Daisuke Kimura is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Linguistics at Pennsylvania State University. Having learned, used, and taught English in various international contexts, he now explores the global spread of English and its interaction with other linguistic and ecological resources as a teacher and researcher.
Interviewed by: Hami Suzuki
1. Thank you very much for joining us on the NNEST Blog, Daisuke. Could you tell us about your educational and professional background and what led you to become a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University? What is your main specialty and main area of research?
I am interested in the interplay between English and multilingualism in the context of contemporary globalization and the changing landscape of international higher education. Currently, I approach this topic primarily through the lens of conversation analysis because it allows me to examine how multilingual users of English might achieve shared understandings even without a shared language variety. My interest in this topic originates from my own experience of learning English in Thailand in my sophomore year of college. Having had little experience of using English outside the classroom, I used to view the English language as the only tool needed for intercultural communication; therefore, my only goal during the first few weeks was to improve my English. However, being exposed to the local linguistic ecology, I soon realized that it was beneficial to learn Thai as well for pragmatic reasons. Over the course of a year in Thailand, I gradually acquired the ability to communicate in a dynamic and adaptive manner in accordance with the immediate context and the interlocutor. My everyday interactions in Thailand were always hybrid, involving not just English, Japanese, or Thai alone, but multiple languages and modalities simultaneously at play. My experience in Thailand raised my interest in how multilingual speakers of English communicate using a range of semiotic resources, which, as a result, drove me to pursue graduate studies. I particularly chose the department of Applied Linguistics at Penn State (and the department generously accepted me!) because the faculty includes internationally renowned scholars of English as a lingua franca, multilingualism, conversation analysis, and study abroad—a perfect mix of expertise to draw on in pursuing my interest.
2. You have taught a speaking class for international teaching assistants. What were some specific techniques or topics you focused on in your classes?
One thing I emphasize whenever I teach this course is the notion of audience awareness because communicative success essentially means gaining the desired uptake from one’s intended audience. While language pedagogies have traditionally regarded native speakers as the ultimate goal, I believe focusing on audience awareness is more realistic and empowering, especially for advanced learners like my students. It is realistic because one has only a limited amount of time to spend on language learning, and insisting on becoming “native-like” may not be feasible. It is empowering because audience awareness is relevant to both non-native AND native speakers. Each context and audience give rise to different constraints and affordances. Thus, regardless of the L1 background, we all have to change the way of communication depending on the audience. When I teach international teaching assistants, I always tell them, “You are taking this course not because you are a nonnative speaker, but because you need to learn how to interact with your particular audience, i.e., undergraduate students in the U.S. classroom.” To translate this idea into practice, we watch and critique a lot of video-recorded classroom interaction from various disciplines, featuring both native and non-native instructors. Also, as required by the curriculum, I assign four micro-teaching tasks focused on particular teaching genres, such as monologic teaching and office hour interaction. Through these and other activities, I try to make my students feel comfortable with the linguistic resources they already have and improve their ability to mobilize those resources for particular purposes.
3. As an NNES instructor, how do you think you can help students in your class to develop intercultural competence, promote cross-cultural sensitivity, awareness, and understanding?
I think ESL classroom is a great place to develop intercultural competence, especially when the teacher and students come from diverse cultural backgrounds. As an NNES instructor, I often share my own reflections on how I reacted to the cultural differences between Japan, U.S., and Thailand as a fellow international student and encourage my students to do the same. Beyond the national culture, we often have intriguing discussions on disciplinary cultural differences. Since we represent diverse disciplinary backgrounds (e.g., Applied Linguistics, Mechanical Engineering, Political Science, and Bioinformatics), it is always interesting to share and learn about each other’s academic experience, as regards typical teaching styles, examinations, and publication requirements, etc.
4. In your dissertation proposal, you mention the importance of the ability to negotiate linguistic and cultural difference for both L1 and L2 speakers of English, and also state that studying non-inner circle contexts may provide valuable insights to both groups. Within this framework, how do you conceptualize individuals who are not “from” the inner circle, but who also identify as L1 English speakers and/or use it as a primary language of communication in their daily lives? In particular, I am thinking of individuals from the “outer” circle, including from South Africa, India, and Liberia.
While it has proven useful in describing my research context, the idea of dividing up the world and its nations into three circles presents certain limitations, especially in the context of contemporary globalization. First, the idea tacitly assumes that each nation has a distinct and homogenous variety of English. Second and related to the previous point, it does not account for how one might change his/her ways of communicating depending on the audience and context. Third, it does not sufficiently entertain the increased mobility of people across the globe, which intensifies language contact and change. As scholars, like Canagarajah and Blommaert, have argued, to adequately understand language in globalization, we, as teachers and researchers, need to move beyond the variationist perspective and consider language as mobile semiotic resources that can be put together for particular purposes and audiences. While language norms and conventions still play a role in many contexts, they are largely negotiable and by no means omnirelevant. In fact, ELF research has shown that a native speaker who insists on one’s communicative norms are at a serious disadvantage in international business and education because they are not understood by their non-native interlocutors. Communication is a two-way street, and thus all parties involved need to work hard to achieve desired outcomes. In this sense, I see no difference between inner and outer circle speakers who may identify themselves as L1 speakers. One can self-identify as anything he/she wants (e.g., L1, L2, and ELF speaker), but I think what matters more is the ability and openness to accept linguistic and cultural differences, adjust his/her style of communication, and even incorporate other linguistic and multimodal resources for local purposes.
5. A follow up to question #4 — to what extent have you observed that race affects an individual’s perceived nativeness or non-nativeness?
It think race DOES matter because we are all ideological beings. I have to admit that even though NNESTs are widely accepted in recent years and I have read a lot of research on distinct contributions of NNEST, when I have a white student from Europe (with a “British accent”), I sometimes feel unsure of my legitimacy as an English teacher. So, race for sure affects an individual’s perceived nativeness, especially for those who are not familiar with the native-nonnative debates in applied linguistics. However, it is crucial to remind ourselves and others about the importance of audience awareness because nativeness (whether it is perceived or real) in and of itself does not guarantee communicative and professional success.
6. What were some critiques that your students made regarding the video-recorded classroom interactions that were eye-opening for you?
I find it fascinating when my students are able to make critical comments on how NS instructors use English to teach. For instance, when I showed a video clip of a math lecture, some of my students commented, “he uses too many “okay?” and it is very confusing.” I think comments like this reflect students’ ability to think beyond the NS-NNS dichotomy. Rather than the idealized native-speaker competence, my students are concerned with certain qualities that make an effective communicator/teacher. Equally eye-opening is when my students have divergent opinions on the communicative effectiveness of instructors in video clips. In my experience, such divergence is often related to the amount of background knowledge students have in a given topic; the more knowledgeable the student is about the topic, the more highly he/she will rate the instructor. I try to turn these moments of divergence into opportunities to discuss the notion of audience awareness, as I delineated earlier.
7. Could you tell us about your own process of identity construction while pursing your graduate studies in the U.S.? Did previous exposure and experience of learning English in Thailand help you adjust to the program in a different way than others?
I think my experience in Thailand has helped to a large extent. Many of the professors in my department hold practice-oriented perspectives on language learning and use, which has a lot of resonance with my learning and using English in Thailand. The resonance has helped me relate myself closely to theoretical discussions in classes. However, experience in Thailand is just one of many factors. All of my academic and personal experiences (e.g., working at a hotel in Japan, teaching Japanese in Kentucky, completing an MA in Second Language Studies, learning Chinese at Penn State, etc.) have important bearings on my identity and learning. The same is true for everyone. All of the students in the program have very unique experiences of learning and using languages in diverse contexts. So, I don’t know if my experience is any more unique than others, but certainly helpful.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions, Daisuke!