From a Vietnamese writer to an English writer

Being an international student, the greatest barrier that I had to overcome was using the second language in school. To be able to express my ideas and thoughts effectively could be extremely difficult. For me, speaking was not a big issue, as there were many solutions for pronunciation and accent. Writing, on the other hands, was extremely difficult. Grammar and punctuation were not the big issue. It was the difference between Vietnamese writing and English writing. In order to be able to write in English effectively, I had to forget about the Vietnamese writing and think as an English writer.

I started to learn English when I was six years old, and I continued to practice and study English throughout my childhood. Most of what I learnt in English was grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. Writing was not taught very effectively, as teachers primarily focused about grammar and punctuation in our writing. In other words, I would use the Vietnamese style of writing to write a paragraph, and then translated it into English without changing the format. Since I only needed to translate very few sentences, the task was not difficult at all. My translation skill was excellence, so I believed that my writing skill was very solid until college.

When I moved to a college in Virginia, I were required to take different writing courses. One of the classes was the highest level of ESL writing classes that were mandatory before I can take any others classes. The writing class proved that what I learnt about writing in the past was completely incorrect. First, Vietnamese writing was very different from English writing. English writing was prescriptive and logical, while Vietnamese writing was descriptive and figurative. Basically, English writing was about construction and organization ideas in a specific order to directly describe the topic, while Vietnamese writing is about the usage of descriptive words to indirectly describe the topic. Second, a good Vietnamese writing depended on the usage of words to vividly describe the topic and the student’s ability to choose the best words to describe it. In the end, I had to learn English writing from the beginning, because translating words to words was a wrong way to write, because the two languages had difference writing structures.

Taking many difference English writing classes in college really shaped me to become a better writer. One of the first classes, as mention above, was the ESL writing class. The biggest struggle for me in the class was forgetting about what I learnt in the past about writing. For more then ten years, my understanding of writing was translation my writing from Vietnamese to English. It took a lot of time to be able to change the old mindset, especially since I was not used to write using a specific structure and order. It was a struggle to be able to organize all of the ideas and arrange them in a logical way. Also, another challenge was to think as an English writer, not a Vietnamese writer. I had to practice organizing my ideas and putting them into a specific structure. In the ESL writing class, I wrote mostly about narrative because it was the easiest way to organize ideas. The first few assignments were quite difficult, as I ended up writing in Vietnamese style and translated it. After repeatedly rewrote these assignments, I was able to write directly in English style. Being able to write as an English writer definitely was more effective.

Although my writing skills were improving, I still struggled to express my ideas. I often found that my sentences did not clearly express my idea, and my reader had trouble understanding it. So I asked myself if there was there a way to improve my writing. Making an appointment with my writing teacher, I was able to get some useful tips of how to become a better writer. He recommended reading more novels, short stories and news articles. After reading a few books, I see a lot of improvement in my writing. Besides improving my vocabulary pool, reading helped me to think as an English writer by showing how he organized his ideas. Reading also help me visualized the English writing structure better. Being able to understand how writers apply the structure into their writing was better then plainly learning the concepts.

After two years of taking writing classes, I was able to write with a mindset of an English writer. I usually helped my Vietnamese friends in their writing. When I used to live in Virginia, there was one particular friend that I spent a lot of time with her writing. Her biggest struggle was similar to mine because she would write her paper using the Vietnamese writing style. That year was her first year in American, so she had not experienced with many English writings. She said she could write the essay in Vietnamese very effectively and translated it into English without much effort. Because the two writing structure was very different, her papers were completely false. To help her, I explained to her the different between Vietnamese writing and English writing. I also used her old papers and helped her rewrite it correctly. It was a difficult task, because I tried not to influence my writing into her papers. After the first few time, she was able to understand the basic of English writing and slowly forgot about Vietnamese writing. Throughout that semester, she was able to completely ignore the Vietnamese writing style and wrote her papers without any trouble.

The biggest struggle of being an international student was to be able to ignore their native country’s writing style and influences. For me, the process took a lot of time to completely ignore the Vietnamese writing and thinking. But with writing classes, reading and tutoring others writers, my writing skills improved significantly. Now I am able to think as an English writer, instead of being a Vietnamese writer.

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Collaboration in tutoring

According to Bruffee, the purpose of collaborative learning is to give students opportunities to construct knowledge by using their own language to communicate  and construct knowledge (53). In other to understand each others, students must understand each other and have a common knowledge about the topic. To be able to understand each others, communication is the key. After the tutor session in my class, i am able to understand the concept and relate it into the real world.

What is the purpose of collaboration? The main purpose is to remove any higher authority that could potentially affect the writer’s ability to write. By having students look at each other’s writing, each student is able to discuss the discourse in the language of their communication.  Collaboration is important because it lets students expresses their ideas and gets feedback from other students. Because having an higher authority, like teacher, can create pressure to student, it is necessary to put the student in his comfort zone. For example, when i talks about my papers to a classmate, there are less pressure then talking to the teacher. The mentality of getting grades based on the observation of the teacher somewhat affects my writing.

Why do we need collaboration when we write? In “Writing and Collaboration,” Bruffee explains that writer believes that writing is a private act, but in reality writing is to maintain membership in an individual group or invite others to join(54-55). Basically, writer tries to explain his ideas to others based on his individual knowledge and point of view. Because the purpose of writing is to communicate with other people by using language and symbols, there will alway be a group of audience who will response to the writing. When there is an audience, it is important that the audience can understand what the writer is trying to express. For example, at the tutor session in my class, i was the tutor. When i read my classmate’s paper, i was unable to fully understand what he tried to explain. His writing was very clear to him, but for me it was not. By reading his paper, he was able to get the feedback that he needs to adjust his papers.

In order to communicate effectively, both sides, the tutor and the writer, needs to be able to talk about the writer’s writting. First, both sides need to communicate together to help the writer developing his ideas. Then, the tutor gives feedback about the paper without altering the originality, and the writers talks about their writing judgement and topic. For example, when i had a tutor session in class, i was able to discuss about my ideas to the tutor, so he could understand my paper better. The tutor was able to give feedback and suggestion of how to express my ideas clearer.

Collaboration is the most effective way to help writer improving his writing. Because the purpose of writing is to communicate to a specific audience, the writer needs to be able explain his ideas so that the audiences can understand what he wants to communicate. Collaboration helps the writer to develop his ideas and get feedbacks from different audiences in order to improve the paper.

Knowledge and writing.

As a writer, we always have some truth behind our words. This means that we must have a certain knowledge and reality of the topic we write about. However, each person has a different understanding of the knowledge. In this case, a tutor needs to know the way to interpret the writer’s work, based on the writer’s understanding of knowledge.

It is safe to say that there is an absolute truth to everything. The absolute truth is the assumption of the truth, that is universally accepted. In Social Construction ,Language and Knowledge, Bruffee said,”there is no such thing as a universal foundation, ground, framework, or structure of knowledge. There is only an agreement, a consensus arrived at for the time being by communities of knowledgeable peers (777).” This means the knowledge is only true only in a communities. Also, the truth can be understood differently based on a certain point of view, and based on the ability to describe it. For example, there was a challenge that my friends and i played in our group. One person would draw the object based on how the other described. And most of the time the object that we draw was not the same as the real object. In the end, a person understand a reality differently.

As a tutor, it is necessary to know that your understand of the truth is not similar to the writer. The way that the writer describes something will be different then the way the tutor describes. Each writer have a difference use of words, and difference way of constructing sentences and paragraphs. Because of it, the tutor should not correct the way they describe it. If the tutor changes the sentences, then the paragraph loses its originality. Instead, the tutor should focus on the clarity of the paragraphs. The main ideas is to help the writer expresses the message that he/she wants in his own words. And it’s the tutor’s job to help the writer delivers the message with his own originality.

The truth is also constructed together by discussing it together. If the tutor finds it difficult to help the writer, a conversation can help. Sometime the writer feels the need to follow the writing obligations and criteria. These obstacle can create pressure, therefore the writers may not necessary be able to express their idea fullest.  It’s the tutor’s job to focus on the writer, not the writing universe. Both the writer and tutor should understand the truth together, by talking together. When there is a common understanding, the tutor should remove any ruling barrier, to help the writer expresses the ideas better. Rules and obligations can come after, but these rules should not break the originality of the text.

In the end, because knowledge is truly based on a small peers and they can construct these knowledge, the tutor should not feel any obligation to follow the universal knowledge. If the writer could not express their idea, the pressure of writing criteria will not helps. The tutor should help the write achieves clarity in their text first, then follows these writing criteria second.

A Tutor of Writting

For some people. writing is a difficult task. Unlike other subject, it is difficult to tutor someone  to write. And the difficulty of tutor writing is not about structure or grammar error, it is about help the person to express their ideas in writing. So what is the best way to help other to write?

When i was in college in Virginia, i helped my friends with their writing a couple time. For me, writing was fairly easy, but it was not for my friends. Some had a hard time writing a simple essay about “describe an object in the past that has a significant impact to you.” When i asked them what they had in their mind, they answered with nothing. I knew that they knew the format of writing, and they had some ideas and topics of what they were going to write.However, they had a hard time putting their idea into a piece of paper. There were some occasions that they just gave in, told me about the subjects and asked me to write for the. After helping them a couple time, i notices that most of the time they did not know how to express their idea in writing.
After a few times helping my friend, i find that talking and questioning them is the best way to give them a kickstart. It was strange that they could have a whole conversation about the topic that they had to write, but they could not put it into a piece of paper. I told them to just write what we was talking to me and ignore any writing criteria. With this method, they finished a rough draft without much effort. The next step was just helping them with organization and structure, but most of them was able to do it on their own. If i did not have a conversation with my friend, i ended up using my ideas and my way of writing on their papers.  The conversation helped me understand what the writer wanted to write.

After read the article The Ideas Of A Writing Center by Stephen M. North, and The Orality of Language by Walter Ongi found that a conversation is a best start to help a writer to start writing. Stephen explained in his writing that writers preferred to have someone listening to their writing (440). Walter also said that oral language was the basic of communication (8). It was natural for people to express their ideas in speaking rather then writing, because speaking was what we did to communicate with other everyday.To me, by having a conversation about the topic that my friends wanted to write, i was able to help them putting their ideas together without having my ideas into their writing.

The job of the tutor is to help the writer to express his/her own ideas into writing. It is not an easy job, as sometime it is easier for the tutor to write for the writer. Having a conversation is a good way to start. The tutor knows what the writer wants, and the write probably have an easier time express his/her ideas. This methods also allows the writer to write with his/her ideas, not with the tutor’s ideas.