TESOL celebrates 50 years of serving students and the church

Written by: 
Antoniette Yee

The TESOL Department is celebrating its jubilee on the first week of September. Along with the TESOL Jubilee is the booklet entitled “Celebrating 50 years of Achievement” by Mark James, associate dean of the College of Human Development. It summarizes how the major began.

James said, “The printed version of the historical lecture will be distributed to faculty in the department and to TESOL majors during the first week of school and an electronic version will soon be posted in a couple days on our department website.”

“Exactly 50 years ago, it was announced in the back-to-school issue of Ke Alaka‘i about the new degree on campus – the TESOL major. We’re looking forward to this year’s jubilee not only to celebrate, but also promote the TESOL major as well,” James continued.

James have been teaching in the TESOL Department since 1981. He said, “The role of English as a Second Language (ESL) on campus is prophetically inspired in the sense that President David O. McKay had a significant role in establishing the program here.”

According to James, the original view of ESL is for teachers to go into church schools in the Pacific and be prepared to teach English.

“We just don’t teach TESOL because every other university in the planet does. It was divinely inspired. There’s a real reason for the establishment of TESOL here. In fact, there are only about a dozen universities in North America that has TESOL major,” James explained.

The rarity of the bachelor’s degree in TESOL makes it special and perhaps the first program in North America in 1967, said James. “The program and faculty have been a great service to the church ever since it began.”

He continued, “Right from the very beginning, the faculty has been developing ESL materials for church leaders and members particularly in Asia. And I think another reason the program began is the school saw that this could be a way to serve the church as mission.”

About the contributions of the program, Neil J. Anderson, chair for Department of English Language Teaching and Learning and director of Center for English Language Learning, said one of its greatest contributions to the professional world of English language teaching and learning is the publication of the TESOL Reporter journal.

According to the TESOL booklet, TESOL Reporter was first envisioned as a way to promote the program and share useful ideas with teachers throughout the church’s educational system and beyond. It begun in 1967 by Alice Pack and Bill Conway, and is also celebrating its jubilee year. The journal recently went online, saving the university thousands of dollars in printing and mailing costs, and increasing its visibility in the profession.

Anderson said the journal has always been focused on successful pedagogical applications and many have benefitted from the articles that have been published over the years.

Another thing that makes the TESOL program special is its close tie and impact on the church’s effort to grow and develop its leadership particularly in the Pacific, according to James. “Related to that, a year ago, the Center for English Language Learning (CELL) was created on campus.”

James said CELL was a natural outgrowth of TESOL’s long history of serving the church’s needs and it seemed like a natural place to create a center to learn and teach English.

CELL is a key element in the new international pathways program [of the church,] James added. “CELL is here because of what we’ve been doing for 50 years. We’re playing this key role in the church’s educational future,” he said.

James explained the two centers on campus namely the Center for Language and Teaching and CELL are to improve instructions on campus and impact the church’s online courses.

Anderson said, “The program now is contributing in a major way to the church’s global education initiative. Because of the large numbers of international students enrolled in our campus and the expertise of the faculty, we are able to contribute language skills in order to achieve greater goals, both educational and professional. We are working in collaboration with the BYU Provo and the BYU-Idaho campuses on the project. This collaborative project also involves the Missionary Department and Self-Reliance Services.”

Leola Solis, assistant professor for the Department of English Language Teaching and Learning, said “My mother, Ana Kahililani Labarre, graduated with a TESOL degree from the Church College of Hawaii when the TESOL program was still in its infancy.”

“Interestingly enough, I did not know what her degree was until after I had decided to minor in TESOL. I had always thought my mother majored in English literature because of all the books she had on her book shelf: The complete works of Shakespeare, classics like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, poetry, etc. She died when I was 8, so I never had the opportunity to ask and never thought to ask my Dad either,” continued Solis.

Solis said she decided to major in English because she thought she was following her mother’s footsteps. “I chose TESOL as a minor because TESOL would give me the skills I needed to teach English at Liahona High School in Tonga.”

Solis shared an incident that made her realize her mom had applied many of the same principles she was learning in TESOL class. “It wasn’t until I was in Mark James’ linguistics class, as an undergrad, that I learned not only did my mother major in TESOL, but she was also one of the first graduates of TESOL when TESOL was first offered at the Church College of Hawaii.”

According to Solis, Mark James had been looking for her mom for about a year to ask if she would [want to] speak at the 30th anniversary of TESOL on campus. “He had been looking for her under her maiden name, Labarre. Only after finding out that she had married Siaosi ‘Etika Moleni, was he able to find her and make the connection to someone (myself) who was currently taking his class. He asked me in class if she would like to speak at TESOL’s 30-year celebration, and I told him she would have loved to but that she had died 11 years ago.”

Looking back at the legacy Solis’ mother, Solis said she is grateful her mom taught her to speak English because English opened the door to countless opportunities.

“Opportunities such as: attending and graduating from BYUH, serving an English-speaking mission in California, meeting and marrying my husband from Colorado, finding part-time work at BYUH teaching in the English Department and the English as an International language (EIL) department, acquiring a master’s degree from HPU, and finally, 50 years later, being hired by my mother’s alma mater as a full-time professor to teach in the same department where my mother received her TESOL degree,” explained Solis.

The TESOL minor or certificate is a perfect pairing with other programs of study for students on our campus, said Anderson. He shared some tips in pairing programs of study like TESOL and entrepreneurship and TESOL and peace education.

“There are many individuals who want to start a school and have the entrepreneurship skills to do so but lack the knowledge of what it takes to teach and learn another language,” Anderson explained. “Anyone with a strong foundation in TESOL will always be able to find employment anywhere in the world. We encourage students to come learn more about what TESOL has to offer them in their academic training at BYU-Hawaii,” added Anderson.

James said, “We’re celebrating the past 50, but we’re also looking forward to the future contributions were going to make not just in our fields, but in the lives of our students and the church.”

There will be an open house on Nov. 16 at the Aloha Center where the entire campus will be invited to come and learn about the department and the history of the program.

Date Published: 
Saturday, September 2, 2017
Last Edited: 
Saturday, September 2, 2017

NOTE: This story is featured in the Sept. 2017 print issue.