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Amy Disselkoen and Alyssa Jewell ACF Abstract FY10

English Proficiency for Immigrant Women  At What Cost?

Conference Name: Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (MITESOL) Conference Transforming Learning: Teaching and Advocacy

The issue of language and gender has become an increasingly “hot” topic over the past twenty years.  Tannen (1990, 1998) has explored issues of solidarity and power in gendered language in the U.S. as well as cross-culturally.  Fisher (2001) has investigated the covert messages in the asymmetrical power situation found between the medical establishment and Mexican-American women.  More recently, Norton and Pavlenko (2004) have compiled a volume on the topic of gender across an array of ESL/EFL situations.  Although the prevailing view seems to be that increased English proficiency empowers all learners, the following question must also be raised:  at what cost?

This proposed panel presentation seeks to explore the above question in the following manner:  first, an overview of language and gender issues will be presented with a focus on the ESL/EFL setting.  The panel will then explore several cases of language and the disempowerment of women in the L1 setting, based on work, in part, by Emandi (2002), Haeri (2006), and Tiemeir (2006).  This will be followed by an exploration of the acquisition of English by immigrant women in the U.S., including issues of identity and empowerment (Gordon, 2004; Menard-Warwick, 2004, 2005; Skapoulli, 2004; Warriner, 2004), as well as ultimate proficiency attainment (Alfred, 2003; Fennelly & Palasz, 2003; Warriner, 2007).  The question will then be raised as to the cost involved in the social and relationship power shifts and identity reconstruction that often result as immigrant women become proficient speakers of the English language.  Finally, the session will open to audience discussion of the role ESL teachers play in this shift and how an awareness of this issue can lead to improved support for immigrant women in ESL classes.  Handouts will be provided.

Panel:  Jessica Flores Knoth, Amy Disselkoen, Alyssa Jewell, Christen M. Pearson