Raghavachari  Amritavalli

PhD (Linguistics) ,  1980
MA (Linguistics),  1978

Her work has been broadcast on TVs and radios across India since the 1970s, but she doesn’t act and she would probably laugh if you asked her to sing.

Dr. Raghavachari Amritavalli completed a Master's Degree and a Doctoral Degree in Linguistics at SFU in 1977 and 1980 respectively, and is a faculty member at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad, India. EFLU is one of the country's largest public institutions dedicated to the teaching and learning of English.

Raghavachari has spent over three decades sharing her passion for linguistics and language acquisition through innovative and creative approaches. “English is a very important language because of colonization. It is one of our official languages and is embedded in our education system and bureaucracy. I am always looking for new ways to help citizens improve their English skills so they can excel in work and business,” she says.

One of Raghavachari's earliest projects involved the use of popular media to communicate language curriculum. “I started in the media department, making English lessons on All India Radio and then producing television programs that combined drama, game and documentary-style footage to help people expand their vocabulary,” she says.

Raghavachari also developed a national curriculum for English language teaching and co-designed resources for teacher training with the British Council, an international organization that promotes educational opportunities and cultural relations.

In addition to her work in English language learning, Raghavachari is a scholar in theoretical linguistics. Her research examines the syntax of Hindi and Kannada, a language spoken predominantly in the South Indian state of Karnataka. “I have held many different roles but linguistics has run through my entire life — it is the one thread that ties them all together,” she says.

Raghavachari's longtime dedication to the field of linguistics was what motivated her to leave her home country over 30 years ago in order to take one of the biggest plunges of her life. “We didn’t have much TV back then and of course there was no Internet so I had no idea what to expect when I came to Vancouver. When I landed and saw all these Chinese people I was confused and thought I had landed in the wrong country!” she says.

Though Raghavachari admits she knew very little about her graduate program when she accepted their offer, she was delighted with what she found. “I loved SFU and the Department of Linguistics. There was a free spirit academically. We didn’t feel hemmed in by the curriculum,” she says.

In addition, Raghavachari points to many fond memories of campus life as helping make her feel at home during her time at SFU. “I remember the bagpipers playing during my convocation and then these skydivers dropped through the AQ. And there was that lovely fellow with the curly red hair that always had a smile on his face when I lived in Louis Riel house,” she says.

- Written by Jackie Amsden and the Office of Graduate Studies & Postdoctoral Fellows.

Published in 2015

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