Multilingualism: Making our world bigger

By

Murphy Raine McGary

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here .

It’s common to hear people say the world is getting smaller all the time. But not Steven Flanagan. To him, the world is getting bigger. Education, particularly the study of language, opened him to world that’s bigger than he ever imagined. That that shift in world view came to him as an undergraduate who had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain for a semester, and it has informed his pursuits ever since.

For graduate studies, Flanagan sought to combine two passions: Spanish and teaching. Those passions led him to Arizona State Univeristy's School of International Letters and Cultures to earn concurrent master’s degrees in Spanish Applied Linguistics and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) that he’ll complete in May. Along the way, he has gained a new perspective on teaching, language learning and being multilingual.

Looking ahead, his goal is to make a difference in the way language-learning programs are created and taught. He plans to pursue teaching Spanish at the university level after graduation and dive even deeper into curriculum development for future generations of students.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was little. I studied Spanish because I wanted to be a high school Spanish teacher. When I went to college, I ended up studying abroad in Spain and I realized the world was a lot bigger. After I returned and finished my undergrad studies, I went back to Spain to teach English. So, when I decided on graduate school, I knew that I wanted to do something teaching English but also continue my studies in Spanish since that’s what I’d done the last 10 years of my life. So, I looked for programs that allowed me to do both, and that’s why I came to ASU.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or as a teacher — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: What haven’t I learned? I don’t know if I could quantify it all into one thing. My entire experience has changed my perspective on not just teaching, but learning. In one year at ASU, I learned more about language learning than I had in my entire life. It’s nice to be in a department surrounded by so many people who care about languages and about language learning, and recognize the importance of learning languages beyond being able to translate a sentence. There are the cultural and pragmatic differences, being able to connect with people in different ways, the advantages to being bilingual or multilingual.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: A friend of mine from my hometown recommended it to me. I looked into it, and it had both programs that I wanted to do. It allowed me that flexibility to study concurrent master's degrees, which isn’t something a lot of universities have established.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It would be threefold: Get organized and stay organized, get involved, and realize that what you do has a purpose. What I mean by that is, sometimes you think, “why am I doing this?” More often than not, there is a purpose to what you’re doing whether it’s to learn a topic or to help with social skills or interdisciplinary skills. There’s all kinds of purposes to what we do in our classes.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’d like to find a language teaching position at a university or community college, or somewhere I can work with curriculum design and development to build better language programs. Eventually I plan on pursuing my PhD in curriculum design and instruction.

For me, ASU has been a great experience. In these three years, I’ve learned so much about teaching and languages, about the profession, about hard work. It’s been such a great experience both professionally and personally. When you’re at the largest school in the country, there’s a lot to do … yet it’s a small-town feel despite being so close to one of the biggest metropolitan areas.

I think being in graduate school in general allows you to appreciate a lot of the work other people have done.

Written by Sarah Edwards