WSU News

Students help English-language learners worldwide

PULLMAN, Wash. – When Mohamed Elhess was a youngster in Libya, he couldn’t formally study English. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, dictator Moammar Gadhafi had proclaimed that the language not be taught in schools.
“So I learned English from pop music, and from books my brother brought from Egypt,” said Elhess, a graduate student at Washington State University. “Now, English is back in Libyan schools, but there are no qualified teachers.”
Elhess is eager to find ways to help students in newly liberated Libya, and all over the world, learn a second language. An assignment from Professor Joy Egbert gave him a way: He created several video tutorialson how to use a popular language-learning website called Voxopop. His is one of eight technology-based language learning projects created this summer by Egbert’s students.
Students will continue to develop their projects after the course ends. Some have already shared their efforts with teachers who may have very limited resources.
“I’m heartened by the passion and dedication demonstrated by the students,” said Egbert. “These projects can be a first step toward changing their worlds.”
International students, team efforts
The WSU College of Education graduate course is called Advanced Study in Computer-Assisted Language Learning (T&L 516). Egbert has been teaching it since 1994.
“We didn’t make web pages in class back then because it required learning HTML, so we used Hyperstudio, Toolbook, and some simple flashcard programs,” she said. “Projects now are much easier because all the coding has been done and it’s just a matter of understanding principles of language learning to make something effective.”
The course attracts many foreign-born students such as Elhess, who was a teaching assistant at the University of Garyounis in Benghazi before coming to WSU to earn a master’s degree.
Libyans Jouma Debbek and Sarah Debbek, a father and daughter, took Egbert’s class together. Their project is this websitethat complements the textbook “English for Libya.”
Helping students master English is critical to improving the Libyan educational system, said Jouma. He plans to return to a faculty position at Misrata University after he earns his Ph.D. in Language, Literacy and Technology. Sarah is an undergraduate studying linguistics and digital technology.
Doctoral student Rachida Labbas’ goal is to give online feedback to English language learners in her home country of Algeria. With assistance from Libyan classmate Abir El Shaban, she’s created an online, interactive version of the textbook “At the Crossroads.”
The website provides audio versions of the printed text so students can hear the words they’re reading. Plus, said Labbas, “we used more authentic language” than the book.
Holidays, movies and more
Other projects are:
  • Master’s student Joanna Cheng’s website called “Let’s Celebrate,” which helps English language learners learn about American holidays and thus something about the country’s culture. Its creator, who is from Taiwan, said that when she first came to study in the United States she was especially curious about the celebration of Memorial Day.
  • A listing of English language tools and websites. Colombian doctoral student Sonia Lopez created a blogfor teachers to share techniques and advice. Students can also go to the site to record their voice and get feedback on their skills.
  • Vox Popoli: A Language and Popular Culture Awareness Place.” It was created by doctoral student Chon Neville to promote grammar/vocabulary skills and cultural awareness among non-English speakers. Neville, a U.S. doctoral student, said he was frustrated during his own international travels that he couldn’t talk with people he met about everyday subjects such as movies and sports.
  • ABC Kids” created by Chinese master’s students Qi Zhi and Jing Wu. The website focuses on stories and news for three levels of language student: beginning, intermediate, and advanced.
  • Libyan doctoral students Ibtesam ElHussein and Eman ElTurki created a tutorialto help students use the site “Myths and Legends.” Their three-part instructional video includes resources for language teachers.
  • Amal Mohammed, a master’s student from Libya, created the website “English 4 Libya.” It contains engaging computer-enhanced activities for seventh-grade English language learners.
For more information on WSU’s Language, Literacy and Technology Program, click here.