Reace: Welcome back to Magnolia On Mic. I’m Reace and we are here with John Liang. Nice to meet you. So I’m gonna have you introduce yourself ,your name, where you came from before coming to Shanghai as well as your current department. 

John: Okay. My name is John Liang. People sometimes call me John Liang because they don’t know how to pronounce my last name in a Chinese way, which is fine. 

John: John Leong or John Liang. That’s fine. Before I came to Shanghai, I lived in Los Angeles. I’m a Chinese American. And, so I’ve been living in the U. S. for about 31 years. So, and I came here to join NYU Shanghai, as a director of the TESOL program over here. So. 

Reace: Awesome. So on the note of that TESOL program, I did read that you had prior experience with a previous college, Biola. Is that correct? Biola University. How has that experience led to your, whether it be curriculum changes or just how you’re improving the TESOL program in NYU? 

John: Wow, this is a great question. I’ve been thinking about that actually ever since I arrived, maybe even actually before I joined NYU Shanghai. 

John: Well, I was a professor of TESOL at Biola University. I joined the university back in 2001. So , before I came to NYU Shanghai , I taught there for about 20, 22 years. And yes, there’s a lot going on, going on in my mind right now. The curriculum here is pretty well established already. But I was thinking that, I’ll say that. 

John: Well, first thing is that I need to learn more about the context. I’m very much familiar with the North American context. And so but here the sheer majority of students are teaching in in the Chinese K 12 settings. Some of them are teaching in the private school setting. , other students are teaching in the public school settings. 

John: And still others are teaching in the the test prep. , programs. So they have a diverse range of needs that are quite different than the needs of my former students back in the U. S. And so, before I make any changes, actually, I need to first find out what their needs are, and then We’ll make any changes in collaboration with my other colleagues, back at NYU in New York City. 

John: So it’s a joint program. It’s not just a, you know, a standalone program here in Shanghai. So yes, we’ve been thinking about, you know, how to revamp maybe some of the classes or maybe even the content. But yes, that’s been on my mind. So. That’s good. 

Reace: Yeah. And then on that note, also just a little expansion.

Reace: Do you work with both the native English speakers as well as the second language English speakers, especially being in NYU Shanghai, many are nationals, second language being English, and many internationals where it might be their first language, second language, possibly even third or fourth language. 

Reace: Is that also kind of part of your enhancement into TESOL or are you more focused in the English aspect? 

John: You mean over here in Shanghai? Yeah. , well currently the sheer majority are Chinese nationals. I looked at the history and then we did have some global students. For example, students from North America. 

John: And so this would be mostly, I would say mostly about teaching English. to speakers of Chinese in China. And so that would be the contextI definitely would love to have students from other countries. Actually that’s one of my dreams. I’m hoping that the TESOL program here can become truly global. 

John: As it was, you know, designed to be. And so, yes, definitely. , but for now, of course, you know, the focus would be more on teaching English to speakers of Chinese here. And, in fact, even for students who are coming here to get a degree, even for the the expats from North America. I looked at the history and the records that they actually are teachers. 

John: They’re teaching here in China. And so helping them understand how to teach English to Chinese speakers is going to be my primary focus. So, yeah, different than the students I had back in California, you know, those students were trained to teach English everywhere, you know, worldwide. So here I would have a much narrower focus, so. 

Reace:Yeah, understood. And along that note, also with you kind of focusing more on teaching the teachers how to teach Chinese speakers English. Yeah. You previously had, I believe, a collaboration for… , the digital world and its influence on language learning or second language learning. How do you believe that will help teachers teach a second language with the use of digital media or video representation? 

Reace: Whereas they might not need to be exactly fluent or pronunciation wise, they can kind of rely on that also to help them. 

John: Over here, so, in other words How am I going to teach, you know, or train teachers to use technology right here? , actually here in Shanghai, you would be surprised that I found that my students actually are a lot more tech savvy than I am.

John: And so maybe in a sense I have to learn from them, you know, especially the, the, well, let’s say in the U. S., yes, of course, I mean I’ve been doing that. One of the classes I taught was technology. for enhanced language learning and teaching. But over here because of a different cultural context, right? 

John: So the technology tools will be somewhat different. So I need to find out which ones would work in this context, right? And so, I need to first find out, you know, which ones would work. And then start from there. And definitely, yes , Digital tools will help tremendously. For example, let’s say videos. 

John: Digital videos can be used to enhance their listening comprehension , pronunciation , and even, for example, oral presentation as well. And so, let’s say for example, right, there are dubbing apps on the phone. Imagine that if you extract a stream of video, let’s say 15 seconds, and then you want students to learn how to speak English in, let’s say in typical English, right? 

John: And you can imitate the way that the characters in a movie or soap opera, you know, and you can imitate the way they pronounce words, right? You can also have students, you know, pay attention to the vocabulary and language expressions that I used in the video. And so you can also practice learning how to speak English accurately using typical and idiomatic expressions. 

John: You can also use these dubbing apps, right, to create your own conversations. And you can also practice learning how to express your thoughts appropriately, so you’re not simply just learning to speak correct English, but you want to speak proper and polite English. So there are different ways to do it, you know, so that’s one kind I found that I can use. 

John: And , for more advanced students, for example, I mean there’s Zoom, right? And Zoom has a great feature that allows you to do screen recording. So imagine that you want students to learn to become good speaker. And they can first, of course, develop a script. And then they can actually, you know, record themselves speaking, like a TikTok speaker, right? 

John: A presenter. But in so doing, they will have to integrate, for example, reading, with writing, with speaking. And they’ll be able to develop their skills, you know, holistically. So, I mean You just asked me a question that I have to think really, really in depth as well, but yes, there are, there are ways to do that. 

John: And so that’s one thing to do, you know, in Shanghai and also in places in China where technology is widely accessible. Yes, but there are also places in China that that where people do not have the privilege to have access to technology, right? So. We may have to revert back to the low tech.

John: How do you teach English using a blackboard? Or maybe even without a blackboard. Imagine that. I was thinking, for example, like, what if you go to a remote area, right? A rural village in the mountains, right? And then there’s no blackboard, maybe. Well, there’s one, but then it’s not black enough to be a blackboard. 

John: How about teaching English using a sandbox? That’s a little tech, right? Yeah. And so , that’s something I’m also, I’ve been thinking about, you know, how do we perhaps, you know, prepare teachers, especially those who want to serve in the underprivileged areas or regions. So, but anyway, just some of my thoughts, you know, 

Reace: yeah, they’re very good ones. 

Reace: That’s that especially with people from very different backgrounds, teaching very different levels. of whether it be English or maybe even Chinese at that point. And with that challenge, there may also be the challenge of accents. So, how do you kind of… , pursue that challenge of maybe somebody has a different English accent than another. 

John: yes, yes, yes. This is actually a, I would say a complicated issue, actually. It’s not, it’s more than just a phonological issue. It is also concerned with the perceived identity of the learner. And , so in our second language acquisition literature, for example, there are two important concepts. , integrative motivation and instrumental motivation. 

John: So maybe you should just take my SLA class to learn about these concepts. But anyway, and so if, if a student, if a student has very strong integrative motivation they want to become a member of the target language community, which is English. Now, if they truly want to do that, then they are likely to devote more of their efforts and time and resources to eventually to practice pronunciation, to speak like American or like a British , or an Englishman. 

John: I mean, you know, or British, someone from Britain, right? , if a student is instrumentally motivated, which means that they are taking the English classes just to, for example, to pass exam, They don’t, they won’t spend time. They won’t be really willing to spend time improving their pronunciation. And , and so I think the first issue would be to encourage our students to explore their identity first. 

John: And so, for example, for example if, I mean they, not everyone is going to become a member of the, let’s say, American or English community, right? And speak to the community. But what if, let’s say, we connect English language learning to their future scholarly or professional development? And they want to become part of the professional community.

John: Then being able to speak clear English, not necessarily in American accent or British accent, right? , they speak English with, you know, clearly. Then , that might be one way to do it, you know? Because English, after all, is an international language. And so, perhaps, you know, helping students explore that type of identity is a lot more important before we engage them in painful accent reduction or pronunciation practice. 

John: So, yeah, that’s just my perception. I’m not sure if other people might agree with me, but that’s just one way to do it, you know. Yeah, 

Reace: it’s a very understanding and kind of basic level of understanding for people who are learning a language. 

John: They need to be internally motivated in order to really engage in pronunciation practice. 

John: Now, for example, take my students back in the U. S., for example. We have students from diverse backgrounds. We have students from African American background, Hispanic background, right? We actually discussed that issue in our classes, and some students from an ethnic background purposely want to keep that accent, because it’s their identity. 

John: And so, back over here, you know, again, it depends on how students perceive them, right? Perceive themselves. Maybe some of them want to keep their Chinese accent. I don’t know. But for those who want to truly engage in their in the professional community in the future, then they would be more than willing to engage in accent reduction or you know, pronounced focused pronunciation practices. So. 

Reace: Yeah, and within those focused pronunciation practices, I know personally I have a Chinese national friend I believe she’s from Guangdong, and she struggles with in Chinese she doesn’t have a lisp, however in English she has a lisp and I’ve heard that kind of A lot or more often due to having to retrain the muscles and get them to say different vowels. 

Reace: Yes. Yes. Is that kind of something that is a struggle that you also have to maybe change a curriculum or make special adornments to, to kind of help them process the language more? 

John: Okay. I see that. , what you refer to is what we call the place, the place of articulation, you know, because different sounds can be pronounced in different, you know, places in our mouths.

John: Yes, that, that, like I said, it’s a painful process. And it first, well, the first thing is, of course, they need to be motivated to do that, right? So if that gets resolved, then the next thing is to help them develop an ability to perceive the sounds. So we’re in, where in the mouth those sounds are pronounced, right? 

John: That’s called articulation. Now, that is going to be challenging to some extent. , in the, in our, in our second language acquisition literature, we talk about a critical hypo sorry, a critical period. And Research, research, research, sorry, research suggests that when someone gets older than 17 years old, the muscles already are fossilized, maybe, and it’s just hard to actually change that. 

John: But it’s not always the case. See, I actually picked up English, American accents, at the age of 22. So I broke the hypothesis. Oh, that’s why it’s called critical period hypothesis, right? And so it would take a lot of efforts and the first would be noticing and you have to be intentionally you had to be intentional in, in, in, in hearing the sounds and identifying the sounds. 

John: So for example I used to mess with the sound A versus eh. So, like, for example, what’s your name? Right? I would say, what’s your name? Without realizing that I was saying, what’s your name? , that was back in the U. S. actually. , and then until one day, one of my American classmates came to me and said, John, I’ve been… 

John: I’m trying to put up with that, but I can’t anymore. So John say name, not Nam. See, I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t even aware of that. Right. Until one of my classmates came to me and say, John, you know, make sure it’s name, not Nam. So to see that involves what involves perception. Do you perceive that sound to be different? 

John: And so of course you know, technology or focused practice will help do that. But then the next thing would be, can you sustain, can you sustain in your noticing? Like you’re always paying conscious attention to it. , and that actually would require determination. And consciousness as well. 

John: And so, ever since then, right? I’ve been paying attention to the way I pronounce the words that contain the A sound. But sometimes I found myself, you know, relaxed, you know, saying things in a relaxed way. I would mess up the sounds again, right? So, it would, it would, it would really depend on how much attention you might get. 

John: But again, of course the perception of the sound would be important. Let’s try another sound for example. In college before I decided to go to the U. S. for grad studies, I actually

focused on studying British English. And so, for example, see the word cold, right? See cold, cold is American English. 

John: Cold! It is British English, right? So you say, Oh no, it’s cold. Oh no, it’s cold. Right. See, they’re very different. Right. And when I switched to the American accents, I didn’t realize that I had been pronouncing cold versus rather than cold, right. Until one day again, one of my American classmates was saying, John say cold. 

John: See again. Perceiving the sound is very important and so, and then of course we require attention and intention and efforts. On the last point it still goes back to the very last question, the very ultimate question, why? You know, why do we need to correct your accent, right? , and so again, they’re the motivation, right? 

John: So if they, if students are able to recognize the, the importance of being a member of the professional or academic community 

John: Other than that, it’s going to be very difficult. So I somewhat hold a pessimistic, pessimistic, sorry. 

Reace: You answered a lot of questions in that one that I hadn’t really thought of prior to this, actually. And on that note, I had one last question for you, and that was more this is more your own regard, so what you want to talk about I know you have specific fields of practice as far as within TESOL is there anything within that that you want to bring to NYU Shanghai that we don’t already have, or any particular interests that you want to talk about here? 

John: Wow, that’s, didn’t think about that. I’m, to be frank with you, I’m so narrowly focused on program development right now. So maybe I can start from there. And so I’m thinking that one thing I’m thinking about is how to prepare our students for the real world challenges out there. 

John: So of course NYU degree is good, right? , but then it’s, I’ve been thinking about it. What makes our program stand out is not just there’s an NYU degree, it should be about what our students can do to develop, develop a successful career and also what they can do to also serve the community as well. 

John: And so one thing we think about is, for example, how to help students actively pursue professional development while they are in, In the graduate study graduate programs or in our graduate program. And then as they engage in professional development, for example, through conference presentations or through learning how to conduct workshops, they should develop a heart to serve the community.

John: So how can you help, for example? It’s for your fellow teachers to develop expertise in teaching English. So that they can see that when they develop themselves professionally, it’s not just for their own personal or professional gains, it’s also for the gains of the much larger community. So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, you know, how would I design assignments and projects that would prompt them to do that. 

John: So. professional development and also the heart to serve the community. Awesome. 

Reace: I love the insight into the future of NYU Shanghai as well as the future of teachers and students and graduates and even just further through life. Yeah. , that’s all I’ve prepared for you today. Oh, okay. Yeah. So if there’s anything else you want to add. 

John: No, I can’t think of anything else right now, but maybe sometime in the future I can also interview again. Maybe I have, maybe a year from now, so maybe I’ll have some new insights and then maybe I can do another one. Yeah, of course. 

Reace: All righty, well that’s it for Magnolia On Mic. Thank you again. 

John: Thank you so much for the invitation and I enjoy this very much.