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Lifting the Voices of Multilingual Student-Writers by Emily Rosenblum

I take a deep breath. My hand inches toward a button that I frequently hit by mistake.

Now I am terrified to touch it, even accidentally.

I know my writing in my second language is not perfect.

With an unsteady hand, I click the “send” button and submit a draft of my first complete paper written entirely in my second language.

I hope those who read it understand.

Like those I teach, I was once a student of a new language.

I am now privileged to teach emerging bilingual students who grapple with knowing what the world values. They wonder if what they have to say will meet the “approval” of those around them.

They have stories to tell but wonder if they will be heard.

Sometimes, despite our best attempts to incorporate culturally sustaining pedagogies, students know that their stories may be unheard, generalized, or invalidated if they do not tell what the school expects.

Many language learners experience a “silent period” when learning a new language. They fear saying or writing anything because it could be considered wrong.

Silence is not golden.

Silence is not golden quote

The challenge of being an emergent bilingual writer is one where the spotlight too frequently shines on the “emergent” part and neglects to validate the beauty of the “bilingual” part.

This challenge tells a story about what our society values.

Our students know it.

Yet, despite the challenge of writing in another language, our multilingual students have an immense privilege. Their stories weave a basket across languages and cultures.

Teachers must embrace students’ stories and validate them as worthy. Otherwise, everyone loses.

A student writing a narrative once informed me that she had no good ideas. Yet she is a great storyteller!

We brainstormed, looked at mentor texts, and brainstormed some more. She ended up writing a heartfelt piece about a tiny moment when she was reintroduced to her mom for the first time in years.

Then I remembered.

Pushing “submit” in this world means that some people might not see her story as important. They might tokenize it or generalize it. That is unnerving at best.

Layer those feelings with being a preteen.

No wonder our students choose silence.

Writing is a statement, an act of courage, an act of persistence, and for some, an act of resistance.

Writing quote - Writing is an act of resistance