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Girl Scout Training Helps Langton

Published: November 15, 2013

Leeanne Langton among students at Kemendo Primary School in Kemondo, Tanzania where she taught songs in English (along with her trusty ukelele) and introduced the Books In A Box program.
LeeAnne Langton (c) among students at Kemendo Primary School in Kemondo, Tanzania, where she taught songs in English (accompanied by her trusty ukelele) and introduced the Books In A Box program.

English’s LeeAnne Langton learned in 10 months in Tanzania that it’s good to be a Girl Scout.

Langton received a prestigious Senior Language Fellowship offered through the U.S. Department of State and Georgetown University that ran from December to October at Tanzania’s St. Augustine University where she trained English teachers and developed curriculum.

“After several intense interviews with Georgetown and the Monterey Institute of Languages, my final interview for this fellowship was a Skype interview with the regional English language officer at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Rebecca Smoak,” she recalled. “While I was prepared for in-depth interrogation on pedagogy and linguistic aptitude, that was not the direction that final interview took.”

Instead, recalled Langton, a member of the university since 1996, she was asked “Are you afraid of caterpillars the size of Cuban cigars? Do you know how to take a bucket shower?”

“Throughout my fellowship I was challenged on my pedagogy and language skills, but the best preparation I had was my time in the Girl Scouts,” she said. “That first week in Tanzania, Rebecca and I were walking back from a nighttime training session with head flashlights, hiking boots and insect repellant as perfume. I asked her if she had been a Girl Scout. She said ‘Yup,’ and we shared some childhood Girl Scout stories and experiences, laughing and singing as we walked through the thick grass.”

The fellowship was a dream come true for Langton who earned her master of arts in linguistics from CSULB in 1995 with highest distinctions following a B.A. from UCLA.

“I worked in East Africa as a member of the Peace Corps and when I returned to the U.S. I enrolled at CSULB’s graduate school,” she explained. “Ever since then, I’ve wanted to go back. When my daughters went away to college, I was recruited for the fellowship by the State Department and the CSULB English Department gave me permission to accept.”

Langton’s first stop was Dar es Salaam where she worked with Smoak. She arrived on a Friday night and by Sunday she was hard at work training 200 English teachers. After a solitary Christmas in Dar es Salaam, she flew to Bukoba and got busy at St. Augustine. There she reviewed and redesigned 17 courses in the university‘s English language curriculum, taught secondary school teachers, expanded the main library and developed portable children’s libraries, enhanced their audio-visual system, created a theater and, in the summer, ran a week-long English language camp called the Access program funded by U.S. Embassy scholarships. “It was really fun,” she recalled. “We even taught students how to swim.”

She worked with brand-new Peace Corps trainees in Korogwe where she met Seth Jenison, a 2013 graduate of CSULB’s College of Engineering. “That was a nice touch of home,” she said. She also returned to her Peace Corps base of the Comoros Island. “That was a dream come true,” she added.

One reason for her distinction, she feels, is her fluency in the Bantu languages of Swahili, used as the lingua franca in East Africa, and Shingazidja, spoken in the Comoros Islands.

“I think it was the combination of my knowledge of these languages as well as my work in heritage language literacy and student success here at CSULB that earned me this fellowship,” she said. Langton also speaks French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Vietnamese. She was recognized with the CSULB University Honors Program’s Most Valuable Professor award in 2011 and has served as a mentor for CSULB’s Partners for Success Program.

The visit sharpened her language skills. “It was a great experience linguistically because the nun I shared a house with was from the Congo, so we always spoke French,” she recalled. “My colleagues and I spoke mostly Swahili. One of the first people I met in the U.S. Embassy was from Puerto Rico, so we spoke Spanish. I met a lovely Filipino woman who had been raised in Vienna, so we spoke German. It was extraordinary. It was an experience to float in and out of languages. Everyone around me was multilingual. If I learned nothing else, it was how fluid language can be. People float in and out of languages all the time in Tanzania.”

Leeanne Langton
LeeAnne Langton (c) at the Serengeti Plains where she camped out on safari. Also pictured are driver Ben (r) and ranger Richard.

Langton was impressed by the level of linguistic ability she found. “Every Tanzanian I met spoke at least three languages. I was often told how simple Swahili is. Swahili is not an easy language by any means. There are 13 noun classification systems alone. But because so many people in Tanzania welcomed me into using Swahili, it never felt difficult to master the nuances of Tanzanian Swahili,” she said. “That is so different from attitudes toward learning English in the U.S. There is often the remark, ‘Why don’t you learn English?’ I never heard ‘Why don’t you learn Swahili?’ from a Bantu speaker, even when I stumbled on a phrase or mispronounced a word.”

Langton is ready to go again. “There are peaks and valleys in every experience,” she recalled. “Now that I’m home, I remember the great things but I remember plenty of lonely days, too. I got very close to my ukulele and the dog who adopted me. But I now qualify as a language specialist for the State Department which means I will be able to go back overseas for shorter periods ranging from two weeks to four months. When I came back, I had dinner with my brothers and one of them told me that I’d grown up. I would have been surprised if I hadn’t been changed by such an experience.”