Academic First Year Experiences

Multilingual Writers: A Resource Guide for CSUN Faculty and Staff

"Multilingual Writers"

Multilingual writers constitute a large and growing segment of CSUN's student population.  The term includes not only international students (many of whom have a language other than English as their primary language) but also domestic (U.S.) students who frequently know multiple languages. This collection of resources offers some starting points for faculty and staff as they work to support student success for multilingual writers at CSUN.

Events and Initiatives

Join us. We are working on a variety of events and initiatives.

What You Can Do Right Now

If you have multilingual writers in your classes (and most of us do), here are suggestions to help them and all of your students succeed.  Thanks to Sharon Klein (English/Linguistics) and Iswari Pandey (English) for contributing most of these ideas.

  1. Ask (require) students to keep glossaries as they complete assigned reading. Consider asking them to contribute entries to a whole-class glossary (on Moodle) or even a glossary blog.
  2. Teach writing and grammar "on the run": instead of saving up all the issues you want to address for one whole class session, set aside a few minutes during several sessions, and focus on one or two things each time.
  3. Explain key concepts and cultural references slowly and carefully.  The specialized language of your discipline is almost certainly "foreign" to all of your students, including those who are fluent speakers and writers of English.
  4. When you assign writing, discuss the rhetoric of academic writing.  Be explicit about audience, purpose, occasion, task, and style as they pertain to each individual writing assignment you give.
  5. Provide strategic feedback (written comments that prioritize which areas students should work on), and follow through to make sure students understand your feedback.
  6. Pair a struggling writer with a more proficient one (native or non-native English users) for group work.  Monitor their progress; make sure that group work is productive.  More generally: get students to help one another when you can.
  7. Engage students in translation exercises: focus on challenging sentences and paragraphs, especially those including idioms and metaphors.  Let students work individually and in groups (or even in groups by language).
  8. Lead students in an exercise decoding sentences that contain transitional words/expressions (such as "moreover," "nonetheless," "therefore," "since," "while," and "on the other hand").
  9. Remember that the writing challenges of multilingual writers, while readily visible, are often just one part of the context. Your students may be negotiating their way into American culture (as well as the culture of the university)--and they are almost certainly facing a challenge shared with their monolingual peers: reading.  Reading matters. You might feel that you can't teach writing; but you can teach students how to read materials in your discipline. And you can also encourage students to read for pleasure--and to copy over, by hand, a daily sentence or paragraph they especially like.  Doing so may help them develop their grasp of the rhythm and syntax of English. See Reading Matters for more information.

CSUN Resources

Resources at CSUN

CSUN Cross-Cultural Friendship Club: Facebook page for this official CSUN student group. According to the 2013-2014 club vice-president, "The CCFC's mission focuses on building friendships, building community and building leadership among international and local students. At CCFC meetings we have discussions about world cultures, play group activities, have snacks, in general we tend to have a very laid-back friendly atmosphere."  Meets weekly on campus. For more information, see their entry in the CSUN Clubs and Organizations Directory.

Intensive English Program's Online Writing Lab: this resource for students and faculty provides opportunities to practice listening, speaking, reading, writing, grammar, and test prep for IELTS and TOEFL. Access by logging in to Moodle as a guest.

International Student Welcome Video (CC): YouTube video featuring CSUN students and staff (and CSUN President Dianne Harrison), produced by Marta Lopez & Co. at the International & Exchange Student Center.

Learning Resource Center: CSUN's Writing Center at the LRC (Oviatt Library, 3rd floor, East wing) has some consultants with expertise in working with multilingual writers. The  Writing Center also offers workshops on various topics related to writing. For more information: call 818.677.2033 or visit

The Social Science Writing Project was initiated in fall 2014 to "teach, encourage, inspire, and support student writing in the social sciences." The ten weekly sessions already scheduled for spring 2015 include topics such as "Observing Punctuation Rules," led by SSWP founder Dr. Miriam Neirick (History) on Feb. 20, 2015. Sessions vary but many are widely applicable, though none focuses explicitly on multilingual writers.  

Tutoring in the Language Lab: CSUN's Barbara Ann Ward Language Center (JR 316, x3470) offers one-on-one and small group tutoring for a variety of languages, notably including English-ESL (English as a Second Language). The Center is open M-F; call before stopping by as tutoring is currently limited to ten hours/week per language. Funds for tutoring come from a Campus Quality Fee grant.

Working with Multilingual Writers: Some Guidelines (pdf). This list of practical suggestions comes from CSUN English professor Iswari Pandey, who developed it for a campus presentation in January 2015. It includes a link to Writing across Borders, a 30-minute video (currently not captioned, alas) from Oregon State University that focuses on international students in American university settings.

Working with Multilingual Writers: Opportunities, Outcomes, and Strategies (pdf). This one-page handout by Santosh Khadka (English) and Sharon Klein (English & Linguistics) offers talking points and strategies based on the understanding that "Multilingual student writers bring a lot of resources to the class. We should welcome such resources and encourage the play of multiple discourses in the class."  It was originally prepared for the spring 2015 Composition Retreat offered by the English Department at CSUN in January 2015.

Web Resources (Non-CSUN)

Web Resources

  1. “ESL” Resources at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: This website has two major categories: ESL Guides (how-to resources for students) and Language Resources (a very broad collection of places to go to understand words and acquire more of them).  Some of the resources collected here are not self-explanatory (for instance the "Wordandphrase Corpus," though a little research leads to that site's overview and guided tour). But most of them (like "Requesting Feedback on Writing" and "Writing E-mail") are crystal clear. 
  2. "Omniglot: the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages" will let you learn about students’ languages. It will also let them learn about their classmates' (and their own) languages.  In addition, the site has a rich discussion of writing systems: 
  3. "Multilingual Writing” from Montclair State University: 
  4. "Multilingualism," from the Linguistics Society of America's site:
  5. Recommended Resources for students (on grammar, speaking, reading, and more) from the Center for Writing at the U of Michigan, Sweetwater. The recommendations target undergraduate students but would also be useful to grad students and to faculty working with students who are multilingual writers.
  6. Second Language Writers listserv:  SLW_CCCC is an open email discussion list sponsored by the Committee on Second Language Writing at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).  Open to anyone who is interested in second language writing. More info:

What Does "Multilingual" Mean?

What Does "Multilingual" Mean?

Multilingual writers operate in two or more languages.

ESL writers are those acquiring English as a Second Language.  (Some ESL writers are actually acquiring English as a third, fourth, or fifth--or more--language.)

International students are often (but not always) multilingual. According to CSUN's Office of Institutional Research, our campus had 3,506 international students enrolled during fall 2014 (8.7 percent of all students).  That number has more than doubled since 2005 (when we enrolled 1676 international students, or 5.0 percent of all students.) Path for this data: Office of Institutional Research => CSUN by the Numbers => Search by Student Level & Type => Currently Enrolled Students => All Currently Enrolled Students => Race & Ethnicity

Further Reading

Please share your suggestions for additional pieces that might be useful.

  • Anderson, Stephen R. How Many Languages Are There in the World? From the Linguistics Society of America:  "The object of inquiry in linguistics is human language, in particular the extent and limits of diversity in the world's languages. One might suppose, therefore, that linguists would have a clear and reasonably precise notion of how many languages there are in the world. It turns out, however, that there is no such definite count—or at least, no such count that has any status as a scientific finding of modern linguistics."
  • Jimenez, Florianne. Creating Linguistically Inclusive ClassroomsInside Higher Education, 5 Oct 2017. "Instead of penalizing how students' language backgrounds differ from Standard English, we need to ensure that multilingual students don't fall behind." She offers several common-sense suggestions under these main headings: design welcoming discussions; create opportunities to improve; during assessment, stay focused on your class goals; and become familiar with resources for your multilingual students.
  • Redden, Elizabeth. "Strategies for Saudi Student Success." Inside Higher Education, 30 May 2013. Reports on some of the strategies used at Boise State U. to support Saudi student success.
  • Thurman, Judith. "A Loss for Words." Annals of Conservation.  The New Yorker 30 Mar 2015.  32-9. Print. Thurman's essay addresses the question, "Can a dying language be saved?" Her  starting point is Selk'nam, formerly spoken by "a nomadic tribe of unknown origin that settled in Tierra del Fuego," but her discussion wide-ranging.
  • Walvoord, Barbara E. Assessing and Improving Student Writing in College: A Guide for Institutions, General Education, Departments, and Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014. Walvoord's preferred term is "English speakers of other languages." Her book is concise, clear, and useful. She singles out websites at Ontario College of Art and Design in Canada (see their 50-page booklet, Supporting ESL Students at OCAD) and Boise State University ( because they "offer practical advice" (78).