Associate Professor

Thor Sawin
Office
400 Pacific Street D209
Tel
(831) 647-4110
Email
tsawin@miis.edu

Thor Sawin is a linguist, applied linguist, and teacher of English and German as a foreign language, with over eight years of domestic and six years of overseas teaching experience (Lithuania, China, South Korea) at the undergraduate and graduate levels and has taught secondary-level learners in summer programs in Korea, Taiwan and Albania. At the Middlebury Institute, he primarily teaches courses on second language acquisition, linguistic analysis, language and society, language and social media, and applications of technology to language learning, and has taught German for Middlebury Language Schools. Additionally, he has taught workshops on second language acquisition for professors from Azerbaijan, on academic English teaching for foreign instructors in China, on mobile technologies and language teaching at Middlebury Language Schools, and on materials development for teachers in India and Bhutan through the Department of State. 

Dr. Sawin has presented research at over 30 refereed international and several regional conferences on topics within language teaching, multilingualism, and international development. His dissertation fieldwork in Eurasia focused on language acquisition practices and policies for personnel within international organizations, and he has regularly presented, published and led workshops on this topic, and co-organizes the International Congress on Language Learning for field learning policy makers and practitioners. He also served as an organizer and strand coordinator for the American Association for Applied Linguistics conference.

Courses Taught

Courses offered in the past two years.

  • Current term
  • Upcoming term(s)

Communication in Multicultural Settings

This course examines the social, cultural and linguistic factors that play a role in how intercultural communication is accomplished in multilingual/ multicultural settings and will enable students to gain the knowledge and tools needed for effective participation in multilingual/multicultural communication. The course is designed for students in all programs (T&I, business, policy, and TESOL/TFL), who will find themselves interacting with people across varied linguistic and cultural backgrounds .

The goals of this course are to:

(1) gain the knowledge needed to understand and interact effectively in multilingual/multicultural settings. This includes knowledge about social, cultural, and linguistic factors in terms of how they interact with each other and how they affect and are affected by interactions in multilingual/multicultural settings;

(2) develop an understanding of the roles linguistic and cultural attitudes play in interactions across multilingual and multicultural settings and how they influence the success of such interactions;

(3) develop the awareness needed to successfully participate in multilingual/multicultural interactions. This addresses not only the knowledge and attitudes discussed above but also how communication/interaction is structured across cultures and languages, how communication is monitored while in interaction, and what factors support or hinder successful interactions;

(4) develop "tools" for understanding our own and others' ways of interacting in order to be able to participate effectively in multilingual/multicultural interactions across a range of languages and cultures.

Spring 2019 - MIIS, Spring 2020 - MIIS

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This course uses an eight-day immersive learning experience through the countries of the former Yugoslavia as a laboratory for exploring the potential for language education to be a site of peacebuilding in areas of lingering conflict and nationalism. The course will meet for several weeks in the lead-up to the immersive experience, with readings on the conflict in the region, on language teaching for peacebuilding and reconciliation, and on the role that language and educational policy can play in conflict areas. Over the course of the eight days in the Balkans, we will visit key sites for understanding what transpired in the 1990’s, meet with people who are working in various ways to rebuild the countries that emerged from the conflict, meet language teachers and policy makers in the region, and identify a topic related to peacebuilding that language that students will explore in more detail. After returning from the spring break trip, students will complete a project related to their chosen topic, which will be presented at a fair for the MIIS community.

Spring 2020 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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This course is designed to provide teachers of different languages with opportunities to investigate and practice pedagogical subject matter knowledge and grammar teaching strategies in the language that they teach. There will be a number of different languages represented in the class, which will afford multiple opportunities to explore, investigate, and share a variety of pedagogical perspectives and linguistic experiences.

The course will combine a focus on recent theoretical approaches to grammar (cognitive grammar, construction grammar, systemic – functional grammar) with innovative and practical approaches to teaching and learning in an authentic, action-based and interaction-rich setting.

Spring 2019 - MIIS, Spring 2020 - MIIS

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Beginning German Continued
This course is the intensive continuation of GRMN 0101 which will further the development of your language skills in an immersion-like environment, and will include bi-weekly cultural readings in English. Classes meet for two hours each morning, then lunch at the language tables, in addition to afternoon and evening activities (e.g. film screenings). Completion of this course is a prerequisite to enrollment in GRMN 0103. (GRMN 0101 or equivalent)

LNG, WTR

Winter 2020

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Corpus linguistics uses computer-assisted techniques and large electronic collections of texts (written or transcribed spoken) to investigate how people use language in different settings. Corpus techniques are helpful for language teaching because they allow you to help students learn vocabulary and grammar that is appropriate for different contexts, rather than focusing just on what is grammatical or ungrammatical. If you’ve ever felt frustrated telling a learner “That’s not really wrong, but it just doesn’t sound right to me,” corpus linguistics is likely to appeal to you. If you’re concerned about adjusting what you teach so students are prepared for academic reading and writing, or casual speech, or an ESP area, corpus linguistics will definitely be useful. In addition, corpus linguistics lends itself well to methods of teaching that develop learner autonomy. Plus, for anyone who gets a kick out of seeing what people do with language, corpus investigations can be just plain fun.

This intensive weekend course will be a fast way to get to know basic tools and skills that you will then be able to extend on your own. We’ll cover the why, what, and how of five specific areas:

• Analyzing a corpus (e.g. What are useful questions to investigate? What corpus is appropriate? How can you or students make sense of an overwhelming number of results? How can you or students make accurate generalizations but not overgeneralize?)

• Supplementing a textbook with corpus investigations (e.g. What textbook information is useful to check in a corpus? How can you decide what is important to add? How can you get examples that are representative? How can you judge corpus-based or corpus-informed textbooks?)

• Designing materials from a corpus (e.g. How traditional or unusual should your materials look? When should students be doing their own corpus searches and how can you guide them? How can you balance the difficulty of the materials and the level of the students? )

• Making your own corpus of learner texts or for a specific context (e.g. What do you need to compile? How do you format texts? Do you need to add any special coding? How big is big enough?)

• Available corpora and tools (e.g. What corpora represent World Englishes, English as a Lingua Franca, translation, and languages other than English? What tools are available and how much do they cost? Where can you go in the future to keep up with corpus developments?)

We will work together with examples in English, but you are welcome to try searches or do projects with other languages (as long as you have access to a corpus). We will use some free internet sites and a free software package that has Windows, Mac and Linux versions.

Prep before the weekend: A few background readings (with a practical, applied orientation) and discussion questions to think about. Software downloading.

Project after the weekend: A small materials development project that incorporates corpus linguistics techniques. You can use a publicly available corpus or compile your own. Your materials can supplement a textbook lesson or fill another need you have identified for a group of learners. I will get the projects and send you feedback electronically.

Fall 2019 - MIIS, MIIS Second Half of Term

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This seminar will focus on the possibilities and pitfalls of using mobile devices in the language classroom, and in an individual’s own language-learning process. Our technological focus will be primarily the smartphone, but many of the applications available for mobile phone are designed to work on tablets as well. The key objective for the course is to help teacher-trainees develop a rubric for a) identifying the role of a language application within the acquisition and instruction process and b) evaluating whether the benefits of using an app outweigh the drawbacks. The focus of the course is not just to learn specific applications, as new and better applications will have emerged by the time you graduate from MIIS. Rather, language teachers will use research, critical analysis of language learning products, and hands-on experience to answer the following questions:

• What stages of the language acquisition and language teaching process are most amenable to incorporating mobile phones?

• How best to mitigate the breakdowns and inequalities that technology use introduces into learning ecosystems?

• How can place-based learning re-imagine the role of the language classroom and course materials?

• What is the role of the language teacher in a world of autonomous and mobile learning?

Course participants will design a mobile-assisted lesson appropriate to their desired teaching context, and will create a pitch for a new application for mobile learning, or an improvement to an existing application for mobile learning.

Fall 2019 - MIIS, MIIS First Half of Term

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Serves as an introduction to linguistic analysis. Includes projects based on fieldwork in phonology, morphology, syntax, discourse, and pragmatics. Discusses importance of language awareness. Includes pedagogical strategies for consciousness-raising.

Fall 2018 - MIIS, Fall 2019 - MIIS

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Daily activities include four hours of classroom instruction, plus additional work in the language laboratory and computer center. Emphasis will be placed on the grammatical structures of German as well as on conversation and correct pronunciation. Reading comprehension skills are introduced through primary texts, including literature. Throughout the program, audio-visual presentations supplement regular classroom activities.

Required texts:
Texts will be available for purchase at the College Bookstore.


Note: All students who have prior knowledge of German and want to be placed beyond the Elementary German level (101-102-103) are required to take an analytical placement examination involving all four skills. On the basis of the test results, students will be advised concerning their course selections.

LNG

Summer 2018 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session, Summer 2019 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session

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Daily activities include four hours of classroom instruction, plus additional work in the language laboratory and computer center. Emphasis will be placed on the grammatical structures of German as well as on conversation and correct pronunciation. Reading comprehension skills are introduced through primary texts, including literature. Throughout the program, audio-visual presentations supplement regular classroom activities.

Required texts:
Texts will be available for purchase at the College Bookstore.

Note: All students who have prior knowledge of German and want to be placed beyond the Elementary German level (101-102-103) are required to take an analytical placement examination involving all four skills. On the basis of the test results, students will be advised concerning their course selections.

EUR, LNG

Summer 2018 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session, Summer 2019 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session

View in Course Catalog

Daily activities include four hours of classroom instruction, plus additional work in the language laboratory and computer center. Emphasis will be placed on the grammatical structures of German as well as on conversation and correct pronunciation. Reading comprehension skills are introduced through primary texts, including literature. Throughout the program, audio-visual presentations supplement regular classroom activities.

Required texts:
Texts will be available for purchase at the College Bookstore after all placement testing has been completed.

Note: All students who have prior knowledge of German and want to be placed beyond the Elementary German level (101-102-103) are required to take an analytical placement examination involving all four skills. On the basis of the test results, students will be advised concerning their course selections.

Summer 2018 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session, Summer 2019 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session

View in Course Catalog

Daily activities include four hours of classroom instruction, plus additional work in the language laboratory and computer center. Emphasis will be placed on the grammatical structures of German as well as on conversation and correct pronunciation. Reading comprehension skills are introduced through primary texts, including literature. Throughout the program, audio-visual presentations supplement regular classroom activities.

Required texts:
Texts will be available for purchase at the College Bookstore after all placement testing has been completed.

Note: All students who have prior knowledge of German and want to be placed beyond the Elementary German level (101-102-103) are required to take an analytical placement examination involving all four skills. On the basis of the test results, students will be advised concerning their course selections.

Summer 2018 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session, Summer 2019 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session

View in Course Catalog

Introduces the interplay between language and society. Discusses regional and social dialects as well as the role of linguistic attitudes and language variation in language learning and teaching.

Fall 2018 - MIIS

View in Course Catalog

Daily activities include four hours of classroom instruction, plus additional work in the language laboratory and computer center. Emphasis will be placed on the grammatical structures of German as well as on conversation and correct pronunciation. Reading comprehension skills are introduced through primary texts, including literature. Throughout the program, audio-visual presentations supplement regular classroom activities.

Required texts:
Texts will be available for purchase at the College Bookstore.

Note: All students who have prior knowledge of German and want to be placed beyond the Elementary German level (101-102-103) are required to take an analytical placement examination involving all four skills. On the basis of the test results, students will be advised concerning their course selections.

LNG

Summer 2018 Language Schools, LS 7 Week Session

View in Course Catalog

Language and Media
Social networking, microblogging, and content-sharing platforms are a mainstay of contemporary information flow yet offer and indeed require new ways of using language, approaching textual identity, and modeling author-reader relationships. In this course we will establish which innovations are truly novel, which may endure, and how human language may be changing. We will first examine public discourse about new media for insights into social beliefs about innovation, youth, and authority. After learning a suite of tools from contemporary sociolinguistics, we will conduct student-originated research on language phenomena of interest in new media. (This course counts as an elective towards the minor in Linguistics)

SOC, WTR

Winter 2017

View in Course Catalog

Areas of Interest

My approach to the study of human language centers on hospitality and wonder. Language learning is the ultimate form of respect you can show a culture, and speaking to someone in their own words can be a powerful gift. I am passionate about training learners to notice, be fascinated by, and grow competence in the complex multilingual practices around them, and increasingly in the ways that technology helps learners to do so. Learning and using others’ ways of speaking is essential to any cross-cultural social engagement, and I want to help organizations support language learning more effectively with language acquisition policies and practices.

Academic Degrees

  • PhD in Linguistics, University of South Carolina, 2013
  • MA in Linguistics, Michigan State University, 2003 
  • MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), Michigan State University, 2003 
  • BS in Geography and Linguistics, Michigan State University, 2000

Professor Sawin has been teaching at the Institute since 2013.

Publications

  • Sawin, Thor. (forthcoming). “Technology and the development of pragmatic and intercultural competence”. In Ziegler, N. (Ed.) Routledge Handbook of SLA and Technology. Routledge.

  • Sawin, Thor. (2018). “Ideology, methodology, and morality in host language learning”. Journal of Language, Identity and Education, 17(4).

  • Sawin, Thor. (2018). “Media and English“. In J. Liontas (Ed.) TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching,  John Wiley, in partnership with TESOL International. 

  • Guillen, Gabriel; Sarah Springer and Thor Sawin. (2017). “Beyond the magic pill: The lingo of language learning products”. In Ling, S. &  Li, Jinrong (Eds.) Assessment Across On-line Language Education. CALICO Book series.   

  • Sawin, Thor (2015). “What ‘getting by with English’ costs: Language choices and consequences for cross-cultural fieldwork”. In A. Farrell (Ed.), Reconsidering Development, Vol. 4: The Role of Language in International Development. 

  • Sawin, Thor (2017). Mobile Assisted Language Learning (a website for practitioners). http://sites.miis.edu/mall

  • Sawin, Thor (2017). Language resources for social impact (a website of resources for field learning). http://socialimpact.middcreate.net/language-content/