Graduates Support Efforts for Improved Language Instruction, Research

La Monica Everett-Haynes
Sept. 11, 2012

Language specialists, like those in the UA's Second Language Acquisition and Teaching Program, are in demand at the state and national levels as the number of non-English speaking students increases in the United States and as foreign language instruction spikes.

"According to some estimates, about 18 percent of all school-age children in the U.S. came from non-English speaking homes, with major concentrations in the southwest," said Andrew Carnie, interim dean of the UA's Graduate College.

"These demographics demand an augmentation in research and development in the area of second language acquisition in order to solve the many complex problems which English language learners face," Carnie also said, citing recent statistics indicating hikes in foreign language enrollments across the U.S.

"The renewed interest in foreign language learning places additional responsibilities on institutions of higher education to gain an optimal understanding of second language acquisition processes and the implications for classroom instruction."

Carnie cited a survey of the Modern Language Association’s Job Information Lists indicating that about 20 percent of all positions now open in foreign language areas in U.S. universities require second language acquisition or language pedagogy specialization.

The UA's Second Language Acquisition and Teaching Program is working to meet the demand.

Known as SLAT, the UA's 22-year-old Graduate Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program has 151 graduates with 73 students now enrolled. Also, the program has 79 contributing faculty from areas such as anthropology, cognitive science, disability and psychoeducational studies, Middle Eastern and North African studies and also speech, language and hearing sciences, among others.

Shaun O'Connor, senior program coordinator for SLAT, said students in the program tutor in a range of languages, including English, Portuguese, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic and Modern Greek.

SLAT students also intern at Tucson area schools and also are actively engaged in research alongside SLAT faculty members. Recent studies have served to understand what knowledge and expertise Hispanic and American Indian households have, while helping to shape curricula to "expertise in local import-export laws, local history and folklore, recipes and folk medicine," O'Connor said.

And SLAT faculty members consult local and state committees and boards on programs for teacher preparation and tribal members; interpreter quality, and also programs for community members who are deaf or hearing impaired – important contribution toward informing policy and practice. And SLAT Student Association is producing the new volume of Arizona Working Papers in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, a journal published by the UA program.

And graduates of the program persistently impact the state and global communities, O'Connor said, noting that the program has a high placement rate of more than 90 percent with 15 percent of graduating students remaining in Arizona and about 78 percent of all SLAT graduates working at colleges and universities across the nation and around the world. 

To learn more, visit the Second Language Acquisition & Teaching program and the Graduate Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program websites.

Photo credit: FJ Gaylor


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