Tag Archives: advocacy

Todd Ruecker


NNEST of the Month
October, 2010
tcruecker [at] miners [dot] utep [dot] edu

Ana Wu: Could you tell us your linguistic and professional background, and why you decided to be an educator? 

Mr. Ruecker: I grew up as a monolingual native English speaker. In high school and college, I focused on learning the no longer widely spoken languages of Latin, Classical Greek, and Old English. However, my interest in becoming an L2 educator and learning new languages came when I spent a summer in Alaska housekeeping at a hotel outside of Denali National Park. There, I worked with people from all over the world, and grew especially close to a group of people from the Czech Republic. With them, I began to learn a few basic words of Czech and found it rewarding and interesting to be able to communicate with my friends, albeit in a very limited way, in their own language. My Czech friends invited me to come teach English in their country, telling me that as a native English speaker, I would have no problem finding a well-paying job. This led me to visit the Czech Republic a couple times over the next few years, take a TEFL training course there, and focus my MA thesis on peer review between native and nonnative speakers of English (while I was in a primarily English literature MA program, I searched out an advisor who specialized in linguistics to craft a path of study that included study and teaching experience in L2 writing). Knowing that I wanted to be able to communicate with Czechs in their own language, I began teaching myself Czech on a regular basis, working with a textbook, talking to myself around the rural Missouri town where I was studying, taking an independent study with a Slavic literature professor who had limited Czech knowledge, watching Czech movies, and emailing my friends in Czech.

I eventually moved to the Czech Republic and lived there for two years while teaching English through a private language school at various businesses along with teaching at a junior high/high school catering to wealthy Russian expatriates in Prague. It was not until I moved to El Paso, TX, and began my doctorate in rhetoric and composition that I began reading articles about native speakerism, realizing that by moving to Prague and teaching English with very little linguistic knowledge, I was taking advantage of native speaker privilege. This realization, combined with readings in a critical race theory course, led me to the work I presented on at TESOL 2010 and will discuss more below.

After learning Czech, I learned Spanish as well. I began with a book, practicing with Spanish-speaking friends from Colombia, Spain, and Peru, later improving my fluency by spending time in in a volunteeer English teaching program in Chile and also by living here on the border in El Paso. My major focus at present is my dissertation, in which I’m following multilingual students on the US-Mexico border as they make the transition from high school to college. While most of my work with these students has been done in English, I have utilized my Spanish in crafting bilingual research board documents for my study approval. I’ve also been able to use Spanish at times in interviews when students aren’t able to express themselves as they’d like in English.

Ana Wu: You teach in a rich multicultural environment and have designed assignments well suited for students to take advantage of their multilingualism. Would you share some of your ideas and pedagogical recommendations? How do you think foreign-born NNES instructors working in the US can effectively help their ESL students develop intercultural competence, promoting cross-cultural sensitivity, awareness, and understanding?
Mr. Ruecker: I think that foreign born NNES professionals working in the US have a unique opportunity to help students utizilze their multilingual abilities and help all students in their classes develop cross-cultural competence. Even if they do not know the home languages of their students, NNES professionals in the US have the experience of learning another language. With this, they become role models for their students and are more likely than monolinguals to understand the challenges of learning a new language. Because foreign-born NNES professionals have the experience of living in multiple cultures, they are more sensitive than those who have only lived in one culture to the differences between cultures. As a result, they are likely to have more ideas on what kind of topics should be discussed in a curriculum aimed at developing cross-cultural comptence. As an added benefit, they likely have stories of awkward situations that arose when learning a new language or functioning in a new culture that can help bring them closer to their students and build their ethos among them.

A common assignment in first-year composition courses is the rhetorical analysis. Given that most students at the University of Texas at El Paso are bilingual English/Spanish speakers, I like giving my students an opportunity to see their multilingual/multicultural backgrounds as an advantage. One semester, I gave students the option of engaging in a cross-cultural rhetorical analysis, in which they read articles from Mexican and US papers on current issues, such as the US-Mexico border wall or immigration policy. As I prepared students for the essay, I would post several sets of articles, with half of them being bilingual and the other half being only in English. When I did this, a few of my monolingual students were confused because they could only choose from two of the four options I posted. To me, this indicated their discomfort when a classroom was changed from a space that catered exclusively to monolinguals to one that recognized the unique abilities of multilinguals. I had to explain to my monolingual students that because they were not bilingual they did not have the options that their multilingual peers did. The students who chose the multilingual option for their final paper were able to draw on their knowledge of multiple languages and cultures to reveal how authors’ situatedness shaped the way the same topic was discussed in very different ways.

In other classes, I have encouraged students to use home languages in their writing, but consider their audience in doing so. For instance, if they are writing to a multilingual audience that speaks Spanish, they may be able to incorporate untranslated quotes in their writing in their original language. However, if their audience is primarily monolingual English speakers, students should provide translations of the Spanish either in the text or in footnotes. In examining the politics of translation, we discuss how putting original Spanish quotes in the text and providing the English translations as footnotes gives Spanish a more privileged place within the text than it would have if simply relegated to footnotes.

It must be noted that when offered to use their home languages, only a few students choose this option, and my dissertation advisor has reported the same when encouraging her students to use their own languages in their writing. This is likely because students are so used to a monolingual classroom and, in the case of a border language like Spanglish, are used to their language carrying a lot of stigma.

Ana Wu: Despite the fact that other fields, such as sociology, anthropology, and composition studies have both extensively and critically explored issues of race, we haven’t seen much of such discussions in TESOL (Kubota & Lin, 2006). When analyzing the relationship between non-native speakers and power, you propose the use of the Critical Race Theory.

a. Why? What can we learn from drawing on this approach? What topics do you think need further investigation? How do you think NES and NNEST can work collaboratively on doing research?
Mr. Ruecker: In my TESOL presentation, I made the argument that TESOL has not extensively explored issues of race in part because of the discomfort that ensues from talking about this topic. Moreover, while the Kubota and Lin edited TESOL Quarterly issue, Curtis and Romney’s (2006) Color, race, and English language teaching, and a 2006 special Critical Inquiry in Language Studies issue on postcolonial approaches to TESOL have made important contributions in this area, I still find the scholarship limited in that it tends to focus on how teachers’ race or ethnicity can significantly impact the way they are heard by students, regardless of their English ability.

In my article, I propose drawing more broadly from race theorists. As an example, I use Harris’ (1993) “Whiteness as property” to argue that native speaker status has been constructed as a property interest with benefits that has subsequently been protected. I also point to other areas where TESOL can benefit from work in race theory, such as drawing on theories of racial passing to discuss linguistic passing and theories of everyday racism to explore how native speakerism is constructed through daily discourses and actions. I do think NES and NNEST speakers need to work together as challenging the power of native speakerism should not be solely the responsibility of NNESs just like challenging racism should not be simply the responsibility of victims of racism. However, in working together, we need to recognize the power hierarchies and ensure that NESs speak with and not for NNESs. One area of collaboration could include a collection like Braine’s (1999) Non-native educators in English language teaching that includes not only NNES voices but also NES voices who discuss and critique the ways that they have benefited from NES privilege.

b. What seminal papers inspired you? Which ones would you recommend graduate students in TESOL or Applied Linguistic programs read?
Mr. Ruecker: I would definitely recommend Kramsch’s (1998) “The privilege of the intercultural speaker” and Cook’s (1999) “Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching.” They were some early works in challenging the privileged status of the native speaker and also questioned how we assume that there is an easy definition of who is a native speaker. Holliday’s (2005) The struggle to teach English as an international language has a good discussion on native speakerism and provides a useful definition. Braine’s (1999) collection is certainly important as well. In connecting the discourses of racism and native speakerism, I have found Shuck’s (2006) and Motha’s (2006a; 2006b) work valuable.

c. When I commented about the use of the Critical Race Theory, a colleague responded that by “discussing race, you become a racist promoting racism.” What do you think of this suggestion?
Mr. Ruecker:In my TESOL presentation, an audience member raised the same objection that your colleague did. While it is true that racial divisions have no basis in science but are socially constructed, we do not benefit from simply ignoring issues of race because our society is still structured around racial divides, as is evident by divides in wealth, education, and other areas. Conservatives have appropriated liberal discourses of colorblindness to dismantle programs like affirmative action in the United States by arguing that we should ignore race. Similarly, by dropping terms such as native and nonnative speaker, we do not solve the problem and the inequality surrounding these labels. Instead, we need to work to rewrite the meanings surrounding nonnative speaker so that it is seen more positively.

Ana Wu: Besides working on your Ph.D dissertation, you are the president of your student organization, Frontera Retorica, the assistant director of the first-year composition program, and the webmaster for the English department. What strategies do you employ to keep focused and motivated in your professional activities? How do you build on your strengths and uniqueness?
Mr. Ruecker: My doctoral work has certainly kept me busy. In the spring, I was taking three classes, teaching one, working as our program coordinator, and conducting dissertation research at a local high school two days a week where I assisted students, taught, and interviewed students and teachers. Additionally, I gave five presentations at three conferences. I have found that finding the energy for all this work comes because it is all something I care deeply about. I get energy from being around and working with some excellent colleagues and students. I am very happy to be doing an empirical as opposed to theoretical dissertation because it involves meeting with and interviewing students as well as observing their classes. Through these interactions, I hear new stories and perspectives that help me learn new things and be amazed by my participants’ stuggles and successes on a daily basis. When relaxing, I like to cook, bike, and enjoy various cultural events around town. As El Paso is on the border, I hear both English and Spanish everyday and love the fact that many local cultural events, such as concerts and poetry slams, are commonly bilingual.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this insightful interview and good luck in your studies!

Braine, G. (1999). Non-native educators in English language teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33(2), 185-209.
Curtis, A. & Romney, M. (2006). Color, race, and English language teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Harris, C.I. (1993). Whiteness as property. Harvard law review, 106 (8), 1707-1791.
Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford UP.
Kramsch, C. (1998). The privilege of the intercultural speaker. In Byram, M. & Fleming, M. (Eds.) Language learning in intercultural perspective: Approaches through drama and ethnography (pp. 20-35). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kubota, R. & Lin, A. (2006). Race and TESOL: Introduction to concepts and theories. TESOL Quarterly, 40 (3), 471-493.
Motha, S. (2006a). Decolonizing ESOL: Negotiating linguistic power in U.S. public school classrooms. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies: An International Journal, 3 (2 & 3), 75-100.
Motha, S. (2006b). Racializing ESOL teacher identities in U.S. K-12 public schools. TESOL Quarterly, 40 (3), 495-518.
Shuck, G. (2006). Racializing the nonnative English speaker. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 5 (4), 259-76.


Carmen T. Chacón


NNEST of the Month
July 2010
cchacon15 [at] gmail [dot] com

Ana Wu: Could you tell us your professional background, and why you decided to be an educator?
Dr. Chacón: I was born in Táchira, a western state in Venezuela, today Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in South America. I have lived in San Cristóbal, the capital of Táchira, for my whole life, except the two times that I have gone to study in the U.S. I got my B.A in education with a major in English. I remember that since I first studied English in high school, I felt in love with the language and its culture. Not surprisingly, English was my favorite subject, and I always did an outstanding job in my class.

It was not a burden for me to learn by heart textbook dialogues and grammar rules because I was curious to learn vocabulary and be able to read about the U.S. culture. I used to teach grammar to my friends in the high school, and soon I realized that I wanted to be an English teacher. So, I enrolled in a teacher education program in my home town to become an EFL teacher.

I still have vivid memories of some of my professors who were very concerned in teaching us “Standard” English and did the best they could so that we would acquire native-like pronunciation. I particularly remember one of them who used to say, “be careful,” just before we would talk or say something in English, so we wouldn’t make any mistakes.

After I graduated, I felt I didn’t speak native-like; that was frustrating for me. So, I applied for a government scholarship that was granted to me in 1980 to get my MA degree at Eastern Washington University in Washington State.

When I finished my M. A, I came back home and worked at a high school for about 13 years. Teaching at the high school was a highly demanding task because of the heavy teaching load and large classes, as well as the lack of resources and institutional support EFL teachers face in Venezuela.

Despite the context barriers, I never lost my passion to teach. In 1989, I applied for an opening at the University of Los Andes and won a position as a teacher educator. Later, in 1998, I got a scholarship to pursue my doctoral studies at the Ohio State University (OSU). Again, as I finished my doctoral studies, I returned to my hometown university where I am currently a tenured professor at the Modern Languages Department.

Being a teacher educator has been a great undertaking for me. When I looked back into my past as an NNEST, I realized I have rethought my teaching practice and changed my views about ELT, especially over the last years. Throughout my lived experiences as an English learner, an EFL teacher-researcher, and an educator, I am convinced that learning to teach is a never-ending process. I am committed to work hard to help NNES student teachers’ empowerment so that they are confident as English speakers.

Ana Wu: In your book chapter “My Journey into Racial Awareness” (2006), you said that during your master degree program, as a newcomer in the USA, you first perceived your race to be bound to nationality, and that later, your experience of being perceived as an NNES professional of color opened up your awareness of the role of race in the United States (p. 49).
As a teacher trainer, how does this awareness influence your sense of self and instructional practices?
Dr. Chacón: Being perceived as an NNES professional of color during my second journey into the U.S., has definitively made an impact on my identity as well as on my teaching practice. The construction and reconstruction of my subjectivity was a wake-up call that began since 1998, when I was involved for the first time in my life with topics related to language, power, and race during my doctoral studies. I wrestled myself with multiples identities and started to question my racial affiliation trying to figure out my racial ethnicity among U.S labels such as White, Jewish American, Asian American, Hispanic, Latino, etc. This struggle influenced both my sense of self and my teaching.

I came to have an interest and then became an advocate of NNESTs after I took a Seminar for Nonnative Speaker Professionals offered by Dr. Keiko Samimy in the spring of 2000. Sharing common issues faced by EFL teachers from different parts of the world was a comforting experience that in light of the readings (e.g., Braine, 1999; Lippi-Green, 1997; Pennycook, 2001 among others) made me reflect upon the “political” side of TESOL. Back home, in the fall of 2003, for the first time in our program, I offered a similar seminar for EFL teachers inspired by my own experiences as an NNEST.

The following year, I incorporated NNEST issues into the syllabus of the Seminar entitled Psycholinguistics (See Chacón, 2009a, “Transforming the Curriculum of NNESTs: Introducing Critical Language Awareness (CLA) in a teacher education program ”) that I have been teaching since 2004, as a regular class for fifth-year prospective teachers. I have students read, discuss, and debate articles from the NNEST CAUCUS as well as from selected readings by scholars (Amin, 1997; Braine, 1999; Lippi-Green, 1997, among others). The course goal is to help them open up their awareness of the relationship between language, race, and power.

Over the last years, I have shifted the focus of my teaching from a purely linguistic perspective to what Pennycook (2001), describes as a critical applied linguistics. As an EFL teacher, I am not only concerned about language acquisition but also about the interconnectedness of language, race, and power as present in discursive practices.

I keep myself questioning my cultural assumptions and how they influence my teaching.
My self representation as a TESOL professional made me reflect upon the fact that, in my role as an EFL teacher, I can unconsciously reproduce social inequity through discursive practices that have helped perpetuate conceptions such as “Standard” English and the native-nonnative speaker dichotomy. Now, I position myself as an NNEST who, rather than searching for native-like pronunciation, have changed her focus of teaching to intelligibility and to raise students’ awareness of language as ideology, as a marker of discrimination to label the “other” as inferior.

I have been fortunate to have Professors Keiko Samimy and Shelley Wong as my instructors and mentors at OSU. They inspired me to become an advocate of social equity and justice in TESOL.

Ana Wu: Why do you think the issue of race is relevant to English language acquisition?
Dr. Chacón:Let me start by saying that race was not an issue for me until my second experience as a Ph. D student in the U.S. Then, I started to realize that language is not only about acquiring communicative competence; a purely linguistic activity, but a way to express ideology, i.e., to express who we are and where we come from.

For many years, I believed in the neutrality of ELT. I was educated under the applied linguistics paradigm, considering the native speaker as the “norm” and regarding English language acquisition isolated from the sociopolitical and historical reasons that ground the expansion of English in the world. Disempowering discourses such as the superiority of an “idealized” native speaker, usually represented as the model from the Center, and the acquisition of “Standard” English are unconsciously bound to race. That is why most students would rather prefer Caucasian English teachers if they are asked to choose.

In Venezuela, the focus of ELT is the acquisition of communicative competence. English is generally taught from a descriptive perspective. Besides, racism is not openly recognized in my country; however, the majority of Venezuelans hold prejudices against Blacks and dark-skinned people. Western Eurocentric views are present in daily discourse, but most people are unaware of, or do not want to recognize the fact that we practice what Kubota & Lin (2006) describe as epistemological racism.

English from the Center is the most prestigious. When I ask my students to rank different English dialects, not surprisingly, they mention “Standard” American and British accents in the first and second place while African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is ranked last. They do not mention other varieties—e.g., Pakistani, Indian, Nigerian, Singaporean Englishes—because they are not aware of their existence.

The issue of race is relevant to ELT because the construct of race is socially and historically built through language, and through language we construct our identities. From my own experience, I would say that pervasive practices used to discriminate against NNESTs are rooted in colonial view of EIL. For this reason, it is crucial to develop a critical language awareness among NNESTs and empower them to contest social inequity in TESOL.

Ana Wu: We know that there aren’t many international graduate students from Central and South America in applied linguistics and TESOL programs in the USA. In your article “Empowering NNESTs” (2000), you wrote that you tried hard to be accepted into the academic community during your graduate program. As a Latin American, what were your challenges and how did you overcome them?
Dr. Chacón: A major challenge I faced as an International graduate student was a feeling of loneliness and exclusion in mainstream clases where my White classmates usually dominated the discourse. Class discussions were mainly centered on the U.S. It seemed to me that my experience as a Latina did not count, or may have not been interesting enough to be listened to. At first, I dealt with feelings of frustration and a sense of disempowerment for not being part of the “culture” of mainstream classes.

Another challenge was my accent. I got used to hearing comments about my accent and to seeing people staring at me as if they did not understand what I was saying. Later on, I realized that many people disliked or were not used to listen to an accent other than their own. As Lippi-Green (1997) points out, accents are bound to geographical places and represent privilege and social status. It is not only about the accent one may have, but how that accent is perceived in terms of race and power. In my experience, my accent was a marker of race and did not have the same status or prestige than the accent of someone coming from Australia or Canada.

Let me tell you an experience to illustrate what I am saying. It happened to me during the last quarter of my doctoral studies, while I was in charge of supervising a group of White teachers enrolled in a TESOL Endorsement Program. My first contact with the teachers was via email so we could set up an appointment to meet. I was very surprised that one of them did not respond to my emails. Concerned about the situation, I went to see the Program Coordinator. To my astonishment, she explained to me that that teacher who did not respond to my emails did not want me as her supervisor. She had asked the Coordinator to reassign her to the other supervisor, an African American lady. The reason, according to the Coordinator, was that the teacher was afraid she may not understand me.

I came to the realization that in TESOL language is connected to race and social status. That awareness empowered me and made reflect about my identity as an NNEST.

Ana Wu: What advice would you give to people with similar background as yours who are considering getting professional development in the USA?
Dr. Chacón: An NNEST coming to pursue professional development in the U.S. should keep in mind that as a newcomer he or she will face cultural and linguistic challenges. First, as an international student one needs to fit into the academic community and be ready to deal with feelings of loneliness and exclusion that make the adjustment harder. As foreigners, we are generally perceived as the “Other. So, we need to struggle with negative perceptions and stereotypes that affect our sense of self and undermine our confidence as English speakers.

NNEST needs to be conscious that language constructs identity and that as a result of biases and prejudices present in discursive practices, NNESTs’ credibility is not always judged in terms of proficiency. That is why it is very important to trust our strengths and work hard on our weaknesses to succeed in the academia and gain recognition as qualified NNESTs.

In addition, NNESTs need to raise their awareness of disempowering discourses that undermine their legitimacy and credibility as English speakers. Conscious awareness is critical for empowerment and building a sense of agency to transform NNESTs’ particular contexts and adapt their teaching to their students’ needs.

Ana Wu: As an EFL instructor in Venezuela with 26 years of experience, former department coordinator, and now as a teacher trainer, Do you think that local teachers have a second-class status when working with native speaking teachers (qualified or less qualified)? If yes, what kind of support do you think these instructors need and what can they do to promote more equality in the teaching profession? What do you think TESOL, Inc. and the NNEST IS can do?
Dr. Chacón: Well in fact, the native speaker dichotomy is not an issue that directly affects hiring practices for Venezuelan teachers, but it does influence their perceptions and beliefs as non-native speakers of English. When compared with native speakers, teachers generally express lack of confidence in their oral proficiency and judge themselves inferior when it comes to “nativeness,” accent, and cultural knowledge (Chacón, 2009b).

To promote more equality in the profession, TESOL can increase opportunities for NNESTs professional development, dissemination of research, and mentorship. NNESTs need a major support for visibility in the field through publications in the Journals sponsored by TESOL. Also, TESOL should encourage the incorporation of Seminars that address the needs of NNESTs who attend U.S. universities.

The NNEST Caucus, now NNEST IS, has undoubtedly been a powerful source of empowerment for NNESTs since its creation in 1998. I would like to see online communities of practice where teachers can come together and learn from each other.

In sum, I think that TESOL, Inc. and the NNEST IS should join efforts and keep working to increase opportunities for professional development, visibility, recognition, and credibility of NNESTs.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this inspiring interview!

Amin, N. (1997). Race and identity of the nonnative ESL teacher. TESOL Quarterly, 31, 80-583.

Braine, G. (Ed.) (1999). Non-native educators in English language teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Chacón, C. (2000). Empowering NNESTs. NNEST Newsletter. 2 (2).

Chacón, C. (2006). My Journey into Racial Awareness. Color, Race, and English Language Teaching: Shades of Meaning. In Curtis, A. & Romney, M. (Eds.), Color, Race, and English Teaching Language Teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Chacón, C. (2009a). Transforming the Curriculum of NNESTs: Introducing Critical Language Awareness (CLA) in a teacher education program. In R. Kubota & A. Lin, (Eds.), Race, culture, and identities in second language education. Exploring critically engaged practice (pp. 215-233). New York: Routledge.

Chacón, C. (2009b). Acento y competencia lingüística: creencias de los educadores de inglés en formación. [Accent and linguistic competence: Beliefs of prospective English teachers]. Entre Lenguas, 14, 44-61.

Kubota, R., & Lin, A. (Eds.). (2006). Race, culture, and identities in second language education. Exploring critically engaged practice. New York: Routledge.

Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical Applied linguistics. A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

John Liang

NNEST of the Month
March 2010
    Medium liang john faculty
john [dot] liang [at] biola [dot] edu
Ana Wu: Could you please tell us a bit about your linguistic, academic and professional background?
Dr. Liang: I am originally from China. I grew up speaking three languages in China: Mandarin, Hokien, and Cantonese. As for foreign language, English was my first and Japanese my second. (I have to say, though, I can now speak only a little Japanese.)I came to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies a year after I graduated from college. I received a B.A. in English from Jinan University, Guangzhou, China, and I received an M.A. in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania. In 1997, I obtained a Ph.D. in Foreign Language Education with a concentration on TESL from the University of Texas at Austin.Soon after I finished my doctoral studies, I joined University of California, Riverside and supervised the university’s ESL program in the Learning Center. I joined the MA TESOL program at Biola University in 2001, and have ever since then been doing teacher training in TESOL.Ana Wu: In one of your workshops, you said that Chinese people would compliment on your English and ask why you did not go to an MBA program. How did you respond to this compliment? Why did you decide to become an educator?
Dr. Liang: While in graduate school in the U.S., many of my Chinese friends complimented on my English communication skills. Some of them couldn’t understand why I would pursue studies in English rather than seek training that is more practical, like an MBA degree. I don’t blame them. For many of my Chinese friends, they didn’t choose their field of studies because they were interested in it or were passionate about it. Rather, they chose it because it could easily help them land on a job. At that time, many of my Chinese friends chose either business or computer science – whether they liked it or not.

For some time, I was really seriously considering changing my career choice as well. I had a lot of doubt of my credibility as a non-native speaker of English. In fact, many of my friends laughed at me when they heard that I was studying English. Their comment, though not friendly at all, sounded realistically correct! Why would an ESL program hire a non-native speaker of English to teach English? One day, a very close friend of mine, who was also an administrator of an ESL program, confided that if he had an interview with me on the phone, he would hire me right away since he could barely detect any sign of non-native accent. But if it was a face-to-face interview, he would hesitate since my skin color had betrayed my true identity – I am not a Caucasian.

While I was thinking about switching to pursuing a business degree, I received a postcard from a past student of mine in China. In the postcard, she said that at their graduation party a classmate of hers commented that I was her only best college instructor in her four years of studies and she really benefited a great deal from my classes. That postcard was a timely note of encouragement. As I revisited my decision to come to the U.S. for graduate studies in English and language education, I found renewed strength. I came because I wanted to be better trained in the language and language pedagogy so I could return to be a better language teacher. That postcard marked a turning point in my teaching career and teaching life. It affirmed my passion! At the same time, I remembered another encouraging comment by a young Canadian English professor I enjoyed in one of my college English classes back in China. He wasn’t really religious, but in one of his class meetings, as he explained the difference in meaning between the two words, “confidence” and “faith,” he commented that one shall live by faith – with a belief in something that is invisible but you know is there – rather than live by sight, such as by confidence as a result from knowing that you are for sure capable of doing something. I guess I made a decision to choose the English teaching career with a conviction coupled with my passion – I believed I could be a good English teacher that can benefit many even though I am not a native speaker of English.

Ana Wu: You came to the US for an MA in English, with a BA in English and Literature from China. As a graduate student, was it difficult to be accepted by the people surrounding you – Chinese and non-Chinese students and professors? Did you constantly find yourself changing roles and identities in order to be accepted among peers? How?
Dr. Liang: I am indebted to an American professor who taught me in college in China for her influence on my perspectives on cross-cultural identity. I remember one day when I told her on the phone that I was going to see her in her hotel room (at that time all of our English professors from America or Canada were given a studio in a university-owned hotel). To my surprise, she said that was her home. I said that her home was thousands of miles away in Chicago, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, but to my further surprise, she commented, “Where I’m, that’s my home.” So, when I came to America, I said to myself, “This is going to be my new home, so I will need to learn to be an American in my professional life – while I will continue to remain Chinese in my private life.”

Also, as I had already been a bilingual when I came to America, I felt that a bilingual or multilingual and multicultural spirit would help me rather than inhibit my career development. So, in school, I was very open to making friends with my American classmates and with my international classmates from other countries, i.e. from Turkey, Palestine, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, etc. I enjoyed spending time with them during the breaks and during the weekends.

However, it was interesting that while many of my Asian classmates were fine with me socializing with my international friends, some of them were upset that I got too close to my American classmates. One day, a Thai doctoral student came to me warning me not to spend too much time with my American classmates since, in her words, we are Asian not American. Ironically, one time I overheard a conversation between two of my Japanese classmates. The older student in her forties warned the younger one in her early twenties not to be too close to other international students and American students. While somewhat upsetting, these two incidents actually strengthened my belief in multiculturalism. As a teacher trainee, I needed to be open to different cultures as this would only enhance rather than inhibit our classroom teaching and it would increase my intercultural sensitivity as well as my intercultural understanding. So, I continued to socialize with both my American classmates and international classmates.

Ana Wu: You have been very active in the teaching field and professional organizations, specially taking leadership roles at the California – TESOL organization (CATESOL). Having served on the CATESOL Board in various capacities, what advice would you give to graduate students who seem themselves as NNES and want to pursue a fulfilling career as an ESL/EFL instructor?
Dr. Liang: As a language teacher, our teaching world is not confined within the classroom walls. Instead, it extends way beyond the classroom. This means while our students do represent an immediate teaching and learning community, as teachers, we are also members of a much larger community: a community of professionals that have the same kind of passion for the well-being of students. Therefore, connecting with this larger community is crucial to our professional growth. It will not only inspires us with new pedagogical perspectives but will also deepen our commitment and sustain our spirit of service.

Ana Wu: As an associate professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL, training international graduate students, NNES and NES, what are the things that you do (if any) to address the needs and concerns of the international and NNES students? Why?
Dr. Liang: In my classes, I have both NES and NNES graduate students. While they have different needs, I don’t treat them differently in the sense that they both need encouragement, genuine care, and investment. When they are down or disoriented, or showing lack of confidence, timely encouragement helps them see their strengths in the positive light. Aside from verbal encouragement, your demonstrated passion for what you are doing represents another dimension of encouragement. Your sharing of your personal development and professional growth often makes good narratives that will renew their strengths and confidence. Furthermore, making yourself available beyond the office hours breaks the wall between the teacher and student, and creates a trusting relationship that enables them to be open to your advice and guidance. Last and perhaps the most important, invest in them. This can be accomplished by providing feedback on their work, spending time counseling them, offering advice on their classroom teaching and research projects, and guiding their preparation for professional work such as conference presentations. True investment motivates them and strengthens their determination to take on challenges. All in all, developing a trusting relationship with them is crucial to fostering their growth as a professional language teacher. These are the main principles I adhere to when I interact with our graduate students.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this interesting interview!

Thomas Andrew Kirkpatrick

NNEST of the Month

October 2009


Ana Wu: Could you tell us your linguistic and professional background and why you decided to become an educator?

Prof. Kirkpatrick: I was born in England – my father was Irish, from Dublin and my mother English – but I grew up from the age of 2 in Malaysia and Singapore, as my father got a job there as an engineer (working mostly on tin mines). I was sent back to school in England from the age of seven – as was normal in those days – but my parents remained in Malaysia until my father died, which was in 1965.

Growing up in Malaysia and Singapore meant growing up in a diverse linguistic and cultural environment, and when I went to university I wanted to do a degree in Thai and Indonesian, but this was not possible then as no British universities offered this BA in those days, so I ended up doing Chinese Studies at Leeds University in England. I then got a postgraduate scholarship to China and found myself studying Modern Chinese Literature at Fudan University in Shanghai. I should add, however, that this was from 1976-1977, and there was not much modern Chinese literature that was allowed to be taught! I then moved down to Hong Kong where I worked as a journalist and got involved in English language teaching, became interested in it and did an MA in Linguistics and English Language Teaching (ELT) at York in the UK. From there I worked in a number of Asian countries including four-year stints at both the National Institute of Education in Singapore and the Institute of Education in Rangoon, Burma.

In 1989 I got a scholarship to do my PhD at the Australian National University (ANU), where I studied Chinese rhetoric. By this time, I was married, and we stayed in Australia for the next 17 years – 5 years at ANU and 12 years at Curtin University in Perth – while our son went through the school system there. I have been here at the Institute of Education in Hong Kong since the beginning of 2006 and love being back in a Chinese setting and in a place where linguistic issues are so central.

Ana Wu: You have been a strong and persistent voice in challenging the native speaker myth and advocating for the recognition that what learners of English need is well-trained plurilingual teachers who are culturally sensitive and sophisticated. How did you first become interested in issues related to World Englishes and NNEST? What are you biggest frustrations and encouragements?

Prof. Kirkpatrick: Growing up in Malaysia and Singapore, I was exposed to linguistically and culturally diverse societies from a very early age and to people who spoke several languages as a matter of course. I was also exposed to varieties of English from a very early age. Having an Irish father who was always ready – if not eager – to prick the balloons of English pomposity was useful! My school teachers in my early years– from the wonderful Tamil principal of the kindergarten through to the New Zealand rugby coach at primary school – were the personification of diversity, so this was all natural to me.

My major frustration centres around the resilience of the privileging of the native speaker teacher over the multilingual local teacher. This prejudice is embraced by key stakeholders in the region, so that school principals and ministries of education still believe that the ‘native speaker’ represents a better investment than the local multilingual. This prejudice is even more invidious when they use it to justify the hiring of untrained, unqualified (and almost always unvetted) native speakers as English teachers ahead of local trained and multlilingual teachers, solely on the grounds that they are native speakers. My new book coming out soon with Hong Kong University Press ‘English as a lingua franca in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): roles, features and the Multilingual Model’, argues for a radical review of language education policy in the region, proposing that primary schools should focus on local languages and not on English, and that English is best taught by local multilinguals using a ‘multilingual model.’

Ana Wu: Once in a while, in our NNEST IS online listserv, we are notified of a job advertisement that specifically asks for native speakers of English. While most members perceive it as a legitimate case of discrimination, there is always someone who thinks the administration is entitled to hire whoever they want. There was also an example in which the students demanded the school to hire native speakers.

a. How do you define a legitimate case of discrimination? Do you think we have the right or duty to comment or fight against discriminatory practices in other countries? Also, if a type of discrimination is a common practice, for example, age or gender discrimination, is there anything we as professionals and outsiders can or should do?

Prof. Kirkpatrick: I think it should be part of our profession’s ethics that we insist that language teachers should be judged on their training, qualifications and linguistic proficiency, and not on an accident of linguistic birthright. I have spoken to a number of organizations including UNICEF to see if it would be practical to set up a register of schools and institutions that adhere to a code of ethics, but nothing has yet come out of it. I know TESOL itself takes a strong line on this and sets a good example (and see George Braine’s suggested response to this), but I think it should be possible to establish a register of this sort. Hiring someone solely on the basis of their linguistic birthright is a highly discriminatory form of ‘linguicism’ and would be criminal, were the hiring done on the basis of colour, for example.

In terms of age and gender discrimination, we have to be sensitive to local cultural practice. Many cultures give respect to age and, in many cultures, men hold more power and rights than women. These practices are deeply ingrained and are not going to be changed overnight by strident criticism from foreign teachers, especially from those who are only going to be in the respective country for a relatively short period of time. Roslyn Appleby of the University of Technology, Sydney writes very sensitively and sensibly about these issues in the context of international development. and I strongly recommend her work.

b. Still using the job advertisement as an example, what can members of the NNEST IS do to help promote equality in the TESOL profession without being accused of advocating social reform in countries where we do not live and therefore do not know about the social background in detail.

Note: In our official website, we have posted George Braine’s suggested response to discrimination in job advertisement and a copy of TESOL statement on NNEST and hiring practices.

Prof. Kirkpatrick: A major problem is that non-native speakers are often the most prejudiced against non-native speaker teachers. The key stakeholders I mentioned above – school principals and ministries of education and to this could be added many of the owners of private language schools – are themselves non-native speakers and it is their prejudices (along with the prejudices of parents and the students themselves) who see them hiring native speakers ahead of local multilinguals. Like all prejudices, this is based on ignorance, so one major task for all of us in the profession is to educate people about this. But, as I indicated above, this must be done sensitively and with an in-depth knowledge of the local culture(s) and context(s). Joining relevant professional organizations is also beneficial as locals and ‘foreigners’ can then work together, under the umbrella of the professional organisation, to achieve change.

Ana Wu: In your article, “English as an Asian Language,” (2000) you stated that since the majority of learners want to use English as a lingua franca, “educated speakers of the regional variety could provide the models (…) Instead of spending large sums of money on importing native-speaking teachers and externally developed materials, funding should be set aside for the professional development of local teachers and for the development of developing regionally appropriate ELT curricula.”

Taking the case of a country where English is widely spoken as an example, let me play the devil’s advocate by asking if the same rationale would work – meaning, native-speaking teachers would be more suitable than non-native speakers when teaching adult immigrant students because these students will use English to communicate with other native speakers. Why or why not?

Prof. Kirkpatrick: There is, of course, nothing wrong with native speaker teachers per se! As I indicated earlier, language teachers should be judged on their training, qualifications and linguistic proficiency – and I would see being multilingual a crucial part of that. The problem lies in the hiring of native speakers solely on the grounds of their linguistic birthright on the one hand, and in the belief that being monolingual is an advantage for a language teacher on the other. The first is discriminatory, the second seems to me to be plainly absurd. How can someone who has never learned a second or foreign language possibly be considered to be better-equipped to be a language teacher than someone who has?

With regard to the point that the migrants student will use to communicate with native speakers, they will, of course, also communicate with other non-native speakers. ‘International’ students all over the world tend, for example, to communicate more with fellow international students than with local students. Lingua franca communication is always of crucial importance.

Ana Wu: Regarding the hiring of monolingual teachers in some Asian countries as opposed to multilingual locals, in “No experience necessary?” (2006), you asked, “In what other profession would a lack of relevant knowledge and experience be touted as an advantage?”

Considering international graduate students attending a TESOL or Applied Linguistics graduate program in an English-spoken country,

a. What advice would you give to these new EFL teachers who are returning home after getting the degree and are concerned about having a second-class status in the profession when competing with less-trained native English speaking colleagues?

Prof. Kirkpatrick: I think they should join their local professional organisations and also try and find out who the ‘rogue’ employers are and who the ethical employers are. Having said that, these teachers will inevitably meet injustice and at different levels. In Hong Kong, for example, native English teachers tend to be paid more than their local counterparts; and non-native teachers will find it impossible to find work in a range of language schools.

b. What can professors in these TESOL or Applied Linguistics graduate programs do to empower or guide the students who may face hiring discrimination in their homecountries? Should concerns of NNEST be included in the curriculum and training? How?

Prof. Kirkpatrick:This is a hard one to answer as I’m not sure of the contexts you are referring to. One point that is probably generalisable to all contexts is the importance of making people feel good about being multilingual. Hong Kong is full of trilingual people who believe that their English is not good enough – because it differs from a native speaker standard – and/or that their Putonghua is not good enough for the same reason. Actually, though, they are functional trilinguals. They feel deficient, however, because their multilingual linguistic proficiency is measured against a monolingual standard. This measuring of language acquisition against a monolingual standard remains a huge problem for traditional cognitivist second language acquisition SLA. Multilinguals need to be measured against comparable and successful multilinguals, not against a monolingual standard. Language is a social construct and is something that is used in real contexts. Being able to use it successfully in these contexts is what matters, not whether your vowel sounds perfectly replicate some idealised speaker of RP. So I’d like to see a shift from a traditional cognitivist SLA perspective to one that includes a more ‘social’ theory of SLA.

At the same time, all language teachers need to encourage respect in multilingual ability, no matter what the languages involved are. Thus children from minority groups who go to school should never be made to feel ‘small’ because they speak this or that language. Instead, a multilingual repertoire always needs to be valued. In the same way, multilingual students should be made to feel proud about their linguistic heritage and backgrounds.

The concerns of NNEST should certainly be included in the curriculum – a good way of doing this is to shift the focus of TESOL courses so that the multilingual and multicultural contexts of almost all English language teaching contexts are fore-grounded. At the same time, being multilingual and multicultural must be recognised as important advantages and attributes of the language teacher. If US and UK-based TESOL courses gave formal recognition to being multilingual and being multicultural – even making it a condition of entry to postgraduate courses – then employers might start to take this seriously too.

Ana Wu: In your article, “Teaching English Across Cultures: What do English language teachers need to know to know how to teach English,” (2007), you argue that it is time to discard the NS-NNS distinction and instead develop a list of skills and knowledge (p.32) that all language teachers should have.

If we use this list to describe the ideal language teacher, how would we label language learners and speakers? If we discard the NS-NNS labels, how would call we ourselves?

Prof. Kirkpatrick: Do we need labels? It would be nice to discard the NS-NNS labels and just refer to properly qualified and trained people as professional language teachers.

One related point I would make is that English is often introduced to learners too early. This is a particular problem in primary schools through out Asia. As I mentioned above, primary schools in this region should be focusing on ensuring children develop proficiency and literacy in their mother tongue(s) and the respective national language, and not on English. It is perfectly possible to develop excellent proficiency in English (in any language) if you start in secondary school. The current increase in the number of ‘young learners’ of English world-wide enrolling in private language schools is also a concern. Many middle class parents in Asia (and possibly elsewhere) are choosing to educate their children in schools where English is the medium of instruction instead of in their own language. As a result, their proficiency in English often comes at the expense of proficiency (and literacy) in their first language. This seems incredibly short-sighted. In this sense then, the ideal learner of English in the region should be someone who is already bilingual in their first and national language!

Ana Wu: Thank you for this interesting interview! I would like to also thank Terry Doyle for revising and editing the interview questions.


Kirkpatrick, A. (2007). Teaching English across Cultures: What do English language teachers need to know to know how to teach English. EA Journal 23 (2).

Kirkpatrick, A. (2006). No experience necessary? The Guardian Weekly.

Kirkpatrick, A. (2000). English as an Asian Language. The Guardian Weekly.

Ali Shehadeh

NNEST of the Month
September 2009

Ali Shehadeh

li [dot] shehadeh [at] uaeu [dot] ac [dot] ae

Ana Wu: Could you tell us about your background and why you decided to be an educator?

Dr. Shehadeh: I developed an interest in languages, especially English, when I was 13 years old in the middle school. In my country, Syria, English is taught as a foreign language. Several of my middle and high school teachers inspired me to like the language. As soon as I graduated from high school, I enrolled in the Department of English at Aleppo University, Syria, in 1977. Even at the age of 17, when I was still a first year student at university, I excelled in my English studies, started to give private English lessons and short courses at private institutions. On graduation from university in 1981, I was one of the honour students who were offered Graduate-Assistant positions at the university to teach English to university students majoring in English.

How I became an educator was a peculiar story, but a rewarding one. One day, a group of the middle school students I was teaching -when I was still a student at university- came to me and said: “We really like you as a caring and enthusiastic teacher. We also like the way you deal with us and treat us, but sometimes your language goes over our heads! We need more accessible and simple language which we can easily understand.” Ever since, I was convinced that incomprehensible input or output is of less value no matter how important it is or the message it carries, unless it is understood by your audience. Since that time too, I would give equal weight, importance and planning to How to teach, or the methodology I use in my teaching, as much as to What to teach (It comes no surprise therefore that my doctoral dissertation (1991) was on comprehensible output!).

This reconsideration of the teaching method paid off. On several occasions, both when I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in Syria or my graduate degrees in the UK, my classmates would ask me to assist them in their lessons, to re-explain lessons for them, or to give them my own notes. Some of my classmates and professors would describe me as ‘born to be a teacher?” This is how I became an educator.

Ana Wu: You have given workshops and extensively published in the second language acquisition field, especially about the task-based learning approach. Also, you got the 2006 TESOL Award for a Teacher as a Classroom Action Researcher. What advice would you give to NNES novice teachers who are just starting their career?

Dr. Shehadeh:My advice to NNES novice teachers is to always aim at and maintain a high level of dedication and commitment to their teaching, learning, research and professionalism. This can be achieved in at least two ways: First, NNESTs should know that what matters for real success is not ‘who you are’ (native or non-native), but rather ‘what you know’ (your competence and your knowledge). Second, I would encourage these NNES novice teachers, when something goes wrong in their teaching or classroom, to move away from ‘Why don’t they understand me?!’ to ‘How can I make myself understood?’

Ana Wu: You were once a member of the NNEST Caucus and the 2008-2009 chair of the Applied Linguistic Interest Section at TESOL. What other leadership positions have you taken? Why is taking a leadership position important to you? Would you encourage young professionals to take a leadership position? Why or why not?

Dr. Shehadeh:Actually I’m still a member of the NNEST Interest Section and I am on the NNEST IS email list.

On leadership positions, besides the Applied Linguistic Interest Section leadership role, I have served or have been serving TESOL and TESOL Arabia, my regional TESOL affiliate, in a number of other ways too: Member of TESOL’s Awards and Grants Standing Committee, Coordinator of TESOL’s Ruth Crymes Academy Fellowship Awards, Member of TESOL’s Publications Standing Committee, Member of TESOL’s Research Standing Committee, Member of TESOL Arabia Research Grants Committee, and Member of TESOL Arabia Travel Grants Committee. I have also been serving on TESOL Quarterly’s Editorial Board for a number of years now, initially as a manuscript reviewer and evaluator, and now as a major section co-editor, Brief Reports and Summaries.

It is very important for NNESTs to take leadership roles in TESOL for a number of reasons: 1) NNESTs outnumber NESTs in the world. Actually they make more than two-thirds of all English language teachers worldwide (Crystal, 2003). 2) Being ex-learners who went through the same journey of L2 learning which their students are taking, NNESTs are in a better position to understand and appreciate the difficulties their students face; they are more sensitive to their students’ needs and wants; and they are better positioned to assist their students in the L2 learning journey. 3) NNESTs bring a sense of multiculturalism and multilingualism to the profession of TESOL. Unlike NESTs, every NNEST comes to the TESOL profession with at least two languages, his and the English language, and two cultures, his and the English culture. It is imperative therefore that NNESTs take active and leading roles in TESOL if their voices were to be represented and heard, and if TESOL were to be a truly international, multilingual and multicultural association.

Ana Wu: As someone who has taught at universities and academic institutions in many countries, what do you think the NNEST IS or TESOL can do to fight against hiring discrimination and discrimination in the workplace?

Dr. Shehadeh: I think that TESOL and the NNEST IS can do a lot to fight against hiring discrimination and discrimination in the workplace. The most important thing to do is to change the baseless, but popular assumption that the teachers most acceptable are native speakers. For instance, in the last 3-4 years I gave a number of presentations, keynote speeches, featured sessions, and discussion groups on the topic, both individually and in collaboration with other NEST and NNEST professionals, in regional and international conferences, symposiums, and workshops. Research shows, I would report to my audience, that the popular assumption by administrators, recruiting agencies/personnel, the public, students, and even some teachers that the target language is best taught by the native speakers of that language is not accurate and therefore it is changing.

Concerned people are now more aware that what matters most is no more ‘who you are’ but rather ‘what you know,’ and ‘what you can do.’ I would report to my audience that studies of what makes a good teacher (administered to students, teacher trainees, and school administrators) have specified several attributes of what makes a good teacher, including caring, committed, confident, creative, culturally aware, decisive, disciplined, energetic, enthusiastic, flexible, funny/humorous, knowledgeable (language and SLA), knowledgeable (methods), open-minded, organized, patient, punctual, reflective, respectful, self-aware, and well-planned (for a review of studies, see Thompson, 2007). None was cited as being a NEST or NNEST. TESOL as a global profession, the NNEST IS, and even individual professionals and members can all play an active role too in fighting against hiring discrimination and discrimination in the workplace by falsifying such baseless assumptions.

5. What advice would you give graduate students or novice teachers who may not conform to the native speaker image in appearance and language?

Dr. Shehadeh: The advice I would give graduate students or novice teachers is to prove to all stakeholders (mainly students, administrators, and parents), in deeds not words, that what matters most -more than anything else- is genuine professionalism, namely: 1) teacher’s competence, 2) teacher’s expertise, 3) whether and to what degree the teacher achieves learning and teaching goals, and 4) whether and to what degree the teacher possesses the qualities of a good teacher mentioned above.

Ana Wu: Thank you very much for this interesting interview!


Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language (2nd Edition). Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Shehadeh, A. (1991). Comprehension and Performance in Second Language Acquisition: A Study of Second Language Learners’ Production of Modified Comprehensible Output. Department of English Language and Linguistics, University of Durham , UK .

Thompson, S. (2007) What Makes a ‘Good Teacher’ in a Communicative Class-centered EFL Classroom? MA Dissertation. Centre for English Language Studies, Department of English, University of Birmingham , UK .

Marinus Stephan

NNEST of the Month
March 2009


marinus [underscore] stephan [at] hotmail [dot] com

Ana Wu: Would you tell us your linguistic and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?

Dr. Stephan: Since my linguistic background and professional career is inextricably linked with Suriname, my native country, and the name “Suriname” isn’t likely to ring a bell with many people, allow me to provide some basic facts about the country. Suriname is located on the northeast coast of South America; it borders the Atlantic Ocean in the north, Brazil in the south, French Guyana in the east, and Guyana in the west. It was colonized in 1650 by the English who, in 1667, handed it over to the Dutch; it remained Dutch territory until it gained independence in 1975. The population is made up of Amerindians, the nation’s indigenous people, and descendants of Dutch colonists, African slaves, Indian, Indonesian, Chinese indentured laborers, and Lebanese immigrants. As of 2007, Suriname has a population of about 493,000. In all, 18 different languages are spoken, the most prominent of which are Dutch and Sranan. The former is the country’s official language, while the latter, an English-based Creole, is the nation’s lingua franca. Like many other countries, Suriname has a centralized education system which currently breaks down into elementary school (six years), middle school (four years), and high school (three years).

Growing up in the 1960s, I primarily spoke Dutch at home, but with my friends in the neighborhood and on the school playground I spoke both Dutch and Sranan (for much of the last century, Sranan was considered the language of the lower class and parents of every social class, including those who would be considered poor and uneducated, would discourage their children from speaking it at home). In addition, like all Surinamese kids in those days, I had informal exposure to English, thanks to radio and television. Virtually all the songs on the radio were—and still are—in English, and when television arrived in Suriname in the mid 60s, the vast majority of the programs that aired originated from the US. And since there was no dubbing and there were no subtitles, I had direct exposure to the English language. Formal exposure to English came when I started middle school at age 12 (in Suriname, English has been a component of the middle school curriculum for over a century; over the years, various elementary schools took it upon themselves to offer it to their students and currently efforts are underway to make it a fixed component of the elementary school curriculum).

In my first year of middle school, I fell head-over-heels in love with Spanish, a language that doesn’t figure prominently in Surinamese society at large. This may seem surprising, particularly given the country’s geographic location; the fact is that historically, demographically, and culturally Suriname has much more in common with English-speaking Caribbean nations like Guyana and Trinidad than with the Spanish speaking countries of South America. Back in the 60s, though, Spanish, like English, was a required course at middle and high schools in Suriname. Over the course of my years in middle school, I developed such an affinity for Spanish that by the time I was about to attend high school, I had made up my mind to become an interpreter specializing in Spanish. But then, to quote the late John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Since Suriname did not—and does not—have a program for training interpreters, I consulted the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) of the Ministry of Education. I learned that the only way of achieving my goal was to first enroll in a general teacher training program and then specialize in Spanish, an endeavor that would take six years. That is precisely what I did . . . only to learn at the end of those six years that I had been misinformed by the DSA official. By then I was 22, and family circumstances dictated that I enter the work force and so I started teaching. Additionally, due to changes in the educational policies of Suriname, one of which was that Spanish no longer was a required course at middle and high school, I had switched allegiance from Spanish to English. So, in essence, I became an English teacher by mere circumstance rather than by my own volition or some higher calling.

Ana Wu: I read with great interest your article “Musings of a Black ESL Instructor” (2006) because it offers a new dimension to the definition of the TESOL professional.

In the first paragraph (p.107), you wrote that in your homecountry, Suriname, a racially diverse society, the concept of racial profiling is totally alien. If you were arrested by a police officer of a different race and claim that you were the victim of a racial profiling, people would not believe in you.

You also wrote that while teaching EFL in Suriname, you had no reason to believe that your students were racially biased against you (p.114), that they would not question your teaching abilities based on your racial background.

It was only after teaching ESL and receiving unsatisfactory performance evaluation from your students who were primary from Asian origins that you started perceiving an association between your racial and professional identity.

What advice would you give to ESL professionals who grew up in a society like yours and now want to teach ESL in an English-spoken country where they are identified as a person “of color”?

Dr. Stephan: Let me preface my response by pointing out that Suriname is not devoid of ethnic strife. Currently, the Hindustanis and the Creoles, i.e., those whose ancestors came from India and Africa respectively, make up the two largest ethnic groups in the country. There has been ethnic tension between them groups for decades, as in the immediate run-up to Suriname’s independence. While both Creoles and Hindustanis left the country for the Netherlands, fearing the country’s economic collapse upon independence, Hindustanis had an additional reason for leaving: the fear of being ruled over by Creoles. Fortunately, over the years, politicians of all ethnicities have largely refrained from playing up ethnic tension, and as a result, Suriname has never seen a major ethnic upheaval.

Let me now address the question. I don’t know if it is possible to prepare individuals who, like me, come from a society where race and ethnicity go largely unnoticed in daily life. No matter how much you read or hear about the experiences of others on this matter, you are unlikely to grasp the full extent of it until you actually live it. It’s maybe comparable to the rollercoaster experience: I myself have never been on one—and don’t plan to do so any time soon since just seeing the speed with which the cars and the people in it come down makes my stomach turn. So it’s hard for me to understand the exhilaration and excitement of those brave souls.

I do have one piece of advice for ESL instructors who find themselves in a situation in which they believe their capabilities are being questioned because of the color of your skin: avoid paranoia and do not look for an enemy behind every bush and tree! Rather, consider every situation and every individual involved in it on their merits. I always try to find a reasonable explanation for what happened, starting with questioning my own behavior. What did I say or do—or didn’t say or do—to elicit that particular reaction from the person? Did the person perhaps misunderstand my well-meaning intentions? Did the person have a bad day and was it my misfortune to become his or her scapegoat? It is, of course, also possible that a person’s dislike for another has nothing whatsoever to do with the other’s skin color; we all know at least one person we don’t like simply because our personalities clash. It’s important to consider all these possibilities and more before thinking the worst about the other human being.

Ana Wu: What do you think of the term “TESOL professional of color”? How would you name a TESOL professional of color who is also a non-native speaker?

Dr. Stephan: I appreciate the fact that the term “TESOL professional of color” makes some people uneasy or offends them; the reason is that it seemingly injects the issue of race in our profession, pitting, in essence, White ESL instructors against their non-White counterpart. We want to believe that ours is a colorblind profession, devoid of politics in the same way that we believe that, say, the teaching of math or physical education is. However, if scholars such as Pennycook, Phillipson, and Tollefson have taught us anything, it is that politics is engrained in the history of the English language and that of English language teaching (ELT). Moreover, TESOL, presumably the largest organization of ESL professionals in the world, is not only based in the United States but also has a largely US-based membership. The United States has a long history of uneasy race relations that stretches back as far as the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620; it is, therefore, inevitable that issues of race will permeate the nation’s sub communities. Thus, with regard to the “racialization of ELT” the professional ESL community cannot afford to adopt an “ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away” attitude; rather, it ought to confront the matter head-on.

Perceptions of and ideas about race are deeply embedded in English language teaching. Traditionally, Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are considered “the core English-speaking countries,” a term coined by Phillipson in his famous—some would say, infamous—work, Linguistic Imperialism. Demographically, the dominant group in these nations have been White people; and because these nations are often perceived as exclusively English-speaking, the English language has historically been perceived as the “property” of the White natives; put differently, Whites have been granted “ownership” of the language. Consequently, it is not surprising that when the average ESL student envisages a typical ESL instructor, the image that is conjured up is that of a blond, blue-eyed, female (female, because education the world over, particularly at primary and secondary level, is a female-dominated field).

This perception has implications for ESL instructors who are not White: some students and employers perceive ESL instructors who happen to be of color as less “authentic” in comparison to their White counterparts; that is, the former are considered less reliable and trustworthy in meeting the linguistic needs of students than the latter. Therefore, when an ESL instructor of color enters the classroom on the very first day of the semester, she or he is already at a disadvantage before having uttered a single word. To earn the respect, trust, and recognition of their students—and in some cases even that of their White colleagues—, they need to demonstrate that they fully master all aspects of the language, often much more so than White ESL instructors (this claim has been documented by ESL professionals of color like Nazut Amin, Angel Lin, and Anam Govhardan). Thus, given these circumstances, there is a need among ESL practitioners who do not conform to the stereotypical image of the ESL instructor to create an identity for themselves and to share their experiences with their professional community. The label “TESOL professional of color” calls attention to the fact that there is a tension between being a person of color and being an ESL professional. Therefore, I wholeheartedly embrace the label.

The second part of the question—what name I would give to a TESOL professional of color who is also a non-native speaker—reflects, I believe, two misconceptions. The first is that the term “TESOL professional of color” only applies to non-White citizens of core English-speaking nations. Presumably, the term is analogous to “people of color,” a label commonly applied in the United States to individuals who do not identify themselves as white or are not identified by members of their society as such. Note that the phrase “people of color” distinguishes people on the basis race, not on linguistic background. Consequently, I’d argue then that the term “TESOL professional of color” applies to(a) non-White ESL instructors who were born, raised, and educated in countries where English is spoken as a first or second language and (b) non-White English language teachers who were born, raised, and educated in nations where English is by and large acquired in an academic setting.

The second misconception is that the White/non-White dichotomy and the native/non-native speaker dichotomy are two independent entities. However, as I have pointed out in my discussion about “ownership” of the English language and its implication for TESOL professionals of color, these two dichotomies are clearly intertwined in the same way that, for instance, race and gender are in many societies, including the United States. Perhaps no other linguistic feature is more salient in marking the distinction between native and nonnative speakers than accent. More often than not, a person’s accent becomes the means by which his or her interlocutors create a social picture of the speaker: the person’s nationality, native language, social class, educational attainment, and type of job. In addition, if the speaker is heard rather than seen, attempts are often made to determine the speaker’s race or ethnicity.

In her work English with an Accent, Rosina Lippi-Green provides an in-depth analysis of the inextricable relationship between an individual’s accent and the racial attitudes towards him or her. Of interest is also the study conducted by Yuko Goto Butler, who examined the attitudes of sixth-grade students toward teachers with American-accented English and Korean-accented English (in actuality, both accents were produced by a Korean American). Her study revealed, among other things, that the students believed that the “American” individual had a better pronunciation and displayed a greater degree of confidence than the “Korean” individual; the students also preferred the former to the latter as their English teacher.

The studies by Lippi-Green and Butler do more than highlight the accent-race connection; they also shed a distinctive light on the native/nonnative speaker debate. For if we accept the position that (a) accent is the most salient marker distinguishing a native from a nonnative speaker, and (b) having a nonnative accent has social implications, then it is apparent that the native/nonnative speaker debate is a social rather than a linguistic issue. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the issue of native versus nonnative speaker of English is, in essence, not rooted in linguistics but rather in sociopolitics. This assertion is not new; in his book The Native Speaker is Dead!, Thomas Paikeday cites David Guralnik, an American lexicographer, who claimed that the question of the native speaker had more sociopolitical than linguistic overtones. He went on to say, according to Paikeday, that those who adhered to the idea of native speaker intuition are motivated by elitist or perhaps even racist notions.

Consequently, to frame the native/nonnative speaker debate largely or exclusively in terms of linguistics is, in my opinion, wholly unproductive. A proper understanding of the issue demands that careful consideration is given to the extent to which race, and perhaps even gender and class, inform the debate.

Ana Wu: You also conducted a research (Stephan, 2001) in which students had to order rank ESL teachers based on geographic origin and linguistic background. You explained that all the instructors had equal teaching experience, abilities, and qualifications.

You found out that 74% of the participants preferred native English speaking professionals from Europe and 45% rated non-native English speaking professionals from Africa as “the last resort” (In this study, you had 138 Asians, 14 Europeans, 9 Africans, 8 Middle Easterners, and 5 South Americans. It was also assumed that students associated the terms African, Asian and European to Black, Mongoloid and White).

How did this experience affect – pedagogically and emotionally – how you teach? Did you start discussing social issues in your class?Did you share your experience as a visible minority in the ESL teaching community?

Dr. Stephan: To some extent, my experiences have shaped my professional personality. On a personal level, there was a time when, in introducing myself, I would tell the students where I come from and what my linguistic background is. After two rather painful incidents in the late 1990s, I decided to create a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of my own: if the students do not ask me about my background, I do not tell them about it. And even if they do, I generally do not tell them the whole truth. While it pains me to betray my own identity, I have learned that, in this respect, being less than forthcoming benefits the interaction between the students and me.

On a professional level, because of my experiences, I am more inclined to address social issues in the ESL classroom but I let the circumstances dictate the extent to which I do, if at all. For instance, in 1999, I was teaching two different groups of students at two different schools. At one school, the students who enrolled in the ESL program were primarily “international students,” i.e., students who upon graduation were likely to return to their home country. For many of them, the goal of enrolling in the ESL program was to develop and improve their English language skills so that they could write a decent paper in their field of study. I often had the sense that their attitude towards the ESL class was, “Well, if this is what it takes to get my degree, fine, but don’t expect me to like it.” I just did not think that these students would be open to discussing social issues; all they were interested in were issues of grammar and style, so the content of the course was largely if not strictly pedagogical.

At the other school, the vast majority of students who enrolled in the ESL program were immigrant students. Obviously, they had a vital stake in studying English: for them, developing and improving their English language skills was of major importance in earning a decent living. At the same time, I believed that mastery of the English language alone was insufficient to enable them to successfully integrate and function in American society. They also needed insight in what makes the United States the country it is; and since I am an immigrant to the United States myself, I saw it as my duty to assist them in navigating the sometimes troubled waters of American culture. Therefore, we frequently discussed matters that tend to baffle newcomers to the country, ranging from the more mondane issues such as dating to more complexing and controversial issues such abortion and racism.

Ana Wu: In Ahmar Mahboobs article, “Confessions of an Enraced TESOL professional,” (2006), he says that one of the presenters at 2005 TESOL convention confined that she felt she didn’t belong in the NNEST community. She was the only Black professional and felt left out.

As the former chair of the International Black Professionals and Friends in TESOL (IBPFT) Caucus, how do you think both communities, NNEST and IBPFT, can work together to create an environment in which members gain equal status and are recognized for their professional qualities, instead of race or nativeness? Which topics for research can we work collaboratively?

Dr. Stephan: To begin with, “status” is often not something individuals bestow on themselves; rather, it is something that society or segments thereof bestow upon them. To illustrate, as recently as five years ago, whenever the then state senator Obama walked into a room full of strangers, undoubtedly everyone in the room would have thought, “That is a Black man.” We now know differently: Mr. Obama is, in fact, biracial. Yet, the fast majority of people do not refer to him not as the first biracial president of the United States, but as the first black president of the country. That is because society has developed certain beliefs about what a black person is supposed to look like.

And so, while I believe that nonnative ESL professionals and ESL professionals of color must work towards greater recognition, that recognition will only come when all involved in the education process— employers, students, parents, and colleagues—perceive of them as authentic.

My response to the earlier question makes readily apparent that, from a professional perspective, I do not see a clear distinction between nonnative ESL professionals and ESL professionals of color. As I have claimed, issues of race and (non) native speakerness are not two separate, competing forces but rather intertwined axes rooted in the same phenomenon: social inequality. Therefore, in a perfect world, it probably would be best if both the NNEST and the IBPFT were to be disbanded and TESOL professionals of all stripes were to band together to question how race, native speakerness, and other social forces shape and impact English language teaching and learning. I believe that that would be the most effective way of achieving synergy, that is, producing a result that no group of ESL professionals, working as an independent entity, is likely to achieve. Alas, there is no such thing as a perfect world! So what is next?

First, the NNEST and IBPTF chairs ought to put their heads together and develop strategies aimed at constructive cooperation. During my tenure as Chair of the IBPFT, I attempted to reach out to the NNEST Caucus through the then Chair Lucie Moussu. I suggested that the two caucuses present a joint colloquium; Lucie did put out the request but, unfortunately, no one within the NNEST responded. One reason beyond sheer anxiety of giving a presentation might have been the assumption on the part of NNEST caucus members that they have little or nothing in common with members of the IBPFT. I think leaders of both caucuses should do more to raise awareness among their members that the concerns of the NNEST are not vastly different from those of the IBPFT and vice versa, and that the two groups have more in common than may be apparent at face value.

It is a well-known fact that there a far more countries where English is spoken as a foreign language than as a first language, which means that most speakers of English are nonnatives; among them, there are many are people of color. Consequently, like no other TESOL caucus, the NNEST and the IBPFT are uniquely positioned to raise awareness among employers, students, and parents about the value of NNEST and ESL professionals of color. I readily admit that at the time of this writing I have no clue how exactly one would go about in doing that; this is another reason why the leaders of the two caucuses should consult one another.

One way, however, might be for the two caucuses, possibly in cooperation with the other caucuses, to petition the TESOL organization to have its annual convention held outside the United States, maybe every other year or so. It strikes me as odd that an organization that has the globe as its logo has never held its convention, arguably the largest of its kind, outside of the Americas (and I’m using the phrase “the Americas” broadly here since of the 43 conventions—this year’s included—two were held in Canada (1983 and 1992) while Mexico hosted the 1978 convention). Compare this, for instance, to FIFA, the world soccer federation, which every four years organizes what undoubtedly is the major sports event in the world, the World Cup. While this body has its headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland, the World Cup was only once held in that country . . . in 1954! If FIFA held every single World Cup competition in Switzerland, it would be safe to assume that not many non-Europeans would be able to attend one or more games.

The year 2009, marked by economic turmoil of immense proportions, is probably not the best time to call for TESOL to spread its wings and fly. I ackowledge, furthermore, that TESOL regularly organizes regional conferences, but those may not necessarily contribute to breaking down the barriers nonnative ESL professionals and ESL professionals of color face, precisely because they are regional. Therefore, for TESOL to assist these and other groups of ESL professionals in breaking down barriers, it is important that it looks for ways of taming its convention on the road, so to speak.

As for a research agenda, we need more insight into how social forces in general—nativeness, race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and the like—impact the teaching and learning of English.

Ana Wu: In the field of race, color, nativeness, and ESL/EFL teaching, what seminal papers inspired you? Which ones do you recommend graduate students in applied linguistic or TESOL programs read?

Dr. Stephan: In some of my answers to previous questions, I mentioned some of the works that sparked my interest in the relationship between ELT and politics in general and issues of race in particular. I can’t say that they influenced my day-to-day teaching, but they certainly hightened my consciousness regarding the role ESL professionals, myself included, play in bringing the English language to the masses.

Much criticism that has been leveled at Phillipson’s Linguistic Imperialism since its publication in 1992; for me, however, it will forever be one of the best works I have read on the politics ofELT. Other works that I thoroughly enjoyed reading were James Tollefson’s “Planning Language, Planning inequality” and Alistair Pennycook’s The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language.

When I started my dissertation research in 1997, it gradually dawned on me that published articles on the ELT – race connection were virtually nonexistent. In fact, the only article I managed to find after weeks of perusing a wide variety of journals was Race and the Identity of the Nonnative ESL Teacher by Nazut Amin, published in 1997 in the TESOL Quarterly. So in order to be able to place race in the context of ESL teaching, I studied, among other things, the perceptions of race and racial identity in the countries where the fast majority of ESL students I was teaching at the time came from, i.e., China, Japan, and Korea. Two works I found very informative were The Discourse of Race in Modern China and The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan, both written by Frank Dikötter. These works provided me with a general idea of perceptions of race and racial identity in Chinese and Japanese society at large. Rosina Lippi-Green’s English with an Accent and Cornel West’s Race Matters also make for fascinating reading.

For students in ESL programs who are interested in investigating how social issues such as race impact English language teaching and learning, I would suggest that they enroll in courses that provide them with some of theissue themselves before they start their investigation into how it may affect ELT. To illustrate, when I initially conceived of my dissertation research, my goal was to investigate why few Black Americans seem interested in career in ESL. I based my belief on the fact that during my MA and PhD studies there had been only one African American in my classes. Since I am not an African American, I felt I needed to develop an understanding of African American history. To that end, I took a number of courses in the Department of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University, where I did my doctoral work; the knowledge gained in those courses served me well during my dissertation research and beyond.

Ana Wu: You are currently working at Educational Testing Services. Do you miss teaching ESL? Do you have any plans for going back to being an instructor?

Dr. Stephan: As an assessment developer at ETS, my primary duty is creating test items for the reading section of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

To be quite honest, I don’t miss teaching the technical aspects of ESL, i.e., grammar, spelling, reading and writing, and so on. I began my career as an ESL instructor in 1977 and by the time ETS offered me the position in 2002, I’d been in the field for roughly twenty-five years. With the advent of the new millennium in 2000, I was ready for something different. Obviously, I still have a connection with the English language through my work at ETS; in part, of course, it was because of my knowledge of the language that the company recruited me.

What I do miss by not being in an academic setting is the opportunity to conduct classroom research. I would love to investigate the race – ELT connection in greater depth but that is not feasible precisely since I am not in a classroom setting.

At this point, I see no full-time teaching position in my future; I would welcome the opportunity, though, to teach as an adjunct and hope to land such a position in the near future.

Ana Wu: Thank you for such inspiring interview. I hope to have a chance to meet you at the TESOL Annual Convention in Denver!


Butler, Y.G. (2007). How are nonnative English speaking teachers perceived by young learners? TESOL Quarterly, 41 (4).

Mahboob, A. (2006). Confessions of an Enraced TESOL professional. In Curtis, A. & Romney, M. (Eds.), Color, Race, and English Teaching Language Teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Stephan, M. H. (2006). Musings of a Black ESL Instructor. In Curtis, A. & Romney, M. (Eds.), Color, Race, and English Teaching Language Teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Stephan, M.H. (2001). Lifting the veil of silence: An inquiry into race as a feature of the social and pedagogical dimensions of the English as a second language classroom. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University, Columbus.

Masaki Oda

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the NNEST Caucus

The NNEST Caucus Member of the Month
November 2008
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your background and how you became interested in being an educator?
Prof. Oda: I was born and raised in Japan as a native speaker of Japanese. My father was an artist specialized in oil painting. He had travelled around the world, specially in Europe and Middle East. Although I had never lived abroad until I began my post graduate study in the U.S., I had participated in various short summer programs abroad mainly in what Braj Kachru calls inner circle countries such as US, UK and Canada. My parents wanted me to gain experience by interacting with people from different backgrounds. However, I do not remember if they have ever asked me to study English beyond what we did at school.

I entered Tamagawa upper secondary school, and on to Tamagawa University (where I am teaching now) where I majored in English. I made the choice as I believed that English would be crucial for interaction with those from foreign countries. At the same time, I had encountered wonderful teachers at the upper secondary school. Therefore, I decided to become an English teacher.

I started off with an MA program in TESL/TEFL in St.Michael’s College in Vermont, then went on to a Ph.D. program in Georgetown, where I also taught Japanese for several years.

I returned to Japan in 1990 and began teaching EFL and train EFL teachers at Tamagawa University. Besides that, I have held various administrative positions including the Director of the International Programs since 2004. I have presented frequently at international conferences including TESOL, AILA, AsiaTEFL, and has served as editorial board members of various journals.

Ana Wu: Your article “English only or English plus? The language(s) of EFL Organizations” in George Braine’s Non-native Educators in English Language Teaching (1999) raised many discussions, exposing the power relationship between NS and NNS in JALT (Japan Association for Language Teaching, the second largest TESOL affiliate as of 1999). You wrote:

“In the past ten years, nine representatives sent by JALT to the annual TESOL convention were NS, and some representatives had taught in Japan for only a few years. Most important, only a very few had enough command of Japanese to obtain through information about ELT in Japan to be disseminated at the convention” (119).

Since 1999, when your article was published, has the one-language policy in JALT changed? Have you witnessed more equality between NS and NNS in professional ELT organizations in Japan?
Prof. Oda: As I am not even a member of JALT at present, I may not be qualified to comment on what the organization is doing now. I am sure they are doing well with excellent leadership, though the organization seems to be less visible among the Japanese speaking English teachers than it was in early 1990s. This does not mean that JALT has not made effort to overcome various issues I had raised in my 1999 article. Yet, information about its activities, particularly at national level, is not disseminated as much as it is supposed to be.

Native English speaking teachers (NESTs) in Japan often complain that it is difficult for them to participate in ELT organizations as most of them are operated in Japanese. In contrast, JALT is the only major ELT organization in which English serves as the de-facto official language. This attracts many NES EFL teachers. At the same time, Non-Native English speaking teachers (NNESTs), most of whom are Japanese speaking local teachers, participate in local ELT organizations operated mainly in Japanese. In other words, there is still a demographic division between NES and NNES. It is crucial that ELT organizations in EFL countries like Japan operate bilingually (in English, the target language and the local language). The role of local language is very important as it is the language to connect the organizations with the community. I believe that national level Japanese ELT organizations should use English more. However, this does not mean that English should replace Japanese.

There is a prevailing discourse that ELT in Japan is not effective even though many students have learnt English at schools for more than 10 years and school teachers (most of whom are NNESs) as well as learners are often blamed for it. Language like Japanese may be difficult to acquire in a short time, especially for native speakers of Indo-European languages including English. However, I have seen so many NESTs in Japan who are not even motivated to acquire the local language after teaching in the community for more than 10 or even 20 years. I do not think it is fair for them to demand learners to learn a foreign language ‘more effectively’ than they do to themselves.

This is related to one of the issues I raised in my 1999 paper which was the role of JALT as TESOL’s sole national affiliate representing Japan.

TESOL recognizes JALT as the sole representative of Japan. I remember in early 90s, JACET, another major organization for college English teacher tried to become an affiliate of TESOL (actually, both organizations are branches of IATEFL). However, the application was not possible as TESOL, at that point, only accepted one affiliate per country. It does not matter which organization represents Japan; however, I want to see more visible cooperation among the organizations which would make it possible for whoever represents Japan to disseminate information about teaching EFL in Japan to the participants of TESOL convention in a timely manner.

Let me elaborate what you have quoted from my article above (1999). I do not think whether JALT representative to International TESOL is Japanese or non-Japanese (or whether NES or NNES) is important. However, in order to represent the only TESOL affiliate in the country, s/he should be familiar with various aspects of English language teaching in and out of classroom in Japan. Logically, it would be disadvantaged if his/her Japanese is limited and/or s/he has only been in Japan for a short time.

Ana Wu: You were the 2003-2004 Chair of the NNEST Caucus, and have given workshops about globalization in Asia. You have also written the insightful article “Globalization or the World in English: Is Japan Ready to Face the Waves?” (2007). How different is globalization in Japan? What could (or should) EFL teachers, NS and NNS, do to promote globalization in Japan?
Prof. Oda: First of all, I am very happy to see the continuous development of the Caucus, and the fact it has been transformed to an interest section. Yet, I still remember a decade ago, there was a big argument regarding the naming of the caucus. I am also pleased see that more NES members have joined the caucus in recent years. Although I was a former chair of the caucus, I personally did not completely agree with the naming of the caucus. For me, native vs. non-native distinction is TOTALLY USELESS in language teaching. I still feel the same way now.

Let me give you an anecdote. I was teaching Japanese at Georgetown University in late 80s. Although I was originally trained as an English teacher, my initial teaching career was in teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language. Being a native speaker of Japanese, I initially thought that I would do well in teaching Japanese. In my first year of teaching, I came across a grammatical item in Japanese which I was not able to explain. A student asked me how to distinguish two particles. In order to get out of the situation without being embarrassed, I said to the students “We native speakers only say ‘this’ but not ‘that’.” I confess that this is something that any language teacher should never do. In other words, I, as a novice teacher of my mother tongue, was abusing my privilege as a native speaker to overpower the students who had asked me an unwelcomed question. Having been in the language teaching profession for nearly two decades, I have encountered instances like this so many times, perhaps more often in ELT as far as I know from my experience as a student, a teacher and a parent.

Theoretically, there is no non-native English speaking teachers (NNEST) who is monolingual. A good command of English is a prerequisite to become an English language teacher. I believe this should also apply to NESTs who want to teach their native language, especially in an environment where very little English is used outside the classroom. Unfortunately, we still encounter so many ‘monolingual’ NESTs who constantly abuse the privilege of being a native speaker. The profession should be more critical about the issue. My radical proposal to the profession is to totally eliminate native vs. non-native distinction and prevailing discourses related to this dichotomy from the ELT (and any foreign language teaching) profession. It is especially true in case of English as it is a language used more by ‘so-called’ non-native speakers than native speakers.

There is no question that English is an important language. Yet, I strongly believe that the degree of its importance varies depending on contexts. As I wrote in my 2007 article, I am still not convinced by the prevailing discourses that “English is a must for everyone in Japan.” A major byproduct of such discourses is teaching English at public primary schools which would begin in a few years. Some hours for other subjects will be cut off in order to accommodate English.

The proponents of ELT at primary schools use key words such as, English as an International language, English as the global language, or English as a lingua franca to convince general public to agree with them. Using neuroscience findings loaded with jargons to pursuade general public to support teaching English for children is also common. Then, the general public who has not been fully informed of the backgrounds accept such discourses without criticism. Consequently you are already in “The world in English” (cf. Oda 2007, Pennycook 1995), that is, you are put in a situation in which you cannot avoid English regardress of whether you need it or not, and you may be forced to give up something which may be more meaningful to you.

Is this the way they really want?

Learning English (and any foreign language) should be strongly encouraged. Nevertheless, we always have to remember that we should never force to teach foreign languages unless the learners are clear about why they have to. Those who are interested in travelling overseas may easily find reasons why they are studying the language. The older the one gets, the more opportunities for using English or other foreign languages they encounter. However, it is hard to convince a primary school pupil in a rural area why s/he must study English in place of other subjects.

We EFL teachers, both NES and NNES (if we need to label them), always keep in our mind that learning must always benefit each learner, and make our best effort to maximizing the benefits in a given context. The learner must be convinced of why they are learning English. Superficial statements such as, “You must study English because it is the global language” or “It is important for your life” is not strong enough to convince them.

Ana Wu: As an Asian professor, as an NNEST educator and as a Japanese citizen, what inspire you to attend TESOL convention? What do you bring back to your teachings, your students, and peers?
Prof. Oda: When I was young, my motivation of attending international conventions was to attend sessions from which I bring back something ‘new’ to Japanese context. This was possible partly because I had been in the United States for 6 years and I knew that I would see my friends in the US again. Looking back to the general attitudes of the participants like myself who had been trained in the U.S. in 80s, my role seems to have been a Japanese import agent who brings TESOL products to Japan.

With more experience in teaching and teacher training in Japan, I have gradually shifted my focus to ‘export’ information concerning ELT in Japan, and as far as ‘imports’ were concerned, my priority became ‘adaptation’ of what I got in TESOL convention to the Japanese context.

This reflects my Japanese translation of Betty Azar’s Understanding and Using English Grammar, 2nd ed. (published in Japan in 1997) in which lots of examples have been altered with the author’s permission in order to adopt to the Japanese context.

Ana Wu: As a renowned international presenter and also one of the organizers of the 4th Asia TEFL International Conference, what advice would you give to international professors or graduate students who many times have to overcome hardships (getting visa, affording registration, etc) to attend TESOL convention?
Prof. Oda: As you may notice, the structure of TESOL is still ‘US’ oriented. TESOL conventions are usually held when US schools are off, in March or April, and in North America. Though I was the 2003-2004 chair of the NNEST caucus, I was not able to attend 2003 and 2004 conventions. This was a big frustration, and no matter how hard you are trying to do your best, there are severe limitations for those who are based outside the United States. I was able to complete my term as the chair only because I had excellent committee who supported me then. But, TESOL members should realize the fact that a large number of its members are based outside North America and thus it should constantly make an effort to serve their needs.

If TESOL continues to claim itself an international organization, its international convention should be held at various parts of the world. This is important because there are more non-native speakers learning English outside of the United States. Actually, ASIA TEFL conferences have been held in 6 different locations in five countries, whereas the last five AILA (International Association for Applied Linguistics) have been held in five different cities, in five different countries and three different continents. So why is it impossible for TESOL to do so? It is not fair that international participants (including both NES and NNES) have to spend much money.

I strongly believe that attending professional conferences like TESOL is beneficial for all of us. To make it even more beneficial for you, however, you should bring something to share. Presenting a paper is one way. However, information on your local teaching community will be appreciated for those who are planning to teach in the region. You may share your day-to-day classroom experience with someone who has a similar interest. If you are a NNES, you might have some hesitation when you submit a conference proposal for the first time. Each of you is a potential contributor to the field. Make connections using NNEST E-lists, and contact with colleagues who share similar interests for suggestions, or even collaboration before submitting your proposals. Comments from colleagues are always beneficial. I would also feel it important that more multilingual NES professionals especially those based in EFL contexts actively involved in local ELT communities. Sharing the resources and maximize their utilization among the ELT professionals is crucial, and the NNEST IS (and TESOL itself as well) should play a key role to facilitate it.

There is a long way to go, but all of us have witnessed the developments of the NNEST caucus over the past years, and thus it would be possible that we can do more for the next decade.

Ana Wu: It was a pleasure to interview you! Hope to see you next year!


Oda, Masaki (1999). “English only or English plus? The language(s) of EFL Organizations.” In George Braine (ed.) Non-native Educators in English Language Teaching. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Oda, Masaki (2007). “Globalization or the World in English: Is Japan Ready to Face the Waves?” International Multilingual Research Journal, 1(2)119 – 126.