Empowering multilingual minds with Mary Dinh

Mary Dinh

Housed on the second floor of the picturesque Coffee Cottage, the assistant director of Multilingual Students Services alternates between faculty and staff as she investigates the educational experience of the multilingual mind. 

Mary Dinh, who has a Ph.D., joined the Vermont State University – Castleton community in 2023 as the merger came into effect. A positive outcome of the newly instated VTSU was the scope of vision Dinh was offered as five distinct campuses melded into one institution. 

The position in Multilingual Student Services encompasses an array of duties tied to both the experience of multilingual students and the accompanying faculty with whom multilingual students interact. 

“The term international student can be referred to a group of students coming here with an F1 VISA, so more like an immigration status than the language part of cultural part of it. So, in research right now, we use ‘multilingual, multicultural students’ to refer to a bigger context,” Dinh said. 

This definition thus expands to include refugees, immigrants, international, exchange, and heritage students. 

Tightly linked to her position is recognizing and deconstructing the stigmas associated with multilingualism. 

“Because I argue that students – of course if you have any disability or learning disorder, you have the documents, then of course you can take the test at Academic Support. But bilingualism is not disability,” Dinh explained. 

The assumption that bilingualism equates to dual monolingualism is challenged within Dinh’s area of research, as the bilingual mind is itself a unique product. She elaborated that the multilingual student “can work in more than one context. They can communicate with more than one type of people.” 

Mary Dinh with students in front of the intercultural Artifacts gallery.

This power of multilingual students to add dimension to monolingual concepts elevates the experience of faculty and students alike. Within the limitations of the English language, definitions are restricted to the experiences, ideas, and expressions of English speakers, however, she asks, “what if, we allow the students to voice out what they really think about that, with whatever they have that comes to their mind” to broaden the scope of concepts and theories? 

Dinh’s doctoral dissertation reinforces this notion. Titled “Curriculum and Instruction, Concentration in Bilingualism and Bilingual Education – How to Change the Mindset from Deficit to Multi-Component,” it aims to “document how the multilingual truly learns.” 

Central to Dinh’s dissertation was the construction of an intervention that allows bilingual students to go beyond the “correct” understanding of concepts. 

“They can have a deeper understanding of the context because they can draw from their experience from their home country,” she said. 

Earning the President’s Distinguished Dissertation Award, Dinh said she aims to expand her research into the future to ascertain how multilingualism can inform intercultural communication at “a higher scope, like policymaking and teacher education.” This was displayed in her class’s Intercultural Artifacts Gallery that displayed the multiculturality of the campus. 

Within the frameworks of VTSU, Dinh already implements facets of this concept, as her position includes interactions with faculty who work with multilingual students. Dismantling notions that “the teacher takes for granted that it’s your (student) job to understand what I (professor) say,” Dinh’s office “prepares the mindset of the faculty.” 

Challenging social stigmas related to the spurious relationship between language proficiency and intelligence, Dinh also notes, “”it doesn’t mean that conceptually speaking that their intelligence is not equivalent to monolingual students,” when in fact, “they show more divergent ways of thinking.” 

As an international student herself, Dinh seeks to assure multilingual students both that multilingualism can be an asset, not a hinderance, and that success is more than possible. 

“I don’t want those contextual factors to be a determining factor to their success and I want to show them that yes, with that background, you can still become successful,” she said. 

To learn more about Dinh’s research, position, or services, feel free to reach out via email: mary.dinh@vermontstate.edu 

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