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ASU program celebrates 50 years of teaching English to non-native speakers

MTESOL prepares its graduates to effectively teach the English language

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"ASU's MTESOL program is celebrating 50 years." Illustration published on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

One ASU program is celebrating 50 years of achievements and teaching students to become teachers in a world of many languages.

ASU’s Masters of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MTESOL) program is celebrating 50 years of language, learning and teaching. 

On Friday, Oct. 11, current and former students and faculty are joining in the Ross-Blakley Hall to celebrate and reflect on the program’s work over the years at a mini-conference

The MTESOL program, has both face-to-face and online courses, and is a diverse program that prepares graduates for local, national and international positions teaching English to non-native English speakers. 

For the past 50 years, the MTESOL program has taught language, learning, research methods and teaching methods for graduate students. 

Students are given the opportunity to explore linguistics and teaching methodologies, as well as their personal interests, while completing the program and subsequent internship. 

Aya Matsuda, associate professor and director of linguistics and applied linguistics, has been the program director for three years. 

She said she works to cultivate a program that balances theory and research through opportunities in and out of the classroom.

“We try to make sure that when people graduate they have ideas they can put into practice right away,” Matsuda said. “They also know enough about the reasoning and theory behind it so that when they are placed in a new teaching context, they know how to come up with their own ideas.” 

The program prioritizes including people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. 

“Some come with a lot of teaching experience, others have never taught and are preparing for their first job and some have had other careers before,” Matsuda said. 

Matsuda said teaching students from different countries allows her to learn about perspectives she would have never learned otherwise.

“One of the things that I highly value is that, just by listening, I am always reminded that there is often more than one correct way to do things,” she said. 

Regents professor Elly van Gelderen has been working in linguistics at ASU since 1995. She said she is looking forward to reconnecting with her former students at the mini-conference. 

From classrooms to refugee camps, she said her students are sharing the knowledge they gained from MTESOL in various situations. 

Van Gelderen described her current and former students as “quite an amazing group of people” that do work in many different settings.

She agrees that the diversity of the program at ASU is what sets it apart from others. 

“Perhaps the most interesting thing about this program is the diversity of students because they come from all over the world — Brazil, Russia, China and so on,” she said. “Two of my former students are coming to the mini-conference from Russia.” 

Xiaoyu Pei, a graduate teaching associate and graduate of MTESOL, said van Gelderen made one of the largest impacts on her education while in the program. Pei is now pursuing a PhD at ASU in linguistics and applied linguistics. 

Pei said English is not her first language and started MTESOL in 2016 to eventually help students like herself.

Pei is one of the former MTESOL students that will be speaking at the mini-conference on Friday. Her topic, "Managing foreign language anxiety: A case study of interactions with international students," is inspired by her own experiences as a non-native English speaker. 

“It’s really interesting to explore how students manage foreign language, especially English language, anxiety,” Pei said. “I know how it feels and want to find out how we can manage that, how we can help students manage that and what strategies can be used to help reduce this anxiety.” 

Pei said the professors of MTESOL helped ease some of the anxiety she felt and set her up for success.

“I just have so much affection for the program,” Pei said. 

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