Thursday, October 29, 2009

NJ & beyond

My chat presentation was given again, this time at the NJ Higher Ed ESL Conference in Montclair NJ. I barely changed my script, but did, and pointed out Edmodo and other new things. People however were quite interested in the blogs themselves, and all changes that have come out of them. Between this New Jersey conference, and Miranda's presentation (see below), and with other perspective, I've noticed a few changes in the landscape.

Some people are quite focused on how chatting and informal language improves more formal writing. There is a connection, as Miranda pointed out, having to do with fluency and confidence; I should keep Peter Elbow references closer at hand, as he is who I draw my inspiration from. The fluency-first movement, as applied to reading, writing, speaking, and all language skills, basically was right when it said that you have to be comfortable in your own informal writing self, before you can really crank out the structured stuff; thus it makes little sense to demand essays out of intermediate students who really don't write much of anything else. Under questioning I also said this in New Jersey: increase the amount of writing your students do. Let them compare relentlessly what they said, and what would have worked better (Community Language Learning). Informalize the setting; concentrate on the communication. Make them write so much that they never have trouble getting started.
I had a discussion with Miranda Ma, following her presentation on using weblogs, which was given at SIUC and well-attended. We came around to my favorite topic, which was chatting and how the world is tending toward a lot of code-switching these days. She told me a little bit about life in Macau, and Hong Kong, where she grew up, and I was determined to save it, though a couple of days have passed already.

It's an agreed-upon fact that young people are code-switching more, and particularly in online environments, and mixing languages in ways that older people would not generally allow. We flung examples around, and at one point she said that Hong Kong people were notorious for it; later, a youtube that she shared gave some details on who did it, how, and possibly why. I haven't yet watched the youtube so I'll put it here and peruse it later, but, the upshot is that it means different things to different people, and some (most notably, the mainland Chinese) didn't care for it at all. Also, she said that clearly people don't tend to code-switch within words (at least not as a general pattern), but were more likely to code-switch within sentences or larger environments.

She herself grew up in a household where Taishanese was spoken, but her grandparents spoke Burmese, so she knew several languages from the start. Taishanese, she said, is much like Cantonese, but not quite. Yes, people who knew them both went back and forth quite a bit.

Then came my own idea, that came out of the blue, more or less. In my generation, I said, language was more closely bound by culture, so your use of language was by nature identification with culture. It seems to me that if you truly separate it from culture, then you're free to simply use the best language for the best purpose, as you would pick tools from a large assortment, picking the best one for the best job. but if you are aware of language as a kind of identification, you are more likely to reject code-switching as a pattern and show a clear preference for one language. But language isn't necessarily cultural by nature. If people are truly bi-cultural, they are more likely to simply be free to use what they wish with others who are similar. Why not?