Bedrettin Yazan is a doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park. He has been teaching undergraduate and graduate level teacher education courses for 4 years now. He is the current president of the WATESOL (Washington Area Teachers of English to the Speakers of Other Languages) NNEST Caucus and also serves as the editor of TESOL NNEST Interest Section Newsletter. His research is focused on second language teacher identity, practicum practices of preservice ESOL teachers, NNEST issues, English as an international language, and issues regarding accent and intelligibility in TESOL. He has recently coauthored a book entitled Teaching English as an International Language (2013) by TESOL Press. | February Interviewer: Ana Solano-Campos
Bedrettin, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in teaching languages (English)?
I am originally from Turkey which I left for the first time to pursue my doctoral degree in the US. I was born and raised in a small village, about 20 kilometers from Greece, in the northwestern part of Turkey, on the beautiful peninsula of Thrace. As a kid, I heard some people around me speaking various languages other than Turkish, which was my initial introduction to multilingual environment. For example, I had friends who used a version of Greek which was mostly maintained and spoken by those Turkish people who had migrated from Greece during population exchange after the Independence War. Besides, I remember hearing some Romani people speaking Romani language when they came to my village as salesmen. My introduction to English was during my middle school years, but until then, most of my teachers emphasized its importance as a crucial requirement to find a good job. I rarely remember learning anything about English in middle school, but in high school it was the opposite. I had to complete a preparatory class during the first year of high school, which was an established teacher training high school. During this year, I was completely immersed in English instruction having English classes 24 hours per week. I started loving the language which gradually replaced Math as my favorite subject.
I had always been interested in teaching which is why I attended a teacher training high school, but I had decided to become an English instructor by the end of the preparatory year in high school. All our teachers, particularly those who were giving the pedagogy courses, were reminding us how rewarding the profession of teaching is and encouraging us to pursue a teaching track in college. I maintained my enthusiasm in teaching throughout college, too, thanks to great professors and engaged in many internships and voluntary teaching before graduation.
You completed your undergraduate studies in Turkey. In what ways is the native speaker fallacy present in the Turkish context?
First of all, I should note that I was somehow part of this fallacy when I was working in Turkey. When I started my doctoral studies here in the US and joined the WATESOL NNEST Caucus, my mindset completely changed thanks to my conversations with Brock Brady, Ali Fuad Selvi, Joshua Bear, Nathanael Rudolph and Rashi Jain. Actually, the root problem in the Turkish context is that most of the non-native English speaking teachers perpetuate the fallacy in the field because they believe that certain skills like listening and speaking are best taught by native speakers. They are mostly incognizant of their own unique advantages. Unfortunately, deficit perspective is prevalent in the educational landscape in Turkey with regards to English instruction. In addition, the other main issue concerns the way the native speaker fallacy is fueled by the students, parents and administrators’ attitudes and beliefs. Most students and parents believe that English is best learned from its native speakers, so having this common belief, administrators and employers hire native speakers of English, usually without considering their instructional preparation. Then, they “proudly” advertise that they have native English speaking teachers, which supposedly makes the English instruction more effective in their institutions.
You are currently a doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant. What motivated you to join the Division of Language, Literacy, Culture and Social Inquiry (LLCSI) in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership in the College of Education at the University of Maryland?
LLCSI is the new name which is adopted after the merge of three departments and reorganization in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership. What appealed me about this program was its emphasis on English as a foreign language issues, its international student body, and its focus on culture and literacy as two intricately intertwined concepts, which have always intrigued me as a language teacher and learner. I am so happy with my decision since I have had great professors and friends who have considerably contributed to my growth as a language teacher educator and a researcher. My experiences so far have been incredibly rewarding and liberating.
In your co-authored book with Ali Fuad Selvi, Teaching English as an International Language, you provide an introduction and pedagogical advice to teach English as an International Language (EIL). In chapter 2, you share: “The new linguistic landscape of the world where NNSs of English outnumber their native counterparts by a ratio of 3:1 suggests a reconsideration of the ownership of the language. English is no longer an exclusive commodity of native-speaking communities” (p. 3). You also ask readers: “In what ways do you encourage your students to claim the ownership of English and the right to appropriate and manipulate it?” (p. 4). Would you like to share with us the ways in which you claim ownership of English? What can teachers do to encourage their students to claim the right to appropriate and manipulate English?
That is a wonderful question which actually we have been thinking about while writing the EIL book. English learners naturally codeswitch or incorporate their home culture and language features in their L2 production. They translanguage as Canagarajah notes because they draw from one common competency while using any of their languages. Since I was introduced to the concept of ownership in language reading Norton’s seminal piece, I have thought about what it looks like in practice. I understand it as the freedom to play with the language or manipulate it without restricting myself or my usage to the idealized native speaker norms. Playing with the English language means, to me, producing the language uniquely without constantly asking myself if my linguistic product is acceptable by native speakers as though they were the ones to validate my language use. While manipulating the language, I from time to time might be incorporating some linguistic conventions, intentionally or unwittingly, from Turkish which usually involves the pragmatics of language because so many people from so many ethnolinguistic backgrounds have contributed to the English language, which makes my contribution valid. Both phonologically and semantically, my sole purpose is intelligibility in my language production in English.
When I look back on my teaching or ELT in Turkey, students got responses from their instructors concerning their “erroneous” use in English which is actually intelligible to reader or hearer: “But Americans don’t say it that way. English people wouldn’t understand what you say.” This is exactly what Blommaert names as “language policing” that is executed in English classes by teachers who unfortunately do not provide space for their students to play with the language. Provision of space and less policing would mean more freedom to appropriate the language and decrease the distance between the learner and English. This would reinforce their identity construction as language users. Of course, in a context which is reigned over by top-down policies through national testing, this becomes hard for the teachers, but still possible.
In your coauthored paper with Bengü Çalışkan Selvi, “De-Accentuation of Accent in English as a Lingua Franca” you address the challenge that “standard” pronunciation represents for English language learners and English teaching professionals. In the paper, you assert that “Language curriculum still largely relies upon the nativeness principle” (p. 3) and suggest that “The multiplicities and varieties of accents should be acknowledged and celebrated in actual classroom contexts” (p. 2). What are some of the ways in which teachers can acknowledge and celebrate different varieties of English in their pronunciation classes? Sometimes students themselves report feeling overwhelmed by the multiplicity of accents and align with the nativeness principle, embracing “the standard” over other varieties. What can teachers do in those cases?
Considering the current status of English as a lingua franca, I believe that becoming competent English users entails being exposed to different accents and uses of English. This is a requirement for the native speakers of English as much as for the English learners. Growing as an international, intercultural, or globally competent citizen today requires all English users to be able to communicate with various users of Englishes from varying ethnolinguistic backgrounds. Therefore, the responsibility of teachers is to expose their students to different uses of English, to cultivate at least some sensitivity and awareness and to train them as intercultural English users. Yet I should admit that this is still such an onerous task when we consider the top-down policies and curricula. On the other hand, EIL offers a democratic pedagogy. If a student aspires to sound like a native speaker and imagines himself or herself in this community or projects him/herself as a member of native speaker community, teachers should cater to their needs, as well. However, again, they need to see today’s realities about the status of English.
As you state in your co-authored paper, “In search of teacher identity in second language teacher education,” teacher identity is a growing field in SLTE research. Why is it important to study the identity of L2 teachers? In what ways does the linguistic identity of English teachers and preservice teachers affect their instructional practices? Are there any differences between the identity development of NNESTs and NESTs?
Exerting “invisible and comprehensive power … over instruction” (Rex and Nelson, 2004, p. 1317), teacher identity offers a framework through which teachers can build their own ideas of their beings, actions and understandings of their teaching practice and their place in society (Sachs, 2005) and a basis for their decision making and meaning making processes (Bullough, 1997, p. 21). More specifically, the way they view, feel, position, or identify themselves as teachers in their specific context is intricately interwoven with their beliefs, values, conceptions, theories and “personal practical knowledge” (Clandinin, 1985) and determines and is determined by their experiences of teacher-learning and actual teaching practice. Current studies in this field are mostly about NNESTs’ linguistic identity and their learning-to-teach. I think, the most significant issue emerges out of the relationship between linguistic and cultural identity and teachers’ self-confidence and self-efficacy to teach the language. Conceiving themselves as non-native users of English and outsiders to the dominant English cultures and believing that they are always “less” than a native speaker no matter what, their efficacy and confidence will be impeded all the time, which will directly or indirectly impact their teaching practices. Pavlenko (2003) suggests that the community of multilingual or bilingual speakers is a better fit for NNESTs to imagine themselves as part of, since native speaker status is impossible for them. The ways NESTs and NNESTs build their teacher identities are different. First, as I mentioned above, NNESTs native might be having confidence problems since they are not the native speakers of the language they are teaching, which might mean to them that there is a missing component in their knowledge base to become an effective English teacher. However, NESTs and NNESTS’ teacher knowledge base is mainly shaped by their experiences as language learners, so NNESTs can be perfect models for their students as successful language users and their teaching practices are largely influenced by their language learning experiences along with their preservice preparation. However, after making the observations above so far in my responses, as a result of my conversations with my colleagues, Nathanael Rudolph and Ali Fuad Selvi, I should note that maintaining the distinction between these two populations of teachers as NESTs and NNESTs, polarizing or dichotomizing them, would not mean fruitful for the profession, now that the definition of nativeness is impossible to make, especially for English today. Also, this distinction manifests differently in local contexts, which requires a localized or contextual exploration of the situation. Otherwise, the native speakerism in particular contexts would hinder the bordercrossing for both populations of teachers, that is, fulfilling the ideally and ideologically “assigned” role of the other.
Bullough, R. (1997). Practicing Theory and Theorizing Practice in Teacher Education. In J. Loughran & T. Russell (Eds.), Teaching about teaching: Purpose, passion and pedagogy in teacher education (pp. 13 – 30). London: Falmer Press
Clandinin, D. J. (1985). Personal practical knowledge: A study of teachers’ classroom images. Curriculum Inquiry, 15(4), 361-385.
Pavlenko, A. (2003a) “I never knew I was a bilingual”: reimagining teacher identities in TESOL. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2, 4, 251-268. Retrieved from http://astro.temple.edu/~apavlenk/pdf/Pavlenko_JLIE_2003.pdf
Rex, L. A. & Nelson, M. C. (2004). How Teachers’ Professional Identities Position High-Stakes Test Preparation in Their Classrooms. Teachers College Record, 106( 6): 1288–1331. Retrieved from http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rex/TCR.pdf
Sachs, J. (2005). Teacher education and the development of professional identity: Learning to be a teacher. In P. Denicolo & M. Kompf (Eds.), Connecting policy and practice: Challenges for teaching and learning in schools and universities (pp. 5-21). Oxford, UK: Routledge.
Selvi, A.F. & Yazan, B. (2013). Teaching English as an International Language. TESOL Publications: Alexandria, VA.
Yazan, B., & Çalışkan Selvi, B. (2010). De-accentuation of accent in English as a lingua franca. TESOL NNEST-IS Newsletter. [Electronic version], 12 (2). Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolnnest/issues/2011-02-15/2.html
Yazan, B., Uzum, B., & Selvi, A.F. (2013). In search of teacher identity in second language teacher education. TESOL Teacher Education IS Newsletter. [Electronic Version]. 31(2). Retrieved fromhttp://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolteis/issues/2013-04-08/6.html