BYU language program empowering lives

PROVO, Utah — Through her work with BYU's Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program, Maryruth Farnsworth has heard the same story told over and over again.

Sure, each story has different characters and different scenery. But the plot is the same: People have simple problems that are solved by learning to speak English.

There was the young welder living in the United States who could work only for an employer that could speak his native tongue. Then he learned English and his career opportunities expanded. The program also helped the grandmother from Romania who was unable to communicate with her English speaking son-in-law and grandchildren. With help from BYU students, she was able to study the language that helped her strengthen family relationships.

And that is just the beginning. After taking English classes, a young mother was able to get help for her infant daughter by communicating with English-speaking doctors. University students in Nicaragua needed English training to find employment in an iron-works factory. And preschool students in Taiwan learned English to get a jump on educational opportunities that will help them years down the road.

Through BYU's international English-teaching program, students provide on-site assistance to English language programs in the United States and abroad. The program not only helps students build resumes, but also helps them put into practice the things they were learning on BYU's campus.

Previously, students have interned with the program in Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Taiwan, Tonga, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua and Thailand. In 2007-08, the university plans to expand the program to include American Samoa, Argentina, Brazil and Peru.

The program is important because, although there are numerous benefits to learning English, teaching the language is very challenging, said Sister Farnsworth, coordinator of the program.

Many English speakers who go abroad don't know what to teach, how to teach or where to get teaching materials. Among many other things, they can't answer questions about grammar; some can't even explain how to pronounce the sounds of English, and they have no idea how to determine learners' levels of English proficiency, she said. Often, Sister Farnsworth added, they end up insulting adult language learners by teaching them as if they were children. In an attempt to change that, BYU's program started several years ago with local internships in Provo school districts. Today, students who represent BYU and the Church receive training and materials before going abroad.

"There are several programs where students can go internationally and teach English," Sister Farnsworth explained. "But this is the only program where they can receive BYU credit and receive training and know that they are going to a site that has been set up with BYU standards and with safety issues. "

Possibly because of the good experiences of former English-teaching interns, the BYU program has grown, despite lack of publication. Sister Farnsworth said many interns learn about the program by word of mouth and sign up because they have a desire to serve.

To date, all of the more than 50 interns who have participated in the program have said, given the chance, they would do it again, Sister Farnsworth said. For more information about the program e-mail: [email protected] or go to the program web site:

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