Stranger In A Strange Land? Or Child With New Friends? Argumentative Essays Example
Have you ever learned to speak a foreign language? For those who learn English as their second language, the reality is that there are words that, even after years of study, speakers of a new language will use wrong. For example, international students often still struggle with idioms and figurative language, because sometimes they do understand the words’ new meaning. A new language takes years to master and can still surprise you. Lucille McCarthy, in her article “A Stranger in Strange Lands” suggests that for students moving between courses with different processor’s teaching styles and disciplines is similar, in terms of learning, as entering a foreign country and learning that country’s language. However, this seems like an exaggeration. It would be more proper to describe the transition as a child in a new school instead of as a traveler in a foreign land. Because the student is not learning not a new language. He is learning a new social code, new jargon, and spending a lot of energy working to be accepted and well liked among a new set of friends. Moving from one course to another is like learning the jargon of a new area of the country or a new group of friends and not like learning a new language in a new nation.
Dave, the student that McCarthy studied described his college writing experience like this “First, you’ve got to figure out what your teacher’s want. Then you’ve got to give it to them if you’re gonna’ get the grade (233).” This sounds much more like trying to be friends with a group of mean girls than it does learning a foreign language. After all, the process of becoming friends with new peers is all about “figuring out what they want” and then “giving it to them” only instead of seeking a grade, you are seeking an invitation to the big party on Friday night. Either way, what you are primarily seeking is approval and validation of your efforts.
When discussing the way students move between classrooms and discipline’s McCarthy quotes another expert in the discipline, Herrington. Herington argues, that writing in the college classroom context “must be thought of in terms of several speech communities, viewed ‘in relation not only to a school community, but also to the intellectual and social conventions of professional forums within a given discipline.’ These overlapping communities influence the ways students think and write and interact in college classrooms, and will shape their notions of what it means to be, for example, an engineer or a biologist or a literary critic (235).” This too is consistent with the study of writing in different classrooms being like navigating different high school cliques. Students must learn the different jargon used in the social group they are a member of, and the language used, and what it means to be a jock, a nerd, a prep, or some other social group. When learning a new language, you are not concerned with the subtle parts of language and jargon, and misuse of basic words or idioms can take you by surprise. Instead, you are trying to master the big ideas. These students are not trying to decide “what it means to be” British, but instead they are just trying to be understood by someone else who speaks the same language well. In this way, learning to write in a new classroom is completely different than McCarthy’s description of learning a new language.
Similarly, in her analysis of her study’s findings, McCarthy notes that “Their relationship is like that of people conversing together, the newcomer making trial efforts to communicate appropriately and the native speaker responding to them (241). This makes the assumption that they are both speaking different languages. In the classroom, this is not the case. Both speakers are speaking English, but perhaps a better comparison would be two native speakers, expressing themselves in different dialects. This issue is not being understood, but rather navigating the code-switching cues of the new social situation and mastering the subject specific jargon. It is about precision and nuances of language, and not about understanding a whole new language, where every noun, verb, participle and conjunction is new.
For native speakers, it is easy to take the mastery of the English language for granted, and to feel like moving between class, or social groups is very hard. But in reality, it isn’t the kind of hard that McCarthy claims it is. Learning a new language means learning all the words and phrases that a person learns as infants and toddlers in their native language, and overcoming a great deficit to be understood even on a basic level. Learning to give a teacher what they want is much more subtle, and involves nuances of language and mastery of new social cues and technical jargon. Ultimately, it is far more like trying to fit in and find the right clique in a new school, and much less like traveling into a strange land, where no one knows your name.