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ASU center leading project to develop materials for Burmese language instruction

Three people sit at a conference table while looking toward the camera and smiling.

The instructors leading the development of the Burmese language learning textbook (from left): Ye Tun, Maw Htun and Chan Lwin. Photo courtesy Choua Lee

December 07, 2023

The Asia Center at Arizona State University is leading the development of a new online textbook to help teach the Burmese language.

Chan Lwin, the center’s program manager, was awarded a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s International Research and Studies Program to develop an open education resource textbook for Burmese language instruction.

Lwin has taught Burmese at the University of Wisconsin and ASU, and her contributions will add to a lustrous history of textbook authors for this understudied and under-resourced language.

Lwin, who joined ASU in 2017, is enthusiastic about the project and emphasized its critical role in addressing the absence of online resources for intermediate-level Burmese language learners, particularly in the wake of the recent military coup in Myanmar amid the global pandemic. 

She will collaborate with fellow Burmese language instructors across the United States, including Maw Maw Htun of Northern Illinois University, Ye Min Tun of Johns Hopkins University and Kenneth Wong of the University of California-Berkeley.

The team aims to fill the educational gap in minority-serving institutions. The goal is to promote equitable access to educational resources, especially for students seeking to learn rare languages like Burmese.

This collaboration builds on a long history of working together on various projects, including a reading proficiency assessment workshop and a reading material development workshop by The Southeast Asian Language Council, with funding from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Lwin said that this latest grant results from many years of teamwork. 

“It is extremely rare for these less commonly taught languages to receive opportunities like this. We were completely inspired and motivated to create something we are proud of. It was Sayarespectful term for teacher Ye’s idea to see if we could get support,” Lwin said. “After discovering that ASU is one of few universities where staff can receive grants, we went for it.”

Set to conclude in 2025, the envisioned digital textbook will be a unique resource explicitly tailored to the needs of Burmese language studies. This endeavor is especially significant given that only three universities in the U.S. regularly offer Burmese language courses.

Lwin emphasized the geopolitical importance of Myanmar’s strategic location between India and China, underscoring the need for language studies in the current political landscape. 

“Myanmar language studies play a critical role in area studies, now more than ever. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity for those who wish to learn the language,” Lwin said.

This groundbreaking initiative addresses the educational gap in Burmese language instruction and contributes to the broader understanding of the region’s significance in global affairs. 

Story written by Chan Lwin

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