After reading both articles, it's clear that the word literacy cannot be defined or bound by a few words. It's framed, re-framed, and then framed again. There are so many factors that come into play when trying to define such a word, and these articles showed two different cases of literacy. In the Mazak article, a man named Chucho took a simple approach to "literacy" in terms of his relationship with writing/speaking/reading English. He writes in English only when absolutely necessary, speaks in it only when speaking with those who don't speak Spanish, and only reads it to acquire specific knowledge. He used this approach to determine what sort of seed to buy, and also as a language broker.
In the Molosiwa article, when it was asked what literacy meant- participants replied with "the ability to read with understanding and to apply information read to the reader's situation, not just the technical aspects of decoding and encoding print"... literacy was also associated with making meaning out of written material, reading and writing comprehensively and being able to successfully communicate one's thoughts. This of course, was geared towards the dominance that the English language imposes in Botswana. Kids were actually punished in school for speaking in languages other than English. It was clear that English literacy was beyond decoding words from printed texts.
Reading both of these articles reminded me of the importance of English literacy in our international students, specifically a small group from Kuwait who are preparing for Dental School. It's such an honor to be able to work with these students, as they are among the brightest from Kuwait's school system and have been granted a government scholarship to come to the United States to study Dentistry. At the end of their Junior year, I have a chance to interview each student and following the interview, I write a letter of support to the Dental School in which they are applying. MOST of the students are proficient enough in English to get through courses, but aren't great speakers. They've learned enough to decode class materials, but not quite enough to confidently carry out social conversation. They sometimes also find trouble while attempting to gain experience in the Richmond community- i.e. working in clinics, dental offices, etc. as a language and cultural barrier exists. This barrier has certainly helped me become sensitive to ESL learners as I've developed a different approach to interviewing, as compared to interviewing traditional dental applicants. Beyond the interviewing, I'd like to get back to the focus of these two articles, and that is the "imperialism" of the English language.
These students from Kuwait are here for one simple reason. Kuwait needs Dentists, and these selected students are more than willing to learn in America and then travel back to Kuwait, to provide public health care to those in need. Learning English for decoding purposes in undergrad is fine, and it has worked up to this point as we are talking 3.8/3.9 GPA's for these selected students! However, my concern is that the decoding method will need to evolve into an understanding of the English language that allows them to interact with patients throughout their time in Dental School, an understanding that I'm not sure they expected. Nonetheless, I'm particularly proud of this specific group of students, who have left their homeland in search of an academic path that will lead to them one day returning and bringing modern techniques back with them to provide the care their community needs. Immersing oneself in another culture (especially jumping in around 18 years old with no previous background in American Culture other than what is portrayed through literacies in Kuwait) is admirable, and I hope to continue to see these students succeed.