Psychological and Brain Sciences Colloquium
Susan Brennan, PhD, Stony Brook University
Please join us in Moore Filene Auditorium on Thursday, May 25, 2023, at 1:15 p.m., for a colloquium given by Susan Brennan, SUNY Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University in Cognitive Science.
Title: Communication in the Global University: Language Adaptation in Native and Non-Native Speakers
Abstract: Scholars and scientists from all over the world play valued and essential roles in conducting research and educating students in U.S. universities. However, those who speak English as a second language vary in their English proficiency and intelligibility, with some accents more difficult for native English speakers to understand than others. This problem is compounded for the many monolingual undergraduates who lack experience with foreign-accented English; unfamiliar accents can lead listeners to miss (or misidentify) words. Communication can be challenging, especially in STEM fields where many international graduate students serve as teaching assistants (ITAs).
Our NSF-funded project addressed this challenge from the perspectives of both speaking and listening. Longitudinally, we followed the English language development of > 60 ITAs in STEM fields who were native speakers of Mandarin, newly arrived to the U.S. Batteries of measures were collected at five points: shortly after they arrived on campus for graduate study, and at the ends of their first, second, third, and fourth semesters. Measures included VERSANT subscales probing syntax, vocabulary, fluency, and pronunciation; speech recordings; and self-reports of ITAs' own confidence in their language proficiency, background, and multicultural experiences. Stable improvements in proficiency emerged after the first year; however, there was little improvement in pronunciation. We then tested the on-line intelligibility of Mandarin-accented English by native-English-speaking undergraduates, using a short script-based intervention to familiarize them with the ITA's accent. They were exposed to a series of brief, meaningful stories recorded by an ITA (3X: shadowing while first hearing the story, listening silently to the same story while viewing a script, then shadowing it again). Each story included multiple instances of features identified as problematic for Mandarin-accented English (e.g., /th/, /v/-/w/ ambiguity, consonant clusters). Initial shadowing of new stories improved by 30% with this experience, with improvement lasting for at least two days, suggesting that a short intervention at the beginning of a semester might be a viable way to help native English speakers begin to adjust to foreign-accented speech and be better able to follow a lecture.
Coffee, tea, and cider donuts will be available before the talk, starting at 1 p.m., in the foyer space outside of Moore Filene Auditorium
For those who are unable to attend in person—you can join virtually here.