"I've been where they are, and I know exactly what they're going through."
|Most instructors at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center may find their hardest task while teaching is attempting to relate to their students. But for Russian instructor and four-time graduate of DLIFLC Joe Phillips, identifying with his students has never been a major issue. Phillips, who scored a 3/3/3 on each of his DLPTs in Polish, Russian, and Serbo-Croatian, returned to teach at the Institute in 2010 after an immense military career saturated with travel. |
Other than being a DLIFLC graduate, the fact that he is a non-native speaker of the language he teaches sets Phillips apart from the majority of the Institute's instructors. Currently, 98 percent of DLIFLC's teachers are native speakers, with English being either their second or third language.
"I constantly have to remind myself that although I'm not a native speaker, I'm far enough above [the students’] level that I can be of great help to them. I think the counterbalance to my non-native Russian skills is my ability to communicate with them more effectively as a result of my background. I've been where they are, and I know exactly what they're going through," said Phillips. Furthermore, explaining the nuances of Russian grammar in idiomatic English is often what makes the difference for a student who isn’t getting it.
One challenge Phillips occasionally faces is trying to relate to students who have no desire to learn the language, because, for him, there was nothing better than having someone pay him to go to school.
"I was insatiable; I listened to their music, watched their movies, ate their food, and talked with anyone who would put up with me. I read everything I could get my hands on, even if I couldn't understand it. I did so every day, and I understood more every day. The joy of seeing progress kept me driven," related Phillips about his time as a student at DLIFLC.
Overall, Phillips attended DLIFLC for 188 weeks as a student, completing three basic courses and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) Russian Arms Control Speaking Proficiency Course. In the meantime, he managed international military to military programs in Heidelberg, Germany; traveled the eastern US as a Foreign Language Advocate for the US Army Recruiting Command; served in DTRA as an arms control inspector and national escort for visiting Russian inspectors; served as an arms control attaché at the US Embassies in Moscow, Russia and Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and completed a Master's degree in Russian Studies at Middlebury College.
His field experience and extensive knowledge of the language he teaches make for a unique perspective in the classroom and have provided him with a "mixed bag of tricks," which he uses to help make the language learning process as easy and enjoyable as possible.
"I tell my students at the beginning of each class, that it is my intention that they never recover from their encounter with me. I think I usually succeed."