The UT Institute for Public Service and its agencies want to invite you to an online discussion about the state of the coronavirus in Tennessee and how it affects our businesses and communities. Our expert guests on this forum are Dr. Jon McCullers, an infectious disease expert, professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center and pediatrician-in-chief of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital; and Dr. Matt Murray, director of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and associate director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research.
Only Together Conference 2019
Last month, Woodmont Hills Church hosted the Only Together Conference aimed at connecting Nashville’s refugee service groups to each other. It presented a great opportunity to learn more about the refugees who make Nashville their home and the services available to them, to network with other agencies and to share about TLC’s programs. Erin Keafer, Assistant Director of English Programs at TLC, highlighted our ESL to Go program, which takes the classroom to refugee communities and helps to eliminate the transportation barrier. Since many of the volunteers in attendance teach informal English to the refugees who they mentor, we wanted to remind them what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk.
When we talk about teaching our new neighbors English, it’s good to be reminded of how humbling the process of learning a new language as an adult can be. We thought it might be better to show rather than to tell, which also gave us an opportunity to talk about our Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) and World Language courses. I presented a German lesson using NO English! “What?!!”, you say, “How is that possible??” Well, it’s the difference between explaining the grammar in English or teaching the target language phrases in context. Your brain is MUCH more engaged when it has to work not only to remember the phrase but to understand its meaning based on context. This is what sets our communicative approach apart from traditional teaching methods.
Many of our ESL students don’t share the same primary language in the classroom, so we must teach them in English using different methods that explain the meaning of the words rather than just presenting the vocabulary in the language they are most comfortable speaking. If you have ever experienced teaching or learning a new language using the communicative method, it sounds much easier to do than it is—both as a student and a teacher. The TESL program at TLC helps set teachers up for success using these effective teaching methods.
So let this serve as an invitation. Come learn a language with us or learn how to teach a language — we’d love to help! Only together can we make a difference.
Learn more today by visiting www.tlc.tennessee.edu or calling us at 615-741-7579.
Assistant Director, Foreign Languages
Phone: 615-741-7579 x119
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Connie Barrow, a nurse practitioner from White House who homeschools her two kids, Wesley (age 15) and Shannon (age 13). They have been attending our classes since January and just recently completed their third term. She sits patiently in our lobby twice a week for two hours while Wesley and Shannon take their evening world language classes and has become a dear friend of ours.
One of the reasons Connie sought us out was because of her son’s interest in learning Russian. Private video lessons with an instructor based in the Ukraine sparked an interest in attending an in-person class. With a quick search on the internet, Connie found TLC.
The combination of the private tutoring and attending our in-person classes year round is how her kids achieve the required amount of homeschool credit every year. Although year round classes are a big commitment, Connie appreciates the continuity of the language learning and says it quickly became about more than just achieving the school credit – both kids are very committed to and excited about learning their prospective languages.
Connie says that one of the perks of studying here is that her kids can be around adult learners who take their language studies seriously. Her kids don’t have to worry about other students in class goofing off or distracting them from learning.
She also really appreciates the breadth of world language options when compared to regular school systems who typically only offer a few language options. As a mother, she thought it was important that her kids have the option to choose their own language interests from a large variety of options. Having lots of choices helps them think outside the box and enjoy being different. She is very proud that her kids authentically picked their own languages to study and believes it shows them that learning to pursue personal goals and dreams is valuable. “Sometimes teenagers feel the need to conform, but they need to know that it’s okay not to conform. I definitely recommend TLC to homeschool parents. Even if it’s not for credit, it encourages independence even within their own family and gives them something that makes them unique.”
I was also very happy to hear that both kids absolutely love their teachers. Wesley’s Russian teacher, Tatiana Logsdon, is a native of Russia. Wesley enjoys the stories she shares from her homeland, the culture, and learning what it is really like to live there. Shannon enjoys French because it is different from what her big brother is studying, but also because her French teacher, Jennifer Pitts, is consistent and understands what it is like to be in her student’s shoes with learning a language from scratch. Also, Shannon’s aunt lives in Quebec and speaks French, so it has been exciting for her to have that connection to her extended family members in Canada.
Connie has picked up some world language skills from her kids, too! She can say some basic sentences in Russian and French, thanks to her well-studied kids. The Barrow family recently attended the 2019 International Pathfinder Camporee event in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin, where they got to meet and spend time with hundreds of different families from different countries and cultural backgrounds. The Barrow family believes that seeking out and celebrating diversity is important for their kids’ character development. “It is important to know there is a way to show kindness even if you can’t understand what the other person is saying. It is exciting to be in a multi-cultural setting. They are people from other places, but they are just like you and me. There is so much value in being bilingual.”
She also wanted to point out that it was a fairly easy process of registering her kids and getting all her questions answered. “I really like TLC’s gentle approach to helping us, whether on the phone or in person, it was important to me to ask questions. I absolutely recommend TLC to everyone.”
Our current class offerings are Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. If you are interested in getting more information or registering for classes, please visit our website at http://tlc.tennessee.edu or give us a call at 615-741-7579.
So, I was at the 6th annual Knox Asian Festival on Sunday, a beautiful celebration with so many diverse visitors. My booth was right outside the food vendor area, and I saw some delicious-looking meals and smelled some wonderful smells throughout the day. There were countless intricate costumes representing various Asian countries and fascinating rhythms as various artists performed behind us.
This was my first time at this festival, so I had no idea how many interactions were in store for me. So many people are interested in learning another language, and we hope to supply that need in Knoxville. I was so excited to announce that we are now able to offer French, Spanish, Japanese and possibly Mandarin classes beginning in October!
To be completely honest, I did have two favorite interactions during the festival. One young teenager greeted me in ASL. She also signed a likely response and waited. I finally understood what she wanted and signed back, “I’m good.” It was a quick but humbling experience. I immediately wanted to know how to say more, but I can only very slowly sign my name. Once she realized that, she asked, “Do you offer ASL?” I had to admit that we currently don’t. I’ve wanted to offer this world language before, but now more than ever! Are you or do you know an ASL teacher? If you do, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if we can make it happen!
My other favorite interaction was with three young high school students. They excitedly approached me to explain their new mission. They are starting an Asian Culture and Language after-school club at their school. One young lady wants to teach language but was unsure where to start. I told her that we like to keep it practical around TLC. If I’m learning a language, I’d much rather know how to say, “how are you?” and possible answers than know how to conjugate “are” without being able to use it in a sentence. I suggested teaching simple phrases in context with a lot of listening and repeating. After all, that’s how we all learned our very first language, and it’s the one we know the best!
These were also my youngest interactions from the festival, and I am so very thankful that a heart-felt interest in learning other cultures and languages is continuing into the next generation. Thank you, Knoxville, for sharing your best side with me this weekend.
As a child I was always fascinated with languages and culture, but I never thought I would be able to learn a language myself. I thought that was only for people with family from other places or people that moved out of the country. I took a German class in high school and a French class in college, but to be honest, I don’t remember anything. It was after I went to Guatemala on a mission trip and visited Spain with my best friend that I really found the motivation and dedication to learn a new language. I adored both places that I visited, so naturally I chose Spanish. I googled classes one day in my free time, and I chose TLC because it looked organized, professional and effective. Not a week after that, I started my 1.1 Spanish class with Maya.
This began my journey with learning Spanish, and I instantly fell in love. A whole new world of language and culture was opened up in front of me. The teaching methods that Maya used and still uses are effective for all learning styles and her activities always apply to the grammar/vocabulary point of the class. I love the amount of conversation that we have. Part of the fun of language classes is that you talk about your personal life and the personal lives of those in your class with you. I have made friends that feel like family. Thursday night class is a highlight of my week!
At this point, I have been studying for two years, and I am astonished at my progress. With Maya’s help, instruction and constant encouragement, I have been able to achieve more in learning Spanish than I ever anticipated. The positive impacts of learning Spanish have been numerous. I am better able to communicate with my friends who don’t speak English. I am grateful for the friendships that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I have also taught English as a second language in the past. Knowing Spanish has helped me so much in helping students sign up and feel connected with me as we start the journey of learning English together. From patients in my previous medical clinic, friends from other countries, students learning English and the ability to communicate when I travel, I am grateful for this skill. If you are considering learning a new language, I would highly recommend Tennessee Language Center. They strive for excellence in communication!
Submitted by TLC student Liana Brisbon
My family and I moved to Tennessee last August from Ohio. I don’t usually advertise this fact, but on one particular morning, I happened to put on an Ohio shirt before heading off to work.
Recently, a Career Coach from Vanderbilt University Career Center, Danielle Bolling, had contacted me about how Vanderbilt University and the Tennessee Language Center might work together. We set our meeting for Friday, May 31st, but little did we know…
The day of our meeting arrived, the same day that I threw on my Ohio shirt, and coincidentally, the same day that Ohio State would play Vanderbilt in the NCAA baseball tournament. During our meeting, Danielle wanted to know about the services we offer at TLC in order to pass the word on to the students she advises.
I told her about our world language and English classes as well as proficiency exams for those learning a language. We offer Teaching English as a Second Language and Language Instructor Fellowship programs for those interested in teaching a language, and our Interpretation and Translation Services assist those needing documents or services in a secondary language. We also offer training to become a court or medical interpreter in addition to our corporate offerings.
Throughout our meeting, Danielle thought of several other connections at Vanderbilt and opportunities to incorporate TLC and its services when advising students, especially those pursuing a World Language degree.
Unlike the baseball game, Vandy did NOT beat OSU that day; the two decided to work together!
That’s all for now. And remember, an accent is a sign of bravery.
My name is Heather. I’m new around here and I’d like to tell you a story. This story is the kind you can’t really plan, but are happy to be a part of. I have come to be the interim Director of the Foreign Languages Department here at TLC. We are a small department, Maya Campbell (the tall one) and I (curly hair).
I was sitting in my office one day attending to business as usual, when I hear a gasp, “It’s him!”
“Who?” I ask
“Nate from Españolistos!”
Maya enthusiastically jumped up from her seat to peer around the corner. At this point, I feel like I should know what’s going on but don’t. I want to share in Maya’s excitement, but cannot figure out why we’re peering around corners at the front desk. Maya took the time to explain that she recognized Nate’s voice from the podcast her class voted on.
That could probably use some explanation at this point, too. Nate and his wife, Andrea, have a business called “Spanishland School”. As a part of what they do, they produce a podcast. They have developed a brand based on thinking like a native, with Andrea as the primary and native instructor and Nate, her husband who learned conversational Spanish through the help of various Spanish teachers, language exchanges, and Spanish Podcasts.
Maya, an instructor here at TLC, was looking for a Podcast to incorporate into her curriculum. Instead of just informing her class which podcast they’d be using, she turned it into a SPANISH debate. Students picked which podcast they wanted to represent. They each made a case for their pick and defended their stance. She did this with 3 classes and “Españolistos” was the overwhelming winner!
So back to the story, we continued to peer around the corner at the front desk, not wanting to interrupt their business with TLC, but also not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to introduce ourselves and explain how helpful their podcast has been. I’m not sure what kind of impression we made, but Nate and Andrea graciously agreed to a sit-down with us.
Over some most delicious fast-food chicken, we deliberated how we could work together. Some might see us in competition until you consider that language is best acquired from multiple sources. Well-formed partnerships can foster more opportunities for students to learn, which is the ultimate goal!
We look forward to Nate and Andrea’s visits next week and hosting workshops for them, and Maya may even get to make a guest appearance on their podcast!!
Until next time and remember, an accent is a sign of bravery.
Who Learns Languages Faster: Adults or Kids?
Lin is a 5-year-old Chinese girl, and she invites her 27-year old mom to learn English with her.
“Oh sweetie, mommy is too old to learn a new language!” Her mom, Wei, replies.
“That’s not true!” Their English teacher claims and they decide to do an experiment.
Lin and Wei have an instructional English class in China for one hour.
Guess who learns more?
27-year-old Wei learns more.
This advantage of faster learning persists even after 5 years, when they both keep learning English as a foreign language in China.
In a parallel universe, Lin and Wei directly immigrate to America. They don’t have time for classes so they are learning English in the non-instructional immersion-context of their daily lives. Guess who learns more in 1 year?
Wei, mom, learns faster in the first year, but Lin, daughter, catches up in 2 years and eventually surpasses her mom overall in 7 years; though it does not mean 12-year-old Lin can write a resume or publish a paper like her mom.
In another alternate universe, Wei might start learning English in America at 22 and reach native-like proficiency. Such a universe exists, but is less common.
The fear of being too old to learn a new language
We cannot tell you how many times we have heard the complaint “I am just too old to learn a new language!” Perhaps you’ve even thought this yourself. What if we told you your age could actually be an advantage in language learning?
Though human’s general learning ability declines as people age, including language learning ability; the fear of simply being “too old” has its root in the “critical period hypothesis“, which assumes irreversible biological changes prevent you from being a successful language learner as you get older. In other words, it’s the “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mentality. This, however, is merely a hypothesis.
We do know that age can be associated with many factors. For instance, in the example above, Wei’s well-developed Chinese interferes with English learning, or Wei’s mind is too crowded with family and work to make room for pure language learning, or Wei’s strong identity as Chinese prevent her from speaking a second language, or Wei’s concern with grammar surpasses her will to try to speak.
Not only do we have good reason to be more optimistic about language learning as adults, this kind of pessimism can also hurt our ability to learn. After all, how can you learn a language if you perceive yourself to be incapable of doing so?
Lin vs. Wei: Who is a better language learner?
Instead of a one-dimensional bar diagram (figure 1), language learning is a multi-dimensional radar chart (figure 2).
Figure 2. Lin Language development Wei’s Language development
As we can see, Lin and Wei have different language learning advantages.
As an adult, Wei is better equipped with knowledge about language because of her well-developed first language, Chinese. She already knows basic language concepts such as “verb” “noun” and “sentence structure”, and can apply such knowledge into English learning, since languages do share a deep, common base. Lin, on the contrary, is still developing her first language and mapping out the panorama of language (figure 3).
Figure 3. Wei Lin
Wei also has a faster learning rate. She learns more content than Lin in a class (25 min) or in immersion, non-instructional environment (up to a year) because of cognitive maturation and previous language knowledge. In short, adults are better at problem solving which helps them decode languages. This initial advantage can be lost in 3-5 years in immersion context, though. In foreign language context (studying a language in a classroom setting in a country where it is not the majority language), however, the advantage persists (figure 4).
Wei has stronger motivation because of clear goals. Lin may only be motivated by sweets and praises from teachers; Wei may seek a career opportunity or a new possibility for life. Ultimately, motivation to learn a language determines a lot in successful language acquisition.
Wei’s cognitive maturation is also a powerful aid for language learning, especially when the language learning tasks involves complex thinking. For example, in instructional context, Wei usually comprehends and applies grammar rules faster than Lin. Dealing with language tasks that involve cognitive capacity, adults usually excel children.
Lin’s ultimate attainment (overall language performance based on fully-developed language proficiency) can reach native speaker level, while it is harder for Wei, especially in terms of pronunciation. However, pronunciation really comes after communication, and many people assume too little tolerance and patience from native speakers. Studies also suggest that children are better at learning language implicitly, just like the way they learn to ride a bicycle. But how we learn a language does not equate with how well we learn it.
There are, however, some simple tactics for language acquisition children naturally use adults can try to help in their language learning process.
What Adult Students Can Learn From Children
- Communication before grammar
There is trade-off between accuracy and fluency – put communication first because that’s what language is for.
- Verbal Repetition of words & sentences as many times as possible.
It helps commit words to memory and practice pronunciation.
- Learn through topics that interest you
Why do you think toddlers have no problems remembering names of 20 different dinosaurs?
- Connect language learning to the actual world
If you want to remember “grapefruit” in Chinese, eat it when learning to say it; learning household items in German? Label everything in your house!
- Use your time wisely – small Link, high frequency
Give yourself plenty of time and learn over a long period in small amounts to ensure that the new information is retained long-term and is easy to access. Taking months and years to work on our language proficiency, with frequent revisions, repetitions, working on one thing for a longer while, and going back to old things has a positive effect on our long-term outcomes.
- Stick with it!
Don’t give up, don’t take breaks, don’t postpone or delay, keep going, just like kids do!
As I’m writing this, we are wrapping up registrations for another term of classes, and I’m finding myself talking about our courses and teachers to many prospective students. I often get asked if the teacher in a selected class is a native speaker of the language they teach. It’s a simple yes/no question but I have so many problems with it!
The question usually comes from the underlying assumptions that native speakers…
A) are better teachers
B) know the language more extensively
C) students will learn to speak the language with their teachers’ native accents.
Because English is the most widely taught foreign/second language in the world, the issue of native-speaker preference is already being tackled in that universe and there is a lot we can learn from it, but let us take a moment here to discuss what we know from working with teachers of different languages and tackle the three assumptions mentioned above.
There is no research that supports the assumption that native speakers make better teachers; there are no studies or statistics showing that students learn more, better or faster from native vs. non-native speakers. Where learning is concerned, other characteristics of a teacher are a much better measure. You will find that a teacher’s personality traits like patience and creativity, as well as, positive attitude and personal investment in teaching are the main predictors of students’ overall success.
Good teachers are those who are trained to teach foreign languages, have a passion for it, are kind and respectful towards their students, and continue to grow professionally. Both native and non-native teachers have the opportunity to become exquisite teachers, and the mere fact that someone is a native speaker doesn’t bring them any closer to being a good language teacher.
On average, indeed, native speakers know more of the given language than non-native speakers, but only if we control for education levels. If we, however, compare a well-educated non-native speaker with a native speaker with less education, we will find that the non-native speaker will speak more intelligibly and will be able to use the language correctly in a wider range of situations, including professional and formal circumstances.
Something else worth noting is teaching a language requires what we could call “meta-knowledge” of the language, or some rudimentary linguistic awareness of the language. Let’s observe some examples of different language features that must be taught to students: the passive voice in English or German, the subjunctive in French and Spanish, the gender-number agreement in Russian and Polish. Native speakers of these languages use these features in their language every day but of course they never think about them. If asked, “why do you say it this way” they may have no idea. Alternatively, not every non-native teacher would do a good job teaching a class about it (see point A), but every one of them would know the concept of “passive voice, subjunctive, etc.”, why it has to have a place in the curriculum, why it needs to be used, and what is the difference between the passive and active voice – just to use this one example.
So what a teacher needs regarding language knowledge is both the functional ability, which is similar type of skill to riding a bike – you don’t know the mechanics of the bike or anatomy behind your muscle movements but you can ride a bike; and the analytical ability, i.e. having the awareness of each grammar point, sentence structure, fine differences between similar words and so on. On average, non-native teachers will have higher level of awareness of grammar and structures of the language than native teachers, but native teachers will have, on average, higher functional ability.
The trouble with accent is that although some (very few) people will actually pick up an accent from another speaker or their teacher, and to a minimal degree all of us can and do even in our native language (i.e. we try to accommodate the speaker by speaking similarly to them), most of us are not able to mimic perfectly the pronunciation or intonation of someone else, especially in a foreign language. If we were able to pick up accents just like that, I would now (after living almost 4 years in the United States!) have a perfect local accent. I don’t and I won’t, although I listen to and speak with Americans all the time. Typically, your accent in a new language is determined by your first language: most of us, saying things in a new language, sound like we are speaking our native tongue with new words and sentence order! Your accent will also be determined by other languages you learned or use. Finally, we might hear a little bit of your teacher in you, but probably no more than a tiny percentage.
This is all to say that having a native speaker as a teacher does not in itself give students any particular advantages.
Some teachers actually say being non-native is an advantage in a classroom!
But ultimately, rigorous training, actual and certified language proficiency, as well as personality and attitude should be the only selection criteria when hiring instructors in all language teaching institutions, for both native and non-native teachers.
TN Language Center
The Tennessee Language Center (formerly TFLI), an agency of the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service established in 1986, is dedicated to responsive service of the public sector, the business community and private citizens in realizing their intercultural communication goals.