Danbury native awarded Fullbright scholarship

April 27, 2018 GMT

DANBURY — When 23-year-old Alanna Wagher was taking classes for her Spanish minor at Southern Connecticut State University, she noticed she was using the skills she learned in class throughout the course of the day.

“I was using a lot of these techniques that I learned in speech therapy — like the anatomy and physiology of speech — to correct my pronunciation,” said the Danbury native, who majored in speech pathology at SCSU.

She began to wonder, even after she graduated and entered SCSU’s speech pathology graduate program, whether these techniques would make a difference for others learning a second language, too.


Next school year, Wagher will get the chance to test out her theory.

She was recently awarded the Fulbright Research and English Teaching Assistant Award to spend a year as an English teaching assistant at a college in Amsterdam.

While she’s there, Wagher will work with her students to research whether “auditory discrimination training and phonetic placement cues” can help Dutch students with their English pronunciation.

The program will fit perfectly with her goal of analyzing the techniques when people reach the highest levels of learning a second language, Wagher said. The students at the college are 16 to 24 year olds who chose to join a bilingual program largely because they want to pursue careers in English.

“It all worked out perfectly,” Wagher said. “That was my inspiration in creating the research proposal and the school I sent out my proposal to has this program for students who are interested in being really proficient in English and being able to pursue careers of that nature.”

She also selected the Netherlands because it has the highest English proficiency among non-native speaking countries, Wagher said.

At the end of the school year Wagher will present her research results at a conference at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam.

She hopes to get a Clinical Fellowship with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association when she returns or potentially pursue a Ph.D. with her research.

Wagher said she decided to apply for a Fulbright because she has always been interested in cultural exchange programs and started thinking about doing research abroad when she became a graduate student. She has traveled before, but has never lived in another country for an extended period of time.

“When I began to research programs that could help facilitate these two ambitions, Fulbright was clearly the best option,” she said. “Given the competitive nature of the grant, I figured I’d apply, and if I got it, I knew it would be meant to be.”