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Working with International and MLLs

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Who are MLLs?

MLL stands for Multilingual Language Learner. MLLs include international students and resident students whose native or familial language is other than English. Similar terms include ESL, ELL (English Language Learner), NNES (Non-native English Speaker), and L2 (learners studying in a target second language).

What services do OCTs provide for MLLs?

OCTs provide tutoring for specific speaking assignments and situations: e.g., working on a presentation, practicing how to answer interview questions.

Being a conversation partner is outside the role of the OCT. There are other programs available for conversation practice (click on "Printable Resources for MLLs at Stanford" below). If an MLL walks into your session wanting this kind of support, you can say:

“Normally we don’t provide conversation practice during our one-to-one tutoring sessions. There are programs on campus I can refer you to for that (give handout). However, is there a particular conversation you had recently that you’re concerned about? Perhaps I can offer some ideas and communication strategies to help you in those types of situations.”

The client could describe a recent interaction (e.g., a meeting with a faculty member, a group discussion, or informal conversation). The OCT could then help the client reflect on what their difficulty was, what they hoped to gain from the conversation, the result of the conversation, and what they wish could have happened. The OCT can then proceed to offer suggestions and have the client practice different responses.

Being a pronunciation coach is also beyond the role of an OCT. However, the OCT may address specific pronunciation issues that keep recurring in the presentation and impede listener comprehension. (See next section for ideas on how to do this.) Work with the client as you feel comfortable. You can always refer them to Tom Freeland ( for more assistance.

5 Strategies to Support the Multilingual Learner

Second language anxiety is a major concern for MLL's. The higher the anxiety, the less likely they are willing to initiate communication in the classroom, thereby hindering their academic success. Giving oral presentations is among the top three most anxiety-provoking situations for MLL's.  Here are some things OCTs can do for MLL's to build their speaking confidence and lower anxiety: 

  1. Give a lot of verbal and nonverbal assurance. Be warm, friendly and supportive. Be aware of your own body language and facial expressions to convey your supportive role. Affirm their abilities.  
  2. Be an active listener. Tell them what you’re hearing, what you are receiving, what’s clear. Show interest in what they're talking about. Ask specific questions to help them develop their ideas. 
  3. Recognize the MLL’s linguistic and cultural assets.  Acknowledge just how impressive it is that these students are here, studying in a second language. Encourage the students to talk about their experiences and their home countries in their presentations. 
  4. Focus on global vs. local errors. Global errors are those that affect overall comprehension. Local errors are those that are present but do not impede your understanding of what is being said.  It is common for MLL's to be worried about grammar and pronunciation.  You may need to gently shift their focus away from the form of language to the function (purpose/intention). Reassure them the audience understands they are speaking in a second language, and does not count micro-linguistic errors against them. Make comprehension and clarity of communication the priority—rather than “accent-free” speech or flawless grammar.  
  5. Encourage risk taking. If you notice the student is reading off a script, ask them to try their introduction without their notes, or deliver a segment of their talk without their notes. This can build the MLL's competence and confidence in more conversational delivery. 

Printable Resources for MLLs at Stanford


Docan-Morgan & Schmidt, T. (2012). Reducing PSA for native and non-native English speakers: The value of systematic desensitization, cognitive restructuring, and skills training. Cross-Cultural Communication, 8(5), 16-19. 

Lahuerta, A. C. (2014). Factors affecting willingness to communicate in a Spanish university context. International Journal of English Studies, 14(2), 39-55. 

Woodrow, L. (2006). Anxiety and speaking English as a second language. RELC, 37 (3), 308-328.