This post continues my language ideologies in the wild series, following some announcements!
First, I’m really excited to announce that I will be offering an online course, Organize Your Language Teacher Life, that combines two of the things I love the most, language teaching and planning/organizing! If you’re a language teacher with big ideas, but feel like the everyday prep/grading makes it difficult to implement them, or struggle with remembering where exactly you saved/saw that cool video for class, this may be for you. We’ll also discuss the reality of structural challenges in our field. If you’re interested, please sign up here to be notified when it’s available.
Second, because there are a lot of language ideologies in the wild, starting this series means I may be blogging more often. For this reason, I’m changing the subscribe option (at the bottom of this page) to a monthly newsletter that will include links to all of the blog posts for the previous month, rather than it’s current setup of auto-sending the post when it releases (after this post release). If you want to subscribe, scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email
Now, onto the post itself!
Today’s post takes on language ideologies in Entrepreneurial You, by Dorie Clark, a book focused on monetizing your expertise in various realms. As far as I can tell, it provides useful advice on this endeavor so this post is not a critique of this particular book or its overall message. However, the chapter on hiring employees, including virtual assistants, contains a number of unexamined language ideologies that I thought I’d discuss further here, as they are pervasive.
The first quote where this comes up is when Clark discusses her first experiences trying to hire VAs from India:
I longed for help, but a previous, brief foray into trying out virtual assistants (VAS) from India had only lasted a week; the company’s definition of “English speaking” was a little too generous, and I knew that if someone were to represent me, they had to be able to communicate well in a professional context.
These ideologies come up again shortly thereafter, when Clark is explaining the disadvantages of foreign VAs (despite their cheaper cost!):
But you’ll likely have to build in extra up-front training time and supervision, as you can’t count on the same implicit assumptions that you’d share with someone from your own culture. And while it’s certainly possible to find people who speak and write your language well, you may have to look carefully.
Here again, we see the entrepreneur hiring the VA (who is probably from a wealthier country like the US) as the standard for speaking the language “well”, and the assumption that if the VA speaks it differently (and also has different cultural assumptions) they are the problem. What if we flipped this around and saw the entrepreneur and their customers as the problem, because they have limited contexts and cultural assumptions in which to understand their language? What if this was an opportunity for them to extend their own English skills?
Finally, there is Clark’s advice for hiring VAs:
Think about what skills you’d want in a VA, based on the tasks you need accomplished. If there’s a lot of writing involved, you’ll likely want a native English speaker. If you need technical help, such as podcast or video editing, you’ll need to look for VAs with special skills.
Again, there is nothing wrong with the advice to hire someone with the skills you are looking for. However, we see language ideologies at work in Clark’s equation of writing skills with “native English speaker”. Leaving aside for now the problematic nature of the term “native speaker” (a concept that works for a limited, though very socially powerful percentage of the world’s population), this is simply false: there are many “non-native” speakers who can write like a socially privileged US entrepreneur (though I’ll grant they may not be working as VAs). Similarly, there are many “native speakers” who won’t write this way because of their social backgrounds and lived experiences. Once more, we’re back to the ideology of standardization which allows English writing to be perceived as an objective, measurable, decontextualized skill, where the language of the socially privileged is taken as the standard. Intentional or not, upholding these language ideologies upholds these social inequities.
While I’ve focused on a particular book in this post, this is hardly an unusual case, as these language ideologies are so dominant in our society (stay tuned for my upcoming language ideologies in the wild posts!). Even worse, in many of these cases, I think the authors’ explicit stance on racism and classism would oppose the positions they uphold through their lack of awareness of the connection between language ideologies and social inequities. Yet, if our efforts for social justice are built on a foundation designed to promote social inequities, can they really succeed? What do you think?