During my last trip to Japan (last July) I needed to see a dentist because of a pretty nasty toothache. I can communicate in Japanese at a conversational level, but to see a dentist I required an interpreter that could assist me with asking and answering questions. My 12-year old son is proficient in both languages and so I asked him to come along. Not being able to communicate clearly and relying on my child made me feel rather helpless. Yet, that’s exactly how many refugees must feel in Australia. Without the necessary English skills, many depend on their children to get daily chores done. I would have preferred not to drag my son to the dentist, but this experience really helped me better empathize with the struggles that refugees might encounter in an affluent country such Australia. That dentist incident in Japan also made me (much more) realize how privileged I am in Australia. I'm now thinking about developing a research project that explores the lives of refugees in the Illawarra region. The aim of the project would be to narrate the stories (and to foreground the voices) of people who were forced to leave their home country. The study would definitely increase awareness of the challenges that refugees typically face, but it may also lead to recommendations that could be used to improve the lives of the marginalized in our communities. I have an idea about a particular research focus, and so stay tuned for another blog post in the near future!
At the end of June, I had the privilege of traveling to Vietnam (with several colleagues from UOW) to attend the 2nd Mekong TESOL Conference. Prior to the conference, we were able to spend two days in Ho Chi Minh City, which is, without a doubt, one of the most vibrant and chaotic places I have ever been to. The traffic is relentless and the place never sleeps; yet, exploring the city was fun, and we made sure to include plenty of stops at local coffee shops (love the weasel coffee!). The conference committee then organized a coach for us to travel down to Can Tho where the conference was held. The 4-hour drive through the countryside was stunning, and spending three days in Can Tho was exciting. I can’t remember the last time I ate that much food, including Pho at the floating market and several enormous lunches and dinners to which we were invited.
The conference, with its theme Think Globally, Act Locally, generated stimulating and interesting discussions. It was an ideal venue for local English teachers to explore a wide variety of relevant language teaching and research issues. The ~350 attendees provided some great networking opportunities, too. Unfortunately, the day after the conference I felt pretty crook. The timing was definitely not ideal, as I was scheduled to deliver an all-day workshop at Gaviet Language Center for Vietnamese English teachers on how to teach pronunciation to young learners. In spite of feeling a bit off, the workshop went well, and the participants seemed to enjoy the opportunity to learn about pronunciation instruction. The next day, five of us flew to Phu Quoc Island where we spent four relaxing days. We snorkeled, fished, and explored the island by car (we had a driver). The beaches, the night market, and the seafood were incredible, but the rapid resort development, the simple lifestyle in some of the local villages, and the ever-present garbage lying around were a bit of an eye-opening experience. It made my sore stomach and emerging toothache feel almost irrelevant.
Overall, the 11 days in Vietnam were an incredibly enriching experience. I learned a lot about this fascinating country and its friendly people. I’ll be back, for sure!
I’ve just returned to Australia after spending seven exciting weeks in Japan. Having gained extensive experience and further education since leaving my teaching job in Japan in 2003 has enabled me to observe English education/teaching in Japan somewhat differently and more critically. Having three children attend Japanese public school this year has also provided me with fascinating insights. These are not ground-breaking observations, and they are meant to be factual and not judgmental in nature:
My 12-year old son is attending junior high school in Japan this year. Even though his first language is English, he is required to sit through all of the English language classes. My wife met with the school principal a few weeks ago to discuss an alternative option, but she was told that there was nothing that could be done. Initially, attending English class seemed to be a total waste of his time, but then I realized that this was in fact quite an interesting context. How often does a kid who is highly proficient in a language need to sit through a beginning level class while his classmates don’t speak the language at all? So, to explore my son's perspective on English teaching at a Japanese junior high school, I’m going to have weekly (5-10 minute) interviews with him. I’m really not sure where this little project is going, but here are a few interesting points he has mentioned so far:
Johnston, S. (2002). A Japanese 3rd grade classroom: The individual within the group. Childhood Education, 78(6), 342-348.
I attended the annual TESOL Convention in Chicago last week, and it turned out to be an excellent and stimulating event. The weather wasn’t too bad (unlike Toronto in 2015 when it was -25C), and, in addition to giving three talks and spending time at our UOW booth in the Exhibitor’s Hall, I managed to squeeze in a couple of days of sightseeing prior to the convention. Here are a few highlights and thoughts on my time in Chicago:
I'm giving three talks with Amanda Baker at the upcoming TESOL Convention in Chicago, USA (March 27-30, 2018). Here are the session details, including presentation summaries:
Enhancing Learners' Pragmatic Competence Using a Haptic Approach
Thursday, March 29, 2018: 13:00-13:45
E264 (McCormick Place, Lakeside Center, East)
Pronunciation Teacher Education: Researching a Blended Online and On-Campus Design
Friday, March 30, 2018: 11:30-12:15
N137 (McCormick Place, North Building)
Learning to Teach English Pronunciation: From Student to Novice Teacher
Friday, March 30, 2018: 14:00-14:45
N138 (McCormick Place, North Building)
Last weekend, I was fortunate to attend and present at the annual ETAS (English Teaching Association Switzerland) conference in Zofingen. Below are a few brief thoughts about the event:
I’ve just returned from the Applied Linguistics Conference in Auckland (NZ) where I presented my latest research on learning to teach English pronunciation. Here are a few highlights and thoughts on the conference:
As mentioned in a previous blog post, I’m presenting some preliminary findings of my latest research project on learning to teach English pronunciation at the upcoming Applied Linguistics conference in Auckland, New Zealand (November 28, 2017). Here are the title and the abstract of the session:
Learning to Teach Pronunciation: A 4-Year Study
Research has provided evidence about the positive impact of second language teacher education (SLTE) on the practices, and beliefs and knowledge (i.e., cognition) of in-service and pre-service teachers (Busch, 2010; Farrell, 2009; Kurihara, 2013; Lee, 2015). Studies have also shown that preparing second language (L2) teachers to teach English pronunciation can be effective (Baker, 2011; Burri, 2015, Burri, Baker & Chen, 2017; Golombek & Jordan, 2005). However, research has yet to examine how novice L2 teachers’ pronunciation teaching practices develop longitudinally and how that development relates to their postgraduate studies. Such research is needed to demonstrate the long-term effectiveness of SLTE on teacher practice.
The longitudinal study presented in this session examines the cognition development of three instructors teaching English as an additional language in Australia following their study of a postgraduate subject on pronunciation pedagogy. Specifically, the research compares the teachers’ current pronunciation-oriented cognitions and classroom practices with the teachers’ previous cognitions about teaching pronunciation formed during their university study four years earlier. Questionnaires, interviews, assessment tasks, focus groups, and observations conducted during the participants’ postgraduate studies, as well as narrative frames (Barkhiuzen, 2014) to elicit participants’ perspectives on their current practices were collected and triangulated to compare data over a period of four years.
Findings showed that learning to teach English pronunciation is a dynamic, individual and non-linear process; one that goes beyond postgraduate education and well into L2 teachers’ professional career. Teachers reported using their classrooms knowledge about pronunciation acquired during their studies; yet, external factors exerted powerful influences on their practices. These factors limited teachers’ implementation of acquired knowledge, which led some of the teachers to return to practices and cognitions held prior to their postgraduate studies. The session concludes with a brief discussion of implications for SLTE.
Farrell (2015) suggests that second language teacher education (SLTE) often lacks effectiveness in preparing second language (L2) instructors. He argues that programs do not prepare “teacher learners adequately about how to deal with the realities of teaching in the classroom” (p.2). Farrell proposes for programs to align their content with prospective L2 teachers’ needs more closely to ensure that content presented to student teachers was relevant to their future teaching contexts. He goes on to say that L2 teacher educators should continue monitoring the development of graduates’ pedagogical skills once they are teaching in their L2 classrooms. This would allow teacher educators to create cases of practicing instructors that could then be incorporated into SLTE programs to facilitate reflection and student teacher learning. Exploring these cases would enable future teachers to attain insights into the realities, challenges, and issues that are typically involved in L2 classroom teaching.
I like Farrell's suggestions, as they resonate with one of my ongoing research projects. In this longitudinal study I am exploring how L2 teachers’ pronunciation teaching practices and their current beliefs and knowledge (i.e., cognitions) about English pronunciation relate to what they learned during a graduate course on pronunciation pedagogy. Examining this connection should yield important insights into L2 teacher learning and into the effectiveness of SLTE. I am presenting preliminary findings of this research at the Applied Linguistics conference in Auckland, New Zealand (November 2017). It would be great to see some of you there, but in case you cannot make it to Auckland, I am going to make the presentation abstract available on my blog a couple of weeks prior to the conference.
Farrell, T. S. C. (2015). Second language teacher education: A reality check. In T. S. C. Farrell (Ed.), International perspectives on English language teacher education: Innovations from the field (pp. 1-15). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
I am a Lecturer in TESOL at the University of Wollongong in Australia. I blog about L2 learning, L2 teaching, L2 teacher education, and research.