Message from the Dean - August 2012

Linguistically Competent and Confident

Revisiting our conversation from last month, there is a need to define what I mean when I say that our pre-professionals need to be linguistically competent and confident. They must first have command of the English language in written and oral form and should be able to demonstrate this competency orally during presentations and in conversation as well as in a variety of written formats including lesson plans, reports, research papers, etc.

Beyond command of the English language, our pre-professionals should have the knowledge skills, and dispositions to understand and appreciate English language learners (ELL), be they children or adults. Our pre-professionals will understand the national origin and first language acquisition cognates of the learners and adults they educate, serve, and lead. They will recognize that English language learners may not have command of English because English is not their first language, but may be their second, third, or fourth language. For instance, a leaner from Cameron may know his indigenous language, his colonized language, as well as English. Do our pre-professionals understand the nuances of the languages that this person has to navigate as a learner in the classroom or later as an adult in the work place? Do our pre-professionals understand the term the language of my oppressors and the socio-political context in which this intersect the lives of their learners and adult clients or service recipients? Pre-professionals who are linguistically competent understand the needs of English language learners as well as the social context in which language is used in the academic, formal, or informal register.

For instance, Black students may speak African American Vernacular English (AAVE). This English is derivative of their historical, social, and racial context. A Black student may pronounce a word differently during reading and a teacher must recognize whether to view this as a reading miscue when conducting a running record. The student may see the word brother, but pronounce it bruvver. The student knows what this word means and can answer any questions pertaining to the texts, but the teacher may over emphasize the AAVE pronunciation at the expense of the comprehension and spend extensive time over correcting the student to the point that the student feels a shame of his or her home language pronunciation. We would want our pre-professionals to recognize these difference and empower AAVE speakers to use their language during informal register times and when reading for understanding. But these students should also learn the functional, navigational tools that will give them access to power; therefore, they must learn cash language or how to switch to the formal register. Our pre-professionals must understand that linguistic competence is the system of linguistic knowledge possessed by native speakers of a language. It is in contrast to the concept of linguistic performance, the way the language system is used in communication.

As stated in last month’s message, our curriculum is influenced by many factors, but there is no state requirement that focuses on the need to incorporate elements to support English language learners or adults; therefore, we must embed our own intentionality. Again, I view the course syllabi as the manifestation of our curriculum and the essence of our programs. Because there are no miracles in the hard task of closing the achievement gap, graduating college- and career-ready students, and preparing the next generation professionals to be engaged citizens in a fast-changing, information-saturated world, we must do all we can to prepare our pre-professionals for the realities of their work environments.