Rose Sau Lugano

Rose Lugano likes to use music in her Swahili classes at UF; when an essay is due on a Friday, students are rewarded by a chance to learn and sing songs. “Swanglish has renamed Friday as Furahiday, and furahi means ‘happy.’” The songs will stay with the students long after class, and even after the course; music “ignites memories” of the associated words and structures. Every week her students also learn one of the more than 500 Swahili proverbs—another bit of language and culture that will stay with them for a long time.

Rose Sau Lugano was born in the coastal region of Kenya, in 1958.  In her village, the everyday language was Kitaita, a Bantu language related to Swahili; like most Africans, she soon became trilingual. English was the language of instruction in the schools, which followed British models, though Kitaita was often used to clarify or supplement the other languages.  Swahili, the national language of Kenya, was taught as a separate subject. Kitaita, she notes, like some other African languages, is “endangered,” less and less useful as its speakers move away from their home base. She herself moved for high school to Mombasa, in the traditionally Swahili-speaking part of Kenya, and this stimulated her love of that language.

With teaching in mind, Rose completed a Bachelor’s degree at Kenyatta University in Nairobi with concentrations in Swahili, linguistics, and physical education (like Chris Overstreet in Germany, she needed to be able to teach two subjects! https://people.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/2013/01/25/christina-overstreet/). She taught for several years and then, in 1987-89, she undertook a Master’s at the University of Nairobi, as part of a professional development program for Swahili instructors. After another decade of teaching Swahili at Kenyatta University, she came to the U.S. to work on a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Penn State, with a minor in Women’s Studies. In her thesis, she discusses the portrayal of female children in some African novels written in Swahili and English.

Rose’s doctoral work was complicated by two factors: she brought her three teen-age daughters with her to Penn State, and—of course—she was a teaching assistant. (The daughters did well, eventually earning college degrees in the U.S.; two of them have returned to Kenya.) Swahili was the only African language offered at Penn, and Rose felt comfortable teaching these courses.  However, for fifteen years she had been teaching students to understand their native language, or an established second language, in Kenya. A classroom full of students who had never even heard an African language spoken required a different approach. Besides some basic guidance in general classroom techniques, she attended the summer institute at Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored by the National African Language Resource Center.

In 2004, the newly minted Dr. Lugano came to UF as a lecturer, and she remains delighted with Gainesville. The climate and vegetation remind her of home.  The Center for African Studies at UF provides a satisfying sense of collegiality: not only does UF offer several years of Swahili, but Akan, Amharic, Wolof, Xhosa, and Yoruba are taught, as well as Arabic, and there is far more opportunity to teach African literatures and cultures. “We have a very strong program; I think we have the best program in the nation,” she observes. Moreover, she has found teaching support and ideas through visiting the classes of other language lecturers, including Yukari Nakamura Deacon (URL) in Japanese and Malka Dagan in Hebrew. Support also comes from beyond UF, for example through such resources as the Kiswahili kwa kompyuta website at University of Georgia.

Rose has taught beginning, intermediate, and advanced Swahili at UF, and also regularly teaches a course on African women authors from many cultures; although she begins with Mwana Kupona’s poem from about 1860, most of these authors are contemporary. In 2010, she won a Teaching Award in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. When the African Languages Initiative began summer language institutes at UF, she was involved in the Swahili program. Through AFLI contacts, she undertook the creation of a workbook (soon to be published) for the classic textbook Swahili: A Foundation for Speaking, Reading & Writing, by Thomas J. Hinnebusch et al.

Rose is also developing a computer-based Swahili proficiency test for American students, which will have its first trial in the Language Learning Center this Fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gianfrancco Balestriere

Gianfranco Balestriere grew up on an island, dreaming (to the tune of American pop songs) about exploring the wide world. He knew he loved languages, and imagined perhaps a diplomatic career. In the end, however, teaching Italian turned out to be the key to “heaven”—which is what he calls his job at UF.

The island was Ischia, in the Bay of Naples. There he received a classical education, studying Latin and Greek, and English as if it too were a “dead” language; he mastered English grammar well enough, but could not speak.  When he moved to Naples to attend college, though, he learned to communicate not only in English classes—he majored in English—but also with fellow students from the U.S. and U.K.

He studied Romanian in college as well, with his eye on a scholarship to study in Bucharest, then a Soviet bloc capital. He was successful in winning the scholarship, and took advantage of it to explore Eastern Europe; he caught a glimpse of the workers’ actions in Poland, led by Lech Walesa. It was exciting, as a young Westerner, to discover the world “behind the curtain,” forbidden territory to most non-party members.

Gianfranco was even more interested in the West, though, thanks to American music and culture. He had already visited the U.S., when he was fifteen; his father was living in Norwalk, Connecticut, and Gianfranco’s visit included a trip to New York City, a different sort of island paradise from Ischia. Knowing, on graduation from the university, that he probably wanted to teach languages, he won a graduate scholarship to Indiana University. He studied Medieval Literature there under Mark Musa, and earned a Master’s degree. Despite the cold and snow, Gianfranco enjoyed his years there.

Indiana also provided his first opportunity to teach Italian. He took a brief training for TAs and a course in pedagogy. He had long since outgrown the very passive style of his first language classes, with their emphasis on grammar and translation. The Romanian class he had taken in college was quite different—a small class with a lively professor and a commitment to equipping students with a full range of skills. When Gianfranco talks about his own preferred classroom method, he says that “a lot of fantasy” feeds the environment for learning Italian.

When Gianfranco received his Master’s degree, he immediately found a job at UF, and has been here ever since—25 years now—with one break when he worked for the Foreign Service Institute for three years, working intensively with diplomats competing for posts in Italy.  He had thought this might be a good career move, but in the end he missed the college classroom and returned to UF.  He has taught various levels of language and culture classes, and also medieval literature. An absorbing experiment in the past few years has been his Pirandello class, which culminates every year in a student performance, with costumes, props, and supertitles, of a play in Italian.

In the summers, Gianfranco has taught yet another kind of language class—for students from a variety of countries and native languages, who come to the school in Southern Italy. The only common language in the classroom is the Italian they are learning, and instruction requires a gift for expressing ideas without words, as well as with them. For the past ten years or so, however, Gianfranco has instead worked fwith UF students in our own summer programs for study abroad in Italy.

Currently, though,  Gianfranco is looking all the way back to his experiences learning English grammar in high school; he has been teaching a class for graduate students who want to learn to read Italian, with a minimal time commitment, and he is planning to put that class online.  The trick, it seems, will be to find a way, through video, audio, and Skype sessions, to convey that personal touch that sparks his students in person.  He is looking at Web options for supporting materials, and is excited by Italian reading sites like Loescher’s “Italian for Foreigners.”

 

Victor M. Jordán-Orozco

“The classroom is where I develop and grow, and that’s where I have my attachments,” Victor Jordán-Orozco says.  He has been in many classrooms, teaching many subjects, on the way to his present position as a Spanish lecturer. “It took me a very long time to decide what I wanted to be when becoming  a grown-up. I was always looking for things.” So far, and for the moment, teaching Spanish at UF seems to satisfy this restlessness.

Victor was born and grew up in Cali, one of the biggest cities in Colombia. His first ambition was to become a doctor, so, after high school, he studied biochemistry in Bogotá and enrolled in the medical school in Cali. After a few years, he realized that a medical career would not satisfy him. He resolved to travel, and after a term in an ESOL program at Southern Illinois University, he enrolled as an undergraduate there. He was delighted by the variety of coursework available, and took a BA in history with a minor in psychology, proceeding to study for an MA in history.  While still in Carbondale, he  married a fellow Colombian who was also studying there. They returned to Cali, where he planned to write a Master’s thesis (he never did).  He had hoped to join a history faculty, but found the atmosphere in the departments there too doctrinaire for his taste.

Victor’s teaching career began at this point. A friend, knowing about his English-language skills, asked him to pitch in as a substitute second-grade teacher at a bilingual private school. “I loved it! I discovered something I had never experienced. So I have been in education ever since.” He taught at elementary, middle, and high-school levels over the next decade or so, mostly subjects such as history, geography, psychology, even economics, but also the whole range of elementary-school materials. His responsibilities increased, and he became principal and then rectór of a private school. While well-paid, these administrative jobs took him away from the classroom—and from his family, too.

It was time for a change. The family had already spent a difficult year in Miami, when Victor’s wife became part of a medical trial. Victor had taken advantage of the break to pick up a master’s degree in “Computer Applications in Education.” Now, moving to the U.S. seemed likely to open up opportunities –educational, at least—for the children and for Victor too. In 2001, the family moved to Miami. The first taste of being immigrants was not so sweet: “you have to start over.” It got better; Victor and his wife are becoming  U.S. citizens this summer (2013).

In 2002, Victor’s oldest daughter was enrolling at UF, and he had been accepted into UF’s doctoral program in Spanish Literature, so the whole family moved to Gainesville: “We were Gators at the same time.“ He saw the change as an opportunity to take seriously his desire to write fiction and poetry.  (He has published a book of poetry, Tremores, and a story in Pegaso  and in the online journal Divergencias; more are online on his blog. )

Victor wrote theses for both his MA and PhD in Spanish literature at UF, looking at the representation of particular cultural elements—race/ethnicity, technology—in 19th-century Colombian fiction. Technology in 19th-century Colombia:  railways, ships and boats, carriages, telegraphs, plows and combine harvesters, eyeglasses, clocks and watches!

The UF Spanish program, of course, had Victor teaching Spanish language courses from the time of his arrival.  Though he had never taught Spanish or at the university level, “teaching is teaching.” He was and is very aware of the need to learn more about the language, to stay fresh and have new insights for students who ask interesting questions. Victor moved from teaching assistant to adjunct to lecturer; eventually he taught both first-year and third-year courses, and introductory classes in Latin-American literature. Currently he is the coordinator of Spanish 1134, a large and relatively new “accelerated” course for students who have some high-school credits in the language.

Victor claims he could not train a Spanish instructor—he would need a deeper understanding of grammar, phonology, and morphology. But it is fascinating to hear how he would train a teacher to teach: how you place your desk and the students’ seats, when to be loud or quiet, when to call on someone and when to ignore them, how to confront them effectively over problematic performance or behavior. “Circles are magic” for encouraging conversation; never put more than 4 students in a small group; and so on.  Above all, you the teacher must communicate to students the value of the knowledge you are trying to transmit to them. Working with middle-schoolers, in particular, taught Victor to be relaxed in the classroom, in control of his message, respectful of the students while commanding their respect. “There are some ways in which we just don’t grow up,” he laughs, including himself and me in that sweep.

Yasuo Uotate

Yasuo Uotate won a 2013 teaching award in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences—despite, or because of, being well-known among his students as “strict.”[1] Even in the first year, he expects students to address him in Japanese; his methods create a community within and even outside the classroom, as students learn to handle more and more transactions in their new language.

Yasuo was born in Kushimoto, a small town at the southern tip of Honshu Island. In junior high, he excelled in math and science, and thus he entered a high school focusing on those subjects. However, his interests changed;  watching American TV shows, he began to take an interest in the English language—though it was so much more resistant to his analytical mind. He majored in English at Kansai Gaidai University, near Osaka.

Yasuo travelled on four continents during his college years. As a freshman, he spent a month in Hawaii, on a program which included a quick trip to California. The next year, he visited Italy. He studied for a year in Perth, Australia, struggling a bit with the Australian accent. He spent enough time with Singaporean fellow students to pick up some “Singlish” as well as improving his English. He went backpacking in Malaysia and Thailand.

BA work at Kansai Gadai included a minor in teaching Japanese, as well as a major in teaching ESL, with brief stints in the classroom. Yasuo considered returning to Australia, but the most attractive grad school offer came from the U.S. He obtained support as a teaching assistant at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

A training program in Georgia prepared him to teach beginning Japanese. At the same time, as part of his graduate work in teaching ESL, he found himself teaching English to international students at a private school in West Chester.

This was the critical moment when he realized that he would rather teach Japanese than English. Yasuo realized that, as a native speaker, he had resources to offer students of Japanese that he would probably never have when teaching English, no matter how sophisticated his knowledge of the language became. (Yukari Deacon made the same decision to move from a career teaching ESL to one teaching Japanese, at about the same point in her own career, though her reasoning was different.) Although he completed the MA in ESL at West Chester, his ideas about his next step changed.

Williams College offered Yasuo a position as a Language Fellow in Japanese. His two years there were essential for developing sound pedagogical practices. He had some further training at Bryn Mawr (where he met Yukari Nakamura Deacon, who would eventually become a colleague at UF). After Williams, he went on to a position at Bates College in Maine. Then a position at UF opened up, and he came here.

Coming from stints at small liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, Yasuo needed a little time to adjust to the academic atmosphere at a big state university. Students enroll in Japanese with a varied set of study habits and goals., and sometimes have to learn quickly how much work is needed to master the material. He values and exploits student interest in various aspects of Japanese culture (these days, he notes, some of them are playing the Japanese-language versions of video games).  His students quickly become involved in learning beyond the confines of the textbook, so that in 2nd year he can ask them to share favorite Japanese or Japanese-language-learning websites.

Uotate-sensei is an important part of the Japanese team at UF; like the other Japanese lecturers, he teaches language at elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels, and in addition he teaches Business Japanese. He is not confined to Gainesville and UF; he returns to Japan during most summers, to teach Japanese at Kanazawa Institute of Technology.


[1] “Strict” is a term a Japanese major of my acquaintance mentioned as associated with Uotate-sensei. She characterizes him as “feared but loved.”

Yukari Nakamura Deacon

Her students convinced Yukari Nakamura Deacon to commit herself to teaching her native language. At the time, she was supporting herself by teaching Japanese in a small U.S. college, while she earned a Master’s degree; her plan was to become accredited to teach ESL at home in Japan. The American students would ask her about Japanese structures and usages, and she realized that she couldn’t answer their questions. The challenge led her to realize how much she needed to learn in order to get  her students communicating–and that she wanted to learn it.

Yukari Nakamura was born in Iwakuni, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, a town situated at a river mouth among beautiful mountains. Iwakuni is the site of US Marine Corps Air base, so there was a vivid awareness of American culture.  As a child, Yukari had English lessons, which she recalls with pleasure—the teacher’s pedagogical methods included rewarding vocabulary memorization with candy. The little girl became aware of cultural differences: Americans have different holidays, and different rules about, say, appropriate beverages at meals. This perspective on her own culture was liberating.

At Kansai Gaidai University, Yukari majored in English and American literature, and she took advantage of a year-abroad program. She was sent to St. Olaf College, in chilly Northfield, Minnesota. It was a difficult year, because of the cold, her homesickness, and her struggles to bring her English to new levels. Returning to Kansai, her immediate feelings were that she never wanted leave home again, but she began to realize that the improvement in her English skills had made it worth while.

She recalls how shocked she was by the attitude of the St. Olaf students in class. Unlike reserved Japanese students, they asked questions (thereby revealing that they had not understood the teacher!), expressed their feelings, and even challenged the instructor. At the time, she did not feel ready to join the discussions. A few years later, though, when she was teaching Japanese, it was the questions and challenges posed by her American students that she found exciting.

Yukari’s first job after graduation was with the university registrar’s office, but before long she decided she would rather teach. A program called Exchange: Japan offered the opportunity to study while teaching Japanese to American students. After a nine-week course in Japanese-language pedagogy at Bryn Mawr, she moved on to teach at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She earned a Master’s in Education at Carthage, but she also realized that teaching Japanese might be even more fulfilling than teaching English. To prepare for this, she enrolled in the Japanese Linguistics graduate program at University of Wisconsin, Madison.

After receiving her second MA, Yukari was eager to get into the classroom full time. The most attractive job opening was at UF. The warm weather enticed her, but even more so the pedagogical climate. She would be joining a team with a strong communicative approach and good departmental support. Susan Kubota and Yasuo Uotate (whom she had met at Bryn Mawr) welcomed her and took the time to make sure she was comfortable with the syllabus and included in conversations about the courses she was teaching. Along with her colleagues, UF students here exceeded her expectations. “They give back to me,” she says, admiring their motivation and willingness to work to learn the language.

Gainesville is now home. Yukari usually visits Japan in the summers, though this year she will not—her parents came to Gainesville instead, for her wedding to a UF linguistics graduate student, Joel Deacon, last winter. She notes that every time she returns—or just talks to Japanese exchange students here at UF—new words have crept into everyday language. She is alert to these changes, and concerned to keep her students using correct but also contemporary language. She is active in the AATJ (American Association for Teachers of Japanese) and the FFLA (Florida Foreign Language Association). Last year she received a teaching award from the FFLA.

Cynthia (Hsien) Shen

One door of the Language Learning Center (an internal door which is rarely closed) wears on its hidden side a sign saying in Chinese “Language Learning Center.” They are a relic of an ambitious project of Chinese video lessons filmed around Gainesville; as I recall, the scene for which the sign was posted involved a cassette tape exchange—in Mandarin. The less obsolete videos from that series are still being used by students in UF’s first-year Chinese courses. A film set is just one of the ways Cynthia Shen has used the Language Learning Center over the past twelve years. She has also taken advantage of web-based materials for her Chinese Heritage Speakers course, and tested speaking ability in the Sanako lab; we have assisted in making sure the streaming videos she and her colleague I-Chun Peir created are available in ever-more-generously-sized streams, too.

Hsien was born in Amoy (Xiamen), China, a port city just across from Taiwan. Her family moved to Taiwan when she was still a baby, and she grew up there. Some years ago she and her brother and sisters—now dispersed across three continents—were able to return to Amoy and explore their roots.

After completing her undergraduate studies in Taiwan, Cynthia decided to go to the US for graduate work. She had been studying English since middle school, and had picked up the name Cynthia in class (just as her UF students choose “Chinese names” for classroom purposes). She remembers studying English grammar and translation. This did not prepare her for getting off the plane in the US and realizing she had never spoken the language.

She did her MA in Sociology at the University of Cincinnati, then went on to Cornell University for Ph.D. work. It was hard work, not only dealing with the spoken language but also all the reading. Her dissertation addressed the quality of life in Japan—a choice influenced by the excellent census data available from Japan. While at Cornell, she worked as a research assistant—including a year as a research intern in Hawaii. She completed her dissertation but never looked for a job related to the field.

The big detour toward teaching Chinese came when Cynthia married and followed her husband to Gainesville, where they began their family.  The Chinese community in Gainesville wanted their children to enjoy their linguistic and cultural heritage. The Gainesville Chinese School began as UF “leisure courses” on weekends at the Reitz Union, and eventually found a home at Oak Hall School, where heritage speakers, non-speakers, children, and adults have opportunities to learn Chinese. Cynthia was active in just about every role in this school—teaching, organizing, collecting curriculum resources, managing the small library. She also tutored a high-school student who was passionately interested in learning Chinese, and his progress impressed friends who were teaching at UF.

In 2001, UF needed an adjunct lecturer in Chinese, and friends urged Cynthia to apply. She was shy about her qualifications, but her teaching demonstration convinced the faculty that she should be given a trial. It was a dramatic learning curve for her, and she took it seriously. For the first year, she shadowed Elinore Fresh —attending every single class and modeling her lessons and activities on what she saw. Since then, she has had opportunities to attend conferences and workshops. But, perhaps because she worked so hard on a Ph.D. in a different field, she seems to have doubted her qualifications for a long time, and only applied for a full-time lecturer position when it was obvious (perhaps even to her) that she was the best person for the job.

Besides driving ahead with projects like the video series to enrich the elementary Chinese program, Cynthia regularly teaches Honors Chinese and and the Anderson Scholars gave her an award for teaching. She developed the Heritage Learners course, including video and reading materials for acquiring idioms. Cynthia has worked with K-12 Chinese language teachers through the Florida Schools Chinese Program Survey, and also through the  StarTalk program of the National Security Administration and National Foreign Language Center. She is one of the directors of the UF in Bejing program, and has accompanied our students there for two years.

“Chance and opportunity” brought Cynthia Shen onto the UF faculty at the moment when Chinese was moving from being a Less Commonly Taught Language to being valued by students and administration—strategically important for business, economics, and world politics. I guess it’s Cynthia the sociologist who comments that she has enjoyed witnessing this huge change. But I had a lively discussion with Cynthia the teacher about some of the web-based tools she likes to offer her students—not only good dictionaries but a Flash tutor for  stroke order and quick ways to transcribe text in Traditional characters into the Simplified form (or vice versa) , as well as a Chinese “Dating Game” for cultural enlightenment as well as language practice.

 

 

 

 

Kole Odutola

Kole Odutola lives in Gainesville but is also a citizen of virtual Nigeria. It’s not just that he was born in Lagos and lived there until about 15 years ago; it’s not just that he is still working to understand the processes he discusses in his book Diaspora and Imagined Nationality: USA-Africa Dialogue and Cyberframing Nigerian Nationhood. It’s also because, teaching Yoruba at UF, he needs to keep abreast of the growth and change of the language, and virtual Nigeria may be a better place to do that than Nigeria itself (where it is one of a half-dozen major African languages spoken).

Kole grew up bilingual; Yoruba was spoken at home, but English is the official language of Nigeria and was spoken in school. He developed an intellectual vocabulary in Yoruba by participating in the Yoruba literary and debating society in high school, and later was involved in a TV series on health in Yoruba, working with doctors and scientists to find vocabulary for new concepts and to translate, sometimes on the fly. He was not however primarily interested in languages when he was younger; he majored in Botany at the University of Benin, and was a budding poet and photographer. During and after college, though he did teach high school biology for a year, he became involved in media projects, particularly with regard to the environment. This in turn led, in the 90s, to work with  organizations studying and promoting environmental protection, when he researched and wrote reports, brochures, and workbooks integrating international ideas with local needs, policies, and methods of conservation.

In the late 1990s, Kole’s work with German environmentalists led to their asking him to study German, and he studied in Bremen as well as travelling in Germany. Almost immediately, though, an opportunity came up for graduate work at the University of Reading in the U.K., in a program which seemed a perfect fit: using television and video in developing countries. This led to a documentary called Listening for Real in which street children in Nairobi participated in recording their lives.  It also led Kole himself to continue his education in the U.S., with a second M.A. in communications, from Ithaca College. Whereas much of his work up to this point had had to do with public education, this time he was working on instructional design. In 2001, he entered the Ph.D. program in Media Studies at Rutgers. His research made him “a hunter and gatherer of texts” online, and his 2010 thesis became his book on Nigerian internet communities.

It was at Rutgers that Kole began teaching the Yoruba language. The Africa National Resource Center at University of Wisconsin, Madison provided training—first, through a visit to Rutgers by Antonia Folarin Schleicher—author of Yoruba textbooks—and later in a two-week summer course in Madison. Despite the variety of African languages and the diversity of problems (phonetic, typographic) involved in instruction, this program offered not only principles and practices for the classroom but also collegiality among what might otherwise be isolated teachers of the least commonly taught languages in the U.S. He met several of his current UF colleagues during the summer program.

Kole’s interest in teaching Yoruba developed rapidly, building on his Ithaca College work on instructional design. He worked for three years with Professor Akintoye Ojo of the University of Georgia to develop a strongly culturally-inflected multimedia introduction to the Yoruba language, AKOYE, which is available as a CD or online. . In 2006, he accepted a position as lecturer in Yoruba at UF, and in 2012 he was promoted to senior lecturer.

In teaching language, Kole draws on his own experience as an adult learner of German. He not only teaches language and culture, but also discusses with his students the process of learning a foreign language. He uses songs (set to familiar tunes) and other experiences to stimulate students’ interest and memory, and give them confidence in handling Yoruba’s phonetics. He is constantly working on new materials, whether audio recordings or the DVD and workbook Ẹ wá kó Yorùbá, which he developed five years ago.  Yoruba classes are often an interesting mix of students with an interest in West Africa or in Western Hemisphere languages related to Yoruba, and UF athletes (Kole has acquired all too much experience in working with football and basketball schedules). A different mix of students comes to UF in the summers to learn Yoruba in the African Languages Initiative (AFLI), and this intensive program can include field trips and experiences cooking and eating Yoruba meals.

I asked him whether, given his experience on AKOYE, he and his UF colleague Professor Akinyemi would consider developing an online course in Yoruba, but he shook his head: over the technical issues. Yoruba is a tonal language, and its diacritics are complicated; simply to read a text requires a special font (often a specific copyrighted one), and typing it is a greater challenge. But Kole tells me that progress is being made: even Facebook is working on developing a keypad with the needed letters, and programmers are working on texting apps. So perhaps at the next stage of “virtual Nigeria”’s development Kole will be teaching distant students.

Antonio Gil

Antonio Gil is not, he says, “the vision person” for Spanish language teaching at UF, but he is just about everything else. TAs know him both as “Dr. No”—the man to whom you send students who need to hear that word—and as Santa Claus.  As Dr. No, Antonio can evaluate situations quickly, based on his long experience of undergraduate hopes, needs, and excuses. But he also enjoys wearing a red shirt to department parties at the end of Fall term, and handing out gifts to the staff and other honorees. Having been at UF for 32 years, he has the seniority to be taken seriously, whether as the bad guy or the good guy. And, “philosophically,” he is Dr. Yes for the Spanish and Portuguese Studies department chair, taking on whatever courses and duties need to be covered, unfazed by awkward schedules or numerous preparations.

As co-ordinator of the lower division Spanish program, Antonio serves as guinea-pig-in-chief for waves of language-learning technology. “Never adopt [an interface] unless it has already been used for six months to a year by a comparable program,” is a rule he wishes he could follow. He and I recall a difficult year when first-year Spanish first moved from paper lab manuals (for which the Language Learning Center hosted the audio online) to the publisher’s all-too-beta-version online workbook. That seemed disastrous, but at least there was an alternative—a prompt return to the paper books, and a wait until the interface was more user-friendly. First-year Spanish is now again in the midst of a struggle with an online text generating endless problems for students and instructors. Antonio, disgusted though he is by the poor “customer service,” expects the company to clean up its act ASAP. He knows experiments usually require tweaking.

Antonio was born in Cuba, to parents who ensured he learned English by sending him to a Miami summer camp where he was the only non-native English speaker; this experience, which he remembers with pleasure, was reinforced by tutoring in English. At the age of 14—with the change in regime at home–he moved, alone, to Mexico City, where he continued his education and held various jobs, often using his English-language skills. When he was about 20, with some friends, he moved to Eugene, Oregon, where he earned a BA at the University of Oregon. A professor advised him to apply for a year-long program in Italy—he had become interested in Italian—and he became the first American student enrolled in the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa.  He returned to Eugene for graduate school, teaching Spanish and Italian as needed and eventually leaving with a Master’s in the two languages.

Somewhere in there, Antonio briefly taught Spanish in a middle school, in a small, rough Oregon town. The experiment did not last long. ”Anyone who teaches middle school for more than two years has a place in heaven.”

He looked for college-level jobs teaching Spanish and Italian, and found one at Ohio State. There, he was involved in an innovative program, funded by a grant, of individualized, independent language instruction: students worked through lessons on their own, but could meet with their teachers one-on-one during extensive office hours; they passed tests at their own pace. It strikes me that this late-1970s experiment ought to be very applicable to online learning, and Antonio agrees.

At the end of his three-year contract at Ohio, he was looking around for other positions, and finding mostly very short contracts. UF made the best offer—a year—and Antonio, now with a family, moved to Gainesville. Obviously, the contract was renewed. His experience in Ohio’s large language programs prepared him for organizational jobs at UF. As co-ordinator of the lower-division program, he not only helps train the language instructors and troubleshoots for them, but also schedules sections, orders the textbooks, prepares the syllabus and exams, and everything else that has to be done on the ground for UF’s largest language program.

Antonio also works as a translator and intepreter; he picked up work at first from a local immigration attorney. Now, he notes, he is often working for internet customers whom he will never meet in the flesh. In the early 2000s, UF had a program in translation studies, and he taught a course in legal translation and interpretation. Antonio has taught Italian here, too, though it was clear when Spanish and Portuguese became a separate department that he would be most needed there, and there he remains, providing departmental memory and the authority of his “No.” And presents at Christmas..

Sherrie Nunn

Sherrie Nunn loves teaching languages.  She loved teaching elementary-school children, even fifth-graders who were “too cool for school,” but she thinks she is better at teaching college students. She loved teaching Spanish, right from her first opportunity to do so back in the days when teacher training consisted at most of “what to do the first day,” but now she loves teaching Italian. She took her first course in Italian when she was 24 years old, but it is the language where she feels “at home”—in the culture and therefore in the language.

Sherrie was born and lived in the Northeast until she was about 10, when the family moved to Fort Pierce, Florida. Her mother is Italian-American, but there were no opportunities to study Italian: in high school, “You took Spanish or French.”  Her older sister took Spanish and Sherrie was fascinated by her exams; she looked forward to initiation into these mysteries. The Italian was something that she picked up as a grad student and later as a lecturer at UF. She traveled to Italy beginning in 1995 and lived in Rome for the 2000-2001 school year, when UF gave her a half-pay professional development leave. That year, she discovered an authentic love for the language and the city. Since then, she has been teaching at least one Italian course a semester, and she has spent every summer with UF’s Rome program.

She majored in Spanish in college, and (after a few miserable months in the “real world” as a telephone travel agent) went on to get an MA at the University of Florida. As a grad student, she not only took Italian (which was being offered for the first time at UF), but also French and Portuguese.  Grad school also meant teaching elementary Spanish, and she found this came naturally.  She was enjoying grad school so much that she took more than three years to finish her MA.

For five years after getting her degree, Sherrie taught Spanish to all grades in an elementary school in a small town in the Florida Keys. She enjoyed life there, and it was “great fun” teaching  children, who are “little sponges” for language. Since her TA  experience didn’t apply to this new situation, she undertook to observe each group in their other classes to understand their expectations and how to get them to respond. She stayed in the Keys for five years, and left mostly because friends advised her to be more ambitious.

In 1994 Sherrie was asked to join the UF faculty, and returned as a lecturer in Spanish, with responsibility for co-ordinating one of the elementary courses. But, especially after her first visit to Italy, her commitment to Spanish began to lose out to her love of Italian. When the language departments were split and realigned in 2006, she had to choose between the Spanish and the Italian sections; she chose Italian.

Why was this? Sherrie had spent time in Mexico and in Spain, and of course was familiar with Florida’s Cuban culture.  And her college teachers had come from many different countries.  She  did not have the cultural and verbal fluency that comes from involvement with one Hispanic country in particular. “If someone had told me … to align myself with one particular Spanish-speaking country,” she thinks, she would have been able to move towards the native-speaker mentality.  During her year in Rome, living with an Italian family, she made that connection to the life behind the language.

Sherrie has seen language teaching methods come and go. She learned by memorizing dialogues in high school, survived the “audio-lingual” method, and taught “grammar and vocabulary” to students who did not necessarily expect to actually speak the language. Then came the “communicative approach” with new tools and goals for both students and teachers. Now  grammar is the homework, and class time is spent demystifying it by speaking, so that the dreaded passato prossimo becomes familiar before students realize it. The student’s movement from confusion to understanding is one of the pleasures of language learning.

In the interests of fostering that movement among her summer Rome Program students, Sherrie initiated a wiki, UF a Roma, where students can post materials documenting their “culture shock” in Italy.  The next step will be to design a site looking at the culture shock a Roman might experience on moving to Gainesville.

She is also looking at applications like Voki and Lingq, which allow conversations between teacher and student without the face-to-face element. Sometimes it’s easier to give feedback through an avatar or other intermediary. Sherrie will be spending time in the coming year developing a distance-learning course for reading Italian, so she will have plenty of opportunity to explore options for online teaching.

 

Elinore Fresh

Elinore Fresh has lived not only in Florida and Taiwan, but in Second China; in fact, she was one of the architects of that virtual island, located online in Second Life.  Unfortunately, she tells me, the lease ran out and the programming has probably reverted to primitive chaos, but while it lasted it was a place she could visit with her classes, sometimes jointly with classes at another university, to clarify business culture in the People’s Republic. This virtual China was the result of a 2007 Department of Defense grant on which Elinore worked with German professor Franz Futterknecht, Computer & Information Science & Engineering professor Paul Fishwick, and Julie Henderson. It was an exciting project for me to watch develop, and a notable instance of co-operation between what were at the time separate language departments (Germanic and Slavic and African and Asian, both subsumed in 2008 in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures).

Elinore was born in Florida, but at the age of 6 months she traveled with her mother and brother to join her father, who was stationed by the Navy in Taiwan. “Chinese was my first language”—she had a Chinese nanny, went to a Chinese school, and spoke Chinese with her brother at home, too, with English reserved for her parents.  On her seventh birthday, she returned to the United States with her family. As is usual with small children, she quickly learned that speaking Chinese was not an asset and replaced it with English, painfully learning to participate in schoolyard culture. After a couple of years in California, Elinore’s father was stationed for four years in Cairo, and she attended a school where English was the main language but Arabic and French were also spoken and taught. Returning to a small Florida town, she experienced “reverse culture shock” as one of the few students who had ambitions beyond high school graduation.

Her childhood experience did not make it easy for Elinore to “pick up” Chinese again as an adult, though it provided a powerful motivation to do so. At UF she majored in Political Science and pursued the study of French. It was only when she happened to attend a lecture about the famous Terracotta Warriors  that she considered learning Chinese again. At first she did so poorly that she withdrew from the course, but as a senior she decided to try again, and succeeded, following up with a two-month program at the Beijing Foreign Language Institute. This confirmed for her that she wanted to pursue Chinese, and Professor Chauncey Chu advised her that she should spend more time in China.

After some post-doc preparation at UF, and financial preparation working in a Chinese restaurant in Orange Park near Jacksonville, Elinore moved to Taiwan and enrolled in a university in Taipei. She found work teaching English to children, and made friends—among fellow university students and also through chance meetings with citizens. Sometimes these friendships had the quality of yuan fen, benignly inevitable, however apparently coincidental.  Elinore ended up spending two and a half years in Taipei, not only teaching but working for a government think tank. In the latter role, she was involved in several Asian cultural conferences. This stimulated her ambitions.

Elinore decided to pursue a graduate degree in Asian Studies, and she enrolled at the University of Hawaii.  She completed the MA and a translation program; when she entered the Ph.D. program in Chinese literature, she began teaching Chinese.  Subsequently, her parents’ needs brought her home to Jacksonville before she could finish her doctoral dissertation. After a period teaching Chinese and working for Jacksonville’s Sister Cities program, she was hired to teach English in Yingkou, in Liaoning province, one of Jacksonville’s sister cities Again, however, she needed to come back to Florida for her family.

At this point, UF’s Chinese program needed a one-year replacement for a professor on leave, and Elinore was in the right place at the right time.  It was 1998, and the Chinese program was growing, so Elinore’s contract as  visiting lecturer was renewed for several years and then a full-time lecturer position opened up.,She has taught all levels of undergraduate Chinese, including literature and culture courses. She participated in UF’s Business College Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) and developed a curriculum for Business Chinese. She also  participated in the China Retail Study Tour, using her Yingkou connections to give the program more depth. 2013 will be her first summer in charge of UF’s Chinese language program in Beijing.

Elinore’s first pedagogical “mentors” were the children to whom she taught English in Taiwan: “when you start learning a language, you are a child,” mimicking others, playing games. Her training in teaching Chinese, though, came through the NFLRC in Hawaii, from Stephen Tschudi, Cynthia Ning, and others. She quickly developed a taste for communicative activities and task-based learning, to stimulate students to speak with confidence—a reaction to her own memories of shyness the first time she visited China as an adult. The key is to “learn to laugh at yourself”—she loves to tell stories of blunders she made, and how the kindness and courtesy of the Chinese makes it easy to communicate. “I teach them the way I would have liked to be taught.”

After her peripatetic childhood and ten years of commuting from Jacksonville, Elinore seems to have settled in Gainesville—she bought a house here. Taiwan is important to her because of her memories of childhood. But she comments on her wide net of friends: “it’s the people who make the place for me.”