Multilingualism has been and still is very present in the U.S. Many people immigrate to the U.S. everyday. They do not only bring with them their language and culture, but also different styles of writing and different worldviews. They have to switch between languages and sometimes they have to leave behind their native language. These people also have to adapt to different education and work systems, different cultures, and different ways of looking at the world. One way or another they are already or have to become multilingual. Being multilingual can be a challenge, but it can also enhance academic learning and social relationships. Multilingual people are not the only ones who face challenges. Native English speakers also come from different economic, social and cultural backgrounds. Different backgrounds and different languages can lead to obstacles in academics and social relationships, or they can improve academic and social life. The Canagarajah text can be used as a lens to counter and extend the interview with Doris Cikopana, the Julian Rodriguez interview and the Zawacki and Habib text. Canagarajah points out that native English speakers might face some of the same obstacles that multilingual speakers face, while the three other sources focus more on the obstacles and benefits that multilingual students go through. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the similarities and differences between the obstacles and benefits that multilingual and native English speakers face in academic and social settings and explore how teachers can help students adapt to the standard American education system.
Multilingualism has similar and different effects on social life and academics. In academics, multilingualism can enhance one’s way of thinking, learning and writing. In social relationships, multilingualism can really help create better relationships with friends, especially those who are also multilingual or speak one of the languages that the person knows. Multilingualism can help people create stronger bonds with others who speak the same language. Although a lot of professors and people see multilingualism as an obstacle in academic writing and social environments, multilingualism can be helpful and enhancing in both academic and social environments. The important thing is to know how to incorporate the different languages and cultures in academic writing and social life in order for them to enhance learning and social relationships. Teachers have to be actively involved in helping multilingual students and support them through this process.
Multilingualism in academic settings in the Cikopana interview
Multilingualism does not have to necessarily be an obstacle in academic settings. Knowing multiple languages can help students in different subjects in school. In one of the interviews for the project, the person mentioned that knowing Spanish and Italian had helped her better understand and learn the medical root words for her Anatomy class. (Cikopana) Also learning another language after knowing multiple ones was easier for the person who was interviewed. Since Spanish and Italian have a lot in common, it was very easy for her to learn Spanish after knowing some Italian. (Cikopana) Although English did not have much in common with these two languages, learning it was easier for the student since she had already been exposed to different foreign languages and had already been through the process of acquisition of a second language. Multilingualism definitely can enhance or be an aiding tool in the process of academic learning and writing for students.
Native English speakers
Native English speakers coming from different backgrounds also face academic and social challenges. Some of them come from different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. When it comes to academics, some students might have a hard time understanding the content of the class in the same way that students from another background do. In social relationships, some students who come from a different culture might find it difficult to connect or create a social relationship with someone else that has a different culture. On the contrary, it is usually easier for multi-linguals to connect and create social relationships with others, because they have been exposed to multiple languages and culture.
Social life and multilingualism
Multilingualism does not only affect academic life but also social life. Knowing multiple languages can lead to better understanding people from different backgrounds. Also speaking the same language as someone else in a foreign country helps establishing a relationship. Being multilingual makes it easier to create friendships and expand the network of friends. When someone speaks multiple languages that person is not only multilingual, but also multicultural. It is easier to understand and get along with others when you see the world in different ways and are comfortable with a lot of cultures. In the interview, the student said it was easier for her to connect with some of her friends that spoke Spanish. Knowing Spanish helped her talk to their parents, and made the parents feel more comfortable because they could speak with her in their native language. (Cikopana) Sharing something in common such as language or culture with someone, or even just being multilingual and comfortable with different groups of people can really enhance social relationships.
Multilingualism and the Julian Rodriguez interview
In the interview with Julian Rodriguez, he talks about the effect that being multilingual has had in his social relationships, the relationship with his family and his identity. He says that learning English and being bilingual has not really affected his relationship with his family, because he still speaks Spanish with his parents. His identity has not changed either, because he still considers himself Puerto Rican and Spanish is still his native and most commonly used language. Still he feels good to know another language such an English. (Rodriguez) Multilingualism does not necessarily affect social or family relationships negatively. It also does not affect one’s sense of identity, it actually might add to it. Multilingual people can identify themselves with various groups of people and cultures, because they can better understand them. Native English speakers do not have these benefits.
Obstacles faced by Native English speakers
As well as multilingual people, students who are native English speakers have been exposed to different communities and classrooms. “Even first-language students of English have to shuttle between diverse communities and contexts in their professional, social, and personal lives.” (Canagarajah 178) Native English speakers also come from different backgrounds. Some of them might come from families that are not native English speakers, but the students themselves are. Others might come from families that have a different cultural or socioeconomic background than their peers. As well as multilingual students, these people have different worldviews and they might have a different understanding of the class material or they might have a specific and particular writing style. As their socioeconomic status might be different, the students who come from families with lower income might not have the same amount of exposure to specific writing and teaching styles, so it can be harder for them to understand the class material. According to this idea, multilingual people are not the only ones who face academic challenges.
How can teachers help?
Teachers try to help multilingual students but they agree that they do not know how to assist them other than point out grammatical errors and other surface errors such as sentence and word structures. “Of greater concern to them were the kinds of issues the sociology professor we quoted in our introduction described, e.g., whether the students could write “independently” and critically about the course material and express their ideas in their own words.” (Zawacki and Habib 59) As mentioned in the quote above, teachers worry about the level of extent to which students understand the material that they are learning in the course. They have a right to worry about that, because it is indeed very important for the students to understand the material that is being taught in class in order to be able to succeed and do well in the class as well as in other academic settings. The solution is that instead of overlooking grammatical errors, teachers should have individual conversations with the multilingual students to discuss with them about the material that they are teaching and check with the students to see if they understand what is being taught in class. They have to be involved in the process in which students transfer or transition from one education system to another and help them do this as quickly and effectively as they can. Multilingual students might understand the content of the material very well, but their lack of vocabulary and in some cases, their lack of confidence in their language skills, might stop them from being able to express themselves and show what they have learned. Also, the way that they interpret the material might be different, because of the different cultures and academic systems that they have been exposed to. Some information and concepts might be viewed differently in different cultures. Teachers need to point out the expectations that they have for the course and the homework or tests or essays that they assign. Even though, their view might be different, that does not mean that it is wrong. Their multicultural view can add more to the class discussions.
Additive effects of multilingualism
“At best, the competence of the multilingual is considered additive- that is, one language competence added to competence in another, each remaining distinct and whole.” (Canagarajah 158) As Canagarajah mentions in his essay, one language can add to another language, instead of causing obstacles in the reading or writing of the other language. Since multilingualism is additive that means that it can be beneficial in academic settings. Multilingual students have various experiences with different languages and culture, which they can use to add more style to their writing. They may have multiple different worldviews and that can be very helpful in academic writing. Some people also see it as an obstacle. In the text by Zawacki and Habib, the teachers think that students cannot fulfill the writing requirements for their courses because their “lived curriculum” is different from their “delivered curriculum”. (Zawacki and Habib 56) “Understanding the curriculum multilingual students have “lived” in their different academic communities may help us recognize, to continue with Yancey’s point, the tensions that exist for them in the U.S. classrooms around the “delivered curriculum”, that is, the syllabus, the course materials, the writing assignments, and so on, and the curriculum they in turn, experience in this new academic context.” (Zawacki and Habib 56)Teachers need to work more with students on what they have already been taught on different academic settings, and add more to that, instead of starting to teach the way of writing and thinking all over again. These students are already prepared to think and analyze, but their only obstacle is being able to think and write in the expected academic writing way that is specific to the American classrooms.
Different people view multilingualism in different ways. Some people think that it has an enhancing and additive effect while others believe that it has an obstructive effect. Multilingualism can be very beneficial in academic and social settings. The effect that it has on academic and social environments depends on how well students can incorporate it in these specific environments. Also when it comes to academic settings, teachers play a big role on the effect of multilingualism. They have to be open to the different worldviews that the students bring with them, and be willing to work with multilingual students and help them adapt and transition from one education system to another one. Multilingualism overall can have a positive effect on someone’s life. As well as multilingual people, native English speakers who come from different cultures can benefit or face obstacles in academic and social settings. Learning more about this can help create better education systems that meet the needs of multilingual and native English students. Social and academic effects are not the only ones connected to multilingualism. Multilingualism is also known to have positive cognitive effects. This topic can be explored in further writing projects.
Canagarajah, Suresh A. " A Rhetoric of Shuttling between Languages." Cross-language Relations in Composition. By Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, and Paul Kei. Matsuda. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2010. 158-79. Project Muse. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.
Cikopana, Doris. "Interview with Doris Cikopana." Interview by Bethanie Tabachnik and Margaux Nijkerk. YouTube. N.p., 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9420v8BiM-8&feature=youtu.be>.
Rodriguez, Julian. "Julian Rodriguez Interview." Interview by Kelvin Camilo. YouTube. N.p., 2 Dec. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvte6f5Ix6Y>.
Zawacki, Terry Myers, and Anna Sophia Habib. ""Will Our Stories Help Teachers Understand?": Multilingual Students Talk about Identity, Voice, and Expectations across Academic Communities." Reinventing Identities in Second Language Writing. By Michelle Cox, Jay Jordan, and Christina Ortmeier-Hooper. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2010. 54-73. Print.