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MELED 2019. Part I (Keynote)

I have been fortunate enough to have gone to more than one excellent keynote speech. Dr. Ofelia Garcia gave a powerful speech titled The Wolf and the Lamb. One of the most interesting things I took away from her speech was the idea that every phrase we say and name we give is based on this idea of naturalization. We have naturalized language that creates the lens through which we see the world. Even the labels we give people or the categories they fit into are based on this idea. This is where the analogy to Aesop’s fables become relevant. The idea here is that there are wolves hiding among the sheep. The wolfs are the words that have hidden meanings and distort perspectives. The sheep are the everyday language we use. 

Thinking of language usage in this way, Dr. Garcia pointed out a few terms we use when describing our students that change the way we view them. For example, native speaker. This is a word we all use every day in the EL teaching world. But when pointed out, what does it mean to be a native speaker of a language? Or rather, why does it even matter? And, what are we really saying when we talk about native speakers? The last question is the one that truly points to the underlying biases hidden in the language we use. Typically, when used in this way, it means a white native English speaker. We use the word to differentiate ourselves from the “others.”

Another point that Dr. Garcia showed was how we understand the idea of bilingualism through the lens of monolingualism. We have a name for someone who speaks more than one language because it differentiates them from ourselves. It is the other. We don’t call ourselves monolinguals. We call everyone else bilinguals. 

In the end, Dr. Garcia was pointing to the inherent power differential between the monolingual coloniality of power and the minoritized speakers of other languages. To overcome these issues, she pointed to the idea of translanguaging. Dr. Garcia was able to explain this construct in a way that I had never heard before when she compared it to code switching. Code switching is an idea that implies that the brain is “switching” between two modes, which there is absolutely no evidence for. To imply switching is to create the premise that our brain is chunked and selectively works from different areas. Translanguaging, however, does not hold with this split brain premise. The idea of translanguaging correctly assumes that we use all of our language resources when speaking. In doing so, it offers a different perspective on understanding how we process different languages as we are learning them and thus allows us to see the humanity instead of the dissected animal. 

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