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African American Linguists (AAL)

Promoting World Languages in the African American Community

The African-American Linguist Experience

Oftentimes African-American linguists have unique experiences related to world language learning and international travel. AAL recently created a webpage to highlight these experiences. AAL members and friends reported the following when asked to delineate specific challenges they encounter as African-Americans in the field of world languages.

Some of these challenges are…

  1. To unearth a cultural connection to the language being studied from an African American perspective.
  2. To be a double minority. African-Americans make up a small percentage of total degrees conferred in world languages.
  3. To promote world languages and cultures within the African-American community, which has traditionally been a Caucasian dominated field in the United States.
  4. To find instructional materials that are inclusive of the African diaspora, African influences, and African contributions to the target culture.
  5. To educate native speakers of the target language of the African contributions to their culture.
  6. To be one of few minorities on study abroad trips and international travel. Although African-Americans are in a country whose residents would be considered "minorities" in the United States, African-Americans often feel isolated as one of few African-Americans represented internationally.
  7. To be the voice of African-Americans while abroad. Frequently African-Americans are asked to explain African-American culture, identity, history, and heritage to international people. This is most prevalent when traveling to countries whose residents have had minimal direct contact with African-Americans.
  8. To overcome cultural disdains. Studies by Stevick and Schairer have proven that if one is hostile or has a negative perception of the international culture, it will be more difficult to master that language. Rivalries between African-Americans and other ethnic groups have discouraged some African-Americans from learning their languages.
  9. To be taken seriously as a world language educator. Students typically have not been taught world languages by African-Americans. This is one explanation for their reluctance to accept African-American linguists as competent scholars.

You may share other experiences and challenges here.

AAL Members Speak

  1. How do you feel as an African-American in the field of world languages?---Lonely! I do not meet many African-Americans who are bilingual. When I do meet others, I usually find women. Other countries (such as Cuba or D.R.) have so much African influence in their language that I would think many African-Americans might take more of an interest in learning Spanish, for example. Quincy Jenkins, IL
  2. I am a pioneer. I use Kiswahili to attack the idea that we have no identity beyond these shores. Pete Mhunzi, CA
  3. "African-Americans have an advantage. From antiquity our culture has been one that has emphasized keen listening as well as skillful imitation. For this reason, hearing & imitating the sounds of other languages has been accomplished with relative ease." Camellia Cuthrell, NC
  4. "People of African descent speak all major dominant European languages due to slavery & colonization. It is to the advantage of African-Americans not to see themselves as predominant speakers of English. Black people all over the world speak English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, German and any other language of the colonizers. Besides, look at the variety of languages alone spoken in Africa. People there are multilingual!" Frances Mecartty-Dunlap, NJ
  5. "Tenacity is key. A student should not let money be an object when it comes to studying abroad, which is a wonderful & much needed experience. Do the research on optional language schools & Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships! I'm a witness that the money is out there, but you must seek it out & not be discouraged when you do not get it the first time. Try again." Andranique Ellis, AR
  6. "Throughout my college years, I have been the only Black American in all of my classes. I would like to see more people of all races learning a world language as well as a different culture. I believe this will better promote cross cultural understanding." Aurelia McNeil, MI
  7. "I encourage all African-Americans that I can to study a language. By joining OAAL perhaps I can help in a more organized way in the future." Dr. Bobby Vaughn, CA
  8. "My advice would be to take advantage of learning another language, it will encourage you to understand a different culture or pursue a career outside of the United States." Ashira Murphy, CA
  9. "I would admonish African-Americans to take a chance and explore the world and its many cultures and languages. It is important for African-Americans to make themselves as marketable and as knowledgeable as possible." Tamara Hughes, NC
  10. "Like any profession, African-Americans must stay ahead of the expectations for their profession." Lynnette Johnson, IN
  11. [To promote world languages amongst African-Americans one must] "promote curiosity and investigation of the Diaspora and its ties to/ implications for world language study." Dr. Lee Wilberschied, OH
  12. "If African-Americans were to see more African-American bilinguals, it would encourage them to explore different languages too. I try to encourage African-American young adults to travel and to learn a second language. It's just one more thing that will put them a step above the rest." Brenee McDole, CA
  13. "I want to communicate the advantage of being bilingual to the African-American community as a marketable skill. Many black students do not really understand what speaking another language can do for them professionally, even if they don't major in a foreign language." Faith Chiwawana, OH
  14. "Attack the language. You have to really want it and if it's something you desire, work hard at learning it. Familiarize yourself with the language and don't get discouraged. Practice and be patient!" Brandon Street, D.C.
  15. "When I speak to other African-American students, I encourage them to take their language learning experience seriously. When you allow other languages in, you allow other people into your space who normally would not gain access due to language barriers." Lisa Frank, NJ
  16. "Rise above stereotypes. They can inhibit you from achieving your goal of becoming fluent in another language." Jahmia Scott, MD
  17. Opening up oneself to new ideas, culture and languages can help one become more understanding of different types of people, cultures and ideas. Katherine Ledbetter, CA