Patrick H. Smith and Luz A. Murillo
The hand-painted wooden sign on the right, announcing the schedule of Catholic mass in Spanish, English, and Tex-Mex, is an example of the hybrid forms of literacy created and displayed in multilingual communities. We discovered this particular sign in the Rio Grande Valley of Southeast Texas, thanks to a graduate student who is studying to become a bilingual reading teacher. He pointed out that multiliteracy is welcome in local churches but not in schools, reminding us that language can be treated as a problem, right, or resource (Ruiz, 1984) in different domains of use even within the same community. This contrast led us to map multiliteracy in the border communities where our students live and are preparing to become teachers . Specifically, we were interested in learning how multiliteracy--the practice of producing and interpreting texts in multiple languages—is perceived by (future) teachers along the US-Mexico border.
Our findings suggest that teachers in this region regard multiliteracy differently in and out of schools. While many commented favorably on multilingual texts like the church sign, participants expressed limited support for Spanish development in school. perhaps as a result of their own histories of English monolingual schooling. We found even less support for code-switching in school. The sign below, from a local primary school, reflects the monolingual, one-language-at-a-time language policy students favored.
Participants expressed ambivalence about the use of Spanish in school (especially in literacy instruction), and many confessed to being insecure about their ability to teach in Spanish and nervous about interacting in Spanish with their students’ parents. These findings are consistent with studies of teachers’ attitudes towards Spanish in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere on the U.S.-Mexico border. Although somewhat aware of the economic advantages of biliteracy abilities for local teachers, some questioned the potential value of advanced biliteracy for their students.
Our data for this study included digital photographs of bilingual advertisements and publicly displayed texts taken by students in and around their homes and the schools where they are interning or teaching. We also collected autobiographical writings by and interviews with undergraduate and graduates students studying to become bilingual education and reading teachers. Students also interviewed family members who had been students and teachers in local schools. These interviews turned out to be fascinating because many students were unaware that their older relatives had also been forbidden and even punished for using local varieties of English and Spanish in school.
How might the findings from this study of teachers’ perceptions of multiliteracy on the US-Mexico border be relevant or useful where you are practicing or studying applied linguistics? We think that similar studies of teachers’ attitudes toward multiliteracy and language varieties could easily be carried out in other border regions and anywhere where languages are in contact. By taking digital photographs of multilingual texts in the communities where they live and teach, and by comparing them to the ways languages are used in school, future teachers can gain a better idea of how school rules about language use fit the language and literacy practices of their communities. And, whether teachers are natives or newcomers to the area where they plan to teach, much can be learned about school language policies by interviewing parents and older family members.
Ruiz, R. 1984. Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal 8, no. 2: 15-34.
*This study has been submitted for publication under the title Repositioning Biliteracy as Capital for Learning: Lessons from Teacher Preparation at the U.S.-Mexico Border. For more information, please contact the authors:
Patrick H. Smith, University of Texas at El Paso (email@example.com)
Luz A. Murillo, University of Texas Pan American (firstname.lastname@example.org)