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As an instructor or teaching assistant for a graduate class at a top institution, is it okay to tell students (e.g. in homework feedback) that they need to improve their English? What's the best way to do so without offending or discouraging them?

I'm specifically asking for math/science-based classes where, for instance, students are required to write proofs which involve a lot of "informal" (i.e. using English rather than mathematical notation) proofs and reasoning.

This happens mostly with international students.

  • The problem is that they did not use math notation and they showed a lack of reasoning skill, your proposed solution is to ask the to "improve their English?" How is that going to help? – Penguin_Knight Nov 6 '16 at 0:38
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You may prepare a list of local resources where an international student could improve his or her English language skills. For example

  • campus writing center

  • volunteer language practice pairing service

  • special courses or workshops for English language learners

  • opportunities to improve one's public speaking skills (the focus may not be on English, but this can be incredibly helpful) -- this might be offered in the Business school in your university

  • literacy volunteers program located in your town or city

Once you have your specific list prepared, you might ask your professor to distribute it for you. You can point out in the intro that strong English skills increase one's employability!

In the meantime... set yourself a maximum amount of time per assignment you feel you can afford to spend correcting a student's English, and go ahead and make some corrections. (Think what this will do for your karma!)

If a particular assignment is not gradable due to incomprehensibility, bump it up to the professor.

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