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Stony Brook University Begins Innovative Study of Communication Between Native And Non-Native English Speakers In The Classroom
University Awarded Unprecedented NSF Grant in the Social and Behavioral Sciences
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Members of the Multilingual and Intercultural Communication Center: Agnes He, Jiwon Hwang, Marie Huffman and Ellen Broselow  (Not pictured: Prof. Susan Brennan and Prof. Arthur Samuel)

STONY BROOK, NY, September 2, 2015 – A major issue on college campuses is that American undergraduates report that they have difficulty understanding the non-native English speaking instructors who teach sections of their introductory courses.  Now, thanks to a $1M National Science Foundation grant, a new study called Communication in the Global University: A Longitudinal Study of Language Adaptation at Multiple Timescales in Native- and Non-Native Speakers at Stony Brook University will address this issue. Researchers in the Psychology, Linguistics, and Asian & Asian-American Studies Departments in the College of Arts and Sciences will look at communication between native English-speaking undergraduates and non-native English-speaking international PhD students newly arrived in the US, who serve as International Teaching Assistants (ITAs).

The new grant supports basic research about communication between native and non-native English speakers that may be directly applicable to enhancing communication in college classrooms, and more broadly, to any situation in which native and non-native speakers communicate.  The rise of English as a global language has made interactions between native and non-native speakers of English increasingly widespread at a time when success in science, technology, engineering, and math-related (STEM) careers depends upon such communication. The research will provide an unprecedented opportunity for scientists to examine long-term effects in foreign language learning, understanding, and the development of communicative strategies. 

Dr. Jiwon Hwang, Stony Brook Research Assistant Professor in Psychology and Lecturer in Asian & Asian-American Studies, who is Principal Investigator on the study, said, “This project is unique because it will observe actual students interacting with their foreign teaching assistants in a real world situation. It will help enhance our current understanding of communication successes, failures and patterns, providing deep insights into how communication can be improved.”

The study will include Stony Brook University international graduate student teaching assistants (ITAs) who are newly arrived in the US, from China and other countries for whom English is not the native language, and the native-English-speaking undergraduate students with whom they interact.  The work aims to measure the changes over time in both parties, uncovering the factors that lead ITAs to improve their English skills over a 2 year period, as well as the factors that lead undergraduates to adapt to foreign-accented speech.

The project will be conducted through Stony Brook’s new interdisciplinary Multilingual and Intercultural Communication (MIC) Center; the actual observation and data collection will take place in math and science classes as well as in Psychology and Linguistics laboratories on campus.

Stony Brook Professor of Psychology Susan Brennan led the winning grant-writing team. Stony Brook collaborators on the project include: Arthur Samuel, Professor of Psychology; Agnes He, Professor of Asian Studies; Ellen Broselow, Professor of Linguistics; and Marie Huffman, Professor of Linguistics.

About Stony Brook University

 Part of the State University of New York system, Stony Brook University encompasses 200 buildings on 1,450 acres. Since welcoming its first incoming class in 1957, the University has grown tremendously, now with more than 24,600 students and 2,500 faculty. Its membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 40 public universities in the nation and Kiplinger named it one of the 35 best values in public colleges. One of four University Center campuses in the SUNY system, Stony Brook co-manages Brookhaven National Laboratory, putting it in an elite group of universities that run federal research and development laboratories. Stony Brook is ranked in the top 1 percent of the world’s higher education institutions by the  Times Higher Education World University Rankings . It is one of only 10 universities nationwide recognized by the National Science Foundation for combining research with undergraduate education. As the largest single-site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook is a driving force of the regional economy, with an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion, generating nearly 60,000 jobs, and accounts for nearly 4 percent of all economic activity in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and roughly 7.5 percent of total jobs in Suffolk County.

 

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