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Considering Language When Creating Inclusive Learning Environments

We who work in higher education are constantly using and learning academic English, often without realizing it. We may not realize that the way we speak English is quite challenging to many students who don’t speak this way at home. College students who struggle to communicate fluently in academic English often experience lowered expectations from professors, stereotyping, and other forms of discrimination without their teachers being aware of their own biases (Lippi-Green, 2011). Research has shown that college professors tend to show positive bias toward students who sound like themselves and negative bias toward those who don’t (Godly et al., 2006). Students may absorb some of these negative messages and become reluctant to participate, which limits their ability to expand their language lexicons. In effect, our insensitivity to academic language can silence our students and limit their capacity to demonstrate their knowledge or skills. This may in turn limit a student’s view of themselves as a competent member of the community, with the same bright dreams and future ambitions as their peers.

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