The Language of Learning

Teacher writing the word apple in different languages on a note card.

Tatiana Joseph vividly remembers her first day of school in the United States at age 10. She and her family had moved from Costa Rica to Milwaukee, and she was suddenly plunged into a new school system where everything was in a different language. She knew only three words in English, emergency ones that her father had taught her: lost, help and bathroom.

“Every time I walk into a classroom now where there are English-language learners, I remember that first day and thinking, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to survive this?’” says Joseph, now an assistant professor of teaching and learning in the School of Education. She knows she was fortunate to have a bilingual fifth-grade teacher who made her feel welcome and helped with academics, because her education was conducted mostly in English.

All of this played a role in Joseph’s career – she’s now chair of UWM’s second language education program – as well as her research interests. “I think it’s those life experiences,” she says, “that have really helped me adopt a different lens on what I want to do in teacher education, and how I want to rethink the way we work with English language learners.”

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