Research Paper


The Two Sides of the Coin:

ESL from Two Different Perspectives

Giselle Sangolqui-Bolanos



The purpose of teachers is to be able to reach every student’s necessities in class and also give the students the resources that they need in order to be successful in in future courses. With this research I intend to not only look at the teacher’s teaching strategies, but also at the student’s opinion on what an ESL (English as a Second Language) Writing class in the University of California Davis. The purpose of this research is to present the reader with two different perspectives about an ESL (English as a Second Language) class. By looking at the perspectives of a teacher and a student from an ESL class in order to discover if students are getting the resources that they need and if this matches with what teachers believe the necessities of students are.


ESL Background Information

What is an ESL writing class?

An ESL class is aimed for nonnative English speakers so that they can learn the basic writing skills needed succeed in college courses.

Who is considered an ESL student?

A student who ‘s main language is not English and needs help improving his/her basic writing skills.

What does an ESL writing class at UC Davis have to offer to a student?

ESL writing programs aim to improve the students’ ability of English. ESL classes’ goal is to teach students according to their English abilities, interests, and needs. This programs focus on grammar, vocabulary, writing and how to argue and analyze. (“What is ESL?”)

What are the benefits from an ESL class?

The main benefit of ESL writing classes in UC Davis is the size of the class. There is only a certain amount of people that can take the class and because of this, students have the chance to get more help from teachers. Another benefit from an ESL class is that it prepares students to the basic writing skills that instructors in other classes already expect from the student. Lastly, the fact that ESL writing courses not only teach students the academic side of writing, but also the cultural side that students are expected to know and understand in future classes.



In order to understand the teachers and the students’ perspectives of the class I interview an ESL professor, Agnes Stark, who has been teaching ESL for almost six years, as well as two students who already completed the ESL class. Before starting with the interview I explained each of the participants about the research I’m developing and also asked for permission to be recorded so that their interviews could be specific. Since there is a variety of students with different linguistics and cultural backgrounds, I focused on students who’s first language was Spanish.

Professor Stark was asked open ended questions about her teaching goals, methods, and resources in an ESL writing class:

  • What is your goal when teaching an ESL writing class?
  • What do you expect students to take from your class and do you think they can use what they learn in ESL in different classes?
  • What are some resources that you expect to implement in your class?
  • Do you believe that you are able to reach every student’s level of writing skills when teaching you class?

The two students that were interviewed where asked the same set of questions, and when asked for permission to use their real names they refused so they will be referred as Student 1 and Student 2. Student 1 moved to the United States during high school and Student 2 moved to the United States when she was in middle school. They were also asked open ended questions in order to get their point of view on the ESL class:

  • What do you think is the goal of an ESL writing class and what do you think it focuses mostly on?
  • When you were placed in an ESL college writing class did you believe that you needed the class or it was just a requirement that you had to complete?
  • Do you think that taking an ESL class will be of an advantage when you take more advance courses in the future?
  • Do you believe that writing is an important priority in you major?
  • Do you believe that you discovered something important about your own writing while taking the class?
  • What do you think was missing when you took your ESL class?

The main purpose of these interviews where to see what exactly was in the participants’ mind, and the questions also tried to have a direct and specific wording so that it didn’t influence the participants’ answers. Three participants had an interview each of approximately thirty minutes which they used to express exactly what their thoughts were on the ESL writing class. For my research interviews were the best resource to use because I go to hear directly from my participants and also have more open ended questions instead of YES/NO answers. I revised the data at the end when I already had all my interviews completed, and I compared them them at the end. The results are shown in the section below:



For the data I have divided the information from the interviews in several topics so that it is easier to see the similarities and differences between the participants’ answers.

What is the goal of an ESL class?

Professor Stark explained that there are two things that ESL teachers aim to accomplish. She said that “one is trying to get the students up to date with the writing conventions” which means to prepare the students for the expectations when writing in college. She also explains that there are a lot of expectations referring to thesis, evidence and sources, that foreign students don’t know about and that native English students are trained to do since they are kids. Professor Stark also says that “teachers understand why you [students] don’t know how to do that, and other cultures don’t put emphasis in English writing conventions” so in the ESL class teachers are trying to teach students what they are expected to know. The second aspect is the language, this means grammar. Professor Stark explains that “we [the teachers] don’t want to prioritize grammar but is something that is expected from other professors” so ESL professors “at least want to give students the tools to identify grammar patters to correct it.”

Student 1 explained that he believed the goal of the ESL class was to “teach us how to write good for a class in college.” He also explained that this class for him was mostly focused in grammar, which he didn’t enjoy that much. Student 2 had a similar point of view because she said that “the goal of an ESL class is to teach you how to write properly for college, and understand the basics of writing.”

 How helpful is the ESL class for students?

Professor Stark explains that ESL writing classes aim to prepare students for future classes by “trying to empower students with writing knowledge but it’s a process to use the language.” She also explains that other professors put a lot of emphasis in grammar, but that they should also “appreciate ideas and content” from the students.

Student 1 explained that he was disappointed when he didn’t pass the writing exam and he had to take the ESL class. HE said that “at the moment I didn’t really think I was going to need so much writing in college because I’m a BioChem major so when I took the class it was certainly an obligation, something I just had to take so that I can complete my requirement.” He did say at the end that he wished he took more advantage of the class because he actually got the opportunity to use some research tips from the class, but when taking the class he was more concentrated in his Math and Science classes. Student 2 said that she did learn wrong patterns in her writing that she was able to correct with the help of the ESL class. She also says: “The general writing structure of my papers were wrong because I grew up with my parents helping me in my writing assignments. They both went to college in El Salvador, so their writing conventions were influencing my writing and through ESL I got to learn the basics for writing in college.”

 The use of resources and future suggestions

Some resources that Professor Stark said she uses in class are “any resource that they [the students] can find to read are good resources.” She also mentioned course readers, resources to expand vocabulary, dictionaries, internet, and peer workshops.

Student 1 and 2 were asked what resources they would want to see in future ESL classes and they both said that they would want resources like videos or pictures. Student 2 added that she understands the importance of writing, but she would want “tips on how to be able to manage different classes and learn how to be able to write papers with the expectations of different professors.”


Personal opinion

My native country is Ecuador and I grew up speaking Spanish. When I moved to the United States I experienced culture shock because of the different life style and also the different language. In college I was required to take an ESL writing class My first year in High School I had to take an ESL class. In this class I remember having some assignments that dealt mostly with grammar. We put most of our time learning new vocabulary and also learning the rules of English. One aspect that I thought wasn’t that good was the fact that every student of every level was in the same class. I was a student who didn’t really know any English, and I was paired with students who have been there for years. Also another thing to consider is the amount of time that students take to actually learn English, since some students are in those classes for a long time. I would want to know if students consider ESL classes helpful, or they just do it because they were placed in it.


Results and Discussion

After researching about the general goal of an ESL writing class and interviewing a Professor teaching an ESL writing class in the University of California Davis and also two students that have completed the ESL class I have learned a lot about the basic goal of the class, what students were expecting while taking the class, and also how there is a lot more behind teaching and learning the basic expectations in an ESL class.

What I learned from the students is that they do know that ESL’s goal is to teach the basic writing strategies to be successful in future classes. According to their interviews they believe that most of the class focuses on grammar, and not development of the content or ideas. According to Professor Stark ESL teachers do try to shift from grammar, but it is still an important aspect of the writing process.

Another important aspect of ESL is the fact that both of the students I interviewed said that the class was a requirement they had to get over with, and they both wanted to focus more on their major classes instead of the ESL course. After taking the class they do end up using some strategies that they learned in class, but during the class they don’t see it as a class they could use in the future. When asked what students would like to see in class, they responded that they would want to see more strategies to deal with the different types of essays that professors assign in class.

Lastly, I just wanted to add some words that Professor Stark told me at the end of our interview. She said that most students who are placed in an ESL class believe that it is a bad thing because they believe that they are not good enough and they often feel disappointed. On the other hand, teachers believe that students in ESL classes are amazing because they are at highest level of education in two different languages. Professor Stark said: “ESL students bring so much to our culture, hopefully they bring so much more to our university because we need new perspectives.” I completely agree with her because with every new student that comes from another place in the world, UC Davis is able to obtain a broader set of ideas that sometimes we don’t even know about.


Works Cited

What Is ESL? DISCO International, Inc., 21 Apr. 2016. Web. 30 May 2016. <;.

Stark, Agnes. Personal Interview. 24 May 2016.

“Student 1.” Personal Interview. 22 May 2016.

“Student 2.” Personal Interview. 20 May 2016