NNEST of the Month
Dr. Liming Deng is a professor of English and the Deputy Dean of the English Department in the College of Foreign Languages and Literature at Wuhan University in Wuhan, China. She is a standing committee member of the China Writing, Teaching, and Research Association. She is also a reviewer for The Chinese ESP Journal and The Open Journal of Modern Linguistics. She received her Ph.D. from City University of Hong Kong. Her main research interests in applied linguistics and second language acquisition include genre study, discourse analysis, academic writing, and ESP pedagogy. Since 1999 she has published more than 30 articles in journals and edited books. In 2012 an article she co-authored entitled “The Role of Translation in EFL Classrooms: A Chinese University Case Study” which appeared in the book entitledFuture Directions in Applied Linguistics: Local and Global Perspectives edited by C. Gitsaki and R. B. Baldauf and published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. In the interview below she discusses her latest article entitled “Academic Identity Construction in Writing the Discussion & Conclusion Section: Case Studies of L2 Chinese Social Science Doctoral Students” which appeared in The Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics. She has also undertaken several research projects over the past decade including her most recent one A Study of the Development of Chinese Students’ Generic Competence, which was funded by China National Social Science Research Grant from 2010 to 2013. Professor Deng can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
December NNEST blog interviewer: Terry Doyle
1) Please tell us about your experiences as an English language learner and also about your professional background as an English teacher and professor. When did you start learning English, and how did you become so proficient in English? What factors led to your decision to become an English teacher and later a professor? Also, tell us about your experiences of studying in Canada and in Hong Kong for your PhD.
Thank you for inviting me to this interview.
I began to learn English at the age of 12 when I was a junior high school girl. At that time we severely lacked teaching facilities such as computers and tape-recorders for learning English. Despite the poor conditions, I showed a strong interest in English as it was a fascinating foreign language so different from my mother tongue. I was particularly attracted by the rhythm basically represented through syllable stress and intonation whenever I read English aloud. I tried to improve my English proficiency through imitation, recitation, and extensive reading. In class I simply imitated my English instructor when she spoke English. After class I often went out of my way to read aloud any fables and fairy tales trying to recite some of the beautiful lines. Also, I read all the interesting short stories provided by the English instructor. As time went on, I became increasingly interested in English. I chose English as my major before I took part in the national entrance examination. After I entered Wuhan University as an English major, I tried ever harder to improve my English. I consciously made full use of any resources available to me to develop my listening, speaking, reading, and writing. I often went to the language lab to listen to various kinds of authentic English tapes and tuned in to such English radio programs as Voice of America every day. And I kept practicing spoken English with my speaking pair in my spare time for several semesters. Besides this, I developed the habit of speaking to myself in English every night before I went to bed. I enjoyed reading very much. I picked up a number of classic novels and short stories in the original to nourish my mind and increase my sense of language after class, especially during the summer and winter vacations. While reading, I tended to notice those well-written parts; after reading, I often wrote something down in English reflecting on what was most impressive to me. Meanwhile, I kept a diary in English, a practice which lasted four years till I graduated with a B.A. With my constant practice I became proficient in terms of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
I chose to be an English teacher encouraged by my parents and sister as well as driven by my personal dream. My parents were high school teachers who had been teaching Chinese for more than 30 years by the time I completed my MA study. My sister had already worked as an English teacher in one of the key universities in China. They kept encouraging me to go in for English teaching for it was a very good occupation for female college students then and would lead to a practical job in the future as our government was attaching more importance to English language education. Personally, I had been dreaming about being a college English professor ever since I began my undergraduate study in the English Department of Wuhan University, one of the top ten national universities in China. This is simply because an English professor could not only enjoy a very high social status, but more importantly, he or she could derive much pleasure from educating students of various levels to be qualified world citizens in terms of good personality and comprehensive competences.
I received financial support from the China Scholarship Council (CSC) which was officially initiated in 1996 by the China Ministry of Education. It was through fierce nationwide competition that I obtained the government scholarship for one-year of overseas study. I was sent to Canada as a visiting scholar in November, 1997. I chose the University of Windsor for a one-year stay because this school has a good TESL learning center and provides good facilities for foreign visiting scholars. That was a very good experience in my life. I exchanged a lot with the professors and instructors teaching and doing research in TESL. I was invited to participate in their classes and teach the international students Grammar and Writing. It was due to such an experience that I got to know the theoretical principles of the process writing approach and how this approach is implemented in the writing classroom. And I read quite a few books and journal articles which are focused on teaching writing and writing research. This laid a good foundation for my subsequent academic career. I successfully obtained a couple of national research projects on writing after I returned from Canada. Based on the research data of the projects, I published a series of academic papers in key local journals. I was able to be promoted to professorship 3 years later although I was breaking the school’s conventional rules as I did not hold a PhD yet.
Although I held my professorship for a couple of years, I still cherished the dream of pursuing PhD study in applied linguistics overseas. To balance family and study responsibilities, I decided to apply for a PhD program at the School of Graduate studies, City University of Hong Kong. Owing to my good language proficiency and academic background, I obtained a full scholarship for the first year of PhD study. And I was offered scholarships for another two consecutive years due to my good scholastic performance. I was lucky enough to be supervised by the world-famous linguist, Professor Vijay Bhatia, who has a very strong expertise in professional genre studies and ESP domain. He led me into the wonderland of genre studies and enabled me to further expand my research horizons. With his constant encouragement, nudges, and intellectual support, I fulfilled my PhD study within 3 years. What was most challenging during this time was doing ethnographic data collection and data analysis which involved case studies with 6 doctoral students in addition to my doctoral thesis writing itself. It took me more than a year to gather all the relevant research data as the 6 subjects might be suddenly absent from time to time at the last minute. Fortunately, they were kind enough to provide me the information I needed for my doctoral thesis research.
2) What are your main responsibilities as a professor at Wuhan University? What aspect of this job do you enjoy the most? What kind of research have you worked on?
We are supposed to conduct at least two courses for undergraduates each semester and one course for the postgraduate students every year. Besides this, we must have some publications at least in the key local journals and presses. Nowadays also publishing in SSCI international key journals and important overseas presses is becoming the trend. In my job as an English professor, I enjoy teaching most. I love being together with my students. I’m easy-going, considerate, and helpful to my students, which in turn has brought me their deep love and trust. I’m open to changing the ways I teach according to the needs of different students. Whatever I teach, I try my best to cultivate the students’ intellectual ability through proper critical reading and writing. I’m just as happy as a king when any of my students has made progress in learning.
I’ve worked on L2 writing competence facilitation, academic writing, and the development of L2 learners’ generic competence in the Chinese context over the years.
3) Many of our readers are graduate students in applied linguistics and TESL around the world. What challenges have you had in your career, and what advice would you give young graduate students based on your experiences?
As the whole world is becoming increasingly competitive, we professors have more challenges today than ever such as expanding the breadth of our professional knowledge, improving the current subject knowledge structure, updating our computer skills, innovating our teaching methods, and gaining proper recognition in our relevant academic field at home and abroad through high-quality publications. I think these should be the big challenges all professors across the world are faced with nowadays. To better tackle these challenges, we need to view them as the driving force of our daily survival rather than deem them as a huge pressure. Another important thing to do is to try to keep abreast of whatever is going on in one’s research area simply through reading the current literature. This might be the key to enabling us to see further by standing on the giant’s shoulders. As a matter of fact, our inspirations mostly occur while we are going through the literature which is related to our own research area. Given the importance of reading the literature, I often suggest to my postgraduate students that they keep track of relevant academic journals, particularly the international ones, to sort out all the articles related to their personal research interest. It does work to increase the students’ academic growth and my own as well.
4) Teaching is a very rewarding profession. What memorable experiences do you have as a teacher and professor during your career?
Teaching is really rewarding to me. I’ve taught as an English teacher at my university for almost 26 years, which has provided me a number of memorable experiences. I’d like to mention two here. One is of my students coming to my home on a rainy night to celebrate my birthday with me during the first year of my teaching. They walked far away to a well-known cake shop merely to choose a very particular birthday cake for me. To make me more happy, they sang a couple of popular folk songs one after another which moved me to tears. This was the most unforgettable birthday celebration in my life. Another is the annual graduation ceremony where I can feel deeply the pride and the excitement running over each of my students and myself as well when they put on their academic robes and take the group photo along with me. Nothing is so memorable than seeing your students growing up in front of you.
5) I am sure that you are familiar with issues related to NNEST. What issues in this regard would you like to address? What issues are particularly important in China? Do you feel that native English speaking teachers enjoy more benefits than non-native speaking teachers in China, as sometimes happens in other countries?
Nowadays the great majority of the Chinese English teachers across the country are challenged with high-degree pursuit and further development of their particular disciplinary knowledge other than language education. Most of the English teachers working at the schools of different levels still lack a PhD degree in English. The quotas for English doctoral program are rather limited on the one hand, and the teaching load for them is extremely heavy ranging from 10 periods to 18 periods of class time per week. It is apparently extremely demanding for English teachers to be able to enter English doctoral programs for further study. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of the English teachers in China are going in for General English which is meant to assist non-English majors in various disciplines with their English language proficiency. With the rapid development of English language education and more access to English teaching and learning resources on the Internet, non-English majors are becoming increasingly proficient in terms of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Most of the students have already passed the national English test, the CET-4 ( College English- Band 4), before they enter college. Given such a big change, the main stream of College English teaching now can never be test-oriented. It should shift the conventional English language teaching to teaching subject knowledge related to the students’ particular discipline, instead. This is indeed ESP-oriented (English for Specific Purposes). However, it sets a big challenge for English teachers as they severely lack disciplinary knowledge. Thus, it has been a major issue in China now as to how to make it happen in reality so that these English teachers are able to manage the teaching of subject content to the Non-English majors.
Native- English speaking teachers used to enjoy more benefits in China, but this is only partially true nowadays. Most of the native- English speaking teachers are employed merely to teach listening and speaking for the essential courses of the undergraduates. There are exceptions for those native teachers who have PhD degrees or professorship along with rich teaching experience. They are more often invited to conduct core subject courses.
6) You have done extensive research on theses writing. In your paper entitled “Academic identity construction in writing the discussion and conclusion sections of L2 theses: Case studies of Chinese social science doctoral students”, all of your six participants moved from a position of being “green hand” novice academic writers to one of full membership among academic writers “in a gradual process of academic literacy development and writer identity transformation.” Can you explain more about how a combination of “guided and legitimate periphery participation” and “social scaffolding” helped your participants? Also, can you give a particularly poignant example which illustrates how one of your participants managed to move through this process and how legitimate periphery participation and social scaffolding helped this person?
I found in my doctoral thesis research that the six participants moved from a position of being “green hand” novice academic writers to one of full membership among academic writers “in a gradual process of academic literacy development and writer identity transformation.” As manifested in the thick interview data, the student writers enacted their legitimate periphery participation in the process of drafting and revising their doctoral thesis writing basically through such social interactions as negotiation and mediation with those more knowledgeable community members including their supervisors, panel members, and other academics both within and outside of the school. In so doing, they obtained much more needed scaffolding and guidance for their ultimate disciplinary enculturation which helped them gradually evolve from novice student writers to the full membership of the particular discourse community. Take one of the participants, Cong, for example. He was in much trouble in organizing the content and rhetorical structure of the discussion and conclusion section in accordance with the academic conventions at the drafting stage. He related that this was mainly due to the lack of systematic training on doctoral thesis writing and his initial reluctance to discuss the specific thesis chapter writing with his supervisor and other scholars as he preferred a free and flexible writing style. Later at the revision stage when he came to realize the main problem in writing this section, he not only frequently went to his supervisor for advice and mediated with his panel members for suggestions, but also took the initiative to enter into professional conversation with other scholars as well. One day a famous scholar in his field, named Professor Smith (a pseudonym), came over for a talk for the faculty. Cong sought the chance to exchange with this big-name scholar particularly over the basic approaches to writing the Discussion & Conclusion section such as the ways of interpreting research data. As Cong recalled, he even went out of his way to talk about the main issues on thesis writing, particularly on the ways as to how to better deal with the Discussion & Conclusion section when he attended an international conference in the UK. Negotiating and mediating with the academics in this way not just helped Cong to acquire relevant conventions and norms for thesis writing and improve his drafted section in line with the rhetorical conventions, but also greatly enhanced his manipulating power in the subsequent revision and final shaping of this specific thesis part-genre writing. Through the whole process of drafting, revising, and shaping the Discussion & Conclusion section, Cong, like the other five participants, successfully moved from being a novice student writer at the initial stage to being a more skilled academic writer at the revision stage and finally to becoming a full member of the particular discourse community. It is apparently the combination of guided and legitimate periphery participation and social scaffolding that helped the participants, like Cong, to transform their academic identity along with the development of their academic literacy.
7) In regards to the research mentioned in the previous question, you mentioned that this kind of research has not been carried out with L2 learners in Asian countries before. What particular insights did your research contribute to the literature because the students were studying in Asia? Also, in comparing your research with that done in English speaking countries, can you tell us how the students in your study developed their academic literacy and transformed their identities differently from those in other countries, if indeed they did?
Doctoral thesis writing is viewed as a neglected conventional genre in the domain of L2 writing. There is a severe lack of empirical studies on how doctoral students go through thesis writing, especially on how they generally approach the specific Discussion & Conclusion section, in the literature. It is assumed that writing the Discussion & Conclusion section is challenging not merely for non-native English student writers, but also for native English student writers. The findings of my empirical research can thus offer some implications for L1 and L2 writing instruction and pedagogy, particularly for the one focusing on the teaching of the international students with Asian backgrounds.
Based on what I know from the literature and my own thesis research, I would like to say that both the non-native English speakers and the native English speakers follow a similar pattern in developing their academic literacy and transforming their identities, i.e., enacting their legitimate periphery participation through a sequence of discursive practices along with resorting to the academic resources available to obtain the needed social scaffolding. This might be seen as universal which can be further evidence for the importance of combining legitimate periphery participation with social scaffolding.
8 ) Let me move from talking about your academic work to something more personal. How have you managed to balance your responsibilities as a mother and wife with those as a hard working professor?
It’s always a conflict to be a good mother and wife on the one hand, and a hard working professor, on the other. This keeps challenging me, indeed. To be a qualified mother and wife is not easy; to be a hard working professor seems more demanding. After all, one’s energy is limited. We are not supposed to overdraft our energy whatever role we play in our lives and work. I really find it hard to balance the responsibilities as a mother and wife with those as a hard working professor. But I have been struggling to keep these roles balanced as much as possible over the years. People around simply see me as a model of balancing the different responsibilities. Only I know how far I should go. Thanks to the constant support of my family, I’ve been able to be more dedicated to my teaching and research.
Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and ideas with me and our readers, Professor Deng.
Chen, Q. and Deng, L.M. (2012) The Role of Translation in EFL Classrooms: A Chinese University Case Study. In C. Gitsaki & R. B. Baldauf ( Eds.), Future Directions in Applied Linguistics: Local and Global Perspectives (pp.88-103). Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Deng, L.M. (2012) Academic Identity Construction in Writing the Discussion & Conclusion Section: Case Studies of L2 Chinese Social Science Doctoral Students, Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics,3,301-323.