Tag: Native-Speaker

Getting the (Conference Speaker) Balance Right

Getting the (Conference Speaker) Balance Right

There’s been a lot of talk about this recently – getting the balance right. The balance between men and women, between native and non-native speakers at ELT events and conferences. 

I’ve fairly recently joined the committee of an IATEFL SIG. I’m on the events team. So these kinds of ‘balance’ topics are more pertinent to me now than ever. 

This post is not really a ‘How to’: In fact, it’s me just kind of getting my thoughts in order, my pondering on the subject. There might be some tips, but this is definitely a request for more ideas!

So, let’s say we’re going to organise an ELT event. We put out a call for proposals. Various things could happen, and it’s how to deal with these that I want to talk about in this post. 

Scenario 1. We want someone to host a workshop. We review the submissions ‘blind’, i.e. without any information about the potential speaker who has submitted them. Proposal A fits the theme of our event, has a good balance in favour of practical ideas, includes interesting workshop activities, and sounds like it would be a good fit for our event. Proposal B is only loosely connected to the event’s theme, sounds too theoretical for a workshop, and the activities don’t sound like they would fit in the workshop time-slot. I’m guessing we want to accept Proposal A. Right?

And then we find out that the speaker who submitted Proposal A happens to be a white, male native speaker. Proposal B came, let’s just say, from someone who didn’t fit all of those labels. We are keen to avoid all-male or all-native-speaker presenters at our events. Should we accept Proposal B in order to fulfil this aim, and risk providing a less good workshop for our participants? I’m not really in favour of ‘positive discrimination’ in this case if it may endanger the quality of the event.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Contact the person who submitted Proposal B and explain its weaknesses, asking for a re-submission. (This might take time we don’t have. And is it fair?)

– Find another way to include Proposal B, such as a poster presentation, so that the speaker can gain experience, get their voice heard, and hopefully submit a more fitting proposal next time. (If possible…)

– Accept it this time, and keep the person who submitted Proposal B in mind for a future event.

– Extend the deadline in the hope of receiving more proposals. (This might take time we don’t have.)

– In future, provide more specific guidelines for speaker proposals. (This doesn’t solve our immediate problem.)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]

 

Scenario 2: We are looking for 6 speakers for a conference. We receive 5 proposals. All of them are from male native speakers. We could arrange the day to include 5 talks and a panel discussion with those speakers. We are keen to avoid all-male or all-native-speaker presenters at our event, but if we don’t accept all of the 5 proposals, we won’t be able to fill the day.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Extend the deadline in the hope of receiving more proposals. (This might take time we don’t have.)

– Invite late proposals from other (female / non-native) speakers and re-evaluate the selection. (This poses a new set of questions:  Does this seem unfair? Who do you choose to invite a proposal from?)

– Invite other (female / non-native) speakers to take part in the panel discussion. (This poses a new set of questions: Who do you choose to invite? Should it then be an all-female panel – is that ‘positive discrimination’?)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]

 

Scenario 3: We are co-organising an event with a sponsor, e.g. a publishing company. We agree that we will select 5 speakers from the proposals we receive, and they will send 5 speakers (maybe editors, authors, sales reps, etc.). We choose 3 female and 2 male speakers, of whom 3 are native and 2 are non-native speakers. We think we’ve got a pretty good balance. But the sponsoring company decides to send 5 male native speakers to hold talks at the event.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Express our concerns and ask them to send alternative (female / non-native) speakers. (Not sure how well this would go down?)

– Change our speakers so they are all female non-native speakers. (How fair is this on the others we wanted to accept?)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]

From all of this pondering, what have I / we learnt? OK, so I invented the scenarios and plucked the numbers out of thin air, just to make the point. But I think you get what I mean! But, well, sometimes we might just be in a bind and not be able to change he situation. We might end up with a line-up which seems to proliferate the male native-speaker presenter bias among conference speakers /workshop hosts that we want to discourage. People will complain – but maybe they don’t understand the difficult situation we are in. Still, at the very least, we can change how we approach our event organisation in the future. And if we’re planning an event in good time, which most of the time I’d guess we are, we might (should) be able to make that extra effort to move towards a better gender and non-/native speaker balance.

It seems to me, though, that some of the roots of the problem do not lie within the powers of events organisers. For example in Scenario 2 – why do we have so few proposals? Why are none of them from non-native speakers/ women? Perhaps the call for proposals was poorly advertised, not targeted at a wide range of potential speakers? That we could fix. But if lots of people (including women and non-native speakers) saw the call, then why did they not submit a proposal? I’m not the first one to say this, and I surely won’t be the last, but I think there must be reasons why these groups sem to put themselves forward for talks less often than others. Maybe it’s a confidence thing, maybe time or money concerns, or maybe extra-professional issues. Whatever it is, probably one of the most effective ways to avoid scenarios like the ones I invented here would be to somehow help these potential speakers  see themselves as potential speakers. But the ‘How to’ on that topic will have to be another post!

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The Native Factor in ELT Materials

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

On the Materials Design itdi.pro course I’m currently doing, our tutor has prompted us to discuss:

When using an authentic audio or video it is important to use only English native speakers?

For me, the most problematic word here is ‘only‘. (Problem #2: Define ‘native speaker!) And so my answer would be a flat out No.

But that’s not much of a discussion! And so I’ve decided to re-formulate the question a bit, into: When should Non-Native Speakers be used in ELT audio & video materials?

And as with most things ELT… my answer is: It depends! 

And as always, it is important and interesting to look at what it depends on…

256px-CEFR_and_ESOL_examinations_diagram.svgStudents’ language level. Some commentators say that only NS (=Native Speaker) accents should be used with beginner students, as NNS (=Non-Native Speaker) accents can be harder to understand. I can see some value in the point that accents which are deemed harder to understand for a certain group of learners should maybe be introduced once a good level of grammatical and lexical understanding has been achieved and they have been well prepared for the listening task.. But, I think we have to remember that NS also have a huge variety of accents and don’t always speak clearly, so I’m not convinced that ‘hard to understand’ is a NS vs NNS difference….

Language Learning Goals & Motivations. For me, this is the key argument regarding listening comprehension: If the students are learning English (or whatever language, really!) in order to be able to communicate with native speakers, for example moving to live or study in a country where English is the main language spoken, then it makes sense to expose them mainly to NS accents and dialects through audio/video material. If they will mainly be communicating with other NNS, then it is rather more important to expose them to these when training listening skills. Indeed, in today’s globalised society, it is becoming less and less realistic to prepare English learners only to communicate with NS, as something like 75% of all interactions in English are between NNS (see Crystal 2003).

Evaluation_seminar_8063712I believe students should learn by using materials that are authentic for the contexts in which they are going to need to use English. A case from my own experience: I teach EAP, and when I think about preparing students to participate in seminars at a university in the UK or USA, for example (most popular countries among my students), then I definitely need to prepare them for the fast-paced, messy, interrupted, overlapping discussion, which will probably also involve cultural norms of turn-taking, etc. And it seems to me that the best material for this kind of thing would be authentic recordings of speakers in exactly this kind of seminar setting. However; find me a British university seminar that doesn’t include at least one NNS… probably rather rare these days! So really, when I think about it, it’s probably the NS + NNS combination that makes most materials most authentic!

Having said that, simply exposing learners to different accents, dialects or varieties of English will probably not suffice to really help them learn and understand – they will need training in listening out for and understanding differences. Though, again, this is not an NS vs NNS point!

Megaphone-Vector.svgSo far, I’ve mainly been coming at this topic from a focus on listening comprehension. But there is also another factor in this debate; the speech production side. With this in mind, there is the claim that …

Students’ need NS pronunciation model. I’ve recently heard several comments to this effect, and indeed I agree somehow intuitively with the feeling that an NS pronunciation model is better for beginner learners to learn to imitate. But then I do sometimes (when involved in discussions like this) wonder why?

As a basic and overarching goal of any language learning/teaching, I’d take communicative ability and intelligibility. For the sake of the latter, I think maybe learners should not learn to pronounce new vocabulary in their teacher’s accent; if this becomes combined with their own accent, it might render the words incomprehensible to speakers with other L1s! However, several researchers, especially in the area of ELF, have suggested that we shouldn’t necessarily take NS pronunciation/native-speaker-like-ness as the overarching goal of ELT anymore. Still, I do still think that many learners see this as their ultimate goal, and thus it may we what we’re paid for – our job to help them reach it? And besides, the question that then remains for me is How will NNS be mutually intelligible if they’re not taking some kind of vaguely common standard as their starting point? – But maybe I haven’t read enough ELF research to understand this…

(Also, I wonder what the ultimate goal of language learning would be if it’s not to be as competent in the L2  as in our own native language …?)