Monthly Archives: April 2011

Suhanthie Motha

NNEST of the Month

May, 2011

Suhanthie Motha

swmotha [at] uw [dot] edu

Suhanthie Motha is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington. Her research explores the intersection of race, empire, and identity in the context of TESOL teacher education. Her work has appeared in TESOL Quarterly, Modern Language Journal, Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, TESL Canada Journal, Educational Practice and Theory, Language Teaching, Peace and Change Journal, and the International Journal of Innovation in English Language Teaching & Research in addition to several book chapters. She serves on the editorial advisory board of TESOL Quarterly.

NNEST blog May interviewer: Todd Ruecker

Could you tell us why and how you decided to become an educator?

Before I answer that question, let me thank you for having me on the NNEST of the Month Blog, which is one of my favorite columns to read. It’s an innovative and engaging format, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

There are two answers to the question about my journey into TESOL. The first, which parallels the experiences of most of my colleagues, is that it was a serendipitous accident: I walked alongside TESOL for a while, pursuing a different path working for an economic consulting firm but volunteering at night teaching English to immigrant adults. I became aware that I was looking forward to my evenings with my students with a jubilant anticipation that I never experienced around my daytime job, which was itself beginning to feel increasingly devoid of meaning and consequence. For a while, TESOL escaped my notice as a possibility for a profession, and by the time I recognized my growing passion for the work, I felt as though I had somehow tripped and fortuitously fallen into it. I enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), at first part-time and then leaving my full-time position. I was blessed with stimulating, supportive faculty and a lovely, lovable cohort of classmates. When I graduated, I taught in a variety of contexts, most notably teaching at and eventually coordinating the intensive English program of a small university in the Bay Area. I ultimately returned to UMCP for a Ph.D. with two foci, Teacher Education and TESOL. I am now at the University of Washington in Seattle, having completed two years of my tenure track.

The second answer is a bit more complex. I could capture it by turning to the title of Kathleen Casey’s (1993) book on women teachers: I Answer with My Life. My linguistic history is complicated, and the language socialization of my grandparents and great-grandparents has meant that my relationship with English has been somewhat knotty since before my birth. I was born in Sri Lanka and raised primarily in Australia and Nouvelle Calédonie (a small island-nation in the South Pacific colonized by France). TESOL is not a surprising career choice when I consider that I have on some level been untangling for many years the ways in which English becomes mine yet is simultaneously alien at the confluence of my race, heritage, and postcoloniality.

In your Critical Inquiry in Language Studies 2006 article on decolonizing ESOL, you wrote about your heritage language loss of Singhalese and Tamil and your family’s privileging of English.  While admitting that English has served you well, you acknowledge some loss.  What advice do you have for others struggling with the loss of their heritage language(s) or the pressure to deny their background in a quest to speak fluent English?

Thinking about how language ideologies become naturalized has been a long, befuddling voyage for me, a voyage that I suspect may have no endpoint. It’s taken a while for me to appreciate the ways in which what Gogolin (1994) terms monolingual habitusmakes itself evident on an individual level, the inscribed and reinscribed normalization of monolingualism through discursive practices, the notion that one must develop a primary allegiance or identification with one language over another. I am also still learning to recognize the ways in which some language identities become more desirable because they are associated with privilege, Whiteness, modernity, trendiness, and the concept of “Western-ness.” As a field, we are still learning to understand how desires are formed and fed and the role they play in shaping language choices. I’m optimistic that as we come to understand better how these types of language ideologies work, we will be better equipped to avoid heritage language loss. In many contexts, heritage language maintenance is difficult. On an individual or family level, it requires a glaring intentionality and continuous critical analysis of surrounding discourses. For instance, Aneta Pavlenko draws our attention to a passage in the biography of Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez (1998, in Pavlenko, 2001). Alvarez tells of the time when her mother was speaking to her daughters in Spanish in a store in New York City. A stranger commented that if they wanted to be in the country, they should learn the language. Many ideologies are embedded within the stranger’s few simple words: the ever-present monolingual habitus—the notion that if you are speaking Spanish, you are unable to speak English; the assumption that a mother in New York should be speaking only English with her children, regardless of what language is intimate; the idea that this stranger would know better than a Spanish-speaking mother what is best for herself and her children. If we are not vigilant, these ideologies remain unquestioned and become naturalized. Alvarez describes her mother’s response. ‘I do know the language,’ my mother said in her boarding school English, putting the woman in her place” (p. 61-62). Her response challenges some ideologies, but it does so by summoning others. For instance it invokes class privilege, raising other questions: Do mothers who do not have the class privilege that usually accompanies boarding school have the legitimacy to make language choices for their children? If she were to respond in a different form of English, for instance English that the speaker might associate with undocumented day laborers, would her choice to speak Spanish have carried less authority? Beyond the family level, heritage language maintenance requires a concerted recognition among individuals, schools, institutions, policymakers, and parents of the value of heritage language maintenance and can be difficult for a family to achieve alone. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the multiple ways in which linguistic identity intersects with class, for instance of discourses that attach English monolingualism to class privilege—in many EFL contexts, English proficiency has historically telegraphed class privilege, but English monolingualism even more so—and of the ways in which these contribute to heritage language loss.


A few of your early articles focused on ESOL programs in K-12 settings.  How did you get involved in this type of research and have you been conducting any other studies in this area?

I care deeply about school reform. Schools offer great promise for engendering widespread social change, and I am (usually) optimistic about the role that education can play in making the world a better place for all its inhabitants. As a novice teacher myself in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, I became intrigued by the ways in which the institution of public schooling served to socialize teachers and children into certain positionalities, and I was particularly surprised by the gap between what I had learned in my teacher education program and what I experienced in K-12 schools. TESOL had been an alluring career option for me for several reasons, one of the most significant being its potential to provoke social change. My master’s program helped me to think about and talk about my commitments to anti-oppressive pedagogical practice and to supporting social justice in my future teaching contexts. However, in the hallways of the underresourced elementary school I eventually found myself in, my pursuits seemed to lose their viability. For instance, I still look back with puzzlement upon one conversation I recall, wondering at my lack of critical questioning when in a discussion of a lesson on voting rights, my mentor teacher explained to me that “Democratic classrooms don’t work, they’re a nice idea, they’re just not practical with these students.” Later, as a supervisor of student teaching for several years during my doctoral program, I often heard my own earlier dilemmas mirrored in the words of the teacher candidates whose practica I was coordinating, and I became interested in exploring how teachers came to terms with these fissures and made sense of their practice in such fragmented terrain. This pondering led to my dissertation study, which was an ethnographic study of four first-year K-12 teachers’ processes of learning to teach. In terms of current research projects, I tend to be more comfortable researching a site or participants with whom I have some familiarity, so I’m currently working on knowing more intimately local educational contexts and building relationships in my new space in the Pacific Northwest.

In the abovementioned articles, you drew rather extensively on race and postcolonial theory in analyzing the power dynamics in K-12 ESOL programs.  Was your interest in these theories sparked by your own language experiences?  Could you explain how these theories have been useful in your scholarship and how they can help scholars and teachers address inequalities in TESOL?

It’s actually quite difficult for me to carry out any analysis of TESOL that doesn’t draw on theories around race and empire because these form the basis of our field (Motha, 2006a; 2006b; 2006c; Motha, Jain, and Tecle, forthcoming). The historical dissemination of the English language was racialized and rooted in colonialism, and the contemporary proliferation of English continues to be entrenched in racialized and (neo)colonial power relations, so I remain interested in these theoretical frames. Theories of race and empire offer great promise in helping us to understand the role played by English in the inequitable distribution of resources and power globally and the differential English learning experiences of learners in different contexts. They help to explain why English language varieties are assigned different values and the consequences of these differences socially. They shed light on possible avenues for transformation and as such offer exciting potential for shaping the ways in which we as a field approach teacher education. As I began my master’s degree, I was fortunate to have a sociolinguistics class with Shelley Wong, who was artful in explicating the relevance of race theories and postcolonial theories for TESOL. The class highlighted for me the importance of including this type of theoretical content in TESOL teacher education.

Many years later, I remain intensely interested in these theories. I am currently teaching a new graduate seminar at the University of Washington titled: Race and Empire in TESOL. The class is filled with exciting emerging scholars who are already doing engaging and important work that draws on these frames to look at how race and postcolonialism intersect with language minority rights, evangelism, globalization, gender, representations of English as a lingua franca, sexual identities, the supremacy of native speaker identity, and numerous other themes. Most of my writing these days is for my book Looking at the Light Cast by Someone Else’s Lamp: Race and Empire in English Language Teaching.

In addition to applying the abovementioned theories, you have used feminist theories as well as theories such as Norton’s (2000, 2001) theory of imagined communities and Foucault’s (1980) theory of regimes of truth in your work.  Could you explain why your work is so theoretically driven and provide advice for teachers and graduate students seeking to understand and apply theories in challenging the linguistic equalities they witness in the TESOL profession?

I think of some of the work you refer to as theoretically informed rather than theoretically driven. I try to avoid attempts to “apply” a theory or force a real-life situation into a theoretical framing, rather than the converse—that is, rather than allowing theory to flow from critical reflection on life. For me, it is helpful to have as a point of departure the concrete and tangible, whether this takes the form of data, people, pedagogical practice, incidents, or conversations. For instance, the work you refer to, which brings together the two frameworks of imagined communities (Norton, 2000) and regimes of truth (Foucault, 1980), emerged from conversations with my co-authors, Sherrie Carroll and Jeremy Price, in which we struggled to understand the tension between on one hand language learners’ creative and inspiring imaginings of their future selves and on the other hand dominating, even unattainable images of who they should be. The theorizing was spawned within our conversations of patterns and themes that cut across the lives of both Sherrie Carroll’s participants and mine. Of course, working with the concrete in isolation is equally dissatisfying. Theories can offer explanatory power and help us to understand individual interactions more deeply; they give us access to understanding across incidents, contexts, and disciplines. Freire’s (1998) words often come to mind when I contemplate the tension between theory and practice in my teaching but also in my research and scholarship: “Critical reflection on practice is a requirement of the relationship between theory and practice. Otherwise, theory becomes simply ‘blah, blah, blah,’ and practice, pure activism” (p. 30).

One of the data sources for one of your studies included afternoon tea sessions, and you ended up privileging the data from these discussions over other data collected during this study.  You wrote about the value of this unorthodox method in a 2009 book chapter.  Could you explain your research choice in this instance and the value of challenging accepted methodologies, especially in addressing inequalities?

Over the years, tea has come to take on rich meanings in my day-to-day life. I serve it during my practicum classes, my office hours, upon returning home with my young daughters after picking them up from school, in gatherings of my writing collective. I sip it continuously wherever I write, in the island cabin I sometimes escape to, in my favorite Seattle tea house writing spot. Tea has come to represent for me comfort, community, contemplation, consolation, camaraderie, and creativity. I add other troubling cs to my associations with tea—for instance, in the context of Sri Lanka: colonization. Another c is ceremony, evoking the ways in which obfuscated social knowledge surrounding formal teas has served to reinscribe social hierarchies. In her wonderful new book, Interrogating Privilege, my friend and mentor Stephanie Vandrick (2009) similarly connects tea with various associations, including, she tells us: “…my childhood in barely post-colonial India, my Anglophilia, my beloved English novels, women’s groups…” (p. 18) and expresses misgivings that resonate with my own: “… it is also a source of ambivalence because of its postcolonial and social class associations.” (p. 18).

The afternoon teas weren’t even in the initial proposal for my study of four first-year ESOL teachers; they arose quite organically from my study-partners’ desire for a space in which to come together and support each other. The study was designed to draw primarily on interview and classroom observational data over an academic year. Within the first fortnight of the study, two of my study-partners, Alexandra and Katie (names are pseudonyms), asked whether they could start meeting with their former classmates, and the five of us began gathering in my living room every two or three weeks after the last school bell rang. As I began to analyze my data, it became clear to me that the afternoon tea data were quite different from all of the other data, particularly the interview transcripts and observation field notes, in three important ways. First, they positioned me more closely to the teachers’ voices than the observations ever could have. In my observation field notes, I was relating the events of classrooms that I did not belong to. The afternoon tea transcriptions afforded me an extra layer of proximity to the teachers’ interpretations of their pedagogies because in the afternoon teas, the teachers recounted their own lives. I hasten to add here that I do not claim, of course, that I am offering an accurate or complete representation of my study-partners or their teaching lives: in my telling of events I still choose which pieces of data to include or exclude, how to frame each piece, and which other scholars to put the data into conversation with, so my narration of the afternoon teas remains me telling someone else’s stories. Second, absent in the observational and interview data was the element of community. As the teachers began to support each other, they changed their own but also each other’s and my practice as they coached, mentored, and worked through challenges with each other. The sociocultural richness of this dimension would have been more elusive without the afternoon teas as a data source. And thirdly, the afternoon teas were for me a hospitable site for praxis. Because in the afternoon teas, teachers were sharing their thinking about their teaching, the teas brought together teachers’ pedagogies and their theorizing about practice.

As I became more appreciative of the connection between the afternoon tea transcriptions and these three elements, voice, community, and praxis, I felt a growing need to find a way to privilege that data. I used constant comparative methodology, but I coded the afternoon tea data first, then introduced other data only as they related to the themes that I had seen emerging from the afternoon tea data. In this way, I sought to create a space that honored, methodologically speaking, the teachers’ voices, power of community, and praxis.


Casey, K. (1993). I answer with my life: Life histories of women teachers working for social change. New York: Routledge.

Carroll, S., Motha, S., & Price, J. N. (2008). Accessing imagined communities and reinscribing regimes of truth. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 5(3), 165-191.

Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings 1972–1977. C. Gordon (Ed.). London: Harvester.

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Gogolin, I. (1994). Der monolinguale Habitus der multilingualen Schule. Münster: Waxmann-Verlag.

Motha, S. (2009). Afternoon tea at Su’s: Participant voice and community in critical feminist ethnography. In S. Kouritzin, N. Piquemal, and R. Norman (Eds.), Qualitative research: Challenging the orthodoxies. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Motha, S., Jain, R., and Tecle, T. (forthcoming). Translinguistic identity-as-pedagogy: implications for teacher education.International Journal of Innovation in English Language Teaching & Research, 1(1).

Motha, S. (2006). Racializing ESOL teacher identities in U.S. K-12 public schools. TESOL Quarterly, 40(3), 495-518.

Motha, S. (2006). Decolonizing ESOL: Negotiating linguistic power in U.S. public school classrooms. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 3(2/3), 75-100.

Motha, S. (2006). Out of the safety zone. In Curtis, A. and M. Romney (eds.), Color, race, and English language teaching: Shades of meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender ethnicity and educational change. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Norton, B. (2001). Non-participation, imagined communities and the language classroom. In. M. Breen (ed.), Learner contributions to language learning: New directions in research (pp. 159–171). Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Pavlenko, A. (2001). In the world of the tradition, I was unimagined: Negotiation of identities in cross-cultural autobiographies.International Journal of Bilingualism, 5(3), 317-44.

Vandrick, S. (2009). Interrogating privilege: Reflections of a second language educator. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Young Mi Kim

                                           NNEST of the Month

                                                     April, 2011


Young Mi Kim is a professor of English Language and Literature Department at Duksung Women’s University in Seoul, Korea. She has been teaching here since she finished her doctorate in the International and Multicultural Education department of the school of education at the University of San Francisco in 1995.  She is currently the chairperson of the English department in her university.  She has published more than 20 articles in academic journals and 13 books and textbooks for children and university students, including her forthcomingIntercultural Communication Strategies for university students.  Her academic articles written in both Korean and English concern such topics as critical reading practice for EFL readers,  strategies for effective team teaching between Korean speaking English teachers and native speaking English teachers, interdiscourse communication in an elementary English classroom, English medium instruction in higher education in Korean universities, and formation of intercultural identity in an intercultural communication course in an university based critical pedagogy course.  Her main research interest, a critical approach to language education, is not a mainstream issue in Korea.  But she hopes that her research might trigger of butterfly effect to change the whole structure of English education in Korea.

Young Mi Kim was a Fulbright scholar at the University of California in Berkeley where she studied with Claire Kramsch.  She is an executive board member of several associations including the Korean Association for the study of English Language and Linguistics, the Association of Foreign Language Education, Korea and Association of Applied Linguistics, Korea. Her e-mail address is


NNEST blog April interviewer:  Terry Michael Grayling Doyle

1. Could you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator?

In the late 80’s in Korea, English became an important tool for social mobility especially for women, who were still treated as second class citizens. So I decided to enter the English department of my university to master English to be a good business woman. However, while I was taking the course I became interested in teaching so I decided to obtain a teacher’s certificate to be a high school English teacher. While I was doing a practicum in a middle school, in one of my courses to get teacher certification, I saw many young students were very motivated, but something was missing.  So I felt I wanted to do something for them. That was the initial seed that eventually led to my interest in studying about critical pedagogy, and especially how it is related to language education in Korea and other countries with similar language educational needs.  While I was studying for my doctorate in International and Multicultural Education at the University of San Francisco, I was introduced to the work of Paulo Freire and the field of critical pedagogy.  I was also able to study with Claire Kramsch at UC Berkeley. These experiences made me highly motivated to study language education from the perspective of critical pedagogy.

2.  In your paper entitled “English Medium Instruction in Higher Education: Does It Promote Cultural Correction or Cultural Continuity” which you published in 2008, you investigated the virtues and problems with EMI (English mediated instruction) in Korea. In particular, you asked the question of whether EMI promoted “cultural correction” (reproduction of inequitable relations of power in EMI settings)  or “cultural continuity” (opportunities for transporting students into a third space and enabling them to explore cultural diversity and to create new knowledge for themselves).  Briefly, what were you findings in this research? What do you think their significance is to the discussion of what Donaldo Macedo calls “the hegemony of English”?  What course of action would you suggest that educators in Korea and other countries of the “outer circle” take?

In Korea, there are increasing numbers of EMI courses in universities; this situation is connected to the political issue of the globalization of Korean Education. Looking at this phenomena, I wondered whether it really promotes the power of Korea through EMI as we intended or whether we are forced to play into the hegemony of English and whether we as English educators become messengers who reproduce the inequitable relations of power, which I call “cultural correction”, through the use of EMI. In the paper you mention, I conclude that in the class I focused on for this research there were more cases of “cultural correction” than of “cultural continuity” which provides opportunities for students to transport themselves into a third space enabling them to explore cultural diversity and to create new knowledge for themselves.

Examples of cultural correction that I found in my research included a tendency for the professor to fix Korean classroom discourse as if it were American classroom discourse, and the resulting reproduction of Orientalism in the local educational setting. Cases of cultural continuity included the use of comparison to consider the cultural reality of the milieu, creating new knowledge for the local milieu, and learning as a dynamic ongoing process.

There are implications for this research in both educational policy and curriculum development in Korea.  We cannot deny that internationalization of the university in Korea is very important in the global economy and academic community. However, we have to make sure that internationalization through EMI does not further colonize students in an English educational system characterized by linguistic imperialism. Rather, in order to create cultural continuity in foreign language education though EMI there should be conscious efforts to be vigilant and a willingness to see and have a critical understanding of representation of the foreign which are perpetuated by society. As for curriculum development, in order to promote cultural continuity, a small culture approach should be used because it stimulates an equality of status among all concerned parties. For cultural continuity the ideal curriculum is a combination of forces and a complex in which people interact on an equal basis. In teacher training, EMI should be carried out by subject specialists who are trained in language education and have knowledge about the students’ backgrounds,  needs and discourses in L1, and in the local context in order to create mélange.

3.  In your most recent research you studied the Formation of Intercultural Identity of Korean university students using critical literacy”. In fact, you have published other papers on mainstream and critical (new perspective) intercultural communication.  Why is it important to study the identity formation of Korean students from elementary school to university?  What does your research say about the currently popular communicative approach to language teaching, especially in Korea and other countries of Asia?

Because of native speakerism, fluency of speaking English with standard pronunciation is often seen as a goal of English education, and critical intercultural communication skills and proficiency are ignored. Indeed, achieving native-like pronunciation is a high stakes goal for many learners of English in Korea.

Moreover, in Korea and other countries in Asia there is a focus on learning about English speaking cultures through learning English. This makes students feel these cultures are more important than their own culture. Students in Korea come to feel that they share similar historical experiences with people of the west. In order to modernize Korea based on a western concept of modernization, there is a tendency to accept western culture without any filtering; therefore, promotion of Korean culture ends up being sacrificed. However, in the glocalizationed world, a student’s identity is so important when they are creating their third world identities. The economic globalization of the world forces us to live a homogenous life style; on the other hand, to be successful as a leader in the world, one should be the same as others but very ironically also unique.

I have proposed in the paper you mention that Korean students should create their unique third culture identities through intercultural communication. For this process to be successful, students should know themselves first and understand others, too. In this way, the critical perspective could be helpful. This critical perspective is particularly needed to prevent students who study English as foreign language from being neo-colonialized through the hegemony of English. It is important for people in all countries to keep their power to protect themselves rather than being taken over by others. The critical IC approach proposed in my paper can enable students to be empowered and armed with cultural power.

The findings of this study should therefore make the local educators think about how university students learn English without sacrificing their local identities and recognize the value of the Korean local vernacular modes of teaching (Canagarajah, 2004) and of the continuing vernacularization of English in postcolonial contexts (Ramanathan, 2005).

4.  The main issues which this blog is concerned with are non-native teacher issues.Thus, we have the name “NNEST blog”. What is your view of the relationship between native speaking and non-native speaking teachers in Korea? What advice would you give somebody like me who works with MA TESOL students as a mentor, and who wants to encourage and advise these students in the best way?

Again, based on native speakerism, many people believe that fluency of speaking English with standard pronunciation is an important goal of English education. Therefore, it seems a very natural assumption to hire native speaking teachers to teach students in Korea how to speak English without a concern for the level of the class. If the students are very highly motivated adult learners, it does not matter whether or not the teacher has professional skills to motivate and teach students. However, the fallacy of native speakerism is applied every place in English education. In some classes, for example in classes for young learners who don’t have much instrumental motivation but who study English because of school or parental pressure to learn English as a foreign language, it is more important for teachers to have a professional background about teaching children as well as English competence. In this case, trained and experienced Korean English teachers should be preferred because they know more about Korean children and possess skills to motivate them. However, because of the fallacy of native speakerism, although the native speaking teacher doesn’t have these qualities, they are preferred and are often hired ahead of more qualified Korean teachers. Therefore, Korean English teachers who study abroad for MA TESOL degrees might return to Korea and be disappointed to find this kind of situation. For example, I heard of an MA TESOL student who found such discrimination by an employer from Korea who attended the job fair at the TESOL conference. Another recent MA TESOL graduate returned to Korea only to find that in all jobs he applied for “native speakers” were hired.  He has therefore decided to return to the United States to study for a doctorate.

I would advise MA TESOL graduates to be proactive by continuing to improve your professional and linguistic skills. Also, I would advise you to join together with other non-native English teacher colleagues in Korea and around the world through the internet. When you get together with other colleagues who have similar backgrounds and ideas that you have, you can find support, fellowship, and resources to continue your careers and to protect your rights. Try to use your voice to break down the fallacy of native speakerism. Of course, nowadays, many native speakers, especially those graduating recently, understand the importance of cooperation between native and non-native speakers in our field. So I would hope that there can be an emphasis on building on this cooperation. After all, we all have a lot to learn from each other.

5.  In my work as a mentor teacher for student teachers working in my ESL classes, I feel a tension between using communicative approach activities and form focused activities. In particular, my international student teachers from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan say that the communicative approach they are learning in their MA TESOL classes might not always be appropriate when they return to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan to teach.  Do you think the communicative approach is appropriate in Korea and other contexts? What do you think is the source of tension for my international student teachers? Have you encountered any problems when teachers use communicative approach activities with students in Korea?

Since the CLT method came out, it has been modified so much and actually there is no one clear direction for how to teach with the CLT approach. Rather there are multiple approaches for how to adapt this approach to indigenous teaching and learning contexts. As for the implications of CLT in Asia, in the beginning there were some misunderstanding and problems for how to use CLT because it was cultivated in a non-Asian context. One of the important aspects always mentioned about CLT is that it encourages student-centered learning. It seems very simple in the context where the CLT was cultivated, because it means simply changing the teacher’s orientation toward students. However, in a hierarchical society like Korea, there are some special relationships between students and teachers, and these socially structured relationships are supported by hierarchicalism. Therefore, it is not just a matter of changing the teacher’s self consciousness toward students and preparing lessons based on a learner centered approach.  Rather, it requires changing the whole structure of the social relationships between teachers and students, between teachers and parents, between teachers, and between parents and students. There were some conflicts about values and beliefs when CLT was first introduced in the Asian context. That is, it was not simply a change to a learner-centered way of teaching but a change for learners to have Western values and beliefs. Because Korean learners are different from western learners, adopting activities based on CLT without modification requires Korean learners to be westernized. This is not easy and not right. Although the learner centered approach was a basic reform issue in Korea when CLT was first cultivated, such a learner-centered approach seemed awkward in Korea. CLT was introduced or adapted first before a learner-centered orientation throughout all subjects was introduced. Therefore, it was not so easy to apply it to the Korean context. The struggle to implement CLT in Korea continues, and there will be a lot of struggle and negotiation to adapt CLT for Korean learners especially for those who have studied abroad. So far there have not been many suggestions for how to deal with problems in the implementation of CLT in Korea. As we all know, in Korea the teaching context, individual students, teacher’s pedagogy are slightly or more obviously different, so in order to implement the theory of the communicative approach in a positive and effective way, there shouldn’t be one fixed type of teaching and activities,  but there should be an emphasis on the development of activities which are localized for teachers’ own teaching and learners’ own learning environments.

6.  Testing is a big issue all over the world.  In the United States there is more and more emphasis on testing because it seems to be pushed by politicians who have great influence on school administrators. Classroom teachers want to resist, but we just have to go along for fear of losing our jobs. I know that in Korea and other countries in Asia, there has been a longer history of standardized testing. But also recently another problem in Korea and other Asian countries is that many universities and even employers use exams created in the United States such as the TOEFL and TOEIC. What is your opinion of testing?  Why is it so important? What are the specific problems with testing in Korea? Do you have any other thoughts about testing?

In highly competitive societies – especially in education which is the most prestigious element of society to mobilize, the easiest way to motivate students is through a TEST. And the English test is a big portion of the TEST. Think back to the success of the Audiolingual method used by the Army – if you didn’t want to die, you should learn a foreign language. Since there is a big salary gap between white collar and blue collar workers,  the best way you can be successful and rich in Korea is to get into a prestigious university. There is no better strategy to motivate students.  Students have to strive to pass the test in order to survive in this society; otherwise, they will have a hard time for their whole lives – getting married, being a good child to your parents, and being a good parent for your child. This characteristic of Korean society comes originally from Confucianism. Therefore, there is no choice but to prepare for the TEST. Although tests can motivate students to study for and pass tests successfully, it doesn’t mean that students are fully motivated to construct knowledge in critical ways for their emancipation. As Freire’s model of banking education shows, students try to analyze (actually private institutions do this for some special tests) the patterns of test and learn increasing numbers of testing strategies rather than constructing knowledge for their own needs and experiences. The audio-lingual approach wasn’t successful for real students because students are not soldiers. They can survive in life without learning a foreign language so that this approach did not provide enough motivation for students. In the same way, like the failure of the audio lingual approach in foreign language education outside of the military, the Korean context has to be changed so that students will feel motivated to construct knowledge in critical ways and useful to their real lives.

7.  You have a successful career in English language education, and also you are the mother of young daughter.  Have you decided to use your educational philosophy to teach your daughter English?

I don’t know whether I am successful or not. I have a few principles to manage myself. Although my main interest, the critical approach to language education, is not a mainstream issue in Korea because most English educators are still focused on how to teach effectively in terms of increasing English competence, I try to show my voice by publishing papers and lecturing for small change. I have some hope that it is going to trigger of butterfly effect to change the whole structure of English education in Korea.

And I am trying to apply my educational philosophy to teaching my daughter English in order to prove my pedagogy is not really separate from real teaching.  I see that many educators have some gap between theory and practice especially when they teach their children. I hope there will not be this gap with my daughter.  I will let you know in a few years when my daughter gets older.


Canagarajah, S. (2004). Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses, and critical learning. In B. Norton & K. Toohey (Eds.), Critical pedagogies and language learning (pp. 116-137). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kim, Young Mi (2008), English medium instruction in higher education: Does it promote cultural correction or cultural continuity? English Language & Literature Teaching, 15(4)

Kim, Young Mi. (2010). Formation of Intercultural Identity of Korean university  students using critical literacy. Foreign Language Education, 17(3).

Ramanathan, V. (2005). The English-vernacular divide: Postcolonial language politics and  practice. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.