Teaching in a Multilingual World!

“In other words, 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.” -Paul Kei Matsuda (50)

When I first read the title of this article, I was intimidated. I have a strong passion for students who have an unfair disadvantage in the classroom from any circumstance. I was intimidated because I did not think I would be able to relate to anything that Paul Kei Matsuda, the author of this article “Teaching Composition in the Multilingual World: Second Language Writing in Composition Studies” (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B5–sMS-4u43fnFiOHBMVzJjSW1lLVJDN3V3YXVIcXZzNmstdUxNXzQ5eWl2SUlQVVo3NVE), would say. However, from the first page to the last, I was captivated, and my passion grew even more. The reading was packed with essential and knowledge that should be taught more to students but most importantly teachers. There is a growing population of second language speakers and writers in the U.S. Unfortunately, there are not enough classes being brought into the education system to help these second language writers grow to their full potential. This issue has been overlooked many times, and I can say personally because it has happened to me. Before I discuss that more in depth, there were two main points to the importance of this article that Matsuda brings up.

  1. “This chapter provides an overview of some of the historical developments related to the status of second language writing issues in composition studies while providing a sense of state of the art.” -Matsuda (37)
  2. “For the purpose of this chapter, I focus on writing in English as a second language in the context of North American higher education particularly in the disciplinary context of composition studies.” -Matsuda (37)

Matsuda also gives two reasons as to why there is a lack of attention to these language issues, and that would be the “disciplinary division of labor” and the “myth of linguistic homogeneity.” The last important point that he talks about is how globalization, (global integration of international trade, investments, information, technology, and cultures), is a critical factor that connects to teaching second language writing. Globalization could be used to teach writing in various fields such as professional or civic that expands beyond academic writing. That is important because second language writing can be taught passed the U.S. and should be international, which Matsuda discusses later in his article.

A new term that I learned from this article was “generation 1.5”, which is a term to describe people who came to the U.S. as children and adolescents. Generation 1.5 is the group that is more difficult to grasp learning English writing and the English language as a whole. I even learned that there was a debate over what is considered a second language and what is considered a difference in dialect. One of the varieties of English that were mentioned was African American Vernacular. I have never heard of that term until I entered Graduate School. That is when I realized that I grew up in a home where we spoke “African American Vernacular” but was never considered a second language speaker. However, my writing and bad grammar were always pointed out by my teachers and professors. An example of a second language speaker who speaks a form of English that even English speakers wouldn’t even understand would be from a television show, “A Different World.”

“A Different World” is a television show from the 80s and early 90s about college students who attend Hillman College, which is an HBCU (Historical Black College/University). One of the characters from the show, Lena James, speaks “African American Vernacular” and had trouble understanding “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare in her First-Year English class. Until she realized, it was all about translation. In the clip above, she was able to take an English language and translate it into another form of English, one of which is her native language. This all ties into what Matsuda said about translation. He states, “The use of translation is also a possible resource for second language writers; although the effectiveness of translation as a writing strategy can vary depending on the writer’s second language proficiency level (Kobayashi and Rinnert), it can allow second language writers to tap into the knowledge base they have already developed in another language” (40).

Another main issue that second language writers have is that they have limited exposure to what is considered the correct use of the English language and formal written English, which means that it is harder for them to develop their writing proficiency in U.S. English compared to people who grew up learning the U.S. formal English. Although having these lack of resources is one of the cons that second language writers have, they also have a pro. “Others suggest that second language writers may have expanded their intellectual capacity as a result of the constant demand of working with a broader range of linguistic and discursive resources” (Matsuda, 40).

An interesting point that Matsuda brought up that I never thought about before is the level of difficulty bringing this issue to the classroom is because of the teachers. The teacher should have a balanced knowledge of English and second language writers, which many teachers don’t have. Besides globalization, internationalization is a crucial key factor in bringing this issue to our education system. Internationalization, however, requires the need to travel to other countries and then come back to the U.S. and share their research with their fellow scholars. I believe everyone should study abroad or travel if you are going to become a teacher, professor, or scholar. When I studied abroad when I came back to the U.S. my thinking and knowledge towards my education and other college students expanded.

Matsuda has a suggestion as to how to internationalize the field, “U.S. composition specialists need to learn more about sociolinguistic and institutional contexts of other countries. Before trying to reach out to others, however, U.S. composition studies many need to come to terms with the issues of globalization and multilingualism within its own institutional contexts” (Matsuda, 51). I hope that anyone who read this article was able to learn something new about second language writing and the effect it has on students and teachers.