Correct Pronunciation of Student Names: A Foundation for Language Learning

Correct Pronunciation of Student Names: A Foundation for Language Learning

Anita Bright (Portland State University, USA) and Christopher L. Cardiel (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1962-2.ch002


Across multiple aspects of one's life, names matter, and this can be particularly important in a language-learning setting. Speaking to identity, belonging, community, individuality, temporality, and place, the names we carry—formal names, public names, pet names, nicknames, adopted names—serve as markers to identify the ways we nest into the broader context of the world. When our chosen names are mangled, tangled, or forgotten, the symbolic violence and resultant wounds have the potential to be devastatingly life-changing. In addition to providing an overview of naming practices and their significance, this chapter gives voice to ways pedagogical practices can be influenced by this urgency to know my students as whole, contextualized individuals, and to speak the names each student desires, working to identify the ways in which name factors into my professional practice as a critical educator.
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  • They call me Hell.

  • They call me Stacey.

  • They call me her.

  • They call me Jane.

  • That's not my name.

  • That's not my name.

  • That's not my name.

  • That's not my name.

  • --The Ting Tings, 2007

Names. Names hold so much more than just the component syllables, characters, and exhaled sounds. The ways names are selected, “worn” throughout life, heard in a range of contexts, and employed as identity markers can shape how a person moves through the world—including the world of school.

For many students, the world of school can include learning a new language, different from the language or languages spoken at home or in previous school settings. Adding a new language can involve risk, and learning a new language can be one of the most complex and taxing experiences a student may encounter. This complexity and level of demand can be amplified if the student is also learning to live and thrive in a new context while adding an additional language (DeKeyser, 2005). Further, the intensity of these demands can be heightened even further if the student finds that their teachers are not from culturally familiar nor culturally congruent backgrounds (Bashosh, Nejad, Rastegar, & Marzban, 2013). The chances for disconnect and dissonance between students and teachers are omnipresent (Karanauskienė & Danilevičienė, 2015), and teachers are called upon to do everything possible to ensure all students are nested comfortably and reverently into the classroom context, as a means to ensure the students’ social and emotional well-being, and as a means to facilitate an enriching learning environment.

Building this socially and emotionally safe, nurturing, and enriching learning environment is essential for all students, but takes on a fresh urgency when students are adding a new language. In a 2019, Teimouri, Goetze, and Plonsky conducted a meta-analysis of research from 97 studies conducted 23 countries, to explore the ways affective factors, and specifically anxiety, can impact language learning. In their summary, they concluded that, “anxiety has a moderate, negative association with achievement” (p. 385), which underscores the idea that reducing student anxiety can facilitate language learning.

Part of this process of reducing student anxiety and ensuring students are as at home and at ease as possible in the classroom involves establishing trusting relationships between teachers and students (Noddings, 2015). Because adding a new language (while perhaps also living in a new cultural context) can be tremendously stressful (Hashemi, 2011), teachers need to be purposefully attentive to all the ways these relationships unfold and progress, with an eye towards nurturing things forward in the most proactive, thoughtful ways.

One of the key ways in which teachers may begin to establish these trusting relationships begins with addressing students as they wish to be addressed, and pronouncing their names correctly. As straightforward and simple as this may sound, the issue of teachers mispronouncing student names remains a pervasive and pernicious problem in language-learning settings-- and one of the most straightforward and simple to remedy (Marrun, 2018).

Across multiple aspects of one’s life, names matter. Speaking to identity, belonging, community, individuality, temporality, and place, the names we carry-- formal names, public names, pet names, nicknames, adopted names-- serve as markers to identify the ways we nest into the broader context of the world (Cisneros, 2013; Payne, Philyaw, Rabow, & Yazdanfar, 2016). For students at the K-12 level, this broader context of the world includes school and schooling, and the ways names are woven into this process of formal education can have tremendous impacts on a range of outcomes, including social, emotional, and academic.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Gender Pronoun: The third-person term used to refer to an individual by gender identity, to include terms such as she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/their/theirs, and others.

Assimilation: The process through which individuals and groups conform to dominant practices or behaviors.

Misnaming: The act or process of using or assigning the wrong name to an individual.

Microaggression: Subtle, sometimes unintentional slights or insults that may cause psychological and/ or emotional harm, often related to aspects of identity.

Symbolic Violence: A kind of non-physical violence, which may take the form of verbal aggression, marginalization, silencing, or otherwise causing non-physical harm.

Identity: An individual’s sense of self, particularly in relation to others in the larger social context.

Mispronouncer: A person who mispronounces the names of others.

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