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WriteCast Episode 74: Tips for Multilingual Students

© Walden University Writing Center 2020

 

[Introduction music]

 

CLAIRE: Welcome to Write Cast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers, a monthly podcast by the Walden University Writing Center. I’m Claire Helakoski,

 

KACY: and I’m Kacy Walz.

 

CLAIRE: In this episode, Claire and guest Amy Bakke discuss their experiences learning second languages in the context of tips for Walden students.

Welcome! Today we’ll be welcoming guest to the podcast, Amy Bakke! Amy is a Senior Writing Instructor here at Walden and has been working here for almost seven years. We’ve invited Amy to join us today to discuss her work with multilingual students and her own experiences learning and writing in a language other than her first. Amy, could you tell us a little bit about your language experience, both teaching and learning?

 

AMY: Sure! And thanks for having me!  I started learning Spanish in high school, but only for a couple of years.  When I arrived at college I was required to test into a level of Spanish, and I didn’t even test out of the first semester course.  However, having the base knowledge from high school, my first semester of Spanish was pretty easy, and I actually ended up being the person in class who could help others understand when they were struggling.  I think this experience of catching on and being able to help others was rather formative in deciding to then study Spanish as a major and go on to tutor and teach both Spanish and ESL, or English as a second language. 

Later on in undergrad, I studied abroad in Spain, and then in grad school, I studied and worked in Chile, so I had more substantial opportunities to practice and use the language in context.  As I alluded to, I also have taught English learners.  My master’s degree is in teaching English as a second language, and I have taught English to people who are just beginning to learn the language as well as many students, especially at Walden, who are quite proficient in their learning of English and wanting to refine their language knowledge and writing skills.  I’ve worked with students from dozens of different language backgrounds, and here at Walden, I’ve created a number of the resources that are especially for our language learner students.

 

CLAIRE: Thanks for sharing, Amy and I will link to some of those resources in our show notes for this podcast, in case you’re interested! I have a little bit of experience myself, but nothing nearly as extensive! I studied French in high school for four years, and my Bachelor’s degree is actually a dual degree in creative writing and French linguistics, so for that degree I wrote lots of papers in French, I read a lot of French texts,, and studied abroad in Paris.

Let’s talk a little bit about what was most challenging for us as secondary language learners.

 

AMY: Sure! I think a lot of it has to do with the use of the language in different contexts.  While I learned what might be called “by the book Spanish,” when I was out in the world using the language, I found that I lacked some of the conversational language, which varies significantly by region.  So there was a lot of listening and observing of things like, how do friends greet each other here? (as opposed to how I learned it from my class or in a lesson) And how should I interact differently with my professor, for example, or the family I lived with? And having the language to use in those contexts was important.  So, I think it all gets down to some of the nuance of language and the tone or register used in different contexts.  It seems like there are many layers to learn, and so it’s not just straightforward as vocabulary and grammar.

 

CLAIRE: That’s a really good point, and that was my experience living abroad, too. How I actually interacted with other people and how other people spoke was very different from how I had learned French in my coursework, or I was expected to write French in my coursework. So that’s something good, I think, for Walden students to pay attention to, too, is those kind of different tones of a language and to be aware of when using which tone is more important.

For me, learning vocabulary and trying to memorize phrasing that was slightly different than what I was used to in English was the most challenging. For example, in French and English the prepositions used with certain words tend to be different. In French, you think “to” something rather than “about” something So small nuances like that—there’s just no real rule to follow a lot of times, you just have to memorize it and learn to “hear” what sounds right—which can be frustrating! But it did get a lot better time and kind of continued exposure.

Amy, what did you find most useful as you were learning and writing in a secondary language?

 

AMY: Great question! You know, I think I touched on this for the previous question, but I think probably doing a lot of observing – and by this I mean both listening and watching as well as reading.  Immersing myself in the place and context was kind of a learn-by-force experience, but I think it was so much more effective for me than if I were to just kind of stay in my home space and electively read or watch something  And I think it takes a lot of time and effort doing that, you know, whether it’s being in the environment or doing reading, I think, especially for Walden students, doing a lot of reading in their discipline is really important, because I think that that is really kind of how we can pick up little bits and pieces of how is language used for this purpose and in this context.

 

CLAIRE: Yes, I agree—reading and really paying attention as much as you can to what’s around you are really important and helpful to me. I found that reading aloud in particular, really helped develop my “ear” and “eye” for French. So, seeing the way that things were strung together, but also hearing it as I read it to myself out loud, helped me notice when I was using phrasing that was a little bit off and maybe I couldn’t say why, but just kind of having that instinct comes with time and that practice of reading. So, sometimes when I would notice that something was off in my own writing, I would do some Googling for phrasing, or review my dictionary, or even talk to a friend about it. But, often I would notice at least enough to know that there was something I needed to revise on my own. And you can’t truly hope to eliminate all instances of minor phrasing issues when you’re learning a secondary language. It’s just, and I know that’s just cringing to hear, but it’s just not going to happen. And I think, although that sounds discouraging, it’s actually encouraging because it releases you from this kind of complete perfectionism that’s not necessarily realistic.

Alright, so let’s focus a little bit more on our students. Amy, do you have any advice for Walden students in particular?

 

AMY: You know, one thing that I know I didn’t do enough of was reading and analyzing texts in my second language.  For example, when I was a student in Chile taking masters level classes in Spanish, I would write academic papers, but I think I always wrote them with my understanding of expectations for writing a paper in English – like the norms of what academic writing looks like in English, but just with Spanish words and grammar.  And honestly, maybe the norms for academic papers in English and Spanish aren’t all that different, but I also don’t think I ever dug in enough to know for sure.  So, what I’d recommend is for Walden students to check out the Walden Writing Center resources that are more about the overall composition of a paper, to understand what the expectations in this genre or context as in, in academic writing in English, what do introductions or body paragraphs typically look like in an academic paper or an essay? What’s the expectation for the overall organization of an essay? For things like presenting an argument and following up evidence with analysis.  Some of these ideas about norms and expectations may vary from one academic context to another and from language to language, as there isn’t a right or wrong way to communicate, it’s more so a matter or norms for the context or genre, and unfortunately sometimes these norms are kind of implied or not explicitly stated. So, you know kind of digging in and learning more about them will be an important part of that learning process.

 

CLAIRE: Yeah, I think that’s a really important process for a lot of students who are just coming back to academic writing. It’s kind of its own genre in a lot of ways, and the writing we do at Walden is specific to APA style, so there are a lot of little things to learn and focus on as you mentioned with those implied structures or expectations that are good to review. My advice for Walden students is a little bit similar to yours, which is to Write in English, think in English, read aloud in English as much as possible to stretch this “muscle” in your brain. I also recommend turning on Word’s English grammar and spell check, since this can catch lots of small things and underline them for you so that you can pay attention and make those revisions. My other piece of advice is to not get discouraged! Learning another language, writing and thinking in that language is really hard! And students should feel proud that they are brave enough to work towards a degree in a secondary language.

I thought it might be fun to share a funny language story since we have a little time.

 

AMY: Ooh, yes! Let’s see…  Most of mine have to do with food, of course. When I lived with a host family in Spain, we were having lunch, and my host mom told me what we were having, and it was kind of an earlier point in my language learning process and I wasn’t sure what the word meant., so after lunch, I went down to my room to grab my dictionary.  Well, she told me the main entree was “lomo,” but I thought I remembered that she said “lobo.”  And, if you know Spanish, or maybe if you like Shakira, you might know that “lobo” means wolf.  So I met up with my friends later that day and told them that I just was served wolf for lunch, and everyone couldn’t even believe it.  Only later did I recognize the similarities between the words and realized what I actually had was a cut of pork rather than wolf.  I think something similar happened at least a couple other times that semester.  But, you know, kind of one of those things that you don’t forget.

 

CLAIRE: Word mixups are often a funny part of learning a language! And it’s important to embrace the funny parts of learning a language, I think. As some of you may know in French, like in Spanish, they have gendered articles for their nouns. I was out for pizza with a friend and I asked for “un carafe d’eau”—which means a carafe of water—and the server laughed and said (very nicely) “une carafe d’eau—it is a girl”. I was a little embarrassed at the time, but gendered nouns are again one of those things that take practice to learn and I will never forget that particular one again after that incident! So, you know, you can learn from those moments when you make a funny mistake as well.

Thanks again for joining us, Amy!

 

AMY: Yeah! Thanks so much for having me!

 

CLAIRE: Remember, students, keep working hard, practicing, and paying attention to what you hear, see, and read in your secondary languages—and we at the Writing Center are here to help, too! Again you can look at our show notes for links to some of our great resources for secondary language learners and multilingual students. Until next time, keep writing, keep inspiring.

 

[Music]

 

KACY: WriteCast is a monthly podcast produced by the Walden University Writing Center. Visit our online Writing Center at academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter. Find more WriteCast episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. We would love to hear from you! Connect with us on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, and at writingsupport@waldenu.edu. Thanks for listening!