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The Multilingual Studio

The Multilingual Studio

By Annie Park - February 10, 2021

I don't speak English at home. My parents were born and raised in South Korea, so our default language has always been Korean. I don't speak Korean at school. My mother said not to: classmates and teachers wouldn't understand the language or culture.

But with second grade came Standard Written English, and my languages bled into each other. For the first time, I hated bilingualism. It was a nuisance. It was how I forgot English because I was thinking in Korean. It was how my English differed from my classmates'. It was how I was different.

When I first heard about the Writing Centre's Multilingual Studio, I was intrigued. Was there finally a safe space for university students struggling with their own multilingualism, with thinking in two languages?

On paper, the Studio defines itself as a place for multilingual students to develop their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. Here, they can enhance their understanding of academic English genres and conventions. But this definition isn't enough. What is the Studio? What does it offer, and how does it work?

When digging deeper, the Studio's uniqueness becomes clear. For one thing, they don't use the word 'ESL.'

"There are stigmas surrounding the term," says Dunja Baus, the Multilingual Studio's specialist director. "So, we call each other Academic English Language Learners, instead."

The Studio's main philosophy is a quote by Peter Elbow, a Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: "Standard Written English is no one's mother tongue."

It doesn't matter if English is your first language or an additional language: no one is born with the ability to write in perfect academic English. We all learn it, and the Studio offers multilingual students an ideal place to do it.

Emphasizing a "learn through doing" approach, the Studio encourages students to read and dissect academic pieces. They then create rhetorical templates to guide their own academic writing. Some days, it's as simple as reading an essay to see how many sentences it takes the author to get to the thesis. Other days, it’s analyzing articles, studying the genres, sentences, and rhetorical moves of writers.

Jerry Kluck, a former member of the Multilingual Studio, describes this approach as "the GPS to [his] academic success."

Standard written English is no one's mother tongue.

— Peter Elbow

"The Studio builds confidence," Dunja Baus explains. "It takes away the anxiety [of academic writing]" and shows students that Standard Written English can be learned.

While students study and discuss together, as they would in any other course, the Studio is more than a classroom. It's a close-knit community of unique individuals with similar struggles. Its members bring their own experiences and languages to the group, applying them to academic writing and sharing them in stories.

Stories of linguicism or racism.

Stories about drowning in Standard Written English.

But there are happy stories too, and together, the Studio crafts their own story: one of joy, confidence, and camaraderie.

COVID-19 restrictions have pushed all Writing Centre resources, including the Multilingual Studio, online. The remote setting makes it difficult to reach out and form bonds, but the Multilingual Studio stands strong. It continuously offers students understanding, acceptance, and knowledge.

Let’s get back to me. I'm completing my final year at York University's Professional Writing program, and I understand Standard Written English better than I used to. I love my bilingualism—it's a cherished part of my identity—but it took years to get to where I am now. It took kind teachers, encouraging friends, and accepting classmates, all of which are available in the Multilingual Studio. So, how would I define the Studio?

It’s a space that would have made second-grade-me smile; and it’s a safe space for York’s multilingual students to learn and practice academic English. But, above all, it’s a home for university students with languages, triumphs, and experiences to share.