Writing 240: Academic Communication for Multilingual Students

In the year since Sweetland took responsibility for supporting multilingual undergraduate students several new offerings have been developed. The section below describes them, and includes students’ views, as well.

The first brave volunteer steps gingerly onto the brightly lit stage, takes his place before a festive blue and gold bouquet, looks with obvious trepidation into the dark cavern of Rackham Auditorium, adjusts his glasses, unfolds his notes, and proclaims with waxing authority and confidence a passage from one of the speeches of American President John F. Kennedy. As the last echoes fade, the audience pauses in appreciative silence, then bursts into the warm and well deserved round of applause that prompts the speaker to take a bow. With a smile of relief and pride, the student steps off the stage and resumes his seat to enjoy the proclamations, improv comedy, and songs of his fellow classmates, each of whom performs boldly in a foreign language.

What is this foreign language and who are these talented U-M students who are courageous enough to get up and perform on the big stage at Rackham Auditorium? The language is English, and the class is Writing 240: Academic Communication for Multilingual Students. In this one-credit course, students explore the rhetorical structure of American academic lectures as well as the cultural and linguistic expectations of discussion-based university classes, so that they may become more skillful listeners, speakers, and note-takers in their second language. Along the way, they develop confidence in speaking through participation in activities that focus attention on linguistic concepts such as stress, timing, vowel quality, and the mechanics of both vocal production and vocal projection.


When not delivering speeches on either the big stage or in the classroom, students in Writing 240 spend a good deal of time both discussing and writing about the qualities of effective academic oral communication. Lecture analysis reports prompt students to think, for example, about the importance of providing one’s listeners with a clear thesis statement, a roadmap, and appropriate transitions. Reflective essays help students set realistic long- and short-term speaking and listening goals. Interviews with peers who use English as their first language provide, perhaps, one of the most important learning and confidence-building activities of the class. That is, through interviewing others about their listening, note-taking, and classroom participation strategies, students come to realize that these elements of academic life must be learned and practiced by all students, not just those who call English their second language!

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