Bridging Language Theory and Practice
Phil Choong is in the middle of all things second language at TC
By Suzanne Guillette
TC’s Community English Program is a venue where teaching, research and community service converge—and that’s why Phil Choong, the program’s coordinator, loves his job.
The Center provides courses in English to area residents who are non-native speakers. TC students in TESOL (the teaching of English to speakers of other languages) and Applied Linguistics teach in the center’s on-site language education lab, using the courses as a site of theoretical inquiry. While TESOL students are the largest group served, Choong also coordinates courses for foreign languages, such as Chinese, French and Arabic. “I’m in the middle of everything,” he says with a smile.
A former law student, Choong began his journey to TC during a break from his legal studies, when he began tutoring to earn some extra cash and discovered he really enjoyed it. He soon earned his TESOL certificate at Columbia University and went to Taiwan, where his parents now live and where he had spent the first two years of his life, to teach English to students ranging from four-year-olds to adults. Despite putting in 30-plus hours a week in the classroom, Choong says, “It was the first time I was enjoying what I was doing all of the time.”
In 2002 he enrolled in TC’s TESOL M.A. program. He earned his master’s in 2005 and then his Ed.M. His current doctoral work focuses on task-based teaching and learning (TBLT), which requires the student to use the second language to solve everyday problems and tasks. Choong is particularly interested in the relationship between cognition, task completion and task performance—and how the tasks themselves can influence language learning.
Last year, he finished a pilot study at TC in which Japanese students looked at images of Mr. Bean, from the popular British television show and, in English, told a story of what they saw in the pictures.
This past fall, Choong was one of four TC doctoral students to organize, under the guidance of ZhaoHong Han, TC Associate Professor of Language and Education, the first-ever TC Roundtable in Second Language Studies on the Second Language Acquisition of Chinese. True to Choong’s interests, the event was the first major gathering on the topic of second language acquisition of Chinese. Task-based teaching and learning was a major focus.
“TBLT has clear practical implications for the classroom,” says Choong. “It all comes back to the classroom.”