George Mason University vertical bar Valuing Written Accents: Non-Native Writers in the U.S. Academy

photo of ayeshaProfile: Ayesha

Country: Pakistan
First Language: Urdu
Years in U.S.: 6
Age Learned English: 4; montessori
Education: BA Commerce; Undergrad Accounting


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                ~On perceptions of the scholar/novice:
The professors, I think, they don’t have that much knowledge of their field; I mean if the do, and if someone is giving them an idea and they know okay, this idea is right or wrong, they would take it, but their own vision is so limited that if someone is saying something else, they don’t know if it’s right or wrong.  This is what I believe; I might be wrong, but this is what I believe, that if you are giving them something other than the text book, they don’t want to come out of their little shell, they want to stay in them; they can’t take a new idea.

For the essay questions, they used to give us [in school in Pakistan] like ten essays and we used to memorize that.  We never used to get to put our own thoughts.  And one thing that I see here that we were never taught was reading.  The more books were read here, the more vocabulary increases, and we never used to; the teachers never used to give us books to read.  We only used to go through course books.  But my father and my family, they paid a lot of attention to this thing, and they made sure that we read other books besides the course books.

We didn’t have a concept of plagiarism.  Because remember, I told you we were supposed to memorize stuff and put it down on the paper, the exam and stuff, and obviously it wasn’t our thoughts, it was someone else’s, and that’s complete plagiarism. And sometimes we used to write word for word and I remember there was a teacher and if I missed one line, she would say okay, you are missing this line.  And I was like, okay, and now I realize, they were teaching us plagiarism.

Sometimes I have seen the teachers back home, I would say “this is what I have done, this is what you told me and I think this is wrong,” and they were like “don’t mind the book, just do what I tell you to do.”  And I was like, “no, the book can’t be wrong,” you know.  So many authors put it down, it can’t be wrong; but they would say, “no, no, no, this is not my way of teaching.  This is my way teaching; you do as I tell you to do.”

Professors here tell us what books to approach.  I would say that the professors here know what they are doing.  And they have a complete knowledge of their own field, so even if I ask them a complete weird question, they would have an answer for that.  They would not say, “okay, don’t focus on that, this is not your thing, just focus on your course or syllabus” like they used to do back home.  Over here, if I just come up with a weird idea, and I have something in my mind, and if I go to my professor, he or she would explain that to me.   But they are really helpful, they do go through my papers; I can submit rough draft, and they will say “okay, these are the points you need to add to your paper.” They are really helpful.  They always tell me “put more citation in, you have quoted wrong.” 

I would say that one of the weaknesses in Pakistan was the structure thing, and we were not allowed to use our own ideas.  We were not allowed to research on the topic before we write anything down.  And they were like small topics: your best friend, your best book, your favorite music, really small topics.  And they are still using the same topic.  They never change themselves.

They used to say that when you are given a topic, you have to discuss the topic first and then write down your thoughts about it, but not the complete structure.  And they would give the first paragraph to describe the topic; they would write it down and okay, “memorize it.” That’s the thing that I think is lacking there.  They never let us use our own creativity, and if they do, I think they can improve a lot. 

We would just write and they would never tell us our weaknesses, “okay you are weak at this thing; try to practice in this area.” They would never do that; they would just think that the whole class is the same, and if someone is writing the best essay ever, we are supposed to write the same way.  But over here, it’s just amazing how they teach you stuff and the processes. I was really amazed when the teacher first told me that when you put down your thoughts, before submitting the paper, you have to read it aloud, and I was amazed how many mistakes I picked up the first time.

I would say if you are given a topic, the more you read about it, and the more research you do about it, the more it broadens your vision.  And I really enjoy that.  I really enjoy that everything is so new to me. Because most of the topics they have given us, I never have done research on them.  So I really enjoy doing research on them.  I get so excited.  I’m like, “okay, I am going to learn something new today.” So if I am a given more time, I would go ahead and read more books and collect the information and then get the idea, and then put it down.  And it feels so light when I have done my research properly and then I write something down.  I just feel so good, I don’t know.

The three Cs:  complete, concise, and clarity.  And the thesis statement I would say.  You know the conclusion and all that was really helpful. 

I can imagine a lot.  This is not what I said, but what my teachers said.  I can use my imagination to something they would not imagine, because I remember there was a research paper, and we used to write it from a book, and I pulled out some of the stuff, and it was a strange topic, and I pulled out some of the stuff that the teacher did not even realize, and she was very happy with me.

When I was taking my English class, for the final project, they told us to relate one of  the English novels with my major [accounting] and I was like “oh, how am I supposed to do that?” And it took me a week to research all the stuff and then I gave up and went to my professor and he said, “these are the four books, and you can choose any of these.”  He gave me “The Merchant of Venice” and then I relate it with usury, which is interest rate. I wrote on that and I was really surprised what I have come up with. I was really surprised what I come up with.  I was completely puzzled because at first I was like “there’s no way I can relate any book with accounting,” but I used so many quotes from one act, using them in different ways, relating them with the interest rate. We never used to do that back home.  And I really enjoyed writing that paper.  And I was so proud of myself, you know.  Even if I would have gotten a C on that paper, which I didn’t, but I would have been really proud of myself because it was a complete new experience.

They used to give us lot of dictation, they used to read out of the book and we were supposed to write and they used to grade us on that.

Generally speaking, I am not a writer or anything; when I write in Urdu, it’s like my cultural thing and all that kind of comes to me, like speaking to elders and all that, and how I am going to put that, you know.  For instance, when I am writing a dialect, I would bring back my cultural thing, how we are treated and how we would speak to them and the religious aspect as well.  Where as in English, I am not that much influenced with the culture and stuff, so it’s more about the movies that I watch and what they use, although I know that it’s a wrong thing to use the image of the movies while you are writing the paper.  It’s much better to try and use some book.  But, when I write in Urdu, I am more into, I feel comfortable because I think I know more about my thing.  But in English, I have to say, “okay, the reader is going to read this; what will he be thinking?”

On Language aesthetics:
Well, Urdu is a very rich language and it’s a combination of two languages, mostly Farsi and Arabic.  I like both languages, but I think Urdu is much richer, and much sweeter; I don’t know, I just feel it.