Nancy Bell is an advocate for flexible ears.
An applied linguist at WSU, Bell is conducting a series of workshops to help native English speakers develop more resources for communicating with non-native English speakers.
Having flexible ears — the ability to decipher and comprehend accented speech —  is a huge asset.
“Respect has to go both ways,” she says, “but responsibility for making good communication is with the native speakers,” for the obvious reason that the native speaker has more resources.
Bell, a faculty member in the English department, is working with Ashley Ater-Kranov in Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology and English as a Second Language specialist Elizabeth Siler to present the workshops.
The first one, held in late January, focused on communication in the workplace and drew about 25 participants from across the university.
“The only disadvantage we had was that it was too short,” said Janet Reid, a principal assistant in management and operations in the College of Business. “I don’t know that they anticipated how much conversation there would be.”
Reid said some information reinforced things she already knew, but she appreciated the opportunity to talk with colleagues and discuss particular situations.  And, she said, she appreciated the tips for how to make her own speech clearer.
Without exception, she said, the non-native faculty and graduate students in her department “really go above and beyond” in attempting to create a rapport and communicate more effectively with native English speakers. So, she said, it’s good to think about ways that she can reciprocate.
“It’s a two-way street,” she said.
The next workshop, scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 21, focuses on strategies to help non-native English speakers contribute to and get more out of classroom discussions and lectures. The strategies are actually helpful for all students, Bell said, but they are particularly important for non-native English speakers.
The March 20 workshop will focus on faculty-student interactions outside of the classroom. Informal discussions and mentoring relationships are hugely important, Bell said, but they are fraught with peril for non-native English speakers who do not know the protocol and have no models to guide them.
The final workshop, set for April 17, will be a panel discussion. All workshops are 3-4 p.m. in the Avery Hall Bundy Reading Room.