Intercontinental Ink: Culture Portrayed through Writing

Many students come in to The Writing Center not confident in the work they’ve produced. It’s not that they’ve written it “wrong,” but that ideas are unclear due to wording or organization. And now that I’m graduating in a week, I’m getting rather sentimental; so please humor me as I reminisce on some of my fondest writing center appointments (it’s relevant, I swear).

When I began learning Arabic and Saudi students would coincidentally schedule appointments with me, I would, without fail, get overly excited. But I wanted to be discrete about how I went about telling these students that I was studying Arabic. I’d grumble an occasional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Arabic under my breath, hoping the students would catch on. Or I’d leave my laptop open, revealing my Arabic/English keyboard, hoping the students’ eyes would catch my conspicuous cry for approval. But once we’d start the consultation, I’d let it drift to the corner of my mind as I redirected my attention to their writing.

Which, as it turns out, is fascinating.

Arabic is written poetically, deliberately, and to evoke emotion. It’s descriptive and heavily sprinkled with metaphors; Arabic poetry is the most beautiful, passionate prose. Often, this style transfers into Arabic-speaking students’ English writing. This sort of contrastive rhetoric has provided me with some of my most cherished appointments. I am able to see exactly how someone is thinking and how it translates from one language to another.

English is direct and oftentimes dry. Although “fluff” in moderation or having craftily worded sentences can make English writing more interesting, it is still a precise, formulated approach. Non-native English speakers use their inherent understanding of language (which can create some strangely formulated grammatical phrases), but it also generates ideas and comparisons that aren’t readily available to me given my personal understanding of language.

Literacy isn’t just writing. It’s understanding. It’s being able to communicate well. It’s knowing how to accomplish something through some means. Just because you write differently than someone, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It shows the awesome complexity of societal and cultural understanding through language. And regularly witnessing this fascinating phenomenon will be one of my most missed experiences as I finish out my time here at The Writing Center at MSU.

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