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Review of Toward Translingual Realities in Composition: (Re)Working Local Language Representations and Practices, by Nancy Bou Ayash

Review by Yasmine Romero

Researching Languaging at Both Micro and Macro Levels

For this podcast, I examine the second thread in Nancy Bou Ayash's (2019) Toward Translingual Realities in Composition, that is, how researching languaging at both micro and macro levels from a translingual perspective or stance can and should lead to other ways of engaging with data, translating that engagement into major findings, and reflecting on the implications of that process on future processes in rhetoric and composition studies. I choose to summarize and synthesize the different elements of Bou Ayash's study—her process, her data, and her use of mixed methods. I forge connections to her strategies by critically reflecting on my current research experiences as a teacher-scholar in Hawai'i.



[Guitar introduction]

Welcome to my podcast on "Why translingual perspectives matter when researching languaging in writing classrooms." I am focusing on Bou Ayash's contributions in Toward Translingual Realities in Composition. In what follows, I introduce my background first and then summarize and synthesize the third and fourth chapters in her book. I critically reflect on my summaries/syntheses by making connections to my current research in Hawai'i.

My name is Yasmine Romero. I am half-Chamorro, half-white. When growing up, my mother and her family did not want me to get confused by learning Chamorro alongside English, and so they did not speak to me in Chamorro or teach me Chamorro directly. They talked in Chamorro around me, but never to me. I was to be schooled in English because English was my way of accessing the world across multiple situations—educational, social, political, and more. This decision, now that I can reflect on it, emerged from a monolingual ideology that purports a singular language, and by proxy a more powerful language, cannot be interfered with by other languages, Indigenous or otherwise.

When Bou Ayash discusses investigating language ideologies and how they impact languaging practices and policies across two divergent landscapes—Beirut University and University of Seattle—I was immediately invested. BU's student responses seem to echo my family's own, as well as the students whom I teach currently in Hawai'i. UoS parallels my experiences in graduate school as a teaching assistant and during my undergraduate studies as a writing center consultant.

In Chapters 3 and 4, she provides context for BU and UoS both historically and institutionally. While Bou Ayash's study initially focuses on her own reflections as a writing teacher, her project shifts towards observing other teachers' classrooms and how they and their students reflected on their language ideologies in relation to current practices or policies. This shift leads Bou Ayash to make broader claims about translingual activism as a stance for writing teachers to take in their classrooms. But before making these broader claims, she builds on the actual data she has collected, including her interpretations, connections, and reflections on the data with relevant literature.

To guide her interpretations, connections, and reflections, Bou Ayash takes a critical ethnography approach in which she compares and contrasts the two locations of her study from multiple lenses or "multi-sighted[ness]" (p. 9, quoting Coleman and von Hellermann). She lists the data she navigates in the text, as well as discusses her mixed methods approach that involved coding, rhetorical analysis, and member checks. I tabulate the data she lists (pp. 10–11) in the "Supplemental Resources" section and encourage readers to check out her appendixes that outline the interview protocols.

This project includes a tremendous amount of data and labor, which is not the scope of this book review. As such, I choose to compare and contrast data found for two of her student writers—Nathalie in Beirut and Malika in Seattle—to synthesize my critique and reflections on her work in these two chapters.

According to Bou Ayash, Beirut writers were largely impacted by their parents' attitudes and beliefs about languaging. For instance, Nathalie, a proficient speaker–writer in English and French, chose to commute to a campus where the language of instruction was English, "even though a prestigious [...] French-medium university was [nearby]" (p. 79). Her reasons were her father's, that is, he states, "The whole future is in English" (p. 79).

Nathalie's experiences with English, as Bou Ayash discusses, are centered around "mistakes" and/or "errors," and that mastering these errors means becoming a "link" between English speaking and Arabic/French-speaking worlds (p. 79). However, this becoming is captured as a loss as well. Nathalie states, "I'm starting to forget the French language at [BU]. I'm trying to recover what I've lost and maintain my proficiency level by reading more French books … I thought I would gain another language. But now, I am losing one to another. French keeps getting far" (p. 81, bracketed material Bou Ayash's).

Her words resonate with me because they echo why my own parents and grandparents did not speak to me in Chamorro, my mother's home language, when I was younger. These words also show colonization at work, potentially eliding/erasing languages that are ways for constructing/creating identities, communities, and more. I have found myself doing the same—reinvigorated by reconnecting with my roots in the form of short stories that retell cultural stories from an intersectional lens or intentional choices to include Hawaiian, Pacific, and Southeast Asian writers/pieces in my courses as examples for students like me, which makes up the majority of my students in Hawai'i.

Malika, on the other hand, sees English and French as always changing, malleable, and negotiable. Her views of English and French largely develop from interactions with her "artificial" grandmother and her experiences abroad (p. 122). These views allow Malika to resist notions of correctness and standardization in the first-year writing classroom, such as comments on her papers like "too colloquial" (p. 125) Malika is also aware that being the only student of color in her classroom may have also impacted how others perceived or judged her language use.

Her resistance is clear in her comments on voice: "I take pride in my voice no matter how flawed it might be. I am not willing to sacrifice that quite yet. I shouldn't sacrifice myself, why shouldn't my readers be more accommodating?" (p. 125). I find her resistance to speak with Nathalie's own compliance, and the in-between metamoments that either speaker–writer has shows us glimpses of where translingualism can intervene. I also find her resistance to match how my students grapple with academic expectations beyond the classroom. Why does it matter to write in this way and not other ways? How can I translate between academic writing and social media? Is there a connection here?

For my own research in Hawai'i, I take a similar approach to Bou Ayash. I have started from a self-reflective position in which I am analyzing my own teaching and learning practices in upper-division courses, rather than first-year writing courses. I decided to take this route because I am teaching pre-service public school teachers who are double-majoring in English and education. My students go on to teach at public schools across Hawai'i, and the majority of my students are speakers of Pidgin or Hawaiian English Creole.

My course, which takes a grading contract approach, asks students to not only build their own definition of what languaging is, but also forge connections with language ideologies that we learn about in our course, which includes the first chapter from Bou Ayash. They collaboratively develop lesson plans for online teaching purposes (in response to the pandemic) and reflect on their journeys at the end of our course. I have asked students to participate in the study, and have, at most, had four students interested.

In retrospect, I see that observing other courses, my colleagues' and their students, may be a direction to consider, especially since voluntary participation is difficult with the ways that Pidgin is viewed in Hawai'i. Further, exploring how Pidgin and English are viewed overall at my home institution would establish a foundation to forge connections to, especially given Bou Ayash's methodology that centers around how language ideology is translated at macro and micro levels. For right now, I am starting small with students' journal entries (those who volunteered to have their work shared for research purposes), and how they comment to one another. I think sharing this story from Anthony, who is cited in my textual-visual part of the book review illustrates the potential of teaching translingual activism:

I was talking to this old man that I had met the first time I went to a Buddhist temple. We were talking and he suddenly complimented me on the way I spoke, saying that I spoke English "well" and that he would have never guessed that I was from Hawaii [sic]. I thought about how if the situation was reversed and I was speaking Pidgin to him. Would he then think that I was less intelligent? This showed me that the idea of "proper" English is deeply ingrained within our society. (Anthony)

Anthony is showing that language ideology happens beyond classroom boundaries, and thinking through the ways to combat language ideologies that may be harmful or hurtful is challenging: It is a societal issue just as much as an educational one. There are multiple crossroads speaker–writers are navigating, and these crossroads or intersections have to be addressed, especially when terms like correct, error, and appropriate raise their ugly heads. My students, as well as me and my colleagues, are caught within multiple factors or axes of identity, power, and community that shape our teaching and learning experiences.

How can we then take a stance that will have impacts at macro and micro levels? Bou Ayash's work showcases certain ways at the classroom level that a translingual stance can be effective. My own work in authentic assessment at my home institution further illustrates a way to translate Bou Ayash's findings into actual practice and policy. I focus on these impacts in my narrative page.

Thanks for listening to this podcast, and I hope it helped show how translingual stances in research can shape investigations of writing situations in ways that do reinforce the status quo, but question, upturn, and challenge it.

[Guitar outro]

Supplemental Resources: Table Comparing Schools

Summarizing Location/Study Differences for Bou Ayash (2019)
Institution Research Artifacts Interview & Focus Group Data Observations & Materials
  • Linguistic landscaping data
  • National language and language-in-education policy texts
  • Institutional and programmatic documents
  • Focus group discussion
  • 41 FYW student interviews (1 hour long each)
  • 14 writing teacher interviews (1 hour long each)
  • Individual teaching materials
  • Descriptive field notes (5–6 observation hours per week during one semester, based on one FYW course and three translation courses)
  • Linguistic landscaping data
  • Federal- and state-level language policy discourse and/or texts
  • University-wide and program-specific documents
  • 50 FYW student interviews (1–2 hours long each)
  • Focused conversations around texts with seven students
  • 11 writing teacher interviews (1 hour long each)
  • Individual teaching materials


Notes on Chapter 3 of Bou Ayash's (2019) book

Chapter 3 Notes

  • Quotations
    • "I argue for more systematic and sustained explorations of the nature of our students' local understandings—whether explicitly articulate or implicitly imbricated and embodied in actual practice—about language and its difference, how such understandings mediate between their language and semiotic resources and their changing sociocultural worlds, and the material effects of these mediations on their ever-dynamic language and literate practices and learning experiences." (p. 102)
  • Key Points
    • Discusses Nathalie and Lucas, Beirut writers (p. 66)
    • Lebanon history (p. 71)
    • Discusses policy statement (should look at for Pidgin), p. 74—Your bad English can make you fail a course (p. 74)
    • BU's custom published composition reader, p. 74—"lacks explicit, straightforward statements on language, its effective use, and its learning both on its official website and in instructional materials" (p. 75)
    • Teacherly complaints, "the translation [in student writing] kills me. You could hear the French and Arabic throughout. They [students] don't write in English but in Anglicized Arabic or French or if they do write in English, it is usually internet slang English" (p. 75)
    • Language ideology brokers, that is, parents, family and community members, peers, language policymakers, teachers and so on (p. 77)
    • Parallel between "parental beliefs and language socialization practices" (p. 77)
    • Nathalie pp. 79–82; Naser, pp. 82–87; Lucas, pp. 87–88; Diva, pp. 88–92; KAPPA, pp. 96–97
    • Butler connections to injurious language (p. 99)
Notes on Chapter 4 of Bou Ayash's (2019) book

Chapter 4 Notes

  • Quotations
    • "Macro-level sites of language ideological brokering, which student writers encounter and manage on a daily basis, are themselves imbricated with mixed and apparently conflicting ways of abstracting language and strong stances for and against particular concrete practices with language." (p. 103)
    • "We cannot ignore the fact that the invention of English itself, the set of descriptive and analytical terms for referencing it, and the ways of consequently acting on particular situations involving its presence 'constitute an intervention in and [can significantly] modify' the postmonolingual realities of our and our students' 'ecolinguistic niche.'" (p. 139, quoting Calvet)
  • Key Points
    • Language policy trends in the U.S. (pp. 107–110)
    • Multilingual (p. 110)
    • Basically talking about my GTA training (p. 111)
    • Difference as deficit model (p. 111)
    • FYW = monolingualist as academic (p. 112)
    • Nur, pp. 116–120
    • Malika, pp. 120–126, see p. 132 for conclusion
    • Li Ming, pp. 126–131
    • Boundness versus relationality, openness, and mobilization of students semiotic resources, pp. 136–137
  • Major Takeaways: Compare & Contrast different writing situations, but shows how they overlap; these differences are translated into practice in the chapter that follows; this section did not seem as in-depth as the previous, but the previous was dissertation work, and this was a situation she may or may not have had as much interaction with until this point