Q and A with Saya Kawase

Saya KawaseMs Saya Kawase is a current PhD student at The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour & Development, and the recipient of the 2014 Prime Minister's Australia Asia Postgraduate Scholarship.

This is a prestigious scholarship provided to the top 20 applicants of the Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship.(

She speaks with Hiroko Kawasakiya Clayton about her experience at The MARCS Institute so far.

Hiroko Kawasakiya Clayton (HKC): You are currently undertaking a doctoral degree in Sydney and seem to be enjoying living in Australia.

Saya Kawase (SK): Yes, indeed. This is my second year in Australia, and it is really easy to live here with beautiful nature such as oceans and mountains. On weekends, I sometimes go on bush walks and to beaches. I also feel incredibly lucky to have many wonderful friends and colleagues of various nationalities and ages. I am busy every day, but have been enjoying my PhD research very much.

HKC: How are you finding your research in Australia?

SK: Australia has an excellent research environment. At the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour & Development, PhD researchers are fortunate to conduct their own project with generous funding and technical support. The precious research environment allows us to undertake even challenging research, and present our work at local and international conferences. This summer, I will present a part of my PhD work in the UK.

I have the opportunity to hear about research and approaches from human-robot interaction and engineering to music cognition and neuroscience. I feel very lucky to be able to work in such an environment.

In my PhD project, I investigate the visual speech effect on foreign-accented speech perception, that is, how articulatory motions produced by non-native talkers affect the perception of spoken language by native listeners. In face-to-face conversation, we process both auditory (what we hear) and visual (what we see) speech information. While visual speech facilitates speech perception with native speech, a recent finding has revealed that there is a possibility of an inhibitory visual effect due to a mismatch between auditory and visual speech information1 when native listeners perceive speech produced by non-native talkers (i.e., foreign-accented speech perception). My goal of this research is to or explain the visual speech effects. In Australia (especially at the MARCS Institute), a number of internationally-recognized research leaders are investigating visual speech and language processing and I am fortunate to be a part of this research community.

HKC: You used to teach English at a Japanese high school after having completed Master's degree at a Canadian university. Can your current research be applied to English education in Japan?

SK: Through my research, I hope to be able to contribute to English education in Japan by applying research to second language learning such as developing teaching materials. The processes of learning second language speech are influenced strongly by the learners' first language, and hopefully I can contribute to English education in Japan where a number of students and workers struggle with speaking and listen to a second language.

HKC: What does it mean for you to be conducting research in Australia?

SK: I am able to work with leading researchers in the field of auditory-visual speech perception research. There is not only mentoring but also plenty of practical support such as software and equipment available for research. The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development is an interdisciplinary research institute and so that I also have the opportunity to hear about research and approaches from human-robot interaction and engineering to music cognition and neuroscience. I feel very lucky to be able to work in such an environment.

My research can also be applied to other populations such as Australian learners of Japanese. I have seen many Australian friends who struggle with language learning here too. In the future, I hope to do joint research between Australia and Japan.

HKC: Finally, do you have any comment about the Endeavour scholarship program?

SK: I first heard about Endeavour scholarships from a MARCS researcher when we met at a conference in the US. The actual application process was all done online, so there was nothing difficult about it. I am very thankful for the support from the Australian government. With the knowledge and experience that I am gaining, I would like to contribute to effective cross-cultural communication through research and hopefully the promotion of research collaborations between Australia and Japan.

1 S. Kawase, B. Hannah, and Y. Wang, "The influence of visual speech information on the intelligibility of English consonants produced by non-native speakers," The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 136, pp. 1352-136. 2014.

Interview and text by Hiroko Kawasakiya Clayton