My blog is normally on break for the summer, but I’m coming off this break temporarily to share some of the brilliant work by Black scholars that is central to my research and teaching. The protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd have led to a stronger interest in understanding systemic racism among White people, and I have been asked for recommendations due to my focus on identity (including race) and language learning. So without further ado, here are some Black scholars whose work is central to my projects on study abroad and language teaching.
Dr. Uju Anya. Dr. Anya is the author of Racialized Identities in Language Learning: Speaking Blackness in Brazil, which is my favorite book on study abroad. It also won the First Book Award from the American Association of Applied Linguistics. This book traces the experiences of four Black Portuguese learners studying abroad in a majority Black city in Brazil, examining how their language learning experiences lead to new ways of becoming Black. It also describes the ways in which Black learners have historically been excluded from language study in the United States, critiques the monolingual language ideologies inherent in U.S. study abroad and language learning, and provides recommendations for how language and study abroad programs can be more inclusive of Black learners. The ways in which Black learners have been systematically excluded from language learning in the United States and steps we can take to undo this are also topics covered in two other articles by Dr. Anya, Diversifying Language Educators and Learners (with Dr. L.J. Randolph, Jr.) and Connecting With Communities of Learners and Speakers: Integrative Ideals, Experiences, and Motivations of Successful Black Second Language Learners (currently open access!). You can also listen to her episode on Speaking Blackness in Brazil, Identity, and Investment on the We Teach Languages Podcast. Dr. Anya’s work is central to all of my research projects, and I’ve also used her book in my Modern Languages Capstone class. In my language classes, I am continually working to implement her suggestions, such as making sure the images and materials I use in class include Black learners and speakers of Arabic. While I can do this more consistently, starting this process takes literally seconds, so it is something that is easy to start implementing in the language classroom.
Dr. Jamie A. Thomas. Dr. Thomas is the author of Zombies Speak Swahili, a forthcoming book focused on transnational speakers of Swahili in the U.S., Mexico, and Tanzania. Through attending Dr. Thomas’s conference presentations as well as editing her chapter on a study abroad exchange within the Global South (Ghana-Tanzania) for another forthcoming book, I’ve learned a lot about inter-African study abroad exchanges and the ways multilingual Africans use their full linguistic repertoires to learn new languages. You can listen to Dr. Thomas discussing zombies and transnational Swahili on the Vocal Fries Podcast. She’s also an editor of the book Embodied Difference: Divergent Bodies in Public Discourse. Dr. Thomas’s work has made it clear to me how much we have to learn from multilingual African language learners on study abroad in developing our own programs.
Dr. Kazeem Sanuth. Dr. Sanuth wrote (with Dr. Junko Mori) the article Navigating between a Monolingual Utopia and Translingual Realities Experiences of American earners of Yorùbá as an Additional Language which is based on his research on students studying abroad in Nigeria. This article describes how the monolingual language ideologies surrounding study abroad in the United States cause learners to incorrectly imagine Nigeria as a place where they could achieve monolingual immersion in Yorùbá, and the frustration that ensues for some of them when this is not possible, as well as the strategies used by a heritage learner in particular to effectively negotiate the multilingual environment. Dr. Sanuth’s work provides clear parallels to my work on study abroad in Arabic-speaking countries, and has helped me develop my argument that we need to consider Global English a reality to incorporate into study abroad, rather than try to artificially eliminate.
Dr. M’Balia Thomas. Dr. Thomas wrote the article The problematization of racial/ethnic minority student participation in U.S. study abroad which explicitly critiques the focus on numbers alone for determining the success of minority students in study abroad. Instead, she examines the discourses of study abroad that can cause African-American students in particular to pursue other courses of study. These include the legacy of Jim Crow, which leads to safety concerns about travel, and perception of study abroad as a pursuit for other people, specifically wealthy white women. Dr. Thomas’s research provides numerous concrete examples of how ideologies of study abroad reproduce structural inequalities, which is the main theme of my current research project.
Dr. Leketi Makalela. Dr. Makalela is a South African scholar whose interests include translanguaging pedagogies for teachers of African langauges. The two articles that have most influence me are Moving out of linguistic boxes: the effects of translanguaging strategies for multilingual classrooms and a chapter in Translanguaging in Higher Education, “Translanguaging practices in a South African Institution of Higher Learning: A Case of Ubuntu Multilingual Return. In addition to explaining how colonialism imposed monolingual models in African educational settings, both of these articles provide practical models for translanguaging pedagogy and describe the successful outcomes. In addition to helping me examine monolingual language ideologies, Dr. Makalela’s work has helped me develop my own pedagogical translanguaging models for the Arabic classroom.
Dr. Sinfree Makoni. Dr. Makoni has written on a wide variety of topics, but the two articles that I’ll highlight are Disinventing and (Re)Constituting Languages and the chapter “From monological multilingualism to multilingua francas” in The Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism, both with Alastair Pennycook. These articles have helped me understand how unusual and recently developed monolingual language ideologies are, despite their dominance in my field. They also contributed to my understanding of the role of colonialism in spreading these ideologies in educational settings.
JPB Gerald is a doctoral candidate whose research I found through his podcast, Unstandardized English. He recently published an article “Worth the Risk: Towards Decentring Whiteness in English Language Teaching” that is one of the few articles taking a critical whiteness approach to language teaching. While his research focuses in English teaching, it has been useful to me as an Arabic teacher because I think critical whiteness approaches are essential to examining language teaching in the United States. For example, as Arabic teachers, I think we often assume we couldn’t be centering whiteness, because Arabic is racialized as non-white. However, our materials and textbooks often imagine our students as White, monolingual English speakers. Furthermore, anti-Blackness is also a problem in the Arab world, and for this reason we need to make sure to actively include Black Arabic speakers in our classes, as well as discussions of anti-Blackness (something I’m still working on doing more intentionally).
Dr. L.J. Randolph, Jr as noted above authored with Dr. Anya the article Diversifying Language Educators and Learners. I first became aware of his work through his interview on We Teach Languages, which has helped me think more through issues of representation in my classroom. In this episode, he provides concrete suggestions for integrating discussions of race into Novice level classrooms and incorporating more varieties of language into the classroom. While I have focused heavily on the latter, I need to work on the consistency of the former, and I have found his work useful for thinking through this (and hopefully implementing in the Fall!).
Professor Makda Weatherspoon is one of the authors of the textbook series ‘Arabiyyat al-Naas and ‘Arabiyyat al-Naas fii Masr. These books and her work generally promote an integrated approach to teaching Arabic that includes both colloquial dialects and Modern Standard Arabic. While this approach is gaining in popularity, it is still unusual. This is also the approach I use to teach Arabic, and it has been useful to have models like Professor Weatherspoon’s in developing my approach.
I honestly cannot imagine my research and teaching projects without the influence of these scholars; in fact I don’t think they could exist at all in their current forms. Black faculty make up a minuscule amount of higher education faculty generally and are even more poorly represented in Applied Linguistics and language teaching. Given the importance of the work I’ve listed here, which is only focused on that which overlaps with my own interests, I think it is clear what a problem this is for our field. I encourage you to check out these scholars’ brilliant academic and public works, and of course recommend other works to me, as I’m sure there are more excellent scholars whose work I’m not familiar with, but need to learn from!