Skip to Content

College of Arts & Sciences
First-Year English

Non-Native Speakers

Signing Up for Courses

 The learning objectives are the same for every section of each First-Year English course, but different professors teach English 101 and 102 differently.  In English 101, some instructors focus on American literature and poetry, others focus on current issues, and others teach longer, more difficult essays written by prominent philosophers and influential figures.  The textbook Beyond Words is more accessible to non-native speakers of English than other textbook options for English 101 because it is not based on American literature and the readings are shorter.  Call the First-Year English office for a list of course sections that use this textbook. 

English 102 focuses on engaging in independent research and constructing well-reasoned arguments.  Instructors of this course are typically comfortable with students choosing topics that are relevant to their backgrounds and interests.  You may wish to choose a research topic that is pertinent in your own country.  By choosing this kind of topic, you will be able to better understand the full impact of the issue you are researching from your culture's perspective.  This will help you to understand the motivations behind the claims articulated in the source materials you choose, which is a key component of the course.  Doing this kind of work with respect to American issues can be difficult without having lived your entire life in the USA.  Discuss this possibility with your instructor early in the course.  While your research should all be from sources written in English, you can look at these projects as opportunities to inform your class about your country and how current issues pertain to your cultural context. 

Writing Center Workshop Series

The Writing Center is an excellent resource for non-native speakers of English.  The tutors can help you to plan and revise your papers effectively.  Many students have commented that the tutors at the Writing Center are so helpful that no non-native speaker should feel lost when they begin to write or revise their papers. All USC students may make weekly appointments at the Writing Center to work on writing assignments.  This is a free service.

The Writing Center also offers a series of free writing workshops each semester.  These workshops are designed to help you to succeed with the writing assignments you complete in your First Year English courses.  See the Writing Center website for a full list:

American Classroom Culture

Americans are punctual, individualistic and informal. This is reflected in teachers' expectations in the classroom. 

First Year English courses (English 101 and 102) have a strict attendance policy. You must come to class regularly and you must be on time in order to pass these classes.

Students are expected to learn from each other by engaging in discussion, independent research and critical thinking.  Though in many courses you will take, professors are looking for one answer to a question, instructors of First Year English are looking to see that you have thought deeply about the texts you read and have strong evidence to back up the claims you make.  There are many possible right answers to a question; your grade will depend on how well you explain and support your point and how deeply you thought about the question you are answering.

American culture is individualistic and autonomous, and this results in some unique expectations. It is the student's responsibility to fulfill the assignments, do the readings and come to class on time; assignments are listed in your course syllabus, but they are also subject to change.  The instructor informs the class orally of this kind of change, so be sure to ask for clarification if you need to.  Similarly, because American culture values autonomy, you should let your instructor know if you do not understand something.  If you are having difficulty and do not let your teacher know, he or she will assume that you understand (or that you do not care to understand).  Either way, keeping quiet does not pay off in such situations.  Keeping silent can be detrimental in other ways, as well.  Instructors expect students to take initiative during class discussions; participation is often a component of your course grade.

You may be surprised to see your instructor talking casually to the class or sitting on the desk.  These practices are common in American classrooms, and should not be misunderstood. Doing these things does not mean that the instructor does not take the class seriously.  It also doesn't mean that your grade will depend on how well you get along with your instructor.  Informal, congenial instructors are no less demanding than formal, distant instructors.  English101 and 102 are demanding courses, and you will be expected to put great care into all of your assignments.

Communicating with Professors and Writing Center Tutors

All USC students can have weekly appointments at the Writing Center if they so choose.  However, be aware that the tutors you will meet in the Writing Center are there to help you to edit your work yourself.  They will teach you methods of revising and will provide great advice and guidance, but they will not revise your essay for you.  Writing Center tutors are highly experienced teachers and are there to help you.  You should give the same amount of respect to Writing Center tutors as you give to your own course instructors.

Be sure to ask about assignments and written feedback if you do not understand something.  Your instructors will assume that you understand if you do not state otherwise.  Find out where and when your instructor has office hours early in the semester so that you will be able to ask questions when you need to.

Academic Conventions

In the United States, plagiarism is a serious offense.  Plagiarism includes any of the following:

  1. Failing to quote information from an outside source and provide an in-text citation
  2. Failing to cite information that you paraphrase or summarize from an outside source
  3. Submitting an assignment as your own that you did not complete.

Although these cases may seem very different, all of them are considered by the university to be a violation of academic integrity.  Violations of this kind are a crime, and could result in probation or expulsion from USC.  See the Office of Academic Integrity for more details about this.

If you come from a country that does not share these academic conventions, it can be difficult to get in the habit of following them.  To be sure that you have cited all of your researched material correctly, ask your professor if he or she would be willing to provide you with a Safe Assign report for your paper if you submit it a day or two early.  This report shows the quoted information in your essay and the sources from which the information was drawn.