When Padmavathi (Pat) Lathers speaks to students in the English for Academic Purposes (EAPP) classes she teaches at Macomb, her knowledge of the subject matter is backed by a wide world view and fluency in four languages.
Growing up in Singapore with parents who had emigrated from Malaysia, Lathers learned to speak comfortably in English, Chinese, Tamil (a language of India) and Malay. Because she was introduced to all these languages at such an early age, she can now move effortlessly between them without stopping to think.
“While my students need to mentally translate from their mother tongue, I don’t have to stop and do a translation in my head,” offers Lathers. “I can speak to one person in English and another in Tamil both at the same time. But I know what it’s like to learn another language.”
In Singapore, Lathers was surrounded by multiculturalism and that, as much as the languages she learned, led her to where she is today.
“One cannot stop learning about other cultures,” says Lathers. “That is one of the reasons I love talking to and relating with my students. I want to hear their background stories and, from them, I’m always learning.”
To offer that experience to others, Lathers launched an International Students Group that she hopes will connect all Macomb students, regardless of homeland, in a joint exploration of the world around them. With its first officers now in place, Lathers serves as advisor.
“There has been a good response this year from native students,” offers Lathers. “They are interested in learning about other cultures.”
Lathers moved to the U.S. on her own 30 years ago. Her destination was Northwest University near Seattle, Washington. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in biblical literature and met Jonathan Lathers, her husband and an EAPP professor at Macomb. Before settling in Jonathan’s home state of Michigan, where they raised their son Christian, the Lathers worked as bible translators to with the Summer Institute of Linguistics.
“I have traveled widely,” acknowledges Lathers, who earned a Master of Arts Degree in Teaching – Reading/Language Arts from Oakland University and also teaches an Extensive Reading course for EAPP students at Macomb. “Before I was married, I traveled overland with friends from Pakistan to the United Kingdom. We drove through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, Italy and France, mostly camping in areas too remote for hostels or hotels. That is still my favorite trip.”