Academic journal article College English

Transfer and Translingualism

Academic journal article College English

Transfer and Translingualism

Article excerpt

The happy coincidence of our collaboration belies an unhappy truth about the divide between work done in the areas of transfer and translingualism. Rebecca Nowacek began her dissertation thinking about interdisciplinarity but shifted some years ago to understanding her work as focused on transfer of learning among various disciplinary and co-curricular studies. Rebecca Lorimer Leonard began her research tracing the movement of immigrants' literacy practices among languages and geographical locations, finding in the process how porous the boundaries are of both language and location. It was only the serendipity of a mutual friend suggesting that we three might form a panel on the implications of transfer of learning in writing centers (which we all direct) that brought our work together. Both of us, we are a bit ashamed to admit, were initially slow to see the rich connections between our work-but once we did, neither of us could see our own projects in quite the same way again.

We are not alone in our earlier inability to see the connections between transfer and translingualism, a situation exacerbated, perhaps even created, by overlooking the multiple meanings redolent in both terms. In what follows, we start by identifyT T ing the confluences between definitions of these terms, then continue by reflecting on the ways in which emerging translingual perspectives might inform, as well as be informed by, studies of transfer of learning.

Over the last several years, questions about transfer of learning initially taken up by scholars studying first-year writing have gathered attention throughout the field of rhetoric and composition: conference sessions devoted to transfer have skyrocketed, the Elon Seminar on Critical Transitions facilitated multi-institutional research projects as well as an international conference, and a special issue on transfer appeared in Composition Forum. In everyday usage, the term transfer suggests a process of application, of carrying knowledge and skills from an earlier experience and employing them, to greater or lesser effect, in a subsequent context. When colleagues, parents, and employers worry about transfer of learning, that anxiety most often focuses on whether students are using what they have already learned (or at least been exposed to) to succeed in a new context. Within transfer scholarship, a more dynamic understanding of transfer has emerged, one that emphasizes the potential for disruption and transformation. The term transfer also has a terminological history in applied linguistics, especially in second language acquisition and English for academic purposes (see for example DePalma and Ringer; James, "Learning Transfer"; James, "Motivation"; Leki and Carson). For some scholars, the term transfer carries behaviorist notions that a known language can negatively "interfere" with the acquisition of another. For these reasons, some scholars prefer using "crosslinguistic influence" over "transfer" to explain how knowledge of one language can affect the knowledge and use of another (Jarvis and Pavlenko; Sharwood Smith and Kellerman). That the word transfer resonates so differently is neither surprising nor troubling-but it does suggest the value of bringing into dialogue the multiple ways the term has been valued, interrogated, and even deromanticized.

Translingualism's multiple meanings come from recent work within composition studies that reminds the field of the fluidity of language use in writing (Alvarez; Canagarajah, Literacy; Horner et al.; Lu and Horner), as well as scholarship in adjacent fields that highlights the agentive and ideological qualities of writers' language repertoires (Creese and Blackledge; Garcia and Wei; Makoni and Pennycook). We elaborate these layers of definition to illuminate the connections between transfer and translingualism but also to add a note of caution: though transfer and translingualism both index movement among contexts, practices, or meanings with their shared trans prefix, neither suggests a neutral carrying over of knowledge from one context or language to another. …

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