Wednesday, December 26, 2007

World Englishes, Pop Musics, and Writing about Writing about Music

"I even have a column in Ebony magazine called 'Musings.'"
- Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan (NBC's 30 Rock), on the subject of whether or not he is illiterate.

  • Writing about writing -- that is, studying professional, published writing -- seems like a dangerous thing to do if you want people to like you. I don't mean being a critic, writing about whether or not you think Joan Didion's new book is any good, because we seem to have a pretty well-accepted system set up for that kind of thing. I mean being a rhetorician, and making a study of people who write. This is on my mind because I've been kicking around (for some time now) the idea of studying music reviews -- how they're written and why, all their attendant tropes, expectations, and biases -- and it seems to me that what I'm thinking about is nothing short of, you know, kind of ripping on my colleagues. How could it not be? You know, something like "Sexism in reviews" or "Music critics' portrayals of Japanese women." It's like to be "critical" in every possible sense of the word, yes? How can I do this? I specifically want to start looking at the way music critics write about Chinese rock bands.

A further question: does this fall under the general heading of "cultural studies," a discipline which I have claimed to hate for the last two years? Or is this simply rhetorical analysis? I have this scary feeling that it's cult-studs. Noooooooooo!

  • Still doing a lot of thinking about a program of research that involves studying the use of English in rock/pop music in "non-English-speaking" countries (i.e., "expanding circle" countries, particularly China, because if you are interested in the global spread of English, how can you not study China? Plus, I live here).

Potential research questions include:
What influences a band/singer's choice to sing in English vs. any other language?

Codemixing in songs -- for example, throwing in English words like "yeah," "uh huh" or "come on" in a song that's otherwise not in English. Why?

How do fans react to the use of English in pop music?

How and why do bands/singers choose English pseudonyms/band names?

How do a country's language policy and planning decisions affect/interact with the use of English in pop music? (For example, the Singaporean government's enlisting of rappers in Speak Good English campaigns.)

How do English learners in China use English-language pop music (by Chinese artists and otherwise)? What about the weird pseudo-genre my students refer to as "English songs," which is basically songs in English that nobody outside China has ever heard and which are often translations of Chinese pop songs?

What I need to do to investigate this:

First and foremost - listen to more expanding circle pop music, esp. Chinese pop and rock. Need to find a balance between indie rock and big pop stars, but I'll have much easier access to China's indie rock bands if I want to actually interview musicians.

Find out who is doing research on this stuff. Obviously Pennycook is looking at language, identity, and hip-hop; I need to start trolling his bibliographies. Lily Kong looks at geography and pop in Singapore, but I haven't found anybody who is specifically looking at English + pop music + China. (Maybe this means I am original! Until some PhD student reads this blog and steals it!) Search back issues of World Englishes and other WE-related journals, and also relevant pop music-related journals.

Start writing more about it in a popular capacity (newspapers, magazines). Find some outlets who are interested in Chinese indie rock and start covering it for them! If possible, make trips to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong and make contacts in the indie rock scenes. Make money while doing research! (...just call our toll-free number...)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mystery of the (dry) Salty Peanut

The mystery: why is the Chinese word gan (土) inexplicably -- and frequently -- translated as everybody's favorite English swear word? I myself enjoy snacking on a local brand of packaged, salted peanuts, the label of which reads: "Salty to F*** the Peanut."

The mystery is solved by a couple of bloggers, including Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania.

Please visit these links if you're up for a frank discussion of 土, which is supposed to mean "dry," but often isn't translated that way, with hilarious results. Plenty of pictorial evidence.

The Language Log (UPenn)
The Etiology and Elaboration of a Flagrant Mistranslation
F***ing Stationery

Monday, December 03, 2007

esl vs efl

Maybe, just maybe, this is the case:

Purpose of ESL writing in the US: Teach Ss the conventions of English academic writing for use in "content" classes, in which they'll be graded by professors who are well-versed in "inner circle" English writing.
Purpose of EFL writing in China: Teach Ss formula for "a good essay" which will earn them high marks on the TEM and CET exams -- which will be graded by English teachers who may be grading them "Chinese-style*" -- therefore allowing them to graduate from college.

This isn't always true, but it's making me rethink the way I teach. This semester, I mostly taught the writing process and focussed on clearly expressing original thoughts and ideas. We've been going through it step by step, with, I'm sorry to add, little explicit grammar instruction. (Shamefully, I'll try to make up for this in coming weeks.)

Perhaps what the students need -- as much as it goes against my own training and beliefs -- is instruction that's heavy on "correctness." I need to do a lot more thinking about this!

* I don't mean this pejoratively; I just mean that in some cases, writing in a more "Chinese" style may be preferable to writing in a "Western" style. I'm too tired to explain this properly.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Every Coin Has Two Sides*

(*or, Every Chinese Student's Favorite Maxim)

Just now, I found myself unable to answer a student who asked me whether it's OK to argue both sides of an issue in an essay. I suddenly felt conflicted, even paralyzed, first thinking:

Of course you can't do that. If every essay argued two different sides of an issue, then every thesis statement would be "moderation is good."

(Or would it be "moderation has both good and bad aspects?")

But wait, is this cultural imperialism? You know, "you must take a stand, fight for your individual opinion, show why you are right like a good American..."

Then I started going through all the contrastive (now called intercultural!) rhetoric stuff: do I believe "Chinese logic is circular" -- thanks a lot, Kaplan 1966 --or not? And, do I have to teach American writing conventions, or do I leave room for them to write "Chinese-style" essays in English? And how can I tell the difference between Chinese rhetoric and poor "Western" rhetoric?

And then I got even more concerned: Am I even teaching them about how to come up with thesis statements at all? So far we've talked a lot about "topics," and I've told them that their thesis needs to be supported by detailed, specific examples, but how much time have I put in to making sure they know how to craft worthwhile thesis statements? Is every thesis statement simply going to be "we should do X" or "X is bad?"

Which led to the other ultimate concern which plagues me every time I speak with the other sophomore English writing teacher, who focuses more on mechanics in his classes: Have I gone too far altogether by focusing on ideas and arguments instead of sentence structure, mechanics, grammar, vocabulary, diction?

I have a long way to go if I ever want to get as far as this guy...(ha ha!)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chinese English (pt 2): "I have right to speak English in this way."

After my students read Amy Tan's "Mother Tongue" (yes, I realize this is utterly unoriginal in terms of comp class readings), I asked them this question:

Amy Tan believes that there is not only one way to speak English, but many different “Englishes.” Do you agree or disagree? We know about “American English” and “British English,” but can you describe “Chinese English?”

I expected that I'd get a lot of answers telling me the Chinese English (or "Chinglish," as some call it) is sub-standard and that students should work hard to improve their English. Why did I expect this? Because a lot of times, students like to give the answers they think we want to hear. I've read a ton of freewrites that end with something like "I know I must be a good student and study harder."

Actually, though, about 90% of the responses concluded the following basic points (my paraphrase):

1. Chinese English is as valid as any other English.
2. Chinese people can understand each other when they use Chinese English, so what's the problem?
3. As long as the basic meaning comes across, it's not necessary to use "correct" English grammar.

some even added:
4. Chinese English will eventually become known as a standard English*.

One of my favorite responses reads, in part:

"Sometime we use the wrong tense that American cannot understand what we say but we think we do the good work. And most of us pronunciation is not correct. It is easy misunderstanding. But I have right to speak English in this way."

Some responses indicated a pretty sophisticated understanding of language (as in, who decides what is the right way to speak English anyway?), while some were more nationalistic. One thing's clear: these students have no problem with Chinese English. What does this mean for me as a teacher of "academic English writing" in China? I don't know yet...

* I'll also mention here that almost all of my students, when unscientifically polled, believe in the inevitability of Chinese replacing English as the "international language" in the future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Briefly: OWL

The more I use Purdue's OWL (online writing lab), the more I appreciate it. It's a rich resource for students and teachers alike. I just did a lesson on plagiarism based mostly on stuff I found there. (Irony alarm goes off.)

More to come on Chinese English; I have a lot to say about it and so do my students.

Starting to think about next semester's courses. I've been really re-energized by the book Teaching Large Multilevel Classes by Natalie Hess. The schedule here is still not ideal -- seeing students only once a week for speaking, and even worse, only twice a month for writing -- but I think we can do some cool stuff next term.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

All night lesson planning extravaganza

4 am, Beijing Time:

I'm in the middle of what may become my first all-nighter since I was a junior in college.

Note to self: don't do this ever again.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chinese English (pt 1): Culture and Context

The questions of Chinese English have been on my mind a lot lately -- questions like "what is it?" and "does it exist?" and "what do people think it is?" and "how do people (Chinese and non-Chinese) interpret its use?" I'll be exploring it some more in the coming weeks, but for now, let me share with you a paragraph I recently read from a textbook written for Chinese elementary school students.

Why Can't You Drink Cold Water Right After Sport?

After you play some sport, you often feel thirsty. So you like to drink some water or some orange juice. But you mustn't drink anything cold. It is not good for your stomach. If you have a cold drink, you may be sick. Your parents will worry about you. And you can't go to school. You can't see your friends. You can't play outside.
Why can't you drink cold water right after sport?

Although I disagree with the premise of this paragraph, since I didn't grow up with the Chinese belief that cold drinks are bad for you, in some ways I'm heartened to see that English is being used to transmit Chinese cultural norms. Too often, English textbooks use "Western" examples and scenarios, which I think must be somewhat alienating. By now, learning English is not like learning a foreign language "just for fun" that you'll never use, and so the idea that it must be tied to learning American or British culture is beginning to become a bit less relevant. I'm always trying to tell my students that a language can be used by anyone, and that their goal is not to become like "Western" English speakers, but to develop their own use of English as individuals with a Chinese cultural identity. (Not in so many words, of course.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Briefly: Plagiarism, Shaoxing Phonology, and Grading

I. A great discussion of plagiarism in ESL and EFL contexts. Sage advice from Paul Stables:
...the best way to help undergraduate students avoid plagiarism is to set assignments that are not plagiarism friendly. Very specific essay questions rather than vague general term papers can help the student to approach the original source material from a particular angle which assists with the selection of material to be included and excluded.

II. If I actually knew anything about linguistics (or Chinese), I'd be devouring this PhD dissertation by Zhang Jisheng, which is a comprehensive analysis of the sounds which comprise the language spoken by most of my neighbors. As it is, I'm just skipping the phonology stuff (90% of the paper) and reading interesting trivia about the language. Apparently, Shaoxinghua has influenced some Japanese and Cantonese words -- and it has eight tones, compared to the four tones of Putonghua (Mandarin). I'll post any other interesting tidbits. Also, I considered changing the name of this blog and my field of study to "Totally Not Real Linguistics" or "Pretend Linguistics."

III. I may have alluded to this before, but as a rule, Chinese universities place a huge emphasis on final exams at the expense of any other classwork. My students' final exam is required to constitute 80% of their grade in my class, while participation, attendance, and all other homework must only account for 20%. As a result, I've discovered that I'm giving way too much homework, which is a problem because a) the students don't take it seriously and b) it's boring as hell to grade 180 notebooks of grammar and sentence structure exercises. So, I'm planning to emphasize in-class writing activities much more during the rest of the semester -- so they can practice the skills they'll need for the final (and, more importantly to me, beyond the final).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Authentic Language and the Language of Authenticity

Earlier this week, I read Alastair Pennycook's article “Language, Localization, and the Real: Hip-hop and the Global Spread of Authenticity” from the JLIE. It's quite exciting to see that the direction I want to go in my profession -- to study the confluence of language, music, and social practices involving them both -- is starting to gain traction in academic circles.

The article itself was really interesting, and I'll have more on it later, but I also wanted to note that there's a debate about "realness" and/or "authenticity" as it relates to race and class happening now in the world of music criticism.

The hullabaloo in Rock-Crit land (aka “Cultural Studies Jr.”) strikes me as a bit more territorial and opinionated (what is real for real? And why don't indie rockers sound more Black?) compared to the current understanding of “realness” that seems to be put forth by Pennycook and others. While Carl Wilson and Sasha Frere-Jones write about the problems of indie rock, they don't seem to be that interested in how people “use” indie rock. It's almost as if – and I'm just kind of thinking out loud here – it's now possible to be a prescriptive cult-studies practitioner, the way you can be a prescriptive grammarian. Isn't the nut of Frere-Jones' argument something like “indie rock should be more conscious of race?” This is fine, I guess, but I'm more interested in figuring out the way people use music, the way people shape music and music shapes people, than in diagnosing any particular problems with it. Perhaps I should be more concerned with justice and all that. The politics of critical applied linguistics remain a bit beyond my ken at this point, but I find the direction of Pennycook's research exciting, to say the least.

Final half-formed thought

Hybridity is a big buzzword these days – along with localization – and these words seem to me to offer a compelling understanding of the way our world works, linguistically and otherwise, these days: we take what we've got, even if what we've “got” is the product of an evil-sounding and suspicious thing like cultural imperialism, and shape it to our own ends, yielding particular – but thick and deep – meanings in local contexts.

More later?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stuff I've Been Reading

This week, I started a new regime of reading to (I hope) work on my academic chops. Here's what I read. Comments are welcome, though this collection of readings is a bit esoteric.

Shi-xu (2006). Editorial: Researching Multicultural Discourses. Journal of Multicultural Discourses. 1(1): 1-5

The Journal of Multicultural Discourses is an exciting (if at times theoretically impenetrable by a novice like myself) journal based at Zhejiang University, just the next town East of where I live. This editorial sets the research agenda for the journal, which seeks to sort of "liberate" discourse studies* from its Eurocentric biases. I'm most interested in Shi-xu's desire to "reflect upon and re-create discourses in order to restore and elevate humanity" as well as to "engage in egalitarian intercultural communication, critique, and cooperation in discourse scholarships." Im unfamiliar with a lot of the terminology used in this editorial, but intrigued, so I'm going to poke around in this journal's archives and try to find an article that advances the mission laid out here.

(*NB: not discourse analysis in a sociolinguistic sense; this is more like Cultural Studies)

Kanno, Y., & Norton, B. (2003). Imagined communities and educational possibilities: Introduction. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2(4), 241-249.

This intro to a special issue of JLIE explains the current use of the theory of imagined communities in language learning research. These are communities which exist only in the minds of their members -- for example, nations. Kanno and Norton argue that "learners' affiliations with imagined communities might affect heir learning trajectories," and that these communities can include potential future relationships (like professional communities which people hope to join).

I really like the direction that Kanno and Norton take their research, because it sheds some light on an often-neglected aspect of language learning: the hopes and goals of the learners. However, I think we do people a disservice when we call these communities "imagined." Regardless of positive connotations (imagination, creativity, etc), the term has the effect of minimizing the potential or actual reality of an individual's self-perceived identity or group membership. For example, Norton talks about one ESL learner's "imagined professional community" when in fact the woman had already built a professional identity as a teacher in Poland. Wasn't she, in some real (un-imaginary) sense, a teacher, a member of that professional community?

Kanno, Y. (2003). Imagined Communities, School Visions, and the Education of Bilingual Students in Japan. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2(4), 285-300

Kanno looks at four different bilingual education programs in Japan, each of which, she argues, "imagines" a unique (possible) future community affiliation for its students. This article feels practical, which isn't always true of this kind of research. I learned a lot about bilingual education in Japan, and I think she offers some valuable insights about the effect an institution can have on its students.

Holliday, A. (2005). How is it possible to write? Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 4(4), 304-309.

Canagarajah, S. (2005). Rhetoricizing reflexivity. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 4(4), 309-315.

Holliday's work on "small cultures" in ELT research was influential to me during my time at HSU, and I enjoyed this short essay on using reflexivity to understand and negotiate a researcher's position as a priviledged, "Western" academic studying and working with those poor, helpless Others we so often do in this profession. Holliday talks about the necessity of understanding that "Center" scholars cannot claim to speak for the (marginalized/othered) people they work with, but instead can claim their research as their own narratives and learn something about the relationship between themselves and their research and "subjects."

Canagarajah warns against the temptation and possibility of researcher navel-gazing in "postmodern"/reflexive applied lingustics research by showing how an article written with a fervently pomo perspective (and a raving capacity for neologisms) actually does very little to advance the progressive concerns of critical qualitative research, whereas an article written in a modernist/post-positivist vein can, using traditional academic language, actually reveal some ("critical") truths about the researcher-researched relationship.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Interlanguage Disfluencies

Don't be scared; I'm only using those big words to sound cool. Interlanguage is a stage of language learning during which the learner is building his or her own conception of the L2, but which is in fact a system distinct from both the L1 and the L2. It's kind of like making your own map of a new city -- you can get some of it right, but until you've been there for quite a while, you'll have to constantly revise the map as you discover new information ("Oh, OK, this road intersects the highway...") "Disfluencies" are little words that break up the meaningful parts of utterances -- words like uh and um in English.

In Chinese, the most common disfluencies -- the closest analogues to English's uh and um -- are nei ge and zhi ge (they sound like nei-guh and juh-guh). (Another popular one is en, though it's not as frequent, to my knowledge.)

I've noticed that some of my students, when speaking in English, use English disfluencies(uh, um), some use Chinese disfluencies (mostly nei ge), and some seem to create new ones all together. My favorite sounds roughly like "bluh-blup-blup!"

Similarly, we had an American friend visiting a month or so ago who made a phone call for us, mostly in Chinese, but peppered with English disfluencies and conjunctions. He'd say things like " [Chinesechinesechinesechinese]....OK, so, like, [Chinesechinesechinese]?"

The point is, I guess, that, especially in the case of "bluh-blup-blup," interlanguage is at work.

Not a very exciting point, I guess. I just think it's interesting.

Next up (which is a sure sign I won't write about it): Is the term "imagined communities" insulting to language learners?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Glocal Linguistic Flows, brief updates

1. I would really love to be able to see the new JLIE (Vol 6 Issue 2 of the Journal of Language, Identity, and Education), which is a special issue on global hip-hop. Can anyone help me out with PDFs or scanned copies of any of the articles? (Jeremy, are you out there?)

2. What do you think about "Teaching English in China" as a cultural readymade (Ramage) -- a pre-existing social role with attendant behaviors and expectations, ready for young Americans to step into at will? It seems to be turning in to something like a Gap Year, a way for recent graduates or young married couples to sort of get out there in the world, as it were. I'd love to hear some feedback on this. There's kind of a whole syntagm (I dare you to look it up, I'm not sure I used it correctly) swirling around the identity of the young American Teaching English in China -- culture shock, blogging (ha!), 'adventure,' lack of professional interest in TESOL (maybe, maybe not), and so on. Further study, as they say, as needed.

3. I was planning to apply for a Fulbright but have decided not to. Maybe next year. I am doing a lot of reading about Singapore English, if that gives you a hint about my current interests.

4. Slow going with language learning, though I did have someone at a DVD shop compliment me on my Chinese before showing us to the super-cheap-isn't-this-still-in-the-theaters section. Haven't started taking formal classes but am hoping to.

5. Huge internal struggle on the To PhD or Not To PhD question continues, but I am tentatively researching all kinds of options. The gut says that I should avoid scary stuff (which includes words like comprehensive oral examination and fifth year and dissertation defense) and do stuff I know I enjoy (which includes words like getting paid and rocking out and book proposal). But the gut -- well, it says a lot of things, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Emptiness of Words; Expectations

Today I had a couple of conversations with some fellow teachers at the college that I found really informative. Two different people were complaining about the students' constant use of "general" language in their writing. "Chinese students like to use a lot of empty words," one of them said. I wasn't sure what she meant. "You know, words like lovely, beautiful..."

Actually, the (over)use of these words is also something I have kind of been marveling at. The view of my colleagues, generally, is that the students are being lazy when they use this kind of language, that they need to work harder at expanding their vocabularies and at describing things in detail. From my (naive) perspective, though, I find this language oddly moving. It's not at all unusual for a student to write a sentence like "I think my mother is the most beautiful woman in the world" or "My friend is a lovely, sweet, and kind girl." When I see this, I think, wow, they're expressing a lot with a limited L2 vocabulary -- good for them! But maybe I just want to believe I can see a wealth of meaning and feeling behind these "empty" words; maybe the other teachers are right. I suspect the truth, as it often does, lies somewhere in the middle.


Expectations: well, they can and should change. I went into the writing classes not knowing what to expect, but assuming that my students would be fairly competent English readers at this point. Now that I've seen them once and seen their writing, I've had a chance to rethink my ideas and adjust the type and amount of work I hope to do with them.

Also, I expected that I'd have a pretty big degree of freedom in designing my course, since all the instruction we got when we arrived here was "here are your books, use them if you want to, or not, no problem." However, 3 weeks into the semester, I've learned that I am supposed to consult with another (Chinese) teacher -- who's teaching the other sophomore writing classes -- and make sure our courses are "the same," or as he diplomatically put it, "basically similar." Apparently the issue is that feathers will be ruffled the powers that be get to feeling like our students aren't learning the same information in our respective courses. (Cause, I guess, that would be like dis-orderly or something? I think this may be a cultural thing that's beyond me.)

Luckily, my colleague and I -- though we have different ideas about how to approach the course(s) -- have a lot in common*: we're both new at this university, we both find it a bit frustrating that we are being asked to compromise, and we both agree that as long as the students are learning fundamentals of writing, there shouldn't be a problem. Of course, I'll let you know later whether we agree on what the "fundamentals of writing" are...

(*Also, he is only L2 English speaker I have met here who regularly and correctly employs the word "sucks" -- as in "their writing sucks" -- in conversation, which makes me feel right at home, somehow.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007



I know I'm way behind on topics I was planning to cover (see last entry), but I'm pretty sure I am the only person reading this blog, so I'm not sweating it too much.

Right now, I'm wondering if I can do anything useful with the AWL, or Academic Word List (Coxhead 2000) for my writing classes. The problem is, even the first sub-list of the 570 words seems to be way beyond my students' comprehension.

My classes are 2nd-year students at a Chinese college -- a college which accepts people who perform relatively poorly on their entrance exams (the Chinese SAT). They are English majors, but I'd say most of them are between (roughly, and vaguely) "low" and "low-intermediate" in most of their English skills. Of course, I want to try to help them increase their knowledge of academic English, but I'm worried about overwhelming them. Still, knowing these words -- really knowing them -- will only be beneficial in the long run. We're talking about words like: analyze, constitute, establish, indicate, occur, role.

The AWL omits the 2,000 words from the GSL or General Service List, a list of the most commonly used words overall in English texts. My students may not be that familiar with some of these words, either, so I wonder if a good strategy would be to start with some high-frequency words from the GSL (starting around the 100s or so, since the first words are "the" and "and" and stuff like that) and move on to the AWL, or mix them. I think I might take a bit from both.


The haphazard nature of my posts on this site is, I'm afraid, indicative of my general disorganization re: my teaching right now. Luckily (?) classes are canceled tomorrow because of an impending typhoon, so maybe I can take some time to get it together.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


If you've had the experience of being a "foreign-looking" person in China, you have heard one English word over and over: "Hello." It's so common to have this word shouted at you as you walk past a business (or a group of young dudes playing basketball) that some China guidebooks and websites recommend strategies for "dealing" with it, including:

- Ignore
- Say "hello" back
- Pretend you don't speak English
- Reply in Chinese (if you know it)

Although English has become a cornerstone of Chinese education in the last ten years or so, most Chinese of a certain age don't speak it, and many who have been educated speak very little -- but everyone knows "hello." Consequently, I've been thinking about this word a lot lately, especially in the Chinese context.

One thing I really can't wrap my brain around -- a curse of most monolingual people, I think -- is how to understand the relationship between relatively equivalent expressions in two languages. Like the idea that "ni hao" and "hello" might mean the same thing. My brain is perfectly able to process the meaning of this sentence:

"Ni hao" means hello. (Which it doesn't, of course. It literally means "you good.")

But the reverse feels almost absurd to my monolingual brain:

"Hello" means ni hao.

So far, I can't get that to make sense. And I don't think I'd be able to unless I were bilingual.

Coming next time:
A brief report from the local "English Salon."
And after that: Stuff about how I am now a real ESL teacher!

(Have you noticed that this blog has begun to live up to its name? I'm "doing" applied linguistics in real life!)

Monday, August 27, 2007

On Foreignness

One thing that some applied linguistics textbooks recommend is taking a language class before or while you teach one, to help you to empathize with your students and to get some insight into the language learning process. I think this is a great idea, although I haven't taken a language class since one quarter of college Spanish that I barely even remember attending. (I took Spanish in high school.)

On the language/culture tip, though, I must say there is nothing quite like actually being in a foreign country to help with the whole "empathy" thing. I swore I'd be above all the China cliches, that I wouldn't write about the same stuff that everyone seems to, that I was better prepared. But the reason people write about that stuff is: it's in your face, all the time. When I go out in public, I am painfully aware that I am often the only non-Chinese, non-Chinese-speaking person within, say, a one-mile radius (probably more - though it usually feels like I am the only one in the world). I know that this country being what it is, "foreigners" are more of a novelty, more notable (we don't really have much of a concept of "foreigner" in the US nowadays), but I will say that I have a whole lot more respect and admiration for the "foreign" English language students I worked with in the U.S. Being a foreigner is hard work.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Advice from Paul Matsuda's blog, which strikes me as an awfully sane thing for a professor to write:

If you feel like you are sacrificing something else when you read and write in your field, entering a Ph.D. program may not be the right career decision. If you have that much discipline to complete the degree requirements without really enjoying the process, you might consider choosing from many other career options out there that don't require a Ph.D. and that you might actually enjoy.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Speak Good English

One small irony of Singapore's Speak Good English movement is that for most Americans, the phrase "Speak Good English" would probably be treated with suspicion as potentially ungrammatical, thanks to the same instinct that makes us think we should say "I feel badly" instead of "I feel bad."

Even I, non-prescriptive-grammarian that I am, have to pause.

Speak English Correctly?
Speak English Well?
Speak Better English?
Speak English More Properly?
Speak Proper English?

You have to wonder what they really mean, though. "Speak Good English," in Singapore, I imagine, is code for "don't speak Singapore English." Which some would go so far as to say is code for "don't express your identity in the way you feel most comfortable." I'm not sure I'd say that. But when the name of the movement makes a "native speaker" like me trip up, you gotta wonder what's going on ah.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Sudden flash of inspiration at 3 AM: Why can't I just go ahead and combine all the stuff I'm interested in and turn it into an object of study, a career?

Pop music + multilingualism + culture + rhetoric + identity + writing!

Doesn't it all seem insanely simple for once? Like, I could apply for an mtvU Fulbright to [Country X] and do a zine project and interview kids about their zines and write a paper about that? Like, I could do research on how people use music to shape linguistic and rhetorical identities and communities? Like, as a career? And, like, it would be incredibly fun and exciting and maybe even, like, positive for the world?


Friday, July 27, 2007


Today I visited the University of British Columbia, which has a beautiful campus. I stopped by the office of Language and Literacy Education PhD program and happened to meet Patricia Duff, who was in the office. I am still thinking about that program and she recommended looking up Ling Shi, who is the L2 writing specialist there.

In other news, Suresh Canagarajah has moved to Penn State U and Paul Matsuda has moved to Arizona State U.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Adventures in Codeswitching

Wikipedia, set the stage:

"Code-switching is a term in linguistics referring to alternation between two or more languages, dialects, or language registers in a single conversation, stretch of discourse, or utterance between people who have more than one language in common."


Yesterday, I spent some time with a bilingual five-year-old. She is used to speaking Chinese with her parents and English with most everyone else. I speak a little (very little) Chinese, so I decided to try an experiment -- or rather, I kind of realized it was an experiment while I was doing it. We were playing a game in which she'd hold up a number of fingers and ask me how many. Usually I'd answer in English, but every once in a while I'd answer in Chinese. Throughout the day, she was very reluctant to speak Chinese to me (and even to my wife, who, although she's a native English speaker, is ethnically Chinese). I think the only word she said was "dui" (correct) when I guessed a number in Chinese.

In other communication situations, she'd frequently whisper to her parents in Chinese rather than directly address us, though she always addressed us in English.

The question is: why? Was she taught to only speak Chinese to her parents? Is she sophisticated enough to realize that I am not fluent in Chinese, or does she simply believe that I'm white and therefore wouldn't be able to understand her? Is codeswitching a skill that has to be learned and has she not learned it yet? This seems a most plausible answer.

The most interesting moment, I thought, was when she said "I have to ask my ba--my dad first." She started to say baba -- Chinese for "dad" -- but repaired it, perhaps because she suddenly remembered who she was talking to, or which code she was supposed to be using. I suspect that in her mind, codes should not be mixed. I wonder when/if this will change...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I had a dream that one of my professors told me he emailed a link to my rockwrite project to Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996). Why??

Got a new book today: Applied Linguistics by Guy Cook from the Oxford Introuctions to Language Study series. I already have Rod Ellis' Second Language Acquisition and Claire Kramsch's Language and Culture. It's a very readable series (the book are small and only about 120 pages long), and each volume has snippets of readings from important texts in the field and good suggestions for further reading.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


p.s. I graduated with a 4.0. Sweet.

Monday, May 14, 2007

99.9 with a line over it

I am 99% done with my masters degree.

The next 1% falls into place on Wed.

I've decided not to make my thesis public because I'd rather work to turn it into an article. But get in touch if you'd like to read it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Down to the wire.

My "thesis," aka unbound project, has been approved. As far as I know, this means I am cleared to graduate on Saturday.

My tables are horrible, and one of them is missing. That's for Thursday and Friday. My self-imposed deadline for the final final FINAL submission of the project is Friday, May 11, at 1 p.m.

I need to write one or two paragraphs and maybe an extra sentence or two here and there.

If I had this to do over again, I would have started sooner and not taken four freaking other classes at the same time. Considering what I was up against, I think I did a great job. If I'd had just this project and nothing else, I'd be a little disappointed in myself. But you graduate with the Masters project you have, not the Masters project you want. Or something.

Technically, our English department does not require that I conform to HSU's graduate handbook for formatting*, so I shouldn't be sweating it too much, but I want this thing to be as good as it can be. In case you're wondering, an "unbound project" means that I have 2 readers instead of a committee, and in the end it sits on a shelf in the English dept. office collecting dust for a couple of years, after which it goes in a drawer. A "thesis," on the other hand, requires a somewhat rigorous committee process and an oral defense, and goes into the library and therefore is accessible to anyone in the world who has interlibrary loan privileges.

Anyway, I'll be submitting it to Humboldt Digital Scholar in the next week or two, which means anyone will be able to read it. I think you'll even be able to find it on Google Scholar in time, which is nice: in terms of my work being "out there," I'm not limited by the fact that I haven't written a thesis.

Regardless, I don't want to look like a moron.

(*Then again, I think require that I conform to MLA style, and my project is in APA, as per the applied linguistics convention. I honestly believe that no one is policing these requirements whatsoever.)

Friday, May 04, 2007


Penultimate draft of thesis turned in to readers, tipping the scales at 88 pgs including references and appendices. Still not 100% there, but not so bad, considering.

Development of Writing Abilities project (Rockwrite) finished.

Chinese finished.

Paper I'm working on today, "Problems of Definition and Evaluation in Popular Music" = worrisome. 15 pgs of notes but nothing emerging. Talked to prof and feel like I'm off track. If there is one paper I'm going to be totally BSing, it's this one. Maybe I should be concerned about my grade. I'm not sure. The topic of the class is totally out of my sphere of understanding. More on this later.

Walter Ong -- presentation went very well. Paper is underdeveloped at 11 pages, but I'm not too worried about it.

6. More. Days.

Then I am turning off my academic brain for a few months and am just going to write record reviews and huge, sprawling thinkpieces that go all over the place. And ride my bike a lot.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Other Floors, Other Voices: a textography of a ... - Google Book Search

Other Floors, Other Voices: a textography of a small university building.

This looks cool. Swales + Bazerman = English powerhouse! Anyway, this is like writing & rhetoric & anthropology & everything cool, combined.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Current Academic Haps

Draft is holding steady at 77 pages, with a penultimate draft being due on 5/2 (this Tuesday), and the final draft due 5/10 (next Thursday). After talking to both my readers, the constructive criticism is: a lot of problems with organization, some problems with analysis -- i.e., there doesn't seem to be any specifically described theoretical analysis, which maybe there really isn't, even though I write about how I interpret the data for about 20 pages, the paper may be too long all together, the introduction lacks clarity and purpose, and the overall tone is not academic enough. All together, it's not a great place to be, even though my adviser is satisfied with my progress (she's sympathetic to the fact that I am taking 4 other classes and trying to "get it done").

I've written over 4,000 words (roughly 14 pages) of notes on this, all of which you can read if you're weird like that.

Working on developing assignments and hoping I'll be able to turn them into my final project. Due 5/4 at 10 AM.

Wrote 11 pages of a 12-20 page paper. Tonight and tomorrow: write my presentation for Tuesday 5/1.

Just a test next week, thank goodness.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

L1 Comp as Hegemonic Utopia

L1 composition lives in a magical world where the United States is the moral and spiritual center of the universe and everyone speaks English as a first language. Discuss.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Current Thesis page count

ESL Writing and the Concept of Culture: Listening to Student Voices

1. Introduction - 4 pages
2. Review of Literature - 26 pages
3. Method and Findings - 40 pages (still needs some revision and additions, but getting there)
4. Implications - 1 page (goal is 8-10)
5. Works Cited (doesn't count - 4 pages)
6. Appendix (student essays, doesn't count - 6 pages)

CURRENT TOTAL = 70 pages

Saturday, April 21, 2007

teachin', rockin'

I haven't mentioned it much here, but it looks like I have a job for the fall. In addition to teaching various English classes there, I've been asked if I can teach an Applied Linguistics class at Yuan Pei College of Shaoxing University. I said "yes please!" Hard to say if it'll really happen, but I'd be thrilled to do it

Notes on English 560 paper....
title ideas:

Rock Aesthetics: the problem of evaluating process-driven music as product
How Rock Criticism Constructs Rock Music & something about Adorno and Danto.
Disinterest is Impossible: The Social Construction of Rock Music by Critics?

stuff in the paper maybe:
-change from rock mags to blogs as setting trends, deciding what is rock, etc
-rock as process -- the problem of evaluating recordings (static) when rock gets what it is from emergent creativity?
-vocab probs: rock vs pop vs other?
-impossibility of disinterest in rock
-rock - negative or positive?

i gotta long way to go with this one.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

notes on ong

Ong + techonology. (note the 'puter behind him!!)

Why Ong's technological focus is helpful to today's writing teachers: understanding the rhetorical situations our students find themselves in, and teaching to those.
-Secondary orality - how our Ss are afloat in a sea of audio/visual media (it's all multimodal of course), tv, radio, music, movies, internet, etc. --understanding the oral basis of this stuff, mediated through literacy...ok, but so what?
-New ways literacy is being transformed by electronic communication -- 3rd round of technologizing of the word?
oral lg --> writing system --> print --> print via computers --> computer-based writing read on computers which is also interactive. The resurrection of audience? The writer's audience is no longer a fiction?

just some thoughts...

PS: This dude is totally rad. He's like a Catholic Derrida or something.

Monday, April 16, 2007

When Linguists are Heroes (and Villians)


A few months ago, I went to see a fundraising pitch disguised as a play. The play is called
Sunong, and is put on by a group called Wycliffe Dinner Theater. It tells the story of a Southeast Asian dude who encounters some missionaries. (His country and language are fictionalized, which I think was a huge weakness of the piece -- oh, and also the fact that two of the Asian characters were played by White women speaking "broken" English.) At first, this sounded way ho-hum to me.

But within a few minutes of the beginning of the play, I saw had this revelation:
Holy crap, the heroes of this story are applied linguists. And also this one: This is probably the only play I will ever see in which the heroes are applied linguists. They're Bible translators, and we see them struggle with phonemes, culturally appropriate translation, getting funding for PhD programs -- I was kind of in heaven. In the end, the play was almost as much about the necessity of training skilled linguists as it was about evangelism.


But it is the influence of evangelism (or simply Evangelicalism) that is beginning to be noticed, and consequently critiqued, by another branch of linguistics -- the applied variety, and specifically English Language Teaching. From Pennycook's 
"Teaching English as a Missionary Language" to Varghese and Johnston's recent "Evangelical Christians and English language teaching" in TESOL Quarterly, people are starting to take notice of the fact that Christians are (still) using English teaching as a missionary endeavor, whether the teaching is a "front" or a genuine form of service. Questions of cultural and linguistic imperialism (not to mention professional and personal ethics) abound, of course, but it's encouraging to see that a civil discussion is beginning. One hopes that the Christian organizations who use ELT will see that it's in their interest to take part in this dialogue.


Given all this, it's interesting that the man at the center of one of the most talked-about controversies in the cultural anthropology/applied linguistics/language orbit is an ex-Christian, former missionary who was once affiliated with the
Summer Institute of Linguistics (an organization afilliated with the abovementioned Wycliffe). His recent work on the Piraha, an isolated tribe in the Amazon, makes some pretty serious claims about their culture and language that seem to fly in the face of Chomskian linguistics (e.g., Universal Grammar)and the general assumption that all languages are 'created equal,' to use a loaded term.

I was intrigued by the brief bit in the New Yorker piece that mentioned Everett's ex-wife, who is still a missionary: she seemed less interested in explaining the Piraha's language, and more in learning about their songs. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nearing Full Scale Freakout

I've totally hit a wall at 32 pgs.
Nothing makes sense any more...I have 3 important sections that are totally underdeveloped.
I NEED to turn whatever I have in tomorrow by 1 pm, so I figure if I can turn these sections into something coherent in about 3 more pages, that'll be fine for now. If I have to flesh things out later I can and will.

I really didn't analyze the data enough before I started writing.

I'm learning - I hope.

Maybe this isn't the best time to mention that I've decided to apply for an 08-09 Fullbright. Anyway, that's after the End of the World (aka May 10).

Sunday, April 08, 2007

62% done with 50% of the project

"Main Chunk" count: 25 pgs.
Tomorrow I have about 7-8 hours to write 15 pages. No problem.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


the (mostly finished) lit review is 26 pages.

what i've been calling the 'main chunk' of the project currently stands at 20 pages. by Tuesday morning it needs to be 40.

after i turn that in i want to do another 10 for 'discussion/implications'

i have a 4 page intro i wrote ages ago sitting here waiting to be revised in the next few weeks, too.

if you're counting along at home, that puts the final page count at somewhere around 80. Not 3 figures. that is OK.

less may not be more but it is BETTER in many ways.

happy easter, jh

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"I am not really American people."

J= me, S = a student, ____ = reference to student's home country and/or nationality.

J: when (Teacher) gives an assignment when she says write about your culture, your country…when she says write about your culture, do you think of _____?
S: Yeah.

J: let’s say it’s 5 years from now and you’ve lived in the US for 7 years. Do you think when someone says my culture you would say the US is my culture?
S: maybe not.

J: why not?
S: I think because I am not really American people. And I was born in _____ and my parents is ____ people so I am ____. And in ____, the teacher give us information is different from here. It’s more like how to …uh…how to be good, be nice with another people. Something like that, like with your family, with old people. But in America it’s like free, free mind. So it’s very different.

J: So is that one reason why you would say US is not my country, because you don’t like that?
S: No, I like the United States but, I feel I am ____, so maybe never change.

J: Just to keep going…let’s say it’s thirty years from now. You’ve been in the US for thirty years, now are you an American?
S: I’m not sure, but I think I would say the same thing.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

It is Ong!

I'm so gonna Ong it up for my English 618 (Linguistic and Rhetorical Approaches to Writing) paper. He is way venerable and awesome. Rhetoric, orality vs. literacy, grammar, fightin' with words -- to the death! Also he's a Jesuit. Sweet. I'm gonna write on links between orality and literacy and how we can teach writing with 'em!

Ong links @ delicious
The Walter J. Ong Collection

Walter Jackson Ong, S.J. (1912-2003) was a professor of English at Saint Louis University for over thirty years. Over the course of his career, Ong wrote a number of groundbreaking studies in the fields of orality and literacy studies. Some of these works include Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, The Presence of the Word, and Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I'm not sure if this thing - HYPERresearch - is necessary for me at this stage of the game, but it's free and I've been playing around with it.


Transcription takes forever.


Two emergent themes:
1. Choosing to represent certain aspects of culture because they are "easy" to write about, even if the writer doesn't really care that much about them. This is maybe is related to: a) crunch time - the Ss don't have much time to develop their essays, b) the teacher says to only write 2 or 3 paragraphs, so that's all they do.
2. Unconcern with cultural topics for class - Ss don't seem to care what they write about, as long as they are getting practice in English writing.

Monday, March 26, 2007

TESOL etc.

Back from 5 days of TESOL insanity. I had a fantastic time. Among other speakers (a lot), I saw Bonny Norton, Patricia Duff, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Jun Liu, Doug Brown, Dwight Atkinson, and Ryuko Kubota. These are people I've read, so that's cool.

Too many highlights to list, really, but I'm dying to do some kind of information download. Lowlights were Canagarajah canceling (I missed him at CELT) and being tired all the time because I had to get up early every day.

Really great panel caled "Is Culture Really Dead in TESOL?" on the last day. Loved it.

The next 2 weeks need to be insane writing weeks. Like, more utterly insane than any amount of writing I've done before. The next two weeks will make or break this damn project.

PS: really amazing corpus-related website I learned about at the conference:

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Progress" = Lit review draft #1 turned in

My computer clock reads 11:59, which means I've just met my self-imposed deadline for turning in a draft of my literature review (I gave myself an extension on the original self-imposed deadline of last Thursday). I'm aware that there may be some omissions (glaring or not) , but I'm fairly happy with the ways things are laid out (except that the second half may be a bit haphazard in its arrangement).

Regarding data collection, what I've done:

- Obtained (and read, many times) at least two writing samples from each of my four subjects
- Interviewed each student twice, for an average of about one and a half hours of tape per student (haven't transcribed yet)
- Interviewed the teacher twice
- Obtained a copy of the textbook from which the teacher drew the assignment(s) I've chosen to focus on
- Thought about what I should focus on in my analysis of the data
- Given the students a survey about their educational background and opinion on course content (gotten two of four back)


Calculated that starting tomorrow I'll have approx. 42 hours this month to work on ye olde thesis. I'm hoping to write somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 pages in that time.


I haven't even transcribed the freakin' interviews...Lord knows that takes time.
Not to mention I've got a 20-pager on Aesthetics, a 12 to 20-pager on Rhetoric, and a 20-ish-pager on intertextual analysis of student writing due in early May. MOST WRITING EVER!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

progress report

Lit review currently at 18 pages.
Goal for tonight: get up to between 20-22 pages.
Poss. goal for this weekend, or after comments from profs: get as high as 30 pages.

two more interviews with students, one tomorrow, one next tuesday.
observing the class tomorrow and monday, interviewing the teacher on monday.
this weekend i need to develop a survey/info sheet for the students to fill out, partly inspired by Prodroumo's (1992) survey of a couple hundred Greek EFL students re: what they want as far as cultural content. obviously mine will be on a way small scale. I'm hoping to gather a little more basic info that hasn't come up in our conversations and give them a chance to tell me anything else they might want. I'm hoping email will be useful for this as well, though some are more likely than others to want to continue the conversation. I'm trying to emphasize that they are welcome to respond in their own languages if they want but only one student has really taken me up on it in the interviews (a language i kinda speak, obv.).
one student who i'd originally hoped to include in the study hasn't been able to meet with me, and I'm disappointed that I won't be able to talk to her. I have a whole set of essays she wrote for a class last year and I'd love to do something with them, but my whole method kind of depends on interviews, so I'm not sure where to go.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dwight Atkinson's Six Principles of Culture (1999)

1. All humans are individuals.

2. Individuality is also cultural.

3. Social group membership and identity are multiple, contradictory, and dynamic.

4. Social group membership is consequential.

5. Methods of studying cultural knowledge and behavior are unlikely to fit a positivist paradigm.

6. Language (learning and teaching) and culture are mutually implicated, but culture is multiple and complex.

Here is a picture of me eating dinner with Dwight Atkinson, or perhaps more accurately, me eating dinner (while eyeing the camera suspiciously) next to Dwight Atkinson, who is barely aware of my presence:

This comes from the JSLW Symposium 2006, which I promised to write about on this website but as yet have not.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Early thoughts: lit review, study subjects

number of articles on my computer for possible inclusion in lit review: 43
number of paper articles floating around the apartment for poss. inclusion: between 10 and 15
current number of articles summarized in my lit review: 8
goal for number of articles to be summarized in my lit review: around 20
due date for first draft of lit review: this thursday
have completely lost all sense of the meaning of the word: "culture"

I'm not sure how much general ESL stuff I want to include as opposed to L2-writing-specific stuff.

re: the above: how not to.


Did another interview today with a student who is leaving to be with her husband in the midwest. really glad i met her and included her in the study - she has had so much to say about culture and the writing process. she often used the phrase "it's a cultural thing" in her answers to my questions and today in one response she said "it's a multicultural thing," which i liked and thought was somewhat telling - although the idea of constructing a multicultural identity doesn't appear anywhere in her essays, it's definitely there when I talk to her; does this suggest that maybe the "Traditional" assignment about culture doesn't leave much room for writers to identify themselves as multicultural or to situate themselves within multiple cultures? maybe.

she speaks about taking the "best" from American culture but not the bad parts as she sees them. Her essay on culture seemed somewhat deterministic, so I asked her a little about how/whether she sees herself as having a unique identity or 'self.' She quickly mentioned she often wanted to do things seen as "strange" or "odd" by her peers/cultural norms. I asked her where she thought that came from and she said "maybe from God." I liked that a lot.


i don't have any "gen 1.5" students in the study, but they do have a wide variety of reasons for being here and plans to stay or not. one is married to an American and plans to stay "forever," one has parents who own a business in the US and he says he wants to stay in the US "maybe forever," one has a BA from a university in her home country but is going for another in a US university. Only one of the students plans to head straight back after his studies - i think because he has a job to go back to.

conventional wisdom suggests that it's those who immigrated as young children whom we have to be careful about when it comes to inappropriate cultural orientations (Harklau 1999) - treating them as newcomers and all but forcing them to write about countries that aren't "theirs" in any meaningful sense - but there is as much variation in relationship to the target culture, I think, among "traditional" ESL students. they may be relative newcomers, but they are actively "learning culture" and developing hybridized cultural identities.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

maybe too broad - research questions

How do ESL writers write about their own culture?

Why do they decide to represent their own culture(s) in the ways they do?

What do ESL writers think about the concept of culture?

Do students in ESL writing classes think cultural topics are appropriate content for their texts? Which ones? If not, what do they want?

How do the students’ conceptions of culture evidenced in their writing and through interviews, work with or against (or partly both) the conceptions of culture presented by the teacher, other students, and the textbook?

How does culture "work" as content in an ESL writing course?

Friday, February 23, 2007

"That is not true"

Yesterday during an interview for my masters project, one of the students I'm interviewing said something about writing in a second language that kind of blew my mind:

Me: If I write in English, I can feel very confident that I am really expressing myself, that this is me, this is who I am. But if I try to write in Spanish, I almost feel like this isn't really...
Her: It's not true. That is not true. You don't feel that is true.
Me: when you turn in your assignment to (your teacher), it's almost like, are you turning in something that...
Her: it's not true for me.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Identity & Culture

As I begin researching & writing my thesis, I'm trying to clarify a few things for myself. I've decided to write about ESL writing, because a) my MA program is a teaching writing program, b) I'm interested in teaching/researching ESL, and c) I've done a lot of reading about ESL writing so I have at least a decent grasp on the field. Here are a few scattered thoughts on what I'm doing right now.

- A few main themes of the project, at least what's been percolating in my brain:
- Reconciling the pragmatism of ESL writing (let's teach Ss how to succeed at academic writing in English in a U.S. (or wherever) context) with the myriad cultural/social issues surrounding it (why teach that, how much is culture involved in how people write, what is culture anyway, how do students actually feel about being involved in the system that demands that they write a certain way in a certain languages, and on and on)
- Looking at how L2 writers construct their identities/voice in writing, and how is that different from writing in an L1.
- Looking at what culture is and how students and teachers conceive of it, and how that affects the way L2 writing is taught, learned and practiced.
- How and what contrastive rhetoric (CR) is and where it fits on the pragmatically academic vs. pragmatically social/justice continuum.
- The rough abstract talks about a move from CR view of culturally situated/determined writing practices to a view of L2 writing that recognizes the construction of individual identity based on multiple language/social/cultural affiliations, but that might be apples and oranges. If this sort of distinction is to be made, it should probably be subtler.
- Somehow I want to bring up the notions of "language ego" and the creation of an "L2 identity" which I think I've read about in some second language acquisition books. This is brought up in a linguistic context but probably is equally relevant in a rhetorical context. I never progressed far enough in studying a foreign language to get to the point of acquiring, say, a "Spanish-speaking Self" in writing, but I'm interested in the idea*.

- I don't want this project to get too bogged down in metaissues, which I fear it easily could. There's a ton of writing from almost all angles, mostly sociocultural ones which are increasingly popular, that deals with why we teach ESL, how, who it privileges, and so on. That's all interesting, but I would rather dig into what actually goes on with students -- how and why they do what they do and how that can help teachers. I often joke that I'm going to have made my way through two years of grad school in a "Teaching Writing" program without ever learning how to teach writing. So although this project will pretty much have a sociocultural focus, I don't want it to spin off into an ultra-theoretical, head-in-the-clouds examination of culture and identity.

* "The Classroom and the Wider Culture: Identity as a Key to Learning English Composition" by Fan Shen is a really good article that talks about this and a few other related issues.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A bigger audience for "Negotiating Cultures"

Last year I came up with this thing that I called "negotiating cultures," which is supposed to be a "new" orientation to the notion of culture in the ESL classroom and TESOL in general, emphasizing individuality and students' affiliations with multiple cultures on multiple levels. It's actually pretty run-of-the-mill sociocultural theory and your basic "things are more complicated than we used to think" thing, but I'm pretty happy with the paper. And now this news....

Dear Joel:

Thank you for re-submitting your proposal! We are pleased to inform you that your revised proposal has been approved and accepted for the 2007 Graduate Student Forum at the 41st Annual TESOL Convention and Exhibit. Your participation in this conference will enrich your education and allow you the opportunity to network with your fellow graduate students and other professionals in the TESL/TEFL field.