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The Many, Many Layers of Code-Switching

Code-switching is understood as a characteristic of developing multilinguals in any level of language learning. In the broadest sense, it is defined as using linguistic elements of two languages – L1, the native language, and L2, the second – in one utterance. You may have witnessed a bilingual friend use a word or phrase in a different language because they can “think of the word in Spanish, but not in English.” I’m sure many people are familiar with this phenomenon.

However, language is not only about single-word vocabulary. Grammar structures, idioms, tone, and stress patterns are also crucial features of language that multi-language learners must consider. For example, my mom would sometimes switch the object and verb order (“I ate dinner” may turn into, “dinner I ate”) because in her mind, she is translating directly from Korean, in which the object and verb order in sentences are flipped. When they code-switch, multilingual speakers will often generalize the grammar rules of their native language to L2, which can be where a good chunk of their grammar error patterns are originating from.

There is yet another layer to code-switching (Whew!) This layer involves the pragmatics of language, which is governed by cultural norms and expectations.

This layer is also one of the most difficult to explain, because people don’t often consciously think about it. A child will sound different between talking to his friend (loud, boisterous, lingoed) and talking to his teacher (more reserved, respectful, not-so-lingoed.) A receptionist may use Standard American English when receiving guests or taking phone calls in a professional setting (“Hello, this is the Center for Writing Excellence, how can I help you?”) but switch to colloquial language if she sees a close friend walk through the door. My mom speaks in a standard, “city” Korean most of the time, but when she’s on the phone with her sisters or her mom, she switches to the country dialect that she grew up with. All of the above are examples of code-switching.

Native-born speakers are naturals at code-switching depending on the situation. We’ve internalized it enough so that we can code-switch unconsciously. This is a language skill that most children acquire during normal linguistic development. However, multilingual learners, especially older ones, may have more difficulty with juggling all the features of their new language.

I am a native-born Korean; my L1 was Korean. However, since I grew up in America, I’ve always had trouble using Korean in accordance with Korean cultural norms.

Korean culture is highly hierarchical. The way you address an individual depends on age or the number of years worked at a particular job. You must use formal language when addressing any individual older than you, whether it be by a year, five years, or multiple decades. Your “friends” (or the people you can address as your friends) are only those born in the same year you were born in. Anyone older needs to be addressed with a politeness form. Anyone younger, you can address informally.

And the above rules may not pertain in a professional work environment, in which everyone has to address everyone else formally.

And yet again, the above rules can be fudged when people begin to get more familiar with each other.

People can get touchy if not addressed with the proper politeness forms, so sometimes I stumble over my words because I’m too worried about addressing an older person incorrectly. In contrast, there are no politeness forms in English, and we can initiate conversations with ease, regardless of age. They are very disparate languages, not only in vocabulary and sentence structures and stress patterns and tone, but in cultural usage as well. As a result, at times I feel as though I’m an outsider, despite my being raised in the Korean community.

Older learners may be afraid to make mistakes, because, unlike children who won’t be judged for their language errors, we will be. What I feel most helpful speaking Korean is having a language partner who is not judgmental, and who will correct my errors without making me feel put on the spot. I’m sure other multilingual learners face the same challenges and would appreciate an environment in which they can be comfortable, in everyday communication as well as in writing.

On Code-Switching and Teaching Hamlet

Traditionally, I think we tend to associate code-switching with the phenomenon of people from certain smaller cultures or niches in our larger society altering their use of language to communicate more effectively with the people around them, who are speaking the more common version of the language in question or another, “more commonly used” language altogether. However, depending on the scenario, any person speaking in any language can be the minority and find themselves a linguistic outsider, even if that person’s language is usually viewed as “standard” or “regular” English in other, perhaps broader scenarios or from those perspectives. Although I am a native English speaker and, indeed, one almost absurdly enamored with grammar and “proper” usage, there have been many times both inside and outside the Center for Writing Excellence that, as a consultant, educator, peer, or (frankly) person, I have had to function in situations that have made me a linguistic outsider. Indeed, it was as a result of my love of grammar that I once found myself in such a situation.

One of the most memorable and long-term instances in which I found myself a linguistic outsider and needed to code-switch was during my time student-teaching while I was in my final year as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware. I was pursuing my Bachelor of Arts in Secondary English Education and was placed in a low-income, high-need high school in Maryland. As I stress above, I am a self-confessed grammar aficionado, and I know that this comes across in both my spoken and written language (one of my professors once noted that he felt I had escaped from a Jane Austen novel). However, at the high school in which I was placed, the students with whom I was working found my use of language to be overly complex, flowery, and even arrogant in an unintentionally holier-than-thou way. Try (and agonize) though I might (and did), I found myself unable to communicate effectively with the very people I so desperately wanted (and needed!) to teach. In retrospect, I realize that I initially misread the situation as an issue of respect, and misguidedly amped up the tone of my language all the more in an effort to gain some handle on the classes I was teaching.

When this first attempt failed, in a refreshed effort to reach my students, I started to listen to and adopt some of their speech patterns to convey my ideas and goals in a version of English that was more comfortable and approachable for them. With a bit of time (and a few laughs directed at me, as was no doubt wont to happen), I found that my students began to respond to me and to the literature I was teaching (Hamlet, if you can believe my luck) with more enthusiasm and confidence. Code-switching in the name of fostering the comfort and skill of the group as a whole can be an incredibly useful and often undervalued tool in the classroom and beyond it. Speaking and relating to one another with mutual respect and understanding in mind can only improve our communications and the foundations of an ever-growing society.

Hearing what’s not on the page.

This month’s blog topic on code-switching got me thinking about my current writing project(s) because, on one level, it’s all about code-switching. I don’t mean just knowing the right words to say in different situations. Code-switching is also knowing what not to say and when to not say anything at all. Code-switching is knowing that everything speaks for me: my hair, my skin, my clothes, what’s in my hand to read, my direct gaze or whether I don’t look at someone, my walk, my posture, whether my jaw is set or my smile is unguarded.

English makes me an outsider, linguistic and otherwise, in the following story (poem? Flash fiction? Scene?). It’s a beginning non-draft, still an exploration that will be in progress for a few more drafts, and will likely lead to something else entirely (an essay? A monologue?). It was inspired by this month’s blog topic, but also by Junot Diaz, Irene McKinney, Idra Novey, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Eddie Huang, Richard Blanco, public transportation, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Amherst College, the Virgin Mary… and a lot more that is not immediately obvious to me as I untangle this.

I hope being an experienced code-switcher helps me understand the writers I work with; so much of what needs to be heard is not on the pages they present to me. And I hope my experience as a writer who is always tweaking, developing, and challenging my process gives me the patience and insight needed to guide other writers on their journeys.



It’s reading The New York Times[1] in the Charity Care waiting area[2] of City Hospital.

It’s feeling old school because everyone else is updating their status or texting or talking drama or checking the 84 bus schedule on smartphones[3].

It’s when everyone else chitchats occasionally to pass the time, but no one talks to you.

It’s because your Spanish sounded too white for your brown skin[4] when you answered the lady across from you when she asked what number you’d gotten[5].

It’s understanding what everyone is saying and not saying, and why you get the side-eye each time you say something[6] and even when you say nothing[7].

It’s like breathing.

It’s what you do without thinking.

It’s knowing all the pass codes, and you know them all at once[8].

It’s wondering when your user ID and pass code don’t match.

It’s wondering if your coding is faulty and corrupted, and whether there is an internal system defect that will always deny you access.

It’s what goes through your head in the basement, but for less than a second because Papi is in a hospital bed on the sixth floor[9].

It’s waiting for Charity Care because the hospital bill will cost more than everything Papi and Mami have paid for you to get ahead and be the one to sit, alone, and wait in the basement of the public hospital.

[1] You know not to do the crossword, even though you really want to, and who’s to know that you’re reading a review of that famous Latino author known for his authentic voice, but who is not known by anyone else in the waiting area.

[2] Located at the end of a dead-end hallway in the basement level, because being sent to the bowels of a public hospital doesn’t say “care” but does scream “charity”.

[3] Because everyone sitting in the Charity Care waiting area’s got a smart phone, except you, no one’s got a license, except you, and no one’s got a car, most especially you.

[4] And when your scholarship nerd English made the security guard who’d asked you so loudly Where are you going? do a double take.

[5] The security guard at the hospital’s main desk gives everyone going to the Charity Care waiting area a laminated pass with a number—the order in which you will be called by a case worker—and “Charity Care” printed in large letters so non-English speakers who get lost en route can flash the card for directions to the basement.

[6] Which is why you don’t talk to the kids you grew up with, who hiss she thinks she’s too good for the projects each time you return home from college.

[7] Like the kid in your Writing Class who thought the anonymous piece being workshopped was yours, but it was by the guy from Japan who can’t figure out articles and subject/verb agreement.

[8] Which is why when your Sociology professor told the class you’d all have to work really hard to fall out of the middle class, you knew not to say that being middle class is what you prayed for to the Virgin Mary when you were a little girl.

[9] Worrying, like everyone else in the waiting area and their papis and mamis and tias and brothers in hospital beds upstairs, about missing work.

Speaking Through Silence

The people on TV make no sense. The people in the kitchen make no sense. The words on the street signs make no sense. Nothing makes sense anymore! (except the menus).

My mother was born in a small, mountain town in Italy and still has a handful of family members who live there. She likes to visit every other year, so we have made a number of family pilgrimages throughout the entire country. During these vacations, I (as an English-speaking Italian) have become an expert mime.

My mother graciously acts as an interpreter for my father, sister, and me. However, living as a linguistic outsider is certainly an interesting experience that has taught me a lot about the importance of language. My days as a mime typically begin with me pointing to a pastry behind the glass counter and smiling at the barista, then pointing at my mother who pays. Souvenir shopping is another silent event consisting of smiling and nodding in response to words I only slightly understand. Lunch and dinner are easier; I can recognize most of the foods on menus, but always make sure I am seated near my mother so she can parlay to the waiter or waitress. Communicating with family members (the younger generation) is the easiest because they insist on speaking to me in my own language because they are eager to practice English. The older generation, however, only speak Italian. Therefore, my mother must bridge the gaps when smiling and nodding is no longer sufficient.

My experiences as a linguistic outsider, while often frustrating, have given me a great respect for verbal and nonverbal communication. On those vacations, I often find myself writing a lot more (in English), listening to music and Youtube videos (in English), and reading books I packed with me (in English). It sometimes feels as if I am afraid of losing my native language after spending so many hours miming and surrounded by another language.

The urge to cling to the language we know is particularly important to remember when we, as consultants, work with multilingual writers. They are not only living in a foreign country, but working and/or going to school. The pressure for job security and other responsibilities is intense, and complicated even further by the fact that the people on TV make no sense; the people in the office or classroom make no sense; the words on the street signs make no sense. Nothing makes sense anymore! Unlike my family vacations where no one forces me to speak Italian or criticizes me for making mistakes when I decide to try, multilingual writers (particularly in American universities and workplaces) are often subjected to losing significant points on exams or denied promotions because of their linguistic abilities, no matter how hard they try to improve. Therefore, the work we do in writing centers (as interpreters who help bridge the gaps between writer and professor/boss) makes a difference because we respect where they came from but simultaneously help guide them forward on a new linguistic journey.

A Linguistic Outsider

I returned from Orly Airport in the late fall afternoon, after accompanying my French former-college roommate to the plane that would return her to America. I emerged from the metro station at St. Germain and strolled slowly along the boulevard, looking in the store windows. I loved the French word for window-shopping—laîche-carreaux: licking the windows. I could read French, I had a large vocabulary, and I knew my irregular verbs. My difficulty in speaking French fluently and naturally worried me constantly. I knew the reason: For three months, I had been in the company of Hélène, my elegant, petite friend who had invited me to spend the summer as guests at her aunt’s hotel near the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Wherever we went, Hélène did the talking. It wasn’t that she was selfish or inconsiderate; she was so vivacious and sociable that people turned to her as a sunflower to the sun. Even on the ship coming over from America, the waiters had deferred to her, expecting her to order for both of us. I felt clumsy and inexperienced next to Hélène in her silk dresses, coiffed hair, and high heels. I was tall and thin and—well—American-looking. I practiced dialogues in my room: “Du fromage, mademoiselle?” “Non, merci, j’en ai dejà eu.” But when I was actually in the restaurant, or at a sidewalk café, I was suddenly mute and shy. I couldn’t even joke in French. I answered “Oui” or “Non” and felt miserable.

I wondered what to do with myself that evening. I knew I would have to leave the hotel in a few days, since I could no longer take advantage of the hospitality of Hélène’s relatives. I would find a petit hôtel on the Left Bank. Suddenly, “Annie! Salut, cherie!” cried a voice. And there on the sidewalk in front of the Café Deux Magots was Joan, an American friend from Berkeley, with her French husband, Bernard, and another man. I embraced Joan and Bernard in the French fashion, kissing them on both cheeks, and faced the garçon. “Vous désirez, Mademoiselle?” “Un coup de rouge, s’il vous plaît,” I said.

As my friends introduced me to Jean Claude, a documentary filmmaker, and began chatting about current events and Hélène’s return to America, I realized that I was speaking French—fluent, colloquial French. I ordered another glass of wine and dared not stop to analyze the situation. All I knew was that my awkwardness, my shyness, my feelings of inferiority, my dreaded inhibitions— my refoulements—about revealing who I really was, had fallen away. I was in Paris with people I liked; I was speaking French naturally. I no longer felt tall and thin and out-of-place; I felt pink-cheeked and blonde and, almost, pretty.

I couldn’t help noticing that Jean Claude was directing his attention to me. If Hélène had been there, he would have gravitated to her dark hair, tanned skin, perfect makeup, and soigné dark glasses. He was describing to me a documentary film he was making at a studio in Gennevilliers, a banlieue outside of Paris. “Tell me the plot,” I said. “Oh, but it is charming,” he said, “about a young Frenchman who goes to Morocco to teach school to little Arab children who have never before sat in a chair.” But, alas, he explained, he had reached the stage of production in which he was looking for someone to do the subtitles. The English subtitles. I looked at Jean Claude with my most engaging half-smile of interest, purposefulness, and native-English-speaker skills. “But is it possible that you . . . ?” he asked.

The metro ride to Gennevilliers was long and the car crowded, but I was blithe and happy. My days were better than I could have imagined. The studio was large and beautifully outfitted; the crew was well mannered and amusing; the staff shook hands with me every time we met during the workday. The group adjourned at one in the afternoon for a long lunch at an adjoining café. Best of all was Simone, the cutter. To me, she was as beautiful as a movie star. She had perfect skin, dark, pixie-cut hair, and lovely slim fingers that rapidly clipped and taped the little fragments of film. She and I sat together at lunch, giving me the warm feeling that we were chums.

I did not think I could ever again be so happy as I was during that period in Paris. I was intoxicated with what was to me a high-flying existence. I was going to work every day with French people. I had a best French girlfriend. I spoke French without thinking. Nothing could get any better—but it did. One night, on the metro, Simone, who descended from the train before I did, kissed me on both cheeks and said, “Bonne nuit. Je te verrai demain.” Goodnight. I will see you tomorrow. Simone had called me by the familiar tu: she had tutoyer-ed me. My heart sang.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The advice inherent in this story for consultants working with multilingual writers is fivefold: to encourage them to try to relax when they speak English and not to be self-conscious about what they perceive as their accent; to think in English and not translate from their native language; to smile to themselves as they struggle—and succeed—to use a newly learned word; to keep good notes about what areas need work, such as new rules or new vocabulary; and not to be shy about reading their work aloud, which is imperative to their hearing the way English sounds.


10 years of writing, 10 years more

Ten years ago, my writing was a stale and voiceless snoozefest. I was at the prime of teenage irresponsibility – 15, close to 16 years old. I never read any of the books my teachers  assigned for class, but I still managed to ace all my papers. Though, this was the same school where my English teacher strangely threatened us with “I’ll have you guys read for homework!!!” when we were being bad in class. Today, that still makes me laugh. 

Besides completing homework–and I was good student (despite not reading for class)–I hardly wrote for fun. It was something that just seemed to escape me in high school. Like I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I started to judge my work fiercely when I was a teen. Everything I wrote in middle school and before was garbage and anything I wrote after was even worse (I’m always my harshest critic).

But, eventually, things change and like characters in a novel, you develop. I’ve become more confident in my writing and–wait for my humble brag–I think I can be pretty funny when I write. I’ve developed this voice that seemed to come out of nowhere (a little scary) and I like to think I can hold your attention for a little longer than 40 seconds (let me know if I’m wrong). I do read the books for class now and a helluva lot more outside of it. It’s almost as if reading and writing go hand-in-hand, huh? 😉

Hey, if you’re like me and math isn’t your strong suit, I’ll be 35 in ten years. Yikes. By then, I hope that my voice will be stronger and more independent . Maybe I’ll lose this snarky way of writing; by 35, it won’t be cute anymore.  I always wanted to exude an air of mystery and maturity,  but ask me one personal question and I’ll give you four more answers than you asked for. Same goes for my writing, clearly. Truthfully, I only hope my writing has evolved enough to inspire at least one person to exercise their own voice. We shall see.

Listen. I know how it is. You may think to yourself, “not only is my writing embarrassing, but it’s going to make me look stupid in front of my classmates, too.” I’ve been there and sometimes I still go there. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s not. Your writing is just as valid as anyone else’s. If that’s not enough, just think of how much you changed, not only as a writer, but as a person. As we become older, you and I, we become better at the things we do. It’s as simple as that.

Real Art: Public and Private Writing (November Blog… Belated)

Some writers create diary entries with the intention of keeping personal thoughts private. And some student writers write for school but shutter at the thought of anyone reading their compositions (except maybe their teachers). For me, writing has always been a way for me to communicate publically and share my thoughts with others. As a precocious nine-year old, I was always looking for an opportunity to write, to show people my writing, and to announce that I was going to be a writer when I grew up. I wasn’t entirely wrong… I teach writing; I suppose that’s close. What I learned as an adult, however, is that writing is not only a great way to communicate with others, but private writing is an incredible therapeutic tool that should not be overlooked because it has psychological and cathartic benefits.

I have penned academic journal posts and blogs for years; however, it had seldom occurred to me to journal my private thoughts. Several years ago, I decided to take on a project on personal writing. I developed and delivered a presentation on Therapeutic Writing for the Summer Seminar at the Center for Writing Excellence at Montclair State. As I was preparing for my presentation, it occurred to me I hadn’t done much (if any) personal journaling as an adult, despite my advocacy for therapeutic writing. At this point, I thought I should try it out, but with grad school, jobs, etc. it didn’t come to fruition until years later.

Even though I had presented on the benefits of writing therapy, and my argument was based on scholarship, I still viewed it as just a nice thing to do when I had time, which I didn’t. Years later I was in the midst of a personal crisis, and one day I just “accidently” started personal-journal writing in order to cope with my thoughts and feelings. I wrote to “release,” and I never shared my writings. I didn’t even keep them. At this point, I don’t even remember what I wrote. I just remember that this act of writing helped me. At this point, I had been holding my thoughts and feelings captive for months, and when I started writing them down on paper, it was like I was freeing them from my mind.

So, as a public writer who likes to write for the purpose of communicating with others, I can now say that I truly embrace private writing both in theory and in practice. I also now realize how liberating private writing can be, especially as an English major and teacher. One trick I found is to just freewrite and not worry about writing conventions… grammar error?… fragment?… sloppy, incomplete thought? Failing to capitalize, properly punctuate or use Oxford commas (puns intended)… Who cares? (Okay, I admit… it still pains me to exclude an Oxford comma even in private writing). There’s a lot of pressure involved with writing to communicate (and that’s a blog topic for another day); however, writing is art, and private writing can be a real art… your art.

Writing: The Ten Year Plan

To understand what I will be writing ten years from now, we must first understand what I write now, or better yet, maybe we should start with why I write now. After all, who is me (whoever that is), what seems presumptuous to utter as it would make me both criticizer and critic (which makes me feel a bit Ouroborosly bloated), when is now always now, unless it’s ten years from now, then when would be then, where is irrelevant to ones and zeros, go and chase the tail back to the teeth of hyper text protocols, ask a noisy zero where, and listen if you hear it yawn above halfway to one, but why is a question I will answer honestly, why indeed. I write now as a defense against the madness that is today. I write because this world was bequeathed to us by a yesterday full of passionate idiots, maniacal madmen, and far too many sad, quiet, thoughtful sots. I do not mean to disparage the sots, I find the same sort of refuge in words that the sot finds at the bottom of a barrel. Les sots et les mots; les sots de mots. A fuss of words or whiskey. Le fossé des mots ou whisky. Womp, Womp. Words are my refuge from a world gone mad. But, because I am very much a part of that world, albeit – of it, but not in it, instead of in it, but not of it-, I am possessed by the same madness that plagues this world. Its 140 character limit. Its reality tv stars. Its book of faces. Its googly, Googles. Its Google forsaken BLOGS! It is a sort of all sides madness. It’s the sort of madness that shakes you down to your toes and makes you wake with your thumb, middle and pointing fingers numb, (all opposable thumbs be damned, three fingers pointing back at you, & a bird flipped to infinity) having clenched inward so hard to discover something inside yourself other than what is outward, only to find there is no rabbit in the hat – only a looking glass. Art is still that looking glass, although hand held, subjective, a selfy stick pointing outward. What about the author – still dead? I should hope so, less he be forced to suffer the dye and the microscope of the outrages critic. What I write is a reflection of the madness I see. It makes me happy to get it right. Like I’ve captured the last plague carrying critter in a once great mansion irreversibly ravaged by lies. I imagine in ten years, I will be doing much the same. I think, ten years from now, I will write perfect, dirty poems, of the highest order. The sort that ought to be carved in secret (in the middle of the night) meticulously, using stencils, on a bathroom stall, only to be removed with great care and placed on the walls of the MOMA for all to admire.

Writing Ten Years Hence?

Because I am in the December of my life, any further writing for me in ten years’ time is highly unlikely. One task that might have remained would be a memoir; however, I started writing my reminiscences some years ago, publishing them privately in 2014, because I wanted my grandchildren to have a chance to read them while I was still alive and to discuss any aspects that interested or puzzled them.

This memoir is called The Fair Adventure. The following three paragraphs are the introduction to the book:

The title for these reminiscences is from Shakespeare’s King John: “The day shall not be up so soon as I / To try the fair adventure of tomorrow.” And, because I am ever mindful of ways to try to write beautiful English sentences, I want to point out that this quotation is a perfect example of the so-after-a-negative-in-a-comparison usage: “not so soon as I.” I have often toyed with the idea of writing a booklet on usage, using literary quotations to make the point. For example, “He cursed himself for making believe for a minute that things were different from [not than] what they are” (The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf). “What a pity he has forever vanished from the hard and dusty paths of life—unless Donatello be actually he [not him]” (The Marble Faun, Nathaniel Hawthorne). There, we’ve cleared up those syntactical issues first off.

When I was about ten or eleven, The Fair Adventure was one of my favorite books. It features Serena Page McNeill, the youngest of a big family: Alison is married with kids; James is a professor; Robin is in law school; Jean, newly engaged, is just finishing nursing school; and Page is graduating from high school. She lives in a small town in the South—the town where her father is a beloved professor at the local college—but aspires to attend a women’s college in the East, Van Welmar, where she can study art and live in an ivy-covered dormitory. She passes the college boards well above average but does not score high enough to win a scholarship. Her doting Scottish father (who, like our father, quotes Shakespeare at the dinner table) cannot afford to send her away; thus, off she must go to Middleton, the public college where her father teaches and all her high school friends are headed. At the end of this particular summer, each unit in her family joins together to contribute something to a “scholarship fund” to enable her to attend Van Welmar after all. The principle? From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need [as Karl Marx wrote in 1875].

The point of using that quote as a title for my memoir is that I was the youngest member of my family, and I never felt, for one minute, that my parents and my two elder sisters were not rooting for me, were not there to help me in any way they could, to mourn over my disappointments and to cheer for my successes. At the same time, I would have done anything for them—thrown myself under a bus, if need be, or donated a vital organ. And, all in all, life has been a fair adventure for me, a series of engrossing jobs teaching, writing, and editing, experiences living and working in foreign lands, serious challenges and choices, loyal friends, endless reading, and, best of all, a loving and demonstrative family of my own.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

The third paragraph of my memoir above may contain the seeds of my absorption with my job at CWE. Perhaps our writers are my new family—my nieces and nephews, or, more accurately, my grandnieces and grandnephews—with whom I want to share my lifelong experience with writing: thinking through and building on the structure of a sentence; relating it meaningfully to what comes before and afterward; savoring words before choosing the appropriate one; experimenting with figures of speech; seeking specificity not vagueness; being as clear, cogent, and honest as possible; and trying to communicate an idea or an image that is unique because it belongs to them.



Writing Through the Years

Ten years ago, in 2007, I was 14. I graduated from eighth grade and started high school. At that stage in my life, the standard 5-paragraph essay was longest product I produced. I had never written a research paper, had no knowledge of MLA, and never planned on going to graduate school. Clearly, a lot has changed, especially regarding my writing style.

As an undergraduate English major, effective writing skills were crucial. It began with the two freshmen composition courses, where I learned to use social and political current events as fuel for argumentative essays, and how to close-read texts for literary analyses. From there, a variety of novel and writing-intensive courses helped me hone my skills as a student and writer.

I minored in Creative Writing, focusing on Fiction, and was able to strengthen my knowledge of plot conventions and dialogue through workshopping with my peers. My Introduction to Fiction Writing was the only course in my college career where I felt everyone in the class had bonded as a family. I was truly sad to leave it at the end of the semester. Since those courses, I have dabbled in various creative projects, hoping to one day unite my random ideas into a publishable novel.

My experience in the Teacher Education program at MSU broadened my horizons by serving as an opportunity to write lesson plans, community and student reports, reflection papers, and constructive criticism/positive feedback. I then decided to pursue a Master’s degree in English with a concentration in American Literature. Again, my writing style grew with me. I was no longer simply stating my opinion of the Walk on Wall Street, analyzing why the Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood is an antagonist, or modifying lesson plans; graduate writing requires perfection, new innovations, and publishable quality, which puts a greater amount of pressure on me as a writer. However, challenge is often the greatest catalyst for learning, and I am grateful for each experience.

Ten years from now, in 2027, I will be thirty-four. By then I will have graduated with my Master’s degree and hope to have a career in writing. This will be another change because I will no longer be writing essays for a course grade or GPA, but will likely be working on different projects and materials with my reputation on the line. I am confident that my experience writing through the years will provide beneficial skills to help me achieve success in my career-based writing.

Reflecting on past, present, and future writing styles is important for all writers at any age because life often takes us on paths we do not expect. Thus, we change as people and naturally our writing changes with us. We become more mature and professional; we revise old work and give it new life; we teach ourselves and acquire new skills from every experience we have. Eventually, our writing will be all that is left of our history. People will read what we have written and will piece together what our world looked like. Thus, writing will continuously serve a purpose that deserves reflection.