World Cinema Spotlight: Made in Bangladesh (reviewed by Martin Lachev)

Title: Made in Bangladesh

Director: Rubaiyat Hossain

Released: 2020

Country: Bangladesh

Language: Bengali

English Subtitles: Y

Closed Captioning: Y

Streaming/Available on: Amazon Prime and YouTube

Made in Bangladesh is a Bangladeshi drama that continues director Rubaiyat Hossain’s focus on social realism in her filmography. The film incorporates strong emphasis on setting and composition to present a realistic overview of the struggles and injustices faced by female workers in Bangladesh’s garment industry. By revealing the status quo for Bangladeshi garment factory workers, Hossain critiques unfettered capitalism and demonstrates its impact on the urban working class. Furthermore, the film’s focus on the perspective of impoverished female characters fighting for their rights challenges the male-centric narratives prevalent in Bangladeshi society and exposes how capitalism and patriarchy amplify each other in modern Bangladesh.

            The film focuses on Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu), a young woman employed in Dhaka’s garment industry and her fight to establish a union at her factory. After narrowly escaping death in a factory fire, Shimu is interviewed by Nasima (Shahana Goswami), a social worker who introduces her to workers’ rights and unions. Through careful planning with Nasima and conversations with fellow workers, Shimu discreetly builds enough support to present a petition to form a union at her factory to the Ministry of Labor. Along the way, Shimu and her comrades face many threats and injustices at the hands of their bosses. Furthermore, her campaign engenders conflict with her husband, who urges Shimu to leave her job. As tensions at her factory and home reach a breaking point, Shimu must choose between acquiescing to her bosses’ demands to cease organizing the union or giving up her old life to follow her principles.

            Hossain’s powerful cinematographic choices highlight the topics she desires to bring to the audience’s attention. Serious issues in Bangladeshi society are presented to the audience through an emphasis on social realism, which manifests as an aesthetic focus on poverty throughout the film. From the opening scene, viewers are confronted with the harsh reality of life in Dhaka’s urban slums. Hossain communicates the squalor of the slum where Shimu lives through long tracking shots of her walking along dirty streets or through fumigation clouds. Similarly, through extended shots of mundane occurrences like sewing garments at the factory, the film communicates the ennui and hopelessness of poverty. Mise-en-scène is utilized heavily to this effect, as can be seen later in the film when Shimu visits the Ministry of Labor to submit paperwork for the union. The office is filled with mountains of yellowing documents that Shimu faces as she asks how long the process will take, providing tangible evidence of the obstacles the fledgling union is facing. Thus, Hossain’s stylistic focus on setting and composition provides specific visual motifs that the audience can associate with the film’s major themes.

The association of Shimu’s fight for the union with her struggle for personal freedom continues Hossain’s interest in realistic movies that center female perspectives. An example of this is her award-winning film Under Construction (Bangladesh, 2015), a narrative about a middle-class woman struggling to discover herself amid the bustle of urban Bangladesh. In the film, the protagonist encounters liberation through writing a play, much like Shimu finds her voice by creating a union. Another similarity is that the play in Under Construction is set in a garment factory, providing further evidence of Hossain’s focus on the intersection of labor exploitation and womanhood. Hossain’s treatment of the latter topic centers around the idea of marriage as a hindrance to women’s freedom. This is seen when Shimu’s husband forces her to wear a hijab and locks her in to prevent her from working, and explicitly stated when Shimu tells Nasima, “we are women. We’re screwed if we’re married and screwed if we aren’t.”

Made in Bangladesh also exposes the impact of unregulated capitalism on the working class. The limitless control Shimu’s male bosses have over the female workers shows how Bangladesh’s entrenched patriarchy augments the working poor’s struggle; in the words of Shimu’s friend, “there’s no law for the poor.” Two major settings in the film, the factory and Shimu’s home, are artfully interwoven to imply that capitalism and patriarchy are inextricably intertwined. The film’s response to this predicament is to underscore the power of the collective. Indeed, the first semblance of change in the factory occurs when all the women demand to keep the fans on while they sleep there. However, in keeping with her emphasis on social realism, Hossain refuses to oversimplify the film’s narrative into a victory of good over evil, leaving the union’s fate unknown as the movie ends.

            Hossain’s Made in Bangladesh is a compelling story from the often-overlooked perspective of working women in one of the world’s poorest countries. In keeping with her oeuvre’s emphasis on social realism, the film employs setting and composition to present its viewers with a sobering look into garment factory workers’ lives and explore how this demographic is affected by the intertwined issues of worker exploitation and patriarchal oppression.

Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu) walks through a cloud of fumigant on the way home from work.

Figure 1: Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu) walks through a cloud of fumigant on the way home from work.

Shimu sits opposite a pile of aging paperwork as she submits her union application.

Figure 2: Shimu sits opposite a pile of aging paperwork as she submits her union application.

World Cinema Spotlight Travelers and Magicians (reviewed by Avery Hall)

Title: Travelers and Magicians

Director: Khyentse Norbu

Released: 2004

Country: Bhutan

Language: Dzonghka

English Subtitles: Y

Closed Captioning: Y

Streaming/Available on: Apple TV

A story where the journey is far more important than the destination, Travelers and Magicians (Bhutan, Khyentse Norbu, 2003) questions whether the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence through a scenic and thought-provoking road film. As the narrative progresses, it both warns of the dangers of a dreamland while also demonstrating the aspects of Bhutan that make the country so unique.

The film opens with Dondup (Tshewang Dendup), a government official in a small Bhutanese village. His dissatisfaction with his life in Bhutan has driven him to travel to America, and he restlessly awaits a letter that will contain his accommodations to leave. After receiving it he leaves his village, impatiently quitting his job for what he believes will be a better opportunity in a new country. Along the way he is stopped and presented with a going away gift, and in the next shot throws it off a bridge – symbolizing his desire to completely rid himself of his old life. Delayed, he misses the bus and resigns himself to hitchhiking. When waiting for someone to pick him up, he is joined by an apple seller and a monk. The monk (Sonam Kinga) is told of Dondup’s desire to go “the land of [his] dreams” in America, and in hearing this quickly warns him of dreamlands. The monk then begins a story that lasts throughout the movie about Tashi (Lhakpa Dorji), a young man who hallucinates a magical land where he encounters an old man (Gomchen Penjore) and his much younger wife Deki (Deki Yangzom). This parallel story continues on throughout the movie, even as Dondup begins to meet more people through his travels, including a beautiful 19-year-old girl, Sonam (Sonam Lhamo).

The embedded narrative Norbu employs throughout the film skillfully ties together the two plots in an inventive and engaging way. Some of the shots between the two narratives correspond; the film focuses on the old man’s eyes right before it transitions to the eyes of a picture in a cave where Dondrop and his acquaintances are staying.

Figure 1: The old man in the monk’s story

Figure 2: The art on the wall of the cave

Like the parallel shots, the stories also show many similarities. Both narratives tell of a journey that has a strong impact on the main subject, and the clever transitions that reflect the parallels between the two stories make the overall plot far more compelling and captivating.

While the dual narrative helps capture and hold the viewer’s attention, the film also comes with a strong message of appreciating what you have and taking caution with the idea of a dreamland – particularly one you’ve never been to. In the shot where Dondrop is first introduced, everything from his T-shirt to his music points to his obsession with America. In the story the monk tells, Tashi also finds himself dissatisfied with his current life and desiring something more than the situation he finds himself in. Both characters must grapple with the question of whether or not life is truly better in their dreamland, or if this dreamland even exists outside of their own head. The film explores this question in a way that leaves the viewer pondering the same poignant questions as the characters from both stories.

Bhutan has stood out internationally because of its relatively untouched beauty and traditional values, both of which are reflected in the film. Long shots of natural Bhutanese landscapes are interposed throughout; the viewer is able to enjoy the enticing scenery. Travelers and Magicians was shot entirely in Bhutan, and is highly unique in that regard, so the audience gets a window into authentic and striking views of the country. Along with the scenery, both of the women in the film reflect on the traditional values of Bhutan, allowing a more complete study into not only what the country looks like, but also what values they hold in high regard. The young girl travels with her father, taking care of him. Deki is hidden away from the world and only interacts with her husband before connecting with Tashi. The young girl displays the values Bhutanese people consider important – such as a sense of community and care for those in your family. Deki represents the isolationism Bhutan has encouraged for many years. Norbu is also able to use the monk in the story to showcase his unique knowledge and perspective as a Buddhist monk. From the characters to the scenery, the film acquaints the viewer with Bhutan in an innovative way.

Travelers and Magicians is an intriguing and enchanting movie that combines a captivating embedded narrative technique with picturesque shots that not only inspires a moral lesson in the audience but also instructs about Bhutan. Viewers are left with deep unanswered questions that inspire reflection, and newfound knowledge about the distinctive and isolated country of Bhutan.

New Submission Deadline! Get Your Work in by April 10, 2022

You might not think of yourself as a creative person, but we are all creative in different ways. Here at RAMBLE we offer a chance for our creative Georgia Tech students from around the globe to submit and publish their poems, their memoirs, their photos, and all sorts of other creative artifacts. If you meet our eligibility criteria for submitting (see below), then this might be the publishing opportunity that you have been waiting for!

RAMBLE seeks to publish original, unpublished creative work (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and much more) produced by multilingual and international undergraduate and graduate students at Georgia Tech who meet one or more of the following eligibility criteria:

    • you are learning English as a second or other language
    • your first language is a postcolonial variety of English (as an example, if you come from Singapore and spoke a variety of Singapore-English growing up)
    • you come from a bilingual/multilingual home situation

If you believe you meet our criteria for eligibility, but are not certain, just email us and we can let you know. If you would like to submit to RAMBLE, please feel free to submit work for review by sending it to Jeff Howard at

Before submitting, please read our Submissions and FAQ pages for more information on what we are looking to publish. We also invite you to read an issue of the magazine so you can get a sense of the kinds of pieces we publish. We are not a paying market, but we are always excited to review and potentially publish new and interesting work by our students.

Some Relevant Publishing Opportunities


These postings originally appeared on the University of Pennsylvania website for CFPs.

Indiana English : Journal Submissions
deadline for submissions: 
December 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Indiana English (supported by the Indiana College English Association)
contact email: 

 Indiana English is a competitive, peer-reviewed academic journal where faculty-scholars and graduate students alike can publish literary criticism, creative works, pedagogical scholarship, or other work in their fields. The journal is published online, and is open access. Indiana English encourages submissions on the role of English studies in the Midwest but will consider submissions on any topic related to English literature and criticism, linguistics, or pedagogy. We also publish original creative work (fiction, poetry, literary non-fiction, and photography).

Submission Instructions:
+ Scholarly articles should be between 4,000-10,000 words, include an abstract of 300 words, and follow MLA style formatting.
+ Book Reviews should not exceed 1500 words; we recommend inquiring about a book’s appropriateness for review before sending a full review.
+ Poetry should be no more than 3 poems, up to 5 pages. Please submit all your poems in one document. Please indicate if poems are meant to be considered together, or may be considered individually.
+ Short Stories and Creative Nonfiction should be between 2500-5000 words.

Meridian Literary Journal
deadline for submissions: 
June 5, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Multimeans Media International, Research Unit
contact email: 

Meridian Literary Journal is currently accepting new submissions. The journal publishes poems, short stories and scholarly articles.

Meridian Literary Journal aims to be a truly literary platform fulfilling the primary aim of Literature to entertain through the publication of original poetry and short fictions.  It seeks also to support scholars share their research with the global academic community by publishing research and review articles on any area of Literary Studies. 

The journal welcomes all kinds of poems, short stories and research articles on any topic especially, works that challenge the imagination, thrill, comfort, elicit real emotional connection and stimulate. We are interested in short fictions that offer an insight into the human condition. Submission is currently open.

Fantasy Literature: A Companion
deadline for submissions: 
June 1, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Editor Dr. Charul (“Chuckie”) Palmer-Patel
contact email: 

While fantasy fiction has become incredibly popular and prolific in these last few decades, the appeal of fantastical literature dates back to antiquity, as mythologies, legends, and encounters with the supernatural have formed a large part of narrative traditions in every culture and language. This companion seeks to update and address underexamined areas of fantasy fiction, with the chief aim to provide a global introduction to English-language and English-translation fantasy fiction. This collection will focus on the contemporary written word (narrative prose) produced in late 20th and early 21st century. However, given the range and scope of fantasy (poetry, paintings, sculptures, plays, ballets, operas, films, television shows, graphic novels, animation, video games, tabletop games, etc), the editor will consider proposals which incorporate other mediums as comparisons, adaptations, or lineages, so long as the focus on the written word is apparent.

Ecopedagogies and Hispanic Studies: Knowledge and Skills for the Anthropocene
deadline for submissions: 
January 28, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Revista de ALCES XXI. Journal of Contemporary Spanish Literature and Film


While traditional pedagogies have contributed to what Rob Nixon has called the two defining crises of the 21st century: catastrophic climate change and widening global disparity, the emergence of critical pedagogies and environmental humanities has brought new ways for curricular innovation. 

Conventional pedagogies–aimed at producing competitive entrepreneurs, highly trained specialists and consumers and predicated upon the “learned ignorance” (Prádanos) of ecological limits to growth–are severely limited in providing students with the skills needed to confront today’s unprecedented social and ecological challenges. Proponents of ecopedagogy call for greater awareness of complex networks of human, nonhuman and more-than-human connection, the “unlearning” of basic assumptions of growth-oriented society (Prádanos), collective and collaborative thinking, inquiry that transcends disciplinary boundaries and an embodied attentiveness to the places and communities we inhabit.

CFP: Routledge Companion to Cultural Texts and the Nation
deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Sheera Talpaz / Oberlin College
contact email: 

We invite prospective contributions for the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Cultural Texts and the Nation, an exciting new addition to the growing, dynamic book series

Despite robust discourse on globalization and a perhaps momentary preoccupation with post-nationalism toward the end of the 20th century, nation and nationalism continue their tenacious hold on our imaginations—a hold that, given the state of global politics, surely deserves further and renewed explanation, unpacking, and critique. 

This project thus seeks to trace historical discussions on nation and nationhood, recovering canonical debates and critiques from the 18th-20th c. that establish the significance of the category and its interplay with cultural production. It will then turn to the nation’s continued significance and future possibilities—as figuration and reality; as source of empowerment and exclusion; as object critique and as utopian horizon, etc.—within relevant subject areas and fields. These include but are not limited to the following:

-World literature

-Poetry and poetics

-Visual and performing arts

-Archives and material culture

-Media studies

-LGBTQ+ and gender studies

-Digital humanities

-Ecopoetics and ecocriticism

-Translation studies


-Trauma and memory studies

-Affect theory

-Disability studies

Special Issue “World Mythology and Ecocriticism: Remembering Nature as a Sacred Teacher”
deadline for submissions: 
June 30, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Rachel McCoppin – Humanities Journal
contact email: 

Special Issue “World Mythology and Ecocriticism: Remembering Nature as a Sacred Teacher”

A special issue of Humanities.

This Special Issue focuses specifically on the role that nature plays within world mythology. The environment undoubtedly played a crucial role in developing the mythological narratives of many cultures throughout the globe. Many cultures regarded nature as sacred, envisioning aspects of the environment, being directly related to divine beings, sacred forces, teachers, etc. Often, cultures imagined that the representatives of nature needed to be appeased in order to gain harmony with their environments. Many cultures also used their mythology to connect nature to the lives of human beings—connecting the cycle of the seasons to the life cycle of humans for instance. Identifying humans as inextricably connected with the natural world allowed a myriad of cultures to find meaning in their own lives, as nature in myth was often portrayed as a teacher, guide, source of inspiration, etc., for the characters within the myth, as well as the audiences of the myth. As civilizations grew and developed, often the mythological references to the importance of nature as something sacred diminished, but some mythic texts still imparted messages that strove to maintain reverence for the environment. Given the contemporary environmental crisis, it is important to look back on the texts that were once sacred to a people, in order to remember the great value of finding our own reverence in the natural world.

This Special Issue is particularly interested in receiving articles that discuss global mythological texts from an ecocritical lens. Articles that examine myths that connect natural occurrences to the lives of humans—looking at age from the standpoint of seasonal change, accepting death as a natural occurrence, etc., are especially desirable. Additionally, texts that present nature as a divine being, sacred embodiment, source of inspiration, source of contention, etc., are welcomed. Articles that focus on global creation myths, myths that present nature as divine, myths of humans contending with nature, either through marriage to a natural element, battling with a natural representative, or even becoming a natural element, are all highly desirable. Additionally, myths that mark a time of transition of values in the portrayal of the environment, such as the progression from hunter/gatherer methods to agricultural methods, or the destruction of the environment as technology advanced, are desired. Finally, myths that focus upon the heroic journey, casting the protagonist as a personification of nature, or showing the protagonist as failing or succeeding upon his or her quest because of nature, are especially sought after. This Special Issue is interested in mythic texts from around the world, from any era.

Call for Proposals: Edited Collection on Using Instructor Feedback to Promote Equity and Linguistic Justice in the Writing Classroom
deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Kelly Blewett / Indiana University East and Justine Post / Ohio Northern University

Reconceptualizing Response: Using Instructor Feedback to Promote Equity and Linguistic Justice in the Writing Classroom

500-word proposals with 50-word bios due January 15, 2022

We are nearly 50 years out from the publication of Students’ Rights to Their Own Language, a polemic that provided a compass for our field, one that has been consistently debated and arguably, even more depressingly, ignored (see Perryman-Clark, Kirkland, and Jackson; we are also thinking of Vershawn Young’s 2021 CCCC keynote address which argued that our field’s lack of attention to the SRTOL is a moral failure). At this key moment in our field’s advancement, we rightfully question how education can be more equitable, how the hidden and corrosive politics of language can be exposed and reconsidered in the writing classroom, and how we, as teachers of writing, can engage students in conversations about their work that will lead to engagement, reflection, and growth. This is a moment for all of us to think about how our practices align with or fail to address linguistic justice. 

In this context, we invite contributors to reconsider the bedrock literature regarding response to student writing–research which flourished in the ‘80s and ‘90s and generated many of the commenting practices that instructors use today. From minimal marking to audio feedback, scholars like Chris Anson, Richard Haswell, Lil Brannon and C. H. Knoblauch, Nancy Sommers, Richard Straub and Ronald Lunsford, and Russell Sprinkle investigated response in a series of studies and essays that firmly embraced students’ right to maintain control over their purposesfor writing but overlooked the impact students’ identities have on their sense of ownership and authority when writing. Though this research was criticized almost as soon as it appeared for its acontextuality and seeming incongruity–mismatched findings regarding students’ preferences for critical feedback, disagreement regarding whether questions were dialogic or passive-aggressive, and more–the best practices that emerged from these studies have barely changed in the intervening decades.


Announcement: Free Poetry Workshop with Chen Chen (Sponsored by Poetry@Tech)

We are reposting this announcement we just received from Travis Denton, the Associate Director of Poetry@Tech and editor of Terminus Magazine, regarding a poetry workshop being offered by award-winning poet Chen Chen. It sounds like an amazing opportunity, and it just so happens to be free and open to the public.

Hi Everyone—

Registration is now open for a FREE virtual generative poetry workshop with CHEN CHEN on Saturday, October 2, 2021 from 2-5pm from Poetry@Tech. We’re excited to offer this unique opportunity to spend an afternoon writing with CHEN CHEN. Thanks to the generous support of the Poetry Foundation for making this event possible.

Here’s more about the workshop:


In this generative workshop we’ll discuss how contemporary immigrant and refugee poets use various kinds of repetition and variation to articulate their lived experiences. Between talking about model poems by Tarfia Faizullah, Li-Young Lee, Aracelis Girmay, and others, we’ll try to use repetition and variation in our own ways. We’ll play and fail and try again. We’ll leap.

For more information about the workshop or to register via our quick online registration form, click on

The workshop is free, and open to the public. Register soon, as space may be limited. If you have any questions or just want to be in touch, I’d love to hear from you. See you in workshop on October 2.

Only Good Things Always,

Travis Denton


Editor, Terminus Magazine


Submit to RAMBLE Magazine!

You might not think of yourself as a creative person, but we are all creative in different ways. Here at RAMBLE we offer a chance for our creative Georgia Tech students from around the globe to submit and publish their poems, their memoirs, their photos, and all sorts of other creative artifacts. If you meet our eligibility criteria for submitting (see below), then this might be the publishing opportunity that you have been waiting for!

A submissions post with a pink background and black border with a silhouette of a black city skyline.

RAMBLE seeks to publish original, unpublished creative work (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and much more) produced by multilingual and international undergraduate and graduate students at Georgia Tech who meet one or more of the following eligibility criteria:

    • you are learning English as a second or other language
    • your first language is a postcolonial variety of English (as an example, if you come from Singapore and spoke a variety of Singapore-English growing up)
    • you come from a bilingual/multilingual home situation

If you believe you meet our criteria for eligibility, but are not certain, just email us and we can let you know. If you would like to submit to RAMBLE, please feel free to submit work for review by sending it to Jeff Howard at

Before submitting, please read our Submissions and FAQ pages for more information on what we are looking to publish. We also invite you to read an issue of the magazine so you can get a sense of the kinds of pieces we publish. We are not a paying market, but we are always excited to review and potentially publish new and interesting work by our students.

What I Did with My Summer Vacation, and Why I’m Not Embarrassed

It’s a new semester, and the World Englishes Committee is back in full swing. We are excited to get back to our usual business with projects and events and more!

A shot from Luis Buñuel’s 1930 French film L’Age d’Or (“The Golden Age“).

To kick off this academic year, I wanted to share one of the ways I spent my summer. Since I was not blogging for this site, I must have been doing something else that was productive, right? Well, for some people, watching a lot of international films may not exactly be perceived as productive, but for me, stuck at home much of the time, folding a lot of laundry during the evening and so on, it made my summer pass in ways that were enlightening and satisfying in ways that writing articles (I did that too, all right?) is not. Over and over, I was finding cinematic treasures that presented beautiful cinematography and compelling story-telling that made me laugh, cry, and wonder and ultimately left me in awe and admiration. [Note: By the way, one of the goals I made at the beginning of summer was to not watch a single movie in English, and I did pretty well as the only English-speaking films I ended up watching were The French Connection (1971) and Sharknado (2013).]

So, here is what I am going to do: I am going to share an alphabetical list of international films I have watched since the Spring 2021 Semester ended. I will link to reviews and articles about each one, but I won’t offer any commentary of my own since the list is quite long. Not every film left the same enduring impression on me, but taken overall the experience of spending my summer watching these films was memorable and valuable. I feel that I was indeed very productive.

To cap this post off, I would like to add that BBC Culture conducted a project in which they asked 209 critics from 43 countries about what they considered the greatest examples of international cinema. As a result, BBC Culture eventually generated a top-100 list, which I am using and will continue to use to guide my own forays into international film-watching. I would encourage you to do the same. Enjoy!

~Jeff Howard

Work Cited

“L’Age d’Or.” IMDb, n.d. Image.

Looking Backward: The 2020-21 Academic Year

For the World Englishes Committee, this academic year has been a strange one, as it has been for pretty much everyone we know. Yet, in spite of the circumstances of a time in which it is easy to feel like we are hunkering down and waiting for a storm to pass, our committee has continued to be as active as ever in its mission of serving and advocating for the interests of multilingual and international students and supporting their instructors. As a result of the work accomplished by our committee chair, Kendra Slayton, as well as committee members Alok Amatya, Anu Thapa, Eric Lewis, and me (Jeff Howard), the World Englishes Committee has managed to advance multiple projects, both online and on the Georgia Tech campus. The following is a summary of what we have accomplished this year:

a) The World Englishes Committee has helped to organize and sponsor six virtual Conversation Hour events in partnership with the Naugle CommLab and the Georgia Tech International Ambassador program (GTIA). Intended for students who want to practice their conversational English in a friendly and supportive environment, these events were attended by numerous undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled at Georgia Tech.

b) Members of the committee have also published interviews with scholars and specialists whose research and teaching relate closely to what this site is all about. These interviews include Dr. Robert Griffin (interviewed by Kendra Slayton) and Dr. Ahmar Mahboob (interviewed by me). 

c) Multiple members of our committee–Alok Amatya, Kendra Slayton, and me–helped compose the Writing and Communication Program’s application for the 2020 Georgia Tech Unit Diversity Champion Award, which the program received in Fall 2020.

d) In the Spring 2021 Semester, the committee began a recurring segment on our blog called World Cinema Spotlights. This segment was inspired by film scholar Anu Thapa, and we have published spotlights of the Bollywood film 3 Idiots (written by Alok Amatya and me) and the animated Japanese film The Tale of Princess Kaguya (written by Eric Lewis and Kendra Slayton). We plan to continue publishing such spotlights for the foreseeable future.

e) Finally, our capstone of the year was the publication of the second issue of RAMBLE, our committee’s literary magazine. In this year’s issue, we were honored to publish multimodal creative work composed by a number of multilingual and international graduate and undergraduate Georgia Tech students. The magazine was even more robust than last year’s issue, and we are excited to witness and facilitate this growth. RAMBLE, issue 1, was also featured in the Academic Program Review self-study of Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication as evidence of the quality of work our students are doing, while also demonstrating one of the multiple ways in which our school is seeking to support the work of diversity on our campus.

After what has been an extraordinarily productive and unique academic year, I must announce that our committee will be taking a break from the blog for the summer, but we will return in September, probably with some new faces and of course new ideas. We would also like you to know (if you don’t already) that our committee has begun developing our social media presence, so please feel free to follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @GTworldengs. Thank you for reading and have a great summer!

“Polygluttony” at Duolingo’s Language Buffet


When my mother-in-law comes to visit, once a day she pulls her phone out and says something like, “Time for Spanish!” Using the Duolingo app, she has been learning and practicing Spanish for some time. She has even built up a couple of impressive consecutive-days streaks numbering in the hundreds (meaning consecutive days meeting her specific daily language goals on Duolingo). When I acquired a smartphone, I too downloaded the Duolingo app because I wanted to begin studying German again. I received a minor in German in 2010 when I graduated with my B.A., but it has been a long while since I studied the language in a structured way.

I wanted to test out my first impression of Duolingo (the one I formed unfairly, of course before ever trying it out) as a language learning buffet by taking lessons in each of the languages it offers. This article is a reflection on my perceptions of the Duolingo app and my user-experience, as well as an evaluation of Duolingo’s functionality as a tool for language learning. Each day for just over a month I downloaded a different course and tried it out, journaling my impressions along the way. With some, I already had a level of proficiency, so I took the diagnostic test to see where Duolingo thought I was. With others, I knew absolutely nothing, so I started from square zero, also known as the “New to __________?” button. I am not seeking fluency in any of these languages because frankly I see that as an impossible goal to achieve in Duolingo anyway, even if I were to focus solely on a single course. It was more of a fun way to experience what it is like to be “Hgf” (username) on my Duolingo leader board, who has downloaded the Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, and French courses. I am simply doing what that learner has done and taking it to an extreme.

Note: The slides embedded throughout this article are an account of my experiment taking lessons in a different language every day for just over a month. If you just read the journal, the slides will auto-advance. If you finish reading a slide before it advances, use the controls in the taskbar at the bottom of the frame to skip ahead.


Using Duolingo, language learners, like my mother-in-law, can select any of a range of “standard,” endangered, or even constructed languages to study:

































High Valyrian

According to its website, Duolingo collects data from language learners to discover how they learn language best. The Duolingo team claims, “With more than 300 million learners, Duolingo has the world’s largest collection of language-learning data at its fingertips. This allows us to build unique systems and uncover new insights about the nature of language and learning” (“Research”). Duolingo makes multiple publications about their approach to second-language learning on their website, as well as a favorable study conducted by researchers from the University of South Carolina and the City University of New York.

Every large-scale language-learning program requires a theoretical framework. The Duolingo system reflects at least in part the ideas of Stephen Krashen, whose input hypothesis, despite having received some criticism, has influenced many language learning programs in the U.S. today. To scaffold language-learning, Duolingo provides linguistic input in “the Four Skills”: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Comprehensible input is language input around the learner’s proficiency level but involves what Krashen calls “i + 1” (Ellis 47). The phrase i + 1 refers to input that introduces new linguistic principles that students are primed to receive. I like to think of i + 1 in terms of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

  • “This porridge is too hot!” = i + 2-∞, meaning input that is so far beyond the learner’s proficiency level that it is essentially incomprehensible.
  • “This porridge is too cold!” = i (or i + 0, if you prefer), meaning input consisting only of what a learner already knows. These principles might be good to practice, but they also might become boring, and without the introduction of new material might lead to stagnation.
  • “This porridge is just right!” = i + 1, meaning comprehensible input or input that merges new content with enough known content that students can progress in the target language. Comprehensible input in the right kind of environment leads to language acquisition and the production of comprehensible output (output in the target language that makes sense to others) (Krashen 409).

The app approximates a learner’s proficiency level or i at the beginning of each course by providing a diagnostic test. If the learner already has some proficiency of which they are aware, they can click the button marked “Already Know Some __________? Try this Placement Test.” If not, the learner can click the “New to __________?” button and begin learning some basic vocabulary with the help of cues such as capital letters or even images. Those basic terms become keys to help students decipher input in the target language.

Trying the App

In my first lesson in Welsh, of which I previously knew nothing, I was presented with Bore da as my first sample of Welsh. I also received a number of multiple-choice answers to select from. Two of the possible answers were names: “Megan” and “Morgan”; two of them were capitalized: “Good” and “Goodbye”; and two of them were not capitalized: “good” and “morning.” Logically, I eliminate “Megan” and “Morgan” right off the bat (nothing personal), mainly because of their lack of lexical usefulness. Why would I need to know their names in Welsh? The target phrase was capitalized, so I kept “Good” and “Goodbye” and discarded “good” because the capital letter makes “Good” seems more likely than “good.” Bore da is also two words, so I decide on a two-word answer in English: “Good morning.” Choosing a two-word translation in the L1 for a two-word phrase in the target language is one instance of linguistic transfer, a common strategy employed by language learners to fill in gaps in their communicative competence. In this case, I have chosen correctly, even though I still do not know which Welsh word is “Good” and which is “morning.” Also, for all I knew, “Goodbye” in Welsh is also two words.

The lesson later asks me the meaning of da and provides multiple choices that include “good,” but not “morning.” I know that had I not received the capitalization cues in that first sample, I probably would have leaned on the syntax of my L1 and answered incorrectly because Bore da would be literally translated as “morning good” in English. Scaffolding cues like capitalization or images can matter greatly in helping beginning students puzzle out their first few steps into another language. Any program needs to know where a student’s proficiency level is before it can meet them where they are and guide them beyond it. In language learning, that is the true value of i.


As a brand-new Duolingo user, I had a hard time appreciating the app as a serious tool for language learning, despite its theoretical basis in SLA theory. I perceived it as more like a buffet for language learners in which we can choose one thing or choose some of all of our favorites. We can pile our plates with Polish and Chinese and Spanish and Hawaiian and High Valyrian, if they suit us. We aspiring polyglots (or maybe “polygluttons” is a more applicable term) can cram ourselves with little bits of a lot of different things, which is perfect if we are not interested in acquiring fluency but rather knowing more about individual languages and learning a few words and key phrases in each.

Language Journal

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


As a result of my exploration of the app, my impression of Duolingo as a language buffet remains unchanged. However, I do appreciate what it is trying to do with the technological affordances it has available. The system is impressive in the way it turns language learning into a game using rewards, fake currency, leader boards to promote competition, and leagues. It promotes engagement and provides learners with structure. It gives plenty of input, fortifies grammatical and lexical knowledge, and provides plenty of opportunities to practice reading and writing, though not nearly as much as it could listening and speaking. Overall, Duolingo is certainly making good on its endeavor to make learning engaging (“Our mission is to make learning free and fun,” says the app).

The game aspect provides plenty of extrinsic motivation for learners who need an additional push to study. Learners might lean toward either extrinsic (I want to learn a language because it is cool!) or intrinsic (“I want to learn a language because it will do something for me or promises a reward!”), but most learners need both to learn a language. I want to learn languages because I am interested in languages, but there were days when I had far less of a desire to study. However, I did not want to fall into the “Demotion Zone” (which is the bottom five on my leader board) because then I would fall into a lower league. I am currently in the Sapphire League, thank you very much, and I am not going back to the Gold League. That leader board gave me the push I needed to study.

That being said, there are a number of people using the app who find the game aspect unsustainably fulfilling. After a while, the motivation derived from that part of the game can ebb away. Another aspect that Duolingo learners complain about is that some people are in it more for the game than the language, and so search for shortcuts to make more points or “XP,” as the game calls them. When the student’s focus turns away from language learning toward a secondary feature, the app becomes less successful at what it ought to be doing.

All things considered, I am not buying Duolingo’s other claim about its mission, namely, “To develop the best education in the world and make it universally available” (“Crown Levels: A Royal Redesign”). I believe they want this, and based on the number of people using the app, I would say that they are certainly reaching toward the “universal availability” objective. But it doesn’t offer the “best education” yet, and it likely never will unless we come up with a quantifiable standard to define what it means to be “best.” Like any other language program, Duolingo has limitations. No one should download and use the Duolingo app without first understanding that it is not THE WAY to learn a language because there is no such thing, as Dr. Brent Wolter pointed out in a 2019 interview (“TESOL”). That being said, Duolingo provides opportunities for prospective learners to increase their communicative competence in a target language within a low-stakes and gamified environment that can motivate learners who are motivated either intrinsically or extrinsically.

Using Duolingo as the sole source of one’s language learning will only set a learner up for disappointment if they think they can use it to achieve native-like proficiency in the “Four Skills.” Duolingo is probably best used as a language learning supplement that activates your brain during your early commute on the train as you puzzle out the difference between the Turkish words adam and erkek or the Portuguese words copo and xicara. Prospective users of this app would be well served if they would keep, as I do, a dictionary and a good grammar book about the target language on hand, and find friends to consult and converse with in that language as well.

Note: As a final note to educators, I can say that trying out the Duolingo app could be a useful experience. If you want a quick way to learn a little bit about the languages your students speak without having to commit yourself to a full-blown language course, Duolingo might be the way to go. My Georgia Tech students come from many different countries and speak languages I do not know, including Chinese, Turkish, Tamil, etc. Having tried to learn a little bit of some of those languages and felt the frustration that comes from attempting to learn a language so dissimilar from my L1, I feel greater empathy for their endeavors to learn English. In fact, any opportunity teachers or tutors can get to know the first languages of those they teach a bit better, the better off those teachers will be. I believe language, linguistics, and ESL teachers would be well-served to find some language-learning program (if not Duolingo, then something else that might be affordable and effective, if not “free and fun”). They can try out some of the lessons and see if it influences their linguistic awareness, as well as their attitudes toward the English learners in their classes.

Addendum: Since this article, Duolingo has made a few updates, one of which is especially noteworthy. In the summer of 2019, Duolingo released an Arabic for English speakers course. I made a note of the absence of such a course in my journal entry on Swahili, finding it strange that such a significant language would not be represented in the app. Duolingo has also continued to develop other language courses, including Finnish, Scottish Gaelic, and Yiddish.

Works Cited

Duolingo. “Research.” Duolingo, n.d., Accessed 25 Mar. 2019.

Ellis, Rod. Second Language Acquisition. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Krashen, Stephen. “The Input Hypothesis: An Update.” Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics (GURT) 1991: Linguistics and Language Pedagogy: The State of the Art. Georgetown University Press, 1992. Google Books, Accessed 27 Mar. 2019.

Rollinson, Joseph. “Crown Levels: A Royal Redesign.” Duolingo, 11 July 2018,

Wolter, Brent. “Dr. Brent Wolter on Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).” World Englishes, Georgia Institute of Technology, 13 Mar. 2019, Accessed 27 April 2019.

This article appeared on our site in 2019 and is now being republished here as part of a website makeover. ~ Jeff Howard

“Infinite Jest and Sesquipadalia: Reading for (Scrabble) Vocabulary”

I recently finished reading David Foster Wallace’s book Infinite Jest (1996), and I am exhausted. It seemed that every page I read on average contained some word I could not define, even using context clues. Ryan Compton estimates that “Wallace used a vocabulary of 20,584 words to write Infinite Jest.” This vast vocabulary contains jargon, archaisms, neologisms, and all-around sesquipedalia—long, polysyllabic words—that almost no one uses in daily conversations. Visualizing situations in which you might need to use some of these words itself is a chore for the imagination, unless you too are planning to write a mind-melting maximalist novel or simply want to add more ammunition to your Scrabble arsenal. “That’s cachexia for 284 points, dude!”

All language learners face the challenge of developing their vocabulary to achieve fluency. It is one thing to know where certain types of words ought to go in a sentence (syntax), but it is another to find the exact words to plug into a sentence in a conversation or other form of communication. Learners often know what they want to say in another language, but they may not know the exact word to help them say it in the target language. A lack of vocabulary often leads to a reliance on circumlocution, or using words we do know to describe the thing or concept we do not know, either as a conversational strategy or a coping mechanism.

Reading is a great way to increase vocabulary. Reading alone is not going to make anyone fluent in all four skill areas (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), but it can provide a rich source of comprehensible input. (Much of Infinite Jest does not even begin to approach what Stephen Krashen would call “i + 12,” let alone “i + 1.”)  When learners encounter unknown words in books, articles, or other publications, they can use any number of strategies to bring that word into their personal lexicon.

      • Look up the word in a dictionary and read the definition out loud
      • Use the immediate context in the passage to make sense of the word
      • Write down the word in a notebook as part of a vocabulary list and drill yourself on the word and its meaning
      • Use the word in other sentences, either written or spoken, and in other situations or contexts

Even individuals who have spoken a language for many years encounter words they do not recognize from time to time. According to a BBC article, a typical “native speaker” only knows about 15,000–20,000 word families, but English contains many more word families or “lemmas” than that. No one can be a master of all domains of linguistic usage, so someone like me with an advanced degree in English will constantly run across new words through reading different types of material. That does not mean we should shoot to hang around the average. Knowing more words than we need to use in our daily personal and professional lives can enrich our worldviews and help us make connections and associations that lead us down new avenues of thought. In short, it makes us well-rounded, broader-minded people.

In this article, I had originally intended to provide my own new vocabulary list—which is something I used to do in my university German courses—based on my own reading of Infinite Jest. The list would consist of words like Kekuléan and presbyopic and espadrilles, as well as numerous drug-related terms. However, I am still compiling that list and may be at it for the foreseeable future. Numerous other people have already compiled their own online Infinite Jest word lists, though, so I am providing links to those resources. Feel free to use them to sate your curiosity, increase your own vocabulary, or at the very least–if you’re at all like me–pad your Scrabble scores.

“Over 200 Words Collected from Infinite Jest(Rob Hoffman)

Infinite Jest Vocabulary” (Ben Zimmer)

“What David Foster Wallace Circled in His Dictionary” (Slate)

“Words from Infinite Jest (Grant Barrett)

“Infinite Jest: David Foster Wallace”

Words David Foster Wallace Circled in His Dictionary That Were Used in Infinite Jest (And Where They Appear)” (DFW Words)

This post was previously published on our site in 2020 and is appearing here as part of website makeover. ~ Jeff Howard