The University of Bristol is pioneering research into how communication is affected in the use of English as a second language, by speech factors such as accent, in order to improve the understanding of how to teach English effectively. The University’s student population is 13% International students; a significant percentage which shows the growing necessity for this kind of research development. The centre for this research is the Second Language Speech lab, which is located just behind 4 Priory Road in Clifton.
This language lab is unique within Europe, in terms of its large and growing network of research students, participating in collaborative speech tasks. The data collected is particularly rich and diverse, as it includes an expansive selection of participants from various different first-language backgrounds. With a four-year €100,000 fund provided by the European Commission, the Second Language Speech Lab is equipped with state of the art audio-technology. This supplies professional quality speech samples for analysis and research into the production and perception of speech.
The aim of this is to better understand how to train non-native speakers, and improve methods of teaching English, with a focus on achieving successful conversation. This is invaluable in enriching student’s university lives, which in turn will help in their future careers. Dr Talia Isaacs, Director of the Second Language Speech Lab remarks that:
“Improving oral communication skills for non-native English speakers will help with many aspects of everyday life – from success in the workplace and in education to improving social integration and accessing vital services.”
Hopefully this communication-focused research can also be applied to the teaching of foreign languages in UK schools, where there is an often criticised focus on textbooks and memorising of grammar rules and vocabulary. This approach tends to result in students inability to put into practice in order to hold a conversation.
The Second Language Speech lab is an example of the University of Bristol’s innovative on-going research and will be of emerging strength in second language perception research.