When you are the first generation in your family to be able to attend school (by Dr. Mela Sarkar in collaboration with Chhanda Bashuri, Titli Das Bairagya, Aduri, Bharati & Puspa Mirdha, Shraboni Mondal, and Manjari Roy Chowdhury)

Introductions at the ISW Chella site. Left to right: Bharati, Puspa, Aduri, Sitola, Shraboni & Chhanda

A village in rural West Bengal, India, where as early as February the temperature goes up to 35 degrees Celsius or so every day, with no prospect of rain until April or May, is about as far from a Montreal winter as one can imagine. It’s where I have just spent four weeks working with several gifted and enthusiastic young women who teach at supplemental schools run by a local NGO, the Institute of Social Work (ISW). Like many NGOs across India and in the developing world, ISW works in the local language (here, Bengali) and draws mostly on local resources. My cousin Nupur Sarkar has been part of ISW since its inception in 1978; I am much indebted to her for having made it possible for me to spend time at ISW’s Birbhum-district schools. After a previous visit in 2019, I wrote about the experience here on the BILD blog, and have dreamed ever since then of coming back and staying awhile.

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Reflections on invoking Sankofa in African language policy and planning (by Aisha Barise)

My journey on researching African languages began with my Master’s thesis work (Barise, 2021) on Somali linguistics––an East African Cushitic language. Currently in my PhD, as I revisit the contentious and age-old question of the language and the nation in Africa, I find myself being inspired by East African writers like Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo (1986) and seeking refuge in East African languages such as Kiswahili, Somali, and Amharic beyond research work. As a Somali speaker, who cannot speak Kiswahili or Amharic, I find myself growing in awe of these languages as majestic sounds and symbols in which Africa sheds tears and laughs in joy. Tears and laughter need no translation. Through them, I hear myself lost yet found, whether it is through Kiswahili calling me by the name Maisha, the nostalgic songs of Tizita in Ethiopia (wa Ngũgĩ, 2021), or the uplifting dances of Dhaanto in Somalia.

African Student Association UW Seattle. (2019). [Video of Somali students preforming Dhaanto]
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What I learned from Cesar Millan about posthuman perspectives in language education (by Dr Sunny Man Chu Lau)

This blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

Cesar Millan is widely known among dog lovers through his Emmy-nominated television series Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. His unique approach as a dog trainer—who aims to train humans and not just their dogs—makes him a household name.  

Cesar grew up with animals in rural Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, where his grandfather was a tenant farmer. After illegally crossing the border into the United States when he turned 19, he started working as a dog groomer and walker, and impressed many of his clients by his natural way with dogs despite having no formal training. Eventually, he got noticed and invited to do a reality TV series, which became the most popular show on the National Geographic Channel. The rest is history.

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WhatsApp as a Learning Tool: Linguistic mélange bi Lubnan (by Lana Zeaiter)

Lana F. Zeaiter, our guest blogger this week, is a second-year Ph.D. student at the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, she decided to immigrate to Canada in 2019 in pursuit of a new horizon. She has extensive experience as an English instructor and curriculum developer at both the school and the university levels. Inspired by her own quest for identity and driven by her belief in the importance of identity in language learning, her research interests are focused on the role of plurilingualism in preserving learners’ identity.

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

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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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