October 3, 2007

approaching cultural differences (and especially our own culture) with a sense of inquiry

Today, I was clearly missing you all during my day-long conference with Minnesota Writing Project teachers because I kept hearing your voices in my head as we were reading and discussing articles on the "achievement gap." One quote from Julie Landsman (a local teacher/author who wrote A White Teacher Talks about Race) really resonated with me and our recent conversations about the American-centeredness of ways of writing and learning to write [my additions in brackets]:

"The best teachers are those who have explored how their own background and experience of the world is different from that of others, and have reflected on how that difference affects their beliefs, their personal reactions, and their teaching. Once white [or American, or Minnesotan, or middle-class, or female, etc. ] teachers, in particular, accept that their experience is just one of many experiences of being an American [or being a person, a writer], they become more open, more able to deal with cultural issues that come up in the classroom [or consultation]."

Part of what I was asking about yesterday when we were reflecting on recent consultations was what kinds of beliefs and assumptions do we bring to our discussions of writing? Are there ways we could highlight in our consultations the way those assumptions are merely cultural constructs? For example, would it make any difference to say to a student (even one who is native-speaking and American born) that "American academic readers typically expect the paper's body to defend the argument presented in the introduction" rather than "The body of your paper needs to defend your argument"? Are there ways we can call attention to conventions we understand as "good writing" as merely conventions-- rather than the "right" or "normal" way to do things?

October 2, 2007

non-native speakers have all kinds of style!

today after watching the videos and discussing a little bit about it in class, i realized that i find non-native speakers' ways of organizing essays refreshing and interesting. i suppose that in american culture we really value directness and brevity, and it is an excellent way of organizing your essay. i remember in high school when they gave us the "correct" way to format our essays. it was basically a mathematical formula: intro, thesis statement as your last sentence and contains all three subjects/paragraphs you will be talking about, conclusion that restates everything you have discussed in your paper and the thesis statement. disgusting, right?! ok not really, but i still find that it gets stale very quickly. when i was thinking about the video, especially the woman who said that someone from her culture would start a story with background and other information before getting to the main point, i found that method to be much more interesting. to be honest, i couldn't stand writing my papers to be in the "correct essay format" in high school. it made me a little ill to sit there and be like "therefore i think blah blah, and you can tell because blah, blah, and blah." replace the "blahs" with facts, and you have an A+ paper for high school writing assignments. where is the style in that? sure i know what you're going to talk about now, but i also think you're incredibly boring.

of course people can work with that system and still make their writing interesting. and it certainly is a very organized way of getting into any topic, and i guess in our fast-paced, impatient, orderly society, it's the best way of doing things. but i think a paper that gives me a twist to think about, or a paper that gives me rich detail and builds up background or a story for me is way more interesting. obviously i'm not out to change the way we write in america. all i'm saying is that non-native speakers have really cool ideas about writing. i loved hearing their different approaches from their respective cultures. i think it would be valuable to consider the way they are accustomed to writing when working with them. they can bring something really unique and fresh to their writing, and end up with something that stands out amongst the sea of regulated thesis statements. in standard american essay format, of course.

now all i have to figure out is how the two would work together.


blogging on the installment plan (there IS a part 2)

last night i tried twice to post a little ode to the 'style' book, and my internet kept cutting out after i'd composed the post...maybe fate was trying to stop me from complimenting joseph williams?

but seriously, that book is growing on me. i've found it creeping into my sessions, either by helping me figure out why a consultees' ideas are confusing, or by giving me some very managable, sentence-level tips to share with students who are concerned with their clarity. i just got done with a student who point blank asked me how she could write concise sentences.

our posts this week seem to center a lot around stories of being flexible and willing to try different strategies. williams has provided some useful ones...we never talk about 'style,' so i was just curious-- does everyone still hate it (excluding john, of course, who wants to buy williams a drink)?

....What do you when...?

Continue reading "....What do you when...?" »

October 1, 2007

stop, collaborate and listen

All right, Comrades, here is my blog posting. Please excuse the tardiness.

I want to focus specifically on the idea of collaboration in the Harris article. This morning I had a wonderful consultaton with a doctoral candidate. He is a member of the Soil, Weather and CLimate department. I know nothing about biological sciences whatsoever. Also, this man's native language was Portuguese. It was a bit intimidating at first; I mean, I failed science three times in highs chool and twice in college. However,this was the most exciting and fun consultation I have ever done. This was because collaboration took place in perhaps its truest form.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines collaboration as "United labour, co-operation; esp. in literary, artistic, or scientific work". This definition was most fitting this morning; instad of a tutor/tutee situation as defined and advocated by several of the authors we have read in the class so far, there was indeed "united work" taking place. We would debate over word choice, explaining to each other the denotations and connotations of a given word in a sentence; we agonized over sections of phrases, writing and rewriting each clause until it sounded absolutely perfect; we would discuss the historical aspects of soil runoff and leaching [his dissertation was on turkey litter and its possible uses for renewable energy, taking into account adverse effects of turkey litter on the environment]. In this meeting, instead of me saying things like, "Well, do you see a problem in this sentence?", we actually had such palavers as "Dude, I'm saying, write it like this that'd be an awesome sentence" and him going, "No, dude, this way, and here's why". It was intellectually stimulating and, to be honest, quite exhilarating. I can't wait to go to grad school and agonize over theses in that manner.

Now, in this consultation, I totally broke the rules as set up by experts in the consulting field. Most of the people we've read would probably not advocate a consultant taking such a primary role in the creation of a document. It seems the essays we've read thus far advocate more of a passive colaboration; Harris, fo example, says that tutors are to "move writers into the active role of making decisions, asking quetions, spotting problem areas in their writing..." [208] but in such a way that does not involve debate and "united labor." Looking at the above quote, it can be inferred that Harris is a proponent of the tutor as coach, an asker of leading questions, and not a participant in the actual writing process. But in the situation I had earlier, was an active participant in the writing process; while not writing the paper for him, there was certainly cooperation in the creation of literature.

And this was totally appropriate for the situation. This type of consulting was beneficial because the writer was an advanced student who didn;t need someone to teach them how to write so much as a second set of eyes through which to view the paper. Of course, tis style of collaboration, this united front, is not applicable to every circumstance. In the case of less seasoned writers, leading questions and writing coaching is most appropriate. But in this case I suppose I went against the pedagogocal grain and threw myself into the ring along with the PhD student.

This posting isn't as clear as I'd like it to be. I haven't eaten all day and I'm rather hungry. Hoefully this post will create some discussion and I'll be able to clarify some statements or something.

peace OUT



Along with the Meyer’s article, I was assigned to read the focus of Meyer’s article: ““Reassessing The “Proofreading Trap?: ESL Tutoring and Writing Instruction.? Talking about theory always seems to be so much harder when you talk about ways in which it can be acted out in everyday life. Thus, I applaud these authors for trying to give us concrete ways to effectively consult with ESL students, but I do have to say that I was a bit bogged down in the details and the nitpicking.
Let’s just start at the very beginning…(Maria VonTrapp, where are you?)

Jane Cogie, Kim Strain and Sharon Lorinskas wrote “Avoiding the Proofreading Trap…? because the authors felt that often times, the role of the cultural informant can look like proofreading “when ESL students have no whole essay issues and relatively few sentence-level errors? (8). They preface their article stating the need to teach relatively proficient ESL writers to self-edit. Thus, the whole article is targeting the more advanced, proficient ESL writers.

Kim Strain gives practical tips on initiating the student’s self-editing process. She begins with a Learner’s Dictionary and Minimal Marking. A learner’s dictionary provides much more cultural information for the ESL student, phrasal verbs, and gives complete, easy examples. Strain writes that, should the need to correct sentence-level errors arise, global errors, those which block meaning, (such as incorrect verb tense, verb incorrectly formed, incorrect use or formation of a modal or conditional sentence, etc)are given priority over local errors. The second suggestion was minimal marking, which flags mistakes in a sentence without telling exactly what the mistakes are; the hope here is that the students will begin to identify their own errors. She also recommends using error logs, which document in columns the type of error made, how to fix it, etc. Error logs are probably most effective in regular weekly appointments and may also be used for less proficient and less confident ESL students.

Sharon Lorinskas begins her section discussing whether or not there is a need to know grammar rules. She comments on a survey done in 1985 which concluded that “knowledge of rules is and of itself is of no heuristic value unless the rules have been internalized.? Thus, to better internalize these rules, she recommends the error log and learner’s dictionary. She also gives a self-editing checklist which goes through the process of editing. This technique would most help the ESL student if it was done with the tutor. These methods are all attempts to stop proofreading, but still maintain the role as cultural informant.

In direct opposition to this article is Meyers- she states that helping with sentence-level errors is not unimportant, but rather is crucial for ESL students. They need more help on the “linguistic? component (vocabulary and syntax). She writes that we need to acknowledge the pivotal place that language holds in our writing, especially complex phrases, and helping ESL students with language is what we must do.
She critiques the error log and other methods because most students know what they struggle with, but they need help in fixing it.

When I first read these articles, I was a bit overwhelmed and felt like they were arguing about seemingly petty things, but upon my second read, I found that there is really one big argument. Meyers biggest “beef? is that the authors focus too much on the negative, on fixing the errors, and not enough on building a bigger vocabulary with complex phrases. It seems to me that his is a very valid argument. I think it is very important to stress the fact that Cogie’s article applied to the more advanced ESL students, as many of these methods, like the error log or minimal marking, does not seem to aid in the acquisition of the language if they don’t already have a foundation from which to build.
I thought it was kind of funny how Meyers went through each of their suggestions and tore them apart—don’t make Meyers angry…I do agree with some of her objections though, that the error log would get repetitive and even frustrating as the student continuously copies down the same error. However, if you were to focus on one error a session, perhaps the error log would be useful. I think a compromise can be made between these two authors; their views are not mutually exclusive.

Combining all four articles, this is my short little recipe for a successful writing consultant for ESL students:

*Role of cultural informant is key; we must take into account their cultural background, how they see education and how proficient they are in English. Remember, this is not just a paper, but a human being coming for help and answers in a possibly brand-new, foreign world.
*Talk to theses students.
*Sentence-level errors, vocabulary, synonyms, phrases and issues such as these are not necessarily ‘lower-order’ concerns for ESL students. Many times, these are the issues that stop them from writing more fluently, especially if they are skilled writers.
*Do not focus solely on errors and the negative aspects, but work on building their writing.
*We can use methods like error logs, dictionaries, minimalist marking but they are just that: methods. There is a need for flexibility within each session.
*Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change, principles never do.
*Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly. (That’s my little shout-out to Baz Luhrman and the sunscreen song, still one of my favorites!)

See you tomorrow!


I’m sorry I’m late! I coulnd't find how to post this!
For this blog, I will discuss the Harris article, and then an additional one I was assigned to read: “ ‘Whispers of Coming and Going’: Lessons from Fannie? by Anne DiPardo. These two articles really complement each other(hmmm…coincidence?), as the Harris article deals more with the theoretical aspects of how best to approach clashing cultures in the writing center, and the DiPardo is a case study of Fannie, a Navajo Indian seeking more than just writing help from Morgan, the well-meaning but clueless writing tutor.

Harris begins her article discussing the individual differences between ESL students, and how each person brings with them different expectations and beliefs to the writing center. She writes that it becomes difficult when the tutor and the writer have two different conceptions of what is going to happen during this consultation. This clashing of expectations has happened to me several times- one specific example is when a young lady came in, expecting me to fix her sentence mechanics, whereas I wanted to focus on the bigger problems of organization. The whole session was a tug-of-war for power, and looking back, I surmise that I could have handled this situation SO much better, like beginning the session with a clear discussion of our expectations.

Harris declares that collaboration is what writing consultants do, but she also gives room for movement within that, as each person and session is different.

The expectations of ESL students’ in a writing consultation are different than a native speaker (I guess that may seem obvious, but sometimes I forget that these students are coming in from a completely different background than native speakers, so I think it bears repeating.) They look to tutors more for answering questions, personal help, and most importantly: to improve in writing in the English language. These students also enjoyed the small-talk at the beginning, as it calmed their nerves and provided times for tutors to get to know the student’s background. They also expressed a need for direction within their writing, as with things like synonyms, wording, and sentence-level mechanics, idioms, etc. They also come from different writing styles, as many countries stress different aspects in writing than the United States. These cultural and writing differences make an appointment with an ESL student drastically different than an appointment with one who is native to the culture and language.

DiPardo’s article seems to demonstrate all of these aspects perfectly. Fannie is a Navajo Indian who never learned to be literate in her own language, and was barely taught to read or write English proficiently before high school. Graduating high school against all-odds, she went to college, but was still very insecure about her language skills. Attending college was a landmark event in her family, as she was one of the first to attend. She also saw education as a double-edged sword: while it gave her many opportunities, she was also concerned of it taking away from her heritage and betraying her people. Not only did the educations system prepare her inadequately in reading and writing, but the teaching style was much different than she was used too in her Navajo education. Like the ESL students that Harris interviewed, Fannie brings a lot of emotional stress and identity crisis surrounding her education.
College writing was a struggle for Fannie, as her writing was not sophisticated, but the comments that teachers gave were vague. In an attempt to improve her writing skills, Fannie attended the writing center regularly to find direction in this complex language. Morgan was her tutor who tried compassion in the beginning, but when Fannie did not seem to know what she wanted to say or had trouble expressing her thoughts, frustration took over their sessions. Fannie had no idea how to articulate what she wanted to say or what she even needed from Morgan; her problems were all connected to the ways in which her culture viewed the world. Like Harris’s article, if Morgan would have taken the time to get to know about her culture, her language ability, a lot of the frustration would have been solved.

Morgan later on tried to be more “collaborative? and not as directive. She encouraged Fannie to take control of her paper, like any good tutor should do, but it failed. Morgan did not adequately listen to Fannie, and instead seemed to confuse her more. DiPardo ends by critiquing Morgan’s care for Fannie. Collaboration, she says, is not just a set of techniques, but a “new way to think about teaching and learning? (113). This echoes Harris’s article that each person is different and cannot be dealt with by a set of techniques.

These articles read together really increased my understanding of working with ESL students; they take student individuality into account.

“Teach students, not subjects.? I think this is a good mantra not only for teaching in a school, but for consulting in a writing center. These articles combined show that teaching ESL students require different approaches, and helping them find words or giving them sentence level help may not be the wrong thing to do, as they are trying to learn about the language, which will in turn help them learn about the culture. I think one thing I will especially take away from these articles is that ESL students are bringing with them a lot of unknowns, and a visit to the writing center is a way to explore this foreign culture. It is a call for help, and sitting back and being elusive to these students because we do not want to do the wrong technique is not what we are meant to do. Adapting to a new way of life and culture is hard, let alone trying to learn a new language. I guess my question is how do we not get bogged down in a legalistic framework for writing consultancy? How do we teach students, and not subjects?

Perhaps the next blog on the Meyers and Cogie article will answer that one…coming to you soon.

blogging on the installment plan (or not)

so, as my 4 pm blogging deadline approaches, i've only had a chance to skim 'the proofreading trap'. i'm going to offer my thoughts now, and maybe try to throw out more once i've had a chance to sit down and read more thoroughly.

it seems to me that it's ok that myers' piece is somewhat inconclusive, because it really only becomes meaningful when we put it into conversation with our own experiences consulting anyways. i think we've already been discussing in class the issues central to this article-- is proofreading ok, when is it ok, etc...i like what wendy started when she said that we shouldn't overwhelm someone by pointing out a bunch of technical errors. at the heart of what she's saying, it seems, is that our overall concern is keeping the student engaged and comfortable (to the best of our abilities) within a session. perhaps proofreading might be a tool we use (among many) to keep a student engaged in a consultation. that sounds like a complete oxymoron, but especially in the case of non-native speakers, proofreading might be a way to keep them from feeling overwhelmed as we push our goals of non-directive tutoring. again, as wendy said (thanks, wendy!), it would have to be a directed kind of proofreading. i've found that when i've worked with NNS students who had grammar concerns, i could mix strategies: i might read through it, and see if i can identify patterns to the types of errors being made (so that we can focus on a manageable amount of work) and point these patterns out (a rather proofreading-heavy strategy); next, we could read the paper out loud together and together identify errors (shares the work a bit more); if this goes well, i might ask them to correct a section on their own, or a student might say they feel comfortable correcting the rest later (hands over the work to the student). i've had consultees take their papers and correct everything quite easily after i pointed out a type of error, and had others in which we read and worked through the entire paper out loud. it depends on the language skills people bring with them.

point being, i think it's best not to get too wrapped up in trying to identify THE WAY to use or not use proofreading. perhaps it's doesn't always have to be antithetical to writing center philosophies, especially when combined with other types of strategies, and when used with the ultimate goal of making writing feel less scary for the individual writer.

ooo, this comment's already gotten big (maybe there'll be no sequel?). i wanted to bring up a point to from the thonus text last week, since we didn't talk much about it. it really made me realize how present the instructor always is in a consultation: their assignments, their support (or lack of support), their instruction...i've found myself encouraging a lot of students to try to pick their instructors' brains more, to clear up their expectations and the material they're working with.

so i'm starting to think about the instructor's responsibility in the 'triangulation' of a consultation, as well as how it relates to a student's responsibility in a consultation. i think sometimes we expect ourselves to be able to respond well to every student's concerns. but what if a student hasn't spent enough time with their material, and the instructor has done little to explain it? or what if you can't quite figure out what an instructor really wants? if a student's good at thinking out loud, you can work through some of these issues more easily. but i've had a couple of sessions where students don't want to be a part of brainstorming (don't want to/have trouble thinking out loud), but also don't know their material or anything about what the teacher expects. i'm not sure how much i should expect of myself in such a situation.

i can never think of a title first

I agree with Maggie (next entry) that the Myers article didn't have any clear point or solutions for us. Not that she was wrong. She actually pointed out a few things I've been learning about in my linguistics classes. She points out on page 231 (lower right) how those who study foreign language learners have realized that learners get a lot more out of moments when they are spontaneously attempting to communicate meaning. The idea is that there are two separate sections of the brain whre the second language is; one is what they have learned in class like the rules and vocab lists and they don't have access to this when trying to communicate meaning quickly, the other area is what they have acquired, they call it interlanguage, this is what comes out when they just talk without trying to be correct. what does that mean for us? Myers says in her next paragraph that instead of "carving up" their (NNS) text and performing an "autopsy" (nice image in the brain-yuck), we should give them more. this simple act of sitting there and talking to them helps them. She talks about this on the bottom of 224 when she mentions spontaneous production and Interlanguage. Those that study second language learners are looking at this primarily.
Another linguistic idea she brings in is on page 225 when she mentions that language features are learned in certain orders and someone may not be ready for some particular feature. Its like trying to take trig before algebra, maybe not that extreme! But then i ask myself, what does this mean for us as tutors? I think we need to realize that we are not responsible for where this student is at in there language learning and pointing out a ton of errors won't help. I sometimes just take a few things, or sentences that really stand out as confusing and start working on those. A always appreciate how difficult it is for them and tell them that, what a difficult task they are attempting (school in a second, or third etc language.
I always encourage them to read a lot, just like Yi said. Then they can go at their own pace and see how words, grammar and punctuation work.

Whew, I'm a dork...

So I'm totally amped that I get to be the first one to blog about Tuesday's readings. I never get first at anything! (I know, I know, this is kind of a "by default" situation, but still...). Although I must say, I'm not super excited about actually being in the assigned blogging group for this week, because before I got to just make silly comments about the readings, and now I have to include...[dun-dun-dun]...SUBSTANCE. So here goes.

As Emily L. would say, I was a bit frustrated with one of this week's readings. I was all excited to read about the "Proofreading trap" and how to avoid it, but I don't believe the article came to a logical conclusion that would help me out. See, way back when in the good ol' days (ahem, 4 measly weeks ago) when I was observing consultations during the training week, it seemed to me that most of the people I watched were finding individual errors in NNS students' papers, pointing them out, and telling them what would be correct. This is where I developed my irrational fear of proofreading--I think because the line between tutoring and editing became so blurred. And after only a few weeks of consulting, it's STILL a constant struggle. Long story long, I thought that this article would finally explain how to deal with grammar errors in [mostly] NNS students' papers.

Myers' take on Cogie et al.'s four strategies made sense. I would hate to suggest to a student with a limited English vocabulary that they carry around a Learner's Dictionary whenever they're grasping for a word, because I have to have one with me every time I work on Greek homework, and looking up every single word in the dictionary makes me not want to do it. The "Minimal Marking" strategy wouldn't make sense either, because it doesn't seem to involve any sort of tutoring. So, great. With that one, the student walks away knowing that they made 50 errors on their paper, but they have no idea what the errors are. No way, Jose. The "Error log bog" (ha, "BOGGED down in spending time and attention" clever) sounded like it would be the most effective method, but it certainly would take lots of time out of a session to write down notes on every single error in a paper.

The part that confused me is when Myers said "Sometimes it is simply more economical to point out an error and supply a correction or an alternative way to express something" (227). Within the context of the article, I don't really understand economics came into play. More importantly, because she hid this sentence inside of her comments on one of Cogie's methods, it makes me think that she thinks she doesn't have to explain herself. But she does, and she didn't (whew.) This makes me wonder: when exactly would it be ok to point out/correct these errors? The whole article refers to tutors as being afraid of proofreading papers, but then she admits that it's ok, "sometimes"? What does this mean for a consultant like me, who is already having trouble figuring out things like: how much of this correcting is too much? When should I just point to an error and see if they can fix it? What does this mean for repeated errors? Myers got my hopes up with the title of this article, and yet there seemed to be little explanation on what we unsure consultants are supposed to do. The methods are interesting things to keep in mind, but I was disappointed in the article's lack of clearer guidance.

Sorry, Kirsten et al., for blathering--I hope this still counts as my required blog entry!

September 20, 2007

gettin' down in a town that makes no sound

The discussion in class today got me thinking about my position in the whole "non-native speaker" situation. Normally I wouldn't even consider myself a n.n.speaker. I was born in raised in good ole Minnesota, and learned English just like every other American kid. My parents, although natives of India and fluent Urdu/Hindi speakers, knew English pretty well. (They should, they attended British schools growing up where speaking in any language other than English wasn't even allowed.) But that doesn't mean they stopped talking in Urdu at home. I can't remember when or how it happened, but I just kind of picked up Urdu at the same time I was learning to speak in English. Kind of like osmosis. I don't remember any specific teaching of the Urdu language, while English was pretty much an all the time learning process.

I find that kind of interesting, and it makes me wonder what my parents' intentions were in emphasizing English, if that is indeed what they were doing. Looks like some fodder for our next dinner conversation. And a possible subject to add into my paper...? Anyway, I still think the Urdu language was important to my p arents, and something they wanted me to learn, in conjunction with our culture. It seems like they just overlooked an "official" teaching of it so they could encourage my skills in English, since I would be growing up here in America.

Nonetheless, I picked up some Urdu along the way. I didn't feel like getting into my Urdu experiences during class, because it didn't really seem appropriate to launch into that recap of my life in a cultural context while we were talking about students and consulting and academic writing and learning ENGLISH. :) But that just means I have room to analyze it here in the blog. So, since English was really my first language, I guess I'm a non-native speaker in reverse. Here in America, I just can't seem to get into "Urdu mode." I feel like every time I start speaking in Urdu, it feels out of place or context. Conversely, when I'm in India, I am most definately in Urdu mode. It usually doesn't take me too long after arriving in India to get there, either. It's so much easier to become an Urdu speaker when you're immersed in the culture. I do, however, experience the embarrassment non-native speakers feel we discussed today in discussion. Mostly because my cousins like to make fun of my abuse of the Urdu language...I had bad experiences as a kid. Now that we're all older, and a little more mature, my family was really supportive of me trying to switch into Urdu from English. With that kind of encouragement, I was speaking as fluently as them by the time I left. It's nice to know people are capable of having that kind of effect on someone who comes into the Writing Center as a non-native speaker.

I was really surprised today when Kirsten asked me if it was difficult to relate my experiences in India to friends or other people here in America. I didn't even realize, but that was exactly the case. I thought I just didn't feel like talking about it, but really, it's because I didn't know what to say about my trip. Not only do we have a difference of languages, there is a huuuuge difference in cultures. Even things like my sense of humor and slang words (and some pretty dirty swear words) changed when I was there, learning and absorbing the culture and language all over again. I say "all over again" because I have to re-learn everything every time I visit India. Isn't that sad? I've seen many people assimilating to American culture after immigrating here, while still retaining a strong sense of culture. I think I'm aware of my culture, but it doesn't necessarily play a huge role in my day to day life. Other than, you know, people wondering where the hell I'm from and what kind of name is "Meher" anyway?! (It's Persian.) It's something I want to work on. My parents have even fallen into the trap, and we speak mainly English at home. It's time to bring back the brown.

Aaaanyway. Things I noticed about learning, or in my case re-learning, a language include trying subconsciously to form a language structure while relating it to the structure you are more accustomed to. For me the transition is obviously easier because I've been learning another language since I was a kid. For someone who isn't in the same position, I think it becomes more difficult to switch back and forth between your native language and your non-native language(s) structures. And a lot of times, it is also difficult to try and find a specific formula, if you will, of a language, because there are always exceptions to the rule at every turn. For example, English has the pronoun "it" while Urdu has no such concept. Therefore, things in Urdu have a gender. EVERYTHING has a gender. And things that are of a specific gender cannot be changed according to their actual gender (like a dog always has to be male, even when it's female.). After that, you discover that the rules of finding a gender for the noun do not always apply. See? It gets really complicated, really fast. Just like I imagine English becomes for a non-native speaker.

Another thing I noticed about learning languages: any second language you pick up is stored in a specific part of your brain. I actually have some evidence of this...a friend of mine majored in Spanish studies and told me that the languages you learn after a certain age, or after your first language, are stored in one part of your brain while your first language is stored in another. I remember an oral examination I was giving in my high school Spanish class, where I suddenly started going off in Urdu. When I finally stopped and realized what I had done, my teacher didn't even know what to say. I found myself doing the Spanish+Urdu thing a lot in my college Spanish course as well, except it was in my head instead of out of my mouth (and confusing my teacher).

Damn I'm tired. All that thinking...all that analyzing...I'm mentally exhausted. Thanks a lot, Writing Consultancy. Pffft. But in all srsness, I can't wait to continue this subject in class. SUCH a nerd.


That tricky English language

Inspired by Yi's and Brittney's posts (which are much more thoughtful than this one), I started thinking about what Williams says about language, usage, and unclear style in light of our readings on NNS writers. I like how-- before discussing how to write clearly-- Williams first ask us to consider "some private causes of unclear writing" (p. 4-5). Now, he's not considering cultural and linguistic reasons here as today's readings did, but that question of "why?" not "how to?" seems to me a useful perspective. And, my own experience as a writer and teacher of writing reaffirms for me his claim that, "As we struggle to master new and complex ideas, most of us write worse than we do when we write about things we understand better" (4). and, if that is true, shouldn't we applaud unclear writing (at least some forms of it) as evidence of the learning process? As my comment on Yi's post suggests, maybe this would be a better world if we all embraced the identity of English Language Learners?

“¿…Joo u espeke el inglesih?? Thursday Sept. 20 readings

Ok, so the title for all of us “native? speakers who “should? cringe when we see this says: “Do you speak English?? These articles assigned for class reading reminded of the many friends I have that do not classify themselves as English Speakers. Whether they are immigrants from all parts of the world, or even people who have grown up and the U.S. and come from families that don’t necessary always speak like the most elite, I guess they know how it feels to be classified solely based upon their appearance and their “accent? or “bad? grammar. My friends always tell me stories about them going into stores or restaurants, and just because they can’t “correctly? pronounce a word, some people decide to ask them this intrusive questions of “where are you from, no like where are you really from,? or “what are you saying, speak English?!? Obviously, people now feel disrespected and embarrassed such as many 1.5 students feel throughout their school experience.

As for me, I am a multilingual/multiethnic individual. Yeah, let’s not get into all the things I’ve experienced. I guess what I will say is that I know how it feels to even have moments of trying to recall English words, oh, embarrassing when it happens in public! So, I was working one time, and there were a group of people from Venezuela and Brasil, as a matter of fact, a group of doctors. They came into the restaurant and immediately asked if there was an interpreter. Since there was no formal position, I had taken on the role and they asked to speak to me. I can remember, just talking to them in Spanish and Portuguese while having other people around us frowning and making comments like: They don’t speak English, why are they here? What a disgrace…? Anyway, when they left, I had to wait on one of customers who made the above comments. They asked me did we have something on the menu, and because I had been speaking other languages, my multilingual thing started to kick in. I had to think for a second and recall the word in English. Well, I guess the customer couldn’t wait a second and told me, “…you’re all like, idiots, when it comes to this language…? I simply walked away and give the table to another server and accepted a loss of a tip from a bad attitude.

Okay, [switch brain over to academics]. My little story above helps me to “deal? with these articles. When it comes to real life, articles don’t really cut it for me, and much less to they get to the feelings that the examined population face. I find it slightly difficult to communicate these feelings to monolinguals, because they think that they need to speak another language fluently to learn, but I always encourage to people to think about their high school “world language? classes and when you thought you asked for one thing but in fact asked for another due to limited knowledge of the language or how to use the correct word. So, it is evident that education is key to promoting understanding so that more people won’t be tempted to make such judgments of people, especially of students in a classroom or that come into the center. It is obvious they did something right to be accepted to college or even begin to write a draft.

This brings me to my point about the Thonus article and the comments the teacher makes to the center when calling about their “foreign student.? I have more to say about this in class if the conversation goes there today!!! Over the summer, I participated in a summer research program, in which I researched project entitled: English Language Learners: An Investigation on the Effect of Mobility of Academics.? In this project, I analyzed the academic achievement in relation to their enrollment of all year to partial year enrollment of English Language Learners of color in two Minneapolis Public High Schools. So, I’m not saying that I’m an expert in this area, but I will say that after researching for a literature review and 25-page extensive report of my work, some of the terms used in the assigned articles started to swirl around in my head. What’s ELL? What’s and ESL(er), bilingual/multilingual, 1.5 generation… AHHH! So, one thinks they know a lot from articles, but based on some the academic jargon added, it seems as if the true experience of students is completely lost, especially when it comes to reporting on how schools are graded based on student performance.

It should be no secret that students who do not speak English as their first language will encounter problems in school, and what if English is perhaps their third or fourth language? The articles on the 1.5 generation take in interesting approach that seems to be the answer for dealing with these students, because, well you know, their all the same, right? No, wrong! Through my research, I found many variations of students, and even what happens when they are second, third, or fourth generation like me. There are still the same problems that are associated with these populations as are with 1.5ers. Anyway, what I’m saying [much clearer if I were not blogging] is that all cases are different and we must remember that when a 1.5er of a fourth generation, or even a student born in raised in the U.S. comes into the center not to bust out the theory on them and think how to size them up. Are they like what the 1.5-generation article describes, or are they more of the poor lost minority with broken language skills that Reid describes. Trust me, too much locura (craziness)!

I understand that these articles seek to provide information, so I can’t wait for the class discussion and to hear from the CE group about their work. Does it compare to the articles, if you wrote an article, how might it look? Also, I would also like to know how other consultants feel in situations when working with such populations. I know when I work with students and the say things like “he be in home? that they want to say “he is at home? but “ins? and “ats? get confusing, so they just say it like it comes out. For this reason, more classes should be focused on getting into the head and making sure that what comes out on the paper is what the student means to communicate. I always say that if the student wrote it, the are the author and the find nothing wrong with it, so that’s why we all have a job!

The reality that this population of people is growing rapidly, and are in fact the largest growing subgroup in U.S. high schools. A statistic I used for my project is that the population of ELLs in U.S. public schools have increased by 105% in the last ten years, according to the National Council of Bilingual Studies. Basically, I advocate for reading research, but most importantly would like people to think of themselves in foreign environment, whether it is another country or even another state and you have an accent. How do you ask for help? How do you help someone in this situation? Maybe all we need is a pen, notebook, and an open mind and heart, que no (why not)?

September 19, 2007

Product of the Middle: Generation 1.333333333333...

I am a Generation 1.3333333 student. More specifically, I am an immigrant student who moved to the US with my family and spent half of my life in the US education system. I used to know how to write fluently in Chinese (yes yes believe it or not I forgot...practice makes perfect?), but now I write mainly in English. I, as Reid describes, am a product "between the extremes." Stuck in the middle. Therefore, I do not understand a lot of the Chinese proverbs, and I do not understand some English jokes. Well, that's why I make up my own jokes now, so ha! (karma....karma....) Now, I am to help people who are sort of like the me eight years ago. So excited.

But then, as I read on, I found Generation 1.5 students aren’t really similar to Generation 1.3333333333 students at all. Generation 1.5 students have "limited or no literacy in the[ir] first language," they tend to write the way they speak (because they learn English mainly through hearing), and they also are often the first in their families to become literate! I think the three articles for tomorrow do a great job of clarifying the difference between Generation 1.5 students and other nonnative speakers, but what does it all mean? If Generation 1.5 students don’t belong in the Freshman English classes or ESL classes (Harklau’s article, though, mentions that other sources suggest Generation 1.5 students should be placed in “mainstream classes?: maybe they should take both!), then how should we, as Writing Consultants, help them? And why can’t “functional bilinguals? be considered as English language learners? Writing, after all, is a very, very important part of the English language.

In Harklau’s article, she mentions pointers that might help college writing consultants/faculty to better work with generation 1.5 students. Topics such as “be aware of students’ prior academic literacy experiences? and “promote academic literacy? all gear towards the same point—that Generation 1.5 students need to develop a wider range of writing skills by engaging in critical thinking and practicing their editing skills. By promoting broad improvements such as “help students develop critical literacy,? Harklau is suggesting to us that our education system should be reformed. Generation 1.5 students need to not only learn proper grammar and critical thinking, they also need to simply practice—practice writing, practice grammar exercises, and most importantly, practice reading. Reid too stresses that all immigrant & and international students “need additional linguistic and rhetorical information, careful analysis of their writing weaknesses by professionals in the field of teaching ESL, and consistent support and resources to improve their skills.? Also, helping nonnative speakers, as Reid says, takes patience, understanding, and most importantly, time. So, I think as writing consultants we not only need to help Generation 1.5 students & nonnative speakers in general to improve their writing skills (Maggie is already doing this by making weekly appointments with consultees who are interested in improving their writing skills gradually) but also emphasize to them the importance of practice outside of writing.

Let's encourage everyone to read a book! Any book! I know, I know, this is such a novel idea in this digital, Fahrenheit 451 age...but if nonnative students read more, then maybe they will be able to identify the difference between “while? and “why,? learn how to better organize their ideas, and recognize/learn the structures of the written English language. Maybe... -_- --> ran out of words to say ;_; so here's a picture :P