Writing Feedback for Multilingual Learners

Focus on Patterns and Priorities

When providing written feedback to students, what kinds of feedback are most helpful? When might it be appropriate to prioritize certain kinds of feedback over others, especially when considering students whose first or strongest language is not English?

Research in second-language writing shows that extensive or comprehensive grammar corrections on the instructor’s part do not necessarily lead to language improvement on the student’s part, and that the process of learning to write in another language is gradual and reinforced over time in multiple learning environments (Bitchener, 2012; Ferris, 2011; Truscott, 1999).

For the sake of maintaining healthy expectations for yourself and your students, consider the following strategies.


  • Focus on the big picture: remind yourself of what the learning objectives are for the assignment. If grammatical accuracy is not one of the primary goals, consider giving sentence-level feedback in another assignment instead.
  • Prioritize feedback to errors that interfere with comprehension or are especially frequent. Instructors who want to offer feedback on sentence-level errors can focus their attention or errors that are both “serious” and “treatable” (Ferris, 2011). Treatable errors, such as verb tense, are rule-based and can therefore be more easily identified and taught. This is in contrast to errors like capitalization, which will not interfere with comprehension, or errors of prepositions, which often do not reflect a rule.
  • Provide feedback on just a few error types throughout the paper or all errors in a small section of the paper. This will save you time while also providing more targeted feedback for the learner.


Bitchener, J. (2012). Written corrective feedback for L2 Development: Current Knowledge and Future Research. TESOL Quarterly, 46(4), 855-860.

Ferris, D. (2011). The treatment of error in second language student writing. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Truscott, J. (1999). The case for “The Case Against Grammar Correction in L2 Writing Classes”: A response to Ferris. Journal of Second Language Writing, 8, 111-122.