Meet the GCAC’s new writing instructor, Dr. Adeiza Isiaka

Few aspects of a graduate education elicit groans as frequently or reliably as academic writing. Each discipline may have its own demands and conventions, but regardless of style, graduate students across the board are likely to agree that the enterprise inspires no small amount of dread.

Adeiza Isiaka is here to help. With a PhD in English Linguistics and a background in teaching English as a second or subsequent language, the newest member of the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication brings a unique skillset, one he believes will be especially useful for students who did not learn English as a first language.

“I know what the challenges could be if you’re coming to do research at the graduate level in an environment where English is everyone’s cup of tea,” says Adeiza, who earned his doctorate from the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany. “It can be intimidating. I have a lot of hands-on experience that I can draw on.”

Isiaka has always been fascinated by languages, particularly the sociocultural aspects of how we express ourselves, what he refers to as the ways in which “language interfaces with identity.” “Many things happen when we produce sounds,” he notes. “It’s really fascinating to me that something very physiological – the air that comes out of your lungs – can give us clues as to your social cartography.”

Notably, his research focuses on how people use English in territories where it isn’t necessarily a native or official language, but still enjoys wide usage in a variety of contexts. He has worked extensively on African Englishes, with his dissertation examining the sound properties of English as spoken by non-native speakers on the continent. And in the fall of 2020, as a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Science, he designed and taught a popular undergraduate course on urban youth languages in Africa, North America, and Europe.

Isiaka, who has taught students across three continents, speaks two languages, Ebira and Yoruba, fluently, in addition to English. (He’s also working on learning German.) But in Nigeria, where he grew up, English is not just an official language but also the lingua franca, as it is in many parts of the world – especially postcolonial territories – where it is spoken as a second language. “English plays a very pivotal role in accessing modernity,” he explains. “It is a passport to the world. It permeates every domain of life.”

That sparked an interest not just in learning English, but also in teaching it. Unlike in Europe, where students could learn from native speakers of English, Isiaka knew that Nigerian students didn’t necessarily have the same access to expatriates in the country who could teach the language. “I wanted to help people,” he says. He earned a degree in English education, then taught writing and composition at a public university in Nigeria for three years.

When he begins his teaching term at the GCAC this month, Isiaka will be teaching parts 1 and 3 of a three-part course on academic writing that will focus, sequentially, on structure, grammar, and style. Since his students are at an advanced stage in their studies and often trying to write for publication, his teaching strategies will differ from what he might use to teach someone who is altogether new to the language.

“This is a kind of training that involves teaching the fundamentals of scholarly communication, but at a much higher level than if you’re just teaching people basic rules of English composition. Instead, you’re teaching them how to use the registers, how to develop awareness of the specific genres and conventions in their disciplines, and how to communicate the knowledge being produced in their research.”

Isiaka is also looking forward to teaching “Navigating the Publishing Process,” a new course he has designed to help graduate students who are looking to get published. A first for the GCAC, the course will walk students through the procedural parts of the process – like communicating with journal editors – and help them identify opportunities for first publications, like book reviews. In addition, Isiaka will also be leading a workshop on public impact and the social nuances of academic writing that will discuss how scholars can share their work with audiences outside their field.

What he’s most excited for, however, is working closely with graduate researchers from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. “It just feels different when you’re talking to graduate students,” he reflects. “It allows you to freely pitch your teaching at the highest level.”

Plus, Isiaka figures he’ll learn some new things along the way. “Very broadly, knowledge production excites me,” he shares. “It brings me a lot of joy when a new discovery is made, whether it’s in my field or in astrophysics. I want to read about it!”

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