Quest presentation to teach language, bust myth

Audience members can both learn a foreign language and help bust a myth by attending SUNY Oswego student Brian Steffen’s Quest presentation on April 18.

“Myth-busting ESL with Tagalog,” at 5:15 p.m. in the Campus Center meeting room, is one of more than 150 presentations by SUNY Oswego faculty, staff and students on their scholarly and creative activities during Quest. Events are free and open to the public.

Steffen said he noticed that when people heard his major was teaching English to speakers of other languages, they asked what language he would use to teach them. When he replied “English,” he often received puzzled looks.

“People are under the myth that language can only be taught in one’s native language,” explained Steffen, a junior from Fairport.

“I wanted to do this project to demonstrate to people how this concept works by using a language that virtually no one, if any, will be familiar with: Tagalog,” Steffen said of using a technique called “comprehensible input.” “Students will learn that people—themselves included—can pick up a language they have no knowledge of with a skilled instructor.”

Steffen learned Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines, while living there for two years. “The process of learning the language surprised me because while I had some instruction of it in English, most of it was learned through talking with Filipinos in their rice fields and homes,” he said.

Those teaching English as a second language can have students in dozens of native languages, which makes it impossible to teach in all of them, he noted. “While teaching English in someone’s native language can clearly be useful, it’s unfortunately impractical,” Steffen explained.

Steffen’s adviser, Dr. Jean Ann of SUNY Oswego’s curriculum and instruction faculty, thinks his presentation is a clever way of putting audience members in the position many of those learning English may feel when they first sit in an English-speaking classroom.

Ann said she encourages students to present something that only they can share. “This is something that is very unique and very interesting that he learned Tagalog,” she explained. “He can use what he knows to make people understand a very complex idea.”

Ann predicted an engaging and educational session. “He’s going to do a great job, I’m sure, because he really gets it,” she said. “You have to make a hook with a student and make learning possible. All of us learners can do that. All of us can help people learn.”

Steffen wants attendees to have fun “while illustrating to them that learning a second language isn’t impossible, and actually enjoyable,” he said. “I’ll benefit myself by feeling good about destroying myths about a little-understood major here at SUNY Oswego.”

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(Posted: Apr 04, 2007)

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