FL Staff – Test


Jorge Luna

Originally from Guatemala, Jorge Luna earned his teaching degree and has been teaching Spanish and English for over 20 years. Jorge has been a Spanish instructor at TFLI since 2002 , teaches our “Beginning Spanish Medical Interpretation Technique” workshop and teaches a workplace “Spanish for Medical Professionals” course at several hospitals in the Nashville area. In addition to teaching for TFLI, Jorge is a Spanish Interpreter for the Metro Nashville Public Health Department and does translation work. He also puts his professional skills in medical Spanish interpretation to use as a volunteer on medical missions to Latin America each year. According to some of his students, “he is the most patient man in the world!”

Jorge LunaSpanish Instructor
Karina Daza

Karina grew up in New York raised by a family of Latino immigrants. Spending many hours of her childhood with her grandparents who spoke only Spanish, Karina was bilingual from the very start. Her interest in languages grew during her music studies, as she began to learn vocal pieces in Italian and French from an early age. This interest grew even more once she began traveling abroad. Karina decided to double-minor in French and Spanish in college, spending a summer in Paris and 6 months in Granada, Spain. Since then, Karina has focused much of her time on Latino culture and also spent time in Colombia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Morocco, to name a few. Karina loves to teach Spanish and make her classes interactive, often employing creative and effective techniques such as music, stories, and games to encourage language learning.

Karina DazaSpanish Instructor
Maria Benham


Native of Santiago, Chile. Over 20 years teaching the Spanish Language in Colleges, High Schools, and Foreign Language Institutes.
-Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish Language (WA State) -Licensed Interpreter for Hospitals/Clinics and Health Dept (WA State)
-Registered Court Interpreter and Translator (WA State) -2011-2012 Faculty Excellence Award Nominee (TN State)
-2018 Teacher Of The Year Award from NCE (Nashville Community Education)

I became an Instructor because I love learning. I love reading thinking, giving and sharing. The most important point to be a qualified Instructor is my passion and sense of responsibility to my work & students. My duty is to provide students the opportunity to experience two remarkably diverse parts of the Hispanic world, while pursuing a rigorous program of Spanish language learning focusing in Grammar, Comprehension skills and Oral communication which are necessary to develop the basics of Spanish. I recognize students that truly have the desire to excel. I make learning fun, have a good personality ‐‐ lively, fun, compassionate. Learning Spanish is a pathway to educational and career opportunities. My students will learn and find ways of speaking and interacting. This knowledge is invaluable.

Maria BenhamSpanish Instructor


Rafif Alsaleh

Raised in Nashville, she came to this country as a young refugee with her family in the early 2000s. She is a recipient of TESL fellowship and graduated with a TESL Certificate from the Tennessee Language Center in 2017 for teaching Arabic and again in 2018 for teaching ESL. She holds a BS in Computer Science from Tennessee State University and a Graduate Certificate in IT management from Florida Institute of Technology and pursuing a Masters in Applied Linguistics. She currently also works as an ESL Instructor at Tennessee State University in the Intensive English Center (IEC). She provides professional Translation and Interpretation services as a volunteer at medical clinics and is a passionate of the Arabic language and Applied Linguistics.

Rafif AlsalehArabic Instructor


Jessica Klein D’Haese

Born and raised in France. After earning a Master’s in political science and an MBA in France, she held various management positions in French corporations. As she moved to the US with her husband and children in 2014, she decided to change careers and turned to what she had never ceased to love: her language. She has been giving classes to TFLI for over a year and elsewhere for about four, and also teaches creative writing. What she loves most is to make her classes as interactive as possible, basing herself on current events and French culture to ignite the conversation among her students.

Jessica Klein D’HaeseFrench Instructor
Jenny Pitts

Jennifer Pitts (Jenny) did her initial training in English and French Education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She went on to earn a Master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and most recently completed TFLI’s training in Teaching English as a Second Language. She has spent a large part of her career in higher education administration. But, her first love is language. She grew up with an unpronounceable (to Anglophones) French last name. Unfortunately, her French-Swiss great-grandfather did not deem it necessary for any of his progeny to be bilingual, and he never taught any of his 10 children or 25 grandchildren French. So, Jenny began studying French as a freshman in high school and carried on her studies through college. She has had the opportunity to travel several times to France and Switzerland and keeps up an ongoing electronic correspondence with a Swiss-French friend whom she met nearly 16 years ago via a travel website. They think they might be distant cousins!

Jenny PittsFrench Instructor
Katie Larson

I am a local Francophile who has taught in and around Davidson County for the past six years. As the 2015 recipient of the Nina Walls scholarship, I was able to not only study further to renew my French but to also deepen my approach to teaching the language as a whole. I love witnessing the acquisition of language, not only in my students, but also with my two young sons, Jasper and Felix.

Katie LarsonFrench Instructor


Silvia Pagano Lewis

Born and raised in Rome Italy, has been passionate about foreign languages at an early age.  When at the tender age of 4 she was asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she simply replied “ I want to talk to the whole world”.    She learned Italian and English simultaneously in an American school in Rome and starting in middle school all the way to college she also added Spanish, French and some Portuguese to her studies.  She has lived abroad (UK and France) and moved to the USA after getting married and has been translating as well as teaching creative writing for a nonprofit here in Nashville.

She is a poet, a mother to a freshman at MTSU, an animal lover who currently takes care of 6 rescue dogs and 1 cat.  Foreign languages and the history, arts and culture of different countries are her passion and she tries to incorporate these elements in her teachings, so her students can be exposed to the various nuances of a language by also learning the customs and folklore of that country as well.

Silvia Pagano LewisItalian Instructor
Francesca Smiraglio

I was born in Maranello, near Modena, two cities famous for balsamic vinegar, and two of the fastest cars, Ferrari and Lamborghini. I grew up in Italy, a country rich in culture.  I graduated from the University of Bologna with a BA in Modern Art, Humanities, and Literature.  Subsequent to that I received an MA in History and Preservation of Artistic Heritage.  Another enjoyable period of my life was the one year that I spent studying in Madrid, Spain.   Professionally, I have taught Italian for two years in Knoxville, as well as serving as an Italian tutor for two years at the University of Tennessee.  My heart is in teaching.  As a hobby I am a tourist guide, and love travelling and watching movies.

Francesca SmiraglioItalian Instructor

Rita was born in Roma, Italy.  She comes from the family of a scientist, so she attended the Scientific High School, and then enrolled at the University of Roma, studying Biology.  She graduated in Biology, and then she obtained a fellowship to  study/work in the virology field in Glasgow, Scotland.

After  four years in Glasgow, she moved to Los Angeles and started working at UCLA as a lab technician.  In the meanwhile she developed a passion for art, and started taking college classes in Santa Monica.  Her life is full of twists and turns, which followed her passions.

In 1988 she moved with her husband to Nashville.  She was still working in the scientific field at the time, and worked at Vanderbilt University for 12 more years.  She continued taking art classes and in 2001 obtained an Associate Degree in Fine Art from Watkins School of Art.

In the year 2000 she decided to change her profession and instead of working at Vanderbilt she started working at the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute teaching Italian.  She very much enjoyed the new experience, and taught different levels, from Beginning Italian to Advanced classes.  She has been working for the Institute (now Tennessee Language Center) all these years.

Today she is teaching the Italian Advanced Conversation Class, where she leads the class into conversation about our personal/public life, grammar and Italian literature.  The class is very lively, and has very interesting students who contribute in wonderful ways to the excitement of the class.  In the class we learn to share our life and communicate with each other in many meaningful ways, we have fun, deepen our understanding and use of the language, and make good friends.

Rita KennedyItalian Instructor


Helia Rethmann

A lead trainer for the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) Certificate program at TFLI, Helia also teaches German, ESL, TOEFL, Writing and Business English. As a trainer, Helia has developed and facilitated various professional development courses for Teachers of Foreign Languages, ESL, and Special Education. She has sixteen years of teaching/training experience and believes that learning is an ongoing process.

Helia RethmannGerman Instructor, Lead TESL Trainer
Heide Browne

I was born and educated in Germany and came to America as a certified Interpreter and translator. Not finding many opportunities for those abilities in the South, I switched gears and got a MA in Comparative Literature with German, French and English as my specialties. Before joining TFLI I have been teaching all three languages at various universities here and abroad for 40 + years, and I still enjoy doing so. I especially enjoy teaching custom classes which allows me to tailor my lessons to the individual needs of the student.

Heide BrowneGerman Instructor


Naoko Takeda is a native of Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, the home of the beautiful mountains and the Enoden trolley along the coast line, and a big Buddha. Mt. Fuji, capped with snow all year long on its peak has a fixed view of her high school classroom window.
In her professional life, she worked at a company in Tokyo as an event coordinator, where she interpreted and helped the English speaking guests who came to visit Japan as guests and lecturers at international events.

After she moved to live in TN, she started teaching at the Japanese Supplementary School in Middle Tennessee on the weekend. She teaches middle school students Japanese literacy, Math, and Social Studies.

Naoko then joined TFLI in 2014 and started teaching Japanese language at the various levels from the entry level to the intermediate high. She finds teaching her native tongue exciting and rewarding, but she especially cherish the chance to meet so many wonderfully fascinating people with different backgrounds. The experience has given her the window to look deeper into the American culture, appreciate the community she now serves and belongs to.
Recently she finished the 150-hour training of TESL program, as a Japanese language instructor. Through the experience Naoko feels she has become a better facilitator and communicator inside/ outside of the classroom.

She received her BA in Sociology from Hosei University in Tokyo.

In her free time, she enjoys spending her time with her husband and two children, who are the source of her inspiration. She also loves to read, watch movies, do yoga and go hiking in the nature.

Naoko TakedaJapanese Instructor
John Gale

Attracted to the Japanese language through a love of anime and Japanese video games, John Gale began studying Japan at the age of 19. Yes, he’s one of those “otaku” kids. But he’s taken the idea of “like anime, study Japanese” about as far as it can go. A three-year participant on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program), John taught English at two junior high schools and one elementary school in Kagawa Prefecture. Before leaving Japan, he obtained the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 1 certification, the highest non-specialized Japanese proficiency certification that a non-native speaker can get.

After returning to the US, John worked in sales, translation and interpretation in the automotive industry. But a love for teaching was kindled during his time on JET, which set him to obtain a Master of Arts in Japanese from San Francisco State University. After graduating, John returned to Nashville, worked for three years as the JET Program Coordinator at the Consulate-General of Japan in Nashville, co-founded a Japanese study and teaching Facebook group, and has been on the Planning Committee for the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival since 2013. If there’s something Japan-related in Nashville, John is probably involved…or at least aware of it.

Now, driven by a sincere desire to help others learn Japanese, “John-sensei” travels around the Mid-South teaching, presenting, and trying to help others achieve language success through their passion for Japanese culture.

John GaleJapanese Instructor


Yoon Pak

Yoon Pak was born and grew up in South Korea. She went to Austin Peay State University and studied piano performance. Yoon is currently a graduate student in Piano Pedagogy at Belmont University. She loves teaching and working with people. Yoon has taught a piano for 10 years and volunteered at many Korean events and conferences since 2007. She enjoys learning foreign languages and cultures as much as teaching.

Yoon PakKorean Instructor


Lindsay Smith

A proud alumna of the University of Notre Dame, Lindsay majored in English while studying Russian and Spanish. After graduation, she moved to Russia, where she lived for two years, teaching English and studying Russian. Next she moved to California, where she completed a Master’s degree in Russian Translation at the Monterey Institute. She passed the American Translators’ Association exam and is certified as a Russian-to-English translator. Additionally, she has earned teaching certifications in Russian as a Foreign Language and English as a Second Language.

Lindsay has worked with students across an age range spanning from preschoolers to adults. She actively follows the development of new materials for Russian teaching and is eager to try them out in her classes. She likes to bring Russian to life for her students using current pop music, memes, and jokes, as well as souvenirs and stories from her time in Russia. Boredom is her enemy.

Lindsay has always liked languages. In high school, she was the most enthusiastic Latin student.  (Latin was far more helpful in learning Russian than she had anticipated.) She has taken Spanish, German and French classes at the Tennessee Language Center. Her other hobby is ballroom dancing, which, coincidentally, is dominated by Russians. She currently teaches in the Intensive English as a Second Language Program at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, as well as at the Tennessee Language Center.

Lindsay SmithRussian Instructor