University of Memphis Magazine
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Spring 2010 Features


Saving Green
The right stride
Hall of enlightenment
Something to bank on
Soul power
Pools of courage

The Columns: Alumni Review
In the Green Zone


Around the World

Traveling in Iraq

Hall of enlightenment

Iraq, Czech Republic, East Timor, Sudan — a U of M professor uses the English language to bridge cultural gaps and enhance learning skills all across the world.

By Sara Hoover

The passport of Charles Hall, associate professor of applied linguistics in the College of Arts & Sciences, is a nightmare for customs officers. He’s been to Syria, Algeria, Eritria, Yemen and almost every Arab country — all on official business for the United States government. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t slow down the immigration line.

Hall, an expert in legal English and curriculum development, has served as a consultant for the U.S. Department of State for the past 15 years, working with more than 30 countries. This past summer, he spent a month in Iraq implementing an exchange program with the University of Memphis and the University of Dohuk in Dohuk, Kurdistan, a part of northern Iraq. Because the region is so isolated, Hall was brought in to do needs analysis in pedagogy and curriculum development.

“Kurdistan has been basically isolated from the rest of Iraq for 20 years,” says Hall. “My role was to look at their curriculum and discuss with the faculty what is the purpose of teaching. Help them look at the way they taught and look at the way they can involve their students more in the process of education.” Hall actually taught several classes so he could serve as an example of interactive teaching.

Hall (right) with a visiting scholar from Tufts University and a staff member of the University of Dohuk at the traditional Badinan city gate of Amedi. Photos by Chris Hastings.
Hall (right) with a visiting scholar from Tufts University and a staff member of the University of Dohuk at the traditional Badinan city gate of Amedi. Photos by Chris Hastings.
“Much of the world is still based on a teacher-centered model: the teacher stands in front of the room for three hours. We’re trying to help people understand that it should be a learning-centered classroom.

“My job is not to go in as what’s called a helicoptered consultant where they sort of air drop you in and solve all their problems, but to go in more as we all share common problems and how can we work together to solve them. Every country I work in, one of my basic goals is to help (the people) understand the value of transparency and discussion. We may not reach a solution that makes everyone happy, but if we don’t talk about it, we’ll never get there.”

Hall says because the area is so far removed from the rest of Iraq, he doesn’t encounter many problems.

“Kurdistan is completely safe. It’s a multicultural, multireligious society. I worked with Muslims, Christians and a religion only found among the Kurds called Yazidi. Arabic is still spoken but young people only speak Kurdish, so this is a very interesting place.”

The program is currently seeking volunteers to work either for a semester or a year in Iraq.

“The Iraqi government is providing scholarships for thousands of Iraqis to come to the U.S. We are hoping that we will be able to provide an appropriate and welcoming home for many of these Iraqi scholarship students. It is really wonderful to bring international students to Memphis, but from my perspective, it is more important to help Memphians to meet, cooperate and engage with people in other parts of the world.”

U of M doctoral student Chris Hastings spent two weeks in the Iraqi city of Erbil conducting intensive teacher training with the Ministry of Education. He says he found his students eager to experience outside influences.

“They are anxious to have people come over and be connected to the outside world,” says Hastings (BA ’00, MA ’04). “They’re anxious to develop their schools and infrastructure, and to move forward. Partnerships like this will help them to do so. It’s a great experience for American exchange students to go over and see something other than what we see on the news, to see the human side, daily life of people living in and building up their country.”

Hall got involved as a consultant by accident.

“Fifteen years ago, a lawyer who wanted to travel the world teaching English came to get her master’s degree,” say Hall. “We both realized that there was a need for international materials on teaching legal English around the world. She and I have co-authored a couple of books and articles and worked on programs in many countries. It was a nice synchronicity of her talents, my talents and a real need in the world.”

Since then, Hall continues to average two programs a year for the U.S. State Department.

The English professor is no stranger to initiating overseas programs. He co-founded the International Summer Language School in Pilsen, Czech Republic, 20 years ago. While in the Fulbright Scholar Program in the Czech Republic, Hall came up with the idea of an English-language exchange program.

A group of future English teachers at the University of Dohuk.
A group of future English teachers at the University of Dohuk.
“Immediately after the Velvet Revolution (that overthrew the authoritarian government in 1989), people needed English so they could learn to communicate internationally. It began as what was going to be intensive English for faculty and students at this small university in Pilsen for a couple of years. Since then, it has become a large, 20-nation school with 600 to 700 people every summer who are studying six different languages. Most specifically for the U of M, the students go to learn how to teach English as a foreign language. On day three, they are already responsible for 45 minutes of their own class, teaching 15 to 20 mainly Czech students.”

The program is presented in collaboration with the University of West Bohemia, which recently honored Hall with an honorary doctorate for his 20 years of service.

The program hosts 20 to 25 U of M students each summer, but also people from other universities. And learning isn’t the only thing that develops from the program.

“We’ve had several marriages, children, an adoption, people who’ve moved to the Czech Republic and to the United States. The exciting thing about the Czech program is often when Americans go on an international program, they only have classes with and hang out with Americans. In the Czech program, they are instantly immersed. They live with, teach and spend every evening with internationals.”

Emily Thrush, a U of M professor of English, participated in the Czech program in 1993-94.

“It was a place we had been forbidden to go to our whole lives, so it was amazing to be there,” she says. “Students have gone and it’s a life-changing experience. I took my daughter the second year. She was in college and liked it so much she decided to get a master’s in teaching English. She went to Lithuania to teach and came back with a husband.”

The program is open to U of M students and the public. Participants receive a teaching English certificate that is valid internationally.

Hall’s work can have immense international significance. He traveled to South Sudan after the African country made English the official language of its legal system. He worked with the Ministry for Constitutional Law, helping prepare curriculum tools to increase the proficiency and knowledge of their lawyers in English. In 2011, South Sudan will hold a referendum to decide if it wishes to remain part of Sudan or to become independent. The change to English is part of that process.

Hall (right) with members of the English department at the University of Dohuk in Kurdistan, Iraq.
Hall (right) with members of the English department at the University of Dohuk in Kurdistan, Iraq. Photos by Chris Hastings.

While there, he experienced the turmoil a developing nation can have.

“Unfortunately, the regional Ministry of Education was located next to the national Constitution of Education where I was. When the students and teachers stoned the Ministry of Education, they didn’t realize the next ministry was not the same. They broke all the windows in my office and hit me with stones. It was an accident. They did not mean to hurt me.”

Hall also spent time in the world’s newest country, East Timor. Because of the colonial history of East Timor, very few people speak English. The official language is Portuguese and their own native language.

“Because it’s the newest country, they’re still trying to put together their government. They have no infrastructure. That’s part of my job, to help bring transparency and develop the skills and proficiencies in legal English so that they can take advantage of international training courses.”

In the northern reaches of Eastern Europe, Hall has been working in Estonia as part of Language for Law, which brings together legal professionals and language teachers from 15 different European countries. Estonia, a former member of the Soviet-bloc, is a two-culture country of Russians and Estonians.

“Much of the work I do is in multicultural societies that are historically now working toward figuring out how to live together. They share different backgrounds, different beliefs, different values and different languages usually. My work in providing them a common neutral language, English, is essential to giving them a way to meet symbolically in the middle of the bridge.”

This summer, Hall is implementing a new study abroad program in Alicante, Spain, with U of M creative writing professor Dr. John Bensko.

“We’ll be teaching English and Spanish as first and second languages and translating English and Spanish poetry as a means of teaching language,” Hall says.

Hall, who speaks German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Czech and “perfect bad Chinese,” never knows what’s next for him.

“I never know where I’m going to go because my field is a crisis-driven field. I could receive a phone call to go to anywhere.”

He seems to take it all in stride and never lets it deter him from his main focus — his U of M students.

“In the 25 years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen a wonderful transformation at the U of M in which we encourage and support internationalization and that’s really exciting. My goal is to make sure every Memphian has a chance to explore the world.”

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