LINGUIST List 32.3036

Tue Sep 28 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics: Richter (2021)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <jecoburnlinguistlist.org>



Date: 13-Aug-2021
From: Clay Williams <williamsaiu.ac.jp>
Subject: English-Medium Instruction and Pronunciation
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Book announced at https://linguistlist.org/issues/32/32-952.html

AUTHOR: Karin Richter
TITLE: English-Medium Instruction and Pronunciation
SUBTITLE: Exposure and Skills Development
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2021

REVIEWER: Clay Hunter Williams, Akita International University

SUMMARY

In recent years, we have witnessed a relative explosion in English-medium tertiary programs worldwide, and with that proliferation of English-medium instruction (EMI) has come a variety of published research on the topic. One would expect that Richter’s work detailing one longitudinal study on EMI at a small(ish) tertiary institution in Austria would be hard-pressed to get noticed among the pure volume of research on EMI which has been released in the last decade alone; however, such is not the case, as Richter manages to approach the topic from a perspective that has received little to no attention, despite its obvious pertinence – that of the development and refinement of L2 pronunciation. After a thorough examination of the research background, including such topics as the role of English-medium instruction in the context of European higher education, as well as the theoretical rationale for accent development, the manuscript details a study of Austrian learners in an EMI degree program. The students’ degree of perceived foreign accent was measured at the beginning and at the end of the three-year degree. These accent ratings were analyzed in comparison to a control group of students studying in a German-medium program. The data was also correlated with survey data to explore factors that contribute to successful or unsuccessful L2 accent acquisition with the goal of identifying what learner traits facilitate this process and what sort of a learning environment could be provided in order to maximize students’ ability to acquire more native-like L2 phonology.

The book starts out with an overview of the goals of the book, introducing the question of whether EMI instruction impacts the development of L2 phonology and accent. The first chapter, “Introduction,” gives a basic research background, looking at the rise of English as a European lingua franca, and the rise of EMI programs across Europe in response. The author, having been privy to the creation of such an EMI program in an Austrian University of Applied Sciences (UAS), provides a brief history of the development of this bilingual (German and English) BA program in Entrepreneurship, detailing the search for content lecturers who could teach wholly in the target language of English (which led to a program largely taught by L1 speakers of English). She also introduces the reader to the concept and curricular goals of the Austrian UAS system (“Fachhochschule”), schools which stand apart from regular universities as tertiary (three-year) degree-granting institutions focusing on technical skills, such as engineering, business, etc. UAS emphasize practical training, including internships. They are also characterized by relatively rigid admission procedures, smaller class size, rigid schedules (often with fixed groups throughout the course of study), etc. Lecturers are very likely to have been recruited from the private sector, and many UAS programs require students to undergo an internship or to study abroad during the duration of the program. This environment provides a uniquely suitable environment in which to conduct this study on EMI effects on L2 accent. The author clarifies that her study is not designed to push the idea of native-like phonology as the only acceptable accent variant, but rather that the study is simply attempting to gather empirical data on how content coursework taught in the target language affects L2 accent production and to garner evidence of what factors cause the vast degree of variation which so often appears in L2 phonological accuracy between individual students.

Chapter 2, “English-Medium Instruction in European Higher Education,” traces the rise of English content courses and programs, starting with Content and Language Integrated Learning (which is largely relegated to primary and secondary levels of education) and how in the higher education context English is usually simply the vehicle by which course content is transmitted, thereby distinguishing EMI wherein the main point in instruction is course content, not the language itself. The author further distinguishes EMI from English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Special Purposes (ESP), which similarly focus on language instruction, although instruction in ESP classes may be designed to impart skills for specific content areas, as opposed to EAP, which usually teaches more generalized academic language skills. The author traces in-detail the rapid spread of English-taught programs throughout Europe, with 725 of such programs being identified in 2001, increasing to 8089 in 2014 (Wächter & Maiworm, 2014). Turning her attention to her own country and institution, she introduces a bit more about the bilingual program, introducing the study participants – an EMI group from the bilingual BA program, and a control group composed of ESP students in the regular (German-medium) BA program. Both groups are similar in age and ethnic makeup, as well as the age where they started English study, but the main test variable is the amount of exposure to L2 English that will take place over the course of the degree program when the bilingual group is taking approximately 50% of course content in English.

Chapter 3, “Language Learning in the English Medium Classroom,” conducts an extensive literature review of theories and hypotheses relevant to language acquisition in the EMI context, with particular emphasis on acquisition of L2 phonology and accent development. In particular, the text reviews Krashen’s Input Hypothesis (e.g., Krashen, 1981) along with the associated Acquisition-Learning, Monitor, Natural Order, and Affective Filter Hypotheses. While the importance, intuitiveness, and relatively wide-spread acceptance of Krashen’s ideas are noted, critiques of the Hypotheses are also given full attention. From the Input Hypothesis model, the author switches to a review of Swain’s Output Hypothesis (e.g., Swain, 1985) and Long’s Interaction Hypothesis (e.g., Long, 1996) before shifting to a long review of Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory (Vygotsky, 1978). The author notes that, as much as these theories have contributed to the development of classroom-based language instruction (especially at the secondary school level), “[i]n a traditional university context, however, these forces are often restricted by organizational, practical and technical constraints. Very often, overcrowded lecture halls filled with hundreds of students leave little room for output let alone interaction among the learners” (Section 3.1.4, paragraph 4, lns. 2-4); however, the Austrian UAS system’s small class size and interaction-based instructional stylings make it a better platform for empirical research on such hypotheses. The author then shifts her attention directly to the issue of L2 phonology acquisition. The concept of “foreign accent” is explained and an extensive literature review on accent studies ranging from Critical Period Hypothesis and age studies to perceptual models such as Flege’s (1995) Speech Learning Model, as well as Contrastive Analysis (Lado, 1957), and Interlanguage (Selinker, 1969) to account for why fossilization occurs so prominently in the realm of accent. From here, the author discusses the perceived advantages of EMI, reviewing research findings that learners in CLIL and EMI classroom environments make measurable linguistic gains. On the specific issue of phonological gains, however, the author reviews the literature to find that CLIL instructional impact on L2 pronunciation is relatively modest and research into phonological gains by learners in EMI environments “are practically non-existent” (Section 3.3.2, paragraph 8, ln. 2), with only two previous studies being found, and neither of them being particularly relevant to the central thesis of the manuscript, as one of these studies was conducted in an English-speaking country (thereby exposing students to massive amounts of input outside of the classroom), and the other was a report on students’ self-perception of pronunciation gains in the EMI context, which, while interesting, is by its nature more subjective.

It is at this point that the author reports the actual study which is the rationale of the manuscript. The test materials (i.e., a reading test and a speech test wherein subjects narrated a cartoon) are described, along with the program that was created for raters to use in their evaluation of speech samples. The testing and rating processes are described in detail. An analysis of results finds that the EMI group outperformed the control group (composed of students from the German-medium degree program) across the board at both test periods (i.e., near the beginning and the end of the degree program, respectively). Nevertheless, both groups improved significantly over the course of the program, and testing revealed no significant difference between groups in the amount of improvement. Student self-assessment data was also analyzed, finding students to have a sharply more negative impression of their own accents than the actual rater data would suggest.

Chapter 4, “Factors Influencing L2 Pronunciation Mastery,” explores individual difference factors which may exert influence over the development of L2 accent. The relevant literature is reviewed on subjects such as language attitudes, identity, motivations for learning, language anxiety, formal instruction on L2 pronunciation, gender, musical ability, and degree/length/type of language exposure. Turning to her own data set, the author then looks at two cases from her own study – one characterized as highly successful learner, and the other as an unsuccessful learner (these were the highest and lowest scoring study participants, respectively)– in order to assess to what degree these individual difference attributes were predictive of learners’ success (or lack thereof) at ameliorating their L2 accent during the course of their studies at the UAS. Contrasts were found in age of initial learning, attitudes about pronunciation, interest in English language and culture, gender, media exposure, and self-perceived language skill. Additionally, whereas the successful learner had participated in an internship in the United States during the course of the degree program, the unsuccessful learner had studied abroad in South Korea. Comparing the test and control groups, the EMI group was found to have significantly higher motivation to improve their English and in particular their pronunciation. Additionally, the EMI group was more prone to consuming English media and much more likely to have spent an exchange semester abroad (albeit only 38% of them did so in an English-speaking country).

Chapter 5, “The Development of the Austrian Accent in the EMI Classroom,” contrasts the phonology of German (with particular focus on Austrian German) with that of English (both received pronunciation and General American English are treated within). Phonemes, phonotactic restrictions, and suprasegmental features are all described in order to create a picture of what L1 features are most likely to surface when Austrians learn English. Collating this with the study data, the author breaks down the sorts of pronunciation errors participants made during the reading test, and in how frequent those errors were. The consonant sound [ð] and the diphthong [ei] were found to be particularly troublesome for learners, as was suprasegmental linking such as in the phrase “when_a traveller.”

The sixth chapter, “Conclusion,” summarizes the study and its results, and introduces possible limitations to the study (e.g., a relatively small sample) and makes suggestions for further research in other European tertiary education settings. The author draws implications from the study that, as her study showed clear pronunciation improvements over time, foreign accent should be seen as something whose causal factors extend far beyond mere biological constraints. She asserts that, while the data showed a clear difference between EMI and German-instructed students, the “study environment created by the UAS fosters and promotes incidental pronunciation acquisition although the focus of the EMI and the ESP courses lies elsewhere” (Section 6.4, paragraph 3, ln. 24-25) and may therefore be a model worth exploring for other EMI programs.

EVALUATION

The book’s central topic, the exploration of the impact of EMI on the acquisition of pronunciation skills, is a welcome addition to the body of linguistic research, and the prior absence of focused study on this theme seems strange in retrospect. The study which provides the foundation for the manuscript is well conceived and executed with virtually unassailable methodology. While the book certainly was written with a European (and, in terms of accent analysis, at least, German-speaking, as well) audience in mind, the issues raised regarding phonological development through content (i.e., non-linguistic-focused) courses in an EMI setting are both relevant and interesting far beyond Austria. Considering the rapid proliferation of EMI programs and institutions across the world, the content could be of considerable interest to applied linguists globally.

Literature sections of the manuscript shine as the author takes a thorough-yet-accessible approach. The amount of information presented is voluminous, but Richter does an admirable job of cutting through the research fog in clearly articulating main points and implications. While the manuscript would certainly not function well as an introductory text on any of the issues of language acquisition presented within, I did find myself wanting to recommend sections (esp. Ch. 3) as review texts to students in my linguistics classes as I could readily imagine the author’s clear, concise descriptions and explanations would provide welcome clarification to anyone whose understanding of these hypotheses and theories were shaky or had faded with time.

The writing style, while clear and precise, does suffer from the author’s overreliance on acronyms, which tends to have a markedly negative effect on readability. Fortunately, the author does provide a definition sheet at the beginning, which helps to mitigate the confusion from this issue (note: keeping a bookmark there is highly recommended). The author also intersperses bits of the study methodology, analysis, and results among multiple chapters (which include multiple other topics). This organizational scheme works if one is reading straight through the manuscript, but it would hamper one’s ability to find specific points of information or references after the initial reading. Overall, if the actual research report were consolidated into a unified section in the usual presentational order for methods sections from research studies (i.e., participants, materials, procedures, etc.), such would make it considerably more “academic-reader-friendly,” as well as making the text more useful as an academic reference.

While the overall theme of the central study described in the manuscript is clearly important, and the evidence marshalled well merits to initiate a robust debate over the development of L2 accent, the author may be perceived at times as being overly bold in some of her claims, particularly as concerns the Critical Period Hypothesis. For example, she asserts that the finding of accent improvement by (adult) tertiary students directly contradicts CPH tenets; however, as even the application of CPH to second language acquisition is highly contested, such could readily be considered as a contestable declaration. While there is indeed a robust field of research into the possibility of biological limitations to accent development (which is even reviewed extensively in this manuscript), one would be hard-pressed to find anyone seriously asserting that adult L2 pronunciation cannot ever improve. Ultimately, the issue of pronunciation is so multi-faceted, and learners are so variable, as to virtually preclude projections of ultimate phonological attainment based on something as simple as age.

All in all, the book is well written, highly informative, and of high interest to anyone interested in either EMI research or accent attainment research.

REFERENCES

Krashen, S.D. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Lado, R. (1957) Linguistics across cultures. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press.

Long, M.H. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W.C. Ritchie and T.K. Bhatia (Eds.), Handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 413–468). New York: Academic Press.

Selinker, L. (1969). Language transfer. General Linguistics, 9(2), 67–92.

Swain, M. (1985). Communicative competence: Some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In S.M. Gass and C. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp. 235–253). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wächter, B. and Maiworm, F. (Eds.) (2014). English-taught programmes in European higher education: The state of play in 2014. Bonn: Lemmens.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Clay Williams is an associate professor in the English Language Teaching Practices program in the Graduate School of Global Communication and Language at Akita International University in Japan. His primary areas of research include cross-script effects on L2 literacy development, lexical access in non-alphabetic script reading, and adapting L2 teaching methodologies to East Asian classroom contexts. His latest books include ''Teaching English Reading in the Chinese-speaking World: Building Strategies Across Scripts'' and ''Teaching English in East Asia: A Teacher’s Guide to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Learners.''



Page Updated: 28-Sep-2021