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College of Arts and Letters | Michigan State University

In the Spotlight

On this page we feature a member of the Second Language Studies Program. Right now our spotlight is on Dr. Dustin De Felice, MAFLT assistant professor and SLS affiliate!

February 2015

Dustin De Felice

Dustin De Felice

Why study language you might ask? Well, I remember being drawn to the English language from an early age. I was fascinated by dialects and accents and I was especially taken by comedians, rappers and great orators and their abilities to make the English language entertain, inspire and provoke. I didn't really do much with this fascination after high school. Instead, I wound up enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard out of a sense of duty where I spent four long seasick years cleaning buoys, making cool port calls, and occasionally being a part of missions that saved lives. Not long after I stopped floating in the Atlantic (I never did get over the seasickness!), I began my first degree courtesy of the GI Bill and the Illinois Veteran’s Grant. It didn't take me too long to realize I wasn't drawn to the English language, but to all languages. I began taking courses in linguistics, education, humanities and sociology to help me better understand the world-at-large.

Around this same time, I started teaching ESL in Chicago and I found the experience exhilarating. There I was midway through my B.A. and I was teaching three hour classes every morning and every night four times a week. I worked in a rundown building with no A/C in the summer and half working space heaters in the winter. The classes were full of immigrants from all over Latin America and most of my classes had 35-55 students in them. Of course there were no textbooks, no curriculum or even a plan for that matter, but I loved the challenge. I loved every moment of trying to help these motivated adults learn something about English, about the city and about the U.S.

Not being satisfied with my own teaching, I decided to pursue another degree at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. Thanks to Rick Hallett, I realized it wasn't the English language or languages at all that I was really drawn to. Instead, it was the people that captured my attention and that language was the key to understanding their journeys, their needs and their futures. That key led me to spend time working with speakers of two endangered languages in Mexico. I spent years investigating the issues surrounding endangered languages in Mexico and my time with these speakers gave me a greater appreciation for the importance of a speaker’s language, whether it’s Huastecan Nahuatl or American English.

In one of my many roles at MSU, I am an affiliate faculty member of the SLS program and I look for as many ways as possible that I can help the program continue to be such a dynamic, personal and vibrant program. As Bill VanPatten noted, I’m one heck of note-taker at faculty meetings! I have also shared my research practices with a few classes as a guest speaker in Patti Spinner’s courses and I have spent time in consultations with students about qualitative research thanks to my mentor, Valerie Janesick. She helped fuel my passion in this area and I am very willing to work with more students and colleagues on qualitative projects. Being even a small part of the SLS program has been a professional dream for me. It never fails to amaze me that Susan Gass or Bill VanPatten can walk down the hall and pass my office while saying hello to me. If someone had told me where I would be today, I wouldn't have believed them.

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