The Man Who Mistook "Wet Paint" for a Verb: A Chronicle for Thinking about Language, Culture and Writing
New York University
This article chronicles an ESL tutorial between a woman from Niger, whose first languages are French and Fulani, and her teacher, a native speaker of English. It highlights issues in ESL teaching and research. The teaching issues include: (1) identifying the most useful focus and pedagogical sequence for advanced ESL instruction; (2) the gap between what teachers "mean" and what students apprehend; (3) cross-cultural differences in the rhetorical requirements of expository and persuasive writing, including argument, proof, cause-and-effect, and summation/judgment. The article considers whether these requirements should be made explicit and who benefits from explicitness; (4) the political and economic conditions under which international students study at U.S. universities, and the effects of these conditions on quality of education, student resistance to education, communication among students and faculty, and the attitudes that international students develop about their experience in America.
The major research issue broached is the value of the chronicle, sometimes called action research in Britain, case study in the works of Bruner, Merriam, Clark, Nieto, and portraiture in the work of Ashton-Warner, Lightfoot, and Sayers. Chronicles offer not sample populations but examples of language learning that may 1) spark theory building and quantitative research, 2) allow teachers to assess research findings for classroom use, and 3) become authentic texts and task-based activities for language study.
In 1993, Birgin Sellin, a 20-year-old East Berliner who had been autistic since the age of two, typed out Ich will kein Inmich sein [I don't want to be an "in-me" any more] and had it published. The book became what literary critic Arno Widmann called "the most fascinating book of Germany's literary autumn." Its [-1-] appeal is that of Helen Keller's autobiography The Miracle Worker, the writings of Stephen Hawkings, and the character of Eliza Doolittle: it is a chronicle of the trek to understanding. When students read these books, they get inside the world and work of others who are trying to grasp what they don't yet know. In this paper, we suggest that teachers and students benefit also from making chronicles of their own.
A chronicle of language learning might be a video or audio recording, a collection of diaries or electronic-mail letters, that recount what goes on in class. They may be one-shot or collected over time; they may be left as raw data or edited, viewed, and discussed. They may be reviewed by only the participants or shared with researchers or other groups of learners and teachers. By examining chronicles made by other classes, students and teachers have a look at the vagaries of teaching and learning. They may contrast what they see with what they do. Comparing the differences, they may reconsider their assumptions or try out new approaches. By recording chronicles of their own class experiences, teachers and students make those experiences conspicuous. Tendencies and reactions that might have gone by without reflection are captured or "framed" by the chronicle. The events that occur in class become an object that teachers and students may analyze and which may lead them to consider and question how they teach and learn.
The benefits of making and investigating chronicles fall in four areas: they offer field data for research, they help teachers assess the usefulness of research findings for their classes, they may be used as texts for classroom study, and they may be used as projects in content-based or task-based curricula.
Chronicles may spark theory building and research in the same way as do case studies, ethnographies, or a researcher's personal experiences teaching and learning languages. In reading or watching a chronicle, for instance, something may strike the researcher as highly typical of language learning or quite unusual, and she may set out to investigate it. The advantage of the chronicle over personal experience is that it is recorded, catalogued, and retrievable.
Chronicles may also contribute data to ongoing research. Widdowson (1990) notes two related but unsatisfactory aspects of the way research and teaching are often organized: 1) "the unfortunate separation of roles which has proved damaging to the pedagogic cause: the researcher as producer of truth on the one hand, and the language teacher as a consumer of it on the other" (p. 55) and 2) the limited applicability of some research findings to classroom use precisely because of the controlled conditions that give quantitative research its rigor. [-2-]
What they show us is that no matter how objective or impartial enquiries may seek or claim to be they are always in some degree preconceived because they are preconditioned by cultural assumptions of one sort or another. The very conditions of systematic enquiry make this unavoidable. For such enquiry is based on idealization, the extraction of what is seen as essential from observable data.... Researchers enquire selectively into what they believe to be essential according to their conceptual bent, leaving the rest aside as incidental. (pp. 56-57)
Widdowson proposes that research findings in language acquisition be more regularly applied to the classroom and assessed there, as they are in classroom-centered research (Allwright, 1983) and action research (Stenhouse, 1975; Elliott, 1981). Chronicles may be part of this classroom-centered research. They may be, for instance, the basis for the "portfolios or fascicules of data and tasks" (p.66) that Widdowson hopes teachers will gather and evaluate as they apply relevant research to their class activities. For example, as the result of reading research on error correction, a teacher may want to try a new approach to correcting the English spoken by her students. While it may be useful for her and her students to recall how well the new approach worked, they may be greatly aided by audio or videotaped records of the event, or by journal entries about it. Specifically, these records preserve information that is "set aside," as Widdowson put it, in experimental designs. With chronicles, teachers and students not only have repeated access to the material they wished at first to examine but, in reading, watching, or listening to the chronicle, they may also discover events and reactions they hadn't previously considered. The success, stumbling blocks, and failures of the approach may then offer direction for future research as well as inform teachers of the usefulness of the approach for the students at hand.
Apart from the boon to research, chronicles abet learning. Bruner (1986) suggests that students learn in two complementary but mutually exclusive ways: paradigmatic and narrative. The paradigmatic looks for truth in logic and formal testing, and is found in qualitative and quantitative experiments. The narrative looks not for proofs but rather offers reflections of life (or its verisimilitude) that let viewers construct meaning collaboratively with the text and the author. Chronicles are also narratives. They may at once give teachers feedback on their lesson plans and be part of them as authentic texts from which students learn. Written and electronic chronicles from both ESL and native-speaker classes in a wide range of subjects can be used in ESL classes to develop vocabulary, grammar, and listening and reading comprehension. Even under conditions that allowed learners a narrow range of input and activities, Eisenstein, Shuller and Bodman [-3-] (1987) found that students' English competence improved after viewing videos in which other language learners studied English through Caleb Gattegno's Silent Way. Students received no instruction from their teacher nor was there any teacher or native model onscreen. Yet students, pre- and post-tested on the Ilyin Oral Interview (Ilyin, 1976), scored an average of 41 points higher after the course, an improvement equivalent to two semesters of English language classes though the video viewing lasted only the equivalent of one semester.
Chronicles may also fit into ESL classes in the many ways that other authentic texts do: as examples of grammatical forms in communicative contexts, as texts for close listening activities and vocabulary development, and as springboards for discussion and written assignments. They may offer as well rich material to investigate sociopragmatics and cross-cultural issues„especially if they are exchanged among classes, schools, and the journals that teachers read.
The benefits of exchange packages to learners go back to Celestin Freinet's Modern School Movement, begun in France in the 1920s (Freinet 1969/75, 1969/86; Sayers, 1990), and they continue today with Internet sister-classes (Sayers, 1993a, 1993b). Exchange packages have included information about and reactions to education, as well as to local, familial, and international events. Chronicles may be a part of this project, as both the academic content of the recorded class and the cultural, economic, and political contexts in which the class is set become texts for the student "audience." A videotaped debate about water pollution or paragraph organization may prompt discussion and written assignments in the students who view the chronicle tape. But the student audience may also notice differences between the economic conditions of the "performer" class and their own. They may notice differences or similarities in curricula and pedagogical approaches, the society of the classrooms, the physical plant of the schools, the roles of teacher and student or men and women, the rules of conversation, and the many other assumptions and conventions that people bring to schools. These too may prod student discussion and writing, as well as evaluation of current approaches to teaching and learning.
In addition to the uses that chronicles have as authentic texts, they also lend themselves to task-based curricula. As students make chronicles, the process of compiling a journal, selection and editing, obtaining and operating electronic equipment, adjusting camera angles, lights and microphones, freeze-framing, rewinding and replaying, adding introductory or summary material for later use or the benefit of other classes gives students a chance to practice vocabulary, syntax, idioms, and pragmatics in a communicative context. The benefit to language [-4-] acquisition of these activities is reviewed in the literature on content-based ESL (Brinton, Snow & Wesche, 1989; Crandall, 1993; Crandall & Tucker, 1989; Mohan, 1979, 1986; Short, Crandall & Christian, 1989; Snow, Met & Genesee, 1989; Widdowson, ) and on task-based approaches to language study (Doughty & Pica, 1986; Krashen, 1991; Long, 1985, 1989; Mohan, 1990: Pica, 1992; Widdowson, 1990). In their discussion of video-making as a task-based activity, Cooper, Lavery and Rinvolucri (1991) write, "Much of the real language work will come in the process of discussing, brainstorming, planning, videoing, reformulating, and trying out again" (p. 5). Chronicles, then, may be occasions for language acquisition because in the making they are instances of meaningful input and authentic communication.
In the current literature, writers and researchers with a range of specializations employ chronicles of various sorts. Ashton-Warner (1963), Lightfoot (1985) and Sayers (1991) have relied on chronicle material for their portraiture research, as has Merriam (1988) for her case studies. These she defines as intensive, holistic, descriptive, heuristic, inductive and particularistic. In their particularity, they provide not sample populations for study but examples that may spark hypotheses for further investigation (Clark, 1983). Nieto (1992), also using chronicle material, distinguishes the case study from its subset, the ethnographic case study, which uses a sociocultural analysis and which takes place "within the cultural and social environment in which [subjects] find themselves" (p. 7).
The learning chronicle below is an "example" as Clark proposes. It is data that teachers and students may use to reflect on their work, to assess the usefulness of research findings for classroom use, and in which researchers may find sparks to future studies. It is an authentic text and content-based activity for language classes. The chronicle is comprised of two journals written during an ESL tutorial between a Masters student from Niger studying at New York University and a doctoral student in TESOL at the same university. The individual entries were written during the tutorial in the fall of 1992; the introductory paragraphs were written at the end of the tutorial a year later in 1993. Both the journal entries and introduction were composed independently. The epilogue was transcribed from a recorded conversation between the two women in February, 1994 [surface errors retained].
The central concern of the native speaker was teaching the rhetorical requirements of English persuasive and expository writing, which Cope and Kalantzis (1993) describe as subordinative, analytical, minimally redundant, distancing, either genuinely or disingenuously attempting balance and objectivity" (p. 76). This American tendency, as Fox (1994) writes, "to directness, to precise relationships between verbs and their subjects, to clear and relatively obvious transitions, to announcement of intent and [-5-] summary statements" (p. 20) is alien and often problematic to many students from non-Western and non-English speaking cultures, and non-dominant subcultures in the U.S. While mainstream English persuasive and expository writing relies on up-front clarity, their traditions rely on subtlety, indirection, inference, circumlocution, close investigation of received wisdoms, contextualization of issues (rather than isolation and under-a-microscope analysis), and collectivist notions of evidence. As a result, students from these traditions often see English writing as obvious, dull, unchallenging, and naive. Yet they are required to write in the English idiom in order to succeed at their jobs or universities. Even advanced graduate students, like the one in this chronicle, often find such writing distasteful or mysterious, either because they have not been explicitly taught it or because it requires sizable (and undesirable) changes in world view and personality. The effort to alter their writing styles has led students, according to Fox, to frustration, depression, resistance, rebellion, or failure.
The student in this chronicle, Abou Diallo, was somewhat frustrated by the gap between her approach to writing and the requirements of her university classes. Although she may not have identified the differences between her style and that demanded by her teachers, she understood there were differences and was looking for strategies to improve her writing by American standards. The stated purpose of the tutorial was to help her find such strategies and to identify the sources of problems (lack of information or the sorts of cultural differences discussed by Fox, 1994) so that she and her teacher could address them. Yet the sources of problems were often elusive--is it a matter or vocabulary? register? cultural differences in writing conventions? in thinking? Pinpointing these sources became the groping, delicate project of the semester.
Yet it was not the only troublesome area for Ms. Diallo, who was also disconcerted by certain economic and political issues at the university, as the epilogue describes. Though a rigorous student and committed to improving her writing (which she did), her frustrations, anger, and unhappiness came from institutional structures which, she felt, created rushed, insensitive faculty and uncommitted American students. At the start of the tutorial, Ms. Diallo's teacher thought it would yield information about contrastive rhetoric. It did, but Ms. Diallo revealed a number of other issues besides.
Abou Diallo: When I started classes at New York University, I told my advisor that I needed to improve my writing skills. He tried to convince me that I didn't need help. would have no difficulties. I couldn't believe that a teacher who dealt with international [-6-] students would give me such an answer. For me it is obvious that a teacher should know that there is a big difference between speaking a language and writing it. To be honest, my first impression was that American teachers did not really give a damn about our needs. It brought back memories of stories I had heard about African students and their professors in Europe. These students went back home with "worthless" Ph.D.s "granted" to them by their professors who knew that once these students were home they would hold important positions in their respective governments and would in recognition invite them for conferences or consultancy jobs. Anyway, I knew I needed a writing course and I intended to find one despite my teacher's comments.
Finally, in October, my advisor told me about a writing class. I decided to give it a try. There were five students: three Asians, on Puerto Rican and one African, me.
Marcia Pally: I was gulled by flattery. A professor said kind words about my written work, and I volunteered to help international students develop their writing. Abou was in two of my classes that semester--the Giacometti with the Gibson Girl dreadlocks. Her bearing reminded me of Catherine Deneuve or Anouk Aimee. I later learned that she is minor African royalty educated in French schools. She was fluent in spoken English and would be taking the Graduate Writing Workshop where, I thought, she would practice basic writing techniques. My job was to edit a paper she was writing and coach her through its drafts.
AD: Marcia and I had two classes together--I don't even remember how we became friends. I just know that during the linguistics class we were always on the same row. One day she asked if I would be interested in a tutoring class with her. She told me she was a writer. We made our first appointment.
At the same time I was asking myself questions. Why would Marcia want to help me, she doesn't even know me that well. But then I told myself that I should seize this opportunity. I was going to have a professional writer all to myself and I should try to make the most of it. I was writing a paper on Translation and Bilingualism for one of my classes so I gave Marcia a draft.
MP: It turned out that Abou was getting no practice in essay organization, phrasing, constructing leads and conclusions, etc. It wasn't until half way through the fall term that I realized the lack. Till then, I had been editing her work--a procedure for late drafts--rather than experimenting with start-up activities such as brainstorming, text organization, and specificity of language and imagery. [-7-]
AD: I stopped attending the writing workshop when I started working with Marcia because I thought it would be redundant. (Marcia, can we discuss the use of this word?) Maybe I was wrong. #
November 6, 1992
AD: I gave Marcia a draft of my paper. I wasn't satisfied with what I had written, but I guess she wanted to "evaluate" my writing skills. Well, she was in for a big surprise. I had never been a good writer. Don't mistake me! I mean I can write grammatically correct sentences, but I jumped from one subject to another. There was no organization in my paper, I was aware of that. I just didn't know hot to improve it. I imagined Marcia would be so disappointed that she would refuse to work with me. English is my second language. No, my fifth. I learned French and Fulani together, Hausa, and Djerma. I started learning English at the age of 10 and German at 15. Although I know six languages, I am literate in only four.
MP: In the initial draft of Abou's paper on bilinguality and translation, the main problem is specificity: she has not yet nailed down the exact idea she wants to express in a sentence, paragraph or essay. This was also a problem for many of the (native speaker) journalism students I taught but the problem is compounded in second-language writing when ideas form in L1 but their simple translation will not reconstruct those ideas in L2. Abou's writing contains few surface errors.
AD: When I saw all the comments Marcia made (on almost every line she had written something) my first impression was "I didn't know my writing was that bad" and wondered what Marcia must have been thinking while going through my paper. I promised myself that the next draft would be better even though I did not know yet what was wrong with the first one.
MP: Abou thinks most often in French; her analytical and academic thinking is entirely in that language and she runs into the following sort of translation problem. While "culture generale" means something specific in French, it does not in English. In the introduction to her paper she translated directly from the French, [-8-] writing, "To be a good translator, one must have a good general culture." In English that might mean, "one must have a good, liberal arts education" or "one must be familiar with a society's culture as well as with its language." Abou has chosen "bilinguality and translation" as the subject of her paper and ironically confronts this topic as she writes it. She knows a good deal of English grammar and vocabulary (near bilinguality) and thinks at an advanced level in French, but she needs to learn the English phrases and structures that "mean" what she knows how to "mean" in French.
AD: Marcia showed me that the French meaning of several words and the English meaning were not the same. I have to rephrase the ideas to convey similar meaning. I also repeat myself a lot and used "to be" "to do" " to make" more than required. Marcia suggested that I use active verbs and be more specific in my explanations. She told me that I should use a thesaurus. One of the advantages of the English language, according to me of course, if that you have many words to express one thing. And that sometimes is a big problem in translation because you would have three or four words following each other when you look in the dictionary and they all have the same French translation.
MP: The need for greater specificity came up in three areas of Abou's paper: overall organization; precision of vocabulary; and support for central ideas (examples, statistics, quotes, etc.). We discussed the large lexicon of English and native writer preference for not repeating words. The writing conventions of languages with smaller lexicons may demand less variation, and so the task of searching out synonyms and "hearing" their connotative and tonal differences may not be as much a part of the writing process for speakers of other languages.
To ravel organizational tangles, Abou and I looked at her outline and discussed a process for working out her thoughts. I am not necessarily a fad of outlines; a simple ordering of one's thoughts may be as much an outline as one needs. But Abou wanted to work with an outline, so we did.
AD: We looked at my outline and went over it. I think it's useful because you try to structure your paper. Marcia thought that my main statements were o.k. but the subsections needed more detail and should reflect and support the main statements.
MP: In conversation with me, Abou was far clearer about her ideas than she was in her writing. I suggested she try out the following process to get at her ideas: [-9-]
Abou and I tried out this brainstorming process together and talked also about connectors and conjunctions--what to use to interweave expository writing with quotes, anecdotes or other kinds of support material. Abou began to develop a list of "handy" phrases" that knit a text together. Among those that she jotted down this week are "at hand," "on one hand... on the other hand," "I recall...," "in sum" and "in short."
AD: Marcia said that I was clearer when I explained things than when I wrote them down. She said that I should do a kind of brainstorming and try to be as precise and specific as possible. Then she said that I should order my ideas, give examples to support them. The final step would be to go back and write more precise sentences. The assignment was to rewrite the introduction using everything I had learned today.
MP: In addition to Abou's assignment for next week, I gave her two pieces of journalism to read, one that Ronald Dworkin had written for The New York Times Book Review on the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings and one that Garrison Keillor had written for the OpEd page of the Times. We read parts of these articles together and discussed the verbs and imagery that make some sentences especially sharp. [-10-]
At the end of the session, Abou asked me about the beginnings of essays: how to start them and what they should consist of. I generally construct a loose outline and ask what sort of entry I need to get into it. The lead could be a description of the central problem or area of investigation; it could be a story or anecdote (which I might have placed later in the outline but decide to move up to the lead). It could be a bit of background or historical information, or a provocative quote. Abou's comments were curious and sophisticated. I like the back-and-forth between us.
AD: I asked Marcia what was the best way to start and essay and how to shape it, to give it form. I learned a lot in just two hours. Marcia knew how to make me talk, and most important, she didn't make me feel "ignorant".
November 11, 1992
AD: I did a lot of brainstorming at home and came up with good ideas, but I didn't know exactly where they would fit. We did the usual "what do you mean by this?" And actually while I was explaining things to Marcia I knew how I should order my ideas in the paper.
MP: Abou did not work on her outline. She developed several examples to support the opening section of her paper, and while they were terrific she had trouble seeing where they belonged. She recalled, for example, an American delivering a speech in Nigeria. Hemming and hawing, he began his remarks with "Well, well..." which was translated "a well"--the opening in the ground that brings forth water. It was not clear from the placement of this story what Abou wanted to show by using it. Face to face, she was more precise. After Abou placed the tale in her introduction, I asked her to condense it so it would have the rhythm of an anecdote in support of a point rather than of a short story. She did it easily.
AD: I really started thinking about sentence structure this week. I began spotting repetitions. Marcia repeated again that I should write down all my thoughts, and put them in order. Would I be able to do it systematically in the future?
MP: About and I spent some time discussing whether my suggestions are clear to her. She says they are and shows me she understands when she presents her ideas verbally. Yet that doesn't mean I'm saying things in the best way for her. I'm afraid of the "please the teacher" coverup and cultural differences between us. Abou is more than tactful. If my suggestions are not clear, I need to [-11-] clarify them. If they are clear but not useful, I need to find another approach. Can she describe the trouble she has writing at home?
AD: I was so eager to apply what I learned that as soon as I got home the first thing I did was find my APA book [Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association] and go through it. I found everything that Marcia had told me about. I have had the book for two months, but I never took the time to read it. Come to think of it, I only used it for the bibliography.
November 17, 1992
AD: Today I've brought a detailed outline:
I. Introduction definition of bilingualism definition of translation How does bilingualism influence the ability to translate? II. Bilingualism is not enough to be a translator. I will show what other abilities are needed by comparing translations of a text by a professional translator, a bilingual person and myself. III. One doesn't need to be a bilingual to be a translator. What other skills does a translator need?
I. Introduction definition of bilinguality definition of translation Ia. Translation: Delisle quote translation of quote Newman quote (in English) example supporting the 2 quotes 1b. Bilinguality example Tournier quote example supporting Tournier quote 1c. How does bilingualism influence the ability to translate? example explanation [-12-] II. Bilingualism is not enough in order to be a translator. I will show what other abilities are needed by comparing three translations of the same text by: IIa. a professional translator IIb. a bilingual person IIc. myself IIIa. Conclusion: Hillaire Belloc wondered whether a bilingual person has ever been known to make a good translator IIIb. one doesn't need to be a bilingual to be a translator IIIc. what other skills does a translator need?
I told Marcia that I wanted to use two definitions of bilingualism in my introduction. Marcia helped me with the transition words.
(old introduction )
One of the definitions of bilingualism is "using or being capable of using two languages especially with equal or nearly equal facility" (Webster's Dictionary), whereas translation "implies the rendering from one language into another of something written or spoken" (Webster's Dictionary). Can we then say that a person has to be bilingual in order to be a translator?
One of the definitions of bilingualism is "using or being capable of using two languages especially with equal or nearly equal facility" (Webster's Dictionary). Yet a bilingual person also has a set of rules for each language and usually never translates from one language into another. A definition reflecting this better than Webster's is, "the individual's capacity to speak a second language while following the concepts and structures of that language rather than paraphrasing his or her mother tongue". (Tirone, 1972)
Translation is defined in Webster's as, "the rendering from one language into another of something written or spoken." What sort of link can be drawn between the two? I recall an American in Nigeria giving a speech translated into Hausa by a person, who according to Nigerian standards, was fluent in both English and Hausa. The American, looking for his opening words, started his speech with "well, well, well..." which was translated by "rijiyah, rijiyah, rijiyah," meaning a hole in the ground which has water. This has left me wondering if the work of a translator involves abilities other than [-13-] fluency in two languages. Does one need to be bilingual in order to be a translator?
MP: Good meeting. Abou augmented her outline and expanded the opening section. She's starting to get ahead of my questions, which means I should shut up.
The major work of the day came in polishing four examples she'd developed to support part I of her paper. The examples were inventive, one was explained beautifully, but three were left unfinished. For example:
In bilingual countries like Canada, road signs are often in English and French, and the French translation makes French speaking people laugh. For instance, "wet paint" is translated by "Frais peinture" instead of "Attention a la peinture." Anyone who knows French knows that "peinture" does not exist.Why doesn't it exist? What's wrong with it and what happened in the translation from English to French? Seeing my confused look, Abou launched into a detailed, funny explanation. (I'm not sure Abou is learning to write, but she certainly is learning to read me.) She promised to rewrite these examples for next time and also spotted several redundant sentences. She said she suspected they were unnecessary but included them anyway because she had first mentioned the ideas three pages earlier; the reader might need reminding. It's a good reason, but I think it means Abou did not go back and read her piece from the beginning for the flow of the ideas or to see how "far" apart (in reading "distance") her ideas are from each other. We have to discuss rereading and drafts.
AD: When I went back home I called Marcia because I wanted her opinion on certain things that I wanted to include in the paper.
MP: Meeting once a week for an hour is not nearly enough. Abou called me about a subtle use of the perfect tense. I have been staying away from surface errors--the few that she has--because I don't want a concern with form to distract her from getting her thoughts down. Once she does, she can polish the prose. But since Abou was worried about this grammar point, we plunged in.
Abou also made quite a creative translation of the Canadian road sign story. The mistake of Anglophone governments in translating English road signs into French involves the wrong form of the word "paint" in the phrase "wet paint." But the error is in French and she is writing her paper in English. She needs to make the humor of the error understandable to English-speaking readers. [-14-] To solve the problem, Abou invented an equivalent mistake in English, using the word "paintinged" instead of "painted," which I thought displayed a fancy command of both English and the goals of translation.
Abou asked how she should move ideas around in her outline or incorporate new ones. I suggested that it's easier to rearrange or add to an existing structure than to keep new ideas in one's mind. She said that made her feel that she was doing the right thing.
I'm giving some thought to that last remark. Have I not been telling her that she is "doing the right thing?" I often tell her that her trouble spots are those native speakers would have as well. But this late-night comment makes me feel that she needs more reassurance.
November 24, 1992
AD: Today we're trying something new. Marcia had brought film reviews that she had written. I had a few problems with words like "indies" (independent distributors), dom-chic (dominatrix-chic) and filch (to steal, quick little theft). She explained their meaning and told me why she chose them. She told me she had a dictionary of words that suggest vivid images of things and also told me that she used the thesaurus. I asked her many questions.
MP: I decided to broach the issue of drafts and imagery with a short film review I'd written. I talked about earlier versions and why I had discarded other words or images. I explained that I chose the phrase "buttoned-up Brit" to describe a film character rather than "tense Englishman," because "buttoned-up" paints a picture for the reader (of a chap with too many buttons too high on the gorge). The clipped rhythm and the repeating "b," "p" and "t" sounds add tightness to text. I wanted to show Abou something about working a text rather than blather on about it. We ended by discussing the importance of reading to good writing. Words and turns of phrases are what other writers have invented to get out of tight spots. I have developed a private dictionary of useful words that I underuse. At first, I think Abou didn't believe it. She also underestimated how long it took me to write a review. We talked about her developing such a dictionary, beginning with her "handy phrases."
AD: One of the important things I'm learning is the use of a thesaurus. I had many sentences in which I used the same words over and over, so there was too much repetition. I realized that my English vocabulary was limited (here I should give an example to illustrate). [-15-] For example, I want to use a quote from L'Analyse du Discourse comme Methode de Traduction by Jean Delisle. He wrote, "pour traduire quatre competences majeures sont indispensables: linguistique, encyclopedique, de comprehension et de reexpression". In my first explanation of that quote I wrote,
it means that a translator must have a broad general knowledge, must be able to comprehend, analyze and express in writing or orally any kind of material s/he is working on. S/he has to have a desire to learn or know about the world in general, have a mature mind and good judgment. Also, it is substantial for the translator to have very good writing skills, and of course a thorough knowledge of the other language.Improved version:
a translator must have (a) a thorough knowledge of both languages including the subtleties of connotation, overtones, puns, word plays, idioms, etc. (b) a firm knowledge of the cultures in which the languages are spoken (c) a solid grasp of the text at hand (d) talent as a writer, essayist or poet in his or her own right.MP: In one passage of this week's draft, Abou began a sentence with an ungrammatical but rhetorically apt form. After the long description of the "well, well...." story, she wrote, "This left me wondering if one needs to be bilingual in order to translate. Or [emphasis mine] does the work of a translator involve abilities other than fluency in two languages?" Abou knew the "or" is incorrect but wrote it anyway, she said, because it added to the flow of the sentences. She's right. During our conversation, I felt obligated to caution her about a too-liberal use of ungrammatical forms, but I'm sad that I did. She did a difficult thing well.
Working with Abou has made me think about Jim Cummins's language interdependence theory (Cummins, 1979). Developing advanced cognitive concepts in L1, according to Cummins, should facilitate the transfer of those concepts to L2. Perhaps, but Abou can think in a sophisticated manner in French and explain complex ideas in spoken English. Yet expressing those ideas in English writing demands another step.
At the beginning of this log, I thought that step was cognitive, a matter of developing and ordering ideas. Without a good grasp of her ideas in L1, Abou would have double difficulty in her L2, as Cummins suggests. I'm inclined to think now that the trouble is also linguistic. One selects and arranges one's ideas according to the conventions and vocabulary of one's mother [-16-] tongue--as the "culture generale" and "linguistique, encyclopedique" examples show. Yet grasp of a concept and the ability to express it in L1 does not necessarily produce the ability to express it in L2 even, as in Abou's case, with significant command of L2. Abou knew what she meant to say but couldn't make it clear using the English translation of French words.
Conversely, language learners understand words in their L2s (and the concepts behind them) when there is no equivalent word (or concept) in their L1s. The German word Schadenfreude, for example, means to take joy in the misery of others and has no equivalent in English. Yet English speakers studying German apprehend its meaning usually on first hearing. Understanding a concept in L1 may be helpful to expressing it in L2 but neither necessary nor sufficient.
Side note (well, maybe not): in this week's draft of the Canadian road sign story, Abou deleted mention of the officials who printed the "wet paint" mistake. She said she "didn't want to talk about the government in her paper." I told Abou that so far, in New York, it was okay to make jokes about the government. She looked at me like it was not worth explaining how the rest of the world lives.
AD: Marcia asked me to read an article she brought in (this time, she was not the author) and summarize or draw an outline. I like doing this because it is more general and I feel that I could apply what I was learning to any paper I would write. I told Marcia that we should have started our sessions with the exercises instead of my paper. Also, we should have had more general writing techniques and process of writing.
Marcia seemed impressed by my work today. I added some transitions and worked on my examples. When I was explaining the "frais peinture" example I did not give a lot of detail because for me it was obvious (it would have also been obvious to any French speaker). I keep forgetting that my paper is going to be read by an English speaker.
Marcia seemed a little hurt when I told her that the APA book helped me a lot. I felt ungrateful. Marcia has been taking time on her busy schedule to help me and now I upset her. How am I going to get out of this one? I remembered my dad telling me once that I would never be a diplomat because I didn't know how to say the "politic thing". I guess I have to work on that too. It is also a cultural thing. You should show respect to people who are older than [-17-] you and never argue with them or upset them. My comment didn't mean to imply that Marcia had not given me the help I needed I just thought it would look better if I made reference to a well-known book.
MP: The first sections of this week's draft were surprisingly good--one of those "leaps" in performance. Here, for instance, is the refurbished Canadian road sign story:
Other examples given by Vinay and Darbelnet are signs and notices in English and French found in bilingual Canada. Many of the French translations make French people laugh. For example, "wet paint" was translated by "frais peinture." Anyone who knows French know that "peinture," as a verb, does not exist. This is the typical mistake made by children when learning the language. Since "peinture" is the noun meaning "paint," a child thinks that by adding "er," one of the forms of infinitive verbs in French, s/he would get the verb "peinturer," (with peinture as the past participle), which in English would be something like "to paintinged." In translating, the translator should ask himself, "what is the meaning conveyed by these words?" "Wet paint" means that people have to be careful not to walk or touch because the paint is not dry. Therefore, a good French translation would be something like "Attention a la peinture."
That's a lot of expansion. What happened? Abou said she'd started rereading her work and noticed what could be improved (maybe the last lesson on drafts worked). She also said that she'd read the American Psychological Association (APA) style book, which, she said, "told me exactly what to do." I believe that makes me superfluous.
Why was the APA book so convincing? After some resistance (politeness, I think), Abou said she hadn't been writing down many of my suggestions. Reading similar ideas in the APA book--at home in the midst of writing--made them ready-to-hand. I asked if it would have helped if I had written my suggestions down in greater detail for her (I write the main points on a pad of paper that we set up in the first lesson). She answered that it wasn't a problem of my writing them but of her taking notes. She also suggested that without hearing my suggestions she would not have found the book as helpful. Whatever difficulties Abou may have with English, manners isn't one of them.
The newest section of Abou's paper compares three translations of a text from English into French. One translation was done by a native French speaker, one by a professional English-French translator, and one by Abou. This part of her paper was well-organized [-18-] and properly placed; several of the comparisons of the translations were well-explained. Yet many were compressed or truncated so that the reader didn't know why Abou preferred one translation to another. It's the specificity issue, again. We compared the clear comparisons with the unclear ones. Her assignment is to polish this section for next meeting.
AD: We looked at the second part of my paper. Marcia spotted the bad explanations right away. She is always asking me "What do you mean by this word or this sentence" and then she says: "Why didn't you write what you just told me?" Usually my answer is: "It's so obvious". "To you, not to the reader" Marcia replies. I didn't realize that what was obvious to me wasn't necessarily obvious to another person (see how my mind works! I should not assume things).
December 10, 1992
AD: We began the session comparing the short article we outlined last week. My outline, of course, was not detailed. We discussed it and read another piece.
We worked on leads. We looked at the leads in the articles we have been working on. I had started my paper with definitions of the words "translation" and "bilingual." Marcia said it was one way of introducing my subject. She also said that I could have started with an anecdote or anything else as long as it was related to my subject and allowed me to present the different points I was going to develop later on in the paper. I thought about changing my introduction but decided to leave it as it was.
Basically during this session we went over the comparisons of the 3 English-to-French translations. As usual I didn't give a lot of details. So we went through the usual "what do you mean by this" and "why did you say this" process. My oral explanations were clearer than my written ones. So I wrote my oral explanations.
Since time was running out Marcia asked me to finish the work at home and she handed me a course evaluation. She said to me: "tell me exactly how you feel. Don't try to be nice. Just say things as they are." And I think that's exactly what I did.
MP: Since we are nearing the end of the semester, I asked Abou to answer a teacher-evaluation form adapted for this sort of tutorial exchange. She wrote,
Not enough exercises besides my paper. We started sessions with a paper I was working on. It would have been better to start with more general things: [-19-] a) how to introduce a subject; b) how to develop ideas; c) how to conclude, etc. We did talk about all this, but in relation to my paper. I liked the exercises you gave me the last three weeks. They really did help me. You should have given them to me every week (make an outline, summarize, what is the main idea in each paragraph, how did the author introduce subjects, etc.).
Home assignments clearly explained and very useful.
Abou put an outline into her course evaluation.
We began today by comparing our outlines of the short piece we read last week. Abou compressed several of the supporting details and at times selected a supporting detail as a main point (especially if it began a paragraph). Looking at the two outlines together, hers and mine, Abou said she saw just how many details there were to be set in order. I then gave her a piece of "brainstorming" that I had done for one of my columns--all the ideas, the information, statistics and quotes I'd need, and the order for them. I didn't use a traditional outline; instead, I listed each point followed by an arrow to the next point. I also gave Abou a copy of the final piece and explained some of the changes that happened in the course of writing. We could have spent a good deal more time on this.
As a start of our discussion about leads. I described several different kinds (and wrote them down). Without prompting from me, Abou began to create alternate leads for her paper. I'd like to do some more of this, and practice with conclusions, as well.
During the rest of the hour, Abou and I went over the section of her paper which compares the three English-to-French translations. Many were better than last week; some were still truncated. In every case, Abou a offered me complete, thoughtful version--that she hadn't written down. (She has begun to crack jokes about this.) She said, "I guess I don't think it's worth writing."
That gave me pause. Can Abou imagine that she knows something better than her reader? That will be the main topic for next session. What is "worth writing" is a lifelong problem for writers--what to include or omit. Schools train students to write for the teacher, to demonstrate competence to someone who already has it. But outside school, writers must bring an idea to someone who doesn't have it. In short, writing is not so much: "Did I show you that I get it?" but rather, "Do you get it?" [-20-] Last comments:
AD: We never had time for a final session, but I spent 2 hours on the phone with Marcia discussing grammatical points. While going over the 3 translation comparisons I had a problem with "because" and "for" ("parce que" and "car" in French). I felt that "because" would weigh down the sentence whereas "for" would make it lighter. I wanted Marcia to tell me that I was right and that's exactly what she did, but after giving me a lesson in linguistics I think.
MP: We did not have time for a final session. Abou gave me, however, a copy of her final draft. The opening paragraphs are written below, for comparison with her writing seven weeks earlier [surface errors retained],
One of the definitions of bilingualism is "using or capable of using two languages especially with equal or nearly equal facility" (Webster's Dictionary, 1986). Yet, a bilingual person has a set of rules of each language, and usually does not translate from one language to another. _Bilinguality and Bilingualism_ (Hamers & Blanc, 1989) gives a better definition reflecting this idea: "the individual's capacity to speak a second language while following the concepts and structures of that language rather than paraphrasing his or her mother tongue". There is a common belief that if one is bilingual, one can easily translate from one language to another. According to Webster's Dictionary, translation is "the rendering from one language into another of something written or spoken". I recall an American in Nigeria giving a speech translated into Hausa. The American, looking for his opening words, started his speech with "well, well, well..." which was translated by "rijiyah, rijiyah, rijiyah..." meaning a hole in the ground with water. This led me wondering if one needs to be only bilingual in order to translate. Or, does the work of a translator involve abilities other than fluency in two languages?
AD: Now that I think of it, maybe I should have handed Marcia a student evaluation form. I would have liked to know what she thought and felt over the weeks. [-21-]
Epilogue „ February, 1994:
AD: Maybe I just had a misunderstanding with teachers about getting help with my writing. They kept saying "You don't need it." But what were they basing their theories on? Finally, I stopped asking people because no one was listening. I haven't spoken with other African students about it. Except for the writing problem, I had a lot of help from teachers, but that is not the case with other international students. When I told them how a teacher helped me they said, "Wow, how did you do that? Because they throw us out of the room or don't have the time."
MP: Why did you get a better response than other international students?
AD: Maybe because I was the only African in most of the classes -- the other international students were from Asia or Europe. Teachers could be more helpful to someone who didn't speak the language well. And I know students who speak English very well, so I don't think it's a question of language.
MP: Are African students in America getting "worthless" degrees the way they are in Europe?
AD: I have the impression the professors don't care what we do. Two or three of my teachers said that if you come to class every day, you already have a B. You don't have to do anything. I was shocked.
MP: Does that apply international students or to everyone?
AD: Everybody. Usually it's American students who are asking how the professor is going to grade. They say, "I paid more than a thousand dollars for this class and the teacher better give me an A." I think, if you don't work, why do you expect an A?
I remember a friend of mine and I both got Bs. She went to contest the grade and I asked her, "But what work did you do?" She said, "That's not the point. The point is I want an A." She talked to the teacher and got an A. Somebody told me they're afraid; students say they're going to sue and since we don't want that kind of problem, we give them the A.
MP: Faculty told you that?
MP: On what grounds would students sue?
AD: She told me a specific case of a student who got a C on the exam and said, the catalogue says the course is going to do these [-22-] things and it didn't so you better give me a good grade or I'll sue you. The student got her A. Have you ever contested a grade?
AD: In one of my education classes the teacher told me you don't have to be fluent in a language to teach it. I don't understand that. In education classes, many students--mostly Asians--could hardly say a perfect sentence or pronounce words. How are they going to teach English?
MP: Many Asian students are aware of the problem. They may be better at writing. I've heard many complaints from them about the English education in their home countries. They get here and realize how little practice they've had listening and speaking. What's the solution? NYU has an institute, the American Language Institute (ALI), to bring students to a proficient level of English, but many students test out of ALI or pass the TOEFL exam and yet are not ready for graduate study. Do you think the TOEFL and ALI tests are not difficult enough?
AD: Not for people who want to be teachers.
MP: Why are these students accepted into the program?
AD: We all know why, school here is a business. The more students they have the better it is. In many classes, I am the only black person and there are hardly any white students, only Asians.
MP: Are you saying that universities need Asian students to pay for classes and so they accept students whose English isn't proficient?
AD: Something like that. I also remember a few teachers saying they didn't care how students wrote as long as they could tell that the students knew the subject. But these people come here to get the best education possible and if they write "I is," should teachers let that go? We're talking about people who want to teach English. The standards for English proficiency should be higher.
MP: What kind of system should be created to help students improve their English? The writing workshop didn't attract many students I think because they were busy doing their coursework. The less proficient in English, the more time it takes to do coursework so the students who need the most help have the least time for it.
AD: Maybe the workshop should be a requirement for students below a certain level.
MP: That implies an exam beyond TOEFL to determine level. [-23-]
AD: Yes. In TOEFL you don't speak. You can sometimes even guess the answer.
MP: If there were such an English speaking-and-writing exam, I wonder if many American students would pass it.
AD: And they get As? The university could make the exam for only international students then.
MP: Why shouldn't American students meet the same standards?
AD: If Americans go to school without writing English well, that's their problem. But international students pay a lot of money to be here and I think they should get the best.
MP: American students say they should get As without doing the work because they pay, and you say international students should be made to do the work because they pay.
AD: They have a unique opportunity to learn to speak English, they should use it. Americans don't speak other languages so you have to speak with them in English.
MP: Do international students use their time here to learn the language?
AD: I see the Asian students staying with each other and using English only in their classes. Maybe it's a cultural matter, they stick together.
MP: And African students, or students from the same African country?
AD: When I came I tried to find other African students, so I guess everybody does that. There are a lot of Nigeriennes here but I'm not looking for them. If I speak with them I'll speak Hausa or French, not English.
MP: Do you think a one-on-one partner system might help international students improve their English?
AD: Would Americans take the time?
MP: Students volunteer for all sorts of things, and education students supposedly have an interest in teaching. Maybe they could get one credit for it.
AD: Then the university would make them pay for it. I'm sure NYU would think that's a great idea.
MP: Students need a certain number of credits to graduate and they [-24-] pay for those credits in any case. I'm trying to address the problems of international students. I work with them in my classes and I see how many hard they study, and they have no one who pays attention to their problems with the language or other academic difficulties.
AD: Attending to language problems is something the teacher could do when students hand in their papers. But they don't, maybe they don't have the time.
MP: Or they feel they are not teaching ESL, they're teaching a content area like linguistic theory.
You had a one-on-one partner; what do you think of your English now?
AD: That's for you to say.
MP: I want to know what you think.
AD: In the beginning I thought in French, translated in my head, and wrote it down. Now I can think in English--or I think I can. What do you think?
MP: I think your tone, use of transitions and idioms, and references have improved a lot; you don't have that non-native stiffness.
AD: That's because of you.
MP: Bullshit. That's because you're in this country and hearing the language all the time.
AD: And I read a lot, nothing very interesting. The usual magazines like Cosmopolitan. Every day I read The New York Times and I watch L.A. Law -- especially when I was taking a legal translation class and I had to translate French law into legal English.
MP: What was most helpful to you in our lessons?
AD: Summarizing articles. Also being the only person you were helping because I had all your attention and you concentrated on my problems. So maybe the one-on-one system is a good idea.
But I want to change the subject: I gave you a teacher evaluation and you haven't given me the student one yet.
MP: I was impressed by your diligence. You thought your writing wasn't good enough and you searched out a way to improve it in the face of discouragement and even though it was extra work. And you made such progress. But I couldn't always tell if I was explaining [-25-]things to you in ways you needed to hear them. You are so polite. Until a student can use what a teacher says, it doesn't count.
AD: Did you see differences afterwards in my writing?
MP: Many. But often I'd ask what you meant and you'd tell me, and I'd ask why you didn't write it in your paper. I wondered if I was missing something in my explanations. Were there times when you didn't understand me but didn't ask?
AD: No, it was in my interest to learn what I was doing. I think I always asked you, or you could read it on my face.
In the introduction to this article, we suggested that the benefits of making and investigating chronicles fall in four areas: they offer field data for research, they help teachers assess the usefulness of research findings for their classes, they may be used as texts for classroom study, and they may be used as projects in content-based or task-based curricula. Applying the chronicle above to each of the four areas may help flesh out the role of the chronicle in language acquisition and its relationship to research and teaching.
First, the body of the chronicle before the epilogue offers field data for researchers of advanced ESL writing (including cohesion and coherence), contrastive rhetoric, error correction, interlanguage development, L1 interference, and sociopragmatics, especially the speech acts of requesting assistance, giving advice, and compliments between people of different status (in this case, student-teacher). (This list is not exhaustive but rather suggests disciplines that may be informed by the tutorial and journal entries.) The chronicle may contribute as well to the pedagogically and politically sensitive debates about process and product writing, and about the value of teaching explicitly genre analysis and such forms as main-and-supporting-idea outlines (Cope & Kalantzis, 1993; Delpit, 1991, 1995). It offers material to those interested in peer teaching, Vygotsky's notion of scaffolding, and the effects of journal or log writing on language acquisition and teaching.
The details of the tutorial may confirm existing research, contradict it, or suggest how different conditions might yield new findings, and so they may provoke future study. They may spark new theory building and research in the same way that ethnographies and experience do. In reading the journal entries, researchers may notice some interaction or effect because they are on the lookout for it or because it strikes them as noteworthy "out of the blue." The chronicle offers an occasion for discovery with the advantage [-26-]over personal experience in that it is recorded, catalogued in this publication and retrievable.
Second, the chronicle above displays teaching successes, failures, false starts, and adjustments. In addition to the running assessment of methods and self-presentation that the tutorial teacher provided, readers of the chronicle may assess her and note what they would do the same or differently. Readers may also consider ESL research and evaluate how well or appropriately the findings were applied in this case. The chronicle's authors discussed the importance of: a) using a style guide or textbook (reflecting, for instance, the research on learning styles; the student in this tutorial preferred a visual presentation of information); b) student confidence and teacher encouragement (reflecting the research on motivation and anxiety); and c) the role of sequence in designing activities (reflecting the research on learnability and fixed orders of language acquisition, on immersion, whole language teaching, and the need to focus on form). Readers may judge the application of findings in these areas, or they may notice and assess the application of findings from other aspects of ESL research.
Third, the chronicle may be used as an authentic text for future classes, especially as it contains a range of writing forms including informal journal writing, transcribed conversation, a more formal introduction, and academic writing at the start of the article and in this conclusion. This polyglot text lends itself to discussions of vocabulary and grammar, coherence and cohesion, register, and the requirements of various written genres. It may prod as well discussions about the pragmatics between teacher and student and the political issues that Ms. Diallo raises in the epilogue.
Finally, creating the chronicle was a "task" of the tutorial which required that teacher and student reflect on their work, organize and edit their reflections, and write them in an informal idiom. Among the many subtasks required by the journals, teacher and student had to develop a tone, register and format for their writing, they had to decide how much description, explanation, and excerpting were necessary for a reader of the chronicle to understand it, how much detail to include in each log entry, and which thoughts and emotions to reveal. At the start of the tutorial, Ms. Diallo wanted to write a paper on bilinguality and translation, but in effect she wrote two.
Not to be overlooked, the epilogue discussion was not predicted by the stated purpose of the tutorial. Yet it is the sort of chance discovery that chronicles provide. The topics explored include the economics of international student enrollment at American universities, faculty attitudes toward international students, and American students' attitudes toward education. These [-27-] are most often discussed from the point of view of writers and researchers (Auerbach, 1986; Auerbach & Burgess, 1985; Benesch 1993a, 1993b; Cope & Kalantzis, 1993; Cummins, 1989; Delpit, 1991, 1995; Fox, 1994; Freire & Macedo, 1987; Tollefson, 1991). Rarely, save in short excerpts, does one read about them in the words of the students involved (Fox, 1994, is an exception). Yet the point of much writing on the subject is that teachers and administrators sometimes do not listen to students about this and other subjects. As students will not often be in a position to write academic articles explaining their points of view, chronicles may be one way to bring them to teachers, administrators, and other students.
This article suggests a number of ways in which chronicles may inform second language acquisition. Readers may find others. As teachers and students distribute their chronicles, patterns and contradictions emerge. Each chronicle may be looked at against the rest. From anecdotal evidence comes a body of evidence in which each chronicle is both typical and unique. "None of these students," writes Nieto (1992), "is a walking stereotype. The purpose is thus not to understand `The Black Experience' or `The Puerto Rican Experience' as an isolated and hypothetical phenomenon but instead to expose us to one of the many experiences within that broader context" (p. 8). The authors of this chronicle do not present "The Nigerienne Experience" of learning English but rather one experience that may contribute to both the teaching and research of ESL.
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