Marcella Caprario has taken what she calls a winding road in linguistics. It started with her childhood in a multicultural and multilingual home, she turned to classical music and years as a professional singer, then culminated in volunteering with English language learners at the International Center for New York, without knowing when she started that it was going to change the course of her life.
This volunteering led to a desire to further her education in this field, so she enrolled in a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate course. After teaching at a language institute, she fell in love with linguistics, earned a master’s degree, taught English at university level, primarily in China and the United States, and volunteered as a teacher in her community.
Always wanting more, Caprario found NAU’s Ph.D. program in applied linguistics, highly regarded in the field. Excited to learn from the professors here, she applied, was accepted, and began her program in 2020 as a NAU Presidential Fellow, guided by her mentor, Naoko Taguchi, a renowned teacher in the English department. As her journey continues, this winding road leads her to Malaysia, where she will spend six months researching a Fulbright scholarship.
“My research interests stem directly from my experiences as a teacher and learner in multilingual environments,” Caprario said. “All of my life experiences have brought me to this point, and I feel like I’m doing exactly what I was born to do.”
The American Fulbright Student Program, of which the Fulbright Scholarships are a part, aims to create global connections by providing American students and young professionals with the opportunity to do research, teaching, or education abroad. Participants work, meet, go to class and live with people in their host country as part of the cultural exchange.
Taguchi, who understood Caprario’s interests and research goals and helped her refine this project, said the Fulbright is proof not only of Caprario’s drive and talent, but also of the importance of her work on the field.
“Marcella has grown so much as a researcher and teacher over the past two years,” Taguchi said. “She is diligent, driven, open-minded and eager to learn new things. She is also independent and can work on her own, network with scholars in the field and explore new opportunities, and I am very proud of her.
English as a lingua franca
Caprario’s research focuses on the use of English for cross-cultural communication between people of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Malaysia is a linguistically diverse and multicultural environment, making it an ideal candidate for Caprario to pursue his research. She met linguistics professor Jagdish Kaur of Universiti Malaya, whose work strongly influences hers, and he agreed to host her from January 16 to July 15.
His work proposes the creation, implementation and evaluation of training materials for intercultural communication. Instruction focuses on the use of communication strategies, which have been documented in English research as a lingua franca (ELF). These strategies benefit communication by helping speakers build rapport and mutual understanding, because the ability to communicate effectively is more important than communicating in a technically correct manner. This style of communication may include appropriate reference to a speaker’s culture and ignoring or adopting a speaker’s non-standard language.
“Driving this project is the importance of effective communication in global environments where miscommunication can lead to serious consequences, such as loss of business, educational and personal opportunities,” she said. “Furthermore, successful cross-cultural communication is crucial to better understanding and appreciating diversity in global and local contexts.”
What this will look like in the field is the creation of an educational intervention that tests the effectiveness of educational materials that meet the educational needs of diverse users of English for cross-cultural communication. At Universiti Malaya, Caprario will develop educational materials and assessments, teach a group of participants, and test their performance before and after the educational intervention to see the effectiveness of the program. In addition to the tests, Caprario will ask the students to keep journals of their experiences and collect them at the end of the project, and she will interview some of the participants.
The goal is to develop a curriculum that can be taught to ELF students from diverse cultures, which will then lead to greater cross-cultural communication. It will improve people’s lives and build understanding across national, ethnic, racial and other man-made boundaries. It’s a noble and important mission in an increasingly global society, but one that hasn’t been thoroughly researched.
Capririo’s work will provide a program and data to back up the effectiveness of the program. It also highlights the importance of effective cross-cultural communication and of English as a lingua franca for two related reasons: first, the majority of English speakers in the world are native speakers of other languages, and second, these speakers often use English to speak. among themselves rather than with native English speakers. Teaching and research in English do not always reflect these realities.
“English language teaching and assessment continues to prioritize the language standards of speakers from predominantly English-speaking countries, such as the United States,” she said. “This may suit learners who aspire to study, work and/or live in a predominantly English-speaking country. However, given the role of English as a global lingua franca, this is not the goal for the majority of English learners around the world, nor is it always a realistic learning goal. This study presents teaching and assessment materials that prioritize communicative success defined as the achievement of mutual understanding, positive relationships, and speaker-specific communication goals, rather than how speakers can relate to each other. closer to the English of a native speaker. This is something that many scholars and advocates advocate, but such materials are not yet widely available.
Taguchi said this type of research aligns closely with the Fulbright mission of cross-cultural collaboration and cohabitation, as well as NAU’s diversity and inclusion mission. It is a step forward in the field of English as a lingua franca and intercultural communication in general.
“Marcella’s research is indispensable in today’s globalized society,” she said. “As we see a growing interdependence of people across geographic borders, we need to become intercultural speakers who can navigate skillfully the demands of interaction between cultures. Marcella’s educational program can respond directly to this need.