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Using linguistic skills in a challenging new post

By: Kathy Hovis, 
January 3, 2016

Nate Floro ’15 faces a tough task every day — teaching English to a class of 100 Moroccan college students of varying abilities. Some of them can understand what he’s saying, but many have no clue. And he has no teaching assistants and no real ability for in-class speaking practice because of the large class.

So Floro, a Fulbright teaching assistant, offers as many office hours as possible, started a book club for his students and works as a volunteer at an English language center in his town of El-Jadida, Morocco.

Floro speaks English to his classes, but it helps that he’s also proficient in Arabic, from classes at Cornell and a semester abroad in Jordan. He’s discovered, however, that the Moroccan dialect of Arabic is completely different. “Moroccans are very aware of what Middle Eastern Arabic sounds like because there’s so much media that comes from the Middle East,” he said. “But they say you sound like you’re on a soap opera.”

So he’s taking a language class himself, to brush up on the Moroccan dialect, which includes a host of French influences.

Along with English, he also teaches a class in study skills.

“In Morocco, if students pass a baccalaureate exam they can register in English, so there are way more students who qualify than there are resources, curriculum or even desks,” he said. “The students really want to improve their English.”

But the situation makes it tough for them to succeed, he said, so by the second year, about half of the students have dropped out of English classes.

Despite the tough work environment, Floro said the experience has been a great one for him so far, living about two minutes from the beach and sometimes enjoying amazing food cooked by a Moroccan family that’s adopted each succeeding group of Fulbright teaching assistants. The atmosphere in Morocco is a lot more peaceful than in Jordan, he said.

Floro majored in linguistics and Near Eastern Studies and says he was introduced to linguistics after being closed out of a cultural anthropology class his freshman year. Two of his main mentors were Abby Cohn of Linguistics and Munther Younes of Near Eastern Studies, whose textbooks Floro still uses in his studies.

After a few years of work, Floro hopes to return to grad school to study sociolinguistics

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