I didn't have this annoying job that prevents me
from spending my life doing research on how to do my job (which I

 not having any useful conception of
> "formality" in language.  True "second language" students (at least
> bilingual and, thus, at least bidialectic) students, on the other hand,
> already understand distinctions in levels of language--a fact evidenced by
> their peculiar fascination with dirty words/impolite speech.  I think you
> are right in wanting to extract "-dialectic" from "-lingual."  Exactly how
> one would do that, though, I won't hazard.

I guess educating the educators is the answer, but that calls to mind the
god-awful flap about Ebonics. NO one seemed to get it that the kids didn't
need to be taught it -- nobody needed to be taught it -- the instructors
needed to understand and acknowledge it, and then go on to teach the
academic dialect the kids needed for success in school.

At UH-Downtown we've devised the term "developing writers" to describe
students in the pre-Freshman comp courses who needed more help than their
classroom instructors could give them and hence were to work in the
Writing Lab with tutors. The rubric is less than ideal, of course, since
there is no such critter as a writer who's skills are perfected, but I'm
glad to see anything that works at redefining the group. The designation
has been used most often for "ESL" students but gradually other students
are filtering into the group. We're no more sensitive to multi-dialectal
issues, but we may be addressing the students' writing needs a little

Have you noticed that the writing problems attributed to ESL students and
addressed in the ESL sections of grammar books are also common to L1
students?  The missing articles, inventive verb tenses that wander
between passive voice and past and present participles, scrambled
sentences in which the noun in the complement turns into a subject for a
new clause -- I've done quick little surveys with my tutors-in-training,
asking them to classify the papers "ESL" and "non-ESL" based on the type
of errors they find -- and they are never even 50% accurate in their

I haven't written a "Part 2" to my first post because that's the one in
which I wanted to talk about how and what to teach multi-dialectic, and
frankly, I wasn't sure more than a few of us knew what I was talking
about. Maybe this exchange will draw a little more discussion.

This stuff is *real* hard to talk about. We're in uncharted territory and
must redefine things that most teachers think is already all squared away.
I understand fully why other lrnasst-listers would hit the "d" key.  But,
if anyone would like to participate in a little consciousness-raising, I
think the benefits would be very, very great.

Best wishes --


Margaret Clark
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