The Monolingual Myth….

There are a few simple yet profound themes surfacing out of the combined sources we are reading and discussing in English 5020. The focus is on expanding the accessibility of education, opportunity and ultimately hope for a brighter future. It includes broadening the horizons of narrow thinking and drawing out those that are underrepresented.
The activities in Equity Unbound have been profound in their articulate intimacy, creativity, and intellectual stimulation. Every day a different phrase from Lina Mounzer’s article entitled “War in Translation” has swirled through my mind. Mounzer captures the complexity of understanding someone else with such fierce gentleness that emerging unchanged is impossible. And in spite of my claimed resistance to technology and social media only one blog ago, I have spent a lot of time in the past two weeks reading things written by people found on the @Unboundeq twitter feed. One of my favorites this week and somehow intersects nicely: (Sean Michael Morris The Habitus of Critical Imagination)

The other piece this week was reading Teaching Composition in the Multilingual World (Second Language Writing in Composition Studies), by Kelly Ritter and Paul Kei Matsuda.

This article addresses the shift in student population in US college composition programs as a result of globalization and internationalization. It bluntly emphasizes that the globalized world “has been and will continue to be, multilingual (p36, Kelly & Matsuda).” The enormous white elephant in the room is the monolingual North American learner and educator.

Matsuda states that with the globalization of higher education, the myth that English monolingualism is the norm has become increasingly inaccurate. I suppose I have never consciously quite thought of it like that; that English monolingualism is the norm. I have never had to. English is the language of my childhood. Upon reflection, I realize I have never had to challenge this assumption. My grandparents were Norwegian immigrants who moved to America and learned English while working on the docks in NYC. Norwegian was the language when the adults were angry or speaking about the kids. I only speak English, even though I had years of required French in middle and high school. My experience of studying a foreign language in school was that it was a joke. Foreign language studies began at the worst possible age. Kids were self-conscious and ultra-sensitive. It was in the ’80s, so the assumption was that we probably weren’t going to use it. Honestly, we were just getting past the idea that the only possibility for women was to be a teacher, secretary or nurse. On a personal note, this article made me interested in excavating any unchallenged assumptions that I have and going beyond them. I can no longer settle for being a monolinguist.

This article highlights the shortsightedness of the monolingual educator. This limitation creates narrow thinkers as well as writing teachers that do not even have a command and thorough knowledge of English grammar. (p50) I am interested in studying further this idea of developing a thorough understanding of the grammatical structure and the “nature of second language acquisition and ways of providing feedback on language issues.” Matsuda touched on the research on long term effects of error feedback (Ferris, “Grammar,” Treatment, Truscott, and Hsu). I am interested in this idea of error feedback and learning more about strategies that have been applied.

Another theme I appreciated in this article was Global Literacy, as well as an emphasis on cross-cultural collaboration. The world is ever-changing, and higher education in the US is poised to embrace these changes or be shut out. As stated, global communities are multi-lingual by default. It is now time for the monolingual reader and writer to change. “The question is no longer limited to how to prepare students from around the world to write like traditional students from North America; it is time to start thinking more seriously about how to prepare monolingual students to write like the rest of the world.9p”

It is appropriate to embrace the expansion that comes with globalization and internationalization as opposed to defensively guarding against it. Language is a tool that can connect; it is also a tool that can divide. I love Matsuda’s suggestion about “Forging alliances with writing researchers from around the world.” Equity Unbound is breaking down barriers and forging those alliances.

Vocabulary list:
Conation: any natural tendency, impulse, striving or directed effort.


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