Credentials: Languages: Vietnamese, English, Spanish, and French
Position title: Director of Educator Learning, Research, and Practice, WIDA
Could you tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at UW-Madison? How does language intersect with your work or your studies?
I am the director of Educator Learning, Research, and Practice of WIDA, a project within WCER in the School of Education. My main role is to lead a team of researchers and professional learning specialists to provide research-based resources and professional learning opportunities to teachers of multilingual learners. My own multilingual identity is essential to my current professional role at UW-Madison. My personal and professional experiences as a student and then as an educational leader in multilingual education inform all my decisions regarding the best programs and resources WIDA could build for educators in service of multilingual learners.
How do you feel your language(s) contribute(s) to your personal or professional identities?
I grew up learning Vietnamese at home and attended a dual language Vietnamese/French school in Vietnam. From a utilitarian perspective, knowing French fluently had helped me transition into English when I came to the US as refugee in 1975. It also opened the door for me to be able to pursue a career in Second Language Education and adding Spanish to my linguistic repertoire. On the other hand, these benefits came from learning the language(s) of our historical oppressors. In the U.S., I experienced gradual loss of my native language in the process of integration and struggled to maintain and pass down my native language to my own children. Throughout my personal and professional history, my multilingual identity intersects with my cultural and racial identities in complex ways and these intersections continue to evolve and change me.
How do you feel your language(s) contribute(s) or add value to your work or studies?
I work in the field of bilingual/multilingual education. I started out my career as a High School French and Spanish teacher and later became a bilingual program director. My knowledge of English, French and Spanish were the primary assets for my career as a bilingual educator and leader.
To what extent do you feel others on campus value your languages in the context of your work/studies at the University?
With the exception of my colleagues in the WIDA project and WCER, I suspect that few people on campus knew about my linguistic background. Among the languages that I speak, it is quite evident that English is appreciated as the common and shared language (lingua franca). Spanish perhaps follows in value as it is the native language of a large number of the UW community and studied by many. Vietnamese, my native language, is almost invisible to the community at large.
Have you experienced/observed linguistic prejudice or discrimination? If so, could you describe what happened?
I experience linguistic prejudice and discrimination on a regular basis. The very fact that I am answering these questions about my multilingual identity using English (my thirdly acquired language) exclusively only illustrates how English dominates our common discourse while speakers of other languages continue to function in marginalized, limited spaces within the community. Even in spaces where bilingualism/multilingualism is valued, I observe that linguistic discrimination often occurs based on the relative value attributed to specific languages or its speakers in a specific context. For example, I work in the field of bilingual education for decades. In this space, when people use the term “bilingual education” or “dual language”, many of them actually refer to “bilingual education or dual language in English/Spanish” since this is the most popular type of programs. As an Asian American bilingual educator, I often have to remind my colleagues that bilingual education programs in multiple Asian languages have existed for a long time and need to be included in their definition and reference.
How does linguistic diversity add to the richness of the various communities you navigate?
Linguistic diversity in a community is a signal that the community is complex, vibrant and inclusive. Linguistic diversity is closely tied to racial and ethnic diversity of a community. Linguistic diversity is also the result of intentional inclusiveness that is practiced by community members. In my experiences in navigating various communities in the US, because of the dominance of English and a historical preference for nativism and English-only practices, linguistic diversity cannot be sustained without explicit resolve by the community to a) value and develop other languages for its members, especially children and youth and b) cultivate racial and cultural understanding among all peoples in the community.
In what ways do you believe the campus community can better recognize the value that linguistic diversity brings to the community?
1) Begin by taking account and recognizing the ways in which multilingual people contribute to campus life; 2) find ways to strategically leverage and recognize their contributions while avoiding tokenism; 3) support campus organizations that aim at building multilingualism and inter-racial, inter-ethnic solidarity; 4) continue to invest in making “multilingual communication” a common norm on campus; 5) strengthen campus policies regarding ” world language” studies and credits to reflect the linguistic diversity of the students on campus.