Global voice series hopes to bridge language barrier

Students+Jane+Fu+and+Shirley+Hu+participated+in+the+Global+English+Voice+Exercise+series.+%2F+Photo+Courtesy+of+Jane+Fu

Students Jane Fu and Shirley Hu participated in the Global English Voice Exercise series. / Photo Courtesy of Jane Fu

By Soleil Easton

During Jane Fu’s first three years at Emerson she never spoke up in class because she thought her classmates wouldn’t understand her.

Fu moved from China to Boston to study communications, yet she mainly feared communicating in English.

“Beginning this new stage of my life in America was scary, and I constantly felt a pressure to speak perfect English,” Fu said. “I thought my pronunciation when speaking English was not understandable. It was weighing me down.”

Recognizing the pressure on international students to speak English, three communication studies professors—Jeremy Heflin, Thomas Smith, and Mohamed Khalil—started creating the Global English Voice Exercise series last year. This online series aims to help non-native English-speaking students, but the public can’t access it yet. All three professors strive to release it sometime this year.

The six-episode series focuses on public speaking exercises and hopes to produce an international community of writers, bloggers, and digital activists. According to Heflin, not only international students can benefit from the series—anyone can access it and use the techniques.

Heflin, Smith, and Khalil each received a $1,200 Emerson presidential grant for the series in 2017.

“Our award was for an innovation in-curriculum design using video production to engage the Emerson community in global voice elocution,” Heflin said.

The series teaches sounds international students may not use in their native language and time-tests viewers’ new skills. Fu said she decided to participate as an actress in the Global Voice series in hopes of improving her English-speaking skills and getting involved on campus. She said she believes the series will benefit other international students since it covers pronunciation and speaking skills.

“The techniques [Smith] taught us are very helpful,” Fu said. “I have gained more courage to speak up in class this year because my English-speaking skills have improved.”

The series intends to provide independent support for international students. According to Heflin, international students face pressure to function in an English-speaking country at the same level as native speakers.

“We want to give [students] as many elements as possible that are going to help their intellectual capacity to be as strong within another language compared to their native language,” Heflin said.

Yuhan Cheng, a freshman visual media and arts major, moved from China to Boston. He has mixed feelings about the Global Voice series and worries it will try to Americanize him.

“I am really happy with my English pronunciation,” Cheng said. “But, I also really love my Chinese accent.”

He said other international students may find it insulting because they may not think their English needs any help. But, he does not understand why some international students do not participate in heated discussions. He thinks the series will help students speak up in class.

“I hardly ever see Chinese students speaking up in a heated discussion,” Cheng said. “Maybe because they are shy like me, and America is a culture shock for all of us.”

Graduate student Ana Cappellin moved to Boston from Venezuela. During her first year in 2017, she said she frequently visited the Writing and Academic Resource Center at Emerson to improve her English writing and communication skills.

In January 2018, Cappellin said she joined the Global Voice team and participated in demonstrating the exercises.

“The series is a first step for international students to take English to the next level,” Cappellin said. “It will help them improve their pronunciation and the way they communicate.”

The professors already created all six episodes. They hope to finish a webpage sometime this year where all Emerson students, staff, and faculty can access the episodes.

“I like the idea of it being for everybody,” Heflin said. “It is very democratic in how it is supposed to approach this availability.”