While studying English in his native China, Xuan “Franklin” Song developed a love for the works of Shakespeare. Song, however, credits another source in helping him develop the English proficiency needed to become the first student in a new doctoral program designed to teach educators how to teach Chinese. He improved his understanding of English by reading the heart-warming, inspirational Chicken Soup for the Soul series. “The language is beautiful and the stories are very touching,” Song explains.
Now fluent in both languages, Song successfully completed the first semester last fall of the Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language doctoral studies program here at Cleveland State University. The program was created by Dr. Lih-Ching Chen Wang, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Foundations.
According to Wang, “The target candidates are educators and scholars who are native Chinese speakers. They have been devoted to or interested in teaching or researching the teaching of Chinese as a foreign language,” she said. All of which make Song a perfect fit for the type of student she envisioned for the program.
Candidates also must have a master’s degree to be accepted. There are several career paths that Song or future students can take with such a degree. They include teaching at a college, language training program or language development center. They also can conduct research. Song said his goal is to become an expert in teaching Chinese speakers English and English speakers Chinese. The main reason he joined CSU’s program is to learn theories and practices that will enable him to develop curriculums and conduct related research, Song said. “I am looking forward to training qualified teachers in the area of TCSOL – Teaching Chinese Speakers Other Languages.”
Like other Chinese students, he was given an English-sounding name to be called on campus. His CSU name is Franklin. Song, a friendly, polite man, who helped arrange the chairs for his interview, prefers to be called Franklin because some people have difficulty pronouncing his name.
The 37-year-old grew up in the province of Henan, which he describes as the “Cradle of Chinese Civilization.” Located in the middle of China, it is the home of the compass, paper making, printing and gun powder, he said. The province has existed for more than a thousand years, he added. In modern times, Henan serves as an agricultural community where wheat, corn, soy beans and peanuts grow. Song is the youngest of two sisters and a brother. Their father worked for a state-run tobacco company and mother taught Chinese language arts in elementary school. Both parents are retired.
Song earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Zhengzhou University in Henan. He learned English more from textbooks than from speaking, he said. “Reading and writing are easy for me. Speaking is more challenging,” he explained. After earning a master’s degree in business administration in Taiwan, Song enrolled in the University of Akron in 2014 to become immersed in the English language and American culture. He received a master’s degree in English Literacy there.
Wang added that Song was very determined to come to our doctoral program. “Once he was admitted and the assistantship was in place, he and his family moved to town,” she said. Song’s wife Maggie and their 10-year-old son Paul moved to the United States two years ago. Paul is in the fifth grade at Hilltop Elementary School in Beachwood.
Between his pursuit of degrees, Song has taught college-level English in China and high school Chinese in the Plain Local District in North Canton, Ohio. At the latter, he said he faced challenges regarding classroom management, cultural differences and school regulations. Overall, he said, “I benefitted a lot from that experience.”
He said his time here at CSU also has been positive. “Professors are very professional and knowledgeable,” said. Song explained the difference between being in a doctoral program and learning main concepts in his undergrad and master’s program. “As a doctoral student, you’re emphasizing research,” he explained.
Apart from completing fall courses such as Qualitative Statistics I and Psychology for Development, Song conducted research on teaching English as a second language. Being the only student in his cohort was a bit of an issue. He admits he would have enjoyed having other students to study with and share ideas, but being the first does not intimidate him. “I have been characterized as brave and courageous,” Song said. “I like a challenge.”