I had the opportunity to do some Writing Center tutoring when I studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary during the fall 2014 semester. At first, I was a little skeptical since I knew a lot of the students were non-native English speakers, but I took it as an opportunity to put my training and experience to the test in order to help other students improve their writing. I was also given the opportunity to be one of the head editors of the McDaniel Messenger, the school’s online newspaper, since I have previous newspaper editing experience. Additionally, I took Editing & Desktop Publishing, where we edited articles in class, so my prior experiences definitely helped out there.
No matter what I was editing, I always tried to make it a collaborative experience. If I was editing an article, I didn’t want to just make the changes without explaining them to the writer. Since some of them were still learning English, I wanted to help out in any way that I could, even if it meant explaining why a comma went here instead of there.
There was one student in particular who needed general help in English. This student was preparing for the TEOFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language), which the student had been unable to pass previously. The first time we met, the student did not have a prompt, and this made it more difficult to give feedback on the assignment. After going over what we could, we just ended up having a conversation about various topics, which the student said is always helpful when practicing English. The second time we met, the student had a draft of the paper with comments from the professor, so that time it was like a normal Writing Center appointment. We worked on sentence structure and word choice, and I explained some of the suggestions the professor made. By the time we finished, I could tell there was a significant improvement compared to the original draft.
It was definitely a different experience without the resources of the Writing Center. I didn’t always have my Writer’s Reference book with me, but thankfully I had my laptop, so I was able to look up rules I was unsure about. Since this student was not a native English speaker, I had to play the teacher role and make sure the student understood the changes I suggested for the paper. At times, that was unsettling because I didn’t have the handy dandy grammar posters of the Writing Center to reference. I felt like I was, for lack of a better term, BS’ing the reasons for making those changes. It was difficult teaching the rules of my first language, the things that come naturally to me, to a non-native speaker. How do I explain why commas are put after phrases such as “In addition” or “As a result” when it’s something I’ve always done? It was easier to explain the reasoning behind word changes since it was normally because the definition matched better than the previously chosen word. I wanted to sound as credible as possible, and that was challenging at times. I gained a new respect for English teachers who have to teach non-native speakers. I don’t encounter many NNS on McDaniel’s main campus, so to be practically surrounded by students whose second or third language is English was somewhat intimidating.
In Editing & Desktop Publishing, we often edited articles in pairs first and then discussed it as a class. I looked for correct grammar, idea clarity, AP format, and journalistic structure. Often, I explained the changes that needed to be made in order to improve the articles so my classmates would be able to keep an eye out for similar issues in the future, as well as keep them in mind when they wrote their own articles. My professor sometimes asked me about the different grammar rules in front of the entire class, and once again, I tried to sound as educated and credible as I could without making a fool of myself. The whole class knew I had journalism and Writing Center experience, and I wanted to prove that. As I said before, explaining my native language was difficult, but I’m glad I took the challenge because it made me more confident as a Writing Center tutor and an editor.
Overall, working with the students in Budapest was a rewarding experience. I was able to see a spectrum of English-speaking and writing skills, and it reminded me of why I love being a Writing Center tutor.
–Kelsey, peer tutor
PS- We offer online tutoring for our students overseas, and after my experience, I’d be happy to work with any of them!