Lawrence Zhang

Dr. Lawrence Jun Zhang is Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education/Applied Linguistics & TESOL in the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy and Associate Dean of International Strategic Engagement for the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand. His research program spans cognitive, linguistic, sociocultural, and developmental factors in reading/biliteracy development, critical reading awareness in language education, metacognition, self-regulated learning (SRL) and reading development in L1 and L2 contexts, bilingual/biliteracy acquisition and bilingual/biliteracy education in primary and secondary schools, and learning and teaching English as a second/foreign language at university settings, the effects of self-regulated reading- and writing- strategies-based instruction (SBI) on bilingual/biliteracy development, and teacher identity and cognition in language teacher education.

Dr. Zhang was a Post-Doctoral Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford Department of Education. He was the sole recipient of the TESOL Award for Distinguished Research 2010-2011 awarded by the TESOL International Association, USA, for his paper published in an SSCI-indexed journal of the field, TESOL Quarterly, 44(2), “A dynamic metacognitive systems perspective on Chinese university EFL readers.” As one of the leading scholars in the field of TESOL, he has served the profession as an editorial board member for several international journals, including TESOL Quarterly (SSCI), Applied Linguistics Review, Metacognition and Learning (SSCI), and RELC Journal. He has also been a frequently invited manuscript reviewer for leading journals in the field. [lj.zhang@auckland.ac.nz] | September Interviewer:  Ana Solano-Campos

1) Dr. Zhang, you have a long trajectory in the field of applied linguistics and TESOL. You have taught in a number of countries such as China, U.S., Singapore, and New Zealand and presented at conferences all around the world. Can you share with us your inspiration for this journey?

Thank you for inviting me to be in this interview.

I was born and grew up in China and started learning English in high school when the Chinese Ministry of Education released a new policy that allowed foreign languages to be offered as a school subject. So I was lucky to be taught English, starting at the age of 16. I learned the English alphabet, many acronyms such as POW (prisoner of war), DDT (explosives), among others, slogans such as “Long live Chairman Mao!” and “Down with the imperialists!”, and many other short texts, typically used in the era dominated by Audiolingualism. Evidently, I loved English and got good marks all the time whenever there was an English test or quiz. Two years’ English learning at high school fanned my enthusiasm for achieving some attainment in it. Hence, I decided to choose teaching as my career at that point. I am grateful to my English teacher, Mr. Jianzhong Liang, who made it possible. It is a pity that I have never met him since I left the school. He saw some potential in me as a language learner and future English teacher. So he tried his best to offer me a job to teach English in the same school. The job was a low-pay teaching post. But as the Dean of Academic Affairs, Mr. Liang thought that working as an English teacher would be the best opportunity for me to attain a higher level of proficiency, which would lead me to getting admitted by university. So I accepted the offer. Indeed, I realized that I was making rapid progress in English learning in all aspects (pronunciation, speaking, listening, reading and writing). I gather it was my self-study to get my lessons ready before I was able to teach the content to my students that stood me in good stead. I had to get all the language and grammar points clear before I could teach them. Such conscious and diligent lesson preparation proved to be an effective approach to improving my English. A young colleague and I followed Mr. Liang’s advice by taking higher education English programs on TV in order to earn a qualification, but because our TV broke down and the school had no money to buy a new one, we gave up half way. However, the provincial radio station was offering an English program to intermediate learners. So I immediately started following it. I benefitted tremendously from taking these TV and radio programs. More importantly, Mr. Liang’s timely mentoring and feedback boosted my confidence to learn the language.

These TV and radio programs boosted my English proficiency and when I sat for the next year’s national university entrance examination I did exceptionally well in English. So I decided to study English as my major at university, which I did and graduated with a BA in English Language & Literature, and then an MA in English Linguistics, and finally a PhD in Applied Linguistics. I am now making a living in the language as a non-native speaker in an environment dominated by native-speakers of English.

My teaching experiences in diverse contexts have provided me with rich opportunities for understanding the excitement and challenges that different student populations have gone through. Evidently, the experiences differ significantly for students in the U.S., where they have rich language input and sufficient opportunities for language output (to practice using the language) while they are learning it, and for students who have limited resources and constrained opportunities for using it with authentic meaning. So I do really think that teachers are key to helping learners succeed in language learning if they create learning spaces and opportunities for their students to use the language.

Narrative inquiry has become a research technique among all the popular qualitative methods, and if I had the time, I would like to write a personal narrative about how I learned English and then became an English teacher myself. I thought such a personal narrative would be very entertaining as well as inspiring to those EFL learners who are struggling with language learning.

2) Your work has been published in numerous international and U.S.-based academic journals and received many distinctions. In addition, you have demonstrated outstanding service to the profession by serving as a reviewer and editorial/advisory board member in renowned academic journals, leading publishing houses, and professional organizations. As author, editor, and reviewer, what are the challenges that bilingual/multilingual English speakers and speakers of Global Englishes face when it comes to writing and publishing their research? What is your advice to NNESTs who are graduate students and early career scholars who are seeking to overcome those challenges?

Thank you very much for your good words about me. I publish the work that I am interested in sharing with colleagues in the field. My research has been published in TESOL Quarterly, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Instructional Science, Applied Linguistics Review, Journal of Second Language Writing, Language Awareness, System, and Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, among others. I won the TESOL Award for Distinguished Research in 2011 for my research published in TESOL Quarterly (2010)“A dynamic metacognitive systems perspective on Chinese university EFL readers”. I regard that piece of work as representative of all the work I have been doing over the years. I have a relatively broad interest in language learning and teaching (including teacher education), hence I am not really an “expert” yet and I will need to develop a specialism of which I can make a stronger claim of ownership in the years to come.

As a language teaching professional and academic, I think rendering services to our profession is part and parcel of our obligation (I am not sure whether it is a moral or professional obligation). I review a minimum of 10 manuscripts a year for academic journals, ranging from Applied Linguistics, TESOL Quarterly, Foreign Language AnnalsJournal of Second Language Writing, Language Teaching Research, and System to Instructional Science, Educational Psychology, Research Papers in Education, European Journal of Educational Psychology, Asia Pacific Journal of Education, The Asia Pacific Education researcher, Journal of Teacher Education, and Review of Educational Research. When it comes to academic work, I don’t think the division between native and non-native speakers is so clear any more. When editors see your publications, or when the manuscript writers recommend you as one of the reviewers, you are doing the work according to the expected standards. Nobody can see you face-to-face. As long as you write clearly and to the point, a good review is all that counts. It is the substance that matters ultimately.

Early career scholars who are non-native speakers as I am (although the expression itself is not so positive in its connotation), who speak different varieties of English (World Englishes), might face some initial challenges because the way they write is not the same as the way mature native-speaker writers write. But I know that TESOL Quarterly does not discriminate against potential authors on the basis of this. It is the academic rigor of the work being reported on and the way in which the ideas are organized in a manuscript that will play a more significant role. Whoever the writer is, clarity is required. Young scholars, native and non-native, go through a similar process. As the current Co-Editor of TESOL Quarterly in charge of the Brief Reports and Summary section, I myself see reviewers’ comments on manuscripts written by native-speaking writers the same way comments are offered to nonnative-speaking writers. The rule of thumb is that we all have to learn to write accurately and coherently. If you see any comments by a reviewer showing any signs of discrimination through sentences such as “this manuscript appears to be written by a nonnative-speaking writer”, react immediately and be straightforward with the editor. That kind of comment has nothing to do with scholarship, nor with the academic work the reviewer is invited to perform. Also, persistence and perseverance are in order if you are really motivated to get your work published. Initial rejections are bitter pills to swallow but we all have to learn how to swallow them so that we will get stronger because of the bitter dosage we have taken. Believe me that the majority of early career scholars go through this process. Do not get angered by the reviewers’ comments or recommendations. Take them as learning points, which will help you improve your manuscripts.

3) Your co-edited book, Language Teachers and Teaching: Global Perspectives, Local Initiatives (Routlege, New York, 2013) has just come out. The volume includes contributions on the agency, identity, and situated practices of English teachers around the world. How was the idea for this book born? In what ways do the teaching experiences included in the volume reflect perpetuation and/or resistance of the native speaker fallacy?

The idea of a book on second language teachers and teaching, as indicated by the title above, derived from our concerted conversations on the current issues and debates in the field of teacher education, particularly in relation to applied linguistics and second or foreign language teaching. Bearing on our discussions, Selim Ben Said and I realized that although teacher education and development as an area of academic interest had yielded a number of books and research articles, we felt that there was a need to produce a broad-minded and eclectic perspective on the field with contributions aiming at a comprehensive geographical representation of research contexts by scholars who were either working in, or familiar with, these contexts. As a result, we hope that this collection will engage readers by offering current critical and practical issues on language teaching and language teacher education, although we already have landmark works in our field that address other aspects of language teacher education, e.g., teacher cognition, and reflective teaching and practice. Our deliberate garnering of different contributions from a variety of environments worldwide and the inclusion of an eclectic mix of research situations, theoretical paradigms, and empirical scenarios are part of our desire to provide a comprehensive account of the field, which is not limited to a narrowly-defined research tradition.

As you can see, the majority of the contributors, including the two of us editors, are nonnative-speaking TESOL scholars, or scholars whose lifeline is in another language but whose publications are in the medium of English. The fact that nonnative English-speaking scholars research and discuss professional and academic issues is in itself a contestation of the native speaker fallacy. I think that increasingly in our field scholars have realized that nonnative-speakers themselves understand the existing issues better and hence are better able to come up with feasible recommendations. As I have written recently in the NNEST Newsletter we should get rid of the native/nonnative English-speaker divide and work together to focus on the competent and effective teacher (Zhang, 2012, 2013). I have elaborated this argument together with Selim Ben Said in our preface to our book, where we emphasize the importance for NNESTs to become competent and confident TESOL professionals (Zhang & Ben Said, 2013).

4) In Asian Englishes: Changing Perspectives in a Globalised World (Pearson Prentice Hall, Singapore, 2011), you, Rani Rubdy and Lubna Alsagoff explore the features, implications, and applications of new Englishes in the Asian-Pacific context. What was the motivation for this edited text?

There has been so much talk about varieties of English in Asia. Terms such as Singapore English, Indian English, Chinese English, among others, are already wide-spread. What is missing is a volume that relatively coherently addresses issues relating to the description, learning and teaching, and application of such Asian Englishes in various domains.  The collection of articles in this volume was intended to document a sampling of the dynamic nature of Englishes in a variety of Asian contexts and domains of language use. The aim is to re-invigorate thinking on the spread and use of English in Asia from a range of perspectives. The contributions signify that it is not sufficient merely to recognize the diversity that has been brought about by the use of English in different geographical contexts and its interaction with speakers of diverse cultures, but that English language education research must continue to engage with theory building while investing in both linguistic and pedagogical inquiry with greater empirical rigor in making sense of the complexities of globalization. As we wrote in our chapter as an introduction to the whole edited volume, we made clear our overall intention.

“The world has become increasingly globalized and, with English at its vanguard, globalization has provided many new opportunities as well as challenges for the English language teaching profession in recent years. Among these is the unprecedented spread of English and the resultant emergence of several new Englishes in different parts of the world, and the implications they have for learners and teachers as well as for materials designers, curriculum developers and policy makers worldwide. The current status, roles, functions and manifestations of the English language in these diverse settings, and particularly in the Asian context, have indeed assumed sufficient academic significance to arouse much professional attention and scholarly interest in the region. Asian Englishes: Changing Perspectives in a Globalized World, reflects this renewed interest in the subject and aims to explore issues pertaining generally to the possibilities and constraints concerning the teaching, learning and use of English in a globalized world from an Asian perspective” (pp. 1-2).

5) Dr. Zhang, in your time in the U.S., China, Singapore, and New Zealand, what have been your impressions of the state of English learning and teaching? How is each country’s approach to ELT different from each other?

My work experience in the U.S. is rather limited. I was mainly involved with the English Language Services (ELS), Inc. with its headquarters in Culver City, California. As I was the first Academic Director of the first ELS Center in China, my attachment to various ELS Centers across the U.S. was mainly to learn and experience the teaching philosophy, curricula and teachers’ professional development. That was way back in 1994, which was really a time when China was making rapid economic reforms after several decades of closure to the outside world. There was really a stark contrast in all aspects. It was as stunning to see the skyscrapers in New York City as it was stunning to see how English was taught in classrooms in ELS Centers in different cities across the U.S. Of course, after two decades of development the differences between the U.S. and China are now greatly reduced. When it comes to classroom-based language teaching, I can see that many classrooms in urban settings in China are just as well-equipped as their American counterparts. English teachers are also of stronger qualifications both in terms of their English language competence and their pedagogical knowledge and skills. Communicative language teaching (CLT) and its latest version commonly known as task-based language teaching (TBLT) are widely used in classrooms to varying degrees. Multimodality in language learning and teaching is a common trend in many contexts, including Singapore and New Zealand. Of course, each country has its own national English language and literacy syllabuses, so their teaching is also organized accordingly.

Singapore and New Zealand are similar in that both educational systems tap into genre theory as an organizational framework in teaching students English literacy skills, including ESOL students. Let me elaborate a little bit more on the Singapore way of English language teaching, which I think could be a good example of how a scaffolded approach to English language teaching is exemplified.

In the Ministry of Education’s English Language Syllabus 2001 and the revised and updated version in 2010, the CLT principles are represented in a text-based approach that draws heavily on genre theory. This approach to syllabus development agrees with what has been recently discussed in the language teaching literature regarding the conundrum of searching for the best methods which are non-existent, as rightly pointed out by scholars such as B. Kumaravadivelu (2006, 2013) and Henry Widdowson (2003). It is evident that context is a defining factor whenever a methodology is promoted as “the best”. What Singapore needs are not the best methods per se but rather culturally appropriate approaches that guide particular classroom procedures according to different levels and abilities of students. Given the uniqueness of Singapore as a small country whose sustained development depends very much on international partnership and collaboration, the CLT principles advocated in the 2001 and 2010 syllabuses are what the syllabus team think should be the desired outcomes needed by Singapore in a globalized knowledge-based economy.

What is different between Singapore and New Zealand, though, is that the Singapore system requires the use of a set of textbooks for English lessons (although offering supplementary materials to students is common practice in reality), probably partly due to the fact that Singapore implements a mandate that all children need to be bilingual and biliterate, and having a textbook would be more conducive to teaching and learning these two languages as required by the Ministry of Education as national education policy, whereas its New Zealand counterpart does not have any textbooks. The five main New Zealand national curriculum standards documents, The New Zealand Curriculum: Reading and Writing Standards for Years 1- 8, The New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium Teaching and Learning in Years 1 – 13, English in the New Zealand Curriculum, Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 – 4, and Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5 – 8, guide schools for developing teaching materials themselves. Evidently, there are pros and cons of each, as we can all see easily.

Thank so much Dr. Zhang!

References

Ben Said, S., & Zhang, L. J. (Eds.). (2013). Language Teachers and Teaching: Global Perspectives, Local Initiatives. London/New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). TESOL methods: Changing tracks, changing trends. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 59-81.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2013). Afterword: Rethinking Ggobal perspectives and local Initiatives in language teaching. In S. Ben Said, & L. J. Zhang. (Eds.), Language Teachers and Teaching: Global Perspectives, Local Initiatives (pp. 317-323)London/New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis.

Widdowson, H. G. (2003). Defining Issues in English Language Teaching. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Zhang, L. J. (2010). A dynamic metacognitive systems account of Chinese university students’ knowledge about EFL reading.TESOL Quarterly44(2), 320–353. doi:10.5054/tq.2010.223352

Zhang, L. J. (2012). Moving beyond the native-nonnative divide: Message from the Chair. TESOL NNEST IS Newsletter.Alexandria, VA, USA: TESOL International Association.

Zhang, L. J. (2013). Opportunities and challenges for the NNESTs in a globalized world: Message from Past Chair. TESOL NNEST IS Newsletter. Alexandria, VA, USA: TESOL International Association.

Zhang, L. J., & Ben Said, S. (2013). Toward a global understanding of local initiatives in language teaching and teacher education: Global rules, local roles. In B. S. Said & L. J. Zhang (Eds.), Language Teachers and Teaching: Global Perspectives, Local Initiatives (pp. xix-xxx) London & New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis.

Zhang, L. J., Rubdy, R., & Alsagoff, L. (Eds.). (2011).Asian Englishes: Changing Perspectives in a Globalised World. Singapore/London/New York: Pearson Education.

 

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About Ana Solano

Ana is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Ana holds degrees in Applied Linguistics, TEFL, and TESOL and taught EFL/ESL for many years. She is interested in qualitative, interdisciplinary, and comparative perspectives to the education of bilingual/multilingual immigrant and refugee children in top migrant destination countries.

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