A Tale of Two Teachers: Technology-Supported Language Learning for Japanese

This month we published Technology-Supported Learning In and Out of the Japanese Language Classroom edited by Erica Zimmerman and Abigail McMeekin. In this post the editors explain what inspired them to put the book together.

Erica’s journey

Over the past 25 years, I have participated as a learner/teacher in the changes in technology for learning Japanese. When I started studying Japanese in 1992, I did not own a computer. My sensei (teacher) painstakingly wrote our textbook, worksheets, tests, and quizzes by hand. In 1998, when I needed to produce handouts in Japanese for my pedagogy classes, I installed the Japanese Windows operating system on my laptop. In 2001, with the use of the new Windows IME (Input Method Editor), I conducted a semester-long project with two colleagues examining the use of visual input (chat, MSN Messenger) with the use of voice CMC (PalTalk) for learning Korean. Many of our sessions were fraught with technical issues such as poor connections (it was dial-up then). More recently, with the proliferation of technology, it is increasingly more challenging to determine the effectiveness of apps, online websites, social media, etc. on language learning and acquisition.

Abby’s journey

Like my co-editor, I have many stories over the years of trying to incorporate technology into my teaching. It was never very easy. In the last ten years, however, it has become commonplace to type in Japanese and Japanese websites are now easily accessible along with internet tools to aid in deciphering them. In 2014, a conference presentation on the importance of digital literacy skills in second languages motivated me to design a project that involved using web-based activities to facilitate learning in Japanese. It was at this point that I began researching the topic but was unable to find anything on how to do this or what the possible learning outcomes might be…

 

Thus, we both found ourselves wanting to incorporate the latest technologies (e.g., WEB 2.0, web-based tools) using methodologies that addressed more communicative and integrative aspects of learning (versus rote) but could find little information on what that would look like for Japanese. The last review volume published for Japanese CALL was in 2002, considered ancient by today’s technological standards. What we really wanted was a book that synthesized advice on using newer SLA theories and methodologies with the latest technology while offering information on learning outcomes and best practices. As the saying goes, what does not exist, one creates.

This is why everything we wanted to know about Japanese CALL we included in our volume. For instance, the introduction chapter gives an overview of Japanese CALL, offering insights into where the field has been and where it is now, using Warschauer and Healey’s different CALL genres (Behaviorist/structural, communicative, integrative, and ecological).

For the individual chapters, we aimed for including a variety of technologies (e.g. virtual games, computer-mediated communication, corpus software), examined through different theoretical lenses and methodologies in various learning environments (e.g. flipped, online, blended, distance). We wanted each chapter to provide readers not only with a description of how to use the technology being investigated but also to offer findings on potential/actual learning outcomes and best practices. So to give readers an idea of the future trajectory of Japanese CALL research, the epilogue gives specific suggestions on where to go from here.

Thus each chapter offers a combination of experimental, empirical and practical aspects of CALL. Every author who contributed to this volume started from scratch. We hope that readers will find something useful in every chapter.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Computer Assisted Language Learning edited by Judith Buendgens-Kosten and Daniela Elsner.

Language Learning Strategy Instruction

This month we are publishing Learning Strategy Instruction in the Language Classroom edited by Anna Uhl Chamot and Vee Harris. In this post Vee explains the inspiration behind the book.

The inspiration for this book emerged from a chat with some colleagues at the end of a busy day. The discussion centred around research into language learner strategies: those internal tactics that people use to help them memorise vocabulary in another language or to make themselves understood, for example. Thinking perhaps there was something we both had missed, we tentatively suggested that there was a lack of research into how to actually teach these strategies. In the course of our classroom-based research, we had been struck by the way studies into Language Learning Strategy Instruction (LLSI) described in detail research methods and results but said little about the rationale underlying the teaching activities and approaches used. To our surprise, our colleagues shared our concern and we agreed that a book devoted uniquely to this area would be a valuable resource for both researchers and teachers alike. We decided to widen our enquiry to colleagues in a range of other countries and contexts, inviting them also to contribute a chapter on a topic of their choice. Committed to bridging the gap between research and practice, we stressed that their chapters could deal with the theoretical issues LLSI raised but could equally well describe concrete materials for teaching strategies to different age groups.

We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm to participate whether from colleagues in the USA, New Zealand, Canada, or the UK. However two further areas emerged from their suggestions. The first was to have a section on those strategies that have been under-researched and therefore not frequently taught, such as strategies for learning grammar or developing Critical Cultural Awareness. The second would address the lack of guidance on integrating LLSI into pre- and in-service teacher education. Hence there are four parts to the book: parts 1 and 2 deal with issues such as the range of approaches to LLSI, and identifying and teaching the under-researched strategies. Parts 3 and 4 focus on the implementation of LLSI whether through the use of technology and the coursebook or through engaging with teachers.

Our book draws on scholars with a long-established, international reputation such as Andrew Cohen, Rebecca Oxford and Joan Rubin as well as new researchers and practising teachers. The contributors use their extensive knowledge and experience to present a ‘state of the art’ picture of Language Learning Strategy Instruction. However the book also looks to the future; so each chapter ends with key questions to be resolved within that topic area and the book concludes with a chapter that offers a map for future research directions.

The book will be an important resource for researchers both for its critical perspectives and for supporting them in designing interventions to implement LLSI. It should prove equally valuable to all informed languages teachers and students studying to become languages teachers, since it is one of a very small number of publications to include detailed teaching materials and activities. Although many of the illustrations are for ESL/EFL students, some are in French and German.

Finally it should also be relevant to all those with an interest in Second Language Acquisition since the mental and social processes of language learning, the reasons for differences in the rate and route learners take, and why some learners do so much better than others lie at the heart of our understanding of language learning strategies.

Vee Harris

This book is published in memory of Anna Uhl Chamot, who sadly passed away during the publication process.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.

L2 Writing Practices in Non-English Languages

This month we published L2 Writing Beyond English edited by Nur Yiğitoğlu and Melinda Reichelt. In this post the editors discuss the differences and similarities between L2 writing in English and in non-English languages.

Much of the published literature on second language (L2) writing focuses on writing in English as a Second Language (ESL) contexts, that is, in contexts where English is the dominant surrounding language. As a result, much of what we know about L2 writing is based on conclusions drawn from research on writing in the English language. However, as a great deal of L2 writing and writing instruction is undertaken in various languages other than English, it is necessary to look at L2 writing practices in non-English languages in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of L2 writing.

This special volume aims to address an imbalance in the literature by focusing on L2 writing in non-English languages and discusses the following issues:

  1. Writers of all L2s face some similar challenges. However, writers of non-English L2s face distinct challenges, often stemming from the fact that they are writing in a range of contexts and are not writing in the world’s most dominant language.
  2. In some non-English L2s (e.g. Japanese and Chinese), L2 writers need to learn new writing systems. This challenge, in turn, requires teachers to implement some instructional practices such as such as sparking learners’ cultural curiosity in the writing system and raising students’ awareness regarding strategies that are salient to their own needs.
  3. Compared to L2 writers in English classrooms, L2 writers in non-English classrooms may have more distinct goals and needs.
  4. Teachers of non-English L2 writing may implement different pedagogical practices related to teaching various genres of writing – genres that are suitable for their particular contexts and learners.
  5. Some of the instructional practices described for teaching of non-English languages in non-English dominant settings can be applied to the teaching of English writing. Such approaches can enrich the teaching of English language writing as well.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Creative Writers by Yan Zhao.

What Makes a Good EFL Teacher and How Can Teacher Educators Best Support Them?

This month we are publishing Early Professional Development in EFL Teaching by Chitose Asaoka. In this post the author explains how she came to study student teachers’ professional development in a Japanese EFL context.

Over the last twenty years, I have worked as a teacher educator of English as a Foreign Language in Japan. In order to become a secondary school teacher in Japan, you need to attend a teacher certification programme offered at a university and acquire a teaching qualification upon graduation. As a teacher educator in one such programme, I have always tried to mentor and accommodate student teachers (most of whom are native speakers of Japanese) through many situations and contexts.

In a teacher certification programme, student teachers learn about up-to-date approaches and methods of teaching English, such as communicative practice and student-centred approaches. They also learn how to use English effectively as a medium of instruction, which is one of the most-recently introduced education policies in Japan. During a three-week period of teaching practice at schools, however, many of the student teachers face the reality of the classroom and are asked to adjust to school contexts. Thus, they often cannot freely put what they have acquired into practice. For example, I frequently hear post-practicum stories from them, where they are asked to teach with the grammar-translation method, since passing the entrance exam is still a big priority for students. Moreover, they are not often allowed to teach in English, for various reasons, which is different from their pre-practicum expectations.

In many such cases, student teachers are often isolated and struggle to resolve the challenges by themselves. I am also remote from their actual school-based experiences and can only monitor their development through their teaching logs or stories when they come back to the university. Thus, questions were raised in my mind, and I started to feel the necessity to re-examine the process of student teachers’ professional development in a Japanese EFL context, as well as the kinds of experiences and challenges that they typically go through. For them to become good English teachers, what qualities are necessary, and what kinds of support can we provide as teacher educators? These questions inspired me to embark upon an empirical study in which I monitored how student teachers developed their teacher expertise, how their views on what makes a good English teacher shifted and developed, and what factors had an impact on their learning-to-teach processes.

Through detailed case studies created from interviews and reflective journals, this inquiry delves into the particular context of initial teacher education in Japan and draws out unique perspectives on student teachers’ professional development in initial teacher education. This book also shows the possible need to intervene at various stages of language teacher education, which is highly relevant for other settings of initial teacher education programmes beyond Japan. I hope that the findings presented in this book will be of interest and value to future teachers, in-service teachers, teacher educators and researchers interested in teacher education and the professional development of foreign language teachers.

Chitose Asaoka
casaoka@dokkyo.ac.jp

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Reflective Practice as Professional Development by Atsuko Watanabe. 

Using a Narrative Approach to Explore Teaching Practice

This month we are publishing Narratives of Adult English Learners and Teachers by Clarena Larrotta. In this post the author discusses her choice to use narratives to present a picture of adult language learning.

Working as a university professor of adult education and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages), I came to realize there was not a book that could help the graduate students in my classes to grasp the reality of teaching English and literacy related subjects to adult learners. Similarly, interacting with volunteer adult educators who did not have language/pedagogy training and who volunteer as ESL instructors because they know the language and have time to do so, I realized there was not a book I could recommend for them to read and that captured the voices of both adult language learners and teachers. Therefore, this book was born as a response to these two groups of people when they asked, ‘what can I read to get a good picture of what is going on with regards to teaching adult language learners and non-traditional adult learners?’

Considering this audience, narratives and storytelling seemed to be the perfect medium to transmit a powerful and memorable message to them. I wanted them to understand that we need to go beyond theory and outside the classroom walls to include community and envision adult learners as whole human beings. Older learners are among the least studied groups in the literature and many of them take on new challenges as they migrate to a new country, and as they face the need to learn a new language-culture.

Providing an account of both narratives (adult learners’ and teachers’) aimed to inspire trainee teachers and practitioners in the field of adult education to become better and more reflective teachers. The book supports the idea of preparing trainee teachers for actual scenarios they are likely to encounter with adult language learners and colleagues in adult education programs. Likewise, the volume invites actual adult educators to reflect on their practices and contemplate the realities of the learners they serve. In summary, the book aims to honor the work of language learners and TESOL practitioners and to share highlights from their learning/teaching journeys.

The narratives in this book make accessible the stories shared by learners and teachers as they lived them in real-life settings. The book chapters and their respective stories contain a beginning, middle and end. The beginning provides the context and supporting theory, the middle presents the main issues to be considered and the end gives clo­sure to the reader. As a result, each chapter introduces (1) the participants in the story – teachers’ and learners’ experiences and their interactions; (2) the context, socio-political, and socio-cultural dimensions; and (3) the physical settings where the story is located -the program, the course, the language-culture and country of origin. The learners’ stories allow teachers to gain empathy and cultural knowledge. A narrative approach to exploring one’s teaching practice leads to a better understanding of that context and hopefully sharing this learning will promote change and encourage other teachers to make sense of and reflect on their personal teaching stories as well.

Clarena Larrotta, PhD
Texas State University
CL24@txstate.edu

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Educating Refugee-background Students edited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry.

Building Bridges as We Go: Connecting Schools with Multilingual Families

This month we are publishing Connecting School and the Multilingual Home by Maria R. Coady. In this post the author explains how her own experiences provided the inspiration for the book.

I grew up navigating various ethnic and linguistic enclaves north of Boston, Massachusetts, where I was born. My grandparents’ families had emigrated from parts of Italy, and I fondly recall my great uncles and aunts speaking their local language and mixing English and Italian. I imagined what they thought while sitting under the cool shade of the apple trees while younger generations of American kids ran through the yard and played bocci. Family was central to our identity, and our identity was our culture, our history, and our language.

My sense of both family and language permeated every aspect of my own educational experience up through college: what I thought I could do, how I could do it, what I would study, and who I could become. One thing for sure was the message that I received from my family: being successful in school was paramount. I was the first generation to navigate access to college, so I learned the hard way (alone) to unravel the complexities surrounding educational programs, relationships, and even financial aid.

As my career matured from an early start in business into bilingual education, the same lens of access to education illuminated the barriers that other families—children, parents, and caregivers—faced. I could envision the bridges between the school and immigrant, multilingual families but remained dismayed by how infrequently I actually saw them built. What remained obvious to me was how many multilinguals have a similar experience—valuing education without having the knowledge of how to access it fully.

Rural multilingual family working in the horse farming industry, southeast United States

The inspiration for this book stems from my own experiences and 25 years of working with multilingual families in the northeast US, Colorado, and rural north central Florida. I have also had the experiences of working with international rural communities. I find that rural, multilingual families’ strengths go largely unnoticed, and are definitely not tapped into as a resource. Their many languages and literacy practices differ from those assumed by educators, leaving families positioned as disinterested in their child’s education.

The Gómez family is one telling example. A family of five children, I recall the second youngest daughter wanting to participate in a 4 day, overnight field trip to Washington, DC—a very long distance from Florida. This annual 5th grade trip, organized by the school, required students to have cameras (back then, disposable cameras), a suitcase, spending money, and good walking shoes. Although the parents understood the importance of the trip to their daughter, they did not understand the process of completing the extensive field trip paperwork, which was provided in only English, nor the details and items needed for the trip. The father and mother worked overtime and sold personal items in order to pay for some of the trip itself. My students and I fundraised to ensure that the daughter had the shoes, camera, and suitcase needed, and while advocating for one family at a time is important, we need the tools to make more systemic changes in schools on behalf of multilingual families.

Our job is to build relational trust (Bryk & Schneider, 2002) with families, and as Michal Domínguez (2017) notes, hacer puentes al andar – building bridges as we go.  That is the spirit of this book, which is filled with concrete ways to support reflection, action, and to humanize our work as educators by connecting schools with multilingual families.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Narratives of Adult English Learners and Teachers by Clarena Larrotta.

10 Tips for Teaching Multilingual Learners

This month we published Language Learning and Teaching in a Multilingual World by Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes, Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes, Julie McAllister, Malory Leclère and Grégory Miras. In this post the authors give us some advice for teaching multilingual learners.Teaching a language or content in a multilingual classroom (or any type of learning environment, such as telecollaboration or distance learning) is becoming the norm as well as a challenge faced by more and more teachers. But it is also an asset, as learners have opportunities to communicate with peers of different origins, cultures and backgrounds and thus develop tolerance and respect for others. To maximise the benefits of these opportunities while minimising the potential threats, here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Take each learner as he/she is, as a unique, complex and multifaceted individual who brings their knowledge, skills and cultural understandings to the learning situation. A one-size-fits-all approach is likely to prove ineffective in a multilingual environment (and in other environments too).
  2. As a teacher, always be kind and supportive and learn why you should be.
  3. Value (and use) all the languages of each learner in the classroom equally. No language should be ruled out.
  4. Propose clear and realistic learning goals and ensure that learners understand them. To that effect, use the language resources available (virtual or physical).
  5. Adapt the work to the needs which emerge as the project moves forward instead of following a predefined sequence. However, never lose sight of the initial goal: it can be reached in many different ways.
  6. Propose meaningful tasks that are connected to the world outside school. By doing so, the learners will get involved in the activities, which in turn will foster learning.
  7. Arrange for the learners to communicate and interact in the target language with people from other countries, as a meaningful way to use and practise the language they need for their schooling.
  8. Identify all the tools that can be made available to students to help them become independent language learners and users. A teacher does not have all the solutions, but learners can be resourceful and incredibly helpful when trusted. Resources can be available in the learners’ original language and connected to their culture.
  9. Encourage peer collaboration and interaction: see number 7. Interaction helps students make meaning and learners’ explanations are often more understandable to their peers than the teacher’s. In a multilingual class, learners who have the same original language could work together.
  10. Work to foster learner creativity and engagement by providing stimulating learning environments.

Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes, University of Nantes
Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle
Julie McAllister, University of Nantes
Gregory Miras, University of Rouen
Malory Leclère, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle

Contacts

mf.narcycombes@wanadoo.fr

julie.mcallister1@univ-nantes.fr

 

For more information about the book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Multilingual Reality by Ajit K. Mohanty.

Multilingualism As Lived Through Visual Means

This month we published Visualising Multilingual Lives edited by Paula Kalaja and Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer. In this post the editors explain how they used visual methodologies to examine multilinguals’ emotions and their expression of those emotions.

It is only gradually being acknowledged that multilinguals, or people who use more than one language, form the majority of people in the world, not monolinguals. However, multilinguals find themselves in different contexts and for different reasons, and their knowledge of the languages varies. In addition, becoming and being multilingual are quite heterogeneous and individual achievements are experienced very differently by subjects, depending on their contexts and life trajectories.

There are two approaches to multilinguals. The objective approach attempts to figure out the mechanisms inside a multilingual’s mind and trace developments in his or her knowledge of any language (and possible stages in the process) in terms of mastery of a linguistic system or in terms of an ability to communicate or interact with others in the language. In contrast, the subjective approach attempts to find out how a multilingual feels about becoming or being multilingual, or what the different languages and their use mean to him or her personally. In other words, the second approach focuses on multilinguals and their lives as subjectively experienced or as lived, including positive and negative emotions, attitudes, beliefs, visions and identities.

Traditional methodologies (such as questionnaires, interviews and observation) may not be the most suitable options when tackling issues like this, as they may suffer from a “linguistic bias” in their attempts to describe or explain emotions, which are not always easy to put into words. So, to address these sensitive issues, we decided to make use of visual methodologies of various kinds, including drawings and photographs, as mediators between emotions and their expression by multilinguals. However, as a rule, visual data were complemented with other types of data, and the starting points and ways of analysing the pools of data for form and/or content vary from one study to another. But even if visual materials are not always used as the only pool of data, they bring to the foreground aspects that individuals choose to visually represent and comment on. So, using visual methodologies may also be about what is not visible, not represented or not valued by the multilingual subject.

As editors of Visualising Multilingual Lives, we invite the readers to learn about visual narratives accounted by multilinguals in different parts of the world, printed in full color. The different chapters of the book offer coherent, original and individualized insights into multilingualism as experienced in three domains: the multilingual self, the multilingual learner and multilingual teacher education. With a preface by Claire Kramsch, the volume acknowledges the potential of arts-based methodologies in grasping the singularities of multilinguals and their linguistic biographies.

Paula Kalaja paula.kalaja@jyu.fi
Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer silvia.melo-pfeifer@uni-hamburg.de

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

A Tour of English Learning and Teaching Around the World

We recently published Conversation Analytic Perspectives on English Language Learning, Teaching and Testing in Global Contexts edited by Hanh thi Nguyen and Taiane Malabarba. In this post the editors take us on a world tour of English learning and teaching…

This book offers a tour around the world, but unlike the casual tourist, you will get right into the scenes that take place daily at each stop. So, put yourself in the shoes of the people there to appreciate for a moment the constraints they are under, and the possibilities they find.

In Denmark, you are a child in an integrated-grade class of first- and second-graders. Your government has just mandated that students must learn English from first grade. First grade! You’re barely finding your way around in class, and now you’re learning a foreign language. But your teacher is creative – she has a game for the children. You and a classmate walk outside while the other kids stay inside and each chooses a clothing item drawn on the board (later you hear that some kids try to choose a diaper and a jockstrap, but the teacher doesn’t allow those!). When you and your partner come back in, you have to name two clothing items on the board, in English, and the two kids who chose those items are supposed to swap seats. It turns out that you mostly learn “swap seats,” and how you acquire this phrase reveals quite a lot about how language is learned.

In Vietnam, you are a hotel staff member in charge of escorting guests to their rooms. You need to tell them about the WiFi in the hotel, but the problem is, every time you pronounce “password,” people seem really confused! How you ‘crack the code’ here shows the creativity that users of English as a lingua franca exhibit on a daily basis as they learn language ‘in the wild.’

In China, you’re teaching a large high-school class of 70 students. Keeping them focused and engaged requires clear routines. Yet, you need to encourage their participation as well. How you approach this dilemma exemplifies the tricky balance between structure and expansion.

In Turkey, you are a teacher in training. You have your lesson plan all laid out and you have prepared your instructions in advance. But what to do when your students say, “Sorry, what are we doing?” or “We don’t understand!”? You soon realize that the lesson’s success depends more on how you respond in these moments than on the lesson plan in your mind.

Image derives from original world map in acrylic by Lara Mukahirn, photograph by Nicolas Raymond, http://www.freestock.ca

In Japan, you teach engineering students, and you need to assess their speaking abilities. So you ask your students to tell you how to draw geometric shapes in English, step by step. What you then wonder is, whose competence is being assessed? Yours or theirs? In another class, also to assess speaking abilities, you ask your students to talk in pairs. To be fair and to manage your class time, you put a timer in front of them. It turns out that they pay a lot of attention to the timer, and you are surprised to notice how the timer has become an integrated part of their interaction.

In South Korea, you are an American co-teacher assigned to assist a Korean host co-teacher. This co-teaching business is tricky since there are no clear rules about who’s supposed to do what. One moment you are giving out heart sticker awards to student groups and the host teacher says something. Another time you tap a student on the head with a folder and the host teacher says something (well, maybe he has a point there, but you are a teacher, too!). You soon learn that co-teaching, in practice, often involves a lot of tension and negotiation.

In Iran, you teach a college-level class, and you want students to participate in open discussions about controversial issues, such as capital punishment, body piercing and charity donation. The problem is, sometimes what the students say resonates with your beliefs and fits with your lesson plan, but sometimes it doesn’t. Now, you must face a fundamental problem: how much control do you want and how much freedom do you give?

In Brazil, you’re teaching a beginner-level class, and your students can’t speak a lot of English yet. However, the school promotes an unspoken ‘English-only’ policy in the classroom. How do you stick to English when explaining new words or when students talk to each other in Portuguese? It turns out that even the constraints of the rule can sometimes open up opportunities.

In Mexico, you teach English at a boarding school to indigenous children of Mixe (ayüük) ethnicity. What this means is that your students are learning English as a third language, besides Spanish. Furthermore, what is the relevance of English in this remote, rural village? The adolescent students are a lively bunch (they don’t call you ‘Teacher Bikwahet’ for no reason!) and you are devoted to bettering their lives through education.

Reading this book, you will leave your tourist binoculars behind and join the authors to look at these scenes through the lens of Conversation Analysis. Your close-up observations will connect to concepts such as interactional competence, centrifugal and centripetal forces, embodied actions, power relationship and social relevance, which are at work in many other global contexts.

So welcome on board!

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy English as a Lingua Franca for EFL Contexts edited by Nicos C. Sifakis and Natasha Tsantila.

Can Adult Language Learners Acquire a Native-speaker Accent Just by Listening?

This month we published English-Medium Instruction and Pronunciation by Karin Richter. In this post the author talks about what led her to study L2 pronunciation in adults and what we can expect to learn from the book.

Do university students who listen to regular lectures with native speakers improve their pronunciation skills?

Can adult language learners pick up a native-speaker accent just by listening? Or is there little hope because they are probably too old for acquiring a native-like accent? This book presents a longitudinal research project exploring exactly these questions. My interest in the topic arose out of my involvement in two core areas of educational linguistics, namely the current spread of English-medium instruction (EMI) at European universities and the development of L2 pronunciation skills in adult learners. Let me tell you how and why I set out on this exciting journey.

Why study adult pronunciation?

In 2003, the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) in Vienna, where I was teaching ESP courses at the time, pioneered a new programme – part of a growing wave across Europe: EMI. The UAS jumped on the bandwagon and was one of the first in the country to offer a bilingual (English/German) Bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship with up to 50% of the classes taught in English mostly by native speakers. In those early days of the EMI movement, it was hoped that the use of English to teach content courses would simultaneously enhance students’ content and language competence, based on the assumption that the learners benefit from ‘two for the price of one’. However, there was – and still is today – little research yet conducted to confirm this hope.

Interestingly, at the time, I was not only teaching a wide range of Business English courses at the UAS but also Practical Phonetics at another educational institution, namely the University of Vienna. Questions began to rise in my mind and I wondered how the EMI students’ increased exposure to English through their native-speaker teachers impacted on their foreign (Austrian) accent in English. I was curious what was going on implicitly, without any specific effort or attention. Essentially want I wanted to find out was: Do the students simply pick up the teacher’s accent without studying pronunciation or is it irrelevant what accent (foreign or native) the teacher has because adult learners at this stage have already passed the critical period for acquiring a native-like accent? As an experienced pronunciation teacher, these questions spurred me to embark on an empirical study in which I monitored the EMI students’ pronunciation for three years, looking in detail to see if they were making any gains or if they were hitting a wall because of their age.

What’s in the book?

The book begins with a comprehensive account of the rise of English-medium instruction in European higher education, examining the role of English as a Lingua Franca and exploring further questions about native-speaker norms. Then it goes on to discuss how languages in general and pronunciation in particular are learned in the EMI classroom and which factors (such as age, gender, musicality, attitude or motivation) influence L2 pronunciation mastery. Each chapter provides a thorough review of the literature, which then serves as the basis for the presentation and interpretation of the findings of my own study of Austrian business students at the UAS, whose pronunciation development I tracked over the entire duration of their Bachelor studies.

What did I find?

  • Do university students who listen to regular lectures with native speakers improve their pronunciation skills?
  • At their age (most of them were in their early 20s) can they make any significant gains with pronunciation at all?
  • Do EMI programmes result in considerable language development despite little to no explicit language instruction?
  • Do additional activities within and outside the programme influence their pronunciation more than just sitting in on lectures with the content area professors?
  • What are the main features of the Austrian learners’ accent in English which they were struggling with the most?

You’ll have to read the book to find out….

What contribution does this book make?

This book goes beyond the context of the particular case here. It addresses the burning issue of linguistic gains in tertiary EMI classrooms and also provides longitudinal data on L2 phonological changes in adult learners. Hence my purpose in embarking on the study and writing this book was to offer a valuable contribution to both the field of bilingual education as well as second language acquisition. I hope that the findings presented in this volume will spark new ideas for future studies in a fascinating field and that researchers as well as programme designers, teachers and students interested in English-medium instruction and second language phonology will find it a worthwhile and inspirational read.

Karin Richter

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like English-Medium Instruction in Japanese Higher Education edited by Annette Bradford and Howard Brown.