For this special blog edition, the interviewers picked their favorite moments from each of last year’s interviews and explained their choice. We look forward to bringing you an interesting new set of interviews in 2013.
Anne-Marie de Mejia | Interviewer: Ana T. Solano-Campos
In “Power, Prestige and Bilingualism,” you point out that elite bilingualism is a world-wide phenomenon. What is elite bilingualism? And what are the implications of this for teaching and learning around the world?
From what I know of so-called “elite” bilingualism, most programmes, at least in Colombia and other parts of Latin America, have developed from private schools set up originally to cater to children of foreign speaking people who settled in the country. So today we still have various schools for French, German, Swiss, Italian, English and Hebrew speaking children. For many years, these were the point of reference for the elite bilingual programmes developed for Spanish-speaking Colombians. When they came into vogue, about 30-40 years ago, they were modeled on these community bilingual education programmes, and therefore paid a lot of attention to the development of the target language (in this case the international language the school had adopted rather than the student’s native language, or L1). In many cases, Spanish, the L1 of most of the students, was used in such subjects as Religion, Physical Education, and Music, while English or another foreign language was used for the “high profile” subjects of Math, Natural Science, Economics, and others. There was also very little reference to cultural considerations, as these were presumed to be non-problematic since the students came from the dominant language and cultural group. It was considered important to have native-speaking teachers of the target language, as the development of a “native-like” accent was (and still is) seen as essential. Moreover, most of the teachers hired had little knowledge of how to teach second or foreign language learners and therefore fell back on their knowledge of how to teach first language learners.
Now, although things have changed a lot in this respect and teachers and school principals are more conscious of the challenges involved in educating bilingual students, I think there are certain implications which can be drawn for teaching and learning around the world. First of all, it is important to recognize that in a profession which historically has had a monolingual, foreign language ideological orientation, as Grosjean (1985) has noted, a bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person; and that therefore a bilingual education programme needs to focus on the bilingual development of the learners and not on second or foreign language learning per se.
Furthermore, I think that the question of academic language and content learning needs to be balanced in the curriculum by attention to communicative language interaction if, as is often the case, parents expect their children not only to be able to do examinations in the foreign language, but also to interact with speakers of that language. I also feel that the notion of “the native speaker” and “native-like” accents needs to be problematized in light of the current debate as to whether the native speaker is now an anachronism. In my experience, many teachers currently teaching in elite bilingual programmes have not questioned the value of native speaker expertise. Rather, they automatically assume that native speaker expertise is superior to the expertise of high-level bilingual teachers, who can also act as linguistic and cultural role models for their students. This is especially important in these days where, according to Graddol (2006), most interactions in English are between non-native speakers of the language.
Finally, I would recommend that the sensitizing of students to cultural similarities and differences be carried out from an intercultural perspective which is not limited to the celebration of festivities per se, but which tries to engage learners in an on-going debate leading to deeper understanding of the meanings and implications of difference, diversity and similarity from a historically-situated viewpoint.
In her interview Anne-Marie de Mejia contextualizes the term “bilingual education” within the Latin American setting. In doing so, she unveils one interesting phenomenon: In many Latin American countries, bilingual education has come to be associated with English teaching for the elites and, more recently, English teaching in general. Being a Spanish-English bilingual is identified as an important marker of success, whereas other bilinguals are perceived as having less social status. In this specific question-answer, Anne-Marie de Mejia reminds us that “as Grosjean (1985) has noted, a bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person.” Yet, in highlighting the distinctions among the related fields of EFL, ESL, and Bilingual Education, she also reminds us the influence that the native speaker fallacy and English hegemony has had in those fields. In particular, Anne-Marie de Mejia pushes us to reflect on the language we use to think about language learning and teaching and challenges to ask, Is the term “native speaker” an anachronism? In the case of the English language, in a world where most English speakers are non-native speakers, this is certainly a question worth pursuing. Yet it also prompts us to expand research on the issue and to redefine what being a language speaker (of one, two, three or more languages; at home or abroad) means, for whom , and why.
February: Li-Fen Lin
Interviewer: Terry Doyle
Your dissertation completed for your PH. D. at the University of California at Davis last fall was a longitudinal ethnographic study in which you examined case studies of four student teachers in an MA TESOL program in one of the California State Universities; one participant was an international student, one an immigrant student, and two were “native speaker” students born in the United States. You state that one reason for choosing this topic was because “the NNEST/NEST dichotomy remains the most prevalent way of theorizing teacher identity in TESOL” and that “the process of the search for and construction of professional teacher identity, especially within MATESOL programs, is understudied in the field of TESOL and Applied Linguistics.” Can you explain how your study begins to fill the gap in the literature of TESOL and Applied Linguistics? How has your study added to the literature of Applied linguistics, teacher identity formation, and NNEST issues?
Before I answer this question, I want to thank Terry again for believing in my work and reading my draft. My dissertation study contributes to the previous NNEST literature and the literature on ESL/EFL teacher identity in three ways. First, drawing on ethnography as methodology, this longitudinal project contributes new insights into the importance of teacher identity development in the process of learning to teach in an MATESOL program from the student teachers’ perspectives. My participant and non-participant observation of the student teachers’ interactions in multiple dimensions inside and outside the classes they took or taught provides a situated description and situational comprehension of the kind of participation and negotiation that student teachers experience in the process of becoming an ELT professional. These are issues that quantitative research neglects to explore, and that interview-based research cannot provide data for (Lin, 2011).
Secondly, since no study has addressed the issue of teacher identity in TESOL and related fields by comparing the identity construction of prospective NNES and NES teachers within an MATESOL program, this study contributes to the bodies of existing research by providing a comparative study of NNES and NES student teachers’ identity construction within a MATESOL program. By including both NES and NNES student teachers, this study gives voices to student teachers coming from marginalized groups as well as from the dominant group. This dissertation adds to the understanding of how the idealized NES and the marginalized NNES student teacher negotiate and articulate their professional identities as they participate in dialogic interaction in the MATESOL program and in the wider TESOL community (Lin, 2011).
Finally, this study contributes to the understanding of teacher identity construction through a situated examination of the linguistic choices made by student teachers to position themselves in relation to their colleagues and other interpersonal, institutional, and social contexts. Following Weedon’s (1987) idea that language and identity are mutually constitutive, my dissertation study looks locally at multiple aspects of teacher identity in relation to the larger social, cultural and political contexts through language and discourse. (Lin, 2011).
The importance of identity development is well known in the literature of second language acquisition, but as Li-fen Lin (February, 2012 interview) and Shu-Chun Tseng (see her question below from the August, 2012 interview) point out the importance of teacher identity formation has not been discussed in the literature of TESOL and related fields. The research and dissertations of Lin and Tseng begin to fill this gap.
March: Elis Lee Interview
Interviewer: Davi S. Reis
You conducted a research study (Lee & Lew, 2001) on the voices of nonnative English speakers in a Masters of Arts Program through diary studies. How did the context of your study and the participants you worked with relate to your own experiences as a then Master’s student in the United States? Did you ever make use of a diary in a similar way as your study?
As I read the participants’ diaries I could see the parallels between what they wrote and what I had felt as a student. I could see the constant struggle with self-doubt and the tough reality of being an English language learner trying to become a teacher. The only difference was that at the time the participants were in their graduate programs writing about their experiences, the NNEST Interest Group had already been created and changes were already happening in the field. There were other studies and articles published, and the professional environment was more positive towards non-native speakers than when I was in a graduate program. The diaries served an important purpose, however, because the participants were encouraged to externalize their feelings and see that they were not alone. With externalization comes awareness of problems and possible solutions. More importantly, when one writes about possible shortcomings, there is also that self-defense mechanism that kicks in and makes one look at the positive side. That is, from the participants’ diaries I could see how the first entries reflected a stronger self-doubt in their abilities, especially when they compared themselves with classmates who were native speakers or when they had discussions in which the native speakers referred to cultural background the non-native speakers did not have. In later entries, though, the participants became more self-confident. It was the same as my experience as a Master’s student. When I started teaching, I also kept a diary which also showed the same self-doubt at the beginning and a gradual increase in self confidence, which came from not only experience in the field but also from connecting with other non-native professionals.
What strikes me about this particular stretch from Elis Lee’s interview is her willingness and courage to candidly address an issue that most NNESTs have had to face at some point in their careers: professional insecurity and self-doubt as a language user and teacher. Yet, it is through this very brave ‘externalizing of feelings’ that NNESTs can begin to openly and productively reconcile their emotions with their professional lives and aspirations. I appreciate Elis Lee’s efforts in supporting this type of professional development for the betterment of all NNESTs and of the TESOL field as a whole.
April: Nuria Villalobos
Interviewer Ana T. Solano-Campos
You are not only a language educator, but also an avid language learner. In addition to English and Spanish you also speak Portuguese. You are also currently pursuing a Masters in Teaching Spanish as a Second Language. What drives your passion to learn and teach languages? Has being both a Non-Native English Speaking Teacher and a Native Spanish Speaking Teacher given you any particular insights into the complexities of the native speaker fallacy?
I love languages because they make me a more open-minded, tolerant and wise person. Learning about cultures is another passion of mine. I am an eternal learner, and I know I will always learn something new about languages and cultures. Being an educator is not just teaching the different skills of a language, it is more than that. Education involves learning about everything and from everybody, it means giving the best of me to make others better, as well as myself. I love learning how languages are different, but most of all, similar. I believe it is essential for a language educator to be bilingual or even better, to know several languages. Experiencing the process of learning a second or foreign language is amazing, and it is important to have gone through it if we want to teach someone another language since we would understand that person better. Finally, by knowing different languages, and therefore cultures, we help to have a better world because as we learn another language, we have more tolerance and comprehension towards one another. Here is a nice quote that summarizes this: “Monolingualism is an illness, a disease which should be eradicated as soon as possible, because it is dangerous for world peace” (Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson 1989)
One of the reasons why I decided to study the teaching of Spanish as a Second Language is to experience being a native speaking teacher, besides the fact that I love Spanish of course. It is now going to be the other side of the coin for me. Even if I speak Spanish as a native language, I do not know how to teach it. It might not be as difficult in terms of methodology since I am already an English teacher and so I know about pedagogy. However, teaching certain skills such as grammar, writing and pronunciation requires a deeper knowledge for which speaking the language is not enough. Logically, I feel more confident teaching English than Spanish, even if English is my second language. I believe it is critical for native speakers to actually learn the language they teach because that way, they will have more knowledge and confidence. As a matter of fact, having credentials to teach a language should be a must when hiring an educator, regardless of being a native or non-native speaker. This does not mean that the native speaker should be preferred over the non-native one because they are both capable of doing a good job. The native status must not determine hiring practices, especially if non-native speaking teachers (NNSTs) are academically prepared while the native speaking teachers (NSTs) are not. That action would represent nothing but discrimination.
The April interview was especial for me, as I was able to interview a long-time colleague. This particular question-answer caught my attention because it is not often that we think about how “nativeness” and “non-nativeness” can coexist within one individual and provide insight into the challenges and rewards of language teaching. Nuria Villalobos, a native speaker of Spanish and non-native English speaking teacher, embarks in the journey of learning to teach Spanish as a Second Language and shares with us “I feel more confident teaching English than Spanish, even if English is my second language.” She reminds us that knowing a language, knowing about that language, and knowing how to teach that language are three different yet complementary endeavors. Language teaching professionals need expertise in all three of these areas. Acknowledging the complexity of language teaching is then the first step towards acknowledging the value that all language teachers bring to their classroom, but in particular, the professionalization of language teaching.
May: Nugrahenny T. Zacharias
Interviewer: Todd Ruecker
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?
I became 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 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 chose this moment from the May interview because it shares an important story: how one person became empowered through learning the value of being an NNEST. From a first time blog reader to a veteran scholar, we have all come to realize the unfairness of the NNEST/NEST hierarchy in ELT in some way. It is important to share these stories for a variety of reasons. We can celebrate stories like Henny’s where she felt empowered through the realization. We also benefit by knowing what changes minds, perhaps developing a World Englishes course at our own institution after reading Henny’s story. One of my favorite parts about this blog is that it shares diverse stories of how people from different places and backgrounds came together to address a single issue. Like Henny, I was unaware of this hierarchy and the implications behind it until later in life. As an NEST, I went abroad and easily found a job teaching EFL, making more than local teachers, a fact I learned as I befriended them. In my thesis I used the NEST/NNEST division without even thinking about it. It wasn’t until I was applying for PhD programs in L2 writing and I emailed a well known scholar did I start thinking about linguistic identity labels and the meanings surrounding them. I emailed this scholar telling them about my research, using the NEST/NNEST label. In their reply, they made a definite switch to L2 writer and we had a discussion about this shift in terms. I began to read more into this issue, eventually conducting some of my own research, and later became a member of this blog team. Now I regularly discuss this hierarchy with most of my students, knowing that it is important to raise awareness as we have done through the blog.
June: Wen-Hsing Luo Interview
Interviewer: Shu-Chun Tseng
What are the challenges that most local English teachers and NESTs in Taiwan face in a collaborative teaching environment? In what way have you prepared those teachers for their challenges?
The previous studies show that the challenges facing TTEs and NESTs in Taiwan are: (1) teachers have different perceptions of the formats of collaborative teaching, and (2) teachers are uncertain about the role played by each of the team teachers in the classroom. Additionally, a challenge specific for TTEs is: working with inexperienced or opinionated NESTs. As the turnover of NESTs is very high, many NESTs are not experienced in collaborative teaching of EFL. Working with inexperienced NESTs presents a big challenge for TTEs.
To help teachers tackle these challenges, the English Education Advisory Committee of cities or counties where the NEST program is implemented has provided TTEs and NESTs with pre- and in-service training sessions related to collaborative teaching of EFL.
I chose this question because the collaborative teaching model is not new in most EFL settings. However, the issues of implementing this model become an essential topic to explore. Luo’s studies point out the challenges that NESTs and NNESTs may face in this teaching model and offer the suggestions to overcome the challenges. Those institutions that adopt the collaborative teaching model should take the suggestions into account to enhance its effectiveness.
July: Amol Padwad
Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas
In Padwad and Dixit (2010), you question the top-down approach by the National Council for Teacher Education in India in implementing reflective teaching by way of its Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, stating that it seems to be “another instance of ‘imported’ and imposed ideas” (p. 11) and that “it is at risk of being reduced to a well-meaning but impracticable proposal.” Could you elaborate on this and discuss how you feel about imported ideas that do not consider the local context?
The National Curricular Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE, 2009) seeks to introduce reflective practice and social constructivism in teacher education. There are several problems with the way this is being done. For example, the very way of prescribing the new approach uniformly ‘from above’ goes against the grains of social constructivism. Secondly, reflective practice and social constructivism, as one finds them discussed in NCFTE, ignore the Indian context and cultures. It seems to me that these notions have been borrowed from other contexts together with assumptions which simply do not hold true in India. I understand and accept the value of social constructivism and reflective practice in education. But the kind of social constructivism or reflective practice embraced by NCFTE assumes certain class size, teaching-learning facilities, teacher qualifications and competence, overall work culture and supportive atmosphere, none of which are present in reality. So, the grand design is hardly likely to materialize in practice.
I have personally attended teacher training programmes aimed at orienting us on these new approaches, where the ‘experts’ gave us 90-minute lectures on social constructivism and we got the impression that reflection amounted to filling out some prescribed forms every week! And I am not talking of an isolated event. To put it bluntly, when experiential learning or reflection is not a part of our primary/ secondary/ tertiary or teacher education, can we really hope to convert teachers – the products of this education culture – into reflective practitioners through a series of training programmes in a couple of years? Can we hope to make our classrooms sites of experiential learning in a short time, when for decades they have been highly teacher-centric places? More importantly, can we bring in such a radical paradigm shift just by making policy changes at the top, while the ground reality remains unchanged, and hardly any attempts are made to change it?
I think from my tone and words you must have realized that I feel very strongly about this issue and am quite critical of the way NCFTE seeks to bring in the change. I don’t see any chance of such a change coming into effect without first providing various kinds of support to teachers, who are acknowledged as the change agents and on whom the success of the new initiative largely depends. Teachers in my context are NNESTs. They need support in terms of time and resources. They need incentives and encouragement. Many need support to improve their own English. Until the overall system and culture changes and becomes conducive to social constructivism and reflective practice, they need support in coping with the current system.
This part of the interview was a highlight to me because it was when Amol most strongly positioned himself against top-down policies imposed upon a group without considering the socio-cultural context, as if everything that is good for the West is necessarily good universally. I agree with Amol that Western approaches such as constructivism, experiential teaching and reflective practice will not replace traditional practices overnight. Even if they are considered desirable locally, it will take time and a series of long-term initiatives – and not just a few training sessions – for these approaches to be effectively implemented. I also believe in more bottom-up approaches to initiating change, for buy-in is essential for any significant change.
August: Shu-Chun Tseng
Interviewer: Terry Doyle
In the literature on non-native teacher issues the construction of professional identity seems to be a much understudied area of research. To date, to my knowledge there is only one book about this topic: Language teacher identities: Co-constructing discourse and community by Clarke. In her dissertation Li-fen Lin (see NNEST of the Month Blog, Feb. 2012) also examined the teacher identity development of MA TESOL students, two of whom were NNESTs. What particular contribution do you think your research has added to this literature? What do you think is or are the most important future question(s) regarding the identity development of non-native MA TESOL students that need to be addressed?
The important future questions regarding the identity development of non-native MA TESOL students should be looked at in two ways: one is non-native MA TESOL students in their home countries, and the other is MA TESOL students in countries other than their own. These two contexts make huge differences in shaping and changing a teacher’s identity development. Clarke conducted his research in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) district and focused on Arabic students while Lin’s research focused on comparing NEST and NNEST’s identity construction in the same MA TESOL program located on the west coast of the United States. My study is focused on Asian populations who enrolled in an MA TESOL program in the Midwest of the United States. I think these three studies demonstrate teacher identity in three different circumstances, populations, and cultures. And, I notice that our NNEST Blog guest for May, 2012 Nugrahenny Tourisia Zacharias, conducted her research on teacher identity with 12 Southeast Asian English teachers. I think four of our studies have brought up the process of constructing and reconstructing teacher identity in different contexts. Therefore, the future question should fall on the ways of assisting non-native pre-service teachers in developing a positive self-image and encouraging them to enhance their own personal and professional credibility.
As I mentioned above in my comment on Li-fen Lin’s interview, the research and dissertations of Lin and Tseng and also that of Nugrahenny Tourisia Zacharias (May, 2012 interview) begin to provide us with valuable research on teacher identity development in the field of TESOL. Indeed, we are lucky to see previews of this very important strand of research in the field of TESOL discussed by pioneers in this research area like Lin and Tseng in our NNEST of the Month Blog in 2012. No doubt their work will be often mentioned in the next few years in the work of other scholars. Also, as Tseng points out this research takes place in two important contexts: one is non-native MA TESOL students in their home countries, and the other is MA TESOL students in countries other than their own.
September: Hala Salih Mohammed Nur
Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas
In January 2011, Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, wrote an article in The Guardian entitled Sudan needs English to build bridges between North and South, explaining how English is essential for the effective communication between North and South Sudan, and also how it can pave the way for future nation building in the South (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jan/11/tefl-sudan). How successful has the initiative to strengthen ELT in Sudan been and what are the main challenges ahead?
English language Teaching has suffered since 1990 with the implementation of the policies accompanying the Arabicization of institutions of higher education. For the past 20 years the level of English language proficiency deteriorated to a level whereby graduates from universities graduated with A2 level (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) instead of the old C1 level. In recent years a lot of efforts have been made to improve the situation, but the damage is so huge that it is now a problem for all the sectors of society. The establishment of the ELI by the University of Khartoum is one of the initiative trying to improve the provision of English language services. Last year the British Council launched a very big project in which 450 school teachers were offered 120 hours of training in ELT issues. The main feature of this training is that the trainers and supervisor were all Sudanese who have gone through different kinds of training. The second part of the project will start this year in which another 450 teachers will be trained. I have worked in this project as consultant, a trainer of trainers and a supervisor. The hope is that this initiative will move to other provinces of Sudan.
I found this part of the interview particularly interesting in that it broadened my knowledge of language policies in Sudan and also made me happy to see that even though the British Council is supporting the training, it is being carried out by local trainers, thus empowering non-native-speaking teachers and teacher trainers.
October: Stefan Frazier
Interviewer: Terry Doyle
In your suggestions for action and further research you suggest “the continuation of work on NNESTs’ self-perceptions of identity” and also expanding this research “to TESOL students in MA programs, not just student teachers in practicum courses or in-service teachers.” Clarke (2009) in his research with future English teachers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) concludes that both the new teachers’ classes but also their practicums serve as community of practice which help shape the identities. How do you assist your MA TESOL students, both NES and NNES, to realize and promote their teacher identities? Also, how do you suggest that an ESL teacher like me, who mentors one or more MA TESOL student teachers, most of whom are international students from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, help my student teachers to work on self-perceptions of their identity?
Frankly, I don’t explicitly prepare my own M.A. TESOL students in any of these issues nearly as much as I profess we should. I do think awareness of one’s own identities is important for all teachers (and all people, in fact). And I use the plural “identities” intentionally: as is well established, teachers perform many roles (coach, advocate, police, role model, etc.) each of which demands a certain identity that may change from moment to moment. In class I occasionally pose this question to my graduate students: what role do you feel you should occupy at this moment (in a lesson plan, for example)? Then let them experiment with different options. Many of them respond that in the situations they are familiar with, a certain approach or activity wouldn’t work, for such-and-such reason, and as long as they explain that reason well, they are on the way to maturing their definition of self-identity. Posing this question to oneself should never end, though: I certainly occupy different roles – and therefore deploy different aspects of my identities – than I did when I started teaching two decades ago, and therefore need to constantly update my own self-perceptions.
As mentioned in the February interview of Li-fen Lin and in the August interview of Shu-Chun Tseng, the topic of teacher identity development is an important new area of research related to both native and non-native ESL and EFL teachers. In Professor Frazier’s interview, we are able to see how a professor in an MA TESOL program actually tries to help his students develop their identity as ESL and EFL teachers. Also, I was very surprised and pleased that Professor Frazier ended his interview by mentioning this question again. At the end of his interview he wrote, “Let me close, Terry, with a big ‘thank-you’ for posing these questions. Having to think through the answers has helped me re-evaluate my own identities as a language and TESOL educator (see question 4 above).” Indeed, we see that identities development important for all of us!!
November: Don Snow
Interviewer: Davi S. Reis
You have convincingly argued for the professionalization of all involved in the English teaching enterprise (especially of Westerners who travel to, live in, and teach EFL in various countries; Snow, 2006). Have you ever been criticized, as an English language teacher and trainer, for ‘allegedly’ supporting imperialistic and colonialist practices? If so, how have you responded?
Actually, I have encountered such criticism less than I would have expected. I think the main reason is that in China, where I have spent most of my teaching career, English now tends to be seen much more as an international language than as an (imperialist) English or American language. Granted, some Chinese students do resent the fact that study of English is required, but such resentment is often directed more at Chinese educational policies than at international English teachers. However, I do feel it is very important for international teachers, especially those from the US and UK, to be sensitive to this potential criticism, and this is one of the reasons I feel so strongly that professional English Language Teachers (ELTs) whose first language is English should make the effort to learn at least one other language, as I argue in my 2009 article. In addition to the practical benefits language learning experience has for an English teacher, I think there is also an important symbolic value in studying one or more additional languages, because this is one of the most powerful ways native English speakers can demonstrate interest in and respect for other cultures and languages.
Don Snow’s comment above is an important reminder that, for native speakers of English teaching ESL or EFL, learning an additional language is not only indispensible professional development, but also key to moving beyond the notion of English teaching and learning as an imperialistic enterprise. By learning an additional language – particularly the language(s) spoken by students – native English-speaking teachers can make a moral and ethical statement about the role of language learning for both teachers and students. It shows that, despite the dominance of English as a widely spoken and influential language today, learning other languages is a worthy endeavor that opens up one’s mind and supports cultural and linguistic diversity.
December: Ana T. Solano-Campos
Interviewer: Shu-Chun Tseng
In 2008, according to your blog posts, you appeared to accept the fact that your accent is a part of your overall identity. Since then, has this perception altered or has it remained the same? What would you suggest for other non-native speakers struggling to accept their own accents as they work to develop fluency and proficiency in their target languages?
I do not think that I ever got over that struggle. I struggle with this a lot. I constantly feel that losing my accent involves losing myself and to some extent, faking or acting myself into someone that I am not. Yet, I also feel that in choosing to keep my accent, I will never be able to “belong” and will constantly feel like an outsider. Other days I am reminded how lucky I am to be surrounded by people who accept my English just the way it is. In that reminder, I am fully aware of the ways in which I have incorporated English into my identity to make it mine and unique. It is like a roller coaster; you may feel sick the first couple of times you ride it, but eventually you learn to enjoy its ups and downs and the different views and insights you get from different heights. What I have found along the way is that it is important to work at building relationships with NESTs, no matter how either one of us sounds. If I feel anxious about my accent, I like to imagine the other person speaking Spanish… That helps me remember that, as many scholars have pointed out, we are all native speakers of a language and non-native speakers of many others. So, even when I don’t feel like it, I put myself out there; particularly, because we have to create ways to cross those imaginary bridges that we, as a society, have built by and for ourselves.
Like Ana, I personally never get over the “accent” struggle. Especially, my accent stands out while living and working in an environment that the majority are native English speakers. I have heard people’s compliments about my accent, but also have heard people’s giggles. As Ana stated, “It is like a roller coaster; you may feel sick the first couple of times you ride it, but eventually you learn to enjoy its ups and downs and the different views and insights you get from different heights.” It is necessary for non-native English speakers to understand that accent is a part of our identity because it represents who we are. Last, Ana pointed out “…it is important to work at building relationships with NESTs, no matter how either one of us sounds.” I agree with her that it is more meaningful to build good relationships with native speakers or non-native speakers instead of just emphasizing on how we sound.