Leslie Barratt

Dr. Leslie Barratt is Department Chair and Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at Indiana State University. Her research has spanned various areas, including theoretical linguistics, diachronic changes and variation in English, children’s second language acquisition and loss, language teaching, teacher preparation, mentoring, and NNEST issues. Her most recent publications concern World Englishes: Mahboob, A. and L. Barratt (in press) English(es) in a multilingual Context. London: Springer Verlag. Barratt, L. (2012).  “On commoner being more common” in Illes, E. and T. Eitler.Studies in Applied Linguistics in honour of Edit H. Kontra. Budapest: ELTE BTK (ELTE University Press, published by Oxford University Press in cooperation with the British Council in Hungary). Pp.13-16.). Dr. Barratt has received two Fulbright Senior Lectureships (to Hungary and China) and has given numerous papers and workshops in Argentina, Austria, Hungary, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. She has also served as an editorial board member for Asia TEFL Journal and Thai TESOL Bulletin. As a member of TESOL for over 30 years, Dr. Barratt has been actively involved in the organization, particularly in the international conference, where she has mentored job seekers, first timers & new members.  She has been an Associate Conference Program Chair four times and will be the Conference Program Chair for TESOL’s 50th Anniversary (2016) Conference in Baltimore. | October Interviewer: Shu-Chun Tseng

1. Could you tell us your linguistic, educational and professional background?

I was born during the baby boom after World War II in a New Jersey suburb of New York City where the homes were just being built and sold to people from many different backgrounds, including quite a few recent European immigrants, so I grew up hearing English spoken by adults with a variety of accents on my street and in my own family and felt early on that understanding and respecting them was my responsibility.

In high school during the 1960s, when the audiolingual method was in fashion, I took three years of Russian and then spent a year as an American field Service Exchange Student in Flemish-speaking Belgium, where I learned Flemish by immersion. After that, I attended Beloit College, where I discovered the field of linguistics and was able to complete an individualized major in it along with courses in Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Old Church Slavic, Latin, and Hungarian. I then moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the Ph.D. program in historical Indo-European linguistics, where I took Ancient Greek, Hittite, Sanskrit, German, and Latvian along with classes in linguistics and TESL. My professor for TESL, Cala Shields, introduced me to TESOL conferences.

At this point I was 22 years old and felt too young and inexperienced to finish a Ph.D. and somewhat at a loss as to how I would use it, so I left Madison with their newly approved Master’s degree.  I decided to take time off and do a second Master’s degree in Elementary Education at Northwest Missouri State University, where I spent two years teaching English and math in the Horace Mann Laboratory School while I earned that MS. This school had the open classroom concept popular in the US in the 1970s, and the school served both children of faculty members and children from the lowest socio-economic neighborhood. I learned a great deal about classroom management, learning, teaching, and myself.

Just as the US was experiencing the influx of large numbers of Vietnamese and other refugees from Cambodia and Laos, I returned to a Ph.D. program, this time at The University of Iowa, where I found myself studying both linguistics and TESL, being a teaching assistant in linguistics classes, teaching the full variety of ESL classes, and coordinating Iowa’s intensive ESL program for a year.

I came to Indiana State University in 1980 and have remained here throughout my career except for my sabbaticals: 1987-1988 -Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the Technical University of Budapest, 1995-1996 – Fulbright Senior Lecturer at Beijing Foreign Studies University, and 2004 – TESL work in Turkmenistan, China, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Argentina, and Brazil. Although I am now the chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, I continue to teach undergraduate, Master’s and Ph.D. students and to co-chair dissertation committees.

Like my studies, my research has spanned various areas from my first undergraduate study of what professors at Beloit College wanted students to call them and my first publication on the phonology of Guaraní to children’s second language acquisition, comparative color terminology, on-going changes within US English, and advocacy and strategies for NNEST equity.

2. Please share with us what sparked your interests in actively participating in the NNEST Interest Section as a role of native English speakers.

As a lifelong learner of languages and cultures, I have learned from many kinds of teachers, whose nativeness was irrelevant (not just in the ancient languages!).  Every new language I have taken has sparked within me a deep desire to understand it better, but I am a non-native speaker of all of those other languages and of every other language of the more than 6000 that exist, so I identify myself more as a non-native speaker of other languages than as a native speaker of English.

Furthermore, the classification by nativeness, as many have written, is extremely problematic in many aspects, starting with who identifies a person as a native speaker and what criteria can be used: place of birth, place of childhood, place of education, etc. all have weaknesses. Too often, the nativeness is inferred by the person’s physical appearance rather than his/her language production.

As someone who tries to live with equity in everything I do, I feel compelled to advocate for NNESTs; my belief that the best teachers are learners themselves who want to be in a multilingual community led me to join the NNEST Caucus (now Interest Section) many years ago.

3. You are currently a chairperson of Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics. Based on my understanding, there are several international students from different countries enrolled in your linguistics/TESL programs every year. What are the challenges you have observed that these international students may face after arriving and studying in the United States? How would you suggest they overcome these challenges?

We have about 40 students from about ten countries in our Master’s program at any given time.  Many of them experience loneliness and culture shock as they are confronted with the reality of US culture rather than their pre-conceived ideas about it.  Those who have taught EFL or have been professionals in their home country face the added challenge of being students or, as Tseng (2011) points out, the changing identity from being an EFL teacher to being an NNEST in an MA/TESOL program.

These challenges can be overcome once they are recognized, but the first step is to recognize that the challenges of living in a new country are both natural and desirable as they lead to growth. I expect to feel completely lost for the first six weeks in a new country and to have experiences later on in which I am totally confused.  After all, when it feels like home, I am not learning anything new.  In fact, after the telephone in my apartment was confiscated from me in Hungary in 1987, I learned much more than any of my Hungarian friends knew about how the Hungarian system of telephone assignment worked in those years before cell phones (that phones could not be transferred to new locations or new tenants) and why my Hungarian friends waited so long for telephones (that they were basically waiting for existing phone lines from people moving or dying).  When I hear international students talk about their challenges, I try to encourage them to focus on the cultural lessons these challenges will teach them.

4. With such a diverse group in the department, how do you develop positive atmosphere within the departments and a community of NES/NNES prospective teachers?

I think a positive atmosphere is the result of people feeling connected. About ten years ago, I started having current students email students who had been admitted to answer their questions.  Once students arrive on campus, I put them into Mentoring groups of 3-4 students from different countries and give the groups required community building and professional tasks each semester.  I host graduation parties which all graduate students are invited to so that those just beginning can see that their goals are obtainable.

With regard to the issue of NNS and NNES attitudes, I make a point to hire the best teachers for every language, regardless of their nativeness.  This semester we have Spanish instructors from Columbia, Mexico, and the US; French instructors from Belgium, France, Senegal, and the US; German instructors from Germany, Belgium, and the US; and ESL instructors from Korea, Morocco, Syria, Russia, and the US. If ESL students complain that they came to the US to be taught by US English speakers, I point out the advantages of the NNEST and refuse to switch them.  In our methods classes, we do a great many awareness-raising activities (most of which are published in Barratt 2011) so that our graduates can argue for NNEST equity.

5. As a chairperson and an active TESOL member, how do you usually encourage your non-native English-speaking students to continue their professional development while enrolled in the program and after graduating from the program?

I encourage all of the students in our program to consider their professional development throughout the program.  From their orientation and first class, we discuss their current professionalism as leading to their future professionalism.  They must dress professionally in all class presentations,  attend our affiliate conference, INTESOL, and consider attending ‘big’ TESOL.  I register all those attending with the student group early registration process to encourage them to go, and those who do attend discuss what they gained from the conference in classes after they return.

In preparation for graduation, both undergraduates and graduates work on their CVs/resumes and do mock interviews in class, and we discuss job searches and TESOL’s Job MarketPlace and other career resources.  These discussions include cultural differences in resumes, interviews, and other aspects of the job search.

Finally, I try to keep in touch with graduates of the program (now over 170 of them), to encourage them to be active in professional organizations, and to keep in touch. I started hosting an annual “Indiana party” at TESOL back in 1998, and I enjoy seeing those that can make it each year, attending presentations by current and past students, and supporting them throughout their developing careers.

6. As a senior teacher in the teacher preparation programs, have you observed any substantial generational changes in the cultures you encountered? If yes, what are they and how do these changes affect your teaching strategies?

Many of my colleagues talk about generational changes in cultures, and I have seen some of these.  For instance, the classroom culture I saw when I taught in China in the 1990s has changed to a more communicative one. My own research has found that some of the changes US English is undergoing are generational (e.g. Barratt 2006).  However, not all of the changes are generational; sometimes language changes spread among both older and younger speakers (see Sankoff, et al. (2001), for example).

I think we often overgeneralize about the generational changes in learning/teaching, such as that the current students read less or are more computer savvy.  In fact, I think young people read a great deal, but they now probably read Facebook entries, text messages, and Blogs rather than the printed morning newspaper.  But that’s not just young people; those of us in our sixties are also reading Facebook and Blogs instead of printed materials. Likewise, I am not convinced that all current students are more computer literate than those of us who are older because, while young people play all kinds of online games and can use touchscreens better than I can, I find it common that young people cannot navigate online libraries or conduct Boolean searches, so they find only a fraction of the resources on a given topic. I have often had to give a quick lesson on how to use PowerPoint to my students, who are mostly in their twenties or thirties.

7. With the role of being a wife, mother, teacher, chairperson, and active leader in the TESOL organization, how did you find time to accomplish all of your responsibilities? What are your suggestions to encourage new teachers and researchers to develop their time management skills?

I think having multiple people depend on me has made me develop time management skills.  I noticed this most after my first child was born because I always had to know who would be with her, so I couldn’t work even ten minutes longer if I was responsible for picking her up at daycare.  That kind of pressure gave me much more efficient work habits and the ability to make every minute count. One strategy I use is to make lists.  These used to be on paper: shopping lists, task lists, etc.  Nowadays, I keep my task list on my online calendar so that I can check it from anywhere.  I break up tasks into smaller pieces so that I can accomplish them in short spurts.  This interview, for example, is being answered one question (or even a part of a question) at a time.

8. You have learned several languages and traveled to several countries. What have you enjoyed, so far, through learning different languages and visiting these countries?

Learning languages and cultures is my life; it is my way to broaden my understanding of what it is to be human.  After all, I could have been born in another country and grown up there.  Obviously, people in every country have figured out a way to eat, sleep, dress, speak, and get along with their family and friends, so I am always interested in knowing how to be a person of that country, culture, and language.  I am happiest when I am in a new culture and language because I have to rethink even the most basic actions in a totally new way, such as how to cross a busy street or how to use a bathroom. My only problem is that life is too short to get to know all of the countries, cultures, and languages.


Barratt, L. (2010). “Strategies to Prepare Teachers Equally for Equity” in Non-native English Speakers in TESOL: A Resource Book, edited by Ahmar Mahboob, Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 180-201.

Barratt, L. (2006). “What Speakers Don’t Notice: Language Changes Can Sneak In,” online refereed publication in TRANS 16: http://www.inst.at/trans/16Nr/inhalt16.htm.

Labov, W. (2007). “Transmission and Diffusion” in Language 83(2), 344-387.

Sankoff, Gillian, Hélèneblondeau And Annecharity. (2001). Individual roles in a real-time change: Montreal 1947-1995. ‘r-atics: Sociolinguistic, phonetic and phonological characteristics of /r/.  van de Velde, H. & van Hout, R. (eds.), 141-158. Etudes & Travaux 4. Cited from Labov (2007).

Tseng, S. C. (2011). Understanding NNESTs’ Identity Construction and Transformation in the English-Speaking Community: A Closer Look at Past, Present, and Future. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Indiana State Univesity, Terre Haute.

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About Ana Solano

Ana is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Ana holds degrees in Applied Linguistics, TEFL, and TESOL and taught EFL/ESL for many years. She is interested in qualitative, interdisciplinary, and comparative perspectives to the education of bilingual/multilingual immigrant and refugee children in top migrant destination countries.

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