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What Do You Do, Terry Wiley?

What Do You Do, Terry Wiley?

The director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Arizona State University discusses his multidisciplinary approach with CWL's Kathryn Paul.

CWL: Hi Terry, welcome to UCLA.

TW: Thanks Kathryn, it's a pleasure to be here.

CWL: I wonder if you could first give us a little bit of a background in what you do at ASU and how you got interested in language policy?

TW: Okay, well at ASU I'm the director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. I'm also appointed in Language and Literacy Studies, and an affiliate of Center for Asian Research. I'm also appointed now in our Applied Linguistics degree.

CWL: That’s a lot. That's an unusual position.

TW: Yeah, most of my background is inter-disciplinary. I’ve done a lot of work in linguistics with an emphasis on language policy, language teaching, and primarily English as an international language or second language. And I've been interested in language policy, heritage language issues, and literacy/bi-literacy studies.

CWL: I know you’ve done a lot of work with refugee communities and I'm interested in how that’s impacted on your work or lead you to do what you’re doing today.

TW: That was actually a major period for me in terms of shaping a lot of my current interests. Probably more than I realized at the time. I initially started out in the field of Asian history and given the job market in those days, I also started doing part-time work teaching English. And that’s how I got interested in applied linguistic. During that period, I got involved working with the department of public health in Long Beach. This was right at the time they were starting to have large numbers of Southeast Asian refugees come into Long Beach. The populations were primarily Cambodian, Vietnamese, Viet-Chinese, Lao Hmong. Unlike when you’re studying how to teach people languages, you primarily focus on language and proficiency, and assessment and those kinds of things. We started getting concerned with major issues of health and how people were acculturating some of the cross cultural issues in trying to deliver healthcare to talk about disease and nutrition. We needed different types of preventative measures, and the population we were dealing with didn't have western perspectives on these things. So our translators did more than translate, they also had to work as cross culture brokers with the community.

Another dimension of it, in working with public health nurses was we started seeing how people were living. A lot of times when you teach people in the classroom you don’t really get a larger viewer of their lives and maybe some of the challenges they are facing on an economic level. Most of the people were poor people, and were struggling economically. Also, resettlement was causing issues in the family in terms of children, who were learning English faster than the parents. Sometimes the children would have to be translators for their own parents. We could begin to see some social disruption in the families. So at that time we started taking a broader community view. We started working with the schools, social service agencies, charities, even police and fire. Eventually we started doing workshops for those public agencies that didn't have any experience in working with the population. So there was not only a need to accommodate the population and to communicate with them, but also to educate social service providers and others on some of the special issues related to those populations. So that had a major impact on my interest in community research more broadly when I went on with applied linguistics, and literacy and language policy studies. So I think that's always made a rather strong impression, and I'd like to think both in terms of the historical experience of the population and immigrating, but also in terms of some of the special issues and challenges that they have.

CWL: And it seems like a lot of the issues still exist today even though this is not a recent thing.

TW: Yeah, I think we still see shortages in translation and interpretation services. There's still a debate on how much assistance should be provided but if we take something like public health we realize that it's not just an issue for the population to be served, but actually because of communicable diseases, it's an issue that affects everyone. And I think that's kind of a good metaphor for language issues more broadly. A lot of times it's perceived to be an issue of individual immigrant groups or individuals within the group, but in fact if we can find ways to work with people, translate, accommodate languages, and see language as a resource then we ultimately all begin to benefit by tapping into that resource.

CWL: So Terry, how many languages do you speak or work on?

TW: Haha, well initially when I was younger I spent quite a bit of time studying Japanese, which turned out to be a very formidable experience for me. I've studied a little bit of German. I've started several times to study Spanish and really wished I had facility in Spanish, but was always intimidated by the heritage speakers in the classroom so I didn’t get very far with it. Which I regret.

CWL: Which languages would you say are the important languages to study now in the United States?

TW: Well, I think definitely Spanish because the US is the 5th largest Spanish speaking nation in the world. And we're treating Spanish as if it's a foreign language but actually it's a language of the United States. The other I think is Mandarin because of the growing influence of China, and also I think a lot of people generally are beginning to appreciate the importance of learning Mandarin given its size and the importance of China in the new world economy.


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