Dr. Murray Munro named to the Royal Society of Canada
On November 19, 2021, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) welcomed the Class of 2021 new RSC Fellows. Among them was SFU Linguistics faculty member, Dr. Murray Munro.
Fellows are elected by their peers for their outstanding scholarly, scientific and artistic achievement. “Recognition by the RSC for career achievement is the highest honour an individual can achieve in the Arts, Social Sciences and Sciences.”
We asked Dr. Munro, “As an Applied Linguist, how does your research meet the real world? And how did you get started in your field?”
Munro did not begin with a linguistics degree. “I got into this because I was a language teacher – in fact my first degree was a B.Ed. and I initially thought I might teach high school. But I got into teaching adults instead.”
“There were a lot of refugees coming to Canada – it was the time of many Vietnamese refugees coming to Canada late in the 1970s. So, the job I got right out of university was teaching English to adults.” Munro’s teaching and research focus evolved from this fortuitous first job.
“While I did teach children a little bit, most of my career has been teaching adults. And I have found it really rewarding.”
“It seemed like it was a useful thing to do because there were so many people coming into the country who came with very limited English language skills; and one of the problems was pronunciation, especially for people coming from Vietnam, because the vowel system is so different from English. They had a particular cluster of difficulties with English sounds, so a lot of teachers became interested in focusing on that, to help them be better communicators.”
Munro talks about how the underlying intent of their work was always meeting their student’s needs with the question, ‘What can we do to help you be a better communicator?’ And says, “Our feeling generally is, we are not trying to get rid of your accent – because everyone has an accent – most adult learners, and many child learners of additional languages, retain a ‘foreign’ accent the rest of their lives. That’s just normal; and that’s not a bad thing because it doesn’t necessarily hamper communication.”
Working with this principle, Munro had lots of teaching colleagues who were academically oriented and interested in doing their master’s degrees alongside their work. He found himself working with his colleague, Tracey Derwing (currently Adjunct Professor in Linguistics, SFU), who was just about to start a PhD. He started his MSc around the same time. Deeper into his studies he became very interested in phonetics, “not just for language teaching but other aspects of phonetics as well.” Munro says, “I had a pretty good time doing my master’s,” and so he went on to do a PhD.
“The feeling all along was that I and my colleagues wanted to inform teaching, to make it work better, to tune it better to student’s needs. And we still strongly believe that there is value in doing research in this area.”
We congratulate Dr. Murray Munro on being a welcomed as a 2021 Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.