New language Hub offers community language services, student teaching opportunities

Dr. Jaydene Elvin and Cheryl Chan headshots.

Photo: Dr. Jaydene Elvin (left) and Cheryl Chan (right)

As Dr. Jaydene Elvin, assistant professor of linguistics, and Cheryl Chan, director of the American English Institute, worked on a public event to launch their Hub for Language Teaching and Learning, the COVID-19 virus suddenly shut everything down. However, the two quickly pivoted and, within weeks, developed the course, “Functional Spanish for EMRs,” to help the front lines of the pandemic. 

The class is offered free of charge to emergency medical responders through the  Division of Continuing and Global Education (CGE). It is taught online and is asynchronous—meaning it is self-paced, and the students can complete the units around their work schedules. 

What started as a single course continued into the fall, including one sponsored by Bank of America.

“We’ve had three classes. They’ve split them up, and I think it was just the fact that there was a lot of interest in it,” said Elvin.

Chan added, “It really was pretty rewarding to do the Spanish for emergency responders class. It was a lot of fun to put together.”

The Hub is also looking into creating similar courses for nurses. 

Chan and Elvin conceptualized “The Hub for Language Teaching and Learning” as a space where Fresno State students could get experience in teaching languages, and community members would benefit from that. Chan was inspired by a UCLA program where students were teaching English to the campus staff. The idea was expanded to include language support for the broader community and focus on languages critical to the Central Valley, such as Spanish, Hmong, Mixtec, Armenian and Portuguese. 

Elvin and Chan have already proven to be a potent pair when they combine forces.

A few years ago, they teamed up to design a groundbreaking course for Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) students to teach them how to be teachers. The Ling 171 class utilizes acting techniques to instruct the students in how to be an effective teacher. As a practicum course, the students are then able to take those skills directly to the classroom. The students can also bring situations they’ve had in their practicum classrooms and rehearse them in a safe environment.

In the Hub, Elvin and Chan have taken the basic principles of Ling 171 and condensed it down into a workshop format they call “Act Like a Teacher.” Before the pandemic, they facilitated the workshop at CSU Monterey Bay with a student club.

“[We received] a lot of good feedback from them, and they really enjoyed it, so we’re hoping to do another similar session,” said Elvin

The “Act Like a Teacher” workshop, Elvin says, can also be used by K-12 language teachers, college-level teachers and even business people.

More recently, however, the team has been working with the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute (PBBI) at Fresno State on a couple of projects.

“There is a large Portuguese community in the Central Valley, and many of these community members would love to be able to pass their language on,” Elvin said.

The group calls them “community language experts.” But Elvin explained these experts know how to speak Portuguese, but they don’t know how to teach it. So, they are working with the PBBI to develop classes for community members to learn how to pass down their language. 

In a similar project with PBBI, they are also developing programs for K-12 teachers teaching Portuguese as a heritage language in afterschool programs and Saturday school. These teachers know the language and how to teach but may not know how to teach language acquisition. They are setting up programs to help with that. 

“I’m currently running a service-learning course this semester. Two groups of linguistics students are working on the two PBBI projects as part of their service learning hours,” Elvin said.

Elvin said they are in the beginning stages of both projects but hope to be up and running within a couple of years.

“It’s a really exciting collaboration between our Hub and the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute,” said Chan. “They’re definitely helping us with financial support.”

The Hub has also teamed up with Fresno State Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Dr. Laura Huisinga, who specializes in interactive multimedia design, to develop a campus-focused language learning app. 

“Students who are trying to use English can use the app, go to different parts of campus, for example, the library, and participate in language learning materials and activities that help them learn how to borrow something from tech lending, for example,” said Elvin. “We also want to highlight some of the public artwork that we have here at Fresno State.”

Digital storytelling is used through the app to teach language.

“It’s a way for the students to get language learning experience that is tailored to their needs but is also very specific to their campus life experience,” Elvin said.

The app is in the early stages of development. A pilot version is expected next year and a completed version in a couple of years.

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Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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