New Seed Grant Brings Translangualism to Swat

On November 7th, Professor Natalie Mera Ford, Swarthmore’s Multilingual Language Specialist and Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department, alongside Professor Betty Litsinger, an English professor and the director of multilingual writing at Bryn Mawr, and Professor Barabra Hall, the multilingual and developmental writing specialist and lecturer of writing at Haverford College, hosted their first of three reading groups, “Internationalizing the Liberal Arts through Linguistic Inclusion: Translanguaging.” In their own respective roles as multilingual specialists, these three faculty members specialize in providing writing support to students for whom English is a second language.  

This discussion was part of the Mellon Tri-College Seed Grant, a program that aims to support faculty projects related to research, pedagogy, curriculum, or service. Alongside the other two multilingual writing specialists in Bryn Mawr and Haverford, Professor Mera Ford initially applied for a brainstorming grant to fund a discussion on how they work with multilingual and international students, either through workshops or one-on-one meetings. 

“In a way, we were getting together and sharing our best practices. And that led us to think, well, we really want to make sure that we have a larger conversation within the Tri-College community with not just us, but any faculty and staff that’s interested, and certainly students, to think further about how we maintain a strongly linguistically diverse and a strongly international population,” said Professor Mera Ford. 

With the support of the Seed Grant, Professor Mera Ford and her colleagues were able to design a series of three talks that could serve as a platform for robust conversations on linguistic inclusion and possible concrete practices that can create a just and fair environment for multilingual and international students. 

The first talk, “Translanguaging,” revolved around the concept of how differences in language can be seen not as a hurdle to jump over, but rather as a tool to express a person’s ideas. Rather than being seen as a writer’s error, a translanguaging/translingualism approach urges people to really analyze how language differences affect the meaning of the writing. 

“We want to start thinking more concretely about how are we being sufficiently fair in relation to how we respond to writing. If there’s accented English, for example, not to have a surface level difference feel as if that is somehow impeding our appreciation of the strengths of that writing and communication,” Professor Mera Ford said. 

Before the talk, all the people that RSVPed to the event were sent a reading, “Language difference in writing: toward a translingual approach,” by Bruce Horner and Min-Zhan Lu to provide attendees context on the topic of translanguaging. The format of the event was a round-table discussion. 

“I think the interactive conversations and hearing from multiple voices matters a lot more to us in conceiving the Seed Grant. We want to really hear what are people’s experiences currently related to language and how do we see language diversity in action? Or how do we see linguistic inclusion? Or possibly how do we see linguistic exclusion happening?” said Professor Mera Ford. The event was attended by Swarthmore students, Writing Associates, Linguistics professors, Modern Languages and Literatures professors, as well as various students and faculty members from Bryn Mawr and Haverford.  

“I expected it to take more of a lecture format, but in the end, there were only ten to fifteen minutes of lecture, and then there was lots of roundtable discussion. I thought that was actually really, really valuable. We all got to discuss our own translanguaging experiences and what our thoughts are on the future of translingualism,” said Greg Boatman ’23, a linguistics student at Swarthmore, who also added how he has experienced translingualism in high school. “I was an exchange student in Chile for about ten months and I have a lot of experience being in a foreign language classroom both outside and inside the US. And it is common for me, when I’m speaking in Spanish, for example, to think that there’s a word in English that suits my needs or expresses an idea better, and I feel like using that instead of a Spanish word or vice versa, I’m speaking in English and I feel like there’s a Spanish word that just fits the situation better. So in those senses, I’ve used translanguaging a little bit in the classroom.” Boatman said.

Peem Lerdputtipongporn ’21, a WA at Swarthmore, also attended the talk. As an international student and student mentor, Lerdputtipongporn noted how he appreciated this project. 

“Because our community is becoming more linguistically diverse, it is crucial that we understand the experience of multilingual students so that we can be more mindful of our pedagogical practices and how we treat one another … I sometimes struggle with the question ‘to what extent do we accommodate or assimilate writers?’” he said. “This workshop affects my work as a WA in that it reframes the aforementioned question from choosing one or the other to figuring out how to work with student writers in a way that honors their linguistic diversity.” 

Looking forward, there will be two talks: one at Bryn Mawr on translation on February 5th, and one at Haverford on Global Englishes in the Spring 2020 semester. Despite the differing topics, these talks share the common thread of how language and language difference is treated in a predominantly English speaking academic setting, and poses similar questions such as whether there exists a linguistic bias against different versions of English. “We’re talking about translation as being reconceived as something that’s perhaps occurring all the time. Especially when you’re writing an academic paper, there’s a type of translation that occurs. Even paraphrasing is translation too … The seminar at Haverford, which will be on World Englishes and will tie back into multilingualism and … this notion that there is one standard academic English and every other version is somehow less adequate for communication in college,” said Professor Mera Ford. 

This grant is a step forward in the effort to support Swarthmore College’s linguistically diverse and international population.

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