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.

 

An Interview with Liss Kerstin Sylvén on her Research on CLIL

This month we published Investigating Content and Language Integrated Learning edited by Liss Kerstin Sylvén. In this post we ask her about her research on Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and the process of putting together an edited volume.

How did you first become interested in studying CLIL?

The first time I ever encountered CLIL (which was at a time when I had never even heard of the concept) was when I substituted as an English teacher at a Swedish upper secondary school, and one of the teachers there told me that they were planning to start using English as the medium of instruction in some non-language subjects. I remember my reaction being a big Why? Why should Swedish teachers, at a Swedish school, with Swedish students use English as the medium of instruction? That was the starting point for my interest in studying effects of CLIL, and very soon after this first encounter with CLIL, I wrote my bachelor thesis on the topic.

Why did you feel this was an important book to write?

There are so many uninformed views on CLIL, and often it is seen as only good or only bad. In other words, many people see it as black or white. What is important with this book is that it describes a unique, longitudinal project which has resulted in a huge number of interesting findings. The most important of them are found in this collection, and together they show that CLIL is far from black or white, but rather represents a number of nuances that need to be taken into account in order to fully understand what CLIL is, can be, and can do, in a certain context.

Why is the Swedish context a particularly interesting one to research? What can policymakers in other countries learn from this example?

Every country is interesting in its own right from the perspective of effects of CLIL. Sweden is interesting not least due to the fact that English is so widespread in society and the level of English proficiency is generally high. An interesting question, then, has been what role CLIL can play in our society. The brief answer is that CLIL can play an important role, but it has to be done in the right circumstances. For instance, teachers need to be sufficiently prepared and trained for CLIL teaching, and focus should be on academic language, rather than the everyday language which students encounter in abundance outside of school. Sweden is also interesting as we have seen a significant increase in the number of students with a non-Swedish background in our schools during the last decades. A pertinent question is if CLIL can help bridge barriers between this group of students and those with a Swedish background.

Policymakers in other countries can tailor decisions based on our findings in the Swedish context that may be relevant for their own context. By reading the volume, they will hopefully become aware of the very important role the local context plays, and that decisions need to be based on them, not on results from contexts different from their own.

As you compiled your book, did anything in the research particularly surprise or intrigue you?

What has surprised me throughout the work with the project, on which the book is based, is how positive everybody involved in CLIL seems to be about using English as the medium of instruction part of the time in school. Students, teachers, administrators – all have a very confident view of CLIL, and this, of course, is highly interesting from an educational viewpoint. With a positive mindset, teaching and learning is definitely facilitated.

Putting together any edited volume is a major undertaking. How did you find the process?

I would lie if I were to say that it was an easy process. It was not! Primarily I think the fact that we are as many as fourteen contributors to this volume, played a role in making it quite complicated at times – who had done what? Who needed a reminder? Who was waiting for feedback? Etc. However, the multitude of viewpoints presented by each and every one of us is, of course, also one of the strengths of this book. And, the support given to me as the editor of the book by Multilingual Matters throughout this entire process has been invaluable. I have learnt so much by working with this volume, knowledge that I do not want to be without!

What advice would you offer to an academic writing or editing their first book?

Make sure that the topic is one that you really, really care about! Find a good publisher who is enthusiastic about the idea! Once there is such a topic and such a publisher, just go for it. Yes, it entails a lot of work, but in the end, it is definitely worth it.

You painted the image on your book cover yourself. Have you been painting for long? What was the inspiration behind this piece?

To answer your first question, I have always painted! Some periods more, some less, but it’s always there as my favorite escape from stress and problems of any kind. When I paint, I think good thoughts, and I often unconsciously come up with new ways of looking at things. The motif for the cover of the book came to me very early on in the process. When I realized we were going to get the book published, I started seeing it as it would look on the bookshelf, and I saw it pretty much as it now looks. I have tried to illustrate the move from seeing CLIL as something that is either black or white, to something full of shades of various colors. I couldn’t have been happier than when you all agreed to actually use it for the cover of the book!

What books – either for work or for pleasure – are you reading at the moment?

For pleasure, I’m reading Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker (absolutely fascinating!), and Michelle Obama’s biography Becoming. For work, I am re-reading Identity and Language Learning by Bonny Norton (Multilingual Matters, 2013), and Miho Inaba’s very recent and interesting book on extramural Japanese, Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom (Multilingual Matters, 2019) – pure coincidence with two books from Multilingual Matters 🙂

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Conceptualising Integration in CLIL and Multilingual Education edited by Tarja Nikula, Emma Dafouz, Pat Moore and Ute Smit.

The Internationalization of Japanese Higher Education

This month we are publishing English-Medium Instruction in Japanese Higher Education edited by Annette Bradford and Howard Brown. In this post Annette gives us an overview of what we can expect from the book.

Japanese universities are internationalizing. They are enrolling more international students, sending more students on study abroad programs and infusing an international outlook into many of their degree programs. To help achieve this, spurred by recent government policies for internationalization, universities are rapidly increasing the number of courses and programs taught in English.

In English-Medium Instruction in Japanese Higher Education we provide a thorough picture of the growth in English-medium instruction (EMI) by bringing together researchers from across Japan to provide an on-the-ground perspective of recent developments.

The book is organized into six main sections. The first section, ‘English-Medium Instruction in Context,’ examines the social and policy environment that has allowed the rapid expansion of EMI in Japan. In Chapter 1, we describe the current state of EMI using the ROAD-MAPPING framework conceptualized in 2014 by European scholars Emma Dafouz and Ute Smit. In Chapters 2 and 3 of the book, Hiroko Hashimoto and Bern Mulvey address government education policy and its implications for EMI.

Section 2 of the book, ‘The Implementation of English-Medium Instruction in Japan,’ looks at how programs are planned and developed. In Chapter 4, Hiroyuki Takagi examines EMI courses in relation to the internationalization of the curriculum. In Chapter 5, Beverley Yamamoto and Yukiko Ishikura explore how an entire degree program taught in English can develop and find its place in the university community.

Section 3, ‘Challenges and Solutions for English-Medium Instruction in Japan,’ deals with some of the difficulties facing EMI stakeholders. Chapter 6 by Gregory Poole discusses institutional identity and administrative culture as impediments to EMI implementation. In Chapter 7, Hiroshi Ota and Kiyomi Horiuchi analyze the accessibility of Japanese universities’ English-taught programs for foreign students. In Chapter 8, Sarah Louisa Birchley takes a marketing perspective, examining if EMI programs have reached their full potential.

In Section 4, ‘The Faculty and Student Experience,’ authors consider the roles of faculty members and student participation in and opinions of EMI. Chapter 9 by Chris Haswell focuses on how Asian varieties of English are perceived by domestic and international EMI students in Japan. Juanita Heigham looks at the broader campus experience in Chapter 10, examining the experience of non-Japanese speaking international EMI students as an essential and yet invisible part of internationalization programs. In Chapter 11, Sae Shimauchi presents a study of gender differences in the international outlook of EMI students. In Chapter 12, Bernard Susser focuses on faculty members, and explores his own journey transitioning from language teaching to EMI. Miki Horie reports on the training needs of EMI faculty in Chapter 13.

Section 5 of the book, “Curriculum Contexts”, shifts gears away from policy and research questions and highlights specific EMI practices at three universities around Japan. In Chapter 14, Bethany Iyobe and Jia Li draw attention to the importance of integration and cooperation in a small EMI program. Chapter 15 by Jim McKinley looks at how an established EMI program is transforming in light of a new understanding of the role of English. In Chapter 16, Nilson Kunioshi and Harushige Nakakoji profile how EMI is being implemented for science and engineering students at a top tier university.

In the final section of the book, “Future Directions for English-Medium Instruction”, we wrap up with a look at where EMI might go from here. In Chapter 17, Akira Kuwamura looks at both ethical and practical objections to EMI that have been raised in the literature. And in the final chapter, we, the co-editors, take a look back at an earlier example of innovation and reform in Japanese higher education. We compare IT with the recent happenings in EMI to question whether EMI can become fully embedded within the fabric of Japanese higher education.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Rethinking Language and Culture in Japanese Education edited by Shinji Sato and Neriko Musha Doerr. 

The Complexities of Arizona’s Restrictive Language Policies

Later this month we are publishing Amy Heineke’s book Restrictive Language Policy in Practice which explores the complexities and intricacies of Arizona’s language policy in practice. In this post, Amy discusses the impact of these policies on English Language Learners.

Restrictive Language Policy in PracticeThink back to your experiences as a young person in school. What did you enjoy? With whom did you spend time? What challenges did you face? What pushed and prompted you to develop as an individual? How did those experiences influence who you are today?

Now consider this reality. After starting school, you are given a language proficiency test. Based on your score, you are placed in a separate classroom apart from your friends. While they read novels and conduct science experiments, you learn the discrete skills of the English language: one hour of grammar, one hour of vocabulary, one hour of reading, 30 minutes of writing, and 30 minutes of conversation. You listen, speak, read, and write in another language, but the message is clear: English is the priority – learn it, and learn it fast.

This is the educational experience for tens of thousands of English learners (ELs) in the state of Arizona. After Proposition 203 nearly eradicated bilingual education in favor of English-medium instruction for ELs in 2000, state policymakers and administrators further restricted language policy with the shift to the English Language Development (ELD) model. Implemented in schools in 2008, the policy required that students labeled as ELs (based on standardized tests of language proficiency) be separated from English-proficient peers and placed in ELD classrooms for four hours of skill-based English instruction.

The statewide implementation of ELD policy in practice has yielded various challenges for local educators working in classrooms, schools, districts, and communities. Lacking rigorous preparation or pedagogical support, teachers must maneuver complex classrooms with learners from a multitude of cultural and linguistic backgrounds with various abilities, strengths, and needs. Due to this complexity, leaders struggle to staff ELD classrooms, often resulting in a revolving door of underprepared teachers. Students see themselves as being in the “stupid class,” as they fall behind their peers in math, science, and social studies in the push for English proficiency.

Whether a first-year teacher or an administrator with decades of experience, local educators struggle with how to ameliorate this complex situation. Policymakers and state administrators believe in the ELD model, and as such provide staunch compliance measures to ensure rigid implementation of instructional mandates. As local educators and other stakeholders encounter the on-the-ground repercussions in their daily work, they make decisions to maneuver policy in practice to effectively reach and teach ELs.

This book analyzes the complexities of restrictive language policy in practice. Conducted five years after the shift to ELD instruction, this qualitative study investigates how Arizona teachers, school and district leaders, university teacher educators, state administrators and legislators, and community leaders engage in daily practice to navigate the most restrictive language policy mandates in the United States. Overall, the book demonstrates that even in the most restrictive policy settings, educators and other stakeholders have the agency and ability to impact how policy plays out in practice and influence the education of ELs, so that all learners may one day fondly recall their schooling experiences.

Dr. Amy J. Heineke, Associate Professor of Education, Loyola University Chicago, School of Education
Email: aheineke@luc.edu
Twitter: @DrAJHeineke
Linkedin: amyheineke

arizona-booksIf you would like more information about this title, please contact Amy using the contact details above or see our website.

You might also be interested in a couple of our other titles: Language Policy Processes and Consequences edited by Sarah Catherine K. Moore and Implementing Educational Language Policy in Arizona edited by M. Beatriz Arias and Christian Faltis.

English-Medium Instruction at Universities

Having just published English-Medium Instruction at Universities edited by Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra we asked the authors to tell us a bit more about English-medium instruction and the challenges it poses.

One of the more tangible outcomes of internationalisation is the implementation of foreign language study programmes at universities to promote multilingualism and language diversity. Yet, reality indicates that English is preeminent and has become the main foreign language used as means of instruction at world-wide universities.

The aim of this book is to provide critical insights on the English-medium instruction experiences which have been implemented in a number of universities in countries such as Finland, Israel, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and the USA, characterized by differing political, cultural and sociolinguistic situations. This diversity, however, does not prevent the emergence of many commonalities between the different case studies presented. In particular, the volume reflects on the consequences of English-medium instruction as an attempt to boost multilingualism, to attract students, and as a strategy in response to the need to gain competitiveness in both national and international markets. The challenges specific to each setting are also analysed, and the pedagogical issues and methodological implications that arise from the implementation of these programmes are widely discussed.

One of the most demanding challenges has to do with the ways in which the academic communities come to terms with the introduction of English: the effects of EMI on multilingualism, language policy planning and the university community. This book aims to give answers to the following highly topical issues: What is the role of EMI in the internationalisation process? Are university students proficient enough in English to cope with EMI? Can both language and content be integrated successfully at university level? What successful practices are there? The panel of experts gathered in this volume will help the reader to find enriching data, implementation examples and successful practices, as well as drawbacks and pitfalls that need to be addressed.