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

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Consciousness about Voice

Students’ concerns about grammar and vocabulary also led many of them to feel that they could not project the same confident voice that they had prided themselves on in their native languages. While Diana, from Columbia, felt confident that she could organize her papers in English, she did not feel as secure when it came to projecting a strong voice in English. “My strength in Spanish, I would say, is my personal style of how to write, and I guess that’s something that people like. And the grammar, my grammar in Spanish is really good, and the use of like, the synonyms, and a good vocabulary. In English, definitely, I would like to have more vocabulary, so I can do that [same thing].” Ayesha, from Pakistan, lamented her lack of English vocabulary: “I am really short of words. I would really love to learn nice words, because I do have ideas, and I do want to put something down, but I am short of words.”

Tonka:
~On learning to write in the field of Government:
If I had to analyze say a book, I would take someone else who analyzed it or analyzed parts of it and then take someone else and see how they structured it. And in a way see what the general idea of what all that is and try to create my own way of analyzing it. Put it in my own thoughts but put it in a frame that’s suitable. So, reading was a big part of learning the frame of the discipline and fitting in your thoughts

~I mimic others a great deal. Especially in my major. I mimic academic writing by reading…and it’s easy for me. Like right now I’m working on my senior thesis, so I go and read studies before I start typing. So when I start typing and summarizing using their quotes it’s easy for me to follow through in my analysis in the same language as they use because they use it so well. You merge it with the whole academic voice of the paper. So for me it’s very easy to pick up and mimic someone’s writing.

~On her experience with “mimicking” in school in Bulgaria:
Maybe when I’m doing an analysis I’ll go and read someone else’s writing first and then try to copy how they thought about it and how they wrote about it and just…just try to follow their way of argument, but not the way they write. Because most of the academic writing is so…hard to approach, so hard to understand that I don’t want to mimic.

Sandarshi:
~On her experience with academic writing in school in Sri Lanka:
I think people would look too critically, feel too personal when you’re writing here; back in my country, it’s more objective. Particularly academic writing is more objective. Not so subjective; you don’t bring your personal opinion. People don’t care about your personal opinion. You just analyze the data in a more clinical fashion back home. You write in the third person, you would never write…you’d never insert “I” into an academic piece. Ever. You’d always write in the third person. It wouldn’t be appropriate.

Ignacio:
~On his experiences adapting to writing in the US academy after attending college in Spain and France:
At first I considered the paper as a chance to kind of show my knowledge of the language and how I mastered it.  Now I see it as a way of making sure someone understands what you are saying. Tell me what you are going to tell me, tell me, then tell me what you told me.

~I think I am way more concise than I used to be.  I state my ideas way clearer …well there usually I have a lot of doubts or self-doubts about what I write, but here I kind of learned how to get rid of my self-doubts just for the sake of the argument and convincing.  Even though before I used to express my doubts in the thesis, which kind of weakened it.  That is more or less what I learned I think, to be more concise and to state a very clear argument, even if I myself am not very much convinced about it. 

Diana:
~On her strengths writing in the Columbian academy:
In Spanish, I always have good comments on how I write. I never got a problem in writing in Spanish. My strength in Spanish is, I would say, there is like a personal style of how to write and I guess that’s something that people like.

Efrata:
~On the notion of “voice” in academic writing in Russia:
The voice would still be yours.  They didn’t want you to mimic like a well known writer, in terms of the way you write or she writes.  They didn’t want you to do that.  They wanted you to develop your own voice, but at the same time I think it is more limited. Also, I think the time when you are actually able to show your voice is when you write like a really important paper.  Like my mom, she wrote her dissertation—there you can explore your whole, whatever you want to do.  But in terms of my class, they don’t let you.  I don’t remember being encouraged.  They want to see obviously how I write…they had guidelines of how I should write.

~Here, I think it is just more open, more laid back.  I don’t think it is secretive, you know.  And there, it is like more...you keep to yourself; the whole society, they will open up to you when they get to know you.  Here, it depends on individual because there are so many different kinds of people. Here, you know, obviously it is okay to be different so you can tell your story, but there, you just keep to yourself.  So in terms in writing, I don’t remember writing about my life, like my family, issues, and things like that.  It would be more like strictly academic: you write about a book, you write about an event, or historic event, or whatever.