Professors Sarah Murray and Abby Cohn were assisted by Bey Sisouphone, a dining hall worker in Alice Cook House and a native of Laos. This spring's Field Methods class has focused on the Lao language, and Sisouphone has been the native speaker consultant for the class.
Excerpts from the Cornell Daily Sun article:
“I like to teach people how to speak Lao,” Sisouphone said in an interview with the Sun. “I learn from students and students learn from me too.”
The course does not represent Sisouphone’s first brush with the front of the classroom, having taught fifth grade back in Laos before she immigrated in 2003. Upon moving to New York, she did not know any English and took ESL classes while working with her husband at their restaurant. She has worked for the University for six years, beginning in Statler Hotel and, for the past two years, on West Campus.
Sisouphone is dedicated to sharing her language with the people around her. At home, she and her husband talk exclusively to her 12-year-old son in their native tongue.
Lao is the national language of Laos, and according to Cohn, is quite similar to Thai from a linguistic point of view. According to Cohn, no universities teach Lao, something she wanted to change.
“She was really energetic, which I think contributed to both the pace of the class and the volume of material that we could cover,” Nielson Hul, grad, a student in the class, said in an email to the Sun. “She seems like she would be fun to work with.”
“She has been very generous about sharing her language with us, and her animation and enthusiasm has made the class a lot of fun,” Mary Moroney, grad, another student in the class, told the Sun. “Not only is she patient with us as we work to understand the Lao language, she seems to really enjoy answering our questions and having us practice speaking Lao. We’ve been so lucky to be able to have her as our teacher this semester.”
As Cohn puts it, teaching the class has allowed Sisouphone to “come full circle,” after leaving her teaching career behind sixteen years ago in Laos. While there are currently no plans to continue the class in future semesters, Sisouphone’s answer to The Sun about teaching the course again was simple — an enthusiastic “yes.”
Note: If you are interested in studying Lao, there is still time to sign up to attend the intensive Southeast Asian language institute in Madison, Wisconsin this summer: https://seassi.wisc.edu/. Scholarships and financial aid may be available. Contact SEASSI and/or SEAP for more information!