Tag Archives: native speaker

Dilin Liu

NNEST of the Month
February 2011

dliu [at] as [dot] ua [dot] edu

Ana Wu: Could you tell us your educational and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Liu: After completing my undergraduate education with a major in English at Jiangxi University (now Nanchang University) in China and teaching at the university for a few years, I came to the U.S. in 1985 to pursue graduate studies, first receiving a master’s degree in TESOL from Oklahoma City University and then a Ph.D. in English from Oklahoma State University. I taught and served as the Director of MA TESOL at Oklahoma City University from 1991 to 2006 (first as assistant, then associate, and full professor). In 2006, I took the position of Associate Professor (promoted to Full Professor last year) and Coordinator of Applied Linguistics/TESOL in the English Department at the University of Alabama because UA is a research university where I would have more resources and time for research, something I enjoy doing very much. As for why I decided to become an educator, I guess it’s my destined professional calling. As just mentioned, I was selected upon graduation by my undergraduate alma mater to stay as an instructor of English. Then, when I was working on my dissertation at Oklahoma State University, I received a call from a former professor at Oklahoma City University encouraging me to apply for their advertised MA TESOL position. I applied, interviewed, and was offered the job. And the rest was history. Of course, the main reason I’ve been an educator for two decades now is that I really love teaching and research. I enjoy interacting with students and seeing them learn and grow. I sincerely believe, cliché as it is, teaching is a profession where what you do can truly make a difference in people’s lives.
Ana Wu: In your book chapter “Training Non-Native TESOL students: Challenges for TESOL Teacher Education in the West,” (1999) you said that cultural study, especially the study of cultures of English-speaking countries is therefore a subject that many NNS students want and should do more (p.207). Given that international graduate students in TESOL or applied linguistics programs stay in the USA two-four years, how can they maximize their opportunities to interact with local people, and continue to improve their communication skills and intercultural competence?
Dr. Liu: Based on my own experience and observation, the best thing to do is to find (or create) all possible opportunities to interact with individuals of other cultures or ethnic groups in this country. For example, one should try to participate in as many school and community activities as possible, including attending meetings of student organizations, visiting church and political gatherings, and attending/watching sports games. Also, one should try to read newspapers, listen to radio programs, and watch TV. The reason for participating in the aforementioned social, political, and sports activities is that, as I pointed out in my books on idioms, metaphor, and culture (2002, 2008), political, religious, business, and sports activities constitute arguably the most important aspects of American culture. The jargon used in these activities permeates American English (i.e., many English expressions/idioms come from these activities: promised land, touch base with, and the jury is still out [on something]. . .). A good knowledge of these topics will enable us to have a better understanding of the values and beliefs of American people (and also, believe it or not, a better command of American English as a byproduct). It is important to remember, however, that a casual participation and observation would not be enough. You have to be sensitive and pay close attention to what you observe, i.e. to note closely what people do and say. Then you have to reflect on what you observed, thinking about why the people acted the way they did and to what extent what they did and said is similar to or different from what people in your own culture typically do in the same context or situation.

Ana Wu: You have published over 30 journal articles, book chapters, and proceeding articles as well as three books (two authored and one edited). Also, you have served on the Editorial Advisory Boards of The ELT Journal (2001-2004), TESOL Quarterly (2005-2008), Reflections on English Language Teaching (since 2006), and the new TESOL Journal (since 2009). How do you deal with writer’s block and avoid procrastination? Would you share some of your writing rituals?
Dr. Liu: I don’t think I really have a good answer to the question of dealing with writer’s block and avoiding procrastination. I often have to fight these problems myself. One thing that I think may help us in dealing with writer’s block is to always keep an eye on issues that interest or puzzle you in your teaching and learning (as teachers, especially NNEST, we are always learning). If you constantly ask questions and try to find answers, you are likely to come up with a topic worth writing about. Concerning overcoming procrastination, I usually set aside blocks of time and a self-imposed deadline for a writing project.

Ana Wu: You also have remarkable experience holding leadership positions in TESOL. Before being currently coordinator and professor of Applied Linguistics/TESOL in the Department of English at the University of Alabama, you directed and taught the MA TESOL program at Oklahoma City University for 16 years. You were also the President of Oklahoma TESOL (1996-1997) and the Chair-elect/Chair of the Applied Linguistics Interest Section (1994-1996, 2010-2012).

a. How did you prepare yourself for these leadership positions? What kept you motivated when dealing with difficult teachers? What inspired you when feeling marginalized or unsupported?
Dr. Liu: Actually, I didn’t really do anything special in preparing for these positions and I haven’t really had colleagues that are difficult to work with. I think I’ve been just very lucky as I have always had very supportive colleagues and administrators.

b. According to Manrique and Manrique (1999), studies on immigrant non-European faculty demonstrate that 20% of male faculty were discriminated against by colleagues in their departments. Have you ever faced subtle or covert disrespect to your authority? What are your most vivid memories noticing innuendos about your nationality or racial remarks from your peers or administration? How did those events affect your teaching philosophy?
Dr. Liu: I’m afraid I might not be in the 20% mentioned by Manrique and Manrique. As I said above, I’ve been very fortunate to have extremely supportive colleagues and administrators, partially as evidenced by my successful tenure/promotional experiences at both OCU and UA. I’m not sure whether I’ve faced subtle or covert disrespect. The reason I’m not sure is perhaps I’ve always tried not to view any comments on my nationality, race, or accent as disrespect or discrimination. Instead, I’ve tried to see such comments in a positive light and use them as a motivation to improve. For example, I remember that, during my interview for the Oklahoma City University job, a few of the search committee members commented on the fact that I was not a native English speaker and the likely implications it might have (e.g., students’ concerns). One member said, “We could say that you [referring to me] are from California.” (I guess the person mentioned California because it’s known as a place with many immigrants). I considered the comment good-natured or good-humored, but I also used it as a constant reminder for me to work harder to prove that I could be as good as anyone else. My effort paid off. In my twenty years of teaching in the U.S., I’ve had very few students complaining about my English. In fact, many of them praised my command of English. Many non-native English speaking students stated in the course evaluations that they viewed me as their role-model and wanted to emulate me.

c. What strategies would you consider essential to NNESTs with foreign background in order to navigate the cultural politics in one’s academic community?
Dr. Liu:I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer because of a lack of real challenges I’ve experienced in this regard. To me, good performance on your job is the most important thing. If you do well on your job, generally your colleagues, administrators, and, most importantly, your students, would appreciate you. I may be wrong on this but it’s the impression I have based on my experience.

Ana Wu: What do you see yourself doing ten years from now? What do you want to be remembered for and why?
Dr. Liu: I may be retired then but even in retirement I probably will still be doing some teaching and writing. I would like to be remembered as a life-long language learner, teacher, and researcher who has had the wonderful opportunity to learn a second language and use it in a very rewarding profession. My reason for wanting to be remembered not only as a language teacher but also a language learner and researcher is that, to me, to be a successful language educator, one must simultaneously be a life-long language learner and researcher.

Ana Wu: Thank you for your contribution to the blog.


Liu, D. (1999). Training non-native speaker TESOL students: The challenges for TESOL teacher education in the West. In G. Braine (Ed.). Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 197-210). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Liu, D. (2002). Metaphor, culture, and worldview: The case of American English and the Chinese language. Lamar, MD, University Press of America.

Liu, D. (2008). Idioms: Description, comprehension, acquisition, and pedagogy. New York: Routledge.

Manrique, C. and Manrique, G. (1999). The Multicultural or Immigrant Faculty in American Society. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press.



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.

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.

Noam Chomsky

NNEST of the Month

April 2010

chomsky [at] mit [dot] edu

Ana Wu, City College of San Francisco

1. Could you tell us how and why you decided to become an educator?

Dr. Chomsky: I didn’t really decide. It just happened, like many things in life.

Terry Doyle, City College of San Francisco (Questions 2, 3, and 4)

2. Your name is quite often mentioned in papers about the history of the NS (native speaker) and NNS (non-native speaker) dichotomy among teachers of ESL. For example, Braine (1999) writes “In language pedagogy, the linguistic authority of the native speaker has been further bolstered by Chomsky’s notion of the terms native speaker and competence.(p. xv). Canagarajah (1999) in his well-known article, “Interrogating the native speaker fallacy”, writes, “Noam Chomsky’s linguistic concepts lie at the heart of the discourse that promotes the superiority of the native speaker.” Such statements tend to attribute some responsibility or blame to you for the creation of the NNS-NS dichotomy and the native speaker fallacy. In my opinion, this blame is totally undeserved, especially when we consider how you have spent your life advocating for the rights of people who are economically oppressed. In a later article George Braine (2004) mentioned that you defined the native speaker as an “ideal speaker-listener” and therefore you use the term as an abstraction. Braine seems to allude to the fact that you had no idea that the abstract concept of “native speaker” used in your book Aspects of a Theory of Syntax would take on a life of its own. Could you tell us more about your notion of “native speaker” and “native speaker competence” especially in terms of its relevance to the NS-NNS dichotomy in English and foreign language teaching, the native speaker fallacy (Phillipson, 1992) and the discrimination and economic oppression this fallacy has resulted in?

Dr. Chomsky:I do not understand why I am mentioned at all in this connection. The “linguistic authority of the native speaker” was a truism long before I became a college student. The distinction between competence and performance –- what we know versus what we do — should be a truism as well, but it has no bearing on the role of the native speaker, as far as I can see. My notion of “native speaker” is the traditional one, adding nothing new. I have no idea what the fallacy is supposed to be, or how these truisms might relate to oppression. I suspect there must be some serious misunderstanding.

3. My career in linguistics began in the middle 1970s as a graduate student at UC Berkeley in theoretical linguistics. At that time study in applied linguistics was just beginning, and it wasn’t a popular area of study for a young graduate student. Nowadays applied linguistics has grown enormously as a field of study, and it includes separately defined sub areas of studies including everything from applied semiotics to web based instruction, and of course includes non-native teachers issues, the topic of Ms. Wu’s blog. Your work in linguistics has been in theoretical linguistics, but applied linguists often mention your theories and your concepts. How do you explain this enormous interest in applied linguistics and especially sub areas of study such as non-native teacher issues? What do you see as the connection between theoretical and applied linguistics and in particular with the sub area of applied linguistics, non-native teacher issues?

Dr. Chomsky:I presume that applied linguistics developed because there was so much valuable work to do in these areas. Teachers are usually non-native. In the case of indigenous communities, very substantial efforts have been made to provide native speakers with the educational opportunities that would enable them to become teachers, develop educational and cultural programs in their own communities, etc., even in one spectacular case to revive a language that now has its first native speaker in a century (Wampanoag). I am keeping here only to my own department, since the 1960s, under the leadership of the late Ken Hale and now his students. I do not know what other issues there are about native/non-native teachers.

4. Most readers of Ms. Wu’s blog are probably linguists, ESL teachers, or ESL teacher trainers, so we know of your work first of all in linguistics. But for people outside of linguistics and language teaching, you are well known for your research and writing in political science, and especially your arguments for the relevance of an anarcho-syndicalism or libertarian socialism (Chomsky, 2005), which I greatly admire. My reason for asking you the question below in this blog is that I agree with critical linguists such as Pennycook (2001) who view “the inequalities in the relation between the constructs of Native and Non-native teachers” as one manifestation of power and inequality in the field of linguistics. Do you think that the study of political issues such as non-native teacher issues is an area of study for applied linguists, for political scientists, or both? What suggestion would you give to scholars and graduate students who want to study political issues such as non-native teacher issues and also to ordinary ESL teachers, like myself, who want to understand the significance of such issues to our teaching, our profession, and our ESL departments’ personnel and hiring committees’ decisions?

Dr. Chomsky: I do not understand what the “non-native teacher issues” are.The important issues seem to me those I mentioned above.

Ahmar Mahboob, University of Sydney (Questions 5, 6, and 7)

5. In your work on language, you prioritize the formal properties of language in favor of its functional properties (cf work my MAK Halliday and colleagues). While we see that both of these approaches serve useful purposes, we were wondering how they relate to the field of language teaching and learning. How do you see these two approaches to language (formal and functional) in relation to work in the area of language teaching and learning?

Dr. Chomsky: Halliday and others apparently see a conflict between those approaches. I have never seen any. My own work, and that of my colleagues, is both formal and functional. So is Halliday’s, as far as I understand it. There are differences in approach, as one would expect in a complex array of disciplines, but not along this divide, as far as I can see.

6. The use of the concept of a ‘native’ speaker is somewhat understandable in contexts where linguists are trying to study how monolingual speakers of a language construe and realize their language. However, this notion of a ‘native’ speaker is often used in Applied Linguistics and TESOL literature/research as well. How do you evaluate the use of this term in these contexts?

Dr. Chomsky: It should be used where it is relevant. Again, I do not understand the issue.

7. Language descriptions are typically based on language data/intuitions collected from monolingual speakers of the language. Now, we know that the majority of the people in the world are bi/multi-lingual speakers of the language. Are their intuitions not important for describing languages? This becomes quite important in contexts where these ‘monolingual’ descriptions of the language are considered ‘standard’ and other dialects are measured in relation to them (such as in the context of language teaching/learning/assessment). What are your views on the use of native speaker intuitions in language descriptions that are used in language teaching/learning?

Dr. Chomsky:If someone is interested in Spanish, they will not use me as an informant, but rather a native speaker of Spanish, evidently. It is quite true that multilingualism is common -– in fact, ubiquitous if we study individuals very closely. It is an important topic to study. The notion of “standard language” is not a linguistic notion. Rather, it reflects structures of power and authority.

Jayashree Mohanraj, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad

8. Entry of English in multilingual countries is gradually and systematically eliminating smaller local languages. Please comment on the hegemony of English.

Dr. Chomsky: That’s true, and it is one aspect of a much broader development. Imposition of the nation-state system in Europe, for example, has led to rapid disappearance of languages, a process still continuing. The spread of English reflects obvious power relations. As I mentioned, my own department has been intensively involved in preserving, in fact resurrecting, indigenous languages and cultures. A great many factors enter into broader decisions -– for example, should efforts be made to preserve the many languages of Italy (called “dialects,” though they are often mutually incomprehensible), or should the spread of a common “Italian” be encouraged. There are no simple formulas for every situation.

Daniel Steve Villarreal, University of Texas at Austin:

9. Does your Universal Grammar theory draw on the work of Karl Jung (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_Unconscious)? Thank you

Dr. Chomsky: I’ve occasionally mentioned some rather loose analogies, nothing beyond that.

Ana Wu: I’d like to thank Dr. Chomsky for this interview. When I sent him the invitation to be a guest in our NNEST of the Month blog, Dr. Chomsky said that he was utterly deluged with interview requests, and couldn’t possibly keep up with more than a fraction. Yet, he graciously agreed on an interview at my proposed deadline. Personally, working with him was not just a pleasure, but a great honor and unforgettable experience.


Braine, G. (1999) Introduction. In Braine, G. (Ed.) Non-native Educators in English Language Teaching. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Braine, G. (2004) The nonnative English-speaking professionals’ movement and its research foundations, In Kamhi-Stein, L. Learning and Teaching from Experience: Perspectives on Nonnative English-speaking Professionals. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Canagarajah, S. A. (1999) Interrogating the “native speaker fallacy”: Non-linguistic roots, non-pedagogical results. In Braine, G. (Ed.) Non-native Educators in English Language Teaching. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Chomsky, N. (1965) Aspects of a Theory of Syntax, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. (2005) Chomsky on Anarchism. Oakland: AK Press.

Pennycook, A. (2001) Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. New York: Oxford University Press.

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.

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.