Monthly Archives: June 2007

Sandra McKay

The NNEST Caucus Member of the Month
July 2007

Prof. Sandra McKay

smckay [at] sfsu [dot] edu

Ana Wu: Prof. McKay, would you tell us your professional background and why you decided to be an educator?

Prof. McKay: I began my career in English education by teaching English to mainstream junior high school students. After a few years of teaching in the public schools, I decided to go back to school to get my doctorate in education and applied linguistics. At that point in my career, I was unaware of the field of second language teaching, which at that time was quite small. What led to my interest in second language teaching was a fellowship I received from Tufts University to teach English in Guatemala City. I spent one year teaching English in a bi-national center in Guatemala City, an experience that opened my eyes to the challenges of second language teaching and learning.

Ana Wu:You teach in the TESOL graduate program at the San Francisco State University.

  1. What are the differences, if there are any, in teaching and training international students and native speakers? What advice would you give to professors of TESOL or applied linguistic graduate programs who have international students?

Prof. McKay: I am quite reluctant to characterize differences between training native speakers and international students since I think such descriptions can further tendencies of essentialism in which native speakers become the benchmark for second language speakers. However, there is one general difference between the two groups and that is the fact that all of the international students have experienced living in two cultures and are competent in two languages. Whereas this is true of some native speakers of English, there are many who don’t have such an experience. I believe being bilingual and experiencing a second culture is extremely valuable in teaching individuals who have gone through similar experiences. My main advice to professors of TESOL of applied linguistics graduate programs is to approach each student, whether international or not, as an individual so as to avoid essentializing their students.

  1. What advice would you give to international students who wish to succeed as an instructor in an English spoken country?

Prof. McKay: For international students who are teaching in English-speaking countries, I would urge them to have confidence in their own abilities and to be willing to state they don’t know the answer to something. I have seen international teachers lose their confidence when they are asked a question about US culture that they can’t answer. I think it is important for them to realize that all US residents lack information on some aspect of US culture.


Ana Wu:You have written articles and given workshops about multi-linguals and the ownership of English. What do you think of the NS-NNS dichotomy? What are the things you would like to see the NNEST caucus members initiate or do?

Prof. McKay: With globalization and the global flows this has brought, it is more and more difficult to define what is meant by the term native speaker. More individuals today are experiencing several cultures in their life and learning more than one language; many children are growing up in homes where more than one language is spoken regularly. In light of this situation, the term native speaker has become more meaningless. I personally prefer to consider language proficiency from the perspective of ownership, that is, the degree to which individuals feel they are competent users of a language. In this way language use is defined by speakers themselves rather than by some external standard such as which language one was first exposed to. One thing the NNEST caucus might do in this regard is to consider another name for the interest group, one that does not use the term native speaker or nonnative speaker.

Ana Wu:If you were to name a (or a few) seminal paper on NNEST issues, what would that be?

Prof. McKay: Three articles that I found to be particularly insightful are Brutt-Griffler, J. & Samimy, K. K. TESOL Quarterly, 33; Brutt-Griffler, J. & Samimy, K. K., World Englishes, 20; and Widdowson, H. TESOL Quarterly, 31. These articles in combination address the effect of globalization on language use, the need to view language use as a factor of language ownership and the ways the framework of NS/NNS might be questioned in an educational context.

Ana Wu:Thank you for this insightful interview! I hope you are having a great summer break!