For the 10th Anniversary of the NNEST Caucus in 2008
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator?
Prof. Brown: Both of my parents were teachers and I’m sure that wielded a subconscious influence on my ultimate vocational choice. But my choice to work in the TESOL profession was an unplanned serendipitous set of events. When I arrived at UCLA ready to pursue a Master’s degree in teaching French, I was surprised to discover that the Linguistics Department was sponsoring a summer institute and among the lecturers was Noam Chomsky and several other luminaries in linguistics. By attending some of those programs, I “discovered” the TESL/Applied Linguistics program, got acquainted with professors like Russ Campbell, Clifford Prator, Don Bowen, Lois MacIntosh, and Evelyn Hatch. To make a long story short, by the end of that summer I had switched departments and that fall began studying for an MA in Linguistics with specialization in TESL. A few years later, Ph.D. (also from UCLA) clutched in hand, I was off to University of Michigan as a fledgling Assistant Professor.
Ana Wu: Back in 1991 when TESOL was celebrating its 25th anniversary, you, as a former president of TESOL, wrote “the only article which prioritized World Englishes to any noticeable degree,” even though WEs was not mentioned by name, but was discussed under the term English as an international language (Jenkins, 2006). Many years have passed since then, and now, varieties of Englishes and NNEST issues are recognized, published, and discussed. In 2008, the Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL Caucus will celebrate its 10th anniversary. What are the things you would like to see the NNEST caucus members initiate or do?
Prof. Brown: I think Jenkins was overly generous in her assessment, but I appreciated the recognition! I applaud the NNEST caucus for its excellent work in promoting awareness and opportunities for NNESTs worldwide, and especially for debunking the myth that NESTs are necessarily “better” teachers simply by virtue of their L1.
As for an agenda for the NNEST caucus, I would love to see the caucus spearhead worldwide efforts to demonstrate to administrators of university, secondary school, and language school English programs the advantage of professionally trained NNESTs over untrained or poorly trained NESTs. The administrators are the ones who write the job descriptions, advertise positions, and hire individuals, and somehow we need to penetrate those levels. Such an enterprise of course takes tact, patience, wisdom, and effort, but I believe it needs to be collectively organized by a group such as the NNEST caucus. With specific country-by-country strategies and coordination with local TESOL-related professional organizations, systematic, step-by-step procedures could be undertaken to educate administrators at all levels.
Ana Wu: You were a professor at TESOL, ESL and Linguistics department at some universities, as well as director of language institutes, training various international graduate students. We from the Caucus are aware that there are many graduate programs in applied linguistics and TESOL that do not include in their curriculum discussions about World Englishes or do not take into consideration the needs and concerns of their international students.
What advice would you give to professors who want to include in their program NNES issues and better serve the international graduate students, but do not know how to?
Prof. Brown: A number of graduate programs in applied linguistics have elective seminars in World Englishes, which is wonderful. But even in these programs, students can opt for seminars in other topics, and in those programs that don’t have such seminars available, there is always the chance that a student could complete a program with little if any awareness of the issues surrounding WE, and NNESTs. I would say such programs ought to ascertain that virtually all their courses at least touch on these topics. In my courses, WE is a focus topic in SLA, methodology, and assessment. A problem lies in “legislating” content for graduate TESOL courses: professors are almost always free to choose subtopics within a course, to ignore some, and highly emphasize others, and WE may be deemed to be in the former category. I have for a long time felt that critical pedagogy is an absolute must as a topic to be specifically addressed in at least several courses in TESOL programs (methodology, SLA, assessment, sociolinguistics, for example). Well, guess what? CP is not universally considered to be an essential topic!
Is there a solution? Maybe, but not an easy one. Perhaps members of the NNEST caucus can be instrumental in “lobbying” professors of graduate programs through the dissemination of the importance of WE in articles in journals and newsletters, flyers or mailers, web-based information, etc. I know that is being done already, but the efforts should continue.
Ana Wu: We are also aware that there are international graduate students who plan to have a teaching career in their home countries, but are concerned with earning a second-class status in the profession when competing with less-trained native English speaking colleagues. As a former TESOL leader, trainer and lecturer who visited many educational institutions abroad, what would you suggest the TESOL organization or the Caucus members do to stop this injustice?
Prof. Brown:It is indeed an injustice! Now, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that in the time that I’ve been teaching (since 1970!), I’ve seen progress in many countries and institutions. More and more university administrators are aware of Master’s degree programs and their value, and are aware of the amazing talents and abilities of their own nationals who have acquired such degrees. Just to use one country as an example, twenty years ago or so, I would say it was virtually impossible for a Japanese MATESOL grad to return to Japan and land a job in a university. Currently, it’s not easy to do so, but it is happening with greater regularity. By the same token, in those days a college in the USA would almost never consider hiring a NNEST in their ESL program; today it’s happening more frequently. So, the wheels of progress turn ever so slowly!
The bad news is twofold. First, teachers are universally—in every country—treated as “second-class” professionals. Look at the pay scales for teachers everywhere. Wouldn’t you say that the person we are entrusting our sons and daughters to for some six hours every day for twelve years ought to have the highest salary and respect? I don’t think we teachers can change this world overnight—but we can address the injustice in small increments. Second, the bad news is that there are “miles to go before we sleep” on the issue of NNESTs in their home countries; we’re not there yet! However, with the kind of effort I mentioned in question 2 above, perhaps this sort of injustice can be slowly—but surely—overcome.
Ana Wu: You have extensively given lectures worldwide and published numerous articles and books on second language acquisition. What do you think are the strengths and contributions of NNES professionals?
Prof. Brown: I regularly reminded my San Francisco State University students—both native and non-native speakers of English—that the latter group hold a distinct advantage over the former by virtue of their bilingual, bicultural ability, and their all-important ability to empathize with the journeys of their learners. I have also made it a point over the years to salute the international TESOL students in the USA: they are tackling a graduate degree in a non-native language, and almost always complete their programs with academic excellence that is equal to or better than their native-speaking counterparts.
Ana Wu: I understand you retired in 2006. How are you enjoying your days? Do you miss teaching?
Prof. Brown: To the last question, my answer is yes! I very much miss the regular interaction and relationship with my wonderful students. Maybe part of it is that students have always affirmed me, and of course, I love being adored! Hmmm. More seriously, I miss the process of generativity that teaching involves, the sense of being able to facilitate excitement, curiosity, and commitment in my students. But, I continue to write, and so perhaps through that more distant medium, I’m still teaching. I travel a bit for professional conferences, too. And I’m editing a series of teacher reference books for Pearson/Longman, and am considering the request for a “Reader’s Digest” condensed version of my Principles and Teaching by Principles books for short TESOL programs. I’m also gearing up for a completely different genre of writing: some personal narrative writing about my childhood in central Africa—should be a best seller, huh? Yeah, in my dreams.
I’m also taking life at a little slower pace. My wife and I moved away from the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this year to be close to our two grandchildren (of course, they are adorable!) and to enjoy the benefits of a community overflowing with activities—hiking, cycling, tennis, softball, singing, and even a creative writing group! There are also volunteering opportunities here that I will get into in the near future. So, the oft-heard comment that life in retirement is busier than ever is true!
Ana Wu: Thank you for your time! I am looking forward to reading your new book!
Jenkins, J. (2006). Current perspectives on teaching World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca. TESOL Quaterly. 4 (1).