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Editing the work of English language learners in higher education

By Summer Cowley

Two laptops open side by side facing right. Stack of papers in between them. A set of hands holding a pen pointing at the papers while another hand (belonging to another person) is also holding a pen pointed at the stack of papers. Image implies one person teaching or reviewing material with another person.

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

As classes in universities and colleges move forward, we ought to consider the process of editing the writing of post-secondary students. For me, this has largely meant checking the work of English language learners (ELLs). In my work as a writing centre tutor and as an English as a second language (ESL) instructor at four higher education institutions in Canada, I have noted two common pieces of advice given by instructors to ESL students and three higher-level concerns that editors might consider. ELLs are generally advised to use spelling and grammar software and to have their written work proofread by native English (L1) speakers/writers. For editors, a few higher-level questions may arise concerning the development of a writer’s voice, the question of how much editing is too much, and how editing for ELLs requires an approach different from editing for other groups. Below, I discuss how we might approach these issues when working with ELLs at post-secondary institutions.

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Video: Watch Dr. Sandra Folk discussing editing English in a multilingual environment at our October meeting

At the October 2015 meeting of Editors Canada’s Toronto branch, Dr. Sandra Folk from The Language Lab spoke with editors about some of the challenges non-native English speakers might have in their written communication and how editors can provide guidance tactfully and helpfully.

About Dr. Sandra Folk—Sandra is founder and president of The Language Lab, an organization specializing in improving and refining the communication skills of business executives and employees who come from a cross-section of national and international industries, including commercial real estate, finance, construction, investment, pension and trust funds, and accounting, as well as government.

Video: Watch Katharine O’Moore-Klopf discussing medical editing at our October meeting

At the October 2014 meeting of EAC’s Toronto branch, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, a medical editor with a specialty in editing manuscripts written by authors whose first language is not English, spoke with editors (via Google Hangouts) about the opportunities and challenges within this field.