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The Ideology of an error

     ” A skill, particularly in the university setting, is well, a tool, something one develops

         and refines and completes in order to take on the higher-order  demands of purer thought”

     In The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University, by Mike Rose, the author, includes the above definition from the American Heritage dictionary. Much of Rose’s essay deals with the conception the academic world has towards writing courses.This belief is firmly planted on writing as merely a skill, Rose  adds that because of  that view, writing is treated a “second class” (347). Moreover, it implies that it should be “mastered before one enters college and takes on higher-order endeavors” (348).

     It is because  of seeing writing courses as “second-class” that students suffer from a stigma: unskilled writers. Writing courses, according to Rose first began with the oldest of all ivy league Universities-Harvard. Rose studies the etymology of the term remedial, to further analyze the distorted view remedial courses receive, he says, ” to be remedial is to be substantial, inadequate, and because of the origins of the term, the  inadequacy is metaphorically connected to disease and mental defect”(349).  It must be considered that although students need to perfect written language has seized to be looked at from a mental malady perspective, the term is still connected to its origins. Consequently , the focus is for the teacher to act like a “successful physician … to be something of a diagnostician”(351). The problem with this view is that like a physician the teacher is supposed to isolate and treat the malady, without considering the “growth of the writer or the social context of the error” (345-346).

     Sondra Perl’s The Composing Process of unskilled College Writers, presents findings from a study of five unskilled students and offers implications that shed some light in respect to understanding the social context of errors.  Perl explains that teachers, ” need not to “punish” students for making mistakes, and they need not assume that students have already been taught to write”(38). In The Place of World Englishes in composition Pluralization Continued, Suresh Canagarajah, unlike Rose gives students a profile, and focuses on ESL and multilingual students.  Canagarajah, points that students with these characteristics should not be looked at lacking , but rather as an individual who can contribute to the richness of English language.  Furthermore, the author states that Metropolitan English is viewed as an exclusionary language by language learners, and calls for the globalizing of the language.

     Aside from detailing how  World Englishes emerged from post colonized nations  appropriation of  the English language in addition to their native homeland’s.  The author explains that today’s American classrooms shelter many multilingual students and that rather than focus on their written mistakes teachers should utilize creative ways to negotiate the norms relevant in diverse context. Sondra Perl, insisted that by “imposing another method of writing instruction upon the students’ already internalized  processes without first  helping students to extricate themselves from the knots and tangles in those processes”(39).

     In  Canagarajah’s pedagogy, the home /first language may not be a hindrance, but rather a resource”(583). Unlike  Rose, who calls for “affirming a rich model of written language development and production” (357) without offering  concrete examples, Canagarajah offers “code-meshing” as opposed to Peter Elbow’s “code-switching” , and says , that “code-meshing; is “motivated by pragmatic sociolinguistic considerations”.  I agree with Canagarajah in that “code-meshing” is empowering and welcoming; and on the wrongful “the assumption that multilingual students are always bound to err in a second language denies them agency” (609).

Some questions then are:

* Has the teaching of writing lost its significance, if so, to what do you attribute his view?

* Are teachers willing to allow students to use their own variety of English written in academic work?

* Are we failing multilingual students by isolating their lengua madre in their quest to learn the English Language?

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Posted in 10 Second Language Learning.


11 Responses

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  1. mobrien says

    Are we failing multilingural students by isolating their lengua madre in their quest to learn the English language? I think that maybe we are. I am a student that responds very well to comparisons, anologies, and other strategies that help me find a parallel to the knowledge I am acquiring so that I can retain it. I have often seen more progress in my bilingual students when I ask them how they would say/describe a concept in our class discussion in their own language. I have also helped these students by setting up separate study guides that help them understand when they see a certain term in English, they should think of the parallel in their language. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but it seems to help a little bit. I think the additional struggle I face in an ELA classroom is also the concept of figurative language. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the English language use idioms and figurative language that does not translate into other language very well, if at all? How do we teach a bilingual student about metaphors if they do not really exisit in the langauge they learned first? What parallel do I come up with then?

  2. Victoria Fontana says

    Guadalupe asks, “Are teachers willing to allow students to use their own variety of English written in academic work?” Some teachers may suggest that students should be able to commit to using only SWE in the classroom and use their native dialect at home or outside the classroom because they live in a society that demands the use of a standard, proper English. There are, however, problems associated with this thought. It omits useful language skills learned within the native language or mother tongue that can be applied to writing. These skills should not be substituted simply to force conformity to a standardized language. Committing only to SWE undermines students’ lived realities. If a student’s language or dialect is reinforced at home or in their community, but ignored in the classroom, students may be left to feel incompetent and defeated, constantly seen as beginners. As Perl writes, teachers “need not punish students.” Their existing skills should be embraced and not ignored.

    Suresh Canagarajah defines code meshing as “a strategy for merging local varieties with standard written englishes in a move toward gradually pluralizing academic writing and developing multilingual competence for transnational relationships” (1).

  3. Johanna Sanchez says

    To answer your question, “Are we failing multilingual students by isolating their lengua madre in their quest to learn the English Language?”, I would have to say that I do believe that in some instances and in some schools the system is isolating multilingual students. When students are put into a mainstream classroom graduating from an ELL class, it seems that their language and culture go out the window. However, there are some teachers and schools that incorporate language and culture in their lessons so students can easily relate and learn the subject matter better. In response to Ms. OBrien, there are plenty of sayings in Spanish that are can be analyzed as metaphors. In Spanish they are called metaforas. They serve the same purpose just as in the English language. I hope I am understanding the question you are asking here.

    • Safaarah Williamson says

      I think that Mobrien may have been suggesting that it is moreso certain idioms that non-native speakers may have trouble with because the meaning may not be easily deduced by understanding the general meaning of the words. For example, “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “I’m on fire tonight,” may be more centralized word phrases.

  4. Travis Lamprecht says

    Teachers should not be willing to allow students to user their own “version” of English in their composition because that would be detrimental to their academic writing. However, they could use journals, as we have discussed before, to write however they choose. The bottom line is that there will always be academic standards, especially concerning English; therefore, students must learn to abide by them. Not every student is going to be perfect but to practice his or her own writing instead of academic writing would be foolish. Not only would that practice negatively affect their academic writing but also their place in the real-world.

    • Rachel Duso says

      I understand that Guadalupe sees it fair to let ELL students use their native language to aide their learning of English and I agree. Travis, I think of students using slang or vernacular when you say their own “version” and I agree that that can hinder their academic writing. These being two different things. Journals should be fine for what Travis is talking about but i don’t think journals or low level writing will necessarily help an ELL student. I could be wrong and it is not my area of expertise, they just seem opposite to me.

  5. Guadalupe Bueno says

    Canagarajah’s approach although creative, I think Peter Elbow’s code-switching is best. Although both code versions allow the native language to serve as an aid, I too think that allowing ELL’s to use their native language in academic writing instill a habit that will not be tolerated elsewhere, unless the student is an accomplished published author like Gloria Anzaldua. The native language should serve as an aid, a base to add the English language to, and utilized solely to reinforce.

    • Dana Choit says

      As you say here that the “native language should serve as an aid, a base…to reinforce” it seems a bit conflicting to use the first language as a tool, but not in academic writing. I agree (as Travis stated) that standards will exist in the real world, and that they are important, however, (I’m not an ESL/ELL teacher or all that familiar with practices or techniques) I’m not sure how one would allow for an individual student unfamiliar with English to not be able to utilize their mother tongue in academic writing, at least early on, in order to actually be able to later produce a product that is up to par with SWE.

      • Dana Choit says

        Also, this will depend on what you mean by “academic writing” ( I guess technically speaking it’s all academic if it’s in a school/educational setting..) – I took this to mean that you were implying more formal writing assignments.

  6. Safaarah Williamson says

    Questions: Are teachers willing to allow students to use their own variety of English written in academic work?

    In order to effectively teach students within a multicultural classroom, the educator must embrace the various cultural dynamics that exist within the class. Embracing the cultural dynamics of your students implies that one must also take heed to the beauty that resides within the native tongue. I am a firm believer that having a firm control of Standard Written English is one of the most powerful tools that we as educators can offer to our students. Understanding the true power of language has the ability to offer social, financial, and political gains. However, it is vital that we use our students’ present realities to enhance their understanding of the functions of SWE. Canagarajah’s “code-meshing,” seems to have great relevance to understanding how to teach an individual who may not be proficient in SWE. By exploring components of the individual’s native language, the educator is showing respect for his or her culture and not approaching it as a deficiency or setback. Using the students’ language within academic work will build the students’ confidence and may possibly make them more receptive to the difficulties of learning a new language. This ideology does not simply apply to English Language Learners, but also to those who may be born and raised in the United States, yet still struggle to express themselves using SWE.