Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lost in Translation

Have you ever tried to learn a language other than your own? Coming from someone who has gone through it, it can be daunting and humbling at the same time. You see, when someone is talking to you in a different language, you can kind of pick up a bit of what they’re saying, maybe not the whole phrase, but a word here or there, like in the visual above. You can put together some understanding of what the speaker was intending, but there are a lot of variations that can be considered. In the visual above you can use many combinations of words that completely change the meaning of the sentence. If you don’t know what the speaker intended to say, then you are completely lost. The feeling of being ‘lost in translation’ happens to many, including some of our ELL (English Language Learners) at the Texas A&M UWC.
As a consultant at the Texas A&M UWC, I find that many consultants can tell when a client doesn't quite understand what they are saying, whether they explicitly say so or otherwise. Whenever I had a client who wasn’t fluent in English, I would try and explain concepts or ideas using analogies. For me, that’s an excellent way to connect preexisting knowledge to new information; however, I found that this strategy isn’t as appropriate for non-native speakers. This became apparent when trying to explain something to an ELL by making a Toy Story reference. In my mind, this was something that everyone could relate to, even if they are from another country, because they have it dubbed in other languages, but it wasn’t effective. I then understood that people from other countries might not have the same preexisting knowledge, even if that knowledge is a part of mainstream media in the U.S., which meant I had to change my approach to working with ELLs.
When thinking through new methods, I found it hard to imagine myself learning English again, because as an expert in something, it is hard to realize what concepts are difficult for a new learner. I put myself in a non-native mindset and thought about when I learned Spanish. Pictures or visuals were the easiest way for me to learn, so I decided to implement this during my consultations. By using markers and a white board, toys, different colored pens, or even looking up pictures online, I find that my explanations are much more efficient. For instance, when explaining prepositions, it might be easier to draw out different scenarios. One could also describe varying sentence structure by highlighting with different colors or physically writing an example out. You could even go as far as, when describing definitive articles, to use props to describe specificity. By using visual clues, hints, or distinguishers, your client might better understand concepts and connect new vocab to what they already know. Visuals are universal, while languages aren’t, which is why they’re the most useful tool when working with an ELL.

Monday, February 06, 2017

On Writing as a STEM major

At the small Waynesburg University Writing Center, I happen to be the only Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) major without an English minor, and this can sometimes pose unique challenges for me. When I was selected by the director last year to work at the center, she mentioned that her staff was lacking in science majors, which is something she wanted to improve upon. While I was obviously flattered, I also wasn't aware of the problems and distresses that would accompany it.

Let me preface by saying that I absolutely love working at Waynesburg's Writing Center. It is my favorite job that I've held so far, and I look forward to all of my appointments and the time I get to work there. Despite this sentiment, there are many instances where I feel uncomfortable among all the wonderful English majors who know every last participle, tense, and citation style. The field of literature can be overwhelming to an outsider, or even one experienced in it who doesn't practice regularly. Admittedly, my favorite sessions are those involving lab reports or students from athletic and exercise science courses, as the material comes easy to me and I am comfortable with it.

Due to the demand of the engineering curriculum, I rarely get the chance to take literature courses or other writing-intensive classes. I certainly count this as a loss, as I have found writing in the past few years to be an incredibly powerful medium for voicing sentiments and ideas, as well as a creative outlet. With this lapse in a writing curriculum, I have had to rely on working at the Writing Center to keep my own skills proficient, but have still noticed the effects of the change. While I have managed to get a bit of a change this semester, my courses are still largely focused elsewhere. Getting back into writing was a bit of initial struggle, and I found that I had lost a lot of the initial confidence about my work that I had previously worked for. While the grades have been indicative that I still maintain a strong writing brain, I often feel as though it is not so.

This really brings us to the crux of the struggle. Despite being overwhelmingly welcomed by tutors, I still feel as though my major is holding me back from full writing potential. And don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my major. I simply wish there were more ways in which to express my love for writing in it, and prove my competence. I certainly realize I'm not the norm when it comes to writing tutors, and I wanted to encourage others like me to continue to find outlets to express yourself, even if writing has been delegated to a hobby for you.