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Linguistics can help you help others!

Yuko Bartel uses her background in Linguistics and her Certificate in TESL Linguistics to help immigrants adjust to their new lives in Canada.

Yuko Bartel was an infant when her family moved from Japan to Canada and considers herself very lucky to have grown up speaking both Japanese and English. Following her graduation from UBC in 1995 with a BA in English Literature, Yuko lived and worked in New Brunswick, Alberta, and Quebec, and spent 13 years in Kanas City, USA. Though she was just a baby when she immigrated, she recalls growing up feeling like she had a foot in each of two cultures, and this inspired her mid-life career change. Yuko decided she wanted to work in Canada, particularly with newcomers, and came to SFU in 2012 to study linguistics and pursue the Certificate in TESL Linguistics with a goal of teaching settlement English.

Why study linguistics at SFU?

I returned to university at age 45 because I wanted to make a career change. I wanted to become an ESL teacher and help newcomers to Canada. I’m an immigrant myself and I grew up with one foot in two cultures. I can understand the hardships people face when they first immigrate to Canada. Helping people and their families gain the tools to live and create a new life in Canada – that’s what I wanted to do.

I’m glad I chose SFU. I did a major in Linguistics and the Certificate in TESL Linguistics and I believe both routes are rigorous and well-rounded. SFU’s program prepares you for teaching in the classroom. I have heard from many ESL teachers who are practicum mentors that they prefer SFU students because they have good background knowledge before entering the classroom.

I know many “middle aged” people are afraid of going back to school because they are afraid they are too old or they are afraid of technology. But I know it’s never too late.

What LING courses/professors helped you in your career as an ESL teacher?

There were so many great classes and great professors! LING 323 (Morphology) and Dr. Mellow helped me to see how malleable the English language is. LING 321 (Phonology) and Dr. Alderete helped me to appreciate the similarities and differences between languages, to analyze the sounds of language and their environments, and to understand the challenges my ESL students have with acquiring English.

TESL certificate students take LING 363 – Practicum in Teaching English as a Second Language to Adults. What was this course like for you?

I learned a great deal from my practicum. I got some great advice from Rita Parmar (Linguistics advisor) who told me to devote as much time as possible to my practicum. I saved LING 363 for my final semester when my course load was very light. I was placed with SUCCESS, a settlement agency. The practicum requirement is 25 hours, but I had well over double the required hours. I had a sponsor teacher who allowed me to spend extra time in the classroom, and all those extra hours helped me feel more confident in the classroom.

Dr. Cliff Burgess (LING 363 instructor) was the best; he prepared me very well for teaching in the classroom. He put time and careful thought into practicum placements and did a great job matching students to the teaching/classroom environment.  All of his practicum students both dreaded and appreciated his “tough love” approach – his comments and observations made me a better teacher. I still employ many of the ideas I learned from Dr. Burgess.

How did you find work in the field?

After I had achieved my required hours for my practicum, I continued to volunteer in the classroom at SUCCESS. That turned into substitute teaching, then a regular teaching position. I’m still working at SUCCESS today.

My advice for students: be nice to everyone. I got my foot in the door at SUCCESS because during my practicum I was friendly with the program assistants in the office. They remembered me and passed along kind words to the person responsible for hiring.

Yuko would like to thank Linguistics advisor Rita Parmar for being so helpful and supportive during her time at SFU. Yuko says, “Rita truly knows her stuff in the area of advising. And she was always so kind even though she has a million students to look after and a million things to do!” Yuko’s sentiments are confirmed by Rita’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.