Cheng-Ling Alice Chen, Recipient of the Dean’s Grant for Student Research ☆

Alice Chen, 2012 recipient of the Dean’s Grant for Student Research, knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher. After living in Texas for four years while her father earned his PhD, Chen went back to her home in Taipei, Taiwan with a proficiency in English that set her apart.

The language skills she had developed in Texas during her elementary school years enabled Chen to later on help her fellow students with their study of English and to take on the role of TA or “little teacher” to help with grading and other classroom tasks. This experience sparked her interest in English language learning and teaching and confirmed that she had what it takes to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.

Years later, Chen chose to pursue her Master’s degree at Teachers College in Applied Linguistics and follow in the footsteps of an influential former professor from undergrad, Dr. Yun-Pi Yuan. She was drawn to the program by the scholarly interests of TC faculty member, Dr. ZhaoHong Han, who has since become her academic advisor as Chen pursues her doctorate degree in the TESOL program, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Chen’s current research focuses on achieving reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition through reading-based instruction such as repeated reading. Chen describes acquisition as learning that happens naturally as opposed to that which is dictated in the classroom. She became interested in vocabulary when she realized that it is an area that she and many other second language learners of various proficiency levels struggle with.

“The learning of a second language (L2) is an ongoing process!” she says. “And vocabulary acquisition is so important as vocabulary is the meat of a language.  At different proficiency levels there are always new words for L2 learners to acquire and aspects of a language that we can help students improve.” It was for her research on the efficacy of repeated reading for reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition that Chen received the prestigious Dean’s Grant for Student Research.

Dr. Han says of Chen’s work: “The topic is significant yet under-researched in second language education. Whereas repeated reading has been amply established in first language reading research as effective for improving reading comprehension and fluency, and there recently has been increasing evidence from second language research confirming the same effects for second language readers, it remains to be explored whether repeated reading can lead, additionally, to vocabulary growth. Confirming (or otherwise) the latter holds a great deal of importance for second language learners, for whom reading is both a literacy skill to be developed and a source of language acquisition.”

Chen plans to return to Taiwan after completing her dissertation and use her research and her passion for teaching to impact English language education there.

“I enjoy teaching. After graduation, I look forward to teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classes and content courses, which would be SLA (Second Language Acquisition), vocabulary, or reading related to college students and adult learners,” she says.

Chen also hopes to make a difference through an online language-learning program – entitled Ed-Wonderland – which she is developing with her boyfriend, a doctoral graduate of the Instructional Technology and Media program at Teachers College.  It is a multi-player online educational game that allows younger students to take their avatar through a virtual world that simulates every day life and to soak up (English) language skills along the way.  Although she finds it challenging to do curriculum design on an Internet-based platform, she says, “There’s a lot of potential because I could integrate what I have learned about foreign language education and implement all kinds of activities and content-based, theme-based, task-based teaching on there to make language learning fun and authentic!”

Cheng-Ling Alice Chen is currently a doctoral student in the TESOL program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include instructed second language learning, reading instruction, as well as vocabulary acquisition in general, and the effect of the repeated reading approach on second language reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition in specific. She is also interested in technology-assisted and online game-based foreign-language learning. In addition to academic pursuits, Alice had taught English to second and foreign language young and adult learners in Taiwan and in the U.S., and is currently program secretary for the TCSOL Certificate Program at Teachers College.