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Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk

April 28, 2010

Anne Charity Hudley and Christine Mallinson

We often talk about the divide that exists between what goes on in the academy and what happens in the “real” world.  It is one thing for a linguist to say that African American English is a legitimate variety of American English, as are many other types of ethnic and regional varieties, like Chicano American English and Southern English.  But it is another thing entirely to say this and have the average everyday person understand and believe it.  Today, there are many linguists who are taking their research to the people, and for them, it starts at the level of the educator. Anne Charity Hudley and Christine Mallinson are two linguists who offer teachers tools to understand the kinds of linguistic diversity that students are bringing to the classroom. They are both engaged in service-learning, which in part involves helping teachers to understand the difference between dialectal variation and actual student error in listening, reading, and writing. They also help teachers to create activities that address language variation in the classroom, without diminishing it in favor of a standard variety. Perhaps with a better understanding of the kinds of variations that exist in the English language, teachers can become more knowledgeable and aware of the communication needs of their students. Let’s first acknowledge and appreciate the diversity in our students, and then work towards helping them to master American English by the book. Big up to the committed teachers doing some of the hardest work out there. You deserve recognition!

For anyone interested, Christine and Anne will be teaching a course this summer at Virginia Commonwealth University.

For more tools for educators, see these curriculum materials provided by Do You Speak American?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2010 6:05 pm

    Thanks for the writeup about our work! We are committed to working with all educators on issues surrounding language diversity, especially as they impact speakers of African American English and Southern English varieties. Interested educators and linguists, please feel free to contact us with questions or for more information. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and the Web!


    Christine Mallinson

    Anne H. Charity Hudley

  2. Esmah permalink
    April 28, 2010 6:33 pm

    I think it’s great that this is being offered to educators. Teachers should understand that their students’ language is a part of their identity and should not set out to push Standard English on them. It is important to understand that not all students will be bi-dialectical and cannot switch to Standard English when in the classroom. A good method for teachers is to let their students know that it is OK to speak another dialect, but when it comes to academic writing, Standard English comes in. For a long time teachers have been telling their students, who do not use Standard English, that their language is incorrect and inappropriate. Teachers should, instead, show their students that there is nothing wrong with speaking a non-Standard English dialect, but there will be times when a different register will need to be used.

  3. Ayeska permalink
    April 28, 2010 7:59 pm

    I’m so glad these linguists are doing this. It’s scary to think that a child’s needs might go unmet simply because of the way he/she speaks.

  4. Amy permalink
    May 2, 2010 7:35 pm

    It is so great to see linguists educating people about dialects in the “real” world, as you put it. These linguists are implementing the programs that African American and other minority children really need.

  5. shipra permalink
    May 3, 2010 7:07 pm

    I think it is great that linguists are reaching out to teachers who interact directly with students. If any change is to be made we should start at the grassroots and this is exactly what is being done. I hope this is something that will gain popularity and that more teachers undergo such training.

  6. Louisa permalink
    May 5, 2010 2:23 pm

    This is so great. Schools are the most important places for these children to learn and be confidant. Will such a lack of knowledge surrounding AAE it is amazing that these women are getting out there and informing and aiding educators. I can’t even imagine how tough it is for children to be told they are not smart because of their dialect.

  7. student permalink
    May 18, 2010 11:54 pm

    I think this is amazing.. I am going to following this move. It is very important that educators teach students facts about the language and not just their ideas of what English is. In order for educators to teach American English they must know what it is – teach the student ‘the standard’ not your standard. Language ideologies play a major role in affecting someone’s learning and teaching of a language, but I don’t think you can separate a person completely from their language ideology.

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