Prem Phyak

May, 2016 guest


Prem Phyak is a PhD candidate in Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaii, USA. He is a Lecturer at the Department of English Education, University Campus, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. His research interest includes teaching English in multilingual context, language policy and planning, language ideologies, and social justice in language education. He has published in various journals including Language Policy, Current Issues in Planning and International Journal of Multicultural Education. He has also authored book chapters on language ideological issues in English language policy in Nepal.

May Interviewer: Madhukar K.C.

  1. Thank you so much for being our guest on the NNEST-of-the-month blog. Could you please tell us a little bit about your linguistic, academic, and professional background? What inspired you to be an educator?

I was born and raised in a multilingual, multicultural, and multiethnic agrarian village in Nepal. I picked up both Limbu, the language spoken by Limbu indigenous people, and Nepali (official language) in my family and community, respectively. I started learning English as my ‘third language’ from Grade 4.  My first Master’s degree is in English education from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. In 2009, I pursued another Master’s degree in TESOL from the UCL Institute of Education, UK. Currently, I am working on my PhD degree in Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA. My research is focused on the role of language ideology in language learning, use and policy, with a focus on multilingual education and literacies.

I should say that I did not become an educator by choice, but by chance. After finishing my schooling, my father and teachers advised me to study English education because they wanted me to teach English in the local village school. My personal interest in becoming an educator goes back to 1998 when I first experienced what it means to be a teacher during my teaching job in a private school. For three years, I got an opportunity to observe psychological, cognitive and academic challenges of EFL learners in the early grades.

My academic training in Tribhuvan University, UCL IOE and UH Manoa collectively shapes my awareness of critical issues in EFL education. My critical understanding about language teaching and learning as an ideological and socio-cultural process is connected with my teaching and research. After completing MA TESOL, I taught applied linguistics, teacher development, teaching methodology, and sociolinguistics courses in Tribhuvan University and Kathmandu University, Nepal. Currently, I am teaching an undergraduate bilingual education course at the Department of Second Language Studies, UH Manoa. Teaching these courses has provided me with critical insights into understanding both dominant and alterative discourses and practices in language education.

2. You have published in peer-reviewed international journals and presented papers at TESOL, IATEFL, AAAL and AAA conferences. What are your main areas of interest for research, publishing, and presentation? In what ways do you think your academic publishing and your presentations at national and international conferences contribute to the literature of NNEST issues, World Englishes, and EIL?

My research interest covers language ideology, multilingualism in language pedagogy, social justice and equity in language education, local/indigenous epistemology, critical pedagogy, and language policy. My publications, research and conference presentations focus on critical language issues and look at how discriminatory practices in education can be transformed for social equity. I question the status quo, hierarchies, and ideological hegemonies; work with teachers, parents, and youth to transform them through engaged collaborative and dialogic inquiries. I advocate for decolonizing divisive, dichotomous, and discriminatory language ideologies such as native speakerism, standard language, and monolingualism. As I argue for reimagining TESOL/EFL/ESL education from a multilingual perspective, my work supports the legitimacy of multilingual learners’ (described as ‘non-native speakers’ in the dominant discourses) language practices and their ways of doing, becoming, and being.

3. You updated an intriguing post on October 12, 2015 on Facebook: “I am a ‘non-native speaker’ of English. So I cannot apply for the job that requires native speakers. What a wonderful discipline I am in!” Could you share with us your vivid memories of some of the challenges you encountered as a consequence of your international identity, more specifically of having an NNES identity as an international graduate student as well as an ESL/EFL professional in the UK while pursuing MA TESOL, and in the US for your doctoral studies?

Thank you for reminding my Facebook post. These comments emerge as my reaction to discriminatory hiring policies posted on ESL Cafe. These job announcements not only reproduce ‘native speakers only’ ideology, but also define native speakers as someone who holds a “passport issued by the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.” First, as I said, such policies label TESOL teachers with a passport from the countries other than the ones mentioned above as ‘non-native speaker’ of English and exclude them from the job application process. Second, and perhaps, most importantly, such hiring policies create and perpetuate a false assumption that the so-called non-native speakers are ‘deficient’ and ‘under-qualified’. To put it differently, even if ‘non-native speakers’ have as good (or even better) academic qualifications and professional trainings as ‘native speakers’, they are considered ‘less qualified’ for English language teaching jobs. This kind of native speaker ideology essentially reproduces and appropriates the standard language ideology, which discriminates against multilingual learners/users of English. As long as Standard English ideology dominates TESOL scholarship, multilingual users of English might not receive equitable learning space in which they can freely make use of their voice and agency.

I have not experienced any explicit discrimination during my studies in London and Hawaii. Because the majority of students are international students and because professors are aware of sociopolitical issues embedded in the native and non-native-speaker dichotomy, I have not seen any discriminatory practices. Rather I have received tremendous support from my professors and mentors. However, the major issue is not about whether or not one individual person is discriminated. I think the issue is about whose power, epistemology and ideology are privileged and represented in dominant discourses and practices in TESOL/language education. As May (2014) and Conteh and Meier (2014) have discussed, despite growing ‘multilingual turn’ in real life language practices, dominant TESOL/SLA research and pedagogical practices still reproduce monolingual ideologies which erase multilingual practices, voices, and identities. As the mainstream TESOL/SLA practices keep derecognizing non-standard and multilingual practices, I believe that multilingual users of English are marginalized in many ways; their voices, representation, and identities are erased from language learning discourses and practices. In her recent book Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice, Ingrid Piller (2016) shares how Standard English ideology is linked with multilingual learners’ psychological damage. In an anecdote, she reveals how a South Korean student at the University of Sydney wanted to commit a suicide due to her belief that “her own English was not good enough” to fulfill  the course requirements. Although her English was good enough, she always considered herself a ‘loser’. This kind of ‘self-marginalization’, which emerges from the dominance of standard and monolingual ideology, leads to multilingual learners’ low self-esteem and confidence in learning and writing.

4. How challenging is it for NNES professionals to get their writing published, especially in international publications? Did you experience any sort of discriminatory practices in the world of academic publishing? As a well published NNES professional, could you share with us your experience about the most challenging parts of writing/publishing, especially in peer-reviewed international journals?

Writing for publications is always a challenge, no matter whether you are a native or non-native speaker of English. If we talk about NNES writers’ challenge, I think we should talk about the larger scenario of academic publication. We should talk about language ideologies that dominate the public sphere of academic publication. We should talk about the issue of representation and voice as well. TESOL scholars have already shown their concerns over multilingual learners’ psychosocial, political and educational challenges created by Standard English ideology. Since academic journals in TESOL/SLA/Applied Linguistics are dominated by monolingual and standard language ideologies, multilingual learners still face a number of challenges, if not discriminated, in the entire process of publication. As a multilingual writer of English, my multilingual writing style, voice, and organization may not fit into standard language ideology that most academic journals follow. I have not encountered any kind of discriminatory practices in the process of publication. Actually, I am fortunate to have the colleagues and senior scholars who are always willing to mentor me in my writing process. Yet, I often feel that I am self-censoring my own voice and epistemology to make my writing appropriate for publication in Standard English.

5.It’s 2016 and we are still discussing ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ dichotomies in academia, workshops, and conferences. On a similar note, let me quote your recent post: “Racial ideologies, attitudes, and stereotypes embedded in ‘non-native’ and ‘native’ speaker distinction is so pervasive in TESOL/TEFL/ELT, and Applied Linguistics.” How do you think this prevalent bias and discrimination can be tackled and/or resisted?

Yes, the impacts of ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ dichotomy are real; this dichotomy still exists through various mechanisms, discourses and governmentalities. It is deeply rooted in our mind, behavior, and practice. I would like to mention a wonderful plenary The ‘native factor’, the haves and the have-nots given by Silvana Richardson at the 2016 IATEFL conference in Birmingham, UK. In her speech, Silvia critically examines how discourses, hiring policies, and pedagogical practices in ELT/TESOL continue to reproduce native speaker ideology that eventually invisibilizes the voices, identities, and knowledge of non-native speakers of English. Here is a fresh example that shows how teachers that speak English with a non-dominant accent are forced to modify their accent and speak Standard English. This news report in the Guardian reveals ‘linguistic prejudice’ against the teachers who speak non-standard dialects.

It’s true that native speaker ideology is implicated in ‘racial ideologies, attitudes, and stereotypes’. There are a number of examples from across the world to show how this ideology discriminates against a certain group of people. Let me refer to Andy Hockley’s most recent blog post.  Andy describes how the hiring policy of ‘a fairly successful [English] language school’ excludes “Black teachers”. He finds that the director of the school naively makes an argument that the school does not hire any Black teacher because the ‘students do not want them’.  This kind of ideological domestication is deeply rooted in the historical dominance of native speakerism ideology that supports White supremacy and reproduces monolingualism and standard language ideology.

I think there are many ways to resist native speaker ideology. Advocacy and activism through research, teaching, and publication are some major tools for teacher educators. Collaboration between native and non-native speakers; public writing such as blogging, Facebook posts and Twitter; and discussions in academic/professional forums (formal and informal) are some other helpful strategies to counter the ideology of native speakerism. However, resistance itself is not enough. As both Silvia and Andy have argued above, we all have moral/ethical and professional responsibilities to educate people about marginalizing ideologies and practices. We must engage all concerned in dialogue and actions towards transforming existing discriminatory practices. The commitment for social equity and justice must lie at the center of such engagement. I think that it is necessary to speak up against monolingual and native speaker ideologies and help language schools, universities, professional organizations, policymakers, teachers, and principals understand how these ideologies perpetuate educational, economic and political inequalities, and damage multilingual learners’ self-confidence, and identity investment in effective learning. We should participate in dialogue on equity issues and engage in supporting social justice campaign such as TEFL Equity Advocates .

6. Our prominent June 2007 guest on the NNEST blog, Professor Canagarajah argues, “We don’t have to be some “nons”! We can label ourselves more positively and affirmatively as multilingual speakers of English.” Has the situation changed like Professor Canagarajah anticipated? Or, has the situation been further aggravated with the deepening false dichotomies/equivalences? What’s the way forward?

 I agree with Professor Canagarajah that we should replace the label ‘non-native speaker’ with a more positive term such as ‘multilingual speakers of English’. I prefer to use ‘multilingual users of English’. Yes, there are some positive changes towards embracing multilingual practices in TESOL. Scholars such as Suresh Canagarajah, Alan Davies, Angel Lin, Ofelia García, Ryuko Kubota, and Jim Cummins, among many others, have tremendously contributed to challenge monolingual native speaker ideology. Yet, as I said earlier, monolingual habitus keeps dominating TESOL/SLA research, pedagogies, and writing practices. This issue is linked with the broader sociopolitical and economic ideologies. Therefore, I argue that an explicit analysis of language ideologies should be an integral component of TESOL/EFL/ESL teacher education/professional development programs. Without engaging teachers in exploring and understanding language ideological meanings of the native and non-native speaker dichotomy, it is difficult to transform the status quo.

Transformation takes time, but it is not impossible. We should engage ourselves in decolonizing dominant ideologies and exploring alternative practices that support grassroots literacies and language practices. Our emphasis should be on multilingual TESOL that breaks hard boundaries between English and other languages. At the same time, academic journals should also shift their attention towards publishing multilingual papers.

7. Do you have any advice for TESOL graduate students, EFL teachers, or aspiring writers who would like to be promising writers in their career, to help them become better writers, especially for international publications? Could you recommend any good resources for them to develop their academic writing skills?

I think the best way to become a better writer (or just a writer) is to keep ourselves motivated to write about the topics that we are most comfortable to write. My motivation for writing mostly comes from new journal articles and books that I read. I try to connect a new idea with my own lived experiences, data, and perspectives. As a multilingual writer, I always find multilingual key words or concepts useful to organize my ideas and to keep my writing moving forward. There are a number of resources to help international students in their writing. For example, the Writing Centers at universities (in the US context) provide students with an incredible support to improve their writing. I find peer-feedback and mentoring from senior scholars very useful for my own writing. Colleagues with the similar research interests are always a great resource for writing.

8. Please tell us about your current writing projects and publications. As a busy TESOL professional, a graduate student, a researcher, and a writer, how do you balance your professional and personal lives?

Currently, I am mostly focused on finishing up dissertation. I am also co-authoring two journal articles. Yes, it is hard to balance between professional and personal lives, particularly when you have to teach, publish, and work on your own research. I try to follow my reading and writing schedule. I always set a goal (although I often miss it) for writing and put a maximum effort to achieve. I also need some time to prep for the class I am teaching. I feel that it is not easy to draw a clear line between professional and personal lives. I always find the idea of priority setting useful to balance between personal and professional lives. I think we all have multiple personal lives and those lives always support our professional lives.


Conteh, J., & Meier, G. (eds.). (2014). The multilingual turn in languages education: Opportunities and challenges. Bristol, Buffalo & Toronto: Multilingual Matters.

May, S.  (ed.). (2014). The multilingual turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL, and bilingual education. New York & London: Routledge.

Piller, I. (2016). Linguistic diversity and social justice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Thank you for taking the time to share your very interesting and insightful experiences, and critical ideas with our readers within TESOL community and beyond.



3 thoughts on “Prem Phyak

  1. Pingback: Willy A. Renandya | NNEST of the month Blog

  2. Tika Prasad Khadka

    of course Dr.Phyak there needs to be brought changes in ideological discouses. You are also the one along other scholars mentioned above against native speakerism and in favourism of linguistics multiculturalism.

    I salute your scholarly critical criticism.

  3. Pingback: Prithvi Shrestha | NNEST of the month Blog

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