Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Tutoring Multilingual Students: Shattering the Myths

Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Tutoring Multilingual Students: Shattering the Myths

Article excerpt

The increasing linguistic and cultural diversification of North America has resulted in large numbers of multilingual students attending college and university and seeking curricular and extracurricular support with reading and writing (Ruecker, 2011; Tferanishi, C. Suárez-Orozco, & M. Suárez-Orozco, 2011). In the past, learning and writing centers hired "ESL specialists" to provide support. But this model, given the ubiquity of multilingual students in higher education today, is no longer sustainable. Instead, all tutors must learn the skills necessary to support the academic literacy development of these writers, and that means that the way tutors are trained must change. Because the lived reality of the majority of tutors (and center administrators) is monolingual (Bailey, 2012; Barron & Grimm, 2002), examining the myths generally held about multilingual students is essential to both our development as tutors and the development of our students as academic readers and writers of English. Only after raising critical awareness about these "misguided ideas" will training specific to tutoring multilingual students make sense and be put into practice (Gillespie & Lerner, 2008, p. 117).

In this article, I present and challenge myths about multilingual writers and myths about how to tutor them.

Myths about Multilingual Writers

In tutor training, the first myths to be examined are those about language, language learning, and multilingual writers themselves: What are their identities, their literacy skills, the ways they have learned the English language and its written form, and their current needs as writers?

Myth #1: Multilingual Students Are a Uniform Group

Unfortunately, "ESL" has become a label for any and all English learners (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2008). But there is no such thing as "typical" multilingual students. Multilingual students include international students who speak English as a foreign language, visa students who speak a World English variety, recent immigrants from nonEnglish speaking countries, and long-term residents, also known as "Generation 1.5 students" (Thonus, 2003).

For international students, English is a foreign language, rarely heard or read outside compulsory English classes in their primary and secondary schools. On the other hand, students originating in countries colonized by Britain and the United States, where English has some official status (45+ nations, including India and the Philippines), are multilingual native speakers and writers of "new" or "World" English variations. They speak and write localized varieties with "indigenous" language norms, distinct from standard British or American English, and may have been schooled entirely in that variety of English (Kachru & Nelson, 1996). Another group comprises recent immigrants from societies where English has no official status (e.g., Mexico or China), especially adults from rural areas who may not have studied English in school. Their English speaking and writing skills, therefore, are often equally undeveloped (see Myth #2 below). The last identifiable group is Generation 1.5 students. They were bom in the United States or emigrated as young children. They initially speak their parents' languages (Lis) at home, but they are usually educated in monolingual schools and are denied the opportunity to become literate in those tongues. As a result, the majority quickly become English-dominant and suffer attrition in their Ll(s) (Roberge, 2009).

Even these specific labels, however, are insufficient to describe the broad spectrum of multilingual students. Matsuda and Matsuda (2009), themselves multilingual writers, urge us to view categories as open and overlapping: "In order to understand fully the student population under consideration, the characteristics of the students need to be described explicitly and multidimensionally each and every time" (p. 61). I recommend that tutors hear the individual voices of multilinguals by reading memoirs such as Asgedom's Of Beetles and Angels (2002), Dumas' Funny in Farsi (2004), and Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory (2005). …

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