February 26, 2017

Chia Suang Chong

"A Conversation with a Multilingual" presents:

Chia Suan Chong

Ana Wu: Tell me about your teaching professional background. You had a Bachelor degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and were an experienced actress in Singapore before you decided to go to London.

How did you get started in teaching and becoming a successful intercultural skills trainer, a Business English specialist and an EFL teacher trainer?

Chia Suan ChongIt’s kind of embarrassing but I literally stumbled into teaching. When I first went to London, it was with the intention of developing my acting career, but the move from Singapore’s much smaller entertainment industry to the UK’s more competitive acting world proved to be much more challenging than I had imagined. So I supplemented my income by teaching at a school where the Direct Method was their main teaching methodology.

I say it’s ‘embarrassing’ because it’s such a typical ‘native speaker journey’ into teaching. We assume we can teach English just because we are native speakers, and we do it not necessarily because we love teaching English but because it enables us to travel or to pay the bills whilst we pursue our real passion. And with minimal training, we start doing it professionally, feeling our way around in the dark, working things out through trial and error and depending on more experienced colleagues to help us out.

After nearly two years of being immersed in the Direct Method, I was poached by another English school that encouraged me to explore other teaching methodologies. I quickly realized how much I loved language training and decided to do the CELTA at International House London, where I ended up teaching and doing teacher training for nearly 10 years.

While I was at International House, I was given many opportunities to develop myself professionally, and I did my DELTA, my MA in Applied Linguistics, my Cert TEB (an equivalent of the Cert IBET, a Business English teaching qualification), and a Business Cultural Trainer’s Certificate.

My line manager introduced me to IATEFL by taking me to a BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group) annual conference and I was hooked. I started applying to speak at different conferences because it not only gave me a chance to learn from the expertise of different trainers, but it also allowed me to meet like-minded teachers passionate about their job. I ended up meeting my husband at a BESIG conference one year!

I left International House London to move to Munich, where my then-fiancé was based and became a free-lance trainer. In Germany, there’s a widespread understanding of the need for English in the business world and a corporate culture of in-house language training and communication training. I had done a lot of Business English teaching at International House London but it was in Munich that I started delivering in-company Business English training, intercultural skills training and exploring online English classes. I also began writing materials as it gave me the flexibility I needed.

A year later, we moved to York because of my husband’s job, and I now deliver communication training and teacher training in addition to blogging, materials writing and managing the social media of several ELT-related organizations.

Ana Wu: As someone who speaks English and Mandarin as your first language, and Japanese, Spanish, and Italian as second language, how do you define a multilingual? Is accent (or the lack of it) an important factor?

Chia Suan Chong: A multilingual is someone who speaks two or more languages, sometimes acquiring a language as an adult. The majority of people in the world today are multilinguals and a successful multilingual is able to translate and code-switch between languages (albeit informally).

Traditionally, when we are learning to speak a foreign language, success is measured by our ability to speak like a native speaker. This includes adopting native speaker accents and idiomatic usage, and achieving an understanding of the target culture. However, English finds itself in a very different position in that it is now the world’s lingua franca: it is the global language of trade, science, medicine, education and travel, used as a tool of communication between people with different mother tongues.

The majority of people learning English as a foreign language would be using it to communicative with other non-native speakers and so it is more important to speak intelligibly and clearly, and to communicate effectively. And sometimes, the usage of certain native speaker pronunciation features and localized idioms can get in the way of international communication.

Everyone has an accent (including all native speakers). Accents are also a part of our identity. It denotes our roots and who we are (or who we associate with). I believe asking someone to get rid of their accent is akin to asking them to change their skin colour. My husband lived in Germany for about 15 years and speaks German fluently. He chooses to retain his Irish accent when speaking in German, because he always says “I love Germany but I am not German and I’ll never be German. I’m Irish and I’m proud of it.”

More importantly, it’s about finding a balance between maintaining a sense of your identity and ensuring that your speech is intelligible and does not cause a strain on the listener.

Ana Wu: As an Intercultural Skills trainer and expert in Teaching Business, what advice do you provide novice or inexperienced non-native EFL instructors who feel they lack confidence in preparing their students to work with business native speakers?

Chia Suan Chong:  It is important to understand that in the world of business, language is not the end goal. It is a tool used to achieve a particular end result: whether that is to negotiate a better deal, to complete a sale, to solve a problem or to improve customer relationships. And so business people are going to be less focused on whether you know the correct grammar form, are able to use a particular idiom, or are able to use connected speech. There is even research to show that in job interviews, the language level of the candidate is not what clinches the deal. What is important is the abilities and experience that the candidate has to perform the tasks that the job throws up.

So instead of being intimidated by possible encounters with native speakers in the business environment, trainers should focus on helping students develop good communication skills and strategies. This could include  sufficient lexical knowledge to talk about a certain business topic, or fluency practice to help build the students’ confidence in speaking in English. But it could also include the active listening strategies, clarification strategies, abilities to detect misunderstandings, and soft skills like presentation skills, social skills and negotiation skills. Being a good communicator is not about being a native speaker or the best English speaker. It’s about being able to listen without prejudice and understand what is being said and what is not being said. It’s about being clear and ensuring that your message is being understood the way you intend it to be understood.  It’s about achieving the results you hope to achieve through that interaction. 

Ana Wu: Congratulations on winning the British Council - Teaching English Blog of the Month Award for the thought-provoking blogpost "5 Reasons Why Native Speakers Need to Learn to Speak English Internationally."  In your professional opinion, who are the worst communicators: monolinguals or monoculturals (including people who were mainly raised in a single culture, despite living in a called multicultural country)?

Chia Suan Chong: There are so many factors that contribute to the effectiveness of communication, and language ability is only one of them. It’ll be simplistic of me to say that all native speakers, or all monolinguals are poor communicators. Certainly, the knowledge of another language and the language learning process can gain us a lot of empathy for what non-native English users are going through, and it can make us more aware and more reflective of our language use. Communication training (whether you are native or non-native) can also help us better approach how to be more successful communicators in the communities of practice that we will be encountering.

As for ‘monoculturals’, I don’t think anyone is a true ‘monocultural’. Culture does not just refer to essentialist notions of national or ethnic culture. Culture is a dynamic and fluid concept and changes depending on the context, the place and the person we interact with.

We might have a certain ‘culture’ at the family dinner table and we would adapt to a different ‘culture’ at the workplace, and again a different ‘culture’ when meeting with our friends at the pub. Even our different groups of friends embody different ‘cultural’ traits.

Some of us might encounter more diversity than others (in the form of views of the world, communication styles, expectations, etc) but no two people are exactly the same. We are dealing with diversity all the time. And an effective communicator is someone who is able to be aware of the different norms and expectations, the possible challenges and misunderstandings, and adapt and accommodate accordingly so as to achieve a successful communicative outcome.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this insightful interview! 

More About Chia Suan Chong:

Chia’s blogsite: chiasuanchong.com

Chia blogs professionally for English Teaching Professionals at https://www.etprofessional.com/blogposts-by-chia-suan-chong/

Follow Chia on the following Twitter accounts: @chiasuan @etprofessional @BusinessEnglishUK @YorkAssociates

October 1, 2016

John Levis, Sinem Sonsaat, Stephanie Link, Taylor Anne Barriuso

This interview was also posted on the "NNEST of the Month" blog.

"A Conversation with a Multilingual" presents:

        Dr. John Levis     

Sinem Sonsaat


Dr. Stephanie Link                         Taylor Anne Barriuso

Dr. John Levis is a professor of Applied Linguistics and TESL at Iowa State University, where he works with future teachers and graduate students. Currently, he teaches Methods of Teaching Pronunciation, Oral Language Technology and Phonetics/Phonology. He started the annual Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching conference, and is the founding editor for the new Journal of Second Language Pronunciation.
Sinem Sonsaat is a doctoral student in the Applied Linguistics & Technology program at Iowa State University. She has presented her work at various conferences and is the editorial assistant of the new Journal of Second Language Pronunciation. Her research interests include pronunciation instruction, materials evaluation & development, and CALL.
Dr. Stephanie Link is an assistant professor of TESL/Applied Linguistics at Oklahoma State University. Her primary research interests are in the development and evaluation of emerging technologies for computer assisted language learning with a special focus on L2 writing and second language pedagogy.
Taylor Anne Barriuso is a PhD student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Utah. Her primary area of interest is the acquisition of second language sound systems. Currently, she is investigating features of the input that support the learning of novel allophonic alternations.

I would like to congratulate on your article “Native and Nonnative Teachers of L2 Pronunciation: Effects on Learner Performance” published by TESOL Quarterly and thank all of you for agreeing to be a guest on the NNEST of the Month blog. I first met Dr. John Levis and Dr. Sinem Sonsaat at Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching conferences (PSLLT), which was started by Dr. Levis in 2009. I have learned effective activities and pedagogical tools on the L2 teaching of pronunciation from the workshops, tips for teachers and poster sessions, but most of all, from the interaction with the 100-150 participants who come from all over the world.
I also invite our visitors to read the proceedings from each annual PSLLT conference on their website here.

Ana Wu: In your article, the goal of your study was to examine whether NESTs and NNESTs were different in the level of improvement achieved by students. A major finding was that there was no significant impact of teacher’s language background on students’ overall improvement of comprehensibility and accentedness (p.22-23).
In the EFL context, what do you think need further investigation on the topic of NNEST and NEST as pronunciation instructors?
Sinem Sonsaat: I’m thinking further investigation of the language awareness of EFL teachers. And also their confidence and how the relationship between those two things brings up results about their language teaching practices and their beliefs about themselves. Teachers’ priorities may change in different settings, especially in EFL since sometimes some people in EFL context may think that some suprasegmental features are not possible to teach, so that may affect their perceptions and beliefs.
John Levis: We did another study, Stephanie and Sinem and I, on Turkish instructors (Levis, J., Sonsaat, S., & Link, S., forthcoming, 2017). Actually finding out what nonnative instructors actually think and what they want was really helpful because we tend to pretend that they have the same needs as native instructors.
Stephanie Link: I also think it will be interesting to see what other teacher training programs are doing to train pronunciation teachers. I’d expect that the perception towards pronunciation instruction is going to trickle down; so if your teacher trainer has a certain preconception about pronunciation instruction, then it’s likely that you as a pronunciation teacher will also hold that.
And if the teacher trainer lacks experience in pronunciation training, then they’re not going to transfer experience to future educators. There has been some work in this (Foote, Holtby, & Derwing, 2011), but more would be great.
Taylor Anne Barriuso: Sometimes I feel there is more of an overlap between pronunciation instruction and phonology than most like phonologists like to think that there is.

Ana Wu:  In the same article, you also said that when the interviewer asked about preference for a speaking class, students replied confidently that a native teacher would be better; however, they typically struggled to explain why (p.22).” I was puzzled that after your students had a positive experience with a non-native instructor, who was Sinem Sosaat, they were not able to explain the reason of their preference.
  1. Were you surprised? What were your impressions?
  2. What do you think teacher trainers and NNESTs can do to change the students’ perception?
Sinem: I was not surprised as a nonnative speaker. It sounds so funny because I am the nonnative speaking teacher in this study and I should be thinking the other way around, but still if you ask me when I am learning a language I kind of also go, if we have a native speaker why not.  I mean you have the native speaker chance. I am not saying nonnative teacher cannot teach, I believe that they can, but I mean the native one who is not going to have the same difficulties or is going to have the intuitions, then why not? And I think learners are more strict with nonnative teachers when it comes to pronunciation, because suppose I am learning a foreign language now, and the nonnative teacher makes a mistake which I am aware of, I might say oh she doesn’t know that this is the way that she needs to pronounce it. But I won’t probably say that for a native teacher if they say something wrong. Or I won’t even think that there is something wrong.
John: I wasn’t surprised, actually. What I was surprised about was that they rated you two teachers really high; they saw you both as great teachers. I’ve seen this before but they’ll say, “Oh yeah you know, native, that would be better.”
Stephanie: I was definitely not surprised by the students’ response either because I feel like students are conditioned from a very early time in their language learning experience to strive for perfection, like the phrase “Practice makes perfect” has long been ingrained in the minds of students. Although many practitioners have moved away from this mentality, there are still many who promote it. And so the key issue is in how we define perfection.
Taylor Anne: I wasn’t surprised. For “What do you think teacher trainers and NS can do to change student’s perception?” I think that’s a way harder question of the whole idea of changing people’s perceptions when it comes to nonnative teachers. People’s perception of nonnative speech is just really varied.
Sinem: To change the perceptions of the students, I think if the teacher can show that she is confident teaching pronunciation and she is comfortable with it, it might change their perceptions. At least I would be convinced that my teacher is a good one if she seems confident and comfortable. She loves teaching pronunciation. She’s not there because she was the one who had to teach it. Then I would trust my teacher because sometimes this is what happens with pronunciation.
John: I think those perceptions are really deep and changing the perceptions means that you have to give them experience that allows them to see that this is not that big a deal.  And I think students are looking for perfection off a model, like somehow that’s going to transfer over to them.
I wonder also if all teachers have this but nonnative teachers have a kind of an authority issue. If you don’t feel you have the authority yourself, students might start picking away at your authority on this. I suspect putting yourself in the position of a learner help students’ perceptions as well.
Stephanie: Besides that, the teacher being a co-learner, I think it’s easier for a native speaker to disguise that they are actually co-learning.  I do that all the time. I’m co-learning with my students. We’re always learning and when I’m learning along with them, I still can be perceived as an expert. When I was first starting off with pronunciation instruction, I was also learning some concepts. When I was tutoring in that class, I was co-learning, but my tutee would never have guessed because I was able to disguise it, perhaps just by having this costume of being an all-knowing native speaker.

Ana Wu: Your study concludes that being an NNEST or NEST is not critical for being effective pronunciation teachers (p.25). In your professional opinion, what are the characteristics of an effective English pronunciation instructor? How important is “nativeness” (or the lack of it) for being a good teacher?
Taylor Anne: I would say a lot of the things that Sinem has already mentioned, like confidence.
Sinem: I think the first thing a teacher needs to know is to know what to teach, what the priorities are in your own context and also to have the ability to convince learners that what they are learning is something they need to learn. Because in different contexts, in my context, in the EFL context students might think they need to be able to say this specific sound, -th- sound, correctly so badly, that they need to learn that. But they may think they don’t need to learn intonation. So the teacher needs to be able to convince them whatever they are learning is important or tell them why it matters. Or if they don’t need to make the perfect –th- sounds, why it doesn’t matter. The teacher should be able to convince the students, show them why it’s important to learn things or why some of the other things may not make that big of difference.
Stephanie: There seems to be some sort of training in order to obtain this principle approach to pronunciation instruction. Awareness, which is our next paper, Language and Awareness, right?
John: Confidence makes a difference and there has to be some awareness building. How important is nativeness or lack of it for being a good teacher? It’s not. I have felt this for decades and it always frustrates me when nonnative teachers think “oh I’m not a native speaker therefore I can’t be a good pronunciation teacher.”  It’s just insane to me. But I understand that there’s a confidence issue, that nonnative teachers feel a bit more exposed as not being quite good enough. And I think that this gets into other issues, because I don’t think all nonnative teachers should be teaching pronunciation, just as I don’t think all native teachers should be teaching pronunciation. Most can teach it, you know, there’s a huge number of nonnative teachers who are just fine, and you know that most native teachers are fine too. But they need to know what they are doing.
Sinem: I previously thought being a native speaker would be enough for being a good teacher, but during my class observations I have seen a couple of people who are native speakers, and I thought they should stop teaching like this because they are not really teaching, this is not teaching. And I was surprised, I thought they are a native speaker but they cannot teach this? I was really surprised and I thought that teachers really needed some help to teach. I was not expecting to see a native teacher not being able to teach.
John: Just because you’re a native speaker doesn’t mean that you can teach.

Ana Wu: I know you all have been very prolific, giving workshops, writing books and articles, and conducting research. Could you tell us your current projects?
John: Stephanie, Sinem and I have a chapter on native and nonnative pronunciation teachers in ESL and EFL context and it’s coming out in a book, by Juan Dios (Levis, J., Sonsaat, S., & Link, S., forthcoming, 2017).  And then we have the language awareness one has to do with materials that we’re working on. Also, I’m doing a Critical Concepts in Pronunciation volume meant to be sold mostly in the Asian market (Levis, J., Munro, M., forthcoming, 2017). Murray Munro and I are going to write an introduction to it. It’s going to be a four volume collection of key readings, mostly journal articles that deserve greater visibility. These readings are all published articles, one goes back into the 1920’s. Basically, it’s four volumes, each volume will have about 20 articles.
Sinem: I am working on my dissertation. I’ve sent out the survey for needs analysis. What I’m doing is pronunciation instruction materials, so I am trying to see if an online teacher’s manual would encourage teachers to teach pronunciation more compared to a printed teacher’s manual, whether it would increase teachers’ knowledge or confidence. So the survey will show me what teachers expect from a teacher’s manual in teaching, and then I have two online units ready, I mean online teacher’s manual on two pronunciation features, which need to be evaluated by native and non-native teachers. All of those will show me how to improve my online teacher’s manual for the materials whose content was created by John Levis and Greta Muller Levis.
Taylor Anne: Right now we are in the works of developing a study about acquisition, so perceptual acquisition of second language allophones.

Foote, J., Holtby, A., & Derwing, T. (2011). Survey of the teaching of pronunciation in adult ESL programs in Canada, 2010. TESL Canada Journal, 29(1), 1–22.
Levis, J., & Munro, M. (forthcoming, 2017). Critical Concepts in Linguistics: Pronunciation (Vol. 1-4). Taylor and Francis.
Levis, J., Sonsaat, S., Link, S. and Barriuso, T. A. (2016), Native and Nonnative Teachers of L2 Pronunciation: Effects on Learner Performance. TESOL Quarterly. doi: 10.1002/tesq.272
Levis, J., Sonsaat, S., & Link, S. (forthcoming, 2017). Students’ beliefs towards native and nonnative pronunciation teachers. In J. Dios (Ed.), Native and non-native teachers in English language teaching. DeGruyter.


May 29, 2016

Michael Burri

This interview was also posted on the "NNEST of the Month" blog.

"A Conversation with a Multilingual" presents:

Michael Burri

First, I would like to congratulate Michael Burri on his publications about pronunciation teaching and the preparation of pronunciation instructors, and also on his winning the 2015 TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper of NNEST Issues. Personally, I was very humble when Mr. Burri attended our “Voices from the NNEST Blog: Envisioning Landscapes for Future Generations,” at 2014 TESOL Convention, and am immensely honored for his acceptance of our invitation to feature his interview in this blog.

Ana Wu: You have a degree in Electromechanical Engineering in Switzerland. Could you tell us what led you to pursue a career in teaching ESL/EFL and a Ph.D specializing in the teaching speaking skills - particularly in the area of pronunciation pedagogy?
Mr. Burri: I spent the first 4 years of my life in the US but then completed my formative school years, including a 4-year apprenticeship in Electromechanical Engineering, in Switzerland. After gaining a couple of years of valuable work experience as an engineer, I felt a strong desire to (re)learn English for my proficiency had deteriorated to the extent that I was barely able to communicate in the language I was once fluent as a little boy. So I decided to study ESL in New Zealand. Upon my arrival, I was placed in the lowest level (pre-intermediate) but within 12 weeks I was pretty much fluent again – having learned English as an L1 in the US turned out to be an enormous advantage and subsequently sped up my acquisition/learning process exponentially. My time as an ESL student in New Zealand awakened in me a real interest in language learning, and so I completed a TESOL certificate at the same school in 1999. In early 2000, I landed my first teaching job at a small, family-run language school in Osaka (Japan). After a few enjoyable years in the classroom, I felt the need to get more teaching credentials and therefore enrolled in the MA TESOL at Trinity Western University (Canada) in 2004. Dr. Bill Acton took me on as his research assistant and his mentorship, passion and knowledge about the field was instrumental in getting me involved in TESOL and, ultimately, in helping me specialize in oral communication, particularly pronunciation instruction.

Ana Wu: In 2015, the NNEST IS and its members were honored to award you the TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper of NNEST Issues.

a. Could you tell us what the paper was about?
Mr. Burri: The paper was about some preliminary findings that eventually were published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education (AJTE) in 2015. At the time of the presentation I was still trying to wrap my head around what the data were actually telling me. I had collected a large amount of data because I not only followed 15 graduate students (10 NNESTs and 5 NESTs) during the length of an entire postgraduate course on pronunciation pedagogy, but I collected pretty much every word that was spoken and written during the course of the semester. A preliminary data analysis suggested a connection existed between participants’ linguistic background and their cognition development. This led me to analyze the data according to participants’ self-identified nativeness, which in turn ended up being the presentation I gave at TESOL.

The paper explored and compared the development of student teachers’ beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and knowledge (cognition) (Borg, 2006) about pronunciation pedagogy. I collected data in a postgraduate course on pronunciation pedagogy – offered at an Australian university – over a period of 17 weeks. In a nutshell, the findings showed that participants’ cognition shifted towards a more balanced approach to pronunciation instruction (i.e., student teachers thought that both segmentals and suprasegmentals should be taught in L2 classrooms). As stated in the abstract, “Non-native speakers’ self-perceived pronunciation improvement, an increase in their awareness of their spoken English, and native/non-native collaboration played critical roles in facilitating participants’ cognition growth.” The findings also supported previous cognition research suggesting that teacher cognition is a complex area to study (e.g., Aslan, 2015; Feryok, 2010). The article can be downloaded here for free.

b. What led you to be interested in NNEST issues?
Mr. Burri: My own linguistic and cultural background naturally led me to be interested in NNEST issues, but a couple of instances I encountered during my years of teaching English in Japan also contributed to my interest in this area. The first incident took place at the immigration office in Osaka in January 2000. I showed the officer the full-time teaching contract I had signed the day before. He glanced at my Swiss passport but stamped my American one……the other event was a native speaking colleague sarcastically commenting on my English being “not quite native-like.” That comment really bothered me, and it took me quite a while to figure out what my place as an L2 teacher in this field was, and what kind of teacher I want to be. My graduate studies at TWU helped me tremendously in this regard. Once I was able to better understand my identity and role as a TESOL practitioner (and researcher), I developed a keen interest in NNEST issues, especially in areas that are intricately and often politically intertwined, such as nativeness, accents, pronunciation and identity.

Question 3: Congratulations on the publication of your article “Student Teachers’ Cognition about L2 Pronunciation Instruction: A Case Study” published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education in 2015! Your study examined the cognition (i.e. beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and knowledge) development of student teachers during a postgraduate subject on pronunciation pedagogy.  One of your findings suggested that student teachers speaking English as an L1 did not gain the same understanding of the role of suprasegmentals in pronunciation instruction as their NNS peers (p.76) and that NS cognition was enhanced by learning about pronunciation pedagogy together with their nonnative classmates (p.77).

What do you think teacher trainers in TESOL programs can do to prepare NNSs become effective in the teaching of pronunciation?

Mr. Burri: That is a really good and important question. First of all, L2 teacher educators should draw on the strong declarative knowledge of the English sound system many NNSs bring to their programs. NSs tend to lag behind a bit in this regard, and so teaming up NNSs with NSs and have them work collaboratively on the sound system as well as on learning to teach pronunciation can be mutually beneficial. If a class consists solely of NNSs, pedagogical aspects of pronunciation instruction should be more emphasized. I find that NNSs often need and desire to learn about practical tools – or pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986) – to be able to connect their existing theoretical knowledge with practical classroom application. Parts of my research (e.g., Burri, Baker & Chen, accepted) showed that one way to achieve this is to first train student teachers in various techniques and then provide them with opportunities to visit real-life L2 classrooms to observe some of the techniques in application. If observations are logistically not possible, using video footage of L2 instructors teaching pronunciation is an effective alternative to foster student teachers’ understanding of how pronunciation can be addressed in L2 classrooms.

Also, as discussed in the AJTE paper, plenty of opportunities should be provided for NNSs to work on their own pronunciation and language awareness. There is a close relationship between NNSs self-perceived improvement of their pronunciation and an increase in their confidence about having the ability to teach pronunciation to their students. Providing language support for NNESTs is not a new concept (e.g., Braine, 2005; Liu, 1999; Park, 2006; Snow, Kamhi-Stein, Brinton, 2006) but it seems to me that a pronunciation course is an ideal venue to help NNSs work on their own pronunciation, and, at the same time, equip them with the tools to include pronunciation in their L2 classrooms.

Ana Wu: I find your paper very encouraging because many previous studies on NS-NNS collaborations show that the NNS is the one who benefits the most from team-teaching (Matsuda & Matsuda, 2001). Your study suggests not only that NSs can benefit more than NNSs, but more interestingly, that this can happen in teaching pronunciation where many NNS have expressed not having much confidence and expertise (LLurda, 2005). Were you surprised with your findings? What other topics should be the focus of new lines of research?
Mr. Burri: Teaching a couple of pronunciation courses prior to my doctoral studies enabled me to gain an understanding of the fact that NSs can learn a great deal from NNSs, especially in regards to the sound system of the English language. My thesis then provided me with empirical evidence; thus, I was not necessarily surprised but rather excited that the data confirmed some of my previous observations. What was surprising, however, was the extent to which the NNSs became increasingly more confident as the course progressed. The NSs saw this unfolding and suggested during the focus groups that NNSs would be better suited to teach pronunciation. What was also interesting was that this “ascribed identity” (Morita, 2004, p.598) further enhanced the NNSs’ beliefs that they possessed the ability to teach pronunciation.

Research now needs to examine more closely how NNSs (and NSs) teach pronunciation in their classrooms. My research has established that pronunciation teacher preparation can be effective, yet we need to know more about instructors’ pedagogical practices. Some recent studies (e.g. Baker, 2014; Foote, Trofimovich, Collins, & Urzúa, 2013; Levis, Sonsaat, Link, & Barriuso, 2016; Lim, 2016; Murphy, 2011; Wahid & Sulong, 2013) have provided important insights in this regard, but there is a definite need for more research that examines the effects of teaching practices on students’ pronunciation development, particularly in intact classroom contexts. This line of inquiry is important because to further improve pronunciation teacher preparation and, ultimately, pronunciation teaching as a whole, we need to better understand how L2 teachers – irrespective of their linguistic background – teach pronunciation and what challenges and successes they experience in their classrooms.

I also feel that classroom-based research would help foreground NNESTs pedagogical strengths. Sometimes I feel that we are focusing perhaps too much on fighting the NNEST/NEST dichotomy. This is, of course, important work, but to advance the field further, it might be more effective if we highlight more the positive pedagogical aspects of being a NNEST and the advantages multilingual instructors bring to their classrooms.

Ana Wu: What do you think are the characteristics of an effective pronunciation instructor?
Mr. Burri: Effective pronunciation instructors generally possess a solid understanding of phonology and phonetics as well as have a wide variety of pedagogical tools at their disposal to (a) diagnose L2 learners’ pronunciation needs and then (b) help them achieve intelligible pronunciation. Pronunciation is a motor skill (see, for example, Underhill’s, 2016, and/or Acton’s, 2016, work) and therefore effective pronunciation teachers are in tune with their body (or at least have a good grasp of the articulatory system), and, as our haptic work has shown, they use systematic gestures, movements and touch to provide their students with plenty of kinesthetic/tactile learning opportunities. A pronunciation instructor should also be a bit of an entertainer and create a safe and enjoyable classroom atmosphere in which learners can take risks and experiment with the sound system. Pronunciation is intertwined with a speaker’s identity in complex, social and psychological ways (Goodwin, 2014) and often “closely connected to self-image” (Levis & Moyer, 2014, p.276). As a result, many learners perceive pronunciation work to be a bit invasive. Creating a comfortable and supportive classroom environment is, therefore, essential in pronunciation work.

These characteristics apply to native and non-native pronunciation teachers. I firmly believe –and research is beginning to show this empirically – that NNSs can teach pronunciation as well as NSs, especially if they are trained in using systematic techniques. However, the provision of such training (or lack thereof) in graduate programs continues to be one of the biggest hindrances to effective pronunciation instruction. As several studies have shown (e.g., Foote, Holtby, & Derwing, 2011; Henderson et al, 2012; Murphy, 2014), pronunciation is seldom included in TESOL programs, and therefore the teaching of it tends to be not only based on instructor intuition and ideology (Hismanoglu & Hismanoglu, 2010) but it often lacks systematicity (Darcy, Ewert, & Lidster, 2012). This ad hoc type of approach is ineffective in helping students improve their pronunciation. It is relatively simple, to improve the efficacy of pronunciation instruction in NNEST and NEST classrooms, TESOL programs must include a pronunciation pedagogy course.

Ana Wu: I also need to congratulate you and your collaborators on your workshops on haptic pronunciation instruction (e.g. Acton et al. 2014, 2013; Burri, 2016; Kielstra et al. 2015), an integrated system for pronunciation instruction. At TESOL Convention, I had to fight to get a seat in a room with more than 100 people. What are your current projects?
Mr. Burri: Thank you for coming to our workshop. Doing these sessions and collaborating with Bill Acton, Amanda Baker, Karen Rauser, Brian Teaman, Shine Hong, and Nathan Kielstra (and several others) on the development of this haptic pronunciation teaching and learning system has been a real privilege. These workshops have always been well attended and well received, but we now need to establish an empirical research base for the system to further improve. We are in the process of writing an article about a study we conducted with L2 instructors in Australia. This paper should provide some interesting insights into haptic pronunciation instruction. Moreover, we are planning a study that is going to explore how Vietnamese teachers address pronunciation in their L2 classrooms.

I also intend to continue my research with the participants that took part in my doctoral study. Several of them are now practicing teachers (in Australia and Asia) and I hope to visit their classrooms in the near future to see how and to what extent they are implementing in their present contexts some of the pronunciation teaching knowledge they gained during their graduate studies. This type of longitudinal research is paramount for us teacher educators to obtain a better understanding of pre-service and in-service teacher needs, and, subsequently, to enhance the preparation of pronunciation instructors.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this insightful interview and rich resources! I am looking forward to reading your publications on your next studies!

List of References

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