Hye Jin Lee


HyeJin always strives for the best in every aspect of life. Throughout her education, she has excelled in all of her courses. She received her bachelor’s in English education within three years (145 credits in total), and pursued to earn her M.A. in TESOL. HyeJin earned her doctorate in Foreign and Second Language Education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. As a Summa Cum Laude graduate, HyeJin was awarded the President’s Prize in Korean college (B.A.) and was granted membership in the Phi Kappa Phi (M.A.) as well as Golden Key Honour Societies (Ph.D.) in U.S. graduate programs. Being a beneficiary of great teachers throughout her life, HyeJin believes that educators can change the world for the better, and she is excited to be a part of the process. Her research interests include teacher training and professional development, World Englishes, and teaching English as a foreign language.

Interviewed by: Hami Suzuki

1. Could you tell us about your educational and professional background and what led you to become a graduate student at The State University of New York at Buffalo?

Teaching the English language has always been my passion. I just love English and the feeling of being involved in students’ learning journey. Thanks to my early exposure to English, it became my favorite subject, and I entered a teacher’s college in Korea to become an English teacher. While majoring in English education in Korea, I fully realized that teaching English was my calling, and I felt fortunate to pursue my dream. Teaching English is what I wanted to do and what I still find the most fulfilling. As an ardent prospective English teacher, I wanted to excel in every course and be a role model for my future students. Thus, I displayed considerable diligence in all my courses and I graduated summa cum laude with a 4.5 GPA in just three years. The pleasure I received from learning the English language inspired me to study abroad at University at Buffalo in order to explore more gratifying methods of teaching English and to further develop myself professionally and personally.

2. You successfully defended your dissertation recently. Congratulations!  What did your research focus on? In what ways do you think your research will add to the literature of NNEST topics? 

Thank you so much, Hami! My dissertation examines professional identity formations of native and non-native English speaking teacher trainees (NNESTs) in a U.S.-based second language (L2) teacher education program. Specifically, I want to make recommendations to create awareness concerning the challenges faced by NNESTs who often do not feel confident in their role as ESL/EFL teachers. To cast a wide net into NNEST literature, I introduced voices from both native and non-native English speaking teacher trainees to chart the interplay between native speaker status and L2 teacher identity. In my dissertation, I address native speaker and standard English ideology to examine how these are conceptualized from NNEST and NEST perspectives within an evolving World English(es) inquiry. The study findings confirm the deeply entrenched nature of native speaker ideology in this globalized world. On the whole, I believe my dissertation contributes to the previous NNEST literature and critically-oriented approaches to ELT scholarship in three ways: First, my study sheds light on pedagogical strengths and contributions of not only NESTs, who possess native intuition in English, but also those of NNESTs, which seem to be underestimated in the ELT field. Second, I present pedagogical implications for L2 teacher education programs to empower professional L2 teacher identities. Lastly, the study findings call attention to the need to combat linguistic chauvinism (privileging standard English over other variations) to create more equality in the ELT field. I hope that my study contributes an essential piece of puzzle to the broader NNEST literature by eliciting voices of NESTs and NNESTs at their critical transitional phasess

3. What experiences have been influential in your own teacher identity during your graduate studies in the U.S.? 

When I came to study in the United States, I expected to learn more sophisticated approaches to teaching and improve my English skills so that I could become a better and more competent English teacher. Although this did happen, I often also encountered a feeling of insecurity and discomfort toward the idea of being an English teacher. My feeling of insecurity in claiming my teacher identity was at its peak when taking courses with native English speaking peers. In these courses, I experienced unequal power relationships between native students and international students. Native speakers were dominant in class discussions, whereas international students, including myself, were more like an audience: participation was difficult because international students need more time to verbalize their thoughts and that time was not given in quick paced discussion settings. A native speaking peer remarked that he felt privileged to be a native English speaker, especially when teaching ESL adult students. I realized that for many people being a native speaker still equates being a good teacher and having an accent supposedly undermines one’s teaching authority. In the program, I even witnessed a native English speaking student complaining about having non-native English teachers teaching linguistic courses. The prejudices about the teaching capabilities of non-native speakers of English are thus seemingly everywhere. In addition, the more I attempted to imitate an American English accent as a way of assimilation, the less I could express myself at will in English because I realized that I could never achieve native speaker status. These ideological struggles made me feel inferior as an outsider who did not fit into this English dominant community, which resulted in the loss of self-dignity. My feelings of being marginalized heightened my awareness of the asymmetric power of English, which seemed to equate English ownership with native speaker status.

My dissertation grew from my desire to make something out of my experience of feeling insecure about being a non-native speaker and an English teacher. In particular, the notion of World Englishes, within which my dissertation is framed, is an enlightening concept for strengthening my identity as a non-native English teacher. I did not realize that I was subscribing to native speaker ideology until I had studied this topic for my dissertation. As I read research by successful “non-native speaker” scholars to situate my study, I came to realize that my “non-native” status can be a powerful resource (not a drawback) and that I can be a role model who can make positive contributions to the ELT profession. I have been studying English to become a more competent multilingual speaker, not a deficient English user, and my task as an English teacher is to mediate between students and idealized native speaker myths. Although the transitional process has been gradual, I started to recognize the beauty of a multilingual identity. This realization has enabled me to detach from a destructive “non-native” identity and has driven me to introduce pedagogy oriented toward World Englishes to boost my future students’ confidence as bi/multilingual users of English.

4. How do you think MA TESOL or teacher education programs can integrate NNES topics to promote supportive identity development?

ESL/EFL teaching is not a value-free or neutral practice; it consists of power relations that can potentially undermine non-native English speakers’ languages, cultures, and identities. ELT professionals should be critically aware of the macro aspects of English teaching and its political and sociocultural implications. The future of the ELT field rests upon all those involved, including both NESTs and NNESTs. In my view, MA TESOL or teacher education programs are perfect places to address larger issues surrounding ELT because future ESL/EFL teachers are key players who can steer us away from linguistic imperialism in ELT.

There are various ways to integrate NNES topics across the curriculum which may allow teacher trainees to become more critically cognizant of the socio-cultural and political issues surrounding ELT. First, as one of the most direct pedagogical interventions, teacher educators can assign readings and let student teachers openly discuss issues concerning the ideological misconceptions prevalent in the ELT field. Teacher educators can encourage teacher trainees to be more critical about standard English ideology and the pedagogical implications of it. To illustrate, teacher educators can prompt teacher trainees to consciously reflect on standard English ideology and the impact of NES dependent linguistic models on ELT instruction: for example, international English proficiency tests (e.g., TOEFL or IELTS), employment practices (e.g. a preference for teachers with an American or British accent), and students’ learning (e.g., imitating sound patterns versus meaningful communication). Teacher educators can also prompt student teachers to ponder the distinctive contributions of NESTs and NNESTs in the field of ELT and how they can use their strengths as enriching pedagogical resources in class (e.g., use of L1 in class). Teacher educators may also encourage teacher trainees to initiate discussions about hidden ideologies presented in English teaching materials (e.g., the exclusive usage of American English) and critically question how such stereotypical content can influence English learners’ multilingual identity. Such critical awareness may enable teacher trainees to reflect on deeply entrenched ideologies in the broader dimensions of ELT praxis. It may also help teacher trainees to think about ways to help English learners to use English while validating English learners’ multilingual identity. As teacher trainees develop the practice of critical reflection, they will be more cognizant of native speaker ideology, and some of its potential effects when it is put into practice in class. As such, raising teacher trainees’ awareness of native speaker ideology may shift the emphasis from non-native status to multilingual perspectives in English learning and teaching.

5. How do you think NNEST scholars and activists can work with scholars in related fields (e.g., world Englishes, academic writing, bilingual education) to achieve better outcomes for our students? 

I believe the most common ground between us lies in the fact that we all support the pluralism of Englishes. We want to create more egalitarian and ethical ELT milieus so that our students can make good use of the world’s most influential language. At this juncture, I think it is high time to bring more different Englishes into our classrooms so that our students can appreciate the sociolinguistic reality of English. In view of the wide range of Englishes throughout the world, American and British English are not necessarily the only types of English that our students will encounter. The classroom is an ideal space for exposing students to other types of English, including less standardized forms such as Indian English. If students are aware of the fact that there are different varieties of English and no variety is superior or inferior to others, then they may be more comfortable about their own L1-influenced English.

6. Also, how do you think fluid understandings of language (e.g., communicative repertoires, translanguaging/translingualism, etc.) can make NNES students feel more comfortable in our classrooms? 

This is an interesting question because when I was in Korea, I had always thought that translanguaging was detrimental to L2 learning because of cross-linguistic contamination. Restrictive English-only policies were widely implemented in Korean classrooms, even when the subject was not related to English learning. Koreans believe that maximizing L2 exposure will bring about more language learning gains. With regard to the highly contested topic of translanguaging, I assume language teachers are quite confused about the pendulum swing between monolingual and cross-lingual approaches for effective L2 teaching. I admit that I subscribed to the pervasive monolingual tenet until I took courses related to bilingualism in my doctoral program. From the courses, I learned that translanguaging is a natural result of bilingual students’ multicompetence, which introduces third spaces that bridge L1 and L2 discursive boundaries. As language teachers, we should not suppress our students’ bi/multilingual abilities since this will only deprive them of enriching L2 development opportunities. I believe that inviting students’ diverse linguistic repertoires in ways that mediate cognitive and affective aspects of learning can elevate our bi/multilingual students’ valuable developmental potentials.

7. Our May 2016 guest Prem Phyak argues, “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.” As an NNES professional, how do you think NNES professionals can empower themselves to envision a better landscape for future generations, free from unequal power relationships and false equivalences between NES and NNES?

I am a strong believer that in order to empower NNES students, NNES professionals should first empower themselves. Judging from my own experience along with my dissertation data, for the most part, NNESTs’ insecurity stems from the deconstructive nature of native speaker ideology in the ELT field. Adherence to native speaker norms will inescapably place not only NNESTs but also our students at a disadvantage due to our “non-” native status. We need to develop awareness of our strengths as bi/multilingual speakers of English and ponder ways how to utilize these strengths as pedagogical resources. For example, as bilingually competent teachers, we are able to shuttle between two languages in contextually relevant manners that can function as a fertile source for effective instructional practices. NNESTs’ cross-linguistic insights developed through extensive English learning experience allow them to have unique expertise when explaining the complex interplay between two language structures. If NNESTs can identify their own assets, they can further inspire English learners to focus on their merits while negotiating their translingual identity. In addition, rather than the flawed demarcation of placing NNESTs and NESTs on an opposite pole, there is a need for negotiating dialogues between NESTs and NNESTs to institute a pedagogy based on World English(es) owned by and accessible to all English speakers. Once NESTs and NNESTs position themselves as World English pedagogues, we may be able to identify the best ELT instruction for our multilingual students.


Thank you for this insightful interview, Hye Jin!


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