With China’s growing prominence in world affairs, learning Chinese has become increasingly important. Enter Rebecca L. Oxford, Alabama A&M University’s new coordinator of the psychology and counseling program.
Dr. Oxford, delivered one of two keynote presentations at the third international Chinese Language Education Forum (CLEF) held recently in San Francisco, Calif. Some 400 persons representing 12 countries attended the event. In addition to ample positive feedback from attendees—among them Chinese Language Education and Research Center official Benson Zhao—Oxford has received a Fulbright grant to present her work in Costa Rica in December 2012.
In her CLEF presentation, Oxford contended that although learning Chinese requires effort, the process also includes states of ‘hot’ cognition, ‘flow,’ and intuition-related ‘inspired consciousness,’ which make Chinese-learning much easier. Additionally, reported the educational psychologist, learning Chinese can involve very positive emotions and what Maslow called ‘peak experiences’ characterized by a sense of well-being, wonder, awe, and limitlessness horizons. Oxford included extensive evidence from personal stories told by learners of Chinese.
For instance, one university student noted: “My first Chinese class with Professor Xu was inspiring and mysterious. It was inspiring because it opened a new world for us, a fascinating new culture. That world was also mysterious because it involved mental structures different from ours, different pronunciations, and lots of memory storage.” Other students cited “unforgettable experiences,” “great teachers who introduced us to the Chinese culture,” and “seeing myself, knowing myself better, and experimenting” while learning Chinese.
Still,others reported “learning things that seemed impossible,” such as “reading pictures” (characters) and dealing with tones. Another student, whose career goal is to become a translator or teacher of Chinese, cited “beautiful friendships with the Chinese people” and said “the great magic of the language has transformed my life for the better.”
Learners of all languages, aided by good teachers who make the language come to life, can have these experiences, Oxford asserted. The same students who recorded positive experiences also mentioned times of frustration when they did not know the best strategies to use for learning Chinese. Oxford pointed out that learners undergo such experiences occasionally.
As the author or editor of three books on language learning strategies, volumes on language learning motivation and language teaching, and an international series for English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, Oxford ably provided many suggestions. She is currently working with researchers in Mexico, Central America, and the Middle East to gather further examples and to uncover the psychological, social, and instructional factors that make language learning both enjoyable and efficiently productive.
The Lifetime Achievement Award that Dr. Oxford received from Heinle/Thomson publishers states praised her research for having “changed the way the world teaches languages.” She has published more than 160 articles and book chapters and has presented keynote speeches in 40 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, China, Oman, and the U.S. in the last two years. At the 2012 Alabama-Mississippi Conference on Social Work Education in Huntsville, she made a presentation on counseling refugees and immigrants. She is also currently authoring books in the area of the language of peace and cultures of peace, as well as conducting research on counseling psychology.
Prior to joining the AAMU family in August 2012, Oxford was a professor of language education and research at Air University. She was a distinguished scholar-teacher at the University of Maryland; received the Capstone Academic Excellence Award at the University of Alabama; taught and led programs at Columbia University and Pennsylvania State University; and taught as an adjunct at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Auburn University Montgomery.
Oxford currently teaches courses on lifespan development, counseling techniques, and adolescent psychology at AAMU.
- Jerome Saintjones