Ancestral storytelling as a portal of possibility (by Warda Farah)

Warda Farah, our guest blogger this week, is a Social Entrepreneur, Speech and Language Therapist, adjunct lecturer and author. She set up her company, Language Waves, to address the barriers that Black and minoritized families face when accessing Speech and Language Therapy services, by offering alternative services that are culturally and linguistically affirming. Her approach is guided by her own experiences as a neurodivergent Black woman and subverts the traditional medical model of Speech & Language Therapy by centering language as a multimodal emancipatory tool that resists the standard language ideologies imposed on minorities. “Whilst wearing many hats,” says Farah, “ultimately my work aims to centre Black Joy.”

Twitter : @wfarahslt

As a student, I was constantly bombarded with the idea that the way I thought, spoke, and wrote was not good enough. I was made to believe that my writing lacked structure, was grammatically inconsistent, and always missed the mark. For years, I struggled with my writing, never feeling confident in my ability to express my thoughts clearly and coherently.

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“Your English is very good!”: A compliment? (by Dr Zhongfeng Tian)

Zhongfeng Tian, our guest blogger this week, is originally from China, and a multilingual speaker of Mandarin and English with conversational fluency in Cantonese. He holds a PhD degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Boston College and is currently an Assistant Professor of TESOL/Applied Linguistics at the University of Texas at San Antonio. As a former ESL/EFL teacher, he worked with students of different age groups and cultural and linguistic backgrounds in China, Cambodia, and U.S. His research is theoretically grounded in translanguaging and critical pedagogies, and he strives to transform emergent bilinguals’ learning experiences through creating heteroglossic, meaningful educational contexts. He is the co-editor of two books: “Envisioning TESOL through a Translanguaging Lens: Global Perspectives” (Springer, 2020) and “English-Medium Instruction and Translanguaging” (Multilingual Matters, 2021).

As a former international student who is originally from China and has learned English as a foreign language, I have often got praised for my English skills in the U.S.: “Your English is very good!” or “You speak English very well”. While these comments affirmed my hard work in my past years of English learning and boosted my confidence to a certain degree, the more I heard them, the more I have felt conflicted about these “compliments”: they were just like constant reminders that I am not a “native” English speaker and I am an “outsider” in this country. Usually after this comment, people will follow up with a series of questions: “Where are you from?”, “Are you from China?”, and “How long have you been here?”, for example.

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French Immersion Ideologies in Canada by Sylvie Roy (reviewed by Elizabeth MacDougall)

Our guest blogger this week, Elizabeth MacDougall, is a second language English teacher, born and raised in a rural context in Québec in the small town of Saint-Georges de Beauce. She is currently a Master’s student in the Second Language Education program at McGill University.

I grew up in rural Québec with an English-Canadian father and a French-Canadian mother. I quickly adapted to code-switching as I simultaneously conversed in two languages at the breakfast table. The threads of these two languages have always woven the tapestry of my understanding of languages and how they are used in daily life. As I was reading the first line of Roy’s (2020) book, French Immersion Ideologies, which included her positioning, background, and personal experiences with languages, I could not help but deeply connect with her life story and upbringing. “…it does matter that I was raised in a majority French-speaking province and I identify as a Francophone. This is how I see myself and I do not want to promote the idea that monolingualism is wrong and multilingualism is good. My only goal is to make sure that all are included when talking about languages or linguistic repertoires (Blommaert 2010), whether it is in writing or when speaking” (Roy, 2020, p.2-3). This passage resonates with how I see myself as an English second language educator and speaker of French and English. It is important for me that everyone feels included and welcomed when speaking and writing in English or French in and outside of the classroom. Widening the scope of who can identify as “legitimate” speakers and writers of a language is crucial.

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On Becoming a Middle Class (by Pramod Sah)

Our guest blogger this week, Pramod K. Sah, is a PhD candidate & Killam Scholar in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia. His research interests include language planning and policy, English medium instruction, language ideology, TESOL and social justice, politics of English, and critical literacies. His work is driven by the core values of social justice indexes, for example, class and ethnicity, in English language education policies and practices in low- and middle-income polities, often drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s critical social theories. Pramod’s research has appeared in the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, International Multilingual Research Journal, and Asia Pacific Journal of Education, among others, and in many edited volumes.

The privilege of being an ethnographer is to get continued reminders to check and re-check one’s perceptions toward what’s happening in society. In 2019 during my ethnographic fieldwork at a public school (government-funded) in an ethnic minority community in Nepal (called Madheshi), one question that a student interlocutor asked me challenged my perspectives toward the English language that I had firmly held.

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Is it OK to “neutralize” someone’s gender when they haven’t asked you to? Interpreting Gender Neutral Language in Reference Letters (by Dr Karen Pennesi)

Karen Pennesi, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Western Ontario, became a friend of BILD and guest blogger over three years ago during her sabbatical time in Montreal. We are delighted to welcome her back.

I write this post looking for some insights. I was recently evaluating a set of scholarship applications and was struck by the use of gender neutral language in two of the reference letters. After reading so many letters that followed the conventions of using gendered pronouns and referring to the students by first or last name, I found the use of “they/their” and other unspecified expressions like “the candidate” or “the applicant” really caught my attention. It seemed awkward and forced so I tried to figure out why.

Here are some of the phrases excerpted from the letters, followed by letters about the same student written by a different referee. I have used pseudonyms.

First Example

Professor A wrote:

Michael started the program… and completed their thesis… their research investigated…. The candidate successfully obtained…Michael demonstrated…. The candidate also…. Michael presented their research… I hired the candidate… They will compare…. I support their application…

Compare this to another letter for the same student written by Professor B:

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