More people are learning to speak English, which is quickly becoming the language of the world.
In Spokane alone, hundreds of students from Asia, the Middle East and other parts of the globe attend local universities each year just to study English.
That’s why Gonzaga University plans to offer a master of arts degree in teaching English as a Second Language. The program starts next fall and is taking applications.
Teaching ESL combines job security and cultural diversity, said Ray Fadeley, director of International Student Programs.
“It’s a career for the 20th century,” he said.
Washington State University and Eastern Washington University have offered master of arts programs in teaching ESL for the past 20 years. While Whitworth College offers a certificate program to teach ESL, graduate studies are on hold. School officials are working to improve the program and plan to offer it again within the next few years.
English skills - speaking, reading and writing - can be difficult to learn if English isn’t a person’s native tongue, said Fadeley, who started his career in ESL by teaching Vietnamese refugees more than 20 years ago.
“Americans sometimes think English is learned by osmosis,” he said, “but that’s not true.”
Teaching the skills requires more than just focusing on applied linguistics, the science and technical aspects of teaching the language, said Mary Jeannot, the program director.
“We have to also recognize the multicultural and sociocultural aspects,” she said. “It’s more than just training teachers to be technicians. They have to consider the political and cultural issues, too.”
She calls it classroom ethnography, the study of the various cultures represented by students in class.
Language becomes a way to understand each student’s background, she said. Difficulty in learning English usually means more than just grammar or syntax mistakes. How an individual learns depends on her or his culture.
Tests, for example, should be evaluated for any cultural bias to be fair to students, she said.
Jeannot, who started putting the program together two years ago, wants to take all those differences into account. She’s seeking “some kind of accommodation without assimilation.”
Besides stressing classroom ethnography, Gonzaga’s master of arts program differs from most because of its required six-credit practicum, Jeannot said. The program will qualify graduates to teach both English as a second language in the United States and English as a foreign language abroad.
So far, 18 people have applied for the 15 to 20 spots available in the fall. The program will expand to up to 40 graduate students - taught by seven faculty members - in its second year, Fadeley said.
Ultimately, the program is designed to prepare people who can “reform educational environments,” Jeannot said. They’ll do that by learning to implement curriculum that is “responsive to racial, cultural, linguistic and economic class differences.”