Career Profile: Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Consulting
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Dr. Caroline Latterman is passionate about helping others utilize language and communication to their best advantage. She has found professional expression of her MA in Intercultural Communication, and her PhD in Linguistics through her work as a language and cultural consultant in the organization she founded and for which she serves as CEO: Linguistic Consulting.
Her interest in linguistics began her freshman year at Haverford College. She signed up for a Sociolinguistics class, not having heard about “linguistics” before, and on the first day of class she realized that “linguistics” was what she had thought about and talked about since she could remember, but she had never had a name for it. Right after graduating from college she served as a Teach for America corps member. The school that she was placed in was 98-99% African American and she was struck by the way that the teachers were talking to the students about their language. She noticed that often a student would say “ain’t” and the teacher would say “ain’t ain’t a word.” But as Caroline pointed out, linguists know that when utterances convey meaning, then those utterances do function as words. “Ain’t” therefore was a word, but the teachers simply did not have the descriptive tools nor the linguistic training that would enable a conversation about deconstructing this meaning-making process, nor the ways that social power gets invisibly encoded into language, much less to talk about the meanings that might surround code-switching into Academic English. As she explained to me, “I thought there had to be a better way. A way of having this conversation that was not damaging to the student.” She felt that if she could give teachers access to more knowledge about linguistics and how language attitudes affect student achievement, they would be better equipped for the task of giving students access to Academic English while still valuing the varieties that the students spoke, along with giving them greater access to social and economic mobility.
This led her to finding the MA in Intercultural Communication at University of Pennsylvania that was a mix of linguistics and education. She knew that she didn’t know what she wanted to do professionally, but she knew how much she loved linguistics. As she articulated it at that time, “I don’t know exactly what it is that I want to do, but I know that if I have the PhD I will have the credibility to do it.” So she pursued the PhD. Her dissertation was part education, part sociolinguistics, part psycholinguistics. She worked with graduate students of education at City College of New York, focusing on their attitudes towards African American English. Her research question: “Would teaching them about AAE as a real linguistic variety (for example: the intricacies of be as an habitual marker) change their attitudes towards AAE as a variety and towards their students who spoke this variety. She was of course not teaching them how to speak AAE, but instead how to analyze it and how to give students access to Academic English in an appropriate way that still valued the variety that the students spoke for when it would be useful for them.
Her business started with her serving as a consultant to schools as part of a “teach the teachers” pilot program at a school in Harlem, which she did for a full school year afterwards. She worked with teachers to help them understand the language variety as well as the social reasons why many of their students were not acquiring it. Something like “here’s what you your students are speaking and here’s how you can help them acquire a different variety – one that many students don’t acquire for social reasons.”
To this day, she continues to feel passionate about bringing her linguistic expertise to schools since not acquiring Academic English often negatively affects student achievement. She also believes that acquiring Academic English, in addition to the variety that the students speak, is often beneficial due to many Americans’ negative attitudes towards it, and therefore towards the speakers themselves. However, after the year in which she worked for the high school in Harlem ended (due to budgetary constraints), Caroline pivoted to working with private professionals and companies. With those clients she also finds expression of her commitment to promoting greater social equity through working with international professionals who come to her saying that they are being turned down for jobs or not getting promotions that they would otherwise have gotten because of their language skills.
As we have explored in this blog, in career exploration, sometimes people find that they are drawn to a particular line of work after having been recognized for how they do something, and when they find that they keep being asked to do that thing. In Caroline’s case, she found that she kept being asked to help her clients sound “more American,” which she recognized as something to which she could bring her deep understanding of how language works, cultivated through her background as a linguist. Unfortunately, foreign-accented speech can be a social barrier in American culture because it can manifest in the speaker’s being perceived as lacking in confidence, or as being aggressive, or pushy, or untrustworthy or not likeable, owing to a widespread lack of understanding and awareness of language.
Listen to this interview she gave with the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce
read her publication about service encounters
read her dissertation
check out her website: http://www.linguistic-consulting.com/
Caroline Latterman, PhD, MSEd l Linguistic Consulting l Founder & CEO
Speak Clearly. Speak Confidently. Speak With Credibility.