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Finishing the Race

Biking over two hundred miles pushes the human mind and body to its limits, but so does trying to learn a new language. Associate Professor Troy Cox (Linguistics) has experience with both.

This past summer, after months of training, Cox finished the iconic LoToJa (Logan to Jackson) bike race for the fourth time. Clocking in at over two hundred miles, this race pushes bikers to their physical and mental limits. And as a researcher of second-language learning, Cox has not let this metaphor of endurance escape him.

Just like preparing for an long race, language learning requires consistent training and intelligent goal setting. And while you can simply complete a race, it’s better to strive for a lifestyle that promotes good health, which can be felt in all aspects of life.

Cox noted, “This is where I tie my scholarship and my hobbies together. How do we make sure that we're mindful of our learning goals? And how can those goals change us so we can meet the aims of a BYU education for lifelong learning and service? Speaking another language is one of the great ways we can serve our neighbors throughout this life. If you just focus on trying to get through the class, you'll get your sixteen language credits, but you won't have changed from the process of it.”

This past summer, Cox and his research team developed what he calls the “Language Proficiency Diagnostic Assessment (LPDA).” Cox shared an experience that contributed to the genesis of the LPDA, which came as he was hiking in Bogota, Columbia. After going a ways up the trail and hitting his fitness goal for the day, he decided to turn around and head back, but the people he met coming down convinced him to turn around and finish the hike. In the end, he was met with a stunning view of the city.

Just as Cox was tempted to turn around once he met the minimum requirement of his fitness goal, he is worried that BYU students are not reaping the benefits of completing their language studies.

“Here's what I think happens at BYU,” Cox explained. “People come in and they have a program of study that the Advisement Center gives them, like their Apple Watch, and once they hit their language credit requirement, they turn around and go back to their lives without really changing their world perspective, and it might hamper their ability to be of service in the future.”

The LPDA is designed to help language learners better understand their language proficiency through self-evaluation and reflection. It helps them determine which level of language course would be best for them and allows them to reflect how they can improve.

Cox hopes that this new assessment will help students studying a language to recognize their weaknesses and then take the needed steps to continue their language-learning journey.

—Heather Bergeson, English, ’21

Picture of Troy Cox in his office.

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