Understand Why ESL Students Plagiarize to Help Prevent Plagiarism

How to Prevent Plagiarism in the classroom

English as a second language (ESL) students tend to plagiarize, intentionally or unintentionally, when completing writing assignments. If teachers don’t understand why they do, preventing plagiarism is nearly impossible. Here are three causes of plagiarism and selected strategies for reducing it.

Reasons ESL Students Plagiarize

In “ESL Academic Writing and Plagiarism,” Lisa R. Wilkinson draws from her teaching experience to state reasons ESL students plagiarize. One is fear of making mistakes. American academic writing is much harder than personal writing, which ESL students may do well. They may have gathered from previous English classes that the more like their textbook or teacher their writing sounds, the higher its grade, which makes them rely too heavily on text from sources when writing. Reading model essays might not help them understand how to complete the assignment because they don’t read at the same level that native English speakers do. The stakes are high for international students, who pay much money to study in America and who may face deportation if they fail classes. Students from immigrant families may strongly desire to please their families, knowing that their parents made great sacrifices to give them the chance to study in America.

Another reason Wilkinson explains is the ability to memorize large portions of text without understanding it. ESL students may be unable to summarize portions of text because they don’t understand what they’re saying, so it becomes all too easy to simply copy them word for word. A third reason, especially for students from collectivist cultures, is that their culture discourages completely independent thinking and thus, original ideas. These students may rely on sources heavily because they lack experience in writing about their own opinions and may believe that writing something besides what credible sources say is discouraged. Changing this belief takes more than one or two semesters in American schools.

Strategies for Reducing Plagiarism

To address these reasons, teachers must be encouraging, must seek to understand how students’ cultures influence their ideas of what makes writing good, and must stress the value of learning from mistakes. When picking model essays for students, pick ones with imperfect grammar yet original ideas to show that when grading, you’re more concerned about content than grammar. Assign graded in-class writing to force students to write without accessing sources. Devote much classroom time to teaching how to summarize, paraphrase, and cite. Wilkinson also encourages requiring students to use a plagiarism prevention website, such as www.turnitin.com, which shows students how original the papers they submit are.

Culture and psychology contribute to ESL students’ tendency to plagiarize. Teachers must be encouraging and understanding to prevent this problem. Preventing plagiarism is difficult, but so is writing in academic English.

Work Cited: Wilkinson, Lisa R. “ESL Academic Writing and Plagiarism.” The Internet TESL Journal 14.7 (July 2008): n. pag. Web. 1 November 2013.


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