Home is Not Where the Heart is: A Story about Diaspora Armenians in Lebanon.

(Photograph: P. Papalov’s photographic studio:http://www.photomuseum.org.ge/photographers/papalov/papalov_en.htm)

The year was 1946, and Diaspora Armenians from the Middle East were invited to repatriate Soviet Armenia.

My father was around 22 years of age, and he owned a building in Burj Hammoud, the Beirut suburb that was founded by the survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. He did not live in Burj Hammoud but visited once every few months to collect rent from tenants. He was living in Niha, al-Chouf, his hometown, and the trip back then consumed an entire day given the nature of the roads and unavailability of affordable methods of transportation. Continue reading


Damn My F*k*N Accent

That accent that fluctuates depending on who I am talking to. 

As I started preparing for the first course I will be teaching at Boston University, I leafed through The Norton Samplerin search for an essay to discuss on the first day of class. I came across Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” which has become a classic in its own right and an essential piece when teaching English Language Learners. My draw to Tan’s work is two-fold: Her accessible style and the fact that she is a San Jose State University graduate, just like me. 

Tan’s essay begins with her awareness of how inaccessible her English is to her mother with whom she spoke a different English at home. This sudden awareness of how she oscillates between two Englishes becomes the basis of her essay– a piece she uses to help draw the reader’s attention to the different Englishes spoken by the different speakers of English. (Englishes: A word–still underlined by any word processing program–that seeks to encompass all the variations of English spoken locally and globally) 

But this essay seems like a good, albeit outdated, springboard that sheds light on what most of us, speakers of English an additional language do: Use various Englishes with the the various people in our lives, depending on who they are and their level of proficiency in English. 

Yet this oscillation is not linear. It is layered and complex. It conjugates words from one’s native tongue following English rules. It also adapts English words to the native tongue using the native language’s grammar rules. “To vacuum” becomes “Nhawver” in Lebanese taking the word Hoover and adapting it to Arabic.


This is not it. I have experienced an additional level of oratory complexity that is outside the control of my neurodiverse (another “underlined in red” word) brain. I cannot help but shift accents depending on who I am talking to. It is not just my English that changes: From Liberian to Lebanese; English spoken with English people, British people, Americans; English spoken in the gulf; English spoken with the Lebanese who live in the Arabian gulf; Inglish; Hinglish; Spanglish. Yes, all these Englishes are part of my repertoire. A repository of expressions and usages. 

It is my accent that also changes.

I feel compelled to roll my r’s and to annunciate my t’s whenever I am talking to my mother or brother. I try to avoid hearing “lawa2et nee3a” (she twisted her jaw) “to speak to us,” or “t2amraket faj2a” (she turned American), so I speak like they do. I cannot but shift to Liberian English when talking to my sisters. For example, I begin every sentence with “Ah seh” and end it with “ya woo.” I respond to “Ah Bee” like I respond to “3abeer” or “Abi,” and know who the caller is based on the name they use or the accent they are using before my brain registers the voice. It helps because everyone at home has the same voice, save for my brother, of course. 

Accent shifting is my coping mechanism. To avoid undesired criticism, I shift my usage and pronunciation. I use French pronunciation of words while talking with my “Frenchie” Lebanese friends because I cannot shake off the mortification I felt when one girl once corrected my pronunciation of bandana to sound like the French version of the word. “Yeeeee! She said ‘bandana’ instead of ‘bon-da-naa,'” I remember her saying. I felt ignorant and, of course, stupid by default. 

But how does my brain decide which accent to use and with whom? I guess what I am doing is somehow mirroring people’s accents.

But why?

Is it just the desire to fit in? To feel accepted? To avoid criticism? I am both fascinated and appalled by my need to avoid being criticized for my language capacities (or lack of), even at this age. Still, whenever I talk about accents in academic circles, I get this blank stare, like I have lost whatever marbles I had held on to until this age. I get ignored. My concerns get dismissed. 

It was not until this past March at the TESOL convention that I knew these concerns were valid. I attended this talk by a PhD student, Vito Miao, whose research focuses on accent and how that causes discrimination against ELL speakers. In his talk, he tackled how other ELLs view us depending on our accents; how they become more willing to learn from us if our accent resembles that of a native speaker. How we gain authority just based on how native we sound. 

I felt relieved. There is research out there that validates my concerns. But do I need research to validate my concerns? Yes. Because I need others to understand that this is an impediment. If you do not have to navigate registers, accents, or that endless repository of Englishes, then you are privileged and need to recognize that privilege. It is not only because your native language is English, but because you do not have to worry about the English spoken at home being different from that spoken at school or work. 

Miao, Y. (2022, March 22). Mitigating discrimination against accented speakers: An exploratory study [paper presentation]. TESOL 2022 Doctoral Research Forum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

Help Students Plagiarize…

The right way.

You read that correctly. Yes, I am asking you to help your students plagiarize. All that software that detects plagiarism is meaningless. You do not need it, dear writing instructor, nor should you worry about student plagiarism. Because, plagiarism is how your students learn how to write. I recognize that disgruntled huff, but before you navigate away from this page, let me explain why I am making this claim.

Imitation used to be a common practice among writers. Students were instructed to keep a notebook of copied passages from books that they had particularly enjoyed reading. The primitive technology of penning on paper appreciated text cemented writing practices as writing students inked, in cursive, passages that they wanted to commit to memory be it poetry or prose. That activity then morphed to vocabulary notebooks that students used in order to keep stock of new words they’ve learned. This genteel practice helped engrave in the brain concepts and rhetorical moves that the student could then adapt to other contexts.

Something similar is applied in music education. While learning how to perform a new piece, students are sometimes encouraged to observe how others have played that same piece. They learn through imitation how to perfect certain techniques.

Just like children acquire modeled behavior, students also learn how to write by imitating other people’s writing. In specific, it is the English language learner (ELL) who benefits the most from learning how to write by imitating other people’s writing. My research shows that science researchers who learned English as a third language (L3) improved their writing skills in their discipline by imitating how other scholars write (Ward, 2022). Many researchers who took part in the study reported copying sentences and adapting them to different contexts until they reached a point where they could write and express their ideas to their satisfaction and to that of journal editors. L3 researchers, being a lot more aware of their literacy practices than L2 researchers who picked up English as a second language at school, commented on how they acquired solid writing skills by imitating pieces of writing they enjoyed and found impactful.

Before you succumb to the cognitive dissonance you are experiencing, let me clarify that the plagiarism I am calling for is that of style, not ideas. I am not calling for a theft of thought as open and unapologetic as the plagiarism of jokes and memes (tongue-in-cheek). The brazen sharing and re-sharing of certain intellectual properties that no one wishes to cite properly for fear of taking away from the humor of it all might be acceptable in certain social media circles but not in academia. What I am calling for is the plagiarism of style and structure, elements that writing instructors warn against and label as plagiarism. However, from my interaction with science researchers over the past two years, I have come to realize that maybe, just maybe, we ought to redefine plagiarism. The current definition of plagiarism is too restrictive, especially for the adult English language learner who needs to learn by imitation. If we want linguistic justice and equity, we need to observe how ELLs develop their literacy skills and help accommodate their learning styles and techniques. We also should encourage them to move beyond imitation and develop their own voice in writing, especially in academic writing.

I am not saying we should not warn students against the vices of plagiarism; however, I suggest we integrate the imitation game into our writing classes and guide students in how to effectively write by relying on others’ writing as they develop a writing style suitable for their discipline. Let’s stop being pedantic about imitation of style in writing. Let us stick to the more important lessons: That of teaching people how to voice their ideas, how to express themselves, how to communicate, and how to do that effectively.

Ward, A. (2022). The Literacy Publishing Practices of Multilingual Lebanese Science Researchers and the Burdens and Challenges of Publishing (Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University of Pennsylvania).

Preserving One’s Literary Heritage on Wikipedia is a Lonely, Uphill Battle

Are you Notable enough to have a Wikipedia Article about you? 

Wikipedia pen and sticker (Photo by Miriam Rita Boulos)

Notability, an important feature of any Wikipedia article, is emphasized at every Wikipedia training one receives while learning how to edit and create articles on the largest encyclopedia online. 

Abir Ward with a group of students at AUB’s 1st Edit-a-thon (Photo by Miriam Rita Boulos)

I joined Wikipedia when it was first launched in 2001 under a different alias than the one I use today. However, my main work started in 2019 when I decided to make Wikipedia part of my course curriculum. Continue reading

Goodbye, My Mentor

I could not sleep last night. I kept tossing and turning until 3:00 am. When I decided to finally get up and check my phone, I learned of the passing away of Dr. Kristiaan Aercke.

At LAU’s First Annual Poetry Competition I had organized with the help of Dr. Aercke who was Chair of the English Department back then.

I met Dr. Aercke when I was sixteen years old, and he was my first mentor and biggest supporter throughout my academic career. I took six courses with him in my two semesters at LAU, and I fell in love with literature all over again because of him. I then decided to leave to California, and Dr. Aercke wrote a magnificent recommendation letter for me to submit wherever I was going. Continue reading

Teaching in the Time of Corona: How to Switch to Online Classes

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A screenshot from one of my online class sessions

When I showed no hesitation to teach online classes, a friend asked me to write a blog post about how I would transition to online teaching saying that I would be helping many who are not all that experienced with online tools and teaching. I was not all too excited about writing this at first, but I thought I need to share my experience (especially since it is a positive one) with my colleagues who seem to be anxious about navigating such seemingly treacherous waters. Continue reading

How Ellen DeGeneres Ruined it for Me

If I can wear a tuxedo to a wedding, I would not say no. I love gender-neutral clothes, and I would love to wear a shirt and tie to work. Maybe even add suspenders. A flowy skirt with the hem reaching below the knee can work too coupled with comfy leather brogues. Something right out of the 50s.

I try to wear gender-neutral clothing as much as I can, but it is not always met with approving eyes. And it all started with Ellen. Continue reading

My Experience at the BSP

For the past few days, I have been at the Bhava Spandana Program organized by the Isha Foundation in Lebanon. It is an intensive residential program in yoga and meditation, and it requires Inner Engineering as a prerequisite. In this post, I will not write about the program but rather about my experience of the program.

The program, as I mention above is intensive, and it is also intense. It felt like a rebirthing process more than anything, and I feel completely reborn after this including feeling new to this world. My experiences with everything seem completely new and almost alien to the extent that I feel I do not recognize the life paths I was on. My job feels alien and my studies feel like someone else’s. It does not help that I had deleted (by mistake) all my files off my personal laptop before leaving to the program. I wonder if that was somehow done intentionally, but it is a metaphor of what happened to me in the program, for what was left of me were the essentials. Even my body is suffering and feels alien to me. I can feel muscles I have not felt before.

What we went through in this program are fierce yoga and meditation exercises that metaphorically broke every single bone in the body. These exercises pushed me to the extreme, and what came out on the other side is a transformed being. I am yet to realize the extent of this transformation, but what I know for sure is that the good in me has been multiplied tenfold.

One of the exercises was a moment of birth for me, and the silence afterward felt like the first year of life. Taking a shower after that felt like a baptism, and I could feel every single drop falling on my head and body. Eating was also another mind-blowing experience. Flavors were bursting in my mouth, and I was satiated after eating only a few seeds. The grape that exploded in my mouth was euphoric, and I could not hold back the tears. I shed more tears in this program than I have during my adult life.

All forms of life I was observing around me were seen as if for the first time. After that, it was all a whole new world to me. I saw life with a fresh set of eyes. I realized that we go through life noticing the beauty of what humans create from science to technology to art, but we never notice the beauty of life. Every single lifeform from flowers to grass to ants to bees to insects to petals to humans is a great piece of art that we are seeing and missing. We become oblivious to everything around us. Just like a filthy rich person who stops seeing the luxury he is surrounded with or the person who has so many clothes and does not know what to wear because of the abundance of choices, I was going through life oblivious to the blessings I live in. My world was engineered, but my inner workings were chaotic. This is what happens when we have a lot. We stop seeing. We become immune and immunity here is not positive. Every form of life is striking, and we need to remain in awe. If we can remain in awe, we experience the “awe”someness of life.

What changed in me as well is that before BSP, I felt that my life was lacking love. I had no partner to love. I had friends and family to love, but no relationship. Now, I feel that I have so much love in my life and so many people to love and be in love with. I have 89 new partners I am head-over-heels in love with (every single one of them). The love I was given and the love I gave was equivalent to all the love I felt my entire life from life partners.

The process is not easy, and I had to dive headfirst into it, but I was ready to do so. Even my life was ready for it, for everything that led to BSP was in place. I had just moved apartments and had endured an end to a relationship that had lasted for six years, six months, and six days.

Yesterday, I was born again. My new birthday is September 15, 2019. Today, I am one day old. I came to this life with so much realization on how to carry on. Yesterday, I left in Bzommar heaps of Karma. I also shed a lot of skin and flesh and even left a bone or two on the ground somewhere. I felt cold and naked, but I was free. I was free of my old self, and there is no larger sense of freedom than that. Sadhguru gave birth to me this time, for I was born out of his womb, and Isha is my new last name.

Shall I go back?

Recently, I have been writing for several hours a day in a small diary for a retreat I’ll be going to soon. That got me thinking: Maybe I should come back here and write! Maybe a blog or two a week. I was also thinking I should force myself to write a blog a day as part of my reflexive writing exercise that will grow into a published *something* soon. So why not start here and now?

Women Flipped Election Results!


Yes, I am very happy with the results of the mid-term elections, although I am disappointed that the Democratic Party did not pick up more seats in the Senate. They, in fact, lost two! Why am I happy despite the loss of two seats in the Senate? WOMEN WON 26 ADDITIONAL SEATS!

When I voted, I voted for women Democrats and Liberals. I purposely voted for women because I strongly believe that we need to level power control around the world.

Every time a woman wins a race, I am happy. Every time a woman attains high administrative levels, I am happy. Every time a woman accomplishes anything, I am happy.

Women have not been supporting each other for decades. They have been plagued with jealousy and futile competitiveness based on superficial values and concerns.

Enough is enough.

It is time we start being each other’s biggest supporters. It is time we celebrate each other. It is time we take control of the world in an equal fashion to men.

I am fed up hearing women discuss shallow matters instead of concentrating on their potential in making a huge difference in the world. We need to stand together and make sure that we save this planet for the future generations–a planet almost destroyed by men’s wars, greed, and cockfighting.

Hold Your Tongue!

Should we allow our students to speak in a language other than English in an English class?

I forbade my students from speaking in any language but English in class. Whether it was to talk to me or during class discussions, the only words students were allowed to utter were English words.

Until this semester:

I happen to have a group of French-educated students in my English 102 at the American University of Beirut who find it difficult to form coherent sentences in English. While doing a class activity and some research using the Wadsworth Handbook, these students were struggling with discussing the material. The activity was taking longer than it should, and its purpose was not being achieved. It dawned on me that maybe if I let them speak in their preferred tongue, they can accomplish the task faster and more efficiently. I did. I allowed them to speak in French or Arabic, and the end result was that they successfully completed the work.

While learning German and Italian (the last two languages I attempted at conquering—and miserably failed, I should add), I found it crippling to decipher the language using the language itself. It was easier to treat the language like a mathematical equation and solve its acquisition challenges using a different yet preferred language. I am not sure whether it was my age or my schedule which deterred me from pursuing these languages any further, but I feel that being able to discuss a language in another language employs a comparative skill which aids with the learning process.

This makes me wonder whether we, instructors of English, are hindering the language acquisition process by demanding that our students converse in a language which is somewhat easy to read and write but challenging to speak in.