At the end of January I had the privilege of attending/speaking at the 1st Mekong TESOL Conference in Can Tho, Vietnam (see Photo Gallery for photos). The conference theme "Tailoring English Teaching to Regional Needs" nicely captured what our field has been working hard to establish in the past couple of decades: every context is unique and a one-size-fits-all method, as was assumed with CLT in the 1980s and early 90s, does not work. It was great to see the conference being organized by local practitioners and researchers engaged in second language (L2) teaching in Vietnam. This was very much a conference by locals for locals. Overall, this experience gave me a renewed appreciation for L2 teaching in Southeast Asia. It also helped me better understand the challenges many L2 teachers face in Vietnam. In fact, I would really like to return to the Mekong region in the near future to conduct research on local teachers' practices (particularly on pronunciation pedagogy and speaking strategies) and what these practices mean for their students and their L2 learning process (although, granted, this would be an outsider's perspective on local practices). But for now, I'm going to incorporate some of these new insights into the graduate course on TESOL methodology I'm teaching this coming semester.
Interested in local pedagogy? Here are two books I think every instructor/researcher/administrator involved in L2 teaching needs to read:
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding language teaching: From method to postmethod. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Canagarajah, S. A. (Ed.). (2005). Reclaiming the local in language policy and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
On June 12, 2015, I'm presenting parts of my doctoral research at the Faces of English Conference held at the University of Hong Kong (June 11- 13, 2015). The presentation is focusing on three pre-service teachers from Hong Kong. Below are the title and summary of the session:
"I didn't Notice the Prominence Before": L2 Instructors' Emerging Cognitions
Summary of Presentation:
This presentation discusses a qualitative study that explored the cognition (thoughts, beliefs, and knowledge) development of three student teachers from Hong Kong during a postgraduate course on pronunciation pedagogy offered at an Australian institution. Based on findings, recommendations are made for language teacher education and effective pronunciation teacher preparation.
I'm working on a new paper exploring the identity construction of postgraduate student teachers learning to teach pronunciation. The theoretical framework underpinning the study draws on Wenger's (1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991) social learning theory, which suggests that identity formation takes place in a community of practice. One particular aspect of Wenger’s theory that I consider using as an analytical lens is identification. This would allow me to explore how student teachers talk about themselves and others, and how they may align themselves with various theories and pedagogical constructs learned during their graduate studies. Subsequently, I'd be able to compare participants' identity transformation (or lack thereof) with their cognition development, which should yield valuable insights for language teacher educators.
What's perhaps more intriguing is that the process of familiarizing myself with Wenger’s theory has provided me with a better understanding of who I am as a PhD student, second language instructor and teacher educator. When I began reading about social learning theory, I didn't expect this to have an effect on me personally (I must admit that at first I was rather reluctant to include identity in my doctoral studies). Yet, trying to define identity and then designing a theoretical framework in which I could ground my new paper has been an invaluable experience. It has also helped me understand why identity has become such an important topic in second language teaching and research. Identity is inherently who we are and what we do, say and believe, and why we do certain things in life (or in the classroom for that matter). Had I been told this a few months ago, I would have agreed but more or less brushed identity off as being a buzzword currently used in language teaching and applied linguistics. Having worked on this paper for the past few weeks, however, has given me a new perspective and appreciation for identity and its importance. To put it differently, studying about identity has been truly – and unexpectedly – transformative, and I suppose this is what my PhD journey is ultimately all about.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Inspired by Bill Acton’s recent blog post on the TESOL Convention held in Toronto last March, I’ve decided to write up a few of my own thoughts and impressions about AAAL and TESOL (see photo gallery for pictures of my trip).
2015 AAAL Conference:
This was my first AAAL conference. It’s a different “crowd” at AAAL than the one that attends TESOL, and the sheer amount of empirical research presented at the event was a bit overwhelming and almost impossible to process at times. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the experience. I was fortunate to present some of my doctoral research, and I received valuable feedback from the audience. The morning and afternoon refreshments (or what they “call morning and afternoon tea” in Australia) were simply amazing, especially given the relatively low registration fee for full-time students. The coffee, juice, sweets, fruit etc was not only a welcome way to replenish some of the energy spent pondering over research and various applied linguistics-related issues, but also a wonderful opportunity to network, socialize and chat with some of the experts on whose work I draw in my own research.
One thing that was interesting was that relatively few sessions included any sort of classroom application (I felt the same way at AILA last year). I realize that the focus of AAAL is generally more on research than it is on the pedagogical side of things. Sometimes I wish, however, that presenters at these research-focused conferences would make explicit connections to the classroom, because the bottom line is that research in applied linguistics informs practice (and vice versa).
2015 TESOL Convention:
At TESOL, much like at AAAL, identity and teacher cognition were prominent topics (in fact, identity was the AAAL conference theme). The timing was ideal, as I’m currently working (with Amanda Baker and Honglin Chen) on a paper exploring the identity formation of pronunciation instructors. Thus, several of the sessions focusing on identity and/or cognition allowed me to gather some new ideas and references I may be able to incorporate into our paper.
One of the highlights of the conference was a session I attended on TESOL’s new research agenda. During the session I was fortunate to discuss my research with two fellow PhD students and with former TESOL president Jun Liu. Jun gave us some excellent feedback on our doctoral studies, and then each of us was given 1 minute to present to a group of about 40 people how our doctoral research aligned with TESOL’s research agenda.
The haptic workshop several colleagues/friends and I did went really well. We used tennis balls to train the audience in various haptic pronunciation teaching techniques. It was a blast and the people loved it! My research-based presentation on Thursday afternoon was received well, too. This was the session for which I received the “TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper on NNEST Issues.” Receiving that award was definitely one of the most significant events of my career so far. The paper is currently under review; hence, I hope to get it published soon.
During my week in Toronto, I had many excellent conversations, and I was able to catch up with numerous friends and former colleagues. Attending AAAL and TESOL was tremendously inspiring, and I gained a lot of energy from talking to all these knowledgeable and passionate practitioners and researchers. Unfortunately, it appears that the two events won’t be piggybacked anymore. Not having the conferences back-to-back in the same town is going to be a real shame because (if I continue to live in Australia) it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to make it to both events in the same year. Keeping AAAL and TESOL separate may make sense logistically, but I don’t think it serves the language teaching profession well.
Lastly, spending time in Toronto was simply amazing. I’d never been to Toronto and I must confess that I’d always considered Toronto to be a boring place (in comparison to Calgary and Vancouver). Having spent an entire week there, however, I’ve had to come to the conclusion that Toronto is a vibrant city with many exciting things to do. I’d love to return in the summer (when it’s not -18C).
Following the AAAL conference, I will present twice at the 2015 TESOL Convention in Toronto (March 26-28, 2015). The first one is a research-oriented paper and is part of my doctoral research. It has been awarded the TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper on NNEST Issues, and focuses on the impact of a postgraduate course on non-native student teacher cognition about pronunciation pedagogy. Here is the abstract of the session:
Exploring the Development of NNEST Cognition about Pronunciation Pedagogy
This session presents a study exploring how the cognition (thoughts, beliefs, and knowledge) of ten non-native student teachers developed during a graduate course on pronunciation pedagogy. Based on findings, implications for training NNEST in pronunciation teaching will be discussed and general recommendations for effective language teacher education will be made.
The second presentation is a workshop I'm doing with several colleagues from Vancouver. As in previous years, we'll be training session attendees in the use of haptic pronunciation teaching techniques. It would be great to see you there:
Haptic (English) Pronunciation Teaching Workshop
This workshop introduces a set of six haptic (movement + touch)-based techniques for presenting and correcting English L2 pronunciation, applicable for intermediate English language learners and above. Guided by research on kinaesthetic approaches to L2 pronunciation instruction, the presenters train participants to use the instructional techniques in their classrooms.
I will be presenting some of the findings of my doctoral research at the upcoming AAAL conference in Toronto (March 21-24, 2015). If you are attending AAAL and are interested in pronunciation teaching and language teacher cognition/education, I suggest you join my session. Here is the abstract:
Exploring Cognition Development of Pre-service and In-service Pronunciation Teachers: A Qualitative Case Study
This presentation discusses a qualitative case study exploring the cognition knowledge, attitudes and beliefs) development of ten inexperienced (pre-service) and five experienced (in-service) pronunciation teachers during a graduate course on pronunciation pedagogy offered at an Australian institution. Based on research findings, recommendations for training pronunciation teachers are made.
Reading about the complexity of L2 teacher education is one thing, but wrestling with the issue as part of my PhD has been an eye-opening experience. Having been involved in second language teacher education (SLTE) in a variety of contexts over the past few years, I have seen first-hand how student teachers learn, internalize and embrace course content. Others struggled, developed negative attitudes and seemed to learn little. However, analysing (this is an ongoing process) an enormous amount of data I collected last year has helped me better understand the magnitude educating and preparing L2 teachers entails.
In a nutshell, my study examines how pronunciation teachers are prepared. This is an interesting area because little has been done in the context of pronunciation teacher preparation and because many (if not most) L2 teachers find pronunciation challenging to teach (Foote, Holtby, & Derwing, 2011; Macdonald, 2002). What’s intriguing is that many factors facilitate or restrict the development of student teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and thoughts (i.e. cognition). Yet, the fact that these components are almost impossible to be separated (Borg, 2006) complicates things. Additionally, the process of learning to teach L2 (or in my research context, learning to teach pronunciation) appears to be an individualistic, uneven and complicated process. In other words, what works for one student teachers, may not work for another one, and be downright wrong for a third teacher candidate. These challenges seem to be rather overwhelming and you may question why anyone would get involved in educating L2 teachers. My research, however, suggests that SLTE does work and can be effective. At same time, it holds enormous potential for educators to shape teacher candidates’ lives and send them off well-equipped to teach language in whatever context that might eventually be. So, although being involved in SLTE has its challenges, it is definitely an exciting enterprise which should not become boring anytime soon. Papers that I’m now working on will support this. Stay tuned!
Borg, S. (2006). Teacher cognition and language education: Research and practice. London: Continuum.
Foote, J. A., Holtby, A. K., & Derwing, T. M. (2011). Survey of the teaching pronunciation in adult ESL programs in Canada, 2010. TESL Canada Journal, 29(1), 1-22.
Macdonald, S. (2002). Pronunciation – views and practices of reluctant teachers. Prospect, 17(3), 3-18.
Below is short but cool account of an experience I had last night. It is a Facebook post but thought it was quite relevant to L2 practitioners too (hence the double posting):
Today, our neighbour – a PhD student from Nigeria – bought one of the biggest TVs I've ever seen, and he asked me, a fellow student from Pakistan (Med School) and one from Sri Lanka (Engineering) to carry that old sucker up to the third floor to his apartment. It was a brutal task, but there was so much laughter and joking in the hallway! Only when I got back to my place, it hit me that tonight I had the privilege of experiencing for a brief but awesome moment what it means for humans with completely different value systems, languages, ethnicities, and cultures to live together in peace and harmony. In stark contrast to events shown in the media every day, these few minutes of carrying a TV up the stairwell were extremely refreshing!
I’m part of a listserv that consists of folks (based around the world) specializing in pronunciation teaching and research. A couple of weeks ago, one of the members raised an interesting point I had never considered: refugees studying English as second language may be unable to hear sounds and subsequently struggle with pronouncing them because of hearing impairment they suffered while residing in war zones. This makes sense, but I now wonder how many of my former students had hearing problems without me knowing about it. Therefore, I think that goes to show that to facilitate our students' learning process (more) effectively, we language teachers would be well-advised to make every possible effort to get to know our students on a personal level.
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.