Ester de Jong

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Ester J. de Jong is Professor in ESOL/Bilingual Education, and the Director of the School of Teaching and Learning. She teaches courses in ESOL/bilingual education and in curriculum, methods, and assessment for English speakers of other languages.  Prior to academia, she worked for the K-12 public schools in Massachusetts as the Assistant Director for Bilingual Education and ESL programs. Her research focuses on two-way bilingual education, language-in-education policy, and mainstream teacher preparation for bilingual students.  Her book “Foundations for Multilingualism in Education: From Principles to Practice” (Caslon Publishing, 2011) addresses policies and practices of responding to increasing linguistic diversities in schools. She is currently co-PI for a Center of Excellence in Elementary Teacher Preparation grant.  She was recently elected President-Elect for the TESOL International Association.

Thank you for joining us as a guest on the NNEST of the Month Blog!

  1. Could you start by telling us a little about your academic and professional background? What are your current research areas, and how did they become so?

I completed my master’s degree in Language and Literature Studies at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.  My specialization was in Language and Language Minorities and my thesis focused on teaching vocabulary through picture books.  As part of my studies I became interested in bilingual education as a means to create more equitably schooling opportunities for bilingual learners. So when I had to choose an internship as part of my studies, I wanted to do this somewhere where bilingual programs were in place. At the time, my choices were the UK, Sweden, and the US and I was fortunate that one of my professors had a colleague at the Department of Education in Massachusetts. I did my internship there and learned about two-way immersion programs and realized that this model had an amazing potential for all learners.  Since then, one strand of my research has focused on two-way immersion programs; the other strand has focused on mainstream teacher preparation for English language learners as this is the context where I am working now at the University of Florida.

  1. As an expert in bilingual education and language policy, what intersection do you see (if any) between NNEST issues and those faced by bilingual students?

I believe there are many intersections. One intersection is the power of labels and negotiating the positive and negative associations with different labels and the implications that come when we use labels.  We are bilingual users of multiple languages.  I like that term because it recognizes the bilingualism and multilingualism of the individuals involved. Another shared experience is the constant challenge of not being recognized for who you are and what assets you bring into the classroom. Many bilingual teachers and learners continue to be judged against a standard that reflects a deficit model rather than a model that recognizes linguistic and cultural diversity as a resource. Bilingual learners continue to be measured against a monolingual, native speaker norm just like many teachers who have learned English as an additional language.

  1. A major theme of the Summit on the Future of the TESOL Profession was reimagining the profession as an agent of change. How do you think individual students, teachers, and teacher educators can resist native speakerism?

I think this begins in our daily interactions: being aware of how monolingual perspectives permeate much of what we do and countering these discourses through our own actions.  Building critical language awareness that helps students and teachers identify how, for example, standard language ideologies and stereotypes as well as fragmented notions of bilingualism are enacted in many ways: through our choices of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment; our research designs and questions; our formal, explicit policies. Examples include: Teacher educators can build better understandings of bilingual development, bilingual language use and the many benefits of bilingualism; teachers can choose children’s literature that reflect multiple experiences in multiple languages and choose to engage students in critical conversations about language, power, and language use. For others, broader engagement with local, state, and national policies may be the way to build this counter discourse.

  1. What abilities and responsibilities do you think TESOL professionals have to support mainstream teachers in working with ELLs?

In the United States, many English language learners find themselves in mainstream classrooms and if the mainstream teacher is lucky, there is an ESL specialist in the school to work with them.  The ELL teacher of today functions in many capacities: the role of coach, professional development provider, co-planner and co-teacher. In other context, co-teaching is also becoming more common. Again, in the United States in particular, the English language teaching specialist is absolutely central to ensuring that ELLs’ needs are met in the context of a mainstream classroom. One of our tasks is to be able to clearly articulate the expertise we bring to the table and work with administrators to support the valuing of this expertise. 

  1. In your article, “Preparing Mainstream Teachers for Multilingual Classrooms”, you advocate for a multilingual orientation in English language education to counterbalance monolingual stances. In your opinion, what are some of the pedagogical practices that the so-called monolingual teachers can engage in to adopt this multilingual orientation? 

Mainstream teachers can do a number of things: include literature from around the world and in different languages; use bilingual books as part of their teaching; allow for students’ use of the native language when working on specific tasks (even though the product may be in English); explore multilingual websites; invite multilingual guest speakers; create spaces (e.g., morning meeting) where everybody learns new key phrases in other languages; promote the value of bilingualism and make a visible effort to learn the language and about the language.

  1. As President-Elect of TESOL International, what opportunities do you see for TESOL as a professional organization to increase equity in the field?

A commitment to diversity and equity is an important value and TESOL works very hard to educate the public, other organizations about English language learning and teaching and the implications for schools, the workplace, and other settings. We have published a number of briefs ( and position statements  ( that are resources for our members to use to advocate for equity in resources, in ensuring quality practices, and anti-discriminatory policies.

  1. To build on the previous question – in the NNEST Electronic Village Online session, one question was how we as scholars and advocates can affect change in the private sector. What thoughts do you have on this question?

The private sector often operates on other principles than the public sector and are under a different set of obligations and responsibilities. This can make it difficult to have a direct impact. I think we continue to educate and position ourselves as the go-to resource.  As TESOL and ELT experts we are in a unique position to provide different stakeholders with the information that they can use to inform decision-making. Here is a challenge for our researchers as well as practitioners: what are the policy issues we need to be able to respond to and what kind of research (data) do we need to be able to contribute to identifying solutions for our English language teachers and students?

  1. Many of our readers are young scholars and professionals interested in becoming leaders in professional organizations. What are a few concrete steps they would take to reach this goal?

TESOL has many pathways for member involvement and engagement. Our new MyTESOL Community is one of several wonderful mechanisms to become part of multiple communities. I would encourage young scholars to connect at TESOL to a smaller group, such as the interest sections (, where there are often many mentoring and leadership opportunities. At the convention, attend their business meeting and meet others who share your passions. TESOL also has a call for volunteers for members on professional councils, proposal reviewers, and the like – become a member of these entities to understand what these groups do and be an active contributor. Partake in one of the leadership certificate programs ( Personally, I started out locally first – I became a member of our state affiliate, Sunshine State TESOL, and had an opportunity to become part of their Board and built many of my initial leadership skills there ( This gave me the confidence to step up to become a member at large in the Bilingual Education Interest Section and then chair of BEIS.  After BEIS leadership, I became member of the Nominating Committee, followed by three years on the Board of Directors. And now, of course, I have the honor of being the President-Elect for TESOL. There’s many ways to become involved and become a leader in TESOL!


Lakshmi Kala Prakash


The goal of the NNEST of the Month Blog is to showcase the many faces of educators from different countries who promote professional equity in the teaching community.

This month, our guest is Lakshmi Kala Prakash. Lakshmi is completing a Ph.D. in English for Professional Development at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

We met Lakshmi on the NNEST Facebook page, when she told us that she spoke out against the discriminatory job advertisements posted by a company called VIPKID, which advertises “The North American Elementary School experience to Chinese children” and only hires “Native English Speakers from North America.”

Edit (3/2/2017): Rosa Aronson, Executive Director of TESOL International, has informed us that VIPKID now advertises “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” We have edited some parts of this post, originally published on 2/22/2017, to reflect their change in practices, while still commending Lakshmi on her efforts in NNEST advocacy.

Thank you for joining us as a guest on the NNEST of the Month Blog!

1)      Could you start by telling us a little about your academic and professional background?

As a lifelong learner, my journey in academics began in India, the country of my birth, where I received a Bachelor of Science. Interested in the field of Medicine, I pursued an Associates in Respiratory Therapy at Wichita State University in the US. Several years later and following a change in career to teaching English to Foreign Language students in Iran, I decided to procure my Masters in TESOL. This desire brought me to Thailand in 2012, where I received an MA in TESOL in 2013 from Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The passion for knowledge and eagerness to share with my colleagues, students, and the public at large guided me into enrolling for a Ph.D. in English for Professional Development at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I have recently submitted my dissertation manuscript to my Faculty of Advisors for their comments. On the professional side, my career has taken me through several disciplines from applying my skills as a Registered Respiratory Therapist, successfully running and establishing a business in clothing and jewelry, to the present and the most rewarding, teaching English. My present career began in 2002 in Tehran, Iran.

2)      You mentioned previously that you got involved in an online discussion with one of VIPKID’s teachers, who seemed to support their discrimination against NNESTs. Speaking out can be intimidating. Could you tell us a bit more about the situation, what you found problematic, and what you did about it?

Finding ways to engage with those who unwittingly appear to support discrimination can be a challenge to anyone. As an educator, I am a strong proponent against discriminatory practices in general and against NNESTs in particular. However, when such instances are blatantly advertised and made to appear as acceptable by everyone, perhaps, the responsibility to speak up against such practices falls on the shoulders of those who hold the minds of the future in our hands. Recently, a posting for an online teaching position on the Facebook page called Chiang Rai Everything, catering to classifieds on any issue, sparked my decision to get more involved and confront the wordings in the posting.

The person who had shared the VIPKID advertisement might have, from his point of view, felt that he was doing a good thing for other Americans currently living in Chiang Rai, Thailand. However, when interacting with him it became clear to me that he was not ready to accept the fact that the wordings in the advertisement were generally discriminatory. The exchange with him was a heated one and I tried to instill some sort of awareness regarding the effects of his involvement with such discriminating organizations. Although I tried to keep the discussion on point, the man involved and in support of him a few other American men, decided to take it personally. My initial steps to try and raise awareness on this issue was apparently turning nasty. I decided that I had to step out of it as it was clear that the person had made up his mind that he was not doing anything that was hurtful or wrong. Yet, I am hopeful that my words would have made an impression on his future actions and thoughts on the topic.

Since the intervention of NNEST and TESOL, the VIPKID posting has been expertly reworded to protect their interests. However, here is a link to an online interaction between a teacher from the online platform VIPKID and English teachers looking for online opportunities from several parts of the World before the changes were made by VIPKID, which support the original advertisement that quirked my interest to face up to the challenge,

3)      How do you think advertisements like this affect TESOL as a scholarly and professional field?

When I was teaching a group of English Major students at a University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I asked them about their future career goals. I was shocked to learn that none of them selected Teaching English. When I probed the reasons for this, they replied, “Teacher have you seen the job advertisements on websites like, and even the websites of Thai schools or Universities?” They continued, “We have no chance in getting a job in teaching, or earning well teaching English in Thailand.” Furthermore, discussion with people who have no awareness of the negative effects of their actions leads me to believe that discriminatory advertisements, media jokes on the pronunciation skills of Non-native teachers, and little attempt at bridging the widening gap do have a profound effect on the community and their hiring practices in the field of TESOL.

4)      TESOL International entered into a strategic partnership with VIPKID in November 2016. Rosa Aronson, the Executive Director of TESOL International told several leaders in the NNEST community that she’d had extensive conversations with VIPKID prior to entering a partnership, asserting that discrimination against NNESTs was a violation of TESOL International’s core values and dedication to increasing professionalism and equity in the field. She was under the impression that they had changed their ways and was appalled to learn that they had not done so. Now, nearly three months after the original announcement, VIPKID seems to have removed some discriminatory language from their website, but still advertises the North American elementary experience to Chinese children. What action, if any, do you think TESOL should take at this time? Where do we as NNEST advocates go from here?

This is a challenge for any organization and a community of practice in general. Initiating this dialogue with TESOL as the NNEST Interest Section has done was merely the very first step. Following these discussions and bringing to light the advertising practices (not only those by VIPKID), which also reflect, up to a point, the mindset of the people behind it, during seminars, conferences, or TESOL meetings can be further steps that all members of the TESOL community can partake in.

Edit (3/2/2017): Rosa Aronson, Executive Director of TESOL International, has informed us that VIPKID now advertises “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” The discriminatory language has been removed since the original posting of this blog. 

5) Sometimes students are wary of teachers they perceive as nonnative speakers and question their professional expertise. How can we as TESOL professionals shed light on and change these ideologies?

I believe education is the key to bringing about equal practices or changing present ideologies between the native and nonnative speakers in the mindset of all stakeholders in general. However, organizations such as TESOL, or NNEST, should formally approach the Ministries of Education of countries, where such practices are rampant and request to implement further regulations in the hiring and advertising practices of qualified English language teachers regardless of their nativeness.

6) What other advice would you give to other TESOL professionals and activists in increasing equity in TESOL as a professional and scholarly field?

Professional Development that aligns with increasing informed and positive dialogues on this topic among all stakeholders could help minimize a persisting gap between Native and Nonnative teacher perceptions of each other’s role in the overall production of a truly successful user of English.

Edit (3/3/2017) Since VIPKID has since changed the language on their website, we followed up with Lakshmi to ask one last question. 

7) Since the original publication of this post, VIPKID has revised their website and recruitment materials to advertise “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” As someone who was on the front lines, what are your thoughts on these changes? What will their impact be, and how can we continue to increase equity in the field?” 

Let me first begin with how we can continue to increase equity in the field by sharing with all of you the opinions and suggestions of a colleague. Mrs. Jena Lynch, a native English speaker. After reading my responses on the NNEST blog of the month, she had this to add to the discussion:

“I can study English grammar and use a corpus to back up my intuitions, but I’ll never have the credibility of someone who learned English as an additional language. What I think hiring managers and ministries need to be looking at is: (1) A desire to coach students in the learning process; (2) Teaching methodology and approach in the classroom; (3) Proficiency.

Having the knowledge and skill in English to teach students to be intelligible is obviously important, but there’s no need to be a native speaker (a.k.a. non-learner) to do that. What I’m getting at is I guess the conversation between NNEST and NEST needs to include a more balanced picture. Teachers should be asking each other: (1) How do you teach ______?; (2) Why do you teach it that way?; (3) Have you ever thought of _______?; (4) I understand _____ this way. How do you see it?”

In other words the focus of all those involved in ELT, including of course the administrative stakeholders, need to shift from practices that exclude abilities based on inconsequential features, which marginalize, otherwise, capable practitioners and realign our practices to drawing on the positive traits in each one of us that could ultimately sustain successful English language teaching and learning.

As to my thoughts on the changes made by VIPKID, of course I am quite satisfied with their physical display of words. Everyone deserves a chance to rectify an oversight. Only with time and continued efforts can this negative wave of discrimination be overturned. I would like to leave you all with the famous words by Martin Luther King Jr. as retrieved from

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream.” 


Xuemei Li


Dr. Xuemei Li is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. Her research interests include TESL/TEFL curriculum and methodology, second/additional language writing, ESL support in schools and communities, migration and newcomer integration, and identity issues in additional language contexts. She teaches, supervises, and publishes in these areas. Dr Li’s current SSHRC-funded projects investigate language and social support for newcomers (immigrant, refugee, & international student) in Canada, and particularly in Newfoundland. She also explores EAP (English for Academic Purposes) writing instruction and teacher education in Chinese universities.

Interviewed by: Khalid Al Hariri and Hami Suzuki

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Andy Gao


Dr. Andy Gao is an associate professor in the Division of English Language Education at the University of Hong Kong. His research includes Teacher Development, Higher Education, Sociolinguistics and Learner Autonomy. He was recently awarded the Outstanding Young Research Award from the University of Hong Kong. 

Interview by: Ju Seong Lee (John) and Cristina Sánchez-Martín  Continue reading

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

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John Levis, Sinem Sonsaat, Stephanie Link, and Taylor Anne Barriuso

October, 2016

Photo display:
Dr. John Levis – Sinem Sonsaat
Dr. Stephanie Link – Taylor Anne Barriuso

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