Tag Archives: identity

Hye Jin Lee


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

Interviewed by: Hami Suzuki

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Bonny Norton

NNEST of the Month
January 2011
bonny [dot] norton [at] ubc [dot] ca
1. From Ana Wu, City College of San Francisco:
a. Would you tell us how and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Norton:This is an interesting question. In many ways, I did not “decide” to become an educator; it was one of the few options available to me as a young woman growing up in a large South African family in the 1960’s and 1970’s. When I observed working women in our society, the few professionals were mainly teachers and nurses. I remember my father saying to me, half-jokingly, “Why do you want to go to university? You are just going to get married and have children.” Because of our family’s limited resources, it was essential that I get a scholarship to fund my university education, and this was available through the education department. Fortunately, I found teaching a meaningful, challenging, and enjoyable profession, and was very happy to become a full-time educator.
b. Besides having published extensively, you have been a keynote speaker in more than 40 countries/cities, including in Gramado, a beautiful city in Brazil known for their chocolate, hydrangeas, and annual film festival (As a Brazilian away from home, I am always nostalgic). Would you share some of your most vivid experiences visiting and giving a presentation in a country for the first time?
Dr. Norton: I have immense curiosity about the world, and find that professional invitations to speak in different countries provide the perfect opportunity to gain insight into a country and its people. Before I leave (and on long plane journeys) I always read about the history of the country I’m visiting, the different groups in the country, its political structure, its cultural practices, its languages. Wherever possible, I seek out English language newspapers, and read these on a regular basis. This helps me to understand the people I meet and the educational practices I observe. I also read novels from authors in the host country, and I’m particularly interested in learning about struggles for greater social justice and educational opportunity.I remember well my visit to beautiful Gramado, which was so different from other regions of Brazil I had visited. In Rio, for example, I jumped on a local bus and visited a favela on the outskirts of the city (my hosts were shocked when they learnt of this activity!). The poverty in the favela reminded me that Brazil remains a country where extreme wealth and extreme poverty co-exist, with disturbing consequences for educational opportunity. Gramado was an idyllic town with an alpine character. Was I really in Brazil?

2. From Young Mi Kim, Assistant Professor of English, Duksung Women’s University, Seoul, Korea
In teaching my university students in Korea, I became interested in the study of ICC (intercultural communicative competence). Byram (1997) said that the goal of ICC is for students to strive to extend their ability to perceive events in a new cultural context, and in this way come to have a broader intercultural identity that will enable them to move fluidly though a range of cultural contexts.

I think it is very important for students to be aware of positive and negative changes in their identity through EFL courses and other events such as watching American television programs ( a variety of American television programs such as ‘CSI,’ ‘Gossip Girl,’ and ‘America’s Top Model’ are available to watch on cable TV in Korea with Korean subtitles). However, during interviews it is very difficult to get students to talk about any changes in their identity. They always say my courses and watching the TV programs don’t effect their identity at all. They don’t think about the relationship between language, media, English learning and identity at all.

First of all, I would like to know whether you think it is better for students to be made aware of changes in their identity through the course explicitly and also to be able to describe these changes in order to increase their communicative competence in English. If it is better, how can I increase their awareness? What kind of strategies can I teach my students to develop their awareness of changes in their identity? In general, in order for my students to have positive development of their identity, what should I do as an EFL teacher at the University level?

Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.

Dr. Norton: Thank you for these questions. When I consider issues of “identity” among the students in my classes, I seldom use the term “identity” as such. At some level, this is an abstract term that is difficult to relate to. What I consider, instead, are the ways in which students relate to one another, to classroom practices, to me as a teacher, and to the wider society. As I said in my 2000 book (p.5): “I use the term identity to reference how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is structured across time and space, and how a person understands possibilities for the future.”

Discussions about a student’s relationship to the world, in the different domains of their lives (the home, the classroom, the playground, the workplace etc) all give me insight into a student’s complex and multiple identity. That identity, of course, also changes across time, as students engage with new ideas and relate to different people. The central questions I ask in my classroom are, “What is the student’s investment in the language practices of my classroom? How can I ensure that I structure classroom activities in ways that foster and encourage investment?. A student’s investment is integrally related to their identity: i.e. the way they relate to the world and their hopes for the future. If students have little investment in the language practices of my classroom, they may become bored, resentful, and resistant. A challenge for any teacher!

3. From Terry Doyle, Civic Center Campus of CCSF, ESL Instructor
a. In your article “Identity as a sociocultural construct in second language research” (2006) you mention that in the 1970s and 1980s second language researchers made a distinction between social identity and cultural identity. In recent years you and other researchers have come to the realization that one’s social identity cannot be separated from one’s cultural identity, and in this article you argue for the need to adopt an interdisciplinary and critical approach to identity research which entails studying identity in language education using a sociocultural construct. In your opinion, is such an interdisciplinary approach better able to describe the identity formation of new second language teachers, especially those who are teaching a language other than their “native” language?
Dr. Norton: This is a thoughtful question. Traditional conceptions of “social identity” are associated with the field of sociology, which is in turn primarily concerned with practices in (mainly urban) institutions such as schools, homes, law courts, and hospitals in a given society. Sociology assumes a “top-down” more macro-analytic approach to an investigation and understanding of these institutional practices. “Cultural identity” is associated with the field of anthropology, and assumes a “bottom-up” more micro-analytic approach to cultural practices. Such cultural practices include child rearing, marital conventions, religious belief systems, etc.

More recently, interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge construction have collapsed distinctions between the social and cultural. A second language teacher, for example, works within a given institution, which is part of larger set of social institutions (departments of education etc), but is simultaneously grappling with diverse cultural practices in her classroom (ways of talking, interacting, reading, and writing). In this context, both top-down, macro-level and bottom-up, micro-level analysis is needed to understand her practice. A second language teacher who is teaching in a language other than her native language faces a different set of challenges than a teacher teaching in her native language. Consider, for example, the current challenges faced by non-native English teachers in the state of Arizona, in the USA.

b. In your 1997 article “Language, identity, and the ownership of English” in TESOL Quarterly (1997) your introduction to the special topic issue on “Language and Identity,” there is quite an extensive review of articles on NNEST issues and the ownership of English. Since that time, the literature on both identity and language learning and also NNEST and the ownership issues have developed greatly. In your opinion where do these two literatures intersect? In particular, how may research on identity in second language education inform the education of new second language teachers, especially those who are “non-native” teachers?
Dr. Norton:This is another important question. My first and immediate response is to note that the vast majority of teachers who teach English internationally are not native speakers of the language. Interestingly, it is often in western, English-dominant countries such as the USA and the UK that the “non-native” standing of English teachers is a topic of debate. In many countries in Africa, for example, the English teacher is an English teacher, and not a NNEST. Having said this, however, I am aware that in Asian countries like China, Korea, and Japan, many institutions give disproportionate value to the “native speaker,” often causing concern and distress amongst local NNEST. The work of Aneta Pavlenko has been particularly powerful in encouraging NNEST to consider themselves “bilingual teachers” rather than NNEST. Manka Varghese, Vaidehi Ramanathan, Brian Morgan, Kelleen Toohey, Karen Johnson, Margaret Hawkins, Bill Johnston, Matthew Clarke are other scholars who are grappling with these issues, amongst others. Issues of power are central.

c. I am currently doing research on the role of the mentor-student teacher relationship in the teacher education process and the identity formation process of ESL teachers. In particular, I have been thinking about development of collective identity of student ESL teachers. Danielewicz in her book Teaching Selves defines a new teacher’s collective identity as “being recognized by others as a teacher”. She writes that the development of collective identity comes about when a student teacher is working in an actual classroom with a mentor teacher and also that what kind of affiliation occurs between the mentor teacher and student teacher is very influential on that student teachers’ collective identity development. In your opinion, how does collective identity come about for new teachers? How can a mentor teacher encourage and promote collective identity development? What is the role of the mentor teacher in the development of collective identity of student teachers? For example, what kind of feedback might be appropriate after student teacher lessons during the practicum?

Danielewicz, J. (2001). Teaching Selves: Identity, Pedagogy, and Teacher Education. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Dr. Norton: As someone who has taught for nearly thirty years, and served as a teacher educator for the last 15, I know that I am continually refining my own practice. My own learning has never stopped. Every class I teach offers a new challenge and a new set of possibilities. So in mentoring new teachers, I reassure them that teaching is a journey, and that every class is unique. I make mistakes; I have lapses in judgement. However, what I try to do in every class is to learn more of each student in the class, and seek to establish some kind of relationship with each student, so that I can adapt my practice to students’ needs and investments. This is what I model for my student teachers. In every class with student teachers, I am constantly assessing how the student teachers are responding to my instruction, and determining if I need to adjust my practices. The mentor teacher serves as a model for student teachers, but also seeks to encourage the student teacher to find her own comfort level, and to build on her particular strengths.

Clearly, student teachers have complex and multiple identities, with diverse investments in the language practices of their classrooms. These will likely relate to past experiences of learning and teaching, and their imagined identities as teachers. The mentor needs to seek to understand these investments and identities, so that the mentoring experience is rewarding for both parties. At the same time, the mentor teacher needs to be aware that some of the challenges a student teacher has may have little to do with preparation, energy, and commitment. Sometimes student teachers may be disempowered if their race and/or gender, for example, is not valued in the classroom. These issues relate to dominant social practices in the society at large.

d. Also, how important is how the two participants in this process refer to each other? Danielewicz used the terms “mentor teacher” and “student interns,”but I prefer to refer to both participants in this collaborative process as “co-teachers.”For as Danielewicz points out, it is the act of naming more than experience itself which makes us who we are. What is your opinion about this?
Dr. Norton:This is a complex question. Although both participants are indeed “co-teachers,” there is also a power imbalance between them. It may be most productive to name this difference, rather than assume it doesn’t exist.

e. Related to my previous question about the role of the mentor-student teacher relationship in the teacher education process, and what might be particularly interesting for readers of this blog, is a question about the collective identity development of student teachers who are international students working with teachers in an ESL context.

Can you see any difference in the collective identity development of international (NNES) MA TESOL students and United States-born (NES) MA TESOL students?
Dr. Norton:With regard to collective identity development, issues of “imagined communities” and “imagined identities” might be relevant here. (See Kanno & Norton, 2003; Norton, 2001; Pavlenko & Norton, 2007). If an NNES MA TESOL student wishes to remain in the United States rather than return to the country of origin, the imagined professional community would differ from that of the NNES student who is returning home. Similarly, the NES MA TESOL student who plans to teach internationally rather than in the USA would also likely have different investment in the future than the NES student who plans to remain local.

f. Do you think it is useful and appropriate for new and also experienced teachers to focus consciously on their identity formation? What seminal papers and books would you recommend to NNES and NES professionals to learn more about research on identity in language learning and also in teacher education?
Dr. Norton:As I have noted in my publications, every time a person speaks, reads, or writes, they are engaged in the negotiation of identity. A teacher may not use the term “identity”, but there is no doubt that a teacher’s sense of self is implicated in all classroom exchanges. If students do not listen to a teacher, she will feel discouraged; if students are excited by a class exercise, she will feel happy and successful. Such feelings are all implicated in a the teacher’s sense of “self” and identity.

I have a chapter on Identity in an edited volume by Nancy Hornberger and Sandy McKay, which has just been published by Multilingual Matters (Norton, 2010). My chapter highlights current research on identity and language learning. I have another chapter, co-authored with Margaret Hawkins, on Critical Language Teacher Education. (Hawkins & Norton, 2009). As mentioned above, the work of Aneta Pavlenko, Vaidehi Ramanathan, Manka Varghese, Brian Morgan, Kelleen Toohey, Margaret Hawkins, Karen Johnson, Bill Johnston, Matthew Clarke and others all address identity and teacher education in innovative and intriguing ways.

Ana Wu: It’s a great honor to have you in our blog. Thank you for this informative interview!


Hawkins, M., & Norton, B. (2009). Critical language teacher education. In A. Burns & J. Richards (Eds.), Cambridge guide to second language teacher education. (pp. 30-39) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kanno, Y., & Norton, B. (Guest Eds.). (2003). Imagined communities and educational possibilities [Special issue]. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2(4).

Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change. Harlow, England: Longman/Pearson Education.

Norton, B. (2006). Identity as a sociocultural construct in second language education. In K.Cadman & K. O’Regan (Eds.), TESOL in Context [Special Issue], 22-33.

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2001). Non-participation, imagined communities, and the language classroom. In M. Breen (Ed.), Learner contributions to language learning: New directions in research (pp. 159-171). Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Norton, B. (2010). Language and identity. In N. Hornberger & S. McKay (Eds). Sociolinguistics and language education. (pp. 349-369). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Pavlenko, A., & Norton, B. (2007). Imagined communities, identity, and English language teaching. In J. Cummins & C. Davison (Eds.), International handbook of English language teaching (pp. 669-680). New York: Springer.

Guofang Li

NNEST of the Month
December 2010
liguo [at] msu [dot] edu

Ana Wu: Could you tell us your linguistic and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Li: I was born in a small village in central China, so I speak a local dialect. I learned Mandarin, the standard Chinese, and English as a foreign language in school. I got my undergraduate and MA degree in China and went to Canada (University of Saskatchewan) to pursue my doctoral studies in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in Second Language Literacy. After my PhD, I went to University of British Columbia for a year as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Of Canada post-doctoral fellow. After my post-doc, I was an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at University of Buffalo for five years. In 2006, I joined the Department of Teacher Education as an associate professor at Michigan State University.

Ana Wu: You have edited books and written about female minority scholars from different nations and backgrounds, addressing the sociocultural, political, academic, and personal issues they encounter in higher education. Do male minority scholars face similar issues in the USA? If not, could you briefly tell us what challenges they face in the professoriate?
Dr. Li: Male minority scholars also face some sociocultural, sociopolitical, and personal issues in higher education, e.g., racism and prejudice. However, I think they are struggling at a lesser degree than female minority scholars. Being male is an advantage for them both professionally and personally. For example, According to an Institute of Education Science report (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000), male faculty in general have higher salary and are engaged in more research and administrative activities than their female counter parts. Female full-time faculty spent larger shares of their time in teaching or service activities, and smaller proportions in research or administrative activities, than male faculty. Personally, male minority faculty spent lesson time on childcare and other family related responsibilities than female minority faculty.

Ana Wu: In “Strangers” of the Academy: Asian Women Scholars in Higher Education (2006), you wrote about your frustrations of dealing with Asian female (some of them from China, like you) doctoral students who worked for you as graduate assistants. You said that at that time, you assumed your Asian female students would be more supportive and understanding of your achievement as a minority professor. However, you experienced the reserve: They treated you like a student, negotiating assignments and challenging your authority, and one showed a sharp contrast to the respect she exhibited to your White peers. You also noted that they were older than you. Kubota (2002) in Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom, noted that when working in a teacher preparation program for K-12 Japanese teachers as a foreign language, she met a few Japanese students who treated her with disrespect.

a. How would you explain your students’ attitude towards you?
Dr. Li: First of all, I want to clarify two points. First, this is not the case with all Asian female students—many are very respectful. Second, this phenomenon is not unique with Asian female faculties (I have heard similar incidents with female Korean. I have also heard similar stories from African and Hispanic faculty). My explanation is that female minority faculties are under double or triple disadvantage as viewed by minority students of their own race. As I explained in the article, higher education in both their home country and host country is male dominated; further, in Western cultures, higher education is also very Eurocentric or white dominated. Both our students’ (mine and Kutoba’s and many others’) attitudes reflect these inequalities and disadvantaged positions female minority scholars are in.

b. What advice would you give to novice teachers when being challenged by international students from the same nationality?
Dr. Li: My first advice is not to take it personally. The issue is much rooted in the existing (age-old) racial and structural discourses, and it is not personal. Second, focus on your work—it’s hard to know that someone from your own group does not respect you, but don’t let that affect your work. Third, get to know them more and gradually build trust and break those prejudices.

Ana Wu: In Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom, Rong (2002) tells the story of an Asian scientist and university professor. This instructor believed that besides “having to deal with White hypocrisy, Asian faculty also have to deal with discrimination from a few minority faculty members who have bashed other minority faculty, especially immigrant faculty.” From your research, would you say that among minority groups, there is a racial/ethnic hierarchy in which some groups feel to be more entitled to be valued than others?
Dr. Li: In general, I don’t believe that’s the case. However, I think there is more attention to African American and Hispanic issues in the public discourse. Asians are more in the periphery of discussion when it comes to minority issues.

Ana Wu: Cited in Loo and Ho (2006), Dale Miname, an attorney who has represented many Asian Americans in academic battles, made this observation:

“The academic institution is not immune from political considerations in tenure decision…among my Asian American clients in these situations; I have noticed a common attitude. Invariably, they believe in the merit system: If you work hard, you will be duly rewarded. When faced with an adverse decision based on something other than merit, they have difficulty accepting that reality. All too often, they never understand that politics and racism may have as much to do with a particular decision as merit.” (p.145)

Many people think that being politically savvy means to stab someone in the back or to use someone to get something. From your research, what does it mean to be politically savvy? What is your advice to navigate the politics of the culture of the academia?
Dr. Li: This is a hard one. I agree with the quote that often minorities (Asians and non Asians alike) believe in the merit system and that often backfires on them. The problem is that “work hard and you will realize your dream” is the ethos of the American dream, especially one that is believed by the immigrant minorities. Many often blindly trust in the so called “democracy” and “transparency” popularized in Western culture and fail to recognize the fact that there are politics and “hidden curriculum” everywhere.

Personally, I don’t believe stabbing someone in the back is being politically savvy. I agree with Joan Lloyd (2001) that being politically savvy means that in addition to work hard and know how to do your job well, you also need to know people above you and you get visibility for what you accomplish. This is hard sometimes in a work environment that is racist or biased.

My advice is to work hard but also pay attention to the social networks within the department and college one works in. Get to know more of your colleagues, and if possible, form a support group that you can count on for advice and input.

Ana Wu: In Academic careers of immigrant women professors in the US, Skachkova (2007) talks about the ‘brown-on-brown’ research taboo (Reyes and Halcon 1988), which implies that minority faculty do mainly minority-related research. She says:

“(…) studies find that research conducted by faculty of color and women faculty is not recognized as legitimate by their colleagues or is not recognized at all (Martinez 1995; Turner and Myers 2000). Reyes and Halcon (1988) explain that this ‘brown-on-brown’ research is dismissed as minor or self-serving (…) and that minority researchers cannot be objective in their analyses of those problems which are close to their life experiences.” (p.713)

What do you think about this ‘brown-on-brown’ research taboo?
Dr. Li: I think this “brown-on-brown” research taboo is one of the many ways to reinforce the white dominance/superiority. If minority cannot understand or research themselves or problems close to their own personal experiences, who can? The answer is obviously the white majority people. However, in many cases, non-minority faculties are not interested in the well-being of minority faculty and therefore, important research in these areas may not be done. Further, if minority researchers cannot in any way objectively research themselves, the argument would be that they cannot research the white or non-minority either because they are not in a power position to do so. This can lead to a dangerous conclusion from these lines of argument–minority should not conduct any kind of research. So in sum, I don’t think this brown-on-brown taboo is legitimate at all.

Ana Wu: You are the proud mother of twins. Congratulations! How has it been to balance work with family? Are you working on a new book?
Dr. Li: It has been hard. I really had to prioritize things between work and family. Right now, family is my priority. I have to learn to say to no to different work requests and learn to let go a lot of things. I also have to learn to better manage my time as it is very limited! I just had a new book coming out on best practices in English Language Learners (ELL) Literacy Instruction. I am working on some grant applications and a special journal issue but not a book at the moment.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this intriguing interview!


Kubota, R. (2002). Marginality as an Asset: Toward a Counter-Hegemonic Pedagogy for Diversity. In Lucila Vargas (Ed.) Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom (293- 308). Peter Lang Publishing, New York City.

Li, G. (2006). A Young Asian Female Sholar’s Reflections on Within-Race-and-Gender Interactions. “Strangers ” of the academy: Asian women scholars in higher education. (118 – 133). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Loo, C.M. & Ho, H.Z. (2006). Asian American Women in the Academy. “Strangers ” of the academy: Asian women scholars in higher education. (118 – 133). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

LIyod, J. (2001). Learning to be politically savvy, a must for career advancement. Retried from http://sanantonio.bizjournals.com/sanantonio/stories/2001/11/19/smallb4.html

National Center for Education Statistics (2000). Salary, Promotion, and Tenure Status of Minority and Women Faculty in U.S. Colleges and Universities. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

Reyes, M. and Halcon, J, (1988). Racism in academia: The old wolf revisited, Harvard Educational Review 58 (3).

Rong, X. L. (2002). Teaching with Differences and for Differences: Reflections of a Chinese American Teacher Educator. In Lucila Vargas (Ed.) Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom (125-145). Peter Lang Publishing, New York City.

Skachkova, P. (2007). Academic careers of immigrant women professors in the US. Higher Education, 53: 697-738.

Turner, C.S.V, and Myers, S. (2000). Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Vicente Sadraque

NNEST of the Month
November, 2010
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your linguistic and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?
Mr. Sadraque: I first started studying English in Revival English School, back in 1994. Then, I went to Development Aid from People to People (DAPP) school, where I studied English language at an advanced level. Between 2000 and 2003, I attended high school where I learned how to teach English as a foreign language.When I graduated in 2004, I decided to be more exposed to English language but in a different field. So I started to study Business English and Letter writing at Cambridge International College. Currently, I’m a student of this institution. It is also worth mentioning that my exposure to English in various workshops and national and international conferences shaped my current linguistic knowledge.Professionally speaking, I’ve been teaching English as Foreign Language (EFL) since 1999 in both private and public schools. I’ve also been highly involved with language associations since that same year.

One of the associations where I am still a member and Vice-president is ANELTA – the Angolan English Language Teachers Association.

After my graduation in 2004, I started sharing my knowledge working as a teacher trainer for private schools of English and to fellows who wanted to teach English.

I decided to pursue a career as a language educator because I strongly believe that this is my direct contribution to the development of Angola. Working with young students gives me opportunity to help them gain important skills (communication, leadership, management, social and teamwork skills) for their everyday life and that of their respective communities. Additionally, I love teaching; it is my passion.

English is an international language, it is now between the third and fourth from the most spoken languages in the world. This is to say that English is one of the languages for globalization, students shouldn’t get lost in communication almost everywhere if they can speak English. Secondly, for academic purposes, it would be very helpful for their research in any area as there are few books written in Portuguese language, which is the language spoken in the country. Third, English gives them more job opportunities. They can apply for a job everywhere. In Angola, there are many companies where one of the main requirement to apply is fluency in English language.

Angola is in a process of development in terms of economy and leadership. As Angola is not apart from the world, it needs to enhance its relations with developed countries and to have a success in this direction needs to use the language.

Ana Wu: You also studied Law. Tell me more about it and how helpful it has been in your TESOL career.
Mr. Sadraque: I would like to stress that due to the luck of opportunity at that time to study English Language Teaching at University, I went to Gregorio Semedo University were I studied Law in 2005 and finished my course in 2008. Up to now, I’ve been working in my dissertation and by October this year I will present (defend) it.English has been my passion since I was a child. I think I can conciliate both things and use my degree in law to help the teachers of English community in my country. While being a lawyer by the next few years, I will always have at least a class to teach English and this is the idea I’ve been passing around to my fellows who have bachelor degree in English Teaching, but are working in other fields.

During the 2010 TESOL convention in Boston, I’ve met some teachers who are also lawyers and teachers of English, so we took advantage to exchange our great experiences – for example, we talked about teaching English for lawyers.

Ana Wu: You are the 2010 TESOL Leadership Mentoring Program Award Recipient, and Brock Brady, the 2010-2011 TESOL President in your assigned mentor. How did winning this recognition affect your career? Tell me about your experience of having Dr. Brady as your mentor.
Mr. Sadraque: Knowing that what I do is recognized outside of Angola made me feel more motivated to promote TEFL/TESOL profession. Meeting and working with Dr. Brady triggered my interest in English for Specific Purpose (ESP). Currently, I’m helping my students learn English for specific purpose. So this nomination helped me bring some innovations to the Instituto Médio Industrial de Luanda (IMIL), the public school where I work. The Principal of the school is really interested in my initiative of teaching ESP and such an initiative is now being reviewed in order to be fully implemented – let’s see!This recognition also enhanced my own reputation as a language professional. The Principal of IMIL counts on my technical contribution to the English language teaching in that school.

In fact, it was a great honor to have Dr. Brady as my mentor. Now I better understand how TESOL works. I’ve learned and acquired some leadership skills from Dr. Brady by observing and interacting with him – something I have been informally sharing with my ANELTA (Angolan English Language Teachers Association) fellows.

Dr. Brady and I have discussed many ideas that ANELTA can implement in partnership with TESOL. These ideas include affiliating ANELTA to TESOL, which is expected to occur in near future. As a result of our discussions, someone in ANELTA was recently appointed to be our TESOL contact within ANELTA – TESOL will hear from him soon.

I must admit that through this Leadership Mentoring Award, I have improved my communication, networking, and interpersonal skills.

Ana Wu: At the age of 16, you and some students founded the United English Speakers Association in Luanda, Angola, an organization that focused on socio-cultural and environmental issues. A few years later, as one of the founding members of the Angolan National English Teacher Association (ANELTA), you served as Secretary General of the association from 2003 to 2006, and have been Vice President since 2007. Allow me to tell our members that you are only 27 years old.a. Why is taking leadership roles important to you? Professionally, what would you like to accomplish in the next 5 and 10 years?
Mr. Sadraque: Taking leadership roles is something that comes automatically, and when I realize I am already taking this role. It happens due to the fact of setting clear goals and doing things by heart. I am also charismatic and I think taking leadership position is a good way to influence others.To help visualize what I posted above, back in 2003-2004 when I was leaving my high school, where I studied English Language Teaching, I could understand the differences from what I learnt and what I saw in some schools I visited. So I realized that teachers needed to enhance their teaching techniques and methodology. It emerged on me a strong need to help though I didn’t have that much to give. In this regard, with the experience I had with previous associations as leader, I spent months planning to organize a big conference in the country where teachers of English should gather and discuss the trends in the field and find the respective solutions. Experienced teachers should give workshops and plenary. People didn’t just believe me because I was very young and plus didn’t have the university level at that time.

In the same year, I met good friends who believed in my plan and supported it so that in 2004 we could organize the first international English Language teachers conference in the country. I would like to have the honor of mentioning them here: Otmar Filipe (who finished his bachelor in ELT) and Nina Bell (from California; her husband used to work for Chevron in Angola and she worked as volunteer teacher in my high school). Other people gathered the group such as, Susanna Lindsey, from Netherland; Paula Duarte, my former methodology teacher; Caetano Domingos, former principal of the school where I studied; and Dana Swain, from California, though she was not a teacher but could contribute for the success of the event. We spent all our time, day and night, and energy for more than 8 months planning and arranging things for this workshop.

In 2004 before the conference, two of our friends (Francisco Aristides and José Iege) suggested that if we were to support in a regular basis the needs of our teachers, it should be good to create an association. That’s what exactly we did. During the first international conference in November 2004, we announced the existence of ANELTA the Angolan English Language Teachers Association, where I worked as general secretary. Don’t you think it should be the best position to achieve the goal of promoting professional development in English language teaching? As the general secretary with the help of the group, I could influence more than 750 teachers around the country to participate in our events, some in the town and other in the provinces. We also could identify leaders to help in the organization of the next conferences and to conduct the organization as board members.

The role of leaders is the key for the development of a community. Leaders have visions; they see beyond the future than everybody else in their community. They help people bring the best they have out of themselves to achieve common good.

Leaders are always preoccupied with common good, that is, the community’s interest or development. They work with people, analyze the environment, identify problems affecting their community, and work hard to find solutions by engaging other people as well. They reframe everyone’s dream(s) in such ways that everyone feels identified with those dreams, and feel energized to do something about it, in order to make them come true for the community’s well being.

Leaders inspire people around them. They help them overcome their weaknesses and maximize or release their potentials. We have in fact good examples of that as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and recently Barack Obama. Leaders are in fact the catalyst of changes in their community or group.

This is why taking leadership position is important to me. It is easier to do the above mentioned when I am in a leadership position. That is the best position where I can do more and better to achieve my goals. To give more examples, below I mention some of my goals to achieve within 5 to 10 years time – which will be easier to accomplish if I am the decision maker.

In terms of accomplishments, I first would like to have ANELTA affiliated to TESOL.

Secondly, I would like to help ANELTA have local representatives in all the 18 provinces of Angola. This project is already in process with collaboration of the current ANELTA board, including its newly appointed president, Mr. Caetano Capitão.

Personally, I intend to support members of ANELTA by organizing workshops, regular training in high schools and universities, publishing articles on ANELTA newsletter and probably on some international newsletters. As I am an attorney, I would like to defend local EFL teachers’ rights.

In order to accomplish my goals effectively, I am looking for further educational opportunities to complete a master degree in TESOL/TEFL.

In 2004, two friends and I created a project called ANELI. The project involves the construction of a building for ANELTA, where we will have various offices dealing with different aspects of TEFL. Unfortunately we haven’t implemented it yet, but we hope in ten years time we will establish the basis for this project.

Also, at the 2010 TESOL Convention in Boston, I spoke to some professors in order to look for ways to implement masters programs in Angola. We will keep studying to figure out how to materialize the idea.

b. Regarding the professional status of the EFL teachers in Angola, what are the most emerging issues?
Mr. Sadraque: A few teachers in Angola have a bachelor’s degree in English Language Teaching. It means that those who don’t have a bachelor’s degree in English Language Teaching – the majority of EFL teachers in the country- need a certificate and certification in EFL. And those graduated in EFL still need to know what current best teaching practices are. The level of spoken English spoken is not high enough for both graduated and non graduated teachers in the field. Teaching is mostly based on grammar.In Luanda province, the capital of Angola, besides the Faculdade de Letras, Universidade Agostinho Neto,where students learn linguistics, including English linguistics, we only have one institution where people can study TEFL in high school in ELT.

In order to overcome these barriers, I strongly believe that not only sharing best practices with Angolan teachers, but also exchanging teaching ideas and having professional development opportunities, such as workshops from institutions like CELTA and DELTA, conferences, seminars, training courses on an ongoing basis, would be of a great help.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this interesting interview!

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.

Shondel Nero


NNEST of the Month
August 2010

In Guyana, we have what linguists call a “Creole Continuum” where everyday language use ranges from the most Creole forms (called “Creolese” by local people) to standardized Guyanese English. Typically, you’ll here more Creolese spoken among rural folk or those from lower socioeconomic classes with less formal education, and conversely more standardized English among urban, middle class, educated folk, but that is not an absolute. Most Guyanese move back and forth along the continuum depending on the context, topic, and purpose of communication, and often people speak Creolese as a marker of “true” Guyanese identity, or to show ethnic solidarity or difference. Creolese is often used for humor or in informal situations.

In my household, my parents were very different linguistically. Even though my parents were both from a rural village, my mother’s speech was much more Creolized than my father’s. My father is a truly British colonial man, and his speech and writing reflects that. So I was exposed to the full spectrum of language in my household.

I went to a very good high school – actually the top high school in the country. So, while getting very colorful Creole language from my mother at home, I was also getting a dose of British grammar school language and education as well. My generation was the first post-independence generation in Guyana. Guyana got independence in 1966 from the British (I was in high school during the 1970s). So, while there was an early attempt to introduce more Caribbean content into the curriculum during my time, we were still largely experiencing an entirely British curriculum – British textbooks, British exams, etc.

I developed an early interest in language at high school. I starting learning French at age 10, and immediately fell in love with it. The following year, I picked up Spanish. So, I chose the foreign language track in high school, and vigorously pursued language study at both “O” level and “A” levels (Note: These are British exams. There were two levels of British exams – the “O” level, meaning “Ordinary” level, taken at the end of your fifth year in high school. Then, if you passed O levels with a high grade, you could then apply to take “A” levels, meaning “Advanced” level exams a year or two later. Typically, you needed to pass at least five subjects at O levels to be eligible to take A levels). After graduating from high school, I worked for one year at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guyana. I wanted that experience, as my first career choice was to become a diplomat in the Guyanese Foreign Service. However, during that year, I quickly realized the politics and economic problems in the Guyanese foreign service, so I thought maybe I can use my language skills in other diplomatic organizations such as the United Nations. With that in mind, I applied to college overseas, and I was accepted to Concordia University in Montréal, Canada to major in French and Spanish. So, I left Guyana in 1981 and moved to Montréal for college. I loved Montréal, except for the weather! You can imagine that I experienced my first winter at 19 years old! What a shock that was. Anyway, I graduated from college in 1984, then moved to New York to accept a job at Air Canada’s New York reservations office to be a customer service agent at the “French Desk”, obviously because of my French-speaking skills. However, I quickly realized that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life talking to passengers on the phone, and prospects for working at the UN seemed bleak, so I decided I needed to find a way to use my language skills, but in a multicultural setting, as I always loved language and cultural diversity. Also, I always enjoyed school, as I had a very positive high school experience. So, I decided that teaching immigrant children might be interesting since I’ll have a multicultural classroom.

So, this is how I came to be an educator. I decided to go back to school and pursue a Masters degree in TESOL, while I was working at Air Canada. I went to Teachers College (TC), Columbia University part-time for my MA in TESOL. I graduated from TC with my MA in TESOL in 1990, and immediately got my first teaching job at a high school in East Harlem, New York. I taught ESL – beginner, immediate, and advanced. I also taught two sections of French.
After teaching one year in high school, an opportunity came up to teach ESL writing in the English department at Long Island University (LIU), Brooklyn Campus. I was lucky enough to get the position. During my time at LIU, I became more committed to a career in academia, so I went back to TC and pursued a doctorate in Applied Linguistics. My dissertation focused on the acquisition of standard English by speakers of Caribbean Creole English (CCE). The interest in CCE came about because there were a growing number of students from the “English-speaking” Caribbean such as Jamaica and Guyana (Guyana is considered culturally Caribbean, even though it’s in South America) at LIU who were being placed in ESL classes, and I wanted to understand this phenomenon. It raised a number of interesting linguistic questions such as who is a “native” speaker of English? On what basis are placement decisions made for ESL classes? Is Creole English a separate language or a dialect of English? What are the appropriate pedagogical approaches for speakers of nonstandard varieties of English? These questions have fueled my research over the past 20 years, and I continue to wrestle with these questions and write about them.

After I left LIU, I taught at St. John’s University in their graduate program in TESOL/Bilingual Education from 1998 – 2007. Then I left St. John’s and joined the faculty at New York University (NYU) in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development in September 2007. I’m currently director of our unit in Multilingual/Multicultural Studies, which encompasses graduate and undegraduate programs in TESOL, Bilingual Education, and Foreign Language Education. It’s a challenging but wonderful position. We have a large program, approximately 200 students, about half of whom are international students, mostly from Asia. I teach graduate courses in Second Language Theory and Research, and Doctoral Seminars in Educational Linguistics, and World Englishes and Dialects in Education. So far, I’m enjoying being at NYU.

Ana Wu: Despite the fact that you were born and raised in Guyana, the only officially English-speaking country in South America, you wrote in “An Exceptional Voice: Working as a TESOL Professional of Color” that the combination of being immigrant and Black tends to create an assumption of nonnativeness, specially among White peers (Nero, 2006).

a. As an educator, how has this assumption affected your pedagogical practices?

b. In the same chapter, you wrote about being an “exception” in the professional context, meaning attending to and living with a host of ambivalent (often contradictory) attitudes and expectations from students and colleagues alike (p. 25). What advice would you give to teachers who see themselves as being “exceptions” in their workplace?

Ana Wu: You have done extensive research about language and identity, second dialect speakers and Standard English as a Second Dialect (SESD). We know that a variety of Englishes have emerged worldwide, yet current educational practices generally do not allow students’ creole or vernacular varieties of English in the classroom.

a. What do you think about this practice?

b. You have researched and documented cases of speakers of varieties of English being (mis) placed in ESL classes (Nero 2000 and 2001). How do you think we can better prepare prospective language instructors in teaching training programs to understand the nature of World Englishes and question stereotypes?

Ana Wu: You majored in French and Spanish, and taught ESL and French at a public high school. What were your strengths as a French instructor? What did you enjoy the most as an ESL instructor and as a French teacher? How different were your students’ expectations?

As far as being an ESL instructor in high school, most of my students at that time were Dominican. I had known very little about the DR back then, so one of the things I enjoyed was learning about the DR from them. They loved their country, and every opportunity they got to speak or write about it, they would do take advantage of it. I also really enjoyed the students’ optimism – they were new immigrants, and they had an abiding faith in America. They all said that once they mastered English, they felt they could accomplish anything in America. My husband, who’s American, always says that immigration by definition is an optimistic idea. The immigrant always believes s/he can do better in the new country. When I looked at my ESL students, I saw that. Many of my ESL students were from poor families, and had low levels of literacy in Spanish, but still had high expectations for themselves and for me. They felt that their ESL teacher could best help them to overcome the language barrier, so they were highly motivated. I hope that I was able to help them in some small way achieve their dream.

Ana Wu: Thank you for your time and for this insightful interview!

Nero, S. (2000). The changing faces of English: A Caribbean perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 483-510.

Nero, S. (2001). Englishes in contact: Anglophone Caribbean students in an urban college. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

Nero, S. (2006). An Exceptional Voice: Working as a TESOL Professional of Color. Curtis, A., & Romney, M. (Eds.). Color, race and English language teaching: Shades of meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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.