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Language support service for international students launches

21 November 2012

UCL Union (UCLU) has launched a service offering Writing and Language Support (WALS) to students whose native language is not English. Using peer tutors, WALS aims to assist international students with their academic writing and speaking.

UCL students working together

Students who would like advice on their academic writing can submit an essay of up to 1,500 words and then meet a peer tutor who will give feedback on their work. This discussion will focus only on the language, not on the content of essays.

Diana Hawk, UCLU’s Representations and Campaigns Coordinator (Postgraduate and International), explains: “Peer tutors aren’t there simply to correct mistakes but rather to point them out, talk through them and help the students to become better editors of their own papers.”

Students seeking help with oral presentations will receive feedback on their fluency and pronunciation.

The scheme was devised following an NUS audit which examined the support for international students within the union and the university itself. Diana says, “While the Language Centre offers great paid-for courses, there was nowhere for students to go for less formal support.

“Following discussions with the Language Centre, Michael Worton [Vice-Provost (International)], Anthony Smith [Vice-Provost (Education)] and Ruth Siddall [Dean of Students (Welfare)], we decided to set this up as a pilot scheme.”

The use of student tutors rather than staff members for language support is an important aspect of WALS. All feedback is given in face-to-face meetings by other UCL students. (To avoid students becoming overly dependent on WALS, they are limited to two 20-minute appointments per term.)

“From the Students’ Union’s point of view, we really value peer-to-peer support,” says Diana. “It can be quite nerve-wracking for international students to speak in front of their coursemates and teachers, and to be able to get feedback on their speech from a neutral peer is really useful. The two peer tutors we have are very well-suited to their roles as they both have experience of teaching English as a second language.”

Another benefit Diana hopes the scheme will bring is the reduction in students using unregulated essay-proofing services.

Getting the word out that WALS exists is vital to its success. “We’re using Facebook and have asked each department’s student rep to forward the link around, but we’d also like academic staff to refer students to the service if they notice that they’re struggling with their English.”

  • To learn more about WALS or sign up for an appointment, visit the WALS Moodle page

WALS is not available to postgraduate research students, Language Centre students or final-year undergraduates (except those who are here as affiliates).

By Ele Cooper

Page last modified on 21 nov 12 12:00

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