Courses I Teach or Have Taught
SPAN 497: Being Bilingual in a Monolingual World (Spring, 2018)
Linguistic scholar Francois Grosjean once famously wrote that “the bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person”. But what does this mean, and what does it imply? Over the past several decades, researchers from a variety of fields and perspectives have studied bilingualism from a sociological, psychological, and linguistic perspective. The goal has been to determine how bilinguals use their two languages, how the two languages interact within the mind of a single speaker, and what patterns of bilingual language use fall out from these interactions. These three topics will form the core of this course.
During the first half of the semester, we will tackle bilingualism from a social perspective: what do bilingual communities look like? How do different bilingual communities deal with their bilingualism, and what are the social and often times political ramifications of this? We will discuss various social and political problems surrounding bilingualism and multilingualism, including bilingual education in the US. We will also look at the intersection of bilingualism and identity via codeswitching in bilingual populations.
With the social grounding in place, we will then move to studying bilingualism from a cognitive perspective. What does it mean to have two languages in one mind? This part of the course will focus on a long-standing debate in the language sciences, namely that of the “Bilingual Advantage”. Does being bilingual bestow cognitive advantages in non-linguistic domains? Does knowing two languages make you smarter? We will read articles on the topic, as well as hold a small class debate on the Bilingual Advantage.
Some of the goals of this course include: to teach students to read academic articles critically, to write academic and formal evaluative papers, and to sharpen their argumentation skills. Likewise, they will do this in both English and Spanish, honing their speaking abilities in Spanish along the way.
Previous Teaching Experience
During the summer of 2016, I taught Spanish 002 as part of the Summer Language Institute at Penn State. During this two-week session, students receive a full semester's worth of material and intense contact with Spanish in a 20 hour/week classroom setting. Topics covered include the Spanish preterit, imperfect, and commands, with sections on food, holidays, and narrative discourse.
My Teaching Philosophy
One of the most important and humbling lessons I learned during my time as an undergraduate student is that it is perfectly fine to admit that you don’t know something. Working with professors and researchers who encouraged me to make mistakes came as quite a shock at first, but it freed me from the pressure of needing to be right. It allowed me, as a student, to learn from my mistakes instead of fearing them, keeping my mind open to any and all possibilities, be them right or wrong.
This idea underlies my philosophy, not only as a student and a researcher, but also as a teacher and a mentor: be willing to make and learn from mistakes. Learning a second language comes with making many mistakes, naturally; something that students fear when diving into an unfamiliar environment. However, speaking a second language depends on the confidence of the speaker to produce the language at all, regardless of whether or not they make mistakes. As an instructor, I encourage my students to overcome their fears of making mistakes in speaking a second language, as the only way to truly master it is to speak it.
Keeping an open mind is crucial, as well, not only in academia but also in learning a second language. Associated with the language is knowledge of the culture, the tradition, and the people who speak it. It requires students to be understanding and accepting of ideas and values different from their own, and to be able to reflect critically on them. These characteristics are crucial to individuals entering into a more international society where they will undoubtedly come across cultures different from their own, and they must possess the tools to be a member of this global society.
In the classroom, an open and accepting environment must be created to give the students confidence in themselves: instead of pointing out their mistakes, providing positive feedback and a correct model of production. Introducing the students to new aspects of culture embedded in the use of the language will give them the pragmatic and social skills to use the language in naturalistic environments, to know how and why a language is what it is. Promoting these ideas through activities in the second language classroom will help build students’ self-confidence, a key aspect in successful acquisition of the target language.
Lastly, as a linguist and a second language learner myself, I understand the challenges that a student must go through in learning a new language--both cognitively and socially. It is a daunting, seemingly endless task that can be overwhelming for many individuals. Especially in the early stages of second language learning, it is important that my students be reassured that the effort they put into learning this language will be worthwhile, that they all have the potential to be successful. Again, as a linguist, this I firmly believe: every student has the potential to master learning a new language; some may come to the table with more experience and skill than others, but in the end all students are capable of success. In the words of composer and conductor Benjamin Zander, “my job is to awaken potential in other people.”