This is an exercise that I originally experienced in a professional development workshop for writing instructors. Before we began discussing the experiences of multilingual students in college composition courses, the workshop leaders gave us this prompt:

“Write one paragraph about your favorite season. You have five minutes.

Now, write a paragraph about your favorite season in a second language. Choose any language that is not your first. You have five minutes”

They then asked us to talk in pairs about our experiences of writing the two paragraphs before opening up the conversation to the entire group.

The experience was incredibly illuminating. Some of the participants easily shifted between different languages, but realized that they wrote about different things between the two paragraphs. Others, with less access to a second language, discussed the difficulty in coming up with enough words to write a full paragraph. For many, reported that they started just listing words or ideas that they knew in the second language without following the prompt at all. This same group began trying to focus on grammar, but eventually turned to just getting words on the page.

This opened up a conversation about the experiences of English as a second (or third or fourth…) languageĀ in composition classrooms. For those fluent in multiple languages, writing in different discourses produced different texts. For those less fluent, even connecting words became a struggle, much less the possibility of creating coherent paragraphs that engage with the prompt. It helped us to reconsider assumptions about the ability to move between languages.

While this exercise lends itself more toward a multilingual approach to language (where languages are treated as distinct and users code-switch, rather than code-mesh), this can be helpful activity for destabilizing student’s experiences with language and developing a sensitivity toward the difficulty of being marked linguistically different.

Activity: Writing in a Second Language
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