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‘Sydney harbour water has just the right amount of salt for soup’ : Englishes in fictionalized biographical writing
conference contributionposted on 2017-12-06, 00:00 authored by Alison Owens, Donna BrienDonna Brien
Sorry of my English,’ begins Xiaolu Guo’s multi-award winning novel, 'A Concise English-Chinese Dictionary for Lovers' (2007), which follows the central character’s year in London learning English and falling in love. Countless submissions for assessment by the over 228,000 international students currently studying at Australian universities (AEI 2013) end with a similar apology. While readers and critics embraced Guo’s ‘broken’ English in this fiction as ‘translational writing’ (Gilmour 2012), many international students attract criticism for their efforts to communicate in English. This is compounded by a tendency to stereotype them as uncritical, rote and passive-learners who are linguistically unprepared for their study. Arguing against this tide, this article explores the notion of multiple Englishes in a project where the creative use of the English language in writing fictionalized but ultimately autobiographical accounts of international students’ Australian experience was encouraged rather than repressed. Their production, moreover, demonstrates how Learners of English as an Alternative Language have the capacity to express important insights that are particularly relevant to cultural identity, transformation and understanding in a compelling and often poetic way today.