The International Writing Accent
As we increase the numbers of international students and faculty on our campus nationwide, we are all becoming accustomed to hearing different accents. Some are more difficult that others to absorb. Conversations can feel very cosmopolitan and positively ‘New York’- like when there are multiple accents lending their weight.
Faculty may forget that if there are a dozen international students, talking with accents, in the class, those students will also exhibit a writing accent. Writing accents are present for native English speaking internationals as well as non-native English speaking. It seems our tolerance for a verbal accent is high while our tolerance for a writing accent is low. Faculty expect perfect English production in a written paper, however, they will quite enjoy a foreign accent conversation.
The writing accent is different across continents, countries and even regional dialects. Some dialects of India do not differentiate between continuous present tense (I am going) and the simple present tense (I go). Therefore, a common mistake with Indian student writers is the tendency to over use the simple present tense (I am knowing the answer). They may write many examples of English that are grammatically correct for their region or country, but that are not quite eloquent for those reading. Does this mean that the student deserves a mark down in their grade because their writing accent is stronger than others?
Another example of writing accents is the use of the auxiliary verbs in English? In some languages there is no auxiliary verb to ask questions. For example the question “Do you have a brother?” will most often be phrased “You have a brother”? The international student may avoid forming the question completely with auxiliary verbs because they are not used to phrasing it that way and it is just not spoken like that in their native language. Therefore, their writing may be less formal and exhibit very little or no use of the subjunctive tense in English, when it is very clearly called for. International students may use very little formal English in their writing even if they are from a native English speaking country.
So, how does a faculty member deal with this issue? One possible solution is to have a rubric that is dedicated to the international writer and includes a grade adjustment for writing accent. There are faculty who have no tolerance for writing accents or adjustment of rubrics, but I would urge them to reconsider this stance. When an international student arrives and starts their first semester, it is to be expected that their writing accent will be strong. With guidance and practice, the accent should lessen over time, similar to the verbal accent, and the student should become familiar with the writing expectations of the American school system.