I found this week’s reading to be very helpful in addressing my concerns and insecurities with specific strategies and recommendations. Mara Brecht’s reflection on her work with the ABLE student Kathie is especially honest and thoughtful. I appreciated her admission that “there is no neutral zone” and that she would “never understand the impact of [her] language” (306). However, it seems to me that most conversations about the language of identity in the Writing Center context assume that the writing partner is the master of the dominant culture’s privileged writing discourse who needs to be considerate of the student’s disadvantaged, underserved background. As a Writing Partner who learned English as a second language, I wonder how the tutor-tutee dynamic would be affected if the roles were reversed.
On Sunday, I had a consultation with an English major who was working on a paper for her English class. Although our conversation went very smoothly, I found myself trying to appear to have more authority by mentioning that I had taken the same English class last semester and that I understand what it means to “close read” and write a paper without a thesis. At the end, the student asked me a preposition question, with which I was unable to help her. These moments in consultation amplify the imposter syndrome for me. Even though I had been selected and trained, am I qualified, as an outsider, to help people who write English as a native speaker, who have spent more time at school and at home immersed in American academic discourse?
Sometimes I worry that my student has a hard time understanding me not because of their English proficiency, but mine. People tell me that I tend to swallow words and trail off at the end of my sentences, even when I speak Chinese. I feel especially insecure about speaking English when I am tired or recently return from Chinese-speaking environment. When I see puzzled looks during consultations, I worry that I wouldn’t be able to explain my suggestion in more accessible terms because the English I learned is far more academic than colloquial.
In Frances’ Nan’s article about weekly writing partner appointments with international students from China (this wasn’t a part of the assigned reading but was referenced in our assigned reading), she discussed strategies to work with English language learners and emphasized the importance to evaluate the student’s educational background and familiarity with writing standards at an American institution like Pomona. Six years later, the international student demographic group at Pomona has changed to include more Chinese students who went to high school in the US (myself included) than students who come from local Chinese schools. What does this mean then for writing partners who work with international students now? How does my educational and language background influence the students who work with me?