iii. on multilingualism & writing

On the topic of multilingualism, I envy Europe. As far as I’m aware (which is not particularly, to be frank), Europe-based students/youth are able to speak several languages based solely on proximity to other countries/cultures. (I could be wrong, but hey, feel free to correct me.) Sure, here in the States it’s that proverbial MeLtInG PoT and kids are made to study a second language in school, but the former is honestly strikingly dependent on immediate environment and the latter is not enough.

I say the latter is not enough because I took 5+ years of Spanish in school and don’t remember a thing. At the most I can pick up a few words here and there and quote simple phrases, but I can’t say I’m at all proficient. Shame, that.

On the bright side, I’ve picked up basics of other languages over the past few years. Some Korean, some American Sign Language, a few dwindling words from my high school Japanese knowledge… Heck, I can introduce myself in like 6 languages, but that’s the extent of my linguistic diversity.

Regardless! Enough about me! (For now.)

This week, we were tasked with reading Paul Kei Matsuda’s Teaching Composition in the Multilingual World. For some reason, I’ve always only broached the topic of second language writing/education tentatively over the years. “ESL” was said in hushed voices when I was in elementary school. I didn’t know what it meant back then, but was always fed the idea that the ESL class in my school was the separate class. The lesser class.

Horrible, I know. I’m not proud of that mentality.

And I think it’s just the lingering bits of that mentality being drilled into me as a child that have me always question nowadays what the Correct Terms for ESL classes/students really are. I appreciate that Matsuda goes into detail about “defining” the topic, specifically talks about that mentality and points it out as a widespread issue of thought.

While it’s mildly comforting to not be the only one conscious about the problematic thought, it’s discouraging and unfortunate that it’s a thought at all. If that makes sense.

Matsuda brings up the “constant struggle for nonstigmatizing terms” in regards to ESL/ELL/ESOL/etc. education, and how in years of efforts, it’s possible that “any attempt to find a stigma-resistant alternative is ultimately futile–until people begin to challenge and dispel the very notion that being a nonnative English speaker is somehow a deficit” (“Proud” 15, as qtd. in Teaching Composition in the Multilingual World 38).

[Is that how you indirectly quote? Two plus years of writing center work and I’m still not sure on the formatting.]

Anyway, wow. I hate that this mentality is a thing. I hate this English elitism and odd, monolinguistic superiority. Like… you speak one language (a confusing, nonlinear, bastardized one at that; don’t start with me) and have the gall to look down on someone who’s learning that language ? which could quite possibly be the second, third, fourth one they know?

Golly gee. Incredible.

Oh, and then you make fun of their accent.

Wow. Incredible.

I’m tired.

Like mentally tired, but also physically, too? It’s 1:17 AM.

Anyway. I often tutor ESL students in the writing center where I work. I’ve heard plenty of those student express their frustrations that they are amazing writers in their own languages, but writing just as well in English is a whole other animal.

And it’s not just the language that’s the barrier, or the grammar, but the whole system of writing style. American research writings are straightforward, state a point at the beginning and execute a solid list of reasons to back it up.

Not every culture writes like this. I recall from my Writing Center Theory class that (and please correct me if I’m wrong) Asian cultures write in a way that suggests the main point, almost dances around it (for lack of a better term) to not come off as rude.

I’m intrigued by this concept–the stark contrast between writing styles. And from what I’ve heard, it’s not just academic writing–creative writing/storytelling follow a similar pattern. Again, I could be wrong! I’d love to go more into this idea of… like… indirect writing. On the differences between writing styles throughout the world.

Possible thesis, perhaps? Shrug.

Before I go, I’d like to mention the article we annotated in class, Lina Mounzer’s “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria.” I didn’t get a chance to read the entire piece in class, but what I did read was eye-opening. No words can express the strength it must take to translate the women’s stories. Mounzer goes into the nature of translation itself, and how hard it is to take a perfectly crafted sentence, tear it down and strip it of all its contextuality, and build it up again in English in the hopes that it will come across with even an iota of the effect of the original.

Reading Mounzer’s piece and discussing it in class reminded me of something. Might be a bit of a stretch, and I hope it doesn’t make light of the topic, but in the end, I think it’s important to note.

A singer I listen to said on a livestream that he was learning English. That he wanted to of course connect with fans, but also… it was because of music. English music. He wants to be able to hear a song and understand the meaning exactly, completely, in that moment, without having to read a bare bones translation that will, essentially, never fully translate the lyrics’ meaning (without at least some level of contextual explanation, of course). I get that. I get that because I want that, too. I want to be able to hear the music he creates and understand the meaning exactly, completely, in that moment.

Translation is a beautiful thing, but… there are things it can’t do.

Which brings me back around to the need to learn, I guess. That envy of Europe where kids grow up learning several languages at once. Other languages are beautiful, after all.

Why strip a person of something beautiful like that?

Alright. I’m gonna cut it here! Looking forward to our discussion in class.

G’night/G’mornin’ all.

–C

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