Tag Archives: training

Hye Jin Lee


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

Interviewed by: Hami Suzuki

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Gloria Park

Gloria Park is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). As a researcher and teacher educator, she is dedicated to helping both English language learners and their teachers to come to understand themselves as knowledgeable, reflective individuals who are critical of how the English language is situated in worldwide contexts. Her research and teaching focuses on educators as professional people whose personal lives outside of the classroom have powerful implications for their evolving identities and work as teachers of the English language. Both within the specific realms of TESOL and Applied Linguistics and in the field of teacher education more broadly, she is interested in understanding how all TESOL teachers’ (especially the ones from diverse linguistic, racial, and cultural backgrounds) constructs of their knowledge, identities, and pedagogies are developed and enacted. [gloria.park@iup.edu] | May Interviewer: Davi S. Reis

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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.


Bonny Norton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabela Villas Boas


NNEST of the Month
September 2010

Ana Wu: Could you tell us your linguistic and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Villas Boas:I’ve always loved English. I learned it when I was eight and moved to the U.S. to spend three years while my Dad got his Ph. D in Architecture from Rice University, in Houston, Texas. When I came back to Brazil, in order to keep up the English I had learned, I was enrolled in an ELT institute called Casa Thomas Jefferson (CTJ), a binational center in Brasília, Brazil, where I am now the General Academic Coordinator. I didn’t intend to be a teacher at first. I majored in Journalism. But while I was still going to university, I also took the Teacher Training Course at CTJ and ended up getting a teaching job here. After I graduated, I worked for six months as a journalist, but it didn’t quite suit me. Then I was invited to become the Intermediate Course Supervisor and was happy to give up my career as a journalist. However, I felt I needed to invest in my professional development, so in 1998, encouraged by my husband, I got into the MATESL Program at Arizona State University (ASU). I already had two children, aged 2 and 6 at that time. My husband had the opportunity to get a six-month paid leave from his position at the Bank of Brazil, and then a one-year unpaid leave. We invested our savings in this unforgettable opportunity to live abroad with our family and we don’t regret it at all. We fell in love with the desert.I learned a lot during my MATESL program and focused my studies on two areas: testing and the teaching of writing, developing an applied project around the use of writing portfolios. I chose the ASU program because of the flexibility it offered in the choice of electives. Thus, besides the mandatory courses, such as Research Methods, Introduction to Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition and Methodology, I also took classes that contributed to strengthening my knowledge of English and English Linguistics itself –such as Syntax, Phonetics and Phonology, and Pragmatics and Discourse Theory – while also contributing to broadening my knowledge on teaching and learning in general – such as Testing (including Psychometrics) and Educational Psychology.Back to Brazil, I resumed my job at CTJ, where I was a Pedagogical Consultant before I had left. I made a point of attending and presenting in local, national and international conferences –TESOL being one of them – and decided to pursue a Ph.D in Education in 2005, focusing on Literacy Studies. My doctorate also consisted of interdisciplinary studies, providing me the opportunity to study the History of Education in Brazil more deeply, Interactional Sociolinguistics, Epistemology and Research in the Social Sciences, Institutional Evaluation, and Subjectivity and Education, with a strong focus on Vygotsky, among others.

In 2007, I became the General Academic Coordinator of the institution, and in 2008 I finished my Doctorate. My field of research is the teaching of writing, contrasting the product approach predominant in our regular schools and a process approach to teaching EFL writing. Writing is the thread that has woven my academic background, from learning a lot about writing in my undergraduate studies and researching this topic for my master’s and doctorate studies. Managerially speaking, with a B.A. in Journalism, a MATESL Degree and a Doctorate in Education, I believe I’ve gained the necessary breadth and depth to face the challenges involved in coordinating a large ELT Institute, where I have to use my knowledge about English, English Language Teaching, Education, Philosophy, and Communication on a daily basis.

Ana Wu: You have a master degree in TEFL and a Ph.D in Education. How did you develop your management and leadership skills? What advice would you give to faculty members who are promoted to leadership positions? What inspires you on a difficult day?
Dr. Villas Boas: I would say my leadership and management skills are a work in progress. It is not easy to move from a teaching position to a management position. I was lucky, though, that the institution where I work invested in providing leadership and management training for its academic coordinators through a renowned management school in Brazil which provided the basics of marketing, finances, strategic planning, human resources, managing processes, and other skills. For example, we worked on SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) matrixes and learned about the Balanced Scorecard Methodology. We even developed indicators and designed a system to measure them. An indicator that we identified as important was student satisfaction with our academic services, so we developed a system to measure this by administering a survey, analyzing the results, and acting upon them in order to improve our services. We have been following the same process every semester, always comparing results from previous surveys, identifying tendencies, and addressing specific concerns with teachers, for example. This training has helped me a lot. I also tried to focus my reading on management issues, but that was hard because I was still working on my doctoral thesis! I learned a lot by also observing more experienced peers who were already in management positions. But I never gave up teaching. I insist on teaching at least one group a year, and that’s exactly what inspires me on a difficult day. I love working with students, especially teens. Not long ago a student of mine came to me and said that she was getting better grades on her compositions at school because of what I was teaching her about writing in her English class! There’s no difficult day after this!!!

However, I still have a lot to learn. I think anyone who moves from a teaching to a managerial position should try to learn more about management but making sure they keep a balance between their academic and their managerial facets. I believe academic coordinators or directors are not like company directors. They can never lose sight of their academic background. That’s what makes us so sensitive and versatile, after all!!!

Ana Wu: You are the General Academic Coordinator of a large non-profit binational center in Brasília, Brazil, with over 14,000 students ranging from children to adults, beginners to advanced learners.
a. Could you tell us the percentage of NNES and NES professionals currently working at your institute? Has this ratio changed recently?
Dr. Villas Boas:We have very, very few NES on our staff, currently three out of the almost 200 teachers, supervisors and coordinators. We used to have more, but two instructors moved away and a couple of them had their contracts discontinued because they didn’t adapt to the institution. However, our NNES instructors are highly proficient. Most of our teachers have spent time abroad and are near-native speakers of English.

Besides, our students obtain excellent results at the end of their studies. An example is a fourteen-year-old student who has just finished our Advanced Course, obtained a score of 650 on the paper-based TOEFL and passed the Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English, a standardized advanced-level English as a Foreign Language examination, developed by the University of Michigan, with two high passes, one of them being Listening. She has never lived abroad and she never had a single native-speaking teacher during her studies with us. This hasn’t stopped her from developing near-native fluency . Thus, though we have very few NES on our staff, the fact that our NNES instructors are very proficient in the language has led us to achieve excellent results with our students.

b. Over the past years, have you noticed any changes in the profile of the native speaking applicants in terms of teaching experience, educational background, and teaching expectations?
Dr. Villas Boas: With some exceptions, most of our native-speaking applicants have usually been people who married Brazilians and moved to Brazil but didn’t have any formal training in TESOL. Then they took our Teacher Development Course – a 234-hour Certificate Program – and some eventually joined our staff. In other words, they received their training here. The TDC is open to the community and not all graduates from the program are necessarily hired; they have to go through our hiring process and pass all stages. Recently, however, we had a teacher from Australia who was already an ESL teacher when she applied and we actually hired her under a special two-year contract for foreigners. But this is a very bureaucratic process in Brazil and we only managed to obtain this special work permit because her boyfriend was a lawyer and helped out. We also had another very qualified applicant from England, but she ended up not going through the whole hiring process because she didn’t have many available hours to teach. At our institution, we require that our teachers have at least a 20-hour workload per week, so as to guarantee that teaching is really their profession, not just something they’re doing as a hobby or a temporary gig while they don’t get a “better” job.

Though we don’t think that native speakers are necessarily better than non-native speakers as teachers, of course we would like to have more native speakers on our staff, but academically qualified ones, people who chose TEFL as their career. For one thing, the presence of native English speakers forces us to speak English more frequently in the teachers’ room, for example, helping us keep up with the language. They also help us enrich our cultural knowledge and enhance our awareness of intercultural issues. In addition, though students don’t seem to find it essential, they do tend to appreciate having classes with native speakers of the language they are learning, at least from time to time. However, the salaries in Brazil are lower than those in the U.S. in all areas, and teaching is not an exception, so it’s hard to attract this sort of applicant. Besides the lower salary which makes it difficult to attract professionally trained NES, there’s the hiring restriction I mentioned above. Some ELT Institutes, especially smaller ones, don’t necessarily abide by labor laws and hire these teachers informally. We don’t do that. We go by the book.

c. According to BridgeTEFLJobs.com, in Brazil, the largest country in South America, the need for native-speaking English teachers is booming. Do you agree with the statement? Please explain.
Dr. Villas Boas: There’s definitely a shortage of English teachers in Brazil, so I think the need for highly proficient and academically qualified teachers of English is booming, which includes native speakers but doesn’t exclude non-native ones.

d. What advice would you give to NES whose profession is not teaching, but who are considering teaching English in Brazil?
Dr. Villas Boas: I suggest they enroll in a TESOL Certificate program to become professionals in the field. Teaching is not just a job. We have the power to change people’s lives and we have to use it responsibly. To do so, we have to know what we’re doing. Knowledge of Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, Educational Psychology and ELT methodology are essential, as well as knowledge about educational technology nowadays.

Ana Wu: When discussing the status of NNEST in Intensive English Programs, researchers have pointed out that administrators generally prefer hiring NES to NNEST because they perceive that students do not want NNEST as their teachers (cited in Mahboob, 2004). Mahboob states that administrators’ perceptions have not been systematically studied, and that there are only a few studies of students’ perceptions (page 122).
Based on your experience as coordinator and in-house surveys, could you share some of the students comments (positive or negative) or expectations regarding having NNEST and NEST teachers. Also, how did those comments affect the instructors’ training and your role as administrator?
Dr. Villas Boas: I’ve noticed that this is a big issue in other countries, but I don’t feel it’s a big issue here in Brazil. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever come across students who didn’t enroll in our institute or who cancelled their registration because the teachers were not native. This doesn’t seem to be a big issue here. Today, with multimedia resources at our disposal, including podcasts and Youtube, we can provide authentic input to students all the time and work with it in a pedagogically sound way. What’s the use of a native speaker who provides this input naturally but doesn’t know anything about ELT pedagogy? I have noticed, though, that students who hire private teachers seem to prefer native ones.

Maybe it is a big issue in countries where English is the native language, especially in Intensive English Programs with international students, rather than immigrants, because these students might have chosen to spend time abroad to have a more naturalistic experience with the language, and when they come across a non-native teacher, they might be frustrated. They shouldn’t be, though, if this teacher is proficient in the language and a qualified professional. Besides, they will naturally have the chance to interact with other native speakers. It doesn’t necessarily have to be their ESL teacher!

When I got my Master’s in the U.S., two of my most favorite professors were foreigners. I confess I was surprised at myself at first, for I had looked forward to the opportunity to perfect my English, but then I came to appreciate the varieties of Englishes not only from some of my professors, but also from many of my NNES colleagues who came from different parts of the world. I guess I “perfected” my English in a different way, becoming more aware of the fact that English has truly become a global language.

Ana Wu: Your institute organizes a two-and-a-half-day annual TEFL seminar, with international guests, open to the EFL community in the country. Could you tell us what other professional development opportunities are given to your instructors, novice and seniors? Do you offer different coaching or mentoring to NNES or NES?
Dr. Villas Boas: We provide a series of professional development opportunities. We have our Teacher Development Course, open not only to our teachers but prospective teachers or teachers from the community.

We also offer, though a grant from the State Department, a one-year, 120-hour Public School Teacher Development Program aimed at advancing competence in English and also knowledge of EFL Methodology. We’ve been holding this program since 2002.

Besides our yearly TEFL Seminar, we also have in-service workshops and pedagogical meetings every semester. In addition, we encourage teachers to participate and present in local, national and international conferences. This year, our school sent fifteen teachers and staff members to attend the TESOL annual convention in Boston, ten of which gave presentations. Five of our staff members presented in a conference in Argentina, back in February. We’ve just had our National Braz-TESOL Conference in São Paulo and thirteen teachers and management staff presented in it as well. In these three cases, the presenters received travel grants from the Casa Thomas Jefferson. We feel that when teachers choose a topic, research it, experiment in class and then put together a talk or workshop, they learn immensely and can share this knowledge with others. It also increases their self-worth. I’m truly proud of our staff!

Once or twice a year we also receive ELT specialists from the State Department, who give talks or workshops to a selected group of teachers, according to their field of expertise. These specialists are selected by the Regional English Language Office in Brazil and sent to different parts of the country to give workshops. We also encourage our faculty staff to attend one-day events featuring renowned authors organized by publishers.

In addition, we conduct a yearly Teacher Evaluation, and one of the standards in the evaluation is Investment in Academic Development. It is one of the most valued items in the evaluation system, and teachers’ participation in all the aforementioned programs and opportunities is considered.

For novice teachers at the institution, we provide a pre-service program offering the basic knowledge they need to start teaching in our institution. Then they are coached by a group of three highly experienced professionals, who observe their classes, give feedback, provide academic and emotional support – everything a new teacher in an institution needs in order to adapt and feel comfortable. Then, teachers are observed at least twice a semester, by way of a formative process that includes a pre-observation meeting, the observation itself, a post-observation meeting, and the completion of an observation report.

In sum, there’s always room for improvement, and I believe we nurture lifelong learning in our institution.

Ana Wu: Thank you very much for this informative interview!
Dr. Villas Boas: It’s my pleasure and honor to be able to share my experience with colleagues from around the world!


Mahboob, A. (2004). Native or nonnative: What do students enrolled in an Intensive English program think? In L. Kamhi-Stein (Ed.), Learning and teaching from experience (pp. 121-149). Ann Arbor. MI: University of Michigan Press.

Teaching English in Brazil, http://www.tefljobplacement.com/brazil.php

Eva Bernat

NNEST of the Month
May 2009
eva [dot] bernat [at] unsw [dot] edu [dot] au
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator?
Prof. Bernat:Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher. I recall sitting my younger sister down in front of a small, A-frame blackboard, teaching her reading or writing and imagining I was in front of a classroom full of students. That was back in Poland in the 1970s. In the early 1980s with the rise of the pro-democracy ‘Solidarity’ movement, the inception of Martial Law (a ‘state of war’) and the eminent fall of Communism, Poland went through major social, political and economic changes. During the time of this unrest, my parents had decided to immigrate to Australia. Being the only a non-native English speaker in the whole school in Sydney’s Northern Districts, I was a rather curious novelty to everyone. In the beginning, I had found school challenging and the language barrier daunting, but I never let go of the dream of one day becoming a teacher. Yet at the time, my lack of proficiency in the English language meant that the dream was further from me than at any other time in my life. I had often wondered, how could I teach a language that was not my native tongue?

I believe that this question, to a greater or lesser degree, distresses many Non-Native Speaker Teachers (NNSTs), who tend to feel insecure at times about themselves as EFL professionals. As I have observed during my years of TESOL practicum supervisions, many NNSTs lack confidence in their own teaching skills sadly because they see these through the prism of their perceived inadequacies in English language skills, and worry whether they will measure of up their students’ expectations. A few years ago, I heard a comment from one of my young NNST trainees: “They don’t think I am a teacher; they don’t know who I am!” This comment ignited my desire to address the crippling feeling of ‘impostorhood’ among many NNSTs.

Ana Wu: In your article “Towards a pedagogy for empowerment: The case of ‘impostor syndrome’ among pre-service non-native speaker teachers in TESOL,” (2008) you argue that the native speaker paradigm and the NNS-NS dichotomy create perceptions of inadequacy in regard to English language proficiency.

How can we address negative self-perceptions and feelings of inadequacy among NNESTs?
Prof. Bernat: I teach pre-service and in-service TESOL teachers who come from various non-English speaking backgrounds, many of whom are international students. I have recently become passionate about building a pedagogical model geared towards non-native teacher empowerment in TESOL teacher education courses. This area of research was put forward by the TESOL Research Agenda (2000), which identified issues related to NNSTs as a Priority Research Area, and a question of research interest listed in the document is: To what extent, if any, are issues related to NNS professionals addressed by the TESOL teacher preparation curriculum?

Consequently, I devised a number of intervention strategies to help empower NNSTs. For example, one of the strategies I use is called ‘Near-Peer Role Modeling,’ which is theorized and widely used in social psychology. I found this to be a useful and powerful tool in my teacher education courses in recent years. Near Peer Role Models are people who are in some way ‘near’ to us – for example, in age, background, social status, profession, and so on. This is how it works. During the semester, teacher trainees are exposed to various models and ‘empowering discourses’ in their lectures on issues related to NNSTs – both from their Non-Native Speaker lecturer – myself, and two NNSTs who came to give talks on separate occasions. Trainees become informed of the gradually emerging global changes to the status of NNSTs, and informed that NNSTs currently outnumber Native Speaker Teachers in the world – a fact which the trainee teachers do not seem to be aware of and are always very pleasantly surprised to learn about. Furthermore, the visiting NNSTs who come to give personal testimonials about their own professional journey in the field of TESOL seem to have a very positive effect on the listeners. The speakers engage the trainees in lively and productive discussions and find that they are able to relate to each others’ feelings and experiences very well. I can see almost immediately the changes in attitude following this intervention.

In my lifetime, I hope to make a worthwhile contribution to teacher education, particularly to the education of NNSTs. I believe that well thought-out strategies of empowerment that aim to convince NNSTs of the important contribution they can make to foreign language education is as crucial now as ever.

Ana Wu: Your book “The Psychology of the Language Learner: A focus on beliefs and personality” was just released and you serve as an Associate Editor in two international peer-reviewed journals (The Asian EFL Journal and Journal of English as an International Language).

As an NNES, what advice would you give to graduate students and young professionals who are struggling with their academic writing skills? As a writer, what strategies have you employed to overcome writer’s block and deal with multiple revisions?
Prof. Bernat: I must admit that the proverbial writer’s block is my worst enemy. I admire people who claim that writing comes to them with ease. I wish I had a magic answer for dealing with writer’s block, but what often works for me is to walk away from my writing and engage in something totally different. This allows me to see my written thoughts from a new perspective when I return to them. I also find reading extensively and thinking about the issues from various points of view helpful. I usually go through quite a few drafts before I am happy with what I wrote.

Ana Wu: Besides teaching postgraduate courses, you are an Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) research fellow and have been a guest speaker at national and international conferences. How do you balance your career with family?
Prof. Bernat:Balancing a career and family life can often be a challenge, particularly for women. I really admire women who combine the two, and who do it so well. Personally, I have been blessed with extensive support networks and owe much to my mother. In our field in Australia, we are also quite fortunate to have relatively flexible working hours and days, so this allows for juggling of responsibilities on all fronts. However, my biggest challenge is to learn to say ‘no’ to things that seem like a good idea at the time!

Ana Wu: As you attend conferences at various interesting countries, what do you bring back to your teachings, peers and students?
Prof. Bernat:I am currently traveling for a month through Korea, Japan, Poland and Turkey. Taking part in conferences, symposia and the like, and visiting other universities provide invaluable opportunities to build networks with colleagues in the field, as well as to learn about the kinds of issues and problems that exist in other contexts. It is also interesting to learn of new developments that take place in ELT. Just in the last few days, I have learned so much about the spread of English in South-East Asia and the ever-growing demand for English language instruction. I hear that there are some 100,000 Koreans going to the Philippines each year for English courses, and that Singapore is now importing teaching assistants from India to meet their needs. Such developments confirm that native-speaker teachers can no longer satisfy the demand for ELT world-wide, challenging the notion that the native-speaker is the prototypical language teacher of choice. Passing this information onto my trainee NNSTs will no doubt help them to understand their dominant positioning in the global TESOL arena.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this inspiring interview! I am looking forward to reading your next book!

Marinus Stephan

NNEST of the Month
March 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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