Monthly Archives: November 2005

Mark James


The NNEST Caucus Member of the Month
November 2005
Mark James
Amir: Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background (e.g. linguistic, academic, professional, …)?

Mark: Having been raised in a monolingual, monocultural environment (a very white suburb of Boston Massachusetts), my life was very simple and so was my worldview. This all changed during college when I decided to volunteer two years as a missionary for my church. As luck would have it, they ended up sending me to Tahiti! My work took me to a number of island nations and territories, where I came into contact with a number of peoples and cultures that I had never given much thought to in my youth. I also had the opportunity to study a number of languages. These experiences led me to the field of ESL/FL when I returned to my studies.

Having obtained a B.A. TESOL from Brigham Young University-Hawaii and an M.A. TESOL from Brigham Young University in Utah, I obtained my first full-time position teaching ESL back at BYU-Hawaii. Though the stay was only meant to be 2-3 years (I was hoping to sail on to other “ports unknown”), the quality of life in Hawaii (including my job) have kept me and my family happily anchored here. Fortunately, the University of Hawaii created a PhD in Second Language Acquisition in 1989 and I was able to obtain my doctoral degree without having pull up stakes. Happily, my professional endeavors have allowed me much travel, and the international nature of BYU–Hawaii’s student body (nearly 50%) has given me many opportunities to associate with many peoples and cultures.

Amir: What are your areas of interest?

Mark: I have been interested in second language reading for most of my professional life and more recently in the role of vocabulary development in that L2 reading.
I am also interested in teacher development (just finished 7 years as chair of our department, which has a B.A. in TESOL).

Amir: And your “extracurricular” hobbies and interests?

Mark: My wife (from Singapore) is very active as a Real Estate Broker here in Hawaii and I spend a fair amount of time fixing up the “projects” she buys and sells. The time I have spent with my sons in carpentry work of one kind or another has been very satisfying. I also enjoy spearfishing and reading in my leisure time.

Amir: Do you have contacts with NNESTs in your present job?

Mark: In addition to the NNEST’s who are my colleagues at BYU—Hawaii, I associate everyday with the many NNES’s in our B.A. program who hope to become teachers of ESL/FL one day. Also, for the past 12 years I have been the editor of the TESL Reporter, a practical journal for ESL/FL teachers worldwide. As Editor I have worked very hard to see that the journal remains for and by teachers, particularly those who are outside U.S. and U.K. spheres and whose voices are not heard as often as they should be.

Amir: What are your most vivid memories (positive/negative) of any NNEST in your academic and/or professional practices?

Mark: The most vivid memory, I think involves a young Japanese student who was in her senior year in our B.A. program. One day I was walking out of class and across campus, when I heard the sound of muffled crying under a tree not far away. I turned to look and there she was sitting on the grass, fresh from my class, head in hands. My first thought was, “Wow, was my teaching really that bad?!” I approached her and asked what was the matter. Her response, “I can’t do this week!” (Such great California English, I thought!) To make a long story short, we walked together back to my office, where we sorted out all that was plaguing her (work, school, research, etc). She survived that week, finished her degree, and later became a stellar full-time teacher in our ESL program. A year after being hired, she presented a paper at the Hawaii State TESOL Conference on her first year as a NNEST. It was proud moment for me. To top it all off, I recently got an email from her (she’s now working in Japan) telling me that she had been accepted to present on a panel at the TESOL convention in Florida this year. For a teacher educator, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Amir: How would you describe the most important contributions of non-native speaker professionals in L2 learning/teaching, and applied linguistics?

Mark: By sheer numbers, NNES teachers represent the mainstream in our profession. A singular contribution of their collective voice is, by definition, authenticity. Secondly, I believe that collective voice has contributed to the internationalization of the professional and political organizations which support the field of ESL/FL.

Amir: How did you get to know about NNEST Caucus? What are the things (if any) you would like to see the Caucus and its members initiate/do?

Mark: Well, first of all, I met George Braine very early on in the formative years of the Caucus. He has been a constant source of inspiration. As for the Caucus itself, I do not have any suggestions. I will say that it has been rewarding to watch the Caucus grow in recent years. This growth is, in part, due to its increasing size, but it is also a matter of maturation, I think. The Caucus has moved on from the early efforts (necessary at the time) of circling the wagons, and counting the troops. From a position of growing strength the caucus has reached out in confidence to both NES and NNES professionals in an effort to join hands on equal grounds, confident in what it (as well as individual NNES’s worldwide) can offer to the profession at large.

Amir: If you were to name a seminal paper on NNEST issues, what would that be?

Mark: That question is not easily answered because we are still in the seminal stages of our professional awareness of these issues. The few papers and publications that appeared in the ‘80’s would qualify by definition, I suppose! There are related efforts, though, that I find fundamental. These include Larry Smith’s call (in a paper delivered to educators in Singapore in the mid-1970’s) for all to recognize the fact that English no longer (if it ever did) belongs to anybody–It belongs to the world. One can, by extrapolation, conclude that it doesn’t belong to NES teachers or teacher educators either.

Amir: Thanks a lot for your time!

Ofra Inbar-Lourie

The NNEST Caucus Member of the Month
October 2005
Ofra Inbar-Lourie
Amir: Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background (e.g. linguistic, academic, professional, …)?

Ofra: I was born in Israel and Hebrew is my first language. English came in when I was a teenager temporarily residing in Canada. My resume includes high school teaching and lecturing and teacher training in language and EFL teacher education programs. I was also a supervisor for the Ministry of Education for the teaching of English and at present I coordinate an MA TESOL program for overseas students in the School of Education at Tel Aviv University. My research interests (in addition to N/NNESTs) are in the areas of language policy (national educational language policy, immigrant issues, the teaching of Arabic to Hebrew speakers); language assessment and curriculum design. An interesting research area that I am currently involved in (with Elana Shohamy) is the teaching of English at an early age (6-7 year olds) by home room teachers.

Amir: Can you tell us something about your teaching context?

Ofra: I teach in two different contexts. At the School of Education at Tel-Aviv University I currently teach mostly native speakers of English in an MA TESOL program for overseas students. The courses I give are in the areas of language assessment (theory and practice) and in language curriculum design and program evaluation. At Beit Berl, a College of Education situated east of Tel-Aviv, I teach mostly NNEST candidates, native speakers of Hebrew, Arabic and other languages (Russian, for example), who are studying to become EFL teachers in the Israeli school system. The courses I give there are in language policy, in curriculum design (an introductory course and critical approaches to curriculum design in multicultural societies), and in assessment (both a general course and a course specifically geared to assessing EFL learners).

Amir: How did your interest in NNEST issues begin?

Ofra: Similarly to probably many other researchers in the area, the impetus for pursuing native/non-native speaker teacher dilemmas can be traced to my personal background. Since I was exposed to English at a relatively young age I am often labeled a native speaker, contrary to my personal affiliation. The mistaken identity has led me to reflect on native or non-native identities of language teachers, their formation, self vs. public perception and the consequences with regard to the language and identity equation and identity choices. In my research I have looked at why EFL teachers in Israel perceive themselves as native or non-native speakers, and whether there is a difference between the two groups with regard to their perceptions. The findings show that teaching perceptions can be accounted for by personal and contextual variables, rather than the native/non-native linguistic background. Similar findings with regard to the importance of contextual variables to identity formation have emerged from the comparative research Antoinette Gagne and I have conducted on the proficiency of non-native speaking teacher candidates in Canada and Israel (sponsored by a grant from the TESOL International Research Foundation).

Situated as we are in the English teaching profession we often neglect to explore how such identity dilemmas relate to languages other than English, i.e., how the macro and micro language contexts affect the identity choices of language educators at large. The issues are fascinating and can be delved into from different angles in applied linguistics and education, thus allowing me to integrate the different facets of my work.

Amir: How would you describe the most important contributions of non-native speaker professionals to the L2 learning/teaching, and applied linguistics?

Ofra: I believe the initial Reves and Medgyes 1994 research followed by Peter Medgyes’ book, the 1996 TESOL colloquium and George Braine’s 1999 book, all served as catalysts for the interest and enormous research that we are witnessing today. It’s important to remember, however, that these developments occurred against the backdrop of a general (not just teacher-oriented) reconsideration and deconstruction of native speaker concepts discussed, for example, in the works of Alan Davies (1992; 2003) and Claire Kramsch. (1997; 1998).

Amir: Would you like to tell us a bit about your hobbies?

Ofra: Lots of reading and spending time with the family and friends and also music and cinema … And work – I consider myself lucky as I really enjoy my work and often work and leisure are intertwined.

Amir: How did you get to know about NNEST Caucus? What are the things (if any) you would like to see the Caucus and its members initiate/do?

Ofra: I have been following the surge of interest in the NNEST issues since 1996 and became more directly involved after a presentation at the 2000 TESOL conference in Vancouver. It was quite accidental – I was in the audience of a Colloquium run by George Braine. One of the speakers couldn’t come and George, who knew about my research, asked if I could step in and fill the empty slot … I rushed to my hotel, got the transparencies (no power point at the time), and presented and have done so in many conferences since.

With regard to the future role of the caucus I think we have reached a crucial stage. Though there is still work to be done on discriminatory gate-keeping policies and prejudices, the position of the NNESTs has been asserted thanks to the outstanding pioneering work done by the caucus founders and leaders. Now it’s time to move on by building on the research findings to date, looking at the future research agenda and reaching outside our immediate circles.

With regard to implementing research findings, the caucus can focus for example on what we know about the relevant merits of NNESTs, considering ways of operationalizing them. For example, let’s look at the rich linguistic repertoire of the NNEST (who is knowledgeable in at least one more language in addition to English), and think about how this linguistic knowledge can best be utilized to promote language transfer and foster multiliteracies across languages. The caucus can turn to exploring these issues, specifically looking at the ‘how’ in terms of curricula, teaching methods, materials, assessment procedures and teacher education programs: How to take advantage of multilingualism in the classroom? How to support intra-lingual understanding and skills? How to encourage tolerance of others using yourself as a model?

In addition, as the research has shown that NNESTs’ identities and roles can not be accounted for merely by native or native background, there is a need to step out of the N/NN framework per se and see how the issues fit into and interact with particular settings, cultures, educational circumstances and of course individual variables.

And last but not least – it’s time to reach out to audiences outside the TESOL community in areas of language teaching and education and to the general public: parents, students, administrators and the media. There is still a huge gap between the insights we have gained over the years and the public’s perception of native and non-native speaker teachers. I believe it is our role inform and involve these different stakeholders on N/NNESTS concerns, and as a caucus focus our efforts in this direction.

Amir: Thanks, Ofra, for your time!