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Resources for Language Justice in Higher EducationApril 2022
As a concrete step toward language justice on campus, we proudly present the MIC Resource Page for Language Justice in Higher Education, for faculty, staff, and administrators, with specific recommendations, readings, references, curricular approaches, pedagogical strategies, program information from other institutions, and related policies and procedures. Our goal is to draw on our expertise to support students, colleagues, and administrators alike as we promote language justice for all, especially those who speak/write stigmatized varieties of English and those who speak/write English as an additional language.
The contents of this page were created by two MIC-affiliated faculty members: Loredana Polezzi (European Languages Literatures and Cultures) and Shyam Sharma (Program in Writing and Rhetoric).
We would like to acknowledge the support and encouragement by Dr. Judi Brown Clarke, Vice President for Equity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer.
This is a living, dynamic document. We welcome everyone's feedback and suggestions for improvement.
All of us as academics are in privileged positions to affect the balance of justice and injustice in our classroom instruction, research, and other aspects of our work. A significant way in which we do this is through the beliefs we hold, the habits we form, and the actions we take about language.
This resource page is meant to sharpen our awareness about the impact of language practices on social justice in higher education and society. The ideas outlined here are for us to consider, try out, and adapt to the various aspects of our work. Let us see what can help us, our colleagues, and our students as we seek to move toward a more just and inclusive society.
As a community of scholars and practitioners engaged in promoting social justice through language practices, we would also love to hear from you. See the survey and the link at the bottom of this page for information on how to take an active role in our community.
Statement of Language Diversity and Justice
While language diversity is sometimes considered a barrier to communication, it can in fact be a rich resource to be shared and utilized for the common good and should be celebrated as an integral part of our cultural and social diversity. Promoting and celebrating language diversity fosters opportunities and confidence for learning and personal growth among our students. It also provides the entire campus community access to more bodies of knowledge, opportunities for exchange across cultures and value systems, and spaces for collaborative meaning-making. Making diversity visible and audible through greater recognition and respect of languages (including varieties and accents) is central to the mission of social justice. Stony Brook University strives to promote linguistic diversity and leverage it for its institutional and social goals.
What is “language diversity”? Language diversity encompasses all linguistic resources that are available to individuals and groups; these may include multiple languages as well as varieties and accents of one language, in speech and writing.
How does language diversity connect to social justice? There is a history of social injustice associated with language, from programs to eradicate languages of Native peoples to racial prejudices and violence against those who don’t speak the right language or variety/accent. Within academia, languages and language variants are associated with hierarchies of prestige and desirability, privilege and favor. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we judge and we are judged, on the basis of the way we speak and write.
How can we foster critical awareness and agency in language use? Linguistic justice is posited on paying explicit attention to our behavior and expectations about language. As teachers, adopting a critical language awareness – or understanding and acknowledging the politics and power dynamics of language – can help us empower our students as learners and communicators in educational settings and society.
How can we help students mobilize language diversity? We can foster student learning by showing more respect and acceptance to the use of different languages in classroom discourse, encouraging students to learn and communicate by using all their languages, and rewarding them for drawing on knowledge via their languages.
- As A Teacher
1) AS A TEACHER
1a. Course design
Questions to ask when we design a course in relation to language justice in the classroom, in all disciplines.
- How important are language and communication skills in our course? How are we going to help students achieve the goals that are most relevant to our course?
- Have we set implicit expectations concerning language (standards) and writing proficiencies which are built into our course but are not part of the primary learning objectives? Will these expectations disadvantage any groups of students, such as speakers of varieties of English different from the “standard” English, or speakers of two or more languages?
- How can we make our language expectations explicit to our students? In our syllabus?
- Are we knowledgeable about the language repertoires, capabilities and practices of our students (inside and outside the classroom)? How can we appreciate, foster, and help mobilize their language repertoires in the interest of their learning and growth?
- Should we cater our language expectations to the specific student bodies that we teach? Should we adjust our expectations to different courses by level, nature, and objectives?
- How much energy and emphasis do we put on language issues such as lexical, syntactic, and stylistic conventions? And how much space do we allow for investment of teaching time, encouragement of students to pay attention or make efforts, allocation of course credit (if you teach/support), etc?
- What course content are we selecting toward the goal of enhancing language/communication skills?
- How much credit will students receive for meeting the language and communication expectations in our grade breakdown? How does our teaching help them achieve those goals and receive the grades?
- Are we marking down our students because they fall below our expectations of their language competence rather than not learning what the course teaches them? In other words, do we test what we didn’t explicitly teach?
- How can we update and improve our current courses, in light of our students’ language needs and language rights: what to do, not do, or do differently?
- Finally, we might want to consider adding an explicit language and diversity statement to our syllabus. Here is an example:
A Note on Language and Diversity: The ability to use different languages and/or varieties of English is very useful in life, society, and professions; I recognize and promote this ability as such in this course. I encourage you to choose and use any English(es), including Standard Written English, and other languages (along with the rhetorical, cultural, and epistemological resources they provide) in the process of completing any task/assignment. You can draw on the resources of other languages/varieties even when the final product must be in standardized English. I want you to learn to consider rhetorical factors such as context, audience, medium, and purpose of communication for freely choosing and using different languages/varieties and resources they give you access to–both for effective learning and to engage diverse audiences as an educated person. I add this note because I want us to foster respect for, and promote, all languages and cultures, as well as identities and value systems–our own and each others’.
1b. Assignments and Activities
Here are some suggestions wen may consider when designing and implementing course assignments and class activities:
- In introductory activities, ask students what languages they speak, where they learned and use them, and what the languages say about them.
- When relevant, assign texts that address translingual situations, different cultures and epistemologies, as well as less familiar issues and contexts.
- Encourage students to feel free to use any of their languages while taking notes in class or during research or reading, while discussing their ideas with peers, for developing outlines, and for writing early drafts.
- As feasible and relevant to course objectives, require or encourage (and reward) students to research studies, published sources, archival materials, interviews, surveys, and any other resources from relevant languages and societies/cultures; ask students to compare research done in different contexts.
- Encourage students to make multilingual/multicultural materials they use in their projects accessible to others by translating them into English both literally and contextually.
- When students do presentations, assure them that they may use words and expressions as well as images and examples that are drawn from any of the languages and societies/cultures that they are familiar with– and invite them to include translations for their audience.
- In peer review or other group activities, remind students to pay attention to and appreciate differences in word choice, idioms, perspectives, assumptions, as well as rhetorical styles.
- If language, culture, or epistemology is a key component in your teaching, ask students to identify and reflect upon words, idioms, and figurative expressions in different languages that are not easily translatable to others. This activity will enable nuanced conversations about different cultures–as well as fostering students’ pride in their languages, cultures, and identities.
- Encourage students to research keywords about the relevant discipline, course, or assignment in different languages. Facilitate discussion about the terms’ meanings as well as the material and social/cultural contexts behind them.
- Assign papers in which students can write about issues of global/transcultural significance and/or consider any issue from transcultural perspectives.
- Engage students in reading about rhetorical traditions and practices across cultures.
As teachers, we may also adopt some of the following strategies:
- Create a learning environment where students know that linguistic diversity is valued and promoted, not punished.
- Use translingualism to foster students’ educational and professional growth by promoting intellectual curiosity and interest in human issues across nations and cultures, in perspectives and value systems beyond geopolitical borders, and in global citizenship.
- Foster rhetorical linguistic competence/agency by encouraging and helping students to select the language(s) that best help them communicate, learn, and be themselves.
- Allow students to decide what language they want to use, when and with whom and why.
- Demonstrate the benefit of using a person’s entire linguistic repertoire by modeling multilingual/translingual communication by talking about your own and by discussing linguistic diversity as a positive and productive phenomenon.
- Promote an open language policy, or a policy of accepting any and all languages except when a certain language is required for a specific purpose.
- Here’s a pair of blog posts on facilitating academic transition and classroom engagement for international students (some issues about language are addressed in the context of cross-cultural educational adjustment for international students) -- see 2-page handout.
- Here’s another pair of blog posts on bringing transnational/global issues and perspectives into the college classroom (including through translingual activities).
- Support students with academic skills, including by creating a welcoming environment for them who may be daunted by academic language and academic culture of your class/institution; facilitate their learning by making the transition/navigation accessible. Here is a handout on how to do this with international students; note that these strategies can also enhance access for domestic students.
- Pay attention to the language dimension of your teaching practices, whatever the discipline and topic of your teaching. Here are two useful documents on the importance of being aware of language diversity:
- Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World
- Reframing Language Education for a Global Future
When setting or marking assessments, consider what role we are assigning to language in relation to the learning outcome and why:
- Do not expect or demand “perfection” in our students’ language performance. Language learning is a process: even when language proficiency is the curricular goal, consider the benefits of not focusing on “correctness” only. Achieving clear, concise, and correct communicative ability is a long, ongoing journey– and demanding it all at once or punishing less than perfect proficiency is counterproductive. Strictly speaking, there is also no universal definition of what is “clear” or “correct” communication.
- Clear and effective communication are learning goals in language/writing courses and
are also desirable in other courses. However, the demand for clarity often acts as
a proxy for social and political processes of exclusion and domination:
a) Students make rhetorical decisions to use varieties and vernaculars of English; academia should be a place to teach and foster this ability.
b) The ability to use different “accents,” styles, genres, modes, and languages enhances communication in both community and professions.
c) We should be aware of potential, implicit bias towards students from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, which may be a result of our socially acquired views, institutional policies, or disciplinary culture.
- Allocate a specific amount of credit for language/editing issues, reflecting the relative importance of learning objectives. Once decided, stick to it: do not allow language to become the main or sole criterion used in evaluating students’ work.
- Don’t allocate much or any credit for grammar issues when polished language is not a significant course or assignment objective (for example in a lab report or personal narrative).
- Don’t let “lingering language issues” distract usus or our students from teaching/learning focus/priority; research shows that we all take 3-7 years (some say up to 11) to learn and eliminate grammatical lapses when using a new language to do complex tasks.
- Continue to learn about the varieties and accents students use in both speech and writing; “accent” in writing is not the lack of “academese” but rather the presence of variations in wording, syntax, or current/local/disciplinary usage.
- Educate students about genres, contexts, or audiences that demand careful editing and teach them relevant language items as part of course and assignment objectives; on the other hand, encourage them to NOT focus on language if it undermines other objectives
- Refer students to relevant support on campus instead of using punishment as a prompt for learning.
- Watch out for implicit language bias (negative and positive) creeping into our assessment, leading us to ignore non-language weaknesses (or strengths) when we see language problems (or strengths).
- Help students to find patterns of their own linguistic errors or stylistic weaknesses (relative to the kind of language/style they mean to or should use in the given text); teach them to draft and revise text.
- Use track-change or suggesting mode (or marginal comments) to offer one or more alternatives – instead of simply underlining or circling “problems”; even in a language/grammar course, instructors should not assume ignorance or carelessness and instead should alert the writer to a language item (if it is relevant to the assessment at hand).
Mentorship is a key element in building community and a powerful tool to promote inclusive attitudes and behavior. As a mentor:
- Foster multilingual/translingual learning processes and environments as a mentor.
- Inspire your mentees, whether students or colleagues, to be their full multilingual and multicultural selves.
- Be a mentor to your students. Share your own experiences in learning language(s) and how to use them effectively. Do not be afraid to discuss anxieties, difficulties or moments in which you felt language diversity led to discrimination.
- Encourage peer-to-peer mentoring among your students. Create safe spaces for them to discuss their linguistic repertoires, the way in which these relate to their personal and professional identity, their language anxieties, their positive experiences of inclusion
- In your responsibilities for departmental or wider unit policies and practices, make sure linguistic awareness and language justice are an integral part of mentoring briefs and other forms of peer support across your unit.
- As a mentor for colleagues, make your language biography and repertoire a part of your mentoring conversations; also discuss your assumptions and practices about language. How do your language skills and how you mobilize them contribute to who and where you are and how others see you? Acknowledge the privilege languages offer, as well as discussing barriers you or your mentee may be facing.
- Develop new mentoring and co-mentoring support networks with a focus on language and linguistic justice. Share teaching practices and strategies with colleagues both within your own discipline and in cognate ones (or even further afield) focusing on language rather than on discipline-bound elements of your teaching.
- Start a self-reflexive diary/note-taking on your own language practices, how you respond to language use, your students’ responses to how you language in classroom situations, the outcomes of any changes you make: what works and what doesn’t?
- In all mentoring contexts, allow time and a dedicated space for reflection on how language is used in establishing and maintaining the mentor/mentee relationship, and also in creating and disseminating knowledge or in engaging with diverse stakeholders of knowledge/education.
- As A Scholar
2) AS A SCHOLAR/RESEARCHER
2a. Language awareness: scholarly perspectives
For decades now, scholars from around the world have advanced research and discourse about language and education (its policies, politics, pedagogies, and more). Here are just a few of the perspectives (or juicy quotes) contributed by the group of SBU scholars behind this resource:
TRANSLANGUAGING: “Translanguaging is a theoretical lens that offers a different view of bilingualism and multilingualism. The theory posits that rather than possessing two or more autonomous language systems, as has been traditionally thought, bilinguals, multilinguals, and indeed, all users of language, select and deploy particular features from a unitary linguistic repertoire to make meaning and to negotiate particular communicative contexts. Translanguaging also represents an approach to language pedagogy that affirms andleverages students’ diverse and dynamic language practices in teaching and learning” (Vogels & Garcia, 2017, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education).
MULTILINGUAL IDENTITY: “I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex Mex, and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself. Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish. . . . I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice. Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent's tongue--my woman's voice, my sexual voice, my poet's voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence” (Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza).
TRANSLINGUAL INSTINCT (Li Wei): “. . . drives humans to go beyond narrowly defined linguistic cues and transcend culturally defined language boundaries to achieve effective communication” (p. 24-25. “Translanguaging as a practical theory.” 2018).
TRANSLINGUAL PRACTICE(Suresh Canagarajah): “No act of communication is free of values. The universality of [standard written English] or written language is also . . . a language ideology, similar to the orientation of texts as being self-standing and devoid of meaning negotiations. SWE cannot be treated as a monolith, masking the diversity that is already there in written discourse” (p. 109. Translingual Practice, 2013).
AGENCY IN LANGUAGE USE (Min-Zhan Lu & Bruce Horner): “A translingual perspective (in teaching)...would involve engaging students in exploring what they care to advance about the people, language, and culture with which they are identified and may identify, and how and why and when to do it (p. 601. “Translingual literacy, language difference, and matters of agency.” 2013).
TRANSLINGUAL APPROACH: “Imagine all the languages valued equally, multiple scripts and media used routinely, and new genres flourishing in ways that recreate institutional and disciplinary contexts. You may say I am a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. . . . the translingual approach aspires to the proposition that revealing and leveling colonial matrices of power might be possible” (Ellen Cushman, “Translingual and Decolonial Approaches to Meaning Making,” College English, 2016; p. 236-37).
A TRANSLANGUAGING THEORY: “takes the point of view of the bilingual speaker himself or herself for whom the concept of two linguistic systems does not apply, for he or she has one complex and dynamic linguistic system that the speaker then learns to separate into two languages, as defined by external social factors and not simply linguistic ones” (García and Kleyn, 2016, italics in original).
TRANSLINGUALITY: For our students, though, translinguality is not somewhere they have to go, but rather somewhere that they already are, a place that they already inhabit every time they speak and each time they engage in reading and writing practices. They already live and embody translinguality [the condition where languages are used and their borders transcended, rather than “translingualism” as an -ism/theory or ideology], an often-unconscious state that many of them may not think about much, and that they may never have regarded as important until challenged in a course, when the instructor recast language difference, which they had thought of as a negative or at best neutral, as, instead, a potential source of positive strength” (Heather Robinson, Jonathan Hall, & Nela Navarro, 2020; p. 3).
2b. Translingual strategies
How can I as a scholar access knowledge in different languages?
Seek out and read sources in different languages and also from different societies and contexts; include minoritized/ minoritized/ marginalized/ overlooked voices when you do this, because language-based exclusion usually intersects with other axes of injustice/exclusion.
Cite scholars from beyond the dominant/mainstream groups, making expanded knowledge and perspectives more accessible for others.
Translate parts of texts (as in citation) or whole texts to create access for different language communities.
Acknowledge translation and translators in your research, presentations and publications.
Include translation (and the costs associated with it) in research proposals, funding applications, and all other forms of research planning
How do I mediate across language communities and bodies of knowledge?
Seek to share your ideas (at conferences, community events, etc) beyond the dominant language/social community.
Invite scholars from beyond traditional boundaries to join academic conversations and collaborations, making them linguistically accessible where needed.
Include speakers of multiple languages among research participants, as well as research projects leaders; inclusion enriches understanding and opportunities.
Engage in co-design, co-research, and co-production with colleagues working in different linguistic and cultural contexts; build equitable partnerships without always expecting them to assimilate to dominant standards, starting with language standards.
Act as a translator between bodies of knowledge and communities, as well as supporting translation initiatives, for instance by actively signaling the work of translation in reviews or by including translation among relevant outputs for tenure and promotion.
How do I engage communities/stakeholders of our scholarship that speak multiple languages?
Write, present, and interact with communities and stakeholders that use different languages in which you have some skills.
Caption video materials and presentations in one or more languages to increase audience access or accessibility.
Include a translated abstract or full text when feasible; help normalize bilingual/multilingual scholarship, challenging the assumption that scholarship can/should only be conducted in a dominant language.
Whenever possible, include sign language among the languages in which you aim to disseminate knowledge, findings, etc.
How can I address disciplinary language ideologies that may hinder my social justice aspirations regarding multilingual realities?
Challenge language ideologies that are embedded in your disciplinary values or professional standards, such as when engineers enforce “white middle class” English language habits as universal norms of “clarity.”
Embrace variation, complexity, and rhetoricity in language use in any discipline; don’t use the excuse of “formal” communication for rigidity.
Language variations (such as Black English Vernacular, Chinese accent, or widely used South Asian usage) are not the same as “inappropriate” language (such as obscenity or disrespect); call out the conflating of these in the name of disciplinary and professional demands for “appropriate” language.
Be sensitized to the role of interpreters and translators in mediating exchanges in professional contexts (for instance between doctor and patient, in legal contexts, etc).
What are the broader (political, ethical, deontological, social) implications of mobilizing different languages as scholars?
When we mobilize different languages as scholars, it helps to create welcoming and inspiring learning and professional environments; it also helps to foster the agency and self-regard of multilingual/multicultural members of academe.
It creates new/expanded space for new/expanded communities to engage in or benefit from scholarship, usually including communities that are marginalized/excluded.
It better connects knowledge work with other work in life and society, providing stronger social context and purpose to scholarship and promoting its social impact.
It potentially expands the social and economic value of scholarship by allowing more people to apply and advance new knowledge in society and the professions.
It creates safe spaces for exchange, transfer, transformation, and creativity.
- As A World/SBU Citizen
3) AS A WORLD/STONY BROOK CITIZEN
3a. Multilingual awareness: Language profile/repertoire
Want to pause a few minutes and do a fun activity? Use this tool to see where your language profile and repertoire falls on the landscape of other SBU members who have tried it.
3b. Language justice: Moving on a scale
Curious where you stand on a scale about supporting and affecting language-based justice? Take this self-assessment test or simply check the options below that best represent your "current'' beliefs, habits, and actions. The self-assessment tool will give you an instant score, send you a copy of your responses, and provide you a link to some tips by score ranges.
DISPOSITION –select ONE option onlya) I stop students while they’re speaking to correct themb) I mark any writing for language issuesc) I feel annoyed by language issues but resist marking them all the timed) I prioritize learning goals, addressing language issues when relevante) I teach then test a language item only if and when it’s part of course goal
POWER –select ONE option onlya) I use standard English to exert power over minority or multilingual speakersb) I show discomfort when others’ use of language(s) isn’t understoodc) I tolerate languages/variations used by others aroundd) I encourage the use of all languages/varieties, fostering learning, confidence, and respecte) I actively advocate for multilingual learners and language diversity and justice
ALLIANCE – select ONE option onlya) I enforce rigid monolingual standards required by the department or institutionb) I do not let students use diverse languages because I don’t understand them allc) I feel helpless and continues with the status quod) I resist inequities created by relative power of languagese) I take action to counter unfair and unjust effects of language ideologies/policies
EFFORT – select ONE option onlya) I fail students for language errors, in essence using unlimited negative creditb) I dock grades for language issues without clear policy/validity of assessmentc) I point out patterns of errors for student to learn to addressd) I teach rhetorical decision making about language use/variatione) I foster critical language awareness, including about language politics
Thank you for reading through this resource page and engaging with the interactive activities. We hope you found them useful.
If you have any questions or suggestions for us, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please tell us what worked best for you and what you’d like us to know, share, add or modify.