This week’s post highlights Emily Letcher, who graduated in 2016 from LTS. Emily began thinking about a future in language teaching as an undergraduate at UO, taking Second Language Acquisition and Teaching classes. She finished her MA degree with a project titled, “Teaching Interlanguage Pragmatics of Disagreement in a Secondary EFL Context Using Film and TV Shows”, and took off to Thailand to teach middle school before settling in Mexico at a university.
What is your life like now, almost 2 years after graduating from LTS?
From Eugene, Oregon to Bangkok, Thailand. From Bangkok to Miahuatlan, Mexico…I grew up in a city of 160,000 people, moved to another of over 8 million, and then decided to settle down in a relatively unknown, southern city in Mexico of about 45,000. I say “settle down” because I now live with my five adopted dogs. All of them are former street dogs here, each with their own story. It’s not always easy to care for them, but it’s definitely worth it.
One of Emily’s rescue dogs playing in the yard
What did you do in Thailand?
Emily with students in Bangkok
Through LTS internships with the US-Thai Distance Learning Organization, which had brought Thai high school students to Oregon several times, I was fortunate enough to make a strong connection with Thailand before even setting foot there. After graduation, I went to Assumption College Thonburi and taught for six months in their English program. Shortly after I arrived, the beloved King of Thailand, Rama IX, passed away. I witnessed an amazing movement of unity and mourning within the country. Bangkok was a whirlwind experience of culture and learning for me.
Traveling in Thailand
What has turned out to be most useful for you from SLAT/LTS?
I’ve just recently completed my first year as a professor at La Universidad de la Sierra Sur (UNSIS). Students here must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and a lot of what we do is to prepare students for that exam. It’s a good challenge for me as a teacher, one that I enjoy. In the LTS program, I focused on curriculum design, so I was extremely excited about, and grateful for, the opportunity here to dive right in and do meaningful curriculum work. I recently wrote a textbook for our first-year, accelerated graduate program. Now I am teaching the course. It’s amazing to me to go through the entire cycle, beginning with those lessons in LTS, to stepping out on my own and developing a full-fledged project, to putting it into practice in a classroom and seeing its results.
Centro de Idiomas at UNSIS -the English department
Do you have any advice or thoughts for current and future students?
Always be open to new opportunities. It may be a tired phrase, but it’s true. I could never have predicted moving to Miahuatlan de Porifirio Diaz, Mexico. It certainly wasn’t part of my ‘grand plan’. I came here with the idea of staying for a short time, but found so much more worth staying for.
A parade in Oaxaca – a city with a rich and artistic culture, two hours from Miahuatlan.
From Left to Right: Duong Hong Anh, Kainat Shaikh, Irene Njenga, Suparada Eak-in
This end-of-term Student Spotlight is a special “goodbye” to our dear friends, colleagues, and classmates from the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. The Yamada Language Center at the University of Oregon has hosted these four lovely language teachers throughout the 2016-2017 school year, and the LTS cohort has had the wonderful opportunity to study along side them in the various Language Teaching courses they participated in. The YLC has been proud to welcome the FLTA’s without whom 4 of the 8 Self Study Program languages would not be available to the UO students and community. Now that Spring term is over, each scholar will soon be heading back to her home country, and the LTS program would like to recognize and remember the wonderful experiences we got to share with them!
Tell us about yourselves! Where are you from? What kind of work have you done? Any hobbies?
I am Anh Duong. I come from Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. I am an English instructor at the University of Languages and International Studies back in my home country. I was granted the Fulbright scholarship last year and came to UO to study and work as an FLTA. About my personal life; I love music, movies, traveling, reading, and taking pictures. Since I came here, I have taken up cubing, basketball, and playing the guitar as my new hobbies.
I am from Hyderabad, Sindh, Pakistan. I work at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), so currently I am on leave as I am availing the Fulbright Fellowship. I teach graduates and undergraduates majoring in English Literature and Linguistics. I like reading books, and writing critical reviews. I enjoy traveling, especially to the places which have had a rich history.
My name is Irene Njenga, and I am from the central region of Kenya. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics and a Master’s in Education, both from the University of Nairobi. Before coming to UO, I had worked in two places. My first job was at Dadaab Refugee Camp (Kenya) as the officer in-charge of the Accelerated Learning Program, and my second job was as an English teacher at Mukurwe High School (Kenya). I enjoy traveling and socializing with people from different cultures because it opens my mind to new ways of thinking and stimulates my creative problem-solving skills. I also enjoy swimming, cooking, reading novels, listening to music and watching movies.
My name is Suparada Eak-in. I am from Thailand. Back in Thailand, I worked as a lecturer of English in the Department of English and as a Deputy Director of the International Office at Mahanakorn University of Technology. My specialization is Teaching English as a Foreign Language and Teaching English for Specific Purposes. I taught EAP and ESP to non-English majors including Engineering, IT and Business students. In my free time, I like learning new languages, doing art and working out. Now, I am learning four languages: Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese by myself. I also draw and take pictures. My favorite exercises are jogging, Thai boxing and yoga.
Tell us about teaching at the UO as an FLTA! What is that like?
One of my key missions in the US is to teach Vietnamese to both students at UO and community members at the YLC. I appreciate the chance to teach my native language and share Vietnamese culture with American people as well as heritage students. Thanks to the Self Study Program at YLC, with small-size classes but extensive interaction with students, I have precious opportunities to listen to many individual stories, enabling better understanding of American culture as well as my own culture.
The YLC is the place to grow professionally, interdependently and culturally. I never taught Hindi/Urdu before coming to US, though it is the national language of Pakistan. I, being a native speaker, learned a lot about my culture, language and country by staying oceans away and that’s not only remarkable but a kind of liberating feeling.
Although I have been teaching for one year before becoming part of YLC, participating in the program has provided me an insight to see language teaching not as a way to show how languages are different from one another, but as a platform to let me explore how languages all around the world are spoken in their natural, cultural and raw forms. So, in order to completely imbibe in this language teaching experience, I myself decided to learn a new language. I attended classes of Turkish. New language gives a new lens to view the world. As such it may seem that speaking different languages actually makes us different from one another but actually learning a new language makes one feel connected to the wider community which is not one’s own. In one place, where creating borders may divide us, but learning new languages can unite us, this is my takeaway from YLC.
Swahili is one of the easiest languages to learn! Although a biased view, it is true that Swahili is not a tonal language, has a fixed stress pattern, and words are spelled exactly how they are pronounced i.e. no silent letters! Teaching Swahili at the UO has been very rewarding. It has also been a great opportunity to interact with new cultures and incorporate Swahili culture into language teaching. I believe that my students enjoyed the lessons and gained competence in using the language. This has also helped me refine my teaching skills and familiarity with using the communicative approach in teaching grammar. I never discussed grammar in a tabular form and very rarely used grammar technical terminology.
Teaching Thai at YLC is different from teaching English at my university in Thailand. Firstly, YLC classes are small with no more than fifteen students. This provides me the opportunity to get to know my students more so I can facilitate their language learning more properly. Moreover, YLC offers the Self Study Program which places emphasis on the students’ needs. The challenge is to compromise/balance students’ individual needs and prepare the lessons to serve their needs efficiently. Lecture-based and commercial textbooks seem not to correspond with YLC students’ learning styles and goals. Thus, I mainly implemented a theme-based method in my classes. I set the themes according to the students’ needs and designed interactive activities to engage students in learning. I found that the students enjoyed learning and improved their skills proficiently.
What classes did you take during your time at UO? Did you have any other projects that you worked on? What was the most valuable thing you’ve gained from your experience here?
Apart from teaching Vietnamese, I also attended some classes, two of which were Teaching English Culture and Literature, and Testing and Assessment in the LTS Program. The most significant thing I took from these classes is the inspiration from my professors and classmates. I especially enjoy the lively and thought-provoking discussions with different points of view and practical projects in teaching that will benefit my own teaching in the future.
I enrolled myself in three courses, one course per term. My grant with Fulbright ensures that I grow strong academically by taking the classes that can serve my long term goals. Therefore, I took classes in LTS all three terms; Teaching Culture & Literature in Language Classrooms, Teaching Pronunciation, & Teaching and Assessment. My time with LTS cohort is worth treasuring as I met intelligent and creative people from various parts of the world.
From my entire year at UO, the most valuable asset that I have gained is to challenge the limits, and to outrun them.
I took classes in Language Teaching and International Studies. I worked on various projects like incorporating literature into English language teaching, education and culture in Kenya, as well as creating direct types of assessment. The most valuable thing I have gained is that language teaching can be fun. I have learned how to use different scaffolding activities in teaching language, classroom management techniques, key assessment principles, and skills in creating and/or adopting assessment tools and procedures for the language classroom.
I took two classes in LTS and one class in Linguistics. The classes in both programs provided me knowledge that I can apply in my teaching career. My favorite class was Teaching Pronunciation, which I took last term. I like this class most because I did not only learn the contents but also had opportunities to practice. Besides, I like observing the techniques that Dr. Patricia Pashby used in class. I found those techniques useful and worked well with my students.
Apart from teaching and learning, I worked as a cultural ambassador in the ICSP at UO. I presented Thailand and Thai culture to school students and senior communities in Eugene. It is a great opportunity to meet and talk with local people outside of the university and have productive cultural exchanges.
Any plans for the future, or final thoughts you would like to share?
My gratitude goes to the Fulbright program for giving me a chance to come to the US, meet amazing people, and share my story.
When I go back to Pakistan, I will resume my teaching, but there will be entirely different teaching methodologies. I will be working on making classes more student-centered where students should take responsibility of their learning. I learned a lot about testing and assessment this last term, and it has completely changed my perception towards language teaching. I am really looking forward to using the new teaching and testing trends which can ensure learning for not just a fleeting moment but for a life-time.
Irene leaves us with her favorite quote:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Martin Luther King Jr.
I believe that despite the obstacles we face when pursuing our dreams, we should always be focused and keep working to realize them.
All of these experiences make me eager to go back and share them with my colleagues and students back home. I also want to better develop teaching methodology and education in my home country.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Where have you worked? Any hobbies?
My name is Dan White, and I was born and raised in Portland, OR, USA. I definitely fall under the “nontraditional student” category. Out of high school, I worked random customer service jobs, until, one day I realized I was not living up to my potential. I decided, on a whim, to join the military. I joined the US Army as an ammunition specialist and shipped off to basic training in 2006. The Army had me all over the US as well as spending a year in Korea and nine months in Iraq. I finished my contract with the Army and started school at the University of Oregon in 2010. I received my BA in Linguistics in 2013.
I had applied for the LTS program for the fall of 2013, but I decided to pursue some work experience by heading off to Korea to teach English. This was my second stint in Korea, but my first was spent with the U.S. Army, so I did not really get a chance to fully enjoy my time. The second time, I focused on learning the language and culture and truly experiencing every part of Korea. I made lifelong friends, and started a new hobby that is now a major part of my life: solving Rubik’s Cubes competitively. I started learning as a way to pass time, but I soon realized that I had an aptitude and passion for these puzzles. I incorporated them into my English classroom, and I used my after-school classes (where the curriculum was entirely up to me) to teach Rubik’s Cubes to my students. I used English to teach them how to solve the puzzle. This has become a vital part of my teaching methodology. I truly believe the best way to learn a language is not to focus on the language itself, but to focus on completing a task that is of particular interest to you. Then you are not learning the language simply to learn it, you are learning an entirely new skill and the language is simply the medium you are using to acquire that skill.
After three years in Korea, I recently came back to the United States in September of 2016, and I started in the LTS program in the Fall of 2016. I am still adapting to living in the United States again, and I am very excited to continue pursuing my education. I love teaching, and I want to do everything I can to become the best language teacher that I can.
You had an internship opportunity to work with students from Saint Gabriel’s College in Bangkok, Thailand. What was that like?
I had a wonderful opportunity to work with a group of high school students from Thailand. I could immediately tell that they were very special. I taught them over the course of two weeks. Rather than focusing on language courses, I taught them cultural courses. I had a lesson on comedy and a lesson on expectations vs. reality. Their trip culminated in a presentation to LTS students in Dr. Trish Pashby’s “Teaching Culture and Literature” class. Prior to the actual presentation, we had a practice presentation. The students did well, but I gave them a lot of feedback. Their English was fine, but they needed to work on their presentation skills. They primarily lacked in smooth transitions from speaker to speaker and visually-appealing slides. The difference between their practice presentations and the presentations given in class was night and day. I was so proud to see the way they took my advice to heart and poured everything they had into their presentations. It was one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had as a teacher.
Talk to us about working with the Fulbright Scholars.
Mixed in among our LTS students in various classes are some amazing minds from across the world. We are lucky enough to share our Literature and Culture class with four Fulbright Scholars. Fulbright Scholars work on special scholarships to study in the United States while also teaching their native language and culture. The four we have are from Kenya, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Thailand.
I had the opportunity to select some students for a lesson demonstration in my Multiliteracies course. I decided to invite all four of them, although I only needed to demonstrate my lesson for two students. All four showed up, and I taught them a lesson on American comedy. We discussed different comedy styles, I showed them various examples of American comedy. We also analyzed a specific comedy sketch, looking at various elements (camera angles, music changes, language choices) and discussed how they added to the comedic element of the video. Then they attempted to create their own comedic sketch.
The lesson was very challenging, but the Fulbright scholars were more than up for the task. I was very impressed with how patient and receptive they were to my lesson. I think teachers make very good students as they know the challenges that a fellow teacher faces, and I was definitely lucky to have them in my class. I also felt that they benefited a lot from this lesson as comedy is an extremely difficult topic to understand for second-language learners as there are both linguistic and cultural hurdles. Overall it was a great experience with them.
You’re also an intern with CASLS, right? What can you tell us about that?
I am currently working as an intern with the Games2Teach project of the CASLS (Center for Applied Second Language Studies) program. My job is to play commercial video games and assess how they can be used by language teachers to facilitate language learning. I look at both language and cultural aspects of these games that could benefit students. I assess the age appropriateness, language difficulty, and overall genre of the games. This experience has been very rewarding, as my master’s project will be focused on developing a language teaching game template that teachers can adapt to their lessons. I have found many elements from the games that I have tested that I would love to incorporate into my own game.
Last but not least, tell us about the Cubing Club!
The UO Cubing Club did not exist, so I decided to go through the steps to start it. Students need hobbies to pass the time, and cubing is a great one. I love teaching people how to solve the cube. I get to see the excitement on their faces when they are finally able to make the last turn that solves the cube. It is a lot like the joy I get in seeing my language-learning students progress. We also help people who can already solve to transition into competitive solving. They can learn larger cubes (4×4, 5×5, etc), or they can add new tricks to the normal 3×3 (blindfolded solving, one-handed solving, etc). Meeting with the club is a great stress reliever for me. I hope the club continues to grow throughout my time here at UO. If you are interested in joining, look up “UO Cubing Club” on OrgSync!
Meet Sirilak Sitthiwong, or Siri. After working as an English teacher/military officer at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Language Institute, Thailand, for 3 years, she got a scholarship from the Armed Forces to pursue her master’s degree. After graduation, she will go back there to resume her job. Currently, she is working as a Thai teacher at the Yamada Language Center, where there are currently 7 students in the community.
Why did you come to the LTS program?
After having taught English in Thailand for quite some time and learned how to teach mostly by doing and trying things out, I got a great opportunity to come here and acquire knowledge and experience through more principled approaches. When I was looking for an MA program and university, the LTS program stood out as it suits my needs and interests. One of the planned missions that I will have to do is to teach Thai to military personnel from ASEAN countries and the program offers a flexibility to focus on any and more than one language. Fortunately, I have not only developed Thai lessons for some LTS courses but also have a chance to really teach Thai for the first time at the Yamada Language Center through Keli’s recommendation. The fact that LTS is an intensive and comprehensive program also allows me to go back and resume my job in a timely manner.
What is it like participating in the LTS program as an international student?
Being an international student who learns English and how to teach English at the same time is a very rewarding experience. While gaining more in-depth theoretical and methodological foundation, I’m learn other interesting aspects of American English and am amazed by how little I know about American pragmatics. I feel so lucky to be among friends who are very supportive and understanding and whom I can ask many questions about their language, no matter how small it is. I was quite prepared for the cultural difference and how I should handle that before I came here, but I did not expect the difference to be this much valued by friends and teachers in terms of language acquisition. Having a culturally different context from many others helps me reflect on what I think will work and what will not for my students when I develop lesson plans, course design, and currently my MA project.
Tell me about your work with the Yamada Language Center. What has been most rewarding about working in the YLC?
Teaching Thai at the YLC gives me opportunities to put what I learn from the LTS program into practice almost immediately. As part of my teaching, I tell my students what I’m working on this term and ask them if they are interested in doing what I come up with. They are quite happy to be my guinea pig and give me valuable feedback. Fall term was my first time teaching Thai and since then I have learned a lot about my own language. To plan my lessons, I don’t have any textbook to follow and if I had it, it would not help me much anyway because my students (initially as small as five) have their own individual goals and needs which are very different from each other. I learned about backward design from my working experience here and that happened even before I knew it was called ‘backward design’. Creating materials and activities from scratch is what I find the most enjoyable and the ones that the students helped me create in turn engaged them the most.
I have total beginners and some intermediate students who have been to Thailand before. At first, I hesitated to put them together because I did not know how to manage a mixed-level class effectively, but Jeff recommended it so that I had more time to do my regular LTS studying. I was struggling with the differentiation at first and I felt it was too cumbersome that I decided to separate them according to their levels. I was lucky that I had a Thai friend to help me out. After giving it many tries and finally hearing from the students that they learned a lot from working across levels, I felt a lot more confident and keep this practice. Being in a friendly environment with a very supportive boss like Jeff and nice colleagues, I have discovered a great deal about language teaching, which is different but complementary to my role as an English teacher back in Thailand.
What is your MA project about, and why did you choose this topic?
My project is about using films and TV series to develop oral skills proficiency. This type of materials is always of my interest and passion because they are what I learned English from. I remembered dreaming about studying abroad, seeing what I saw in the movies and talking to the people I heard from the movies . It was this dream that drove me to put more effort when it came to studying English. While many people think of films as materials for practicing vocabulary and listening skills, which can be done at home, I see them as contextually rich resources for speaking skills as well. Especially with some careful guidance, films can be triggers for various conversations. I’m also interested in cultural/pragmatic aspects that students can learn from watching films. Many of them reflect real life that has not been very well presented in textbooks.
My name is Yanika Phetchroj, from Thailand. I enrolled in the LTS program in summer 2009 and graduated the following summer.
What and where are you teaching now?
Now I’m teaching English at the English Department at Thammasat University, the second oldest and one of the most prestigious universities in Thailand. I have been teaching here for three years. My students are undergraduates from various departments and years. The classes that I normally teach are English Listening and Speaking, Reading for Information, Paragraph Writing, English Structure, and English for Hotel Personnel.
What was your MA project about?
My MA project was “Activities and techniques for improving oral skills in Thai high school EFL classes”. I did this because I have strong interest in teaching oral skills. Also, from my experience as a learner and as a native Thai speaking teacher of English, I found that Thai students have problems when it comes to English speaking and listening skills. Most Thai students start learning English with native Thai speaking teachers who teach English by emphasizing grammatical rules (the traditional Grammar Translation Method), and oral skills are overlooked. Thai ELT teachers predominantly speak Thai in the English classroom and most of the major examinations such as the university entrance examination only test students’ understanding of English grammar and their reading skills. Also, many Thai teachers find it difficult to teach English speaking skills since they don’t have a native accent. The consequence from this is that after many years of learning English, Thai students still can’t speak English. After taking classes in the LTS program, I was enthusiastic to do something that could improve Thai students’ oral skills and help Thai teachers teach English oral skills with confidence and comfort. So, my project combined many activities that Thai teachers can use in their classrooms to help their students learn and practice oral skills. These activities have been adapted and designed especially for Thai students.
What did you find most valuable from the LTS program? What did you learn in LTS that are you using as a teacher now?
Since I didn’t have any background knowledge in the second language acquisition before I entered the program, everything seemed new to me. Right from the beginning, it was very useful to learn the different principles and methods of language teaching. For me, I grew up with Grammar Translation Method, so it was the only way of teaching and learning English that I knew. When I learned about CLT, Communicative Language Teaching, I was very excited and couldn’t wait to apply this method to my future classes. Another favorite class of mine was Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). I had so much fun exploring new technology that could help me teach. Nowadays, I still use some of the programs I learnt from that course in my classroom. As a teacher now, I have found myself using what I learnt from the Curriculum and Materials Development class most. Every semester I have fun creating new materials and supplements for my students based on current issues and on my students’ interests.
What did you find most challenging when you were a new teacher?
When I started teaching, I found that it was very difficult to stick to my class plan. Some activities took longer than I expected and it turned out that I couldn’t finish what I had planned at first. I also think that besides a teacher, students can make the class very enjoyable or so bland too. Some activities that I thought would be interesting to students turned to be boring. So, I had to make some changes right away. I also found that what works for some students doesn’t work for others. Some activities or teaching techniques may work well one semester, but don’t work at all the next semester with different groups of students. So it is important to find out what students like or are interested in as fast as I can to design the activities that suit them the most.
What advice would you give current students in the program?
My advice from me will be that everyone should find the areas they are interested in the most as soon as they can, such as teaching, designing testing and assessment, or developing curriculum and materials. Because when they know your interest, they can make use of every class by doing assignments or reading something relating to it, and that will help them and their MA project a lot. Also, since the students in the LTS program are so diverse, they should take this opportunity to exchange their thoughts and experiences with their classmates who may come from different countries and culture in order to learn more and expand their knowledge.