This interview was also posted on the "NNEST of the Month" blog.
"A Conversation with a Multilingual" presents:
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.
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
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.
Could you tell us what the paper was about?
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
What led you to be interested in NNEST issues?
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
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).
do you think teacher trainers in TESOL programs can do to prepare NNSs become
effective in the teaching of pronunciation?
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.
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?
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
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.
Wu: What do you think are the characteristics of an effective pronunciation
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.
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?
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
Wu: Thank you for this insightful interview and rich resources! I am looking forward
to reading your publications on your next studies!
Acton, W., Baker, A. A., Burri, M., & Teaman, B.
(2013). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J.
Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second
Language Learning and Teaching Conference (pp. 234-244). Ames, IA: Iowa State
Aslan, E. (2015). When the native is also a
non-native: "Retrodicting" the complexity of language teacher
cognition. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 71(3), 244-269.
Baker, A. A. (2014). Exploring teachers' knowledge of
L2 pronunciation techniques: Teacher cognitions, observed classroom practices
and student perceptions. TESOL Quarterly, 48(1), 136-163.
Borg, S. (2006). Teacher cognition and language
education: Research and practice. London: Continuum.
Braine, G. (Ed.). (2005). Teaching English to the
world: History, curriculum, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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feel like having a nervous breakdown”: Pre-service and in-service teachers’
developing beliefs and knowledge about pronunciation instruction. Journal of
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(2011). Survey of the teaching pronunciation in adult ESL programs in Canada,
2010. TESL Canada Journal, 29(1), 1-22.
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language classes. The Language Learning Journal, 1-16.
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performance. TESOL Quarterly, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1002/tesq.272
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Labels: pronunciation haptic multilingual