Multilingual essay mills – New article

August 6, 2019

Notos coverMy colleague, Roswita Dressler and I have just had a new paper published. It all started when I was at an academic integrity conference a couple of years back. I was sitting next to a colleague who works in a language other than English (LOTE). The colleague suggested that contract cheating (e.g. essay mills and other forms of outsourced academic work) was a problem of the English-speaking world, asserting that there simply wouldn’t be enough of a market in other languages.

I thought to myself, “Challenge accepted!” I recruited Roswita Dressler to help me undertake a small-scale pilot study. We both have a background in language teaching and between us, we have some level of proficiency in about four languages. We were also curious about the market for academic outsourcing for younger audiences, in elementary, middle and high school.


The questions that guided our project were:

  1. What evidence exists that online providers offer academic work in languages other than English?
  2. To what degree are K-12 students targeted by these online providers?

We framed our study specifically within the Canadian context.

Our results showed that not only do commercial contract cheating companies market to specifically to students in Canada, they target children as young as Grade six (approximately 11-12 years old). And yes, we found strong evidence that contract cheating happens in languages other than English (ten of them, in fact).

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study on contract cheating published in Canada.

The Alberta Teachers Association is the publisher and copyright holder of this article. They have given us permission to post the article in our university’s digital repository. You can access a copy of it free of charge from here:

Eaton, S. E., & Dressler, R. (2019). Multilingual essay mills: Implications for second language teaching and learning. Notos, 14(2), 4-14. Retrieved from


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

Multilingual Essay Mills: Understanding Contract Cheating among Second Language Learners – Workshop

February 1, 2019

U of C logo - 2015As many of you know, I’ve been developing a research program on academic integrity over the past few years. Last year I began collaborating with my friend and colleague, Dr. Roswita Dressler, on a project that brings together our combined expertise in academic integrity and language learning.

It started when I noticed that almost all of the research that I’d seen about contract cheating was focused almost exclusively on services provided in English. That led us to ask ourselves what the market was students of second languages. We undertook a rapid review to help us get a general sense of the landscape. We wrote up the results and they have been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I’ll post about it when the publication comes out later this year.

We are also doing a workshop at the University of Calgary’s Language Research Centre  to help teachers of second languages build their understanding of what the contract cheating industry is and why they need to pay attention.

Workshop description

Contract Cheating_Poster - LRC WorkshopContract cheating happens when students have a third party complete academic work on their behalf. The term was coined by UK researchers Clarke and Lancaster (2006). It includes, but it not limited to essay mills and homework completion services. Suppliers of this form of “black market” academic work exist mainly online. Students can simply upload a digital copy of their assignment instructions to a website, insert a delivery date and pay for the work by credit card. Contract cheating is big business. Owings and Nelson (2014) found the essay mill industry in the United States alone to be valued at a minimum $100 million USD. Estimates show that over 71,000 post-secondary students in Canada buy academic work online (Eaton, 2018). There is growing evidence to suggest that contract cheating is not limited to academic work completed in English, but also in a variety of world languages.

In this workshop, you will learn more about what contract cheating is, how it happens, and how second language learners can order homework tasks, essays and even theses from online providers, customized to the exact instructions of an assignment. We will discuss strategies for prevention and detection, along with an examination of what to do if you suspect a case of contract cheating among your students.

Date and time: Friday, February 15, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Location: Craigie Hall, 4th floor, Room D-420

This workshop is open to the public and is free to attend.


Clarke, R., & Lancaster, T. (2006). Eliminating the successor to plagiarism: Identifying the usage of contract cheating sites. Paper presented at the Second International Plagiarism Conference, Gateshead, United Kingdom.

Eaton, S. E. (2018). Contract cheating: A Canadian perspective.  Retrieved from

Owings, S., & Nelson, J. (2014). The essay industry. Mountain Plains Journal of Business and Economics, 15, 1-21.


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


Spanish for Dentists: 6 Great (and Free!) Resources

February 13, 2013

Teeth - smile - smallI unexpectedly had to go to the dentist this week when a filling broke in half and part of it fell out. During my visit, my dentist was telling me about her plans to take her entire team to Guatemala next year to do some pro bono work in poor communities there.

She asked me if I had any resources on Spanish for dentists. I set off on a bit of a quest. Here are six wonderful, free online resources that I found to help English-speaking dentists and dental hygienists learn the basics so they can communicate with Spanish-speaking patients:

  1. English to Spanish Phrase Guide for Dentists –
  2. PracticingSpanish.Com – Spanish for Dentists –
  3. Spanish for the Dental Office  –
  4.  Spanish Words and Phrases for Dentists –
  5. Spanish Guide of Dental Terminology –
  6. English-Spanish Dictionary of Health Related Terms –


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Is being a language teacher dangerous to your health?

March 13, 2012

Do you work in poor, run-down conditions? Or an old building that’s falling apart?

Amelia’s story

Amelia Labbe Sarah Eaton University of CalgaryWhen I started my Master’s degree in Spanish at the University of Calgary, I heard staff and professors complaining about the air quality and run down conditions in Craigie Hall, the building where the modern language departments are housed. I never really thought about it much, since I head my head buried in my books and I was learning to live in a new city and adjust to the pressures of being a young graduate student.

One of the first people to welcome me into the department was Amelia Labbé. A native of Bolivia, Amelia ran the university’s Centro de Tertulia (Spanish Centre). Officially, Amelia’s job was to provide opportunities for conversation with a native speaker. Unofficially, the Centro de Tertulia became a place where students would gather, socialize in Spanish, help one another with their homework, listen to music in Spanish and sometimes even watch telenovelas.  There was only one rule: When you crossed the threshold in to the Centro, it was Spanish only. No English. No French. Solamente español. It was her one rule and she stuck to it.

Amelia also became a mentor and unofficial advisor to many students who sought her council and words of wisdom, even though it was not part of her job. Officially, the university has designated student advisors and anyone who is not a designated advisor is not supposed to offer guidance to students. But that didn’t stop students from asking her what she thought and seeking her advice. Students trusted her. They could tell that she cared deeply about them… In fact, she cared more about the students than she did about regulations or rules. Over the course of her career, she touched the lives of thousands of students who studied Spanish at the University of Calgary, including mine.

Last fall, Amelia fell ill. She blamed it on the building where she worked, which was known to have asbestos in it. On November 8, 2011, Amelia passed away from pulmonary fibrosis. Along with many of my friends and colleagues, I attended the celebration of her life on November 19.

Faculty and staff complaints about poor air quality are blown off

Since then, twenty years of complaints about the state of the building and questions about its air quality have erupted into a full-scale war. I have gone from being a Master’s student to working in the Language Research Centre, where I now have the privilege of being a Research Associate and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, after finishing my Ph.D.

An informal investigation was held a few years ago when it was determined that an extraordinarily high percentage of the faculty and staff had been diagnosed with cancer. Many of them pointed to their physical working conditions as a factor in their illness. Tests were done. Faculty and staff were told that everything was fine. Sadly, the incidence of cancer diagnosis among language faculty continued. Others were diagnosed with asthma and unknown allergies. No one could prove any correlation between the physical environment and the incidence of illness.

Following Amelia’s passing, some faculty members and staff insisted that a full investigation be conducted. Today, the CBC published, “Teacher’s lung disease death prompts U of C building worries: But officials say Craigie Hall air quality not compromised by asbestos“. The story documents reactions to Amelia’s health issues and subsequent passing, and speculations that her physical work environment were the root cause of her death. Amelia’s husband and my colleague and mentor, Dr. Rachel Schmidt, publicly offered commentary to reports.The university released a statement declaring that “air quality and environment are within the acceptable guidelines“.

Language programs: Between a rock and a hard place

In my Ph.D. research I found that it is not uncommon for language programs at large institutions to be marginalized both politically and in terms of their physical placement on a campus.

Here’s an excerpt from my Ph.D. thesis:

Language programs, because they are not necessarily seen as academic in nature, do not always have a prominent place on campus. While it would be logical for ESL programs to be physically positioned in places that are easily accessible by foreign students who struggle with the language, “many … programs are housed in temporary bungalows, in basements, or on the periphery of our campuses” (Stoller, 1997, p. 40).

This assertion is echoed more recently by Quay Connection (2000, p. 14) whose research shows that “Many providers say their facilities are too run down, too small, impermanent, unattractive.” This speaks to the question of the legitimacy of such programs, which is discussed later on. For now it is enough to note that the physical placement of such programs on a campus is one indicator of how they are viewed by administration (Stoller, 1997). Program managers must often advocate for improved space and facilities for their programs. (Eaton, 2009, pp. 66-67).

My thesis dealt specifically with ESL programs. In the case of one of the programs I studied, it had just recently been relocated to the main floor of the building. Previous to that, it was located on the 14th floor of the building. The very odd thing about that particular building was that the 14th floor was accessible only by taking the elevator to the 13th floor and then taking the stairs up one more floor. So, non-native speakers of English were required to navigate a complex procedure in order to get to the program offices. Even native speakers had trouble figuring out how to get to their offices.

Even though the Department of French, Italian and Spanish has been renovated now, the Department of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian languages is still in need of renovations. Both language departments remain in an unattractive and outdated building with an elevator that is often broken down. The building is known to have asbestos.

A jumping off point

It seems that there is some evidence that shows that language programs are located in physical spaces that are far from ideal. In the work I have done with language programs at high schools, colleges and universities, this seems to be a common complaint… but with little to no research to identify whether or not this is indeed a problem in the field of language teaching. My guess is that large scale studies about the physical marginalization of language programs at institutions have never been done. (If you know of any such studies, please leave a comment!)

Language programs should not be relegated to old, run down buildings or pushed into basements. Language program administration and management includes advocating for programs and courses. As faculty and staff, it is our responsibility to advocate for one another, too. Some recommendations to consider:

  1. Have conversations with colleagues about the physical conditions in which you work. Are they adequate? Does your physical space promote health and well-being?
  2. Advocate for an improved location on your campus. Particularly in the case of ESL programs, students need to be able to find your offices.
  3. Engage in conversations and dialogue with faculty committees and administrators.
  4. If you suspect health issues that are due to your physical environment, keep detailed records and write it all down. Without documentation, it is more difficult to make a case for further investigation.
  5. Draw on support from your faculty association or union, if you have one. These bodies exist to protect workers’ rights, including their health.
  6. Take care of yourself. If  you are suffering ill effects and you believe that your work environment may be a contributing factor, do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy. I have colleagues in Craigie Hall who work as much as possible from home, one now works in another building and another brought in her own air filtration machine for her office. None of these is a perfect solution, but they may help. If nothing else, they give the employees a sense of empowerment, which is essential when you’re fighting cancer, or another life-threatening illness.

I’ve now watched a friend and colleague die and an alarming number of other friends have been diagnosed with cancer or asthma. No one knows for sure what the cause is. They’re all pretty convinced that the building where they work is a factor.

How’s the physical space where your language program is located?


Eaton, S.E. (2009). Marketing of Revenue-generating ESL Programs at the University of Calgary: A qualitative study. Thesis. University of Calgary, Canada.

Quay-Connection. (2000). Marketing ACE in Victoria. Annadale (Australia): Adult, Community and Further Education Board, Melbourne (Australia).

Stoller, F. L. (1997). The catalyst for change and innovation. In M. A. Christison & F. L. Stoller (Eds.), A handbook for language program administrators (pp. 33-48). Burlingame, CA: Alta Book Center Publishers.

Update on this story: On March 21, I was quoted in the Calgary Herald’s article, “Craigie Hall Asbestos Level Normal: Review“. The article was written after the university released a report stating that everything was fine with the air quality in the building. Still though… it is puzzling why so many staff complain of health concerns?


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Would you care for an earthworm with your coffee?: Turning language blunders into powerful teaching stories

January 25, 2012

Let’s face it: Language lessons sometimes involve material that is dry or boring. The reality is, it can be hard to remember facts or information. The rules of grammar? Bo-ring! At least, that is what the average person might think. Adult education guru, Stephen Lieb, tells us that adult learners need content that is relevant and useful in their every day live. What can seem less relevant to every day life of working to paying the bills, raising the kids and trying to have some kind of life. Most people just do not see a connection.

Scenario #1: Teaching with examples

Examples provide a method to make the learning concrete and relevant.

Seasoned teachers will have an arsenal of examples of their own students’ grammar and language mistakes. Examples can also be found on Internet sites such as ESL Prof.

“When I was six, I went to primate school.”

Clearly the speaker intended to say “primary” instead of “primate”. This is a classic example of mixing up words with similar sounds that have completely different meanings.

If you were using this example with EAL adult learners, you might make the connection between  language errors and the real world by linking it to employment. You might say that the implication for an adult EAL learner might be that if he or she were to say this in a job interview, it might cost them the job. Though it is not ethical (or logical) some recruitment officers may make decisions about a prospective employee’s intelligence or competence based on their language skills.

That example would provide a real-world context for why it is important to learn vocabulary very well. You have developed a cogent and logical argument to support your point using an example.

Scenario #2: Teaching through stories

Imagine dipping into your own past, experience and heritage to create a story that illustrates the same point. When teaching native Spanish speakers English, I would tell them about my own struggles with language learning.

Setting the stage and the context

“I was so proud to have a native Spanish speaker visit my home,” I would tell them. “We had agreed to do a language exchange and help each other with our conversation skills.”

Providing key detail

“I prepared coffee and baked home-made oatmeal cookies, my mother’s recipe.”

Deliver the punch line

“I asked my new friend, “¿Desea guisano con su café?

The quick thinkers erupt in laughter. Others will puzzle over the meaning until it clicks that what I meant, instead of “guisano”, was “galleta”.

As a learner of Spanish as a second language, I spent years confusing those two words. The result was that instead of offering my guest a cookie (galleta), I had offered them an earthworm (guisano).

To a native speaker, the result is either a turned stomach or comedic effect, or a bit of both.

The moral of the story

I would follow the story by saying this to the students: “My point to you is that it is easy to confuse words in a new language. In fact, it is normal. But be aware that these kinds of mistakes can result in people laughing at you or, possibly even taking you as an imbecile. In my case, I was lucky. My friend, who was both quick witted and gracious simply said, ‘Por favor, una galleta. No me gustan los guisanos‘.” (Translation: “A cookie, please. I don’t really care for earthworms.”)

From a linguistic point of view, the two scenarios are similar. The language learner mistakenly uses one word for another. The two words sound similar to the ear of a non-native speaker. But to a native speaker, the difference in meaning between the two words is worlds apart. It would never even occur to them to mix those words up.

Examples provide logical reasons, whereas stories create memorable moments that connect with human experience and emotion.

I admit that this type of story worked only because I was working with Spanish speakers learning  English. It would not work with a linguistically diverse group.

The point here is to ask yourself, what stories or experiences do you have that can help you make a point and make a connection with your learners at the same time? We all have stories. What are  some of yours?

Related posts:

Share your story, share your wisdom: How to make learning memorable

Storytelling resources for teachers


Share or Tweet this post: Would you care for an earthworm with your coffee?: Turning language blunders into powerful teaching stories

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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