Tag Archives: EFL

Davi S. Reis

NNEST of the Month

July 2009


dsr158 [at] psu [dot] edu

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

Davi Reis: I was born in the mountainous, Brazilian state of Minas Gerais and lived there until I was 22 years old. Portuguese was the only language I knew and spoke until my EFL instruction in the public school system began, in middle school. While in high school and on a vocational track to become an Electronics Technician, I was peer-pressured into learning English, as many of the textbooks in that field were written in English. Although EFL was a required component of my high school curriculum, the general consensus at the time was that to ‘really’ learn English one needed to attend private EFL language schools. So, after much financial scrambling, I enrolled in the locally well-known and established ‘Instituto Cultural Brazil-Estados Unidos’ (ICBEU). Despite my instrumental motivations for enrolling, I started to almost immediately think of myself as a member of an imaginary English-speaking community (Norton, 1995). So from day one, I thoroughly enjoyed each of my classes at ICBEU and always looked forward to them.

With each new semester, the desire to become more and more involved with English grew stronger. After much thinking about just how I could make it happen, the thought of becoming an EFL teacher occurred to me. At first, I didn’t wholeheartedly embrace the idea. After all, I was enrolled in the Business Administration program (a highly profitable career path in Brazil at the time) and certainly did not want to follow in my mother’s footsteps (an educator herself) after watching her spend hours and hours planning lessons and grading student work for very little compensation. However, in early 1997, I could no longer ignore my desire to make English a bigger part of my life and the idea of becoming an EFL teacher had considerably grown on me. So despite much protest from my family members and friends, I decided to switch my college major to Letters and Literature in order to become a credentialed EFL teacher. Concurrently, I had decided to take the teacher training course at ICBEU, a two-semester program for those interested in a career path in TESOL. I was now thoroughly enjoying what I was doing and even got hired as an EFL teacher by a few schools despite my lack of both experience and expertise.

Flash forward a year and a half, and I found myself packing my bags. As chance would have it, soon after changing majors, I had the opportunity to apply for a college scholarship in the US and was able to complete my BA in TESOL at the University of Northern Iowa. Later, I completed the Teacher Education program at that same university (along with a Master’s degree in Educational Technology) and became a certified K-12 ESL teacher in that state. My next job took me to Colorado, where I taught middle school ELLs (English Language Learners) both sheltered instruction and ESL classes for a year. After this admittedly challenging experience, I moved back to Brazil in hopes of a new beginning as a now-qualified EFL teacher. To my surprise, however, my professional qualifications and experiences were said to make me overqualified for most EFL teacher positions, yet underqualified to become a university professor at most institutions. Though I did find a couple of jobs for the year, this situation prompted me to apply for a doctoral program. Since 2005, I have been a PhD candidate at Penn State University with the Department of Applied Linguistics. After finishing my dissertation, I hope to become an ESOL teacher educator and researcher, and to help empower my students to live more intentional and meaningful lives.

Ana Wu: You said that with your degree in TESOL and teaching experience, you were considered overqualified to teach EFL in Brazil. Do you think those schools didn’t hire you because they couldn’t pay you fairly or do you think that they were threatened by your qualifications and experience? Do you think that the same schools would have hired less qualified native speakers?

Davi Reis: Regarding your first question, it really is hard to tell. In some cases, the schools where I applied for a job may well have been concerned with how much they were willing to pay me or with whether or not I would be content working for their relatively low wages. In other cases, it may have been that I was unfortunately perceived as a potential threat to their business and pedagogical practices. In several job interviews, the interviewer turned out to be the school’s coordinator or owner. Given the competitive nature of EFL in Brazil and the somewhat provincial nature of many EFL schools in my state, these coordinators and school owners might have felt intimidated by my professional experiences and qualifications. In other words, I may have been perceived as a possible risk to the status quo or at least as an annoying reminder that these schools were not as isolated or autonomous as they wish they were. In addition, back in 2004, my situation was somewhat unusual in that particular context and therefore raised some suspicion (despite my attempts at easing their concerns and being open to the interviewers’ questions). Was I an exchange student returning home? Was I trying to make a buck while working on more ‘ambitious,’ unrelated professional projects? These are the sorts of questions that the schools may have asked themselves in an attempt to place me in one of these existing categories. Teaching EFL for a living, as a qualified professional, was not quite on the radar for many of the schools where I was looking to get a job, unfortunately.

Now, would these same schools have hired less or (un)qualified native speakers? Unfortunately, many of them did, though thankfully not all. The bottom line is that many of these private schools prefer to hire instructors (qualified or otherwise) who will attract students, accept less-than-ideal working conditions without rocking the boat, and be happy with relatively low wages. As we all know, many native speakers of English (though certainly not all) would fit this ‘job description’ if it meant that they would get to experience another country and its culture. In addition, I believe that many school coordinators and owners actually prefer less experienced teachers (especially if they happen to be native speakers), as this allows them (the school administrators) to keep themselves in a position of unchallenged authority.

Ana Wu: From your experience as an EFL teacher, did you feel that Brazilian teachers had a second-class status when working with native speaking teachers (qualified or less qualified)?

Davi Reis: To the best of my knowledge, despite the fact that there were many more NNESTs than NESTs where I was working (Belo Horizonte), the latter group was often exoticized and assigned a higher status than the former. Regardless of their professional qualifications, NESTs were viewed not only as native speakers of English, but also as ‘chic imports’ from inner-circle countries (Kachru, 1981) such as England and the US. It’s almost as if by having a NEST as a teacher students were actually gaining membership to a higher social class. Sadly enough, many Brazilians associate being ‘hip,’ ‘trendy,’ and ‘fashionable’ or ‘wealthy’ with being intrinsically ‘better.’ This cultural assumption permeates many aspects of Brazilian society, including foreign language teaching, and gives NESTs an unfair and dubious advantage. Therefore, as far back as I can remember, NESTs were assigned more prestige and were often perceived as more ‘authentic’ or ‘capable’ than even the most hard-working, experienced, and motivated local teacher. To make matters worse, many of these NESTs did not seem to mind the higher status they were assigned, choosing instead to bask in their perceived superiority rather than attempting to challenge stereotypes and empower the local teachers.

With that said, however, I must also say that a handful of the native speakers teaching in the same schools where I taught were well-qualified, experienced, committed, and extremely helpful. Many of the local teachers were able to work alongside these qualified NESTs, allowing the local teachers to both motivate their students to keep learning English and to become familiar with other English-speaking contexts and cultures. I remember, for example, how a colleague from England was always happy to engage with the local teachers whenever we had any comments or questions about his views of certain cultural tidbits we were working with in a given unit of instruction. I consider these qualified NESTs as strong allies who can help us all, as a field, to weaken the native speaker myth and the NS/NNS dichotomy.

Ana Wu: As an EFL instructor, did you have to integrate American or British culture in your teaching? Did your students demand knowledge in those cultures? Did you think it was necessary (or important) to teach language with reference to the socio-cultural norms and values of an English-speaking country?

Davi Reis: For the most part, yes, I did have to teach cultural aspects of both American and British English. Usually, the schools where I worked did not really have a clear policy on this matter. However, in most schools where I worked the textbooks were selected for my courses without my input, so the textbook’s content ended up dictating how much ‘culture’ I had to teach, whether American or British. More often than not, these textbooks portrayed native speakers of either variety as ideal target models and there was little inclusion of non-native, bilingual, or World English speakers. But I do hope this situation is improving now. When I last taught EFL in Brazil (2004/2005), the popular TV shows ‘Friends’ and ‘The Cosby Show,’ for example, were almost a curricular staple in this one school. I felt as if teachers who were not at least peripherally familiar with these shows were at a serious disadvantage. So whether we liked it or not, when teaching those lessons we had to elaborate on the cultural dimensions brought up in those shows.

In regards to your second question, I believe there is a mismatch between what EFL learners in Brazil (especially school-aged children and young adults) expect from their EFL learning experiences and what they usually end up needing English for. In other words, although most students and parents would concede that English is a lingua franca indispensable for international communication, what they are frequently after is the cultural capital of inner-circle English-speaking cultures as a symbol of higher status. This situation compromises students’ chances of succeeding at learning and using English for intercultural communication, as school administrators often struggle between providing what students want versus what they believe students need in order to succeed in the world.

As to your last question, I did think it was necessary to ‘choose’ either American or British English as a beginning EFL teacher. In my mind, these were the only two desirable options.

I considered English as the language spoken in the US and Great Britain, rather than a language for international communication. In addition, this was also how schools advertised themselves (i.e., as either American English, British English, or both, but rarely as English for international communication). So when I first started teaching EFL, back in 1997, I blindly accepted this dichotomy and ended up trying to emulate both accents depending on the school, probably failing miserably at both. I wish I had been exposed to the notion of World Englishes then, but better late than never!

Ana Wu: Some language centers offer in-house training. How accessible are professional development opportunities for EFL teachers in Brazil? What kind of support do instructors need? Do you think there is a recognizable need for TESOL, Inc. to step in and help close the gap?

Davi Reis: From my experience, professional development opportunities are relatively plentiful in Brazil (at least in Belo Horizonte). However, quantity does not necessarily imply quality in this case, as the nature of these opportunities is many times a reason for concern. More often than not, private schools try to cram a language teacher education program into one or two weeks’ worth of a ‘workshop’ or ‘refresher course.’ These workshops are usually mandatory for all teachers, both old-timers and those new to the school (regardless of their level of expertise or prior experience). Beginning teachers, however, may find themselves overwhelmed by potentially-biased information which the school wants them to accept. As such, these opportunities for professional development often end up training (rather than developing) its teachers on the school’s preferred pedagogical practices and principles, regardless of their pedagogical soundness. In addition, many of these training sessions focused too much on the experiential and practical side of teaching and too little on research, rather than attempting to strike a healthy balance between the two. While working as an EFL teacher in Brazil, I had to attend several of these workshops. Because I was fortunate enough to work for many different institutions, I was exposed to conflicting views on EFL teaching and thus tended to always take in the information with a grain of salt. But the picture is not all grim. A handful of pedagogically-responsible schools (i.e., those which try to strike a balance between the capitalist enterprise that is teaching EFL and their educational goals) offer training sessions that are both requested by their teachers and well-attended. These schools try to ‘think outside the classroom’ and invite the participation of teachers, school administrators, and researchers into their decision making and daily-functioning.

On the whole, however, I believe that more in-depth, ongoing, and transformative types of professional development opportunities are still absent from the private-school, EFL scene in Brazil. Although peer-mentoring and classroom observations are common, the overarching goal of these activities leans more toward evaluation than support. In addition, perhaps due to Brazil’s history, higher authority figures (e.g., teacher supervisor, school coordinator, level chair, etc.) are not necessarily the most prepared, knowledgeable, or helpful, but rather the most influential (often-times wealthy, well-connected, and white individuals).

In this light, I do feel that EFL instructors in Brazil need a lot of support, especially the less experienced ones. Although I believe that TESOL, Inc. has a lot to offer in this context, the Internet may be improving this situation by encouraging local EFL teachers to become more and better connected with other schools and peers, as well as finding relevant information online. In a way, the Internet has made the English-speaking world that many private EFL schools once claimed ownership of, more accessible to all teachers. I should note, however, that Brazil is a country of contrasts and paradoxes. So I would not be surprised if other EFL teachers in Brazil, regardless of native speaker status, may have had very different experiences and diverse views on these issues.

Ana Wu: Teaching middle school in the USA must have been a very rich experience for you, somebody who completed his formal education abroad, a NNEST, and a new immigrant. What were your most vivid memories? What advice would you give to foreign-born graduate students in applied linguistics or TESOL programs who plan to be a K-12 teacher in the USA?

Davi Reis: Professionally-speaking, teaching middle school to at-risk ESL students in Colorado was one of the most challenging experiences I have ever had – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Although I had been teaching English for over six years, teaching full-time at a public school was a completely new businessto me. Thankfully, my internship experiences and student teaching had all been in public schools in the U.S. This helped me tremendously in assessing what I was up against and how I could try to make a difference. There were days when I thought about quitting. But there were also days when I felt like a hero in the classroom! I had a self-contained classroom of over 20 students (mostly from Mexico, but a handful from countries such as Sudan, S. Korea, and the Dominican Republic). The job was physically exhausting because I had to be on my feet from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Given my students’ behavioral difficulties and high energy, sitting down was not an option! Although there were breaks during the day (e.g., lunch and afternoon recess), there was always so much on my plate that I barely had time to plan my lessons! From making photocopies in the library, participating in school-wide activities, or making home visits, there was never a dull moment. In addition, I always had to deal with emergencies such as student fights, calls from concerned parents, and truant students getting caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart! Mentally, as a new public-school teacher, it was extremely draining to try to get used to a new school district, a new school building, and all of the other contextual factors that played a part in my classroom’s day-to-day routine. And finally, the most challenging part by far was the emotional toll of working with at-risk youth and trying to change their lives for the better. It honestly felt like swimming against a strong tide. I remember a mother once who came to me in tears because she simply did not know how else to help her son (one of my most challenging students). Despite our combined efforts (including the principal and the school counselor), “Victor” (a pseudonym) just did not seem to respond to my teaching. But looking back at these experiences, I am happy that my students had someone on their side while I was their teacher – someone they could look up to as a role model. At the end of the year, most of them had come to appreciate our time together and had learned valuable lifelong skills in addition to English.

If your future plans involve working in the public school system, I commend you for taking such a noble step. Whether you are an international student in TESOL or Applied Linguistics, an experienced NNEST, or a new immigrant, the public school system has much to gain from you. But I do have a piece of advice, though I am only able to say this in hindsight myself. I would encourage you to think of ‘difference’ as a source of growth, not deficit. Unfortunately, the native speaker myth and the idealized notion of a native speaker are still quite strong and prevalent in many social and professional contexts in the US. So do expect to be questioned, challenged, or even attacked by others during your college years and/or professional career. But while this is sometimes the case, I have found that in most cases people are in fact open to learning about the issue and considering a different perspective. So we can all become agents of change by helping others to understand why we chose this profession and why we think others can benefit from our professional expertise and insight. If we choose to avoid this topic, perhaps because we understandably tend to feel somewhat otherized or exoticized as individuals and as professionals, we are in fact denying both ourselves and those we interact with a chance to engage in meaningful dialogue that can lead to changes in what we all think, say, and do. And if ever you feel embarrassed because you simply do not (and cannot) know everything, just ask! Although there will always be those who think you should know everything, there are many more who are happy to teach us what they know and even happier to learn something from us, who come from other countries and cultures.

Finally, as a word of caution, I believe it’s crucial that you first identify your long-term career goals and reflect on your strengths as a teacher before committing to an ESL position with the public schools. Unfortunately, though I believe that public schools both deserve and are desperate for ESL teachers (especially those who can teach other content areas as well), it is not for everyone. So try to find out as much as possible about the school district where you are applying in order to make sure that you will be a good fit. For example, find out what kind of ESL instruction the district provides. Is it pull-in, pull-out, or sheltered? How many other ESL teachers/specialists are there in the district? What kinds of resources would be available to you if you got the position? Figuring out the answer to these questions before accepting the job offer will help not only you, but the students you will eventually have in your classroom. Also, as a word of encouragement, despite the hard work, stress, and low pay involved with ‘working in the trenches,’ I believe that TESOL professionals in general, and NNESTs in particular have a tremendous amount of experience and expertise that, sadly enough, doesn’t usually make its way to the public school context. So if you’re up to the challenge, the better you’ll be for taking it, and the more enriched your students’ lives will be.

Ana Wu: As a foreign-born NNES master degree candidate with extensive teaching experience and a second degree in another field, what challenges did you have during your graduate studies and how did you overcome them? What advice would you give to people with similar background as yours who are considering studying in the USA?

Davi Reis: Graduate school did present a series of challenges. First of all, I was also going through my teacher education program. Although this allowed me to add a K-12 ESL teaching certification to my BA in TESOL, it made for a more labor-intensive graduate school experience. Secondly, although Educational Technology is a major strand in the general field of education, it took me a while to figure out how I would converge my interests in TESOL with those in Educational Technology. Third, becoming comfortable presenting in front of others did not come naturally to me, so I had to work at it. Finally, learning the genre of academic writing well enough to write my master’s thesis wasn’t easy. Up to that point, my writing skills were extremely weak and I just could not envision myself as someone who would eventually be able to finish it. In trying to overcome all of these challenges, I found it absolutely essential to identify role models whom I could try to emulate. I was fortunate enough to have more capable peers and professors who helped me to become more comfortable in my skin and a better writer. So learning from and collaborating with peers and professors is a must. But the most difficult challenge during that period was trying to cope with the stress from attempting to balance my graduate classes and my work as a graduate assistant. After a few unproductive all-nighters, I realized that having an established routine and ways to consistently release stress (e.g., spending time with your family, going for a walk, or playing with your pet) worked much better for me than short-term solutions. My thinking goes something like this: if we must make time every day to sleep, shower, and eat, we can also make time for taking healthy breaks and enjoying life. Tending to all aspects of your life will likely have a positive impact on your professional life as well. If even Barack Obama finds time for his daily gym routine, so can we!

In terms of advice for those considering study in the US, it is important to keep in mind that it can be a challenging and taxing experience, filled with unexpected twists and turns. At some point, no matter how well you might be doing academically, you are likely to feel homesick and may start wondering why you chose to do it. During those times, remember that these are understandable feelings and yes, you CAN get through it. All in all, studying in the US can be a very worthwhile, mind-broadening experience that may change how you see the world. So embrace the opportunity! On a practical level, my advice is that you try to identify your short- and long-term career and personal goals before committing to such a big step. Think about what you feel strongly motivated to do or pursue. It should see you through.

Ana Wu: I learned a lot from the wisdom and knowledge you acquired through your experience. Thank you for such inspiring and insightful interview!

Davi Reis: Thank you, Ana, for the opportunity to share some of my personal and professional experiences with the NNEST community. I feel truly honored. I hope my narrative can both encourage and inspire other teachers to pursue the transformative world of teaching and learning, regardless of their background.



Kachru, B. (1981). Models for non-native Englishes. In B. Kachru (Ed.). The other tongue: English across cultures (pp. 31–57). Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Norton-Peirce, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29, 9-31.


Carmen Velasco-Martin

NNEST of the Month
April 2009
cvelascom [at] yahoo [dot] es

Ana Wu: Could you tell us your professional background, and why you decided to became an educator?
Dr. Velasco-Martin:
I studied English Language and Literature at the University of Valladolid, Spain and became a teacher very naturally, without thinking it twice. I have worked as an English teacher in Spain for many years and I have also taught Spanish as a Foreign Language both in Great Britain and in the USA. When I was teaching in LA, I decided to follow a Master’s Program in TESOL and after graduating came back to Spain, where I entered in a Ph. D. Program, also in Teaching Foreign Languages. I haven’t written my dissertation. I have also worked as an Education Advisor for the Spanish Embassy in Washington DC.

Ana Wu: I read with great interest your article “The Nonnative Speaking Teacher as an Intercultural Speaker ” (2004).

Could you tell us what you mean by the terms “intercultural speaker” and “intercultural personality”? Do you think it should be the goal of ESL/EFL teachers, NNES or NES, to increase their intercultural communication competence? How can this be achieved?
Dr. Velasco-Martin: We could describe intercultural speakers as those who know, are aware of and understand the similarities and distinctive differences between their world of origin and the world of the target community. They may be language instructors or language learners, but also plurilingual citizens who have developed interculturality. Their linguistic and cultural competences in respect of each of the languages they speak are modified by knowledge of the other and contribute to intercultural awareness. This will enable them to mediate between speakers of the different languages, to bridge differences in values and beliefs, social conventions and expectations, etc. I believe it is important for a language teacher to develop an intercultural communication competence. This can be basically achieved by acquiring knowledge of other languages and cultures, not necessarily of those of their students’. Intercultural competence is enriched by awareness of other cultures different from the learner’s and the target language culture, and helps to place both in context.

Ana Wu: Incorporating culture in teaching ESL/EFL has been a very controversial issue.

On March 24, 2007, at the TESOL convention, the ICIS sponsored an Academic Session entitled, “Is Culture ‘Really’ Dead in TESOL?” one of the panelists, Stephen Ryan, said that “if the notion of culture is not already dead, then it should be. It is a virtually meaningless term that obscures much more than it reveals, a lazy explanation for just about everything that actually explains nothing. My first point was that the way we use the word culture in daily life is so broad that it is almost devoid of meaning.”

He ended proposing that “our learners would be much better off without this,” that time spent studying “culture” would be better used in helping the learners to be sensitive to key factors in the context of communication (including but not limited to the social and educational background of their interlocutor)” (2007).

How can a NNES instructor promote intercultural and intracultural understanding without falling into stereotypes?
Dr. Velasco-Martin: The ability to overcome stereotypes can be promoted by helping students develop intercultural skills. This could be reached by relating the culture of origin and the foreign culture, finding points of contact and differences, dealing with conflicts and intercultural misunderstandings, in short, by fulfilling the role of cultural intermediary between both cultures. Intercultural awareness includes an awareness of how each community appears from the perspective of the other, often in the form of stereotypes. Being aware of stereotypes helps fighting them. In multicultural groups, it would be an excellent idea to design and include in the EFL/ESL classroom an intercultural component that raises awareness not only of the different sociocultural backgrounds of learners’, but also of their varied knowledge and life experiences, and then compare and contrast foreign students’ with those of native speakers.’

Ana Wu: In your article, you wrote, “In the EU, the figure of the ‘intercultural speaker’ – referring to both language teachers and language learners – leaves no place for the issue of native speaker versus nonnative speaker.” What do you think of the NS-NNS dichotomy?
Dr. Velasco-Martin: The question for me is not NS versus NNS. Many NS teachers/instructors have developed an intercultural personality that helps them understand, or better understand, the issues learners have when they learn a foreign language, issues that are not only referred to language, but also to cultural awareness. Some of these NS teachers/instructors have gone through that process before (by learning a foreign language, staying in a foreign country for a period of time, having contact with another culture, etc.), others have a deep interest in other languages and cultures and have done research, etc. NNS teachers/instructors are normally plurilingual and intercultural aware.

Ana Wu: Do you think that the notion of being an intercultural speaker could be a criterion for hiring a person as an ESL/EFL teacher? That is, could an interview question be, for example, “To what extent have you become an ‘intercultural speaker’?” or “How would you rate your intercultural communication competence?” How could a NNES prepare for this kind of criterion?
Dr. Velasco-Martin: Teachers should realize that they are role-models which students may follow in their future use of the language, therefore their attitudes and abilities are a very important part of the environment for language learning/acquisition. I think intercultural skills are very important when teaching a language, and therefore the notion of being an intercultural speaker could well be a criterion for hiring a language teacher. NNES have generally been exposed to at least two languages and two cultures to a certain degree. NNESs should ask themselves how good their intercultural attitudes and skills are and be able to communicate their knowledge of the social conventions, of the values and beliefs held by social groups in other countries, and their awareness and understanding of the differences and similarities with their own. I cannot image many NNES instructors who are not intercultural competent.

Ana Wu: I understand that you are not working at the Embassy of Spain in Washington D.C. Are you teaching? What do you miss from the USA?
Dr. Velasco-Martin:
At the moment I am teaching English at an Official Language School (public institution) in Barcelona, Spain. The USA is like my second home, so you can imagine I miss my friends and colleagues, both in DC and in LA. But I am happy to be close to my family and my friends on this side of the world. Nowadays it is quite easy to keep in contact with people who are far away from you. And I enjoy teaching and the relationship with my students. This is very a very enriching experience for me.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this interesting interview!


Ryan, S. “Culture Should be Dead.” TESOL ICIS Newsletter, 5 (2). 2007.

Velasco-Martin, C. (2004). “The nonnative English-speaking teacher as an intercultural speaker.” In L. D. Kamhi-Stein (Ed.), Learning and teaching from experience: Perspectives on nonnative English-speaking Professionals (pp. 277-293). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

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.