Monthly Archives: April 2012

Nugrahenny T. Zacharias

NNEST of the Month

May 2012

Zacharias-Lim profile pic

ntz.iup [at] gmail [dot] com

Nugrahenny Tourisia  Zacharias is a teacher-educator at a pre-service Teacher Education at the Faculty of Language and Literature, Satya Wacana Christian University, Indonesia. She obtained her Ph.D. in Composition and TESOL from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, U.S. in 2010. Her dissertation focuses on the identity construction and re-construction of 12 South-east Asian English teachers from Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand when they were taking a (post)graduate in the US.  Her research interest is in the area of identity issues in teacher education, curriculum and material development, and  the implementation of EIL concepts in second language education.  She has published in various national as well as international journals such as RELC Journal and Asia TEFL Journal.  Her recent book publication includes Stories of Multilingual English Teachers (2010), Bringing Linguistics and Literature in EFL Classrooms (Co-edited with Christine Manara) (2011) andQualitative Research Methods for Second Language Education: A Coursebook (2011). She also involves in training junior and senior high schools teachers in conducting Action Research.

NNEST May Interviewer: Todd Ruecker

Thank you for being our May 2012 NNEST Blog Guest. It has a been a pleasure to learn about your work and to have you share your diverse experiences as a NNEST researcher and teacher in Indonesia, Thailand, and the U.S. In our email communication before this interview, you noted that you have been interested in exploring English as an International Language (EIL) and issues facing NNESTs for a long time. Could you explain how you initially became interested in exploring these topics?

First of all, thank you very much for giving me the opportunities to share my voice in this forum.

I become acquainted with the topic when I was taking a graduate course in Thailand. At that time, I was registered in a course entitled “World Englishes” (WE) taught by Dr. Mario Saraceni. The course was an eye-opening experience for me, to say the least, because it has challenged my previous understandings of English teaching and English language teachers. From my previous education, I realized that my understanding of NNEST identities have been constructed around the projections of NNESTs as both culturally and linguistically deficient. I am not saying though that these unequal construction of NNEST teachers have necessarily led me to become an unconfident English teacher because in Indonesia, English teachers are constructed around various identities and non-nativeness is just one of them.

The WE course in Thailand has challenged my long-standing conceptualization of NNESTs. I was made aware of the existence of the so-called ‘native-speaker paradigm’ that I had thought to be the most appropriate and the only orientation in teaching English. I also was made conscious of the disempowering nature of the native-speaker paradigm for NNES teachers and learners, who made up the largest portion of English users globally. Most importantly, I underwent a deconstruction process of my previous belief and slowly instilled and reconstructed my belief of the value that NNESTs can bring to the profession and English language teaching and learning.

If I may use a metaphor to summarize how important the course has been for my self-confidence as an NNEST, it would be like being given the opportunities to be in the driver’s seat. Prior to knowing EIL concepts, I always sat in the backseat and allowed NESTs lead the way. My role was just to follow and emulate the way they drove the ‘ELT’ car without really being given the chance to be in the driver’s seat. The WE course has given me the realization and courage to take the driver’s seat and contribute to the direction and purpose of learning English. Certainly, this significant change of position (from the passenger to the driver) is not always comfortable as it requires a different set of skills and knowledge, but the feelings of actually being legitimized to hold the steering wheel is priceless. Since that time, I am always interested in NNEST issues and consider myself as “an EIL pedagogue”, attempt to bringing NNEST issues in my teaching, “a believer”, trusting that EIL paradigm will lead to a more fair balance of NNEST and NEST in the field and “a seeker”, always attempting to find and provide ways for EIL issues to exist.

I initially heard about your work through George Braine, who was a speaker at a seminar you organized, which was focused on “Teacher Education in the Era of World Englishes.” Could you talk more about the history of that seminar, the goals behind it, and the role it serves in raising awareness of issues that NNESTs face?

The seminar was, in fact, a part of a series of activities to raise awareness and integrate EIL issues in the department. It is based on the belief that awareness of EIL issues needs to be implemented through multilevel approaches. In the English Department, the awareness of EIL is raised through the faculty’s annual seminar, classroom pedagogy, teacher research and the department curriculum change, to name a few.

The selection of the seminar theme was a response to, what I believe, a lack of awareness of EIL issues in my own English department as well as in Indonesia. The seminar was expected to jump start and continue the conversation about the role of teacher education programs especially in the Expanding Circle with regard to EIL and NNESTs issues. Another purpose is to give a role model of what successful English teacher-scholars looks like. Therefore, all the plenary speakers (George Braine, Suresh Canagarajah, and Mario Saraceni) were specifically selected to showcase successful “nonnative speaker” scholars. For pre-service students, who made up the majority of the seminar participants, the selection of NNES plenary speakers encouraged them to envision their roles as NNEST scholars. In fact, after the seminar there were many students who personally came to me and shared how much they have been inspired by the speakers and felt more confident as future NNESTs.

In communicating with you and reading your 2011 article in k@ta, “An English Teacher Struggles to Establish Voice in the Periphery,” I learned that you have worked to raise your students’ awareness of the challenges NNEST teachers face and help them begin to reenvision their status as NNESTs through discussions/readings on World Englishes in your classes. However, you noted that you have had mixed success in this regard. Could you first talk about some of the ways you have integrated NNEST issues in your classes? Then, could you share some of the successful moments and less successful moments you’ve had when doing so?

Well, I have tried to integrate NNEST issues in my classes since the time I came back from the US in 2010. Interestingly, I felt students are more accepting now compared to the time when I introduced them to NNEST issues back in 2005, the experience that I wrote in the k@ta article. In all the courses I teach, I try to ‘slip-in’ NNEST issues either as the content of the course or peripherally. For example, in my Research Methods class, I gave students a text by David C. S. Li entitled “Researching Non-native Speakers’ Views Toward Intelligibility and Identity: Bridging the Gap between Moral High Grounds and Down-to-earth Concerns” and asked students to dissect the possible methodology in the article. For example, I asked the students to adapt the original questionnaire for Chinese students and targeted it for Indonesian students. During the discussion of the questionnaire, issues such as ‘the relationship between accent to NNEST identity construction,’ ‘issues of intelligibility’ and ‘L1 identity, accent, and NNES identity’ were some examples of discussion topics during the design of the questionnaire.  Some students were excited by the article and decided to use the topic for their own thesis.

In another class, Microteaching, I challenged the students to develop their 20-minutes mini teaching to reflect EIL orientations. Compared to the previous Microteaching classes, one interesting, yet significance, change that I noticed was that students started to design their own materials. One student created her own listening text about ‘food’ featuring local foods such as soybean cake (tempe) and fruit salad (rujak). Another student consciously drew a topic from current events happening in Indonesia like Sea Games. Many students admitted that knowing EIL approaches helped them to be more confident beginning NNESTs.

Of course at this point, there is varying degree of success and I am not sure if I can pinpoint one successful moment or less successful moments. As stated by many students, an EIL approach is relatively new in Indonesia so it is important to find ways to provide more outlets where EIL issues can be accommodated and also, “appropriated” to existing beliefs and practice.  Therefore, many students admitted that they were ‘confused’ and felt disoriented. Despite their confusion, it is interesting that many students, such as those in the Microteaching class, were so excited about knowing the approaches. Based on the focus group I conducted during the reflection session, students loved it because the approach validated their bilingual self. One of them said that prior to knowing EIL approach, she was not confidence as an English teacher because her English was decorated with Javanese (the local) accent. After knowing the approach, it was interesting that she has the courage to record her own voice for the listening text. Some even admitted that they want to integrate some parts of EIL into their teaching practicum. Others confessed that knowing the positive contribution of NNESTs boosted their self-confidence as beginning English teachers.

Canagarajah (1999) noted, “Among the worst culprits to popularize and/or legitimize the native speaker fallacy are the Periphery academic institutions themselves” (p. 83). In reading your work, this idea came back to me at several points. For instance, at one point you mentioned how Korean Universities require a U.S. doctoral degree for tenure. At another point, you explained how you really became aware of the benefits that NNEST teachers bring to the profession in a World Englishes course in a Thai MA program taught by NESTs. Finally, you noted that many of the graduate NNESTs you worked with for your dissertation project were exposed to critical pedagogies “challenging the monolingual bias in the profession” during their studies at a U.S. university. You said you plan to run for the dean of Faculty of Language and Literature at your institution in Indonesia, with the goal of raising awareness of EIL issues. What kind of changes would you like to see periphery institutions make in this regard?

I would like to contextualize my answer with regards to pre-service teacher education programs because those are the contexts I have been working in the last 10 years and have the most knowledge of. I think NNES teacher educators, who are actually the forefront of teacher education programs, need to truly believe in themselves and the positive contributions they bring to the teaching profession and English Language teaching. This is very important because “the culture of inferiority” (Rubdy, 2009, p.159) continues to be pervasive in periphery contexts especially in Indonesia. I continue to witness many teachers who often apologized if their English is decorated with local accent and labeled it as “bad.” So I think, the change needs to start from within, that is, NNESTs need to believe and advocate themselves that they too can be the role model for their learners.

In this regard, teacher education programs need to provide ways to create a space for identity reflection so that pre-service students can be aware of the teaching paradigm they have been exposed to and provide ways to question and even challenge them. Teacher Education programs need to focus on polishing pre-service teachers’ language skills so that they themselves can be confident of their language skills and competence.

At the institutional level, teacher education programs in the periphery need to focus on generating and appropriating knowledge from and to their own context. This is important so that periphery institutions can minimize “the culture of dependency” (Rubdy, 2009, p. 160) on the so-called Western countries.

Following on the previous comments and question, I’d like to ask what role you think NESTs can and should play in raising the status of NNESTs in ELT.

I am not sure if they have significant roles in raising the status of NNESTs in ELT because personally, I am of the opinion that it is the NNESTs who really need to be made aware of the positive contributions they can give to the profession. I know that this is hard since many NNESTs are educated under the native-speaker paradigm where their English is, most often, described as interlanguage or error-laden and thus, need to be “appropriated” to NS norms.

However, it might be good if NESTs can also be made aware of the current sociolinguistic profile of English uses and users and its’ implications on the teaching of English. This will help NESTs so that they do not perpetuate the native-speakerism in the field. For example, in many departments and/or institutions in Indonesia I often witness a tendency to hire NESTs simply because of their nativeness, not their expertise. Under such conditions, I personally think it is fair if NESTs, similar to their fellow NNESTs, attempt to increase their professionalism, perhaps, through pursuing higher degree and joining trainings in TESOL, for example.

In your book and 2010 article in The Journal of Asia TEFL, you explore the construction of teacher identities of 12 EFL teachers in U.S. TESOL Graduate programs. Could you share with us some of the major findings from this study?

There are generally two major findings from the study. First, is the importance of exposing NNES(T)s to critical pedagogies especially those relate to NNEST identity construction and the underlying power relations between NNES(T)s and NES(T)s (Pavlenko, 2003). If the goal of TESOL teacher education is not to indoctrinate or train NNESTs to robotically perform prescribed teaching behaviors, which most often come from the West, but to educate NNESTs to strengthen their unique characteristics and to use their own voice and knowledge in sound teaching practice, then helping NNESTs develop their own voices and establish positive identities becomes an essential pedagogy.

Second, the findings of my study also point to the need for integrating issues of returnee teachers in the university program. Teacher returnees are no longer the “personas” that they were when they left their home countries. Due to the fluid nature of identities of teacher returnees, attempts need to be taken to establish “an effective mechanism” (Lave & Wenger, 1991) to ease and assist their reentry processes into the home institution. Providing a space where teacher returnees can share their experiences while they were studying and living abroad might be useful. Such information-sharing activity can be useful for teachers who are planning to study abroad as well as for the department to accommodate the needs of teacher returnees to ease their re-entry process into the department.

Following on the previous question, could you tell us more about your own process of identity construction when pursuing graduate studies in the U.S.? Did previous exposure to scholarship on NNESTs and World Englishes help you adjust more easily to the program than some of the students you worked with did?

That is a very intriguing question. If you want to make a certain dish, does reading the recipe will make the cooking easier? Perhaps to a certain extent but not necessarily. Similarly, although prior engagement in scholarship on NNESTs issues might help to a certain extent, I found that the awareness did not guarantee my easy access to the U.S. communities of practice. I experience more or less the same struggles shared by many Asian graduate students when it came to position myself in the U.S. classroom. For example, although I knew that U.S. graduate professors expected active participation, I also underwent silent period or moments in the classroom and similar to many Asian students, I felt guilty for being unable to be active as expected.

Even though the awareness of NNESTs issues did not guarantee easy access to the U.S. academic communities, it sensitized and made me aware me of my own identity formation including my feeling of discomforts and uneasiness. Most importantly, I was able to, in some ways, ‘make peace with myself’ and quickly found strategies to help myself. Some of the strategies that I found useful is being more prepared when coming to class, including annotating the assigned reading, and discussing with fellow classmates.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of the NNEST Blog, especially new NNESTs establishing their identities as teachers and scholars?

I would suggest that they continue to develop professionally. This includes publishing and presenting in conferences as those opportunities will help you to align and make friends with other NNESTs and share your struggles and success stories with them.

Thank you again for the opportunity. It’s been truly an honor.


Canagarajah, S. (1999). Interrogating the “Native speaker fallacy”: Non-linguistic roots, non-pedagogical results. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 77-92). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rubdy, R. (2009). Reclaiming the local in teaching EIL. Language and Intercultural Communication, 9(3), 156-174.

Pavlenko, A. (2003). “I never knew I was a bilingual”: Reimagining teacher identities in TESOL. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2, 251-268.

Zacharias, N.T. (2011). An English teacher struggles to establish voice in the periphery. K@ta, 13(1), 64-77.

Zacharias, N. (2010). Stories of mulilingual English teachers: Negotiating teacher identities in the land of the natives. Germany: VDM Verlag.

Zacharias, N.T. (2010). The teacher identity construction of 12 Asian NNES teachers in TESOL graduate programs. The Journal of Asia TEFL, 7(2), 177-197.