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Assistant Professor

Thor Sawin
400 Pacific Street D209
(831) 647-4110

Thor Sawin is a linguist, applied linguist, English, and German teacher, 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 learners in summer programs in Korea, Taiwan and Albania. He primarily teaches courses on second language acquisition, linguistic analysis, language and society, language and social media, and applications of technology to language learning. 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 23 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 four years.

  • Current term
  • Upcoming term(s)

Language in Intercultural Social Impact Work

This course is designed to equip future cross-cultural social impact professionals, particularly those whose jobs requires communicating across linguacultural boundaries, to make informed decisions about language learning, language practices and language policy in their contexts of service. Participants will carry out research on language dynamics in an actual setting where development professionals are active, learn some field methods for language learning, and develop and advocate for effective language policies in order to further the goals of responsible and responsive development.

Spring 2018 - MIIS, MIIS Second Half of Term

View in Course Catalog

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 cell phone, but many of the applications available for mobile phone are designed to work on tablets as well. The focus of the course is less to learn specific applications, as new applications will have emerged by the time you graduate from MIIS. Rather the class will be aimed at helping teachers think through what stages of the language acquisition and language teaching process are most amenable to incorporating mobile phones, and how to mitigate the breakdowns and inequalities that technology use introduces into learning ecosystems.

Spring 2017 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop, Spring 2018 - MIIS, MIIS Workshop

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Examines the syntax and discourse of modern English for ESL and EFL teaching. Spotlights practical applications for the classroom. Prerequisite: Language Analysis

Fall 2016 - MIIS, Spring 2018 - MIIS

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Requires original research to be conducted by the student on issues such as language attitudes, cultural variables, language learning, or other topics from sociolinguistics and second language acquisition. Introduces a range of research methods, including exposure to various data collection and analysis procedures in both the qualitative and quantitative research traditions.

Spring 2018 - MIIS

View in Course Catalog

The Practicum Capstone combines reflective practice and professional development in preparing students for a career in language education. Participants integrate theory, research, and conceptual foundations into a coherent and well-informed approach to planning and executing lessons. They also incorporate these three components when developing and deploying instructional materials and assessment instruments. Activities and products prepare participants for entering the language teaching professional and performing admirably therein.

Practicum Capstone Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs):

Articulate their approach to language learning and teaching with explicit reference to sound pedagogical principles

Demonstrate their expert knowledge of language, learning, and teaching

Select appropriate materials for effective language instruction

Plan productive instructional units and lessons to maximize second language learning in all skill areas

Assess student learning meaningfully using a range of formative and summative tools

Reflect critically on their teaching practice in order to build on their strengths and address areas for improvement

Fall 2017 - MIIS

View in Course Catalog

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.

Spring 2017 - MIIS, Fall 2017 - MIIS

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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 2017 - MIIS

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The Applied Linguistics Capstone is designed to help TESOL/TFL students refine their skills as applied linguistics professionals. Course participants will develop either a curriculum project, a, empirical research report, or an assessment tool, using original data that they have collected and analyzed. The course also aims to induce students to reflect on their previous coursework, as well as explore and clarify their future plans for careers as language teaching professionals.

Applied Linguistics Capstone Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs):

Understand processes of inquiry relevant to language education

Plan research activities for designing curriculum and language instruction, assessment, or empirical investigation

Execute data collection procedures

Analyze data using appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods

Synthesize and report findings clearly, convincingly, and creatively for a professional audience

Apply research skills in educational settings

Spring 2017 - MIIS

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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)


Winter 2017

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Surveys, in seminar format, research in second-language learning relating to language teaching and learning. Discusses the role of affective variables, interaction, learner strategies, and learner factors in the language acquisition process. Prerequisite: Language Analysis

Fall 2016 - MIIS

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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 equip organizations with effective 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.


  • "The Habit of Meeting Together: Enacting Masculinity in a Men's Bible Study," Crossroads of Language, Interaction and Culture.
  • "Second Language Learnerhood among Cross-cultural Workers," Doctoral dissertation: University of South Carolina.

I am also currently working on the following articles: "The Moral and Political Economy of Code Choice in Eastern Europe," "Trilinguals in the Indexical Field of Facebook," and am co-authoring a paper on "Attitudes about Aptitudes in the Development Community."