:: Spotlight: Jane Johnson

Posted: November 2009

Instructor Shares Cultural Literacy Through Language

Many students choose to take Spanish courses in order to fulfill language requirements for their degrees. Dr. Jane Johnson teaches several Spanish courses at UT Austin, which she believes provide value to her students beyond the vocabulary and mechanics of the language.

In addition to being an instructor for University Extension (UEX) and UT Austin, Dr. Johnson is an alumna UT Austin’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Her particular fields of interest are Spanish and Latin American literature and second language acquisition.

Check out Dr. Johnson’s responses to these questions about her courses and experiences teaching for UEX.

Why do you think these courses are valuable?

Being able to communicate in Spanish is of obvious utility in Texas, and increasingly so throughout the US and Canada. Learning a foreign language, though, has value far beyond its practical application. When we learn new languages, we develop our analytical skills, we expand our perspective, we approach and understand cultures in new ways.

What do you like most about your UEX students?

Everything. Nearly always they are intelligent, curious, motivated, diligent, and fun. I appreciate the small classes and the variety of students we have. In my evening classes I might have 10 or 12 students, including 3 over the age of 30, 2 non-white, 2 born outside the US, 2 speakers of English as a second or third language, 1 medical professional, 1 business owner, 1 educator, and perhaps 2 traditional students. They all have so much to share, and I enjoy learning from all of them.

What is your favorite lesson or activity to share with your UEX students?

There’s so much, that’s a hard one to answer. I guess my favorite is anything that gives the student an ‘aha!’ moment. That varies from person to person, and you never know when it might happen.

What do you think particularly sticks with your students after taking your course?

I hope they all take away the experience of learning to use the language in a way that is meaningful to them, in a collaborative, not-too-scary setting. In the long run cultural literacy is just as important as language skill, so I hope they continue to keep an open mind and approach “different” people and situations with appreciation rather than apprehension.

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