Tag Archives: world englishes

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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Vivian Cook

NNEST of the Month
June, 2010
vivian [dot] cook [at] ncl [dot] ac [dot] uk

Could you tell us why and how you decided to become an educator?
Ana Wu, ESL instructor at City College of San Francisco.
Dr. Cook: I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision. After a BA in English literature, I was awarded a scholarship for the teaching of English in under-developed countries. Unfortunately I was then given medical advice not to go to the tropics. So I took a job teaching EFL at Ealing Technical College in London as the next best thing, where I was immediately involved in writing EFL coursebooks (I was press-ganged into writing Realistic English with Brian Abbs and Mary Underwood on my very first day of work). I became convinced that the only way to improve language teaching significantly was to understand how people learn second languages rather than to follow the latest teaching fashion. So this led to research and books etc to try to tell people what ideas were being developed about second language acquisition and how these might relate to language teaching.

Given everything you’ve written, and the voluminous research on which your work is based, this question may be too simplistic. As a teacher of fourth and fifth grade students who speak another language, it is critical that they develop adequate academic language to comprehend content and progress more quickly than the CALPS timetable of six years.
How can we help our students develop academic language most quickly? Thank you.
Jean L. Hill, tutor at West Street School in Southbridge, Massachusetts.
Dr. Cook: Telling Nature to hurry up is always a problem. I don’t think I know of any magic solutions: language learning is a complex process that takes time. One thing I certainly feel is that setting the L2 user as a target and praising the students as L2 users cannot but help; many are discouraged by thinking they have failed if they are not like native speakers. Whatever little they can do in the second language is still more than any monolingual native speaker can do.

With regard to academic English, it may be helpful to think what academic tasks mean for L2 users, not just for native-speaking students, and to get them to exploit the resource they have which the native speaker does not, namely the other language: a disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners are bilinguals I understand. Of course the snag is that the gatekeepers who control examinations, etc, tend to assume that only ‘native’ performance is appropriate, so, for the sake of their students, teachers do have to bear these preconceptions in mind.

In your article, Going Beyond the Native Speaker in Language Teaching, you used the term L2 user for the person who uses a second language and L2 learner for the person in the process of learning it. One of the issues that resurrects once in a while in our NNEST Interest Section meetings and online discussion is about which term best defines us, people whose first language is not English. What do you think of the term “Non-native speaker”? What are the pros and cons of continuing using this term?
Ana Wu, ESL instructor at City College of San Francisco.
Dr. Cook: Originally ‘L2 user’ was simply a useful technical term that avoided some of the issues surrounding ‘L2 learner’. I think I object to any definition of people based on what they are not rather than what they are: I am not a non-female, non-young, non-lefthanded person; as Popeye said ‘I am what I am and that’s all that I am’. Inherently any ‘non’ definition discriminates in favor of a particular target rather than acknowledging people in their own right. The term ‘learner’ implies they have never reached some target (native speaker) rather than they have a target of their own (L2 user). I do now worry about the terms ‘L2’ and ‘second language’ as connoting some secondary status; if ‘L2’ were read aloud as cardinal number ‘L two’ OK, but everybody reads it as ordinal number ‘second language’; ‘second’ is a status-ridden term – ‘the First Lady’, ‘a first class degree’ etc come before ‘second …’ as indeed in ‘second-class citizen’.

‘Native speaker’ is now such a sensitive term I tend to avoid it where possible. In the UK at any rate ‘native speaker’ refers to ‘standard’ RP speakers – Received Pronunciation is the name of the standard accent in England, otherwise known as BBC English Oxford English or the Queen’s English. This is spoken by a small minority of English people, who don’t include the native-born inhabitants of Oxford or Newcastle, say, where ‘yous’ is the plural of ‘you’. One of my students is a Newcastle-born Muslim who does contract teaching in different parts of the Middle East; when he arrived for his last job, the head of department took one look and said, ‘We didn’t expect a native speaker like you’. Obviously none of us can legislate how words can be used and we have to accept the terms we are landed with – how much applied linguistics actually uses linguistics? But Applied Linguistics will doubtless remain the title as long as it lasts.

In recent papers I have argued that the umbrella term ‘L2 user’ conceals differences between at least five groups, partly based on the hierarchy in De Swaan (2001): L2 users of central languages such as Portuguese in Portugal; supercentral languages like Swahili in Africa; hypercentral languages like English used everywhere in the world as a second language; identity languages like Mandarin Chinese learnt as a heritage language by overseas Chinese speakers of say Cantonese, and personal languages used e.g. between married couples; plus a group of L2 classroom learners whose only purpose is to pass educational requirements. I think we have to be clear that second language acquisition and language teaching may be very different among these groups: much SLA research is concerned with only one of these groups and not necessarily generalizable to the others; the same with teaching – what works for one L2 user group may not work for others.

As regards to multilinguals, World Englishes, and EFL instructors who are L2 users, what areas do you think textbook publishers have neglected?
Ana Wu, ESL instructor at City College of San Francisco.
Dr. Cook: Having been involved at the start of MATSDA, the materials development association, and as an ex-course-book writer, I became aware of the gulf there was between the bright new ideas of course-writers and the books that publishers wanted to publish. To exaggerate slightly, since the 1980s that there has been in essence one published English coursebook in the UK, produced with different covers, pictures and writers’ names, but having the same mixed ‘communicative’ methodology, grammar, aims etc (now being given labels from the Common European Framework, alias CEFR). I could not fathom why, for example, Krashen’s work was not the source for a whole wave of textbooks; not that I agreed with it, but it was certainly worth trying out in coursebooks and would have sold to large numbers of his fans; Norm Gary had a listening-based course for hotel staff that never I think found a publisher but was excellent material. Publishers have maintained a blockbuster approach to English coursebooks rather than diversifying into the many original approaches to teaching that are around.

Some of the overlooked areas I have described in articles are:

The L2 user target. The students are presented on page after page of their coursebooks with powerful native speaker figures who dispense wisdom to humble L2 petitioners such as tourists and students; celebrities in coursebooks are chosen for their fame not for their ability with other languages, yet footballers, tennis-players or F1 drivers are excellent L2 users, both while playing their sport and when being interviewed on television afterwards. So giving a higher profile to successful L2 users in coursebooks is one priority.

Related to (1) is the question of English as Lingua Franca (ELF). It seems undeniable that most use of English world-wide is between people whose first language is not English. Their need is to use English with each other, not with someone who has it as a first language. This must substantially change the concepts of what the student has to do and to learn; descriptions like the CEFR are not appropriate if they do not take into account the distinctive ways in which L2 users use language. It may be that the description of an idealized native speaker is useful as a standard that can be used internationally, just as the yard was supposedly based on the distance from Henry I’s nose to this fingers: but this is for convenience rather than to kowtow to the native speaker; we don’t honor Henry I every time we measure a yard. Another possibility is to try to write descriptions of EFL grammar, phonology, etc, as practiced by Jenny Jenkins and Barbara Seidlhofer; myself I doubt that there is a common core to ELF but a large range of subvarieties that may need separate descriptions. The alternative I now favor is to see ELF as a dynamic process that L2 users employ to communicate with each other; they need to develop the skills of such interaction, about realworld issues not trivial classroom tasks.

The other concern is writing. Since the 19th century Reform movement, speaking has been seen as the core of the language class. Arguably, however, writing is just as important for life today, what with emails, etc – I am doing this interview on a keyboard not a telephone: students need to send emails, go on Facebook, etc. On the one hand, this has led to a lack of organized teaching of the writing system – spelling, punctuation, etc – where teachers do ad hoc correction or fall back on misleading so-called rules they remember from childhood; yet, spelling mistakes are probably more important than pronunciation mistakes as they carry overtones of lack of education etc for many people. This ignores the difficulties for many learners of transferring from one script to another, say, Chinese or Greek to English.

But also you can see on every page of a beginners’ textbook how written language is used as a prop for speaking exercises as if it did not matter in its own right – checklists, mappings etc unlike any ordinary written text. The written language is systematically distorted for teaching ease. Take the neat idea of making people attend to particular forms by highlighting in bold, italics etc – enhanced input. There are very tight conventions in the written language on how these may be used (look at any publisher’s guide for their authors), which these modifications completely flout. We are sacrificing the system of writing for a short-term gain in speaking.

In your 1999 article, “Going beyond the Native speaker in language teaching,” you conclude that there should be “more emphasis on the successful L2 user” and also more use of the L1 in language teaching. In the past 11 years how much change in attitude among teachers, students, program directors, and researchers has there been on these two points? Also, what further change do you hope and/or think will occur?
Terry Doyle, ESL Instructor at City College of San Francisco.
Dr. Cook: In terms of second language acquisition research, lip-service is now being paid to the efficient L2 user as opposed to the deficient L2 learner. It still has not made much actual difference to SLA research; research methods like grammaticality judgements imply comparison with native speakers; research questions such as the effects of age on second language learning and whether L2 learners have access to Universal Grammar revolve around whether the learner is like a native speaker – to me a side issue that doesn’t look at what they really are. There is a growing band of researchers into how second languages affect people’s thinking, reflected in my book co-edited with Benedetta Bassetti coming out in the autumn Language and Bilingual Cognition (Psychology Press). The research base for the L2 user as a distinctive kind of person gets stronger every year.

I have been encouraged by two recent books:
Ortega, L. (2009), Understanding Second Language Acquisition, Hodder Education.
Scott, V.M. (2009), Double Talk: Deconstructing Monolingualism in Classroom Second Language Learning. Prentice Hall.

These are useful applications of similar approaches, which I would like to have written myself. My old warhorse Second Language Learning and Language Teaching (Hodder) has become much more L2 user oriented in its fourth edition. I am impressed by the extent to which these ideas are now known in places I visit – China, Iran, Italy and Portugal in the past couple of years. I have also tried putting some of my standard talks on Youtube to see if that helps people to access them.

In regards to placing more emphasis on the successful L2 learner, and in regards to the focus of this blog, I’d like to know how your notion of “multi-competence” is important in regards to “non-native teacher” issues. In your 1999 article, you comment on the strength of “non-native” teachers as language teachers because “students may prefer the fallible non-native speaker teacher who presents a more achievable model.” What is the value of “multi-competence” for language teachers? Could you say more about the strengths “non-native” teachers possess as language teachers? Finally, do you believe that perceptions about native vs. non-native speakers as language teachers have changed in the last decade?
Terry Doyle, ESL Instructor at City College of San Francisco.
Dr. Cook: The issue of native (NST) and non-native speaker teachers (NNST) is fraught with difficulty, having financial, political and career implications in many countries: I met one teacher who was hired as a native speaker (which she was) but paid as a non-native local (as she was a naturalized citizen of the country by marriage). A key point is of course ‘everything else being equal’; teachers may be useless because of their lack of training regardless of whether they are native or non-native (though it is perhaps inevitable that many expat teachers have less knowledge and experience of the demands of the local education system); teachers that speak fluently and communicate effectively may achieve more regardless of nativeness, perhaps easier in the L1. If L2 users are different kinds of people from monolinguals, inevitably the monolingual NST belongs in one group; the multi-competent NNST in another group of L2 users. Students can aspire to become part of the latter group, not the former. Assuming that the NNST speaks the same L1 as the students (which is not the case in many parts of the world), they have got there by the same route that the students are following, not by the L1 route that the NSTs followed.

Advantages are then the NNST teachers’ better understanding of the pitfalls and shortcuts on this route, being a visible role model for the students of someone who successfully did it their way, and knowing the students’ L1. Given two otherwise equivalent teachers, the NST has an advantage only in terms of the native model that is being shown to the students; if this is highly valued by society and by the students themselves (as it probably still is), this may be an advantage for the NST. As soon as we can persuade people to aim at becoming effective L2 users rather than second-rate imitation native speakers, this sole NST advantage disappears and what is needed is a teacher who can model successful L2 use, who may or may not be a native speaker – I was once told to my surprise that I had given a talk in ELF rather than in English. As with anything to do with language, the neutral scientific view clashes with the deep emotional and non-rational feelings that human beings have about language; the native speaker construct has been incorporated in language teaching and in popular ideas about bilingualism for so long that the inertia in changing it is immense. But a lead from curriculum designers, examination boards and coursebook writers might help – like the Japanese MEXT‘s goal of ‘Japanese with English Abilities’ or the Israel curriculum which ‘does not take on the goal of producing near-native speakers of English, but rather speakers of Hebrew, Arabic or other languages who can function comfortably in English whenever it is appropriate’.

Ana Wu: Thank you very much for your time and consideration in answering the questions submitted by the members of the NNEST IS!
Dr. Cook: I have enjoyed answering these questions and hope these answers are reasonably coherent. Follow-ups for these ideas can be found on my website http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/, particularly the on-line papers http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/Writings/; there are even my first amateurish videos on YouTube (search for itsallinaword). You can email me on vivian.cook@ncl.ac.uk

Thomas Andrew Kirkpatrick

NNEST of the Month

October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ali Shehadeh

NNEST of the Month
September 2009

Ali Shehadeh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Robert Phillipson

NNEST of the Month

August 2009

rp [dot] isv [at] cbs [dot] dk

Dr. PhillipsDr. Robert Phillipson, Professor Emeritus, Copenhagen Business School, Denmarkon: Thank you for contributing questions, all of which are important. They are also, unfortunately, ‘big’ questions that need rather detailed answers – which time does not permit. Anyone working in our professional field is likely to suffer from information overload. I definitely do: I’m rather stretched both professionally and in my home life, since my wife, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, and I live in the country, grow most of our own vegetables and fruit, and have sheep. We enjoy working with nature, and feel this complements our intellectual activities. Both involve interaction with ‘the real world’, in our view.

1. Could you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator? (from Ana Wu, City College of San Francisco, ESL Instructor)

Dr. Phillipson: My home background and schooling were entirely monolingual British English, but with many factors triggering a love of languages: my mother was in drama, my parents were internationally oriented, and music figured prominently. My first visit to the USA was as an 11-year-old member of the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir in London in 1953; we gave concerts in 40 cities. At school I specialised in French and German, which led to studying these languages at Cambridge University. I spent half a year between school and university in continental Europe, experiencing Austrian, French and German cultures and becoming proficient in the languages. With a BA, I joined the British Council, the UK’s official service for cultural diplomacy, in 1964. It stands for bridge-building between Britain and countries worldwide, in theory in the interests of both. Within the organization’s career service, English teaching seemed to me to be the most stimulating activity, and I therefore found myself in posts in Algeria, Spain, Yugoslavia, and London that built up ELT professionalism. But by 1973 I had had enough of being in Her Majesty’s service, emigrated to Denmark, and was lucky enough to find work straight away at an experimental university, Roskilde. Studies there are multi-disciplinary in the first two years, problem- and project-oriented, with students working in groups at building up academic competence in speech and writing, in dialogue with their professors. This forces teaching staff to constantly renew their professional identity, which is demanding but very productive. At several Danish higher education institutions over the years, I have found traditional teacher-centred course teaching much less worthwhile.

So to answer your question more directly, I have enjoyed being an educator, i.e. teaching, and the institutional teamwork and administration that this entails. I have also been fortunate enough to be in university employment in which there has been a right and duty to research for at least one-third of my time, in institutions that attempt to ensure that teaching is informed by ongoing research.

There is some personal information on my background in my contribution ‘Dialogue and Discourse’ to Christian and Critical English Language Educators in Dialogue: Pedagogical and Ethical Dilemmas, ed. Mary S. Wong and A. Suresh Canagarajah, 2009. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 66-71.

2. From poststructural and postcolonial perspectives, linguistic imperialism could be critiqued by its deterministic and binary divisions; those who colonize and those who are colonized.

However, in this globalized era–where it is more difficult to differentiate this binary yet expanding hegemonic power of English–what would linguistic imperialism provide to our understanding of the dominance of English? Does linguistic imperialism have any insights and meaning in this era? What would you say about Pennycook’s (2003) article, “Global Englishes, Rip Slyme, and performativity”? And how does linguistic imperialism differ from world Englishes? (From Bong-gi Sohn, University of British Columbia, first year doctoral student).

Dr. Phillipson: I have written a good deal about the issues you raise since the publication of Linguistic imperialism in 1992. Several of my articles are being re-published in a new book Linguistic imperialism continued (Routledge, July 2009, also published in New Delhi by Orient Blackswan for seven Asian countries). The book also includes a number of book reviews of the work of others in the field of ‘global’ English, and goes into considerable detail on many of the issues you ask about. In the introductory article I react to some of Pennycook’s points of criticism of my understanding of linguistic imperialism, such as being too deterministic and overly structural. I don’t think that Pennycook’s work on hip-hop cultures really takes educational policy for multilingualism, or even ‘English-medium’ education, forward significantly, except in relation to connecting to young people’s awareness of language.

I move on to attempting to theorise ‘the linguistic imperialism of neoliberal empire’, since, as you rightly state, the world has changed a good deal, and the roles of English with it, over the past 20 years. The linguistic imperialisms of dominant languages have not gone away, but are integral to the maintenance and reconstitution of power, economic, political, cultural and military in the preset-day world. The binary issue needs unpacking (the oppressed generally know the difference between Them and Us), and this can be facilitated when colonizers become aware of their role: their/our minds need decolonizing as much as do those of the colonized – and I am not essentialising by writing this, we all have agency and responsibility, and an opportunity to exert influence.

Within this overall framework, which, yes, is a global structure, TESOL activity can be ambivalent, an issue that is explored in Julian Edge’s (Re-)Locating TESOL in an age of empire (2006), which I have a review of in the next number of the TESOL Quarterly. The initial work on linguistic imperialism, and linguicism, required analysis of structure, ideologies and beliefs, and the policies, discourses and professional norms that these are embedded and transmitted in.

Most work on World Englishes in the Kachruvian sense is purely descriptive, and an over-simplification of the complexity of the sociolinguistics of English in multilingual societies. Whereas I see my own work as attempting to document inequality and exploitation, and to move things forward in a more just direction. Not getting stuck in intellectual games. I have reviewed a recent book, Cultures, Contexts, and World Englishes by Yamuna Kachru and Larry E. Smith in World Englishes, 38/1, 2009, 136-138.

3. Currently, I am conducting a research project in which I am exploring the crosslinguistic applicability of the native speaker fallacy by investigating foreign language students’ perceptions of their native and non-native teachers. The next step in the project will be comparing ESL students’ perceptions with that of foreign language students. I would like to learn more about your expert opinion on the crosslinguistic applicability of the native speaker fallacy.

I would like to make use of this opportunity to thank you for your immense contributions to our field, as well as to our efforts of understanding what is behind the mirror (from Ali Fuad Selvi, University of Maryland, College Park, PhD student – Graduate Teaching/Research Assistant).

Dr. Phillipson: This sounds like an immensely worthwhile and much needed project. Historically, it is a fact that the TESOL business evolved quite separately from well-established traditions of foreign language learning. They remain distinct professional worlds, with literature still dominating in most departments of ‘English’ in, say, the UK and India, and the same being true of departments of ‘French’ or ‘Spanish’ in the USA or Denmark. The financial constraints that increasingly drive higher education in the UK mean that English for Academic Purposes, pre-sessional language training, is being privatised, since there is cash in the foreign students industry, and universities can then maintain their language departments, and an ‘apolitical’ focus on literature, unchanged.

By contrast, native speaker mythology has never taken root in most countries of continental Europe, which have a relatively successful tradition of learning foreign languages, including English, taught by locals with proficiency in the target language. University posts are open to all in most countries, irrespective of mother tongue. This means that in foreign language departments, any native speakers who are employed are so because of their qualifications and not because of their mother tongue being privileged.

The need to analyse why there is so much faith in native speakers of English in Asia (but not in the Indian sub-continent) and the Middle East really needs empirical exploration. Personally I think it is a scandal that monolinguals are let loose on hapless Chinese, Malay, Saudi, or Emirate learners. The attitudes of decision-makers as well as learners therefore need clarification.

In the European Union, several studies have explored the gap between the policy-makers’ rhetoric which advocates early foreign language learning, and the professional skills that need to be in place for anything of the kind to succeed.

So any studies that can shed light on ‘the crosslinguistic applicability of the native speaker fallacy’ and cross-cultural and cross-national dimensions would be very welcome.You are probably familiar with the considerable literature on the qualifications of ‘non-native’ teachers of English (a discriminatory label, since it defines people negatively, in terms of what they are not). I also heard of a PhD study at Teachers College, Columbia University, which Ofelia Garcia supervised, and which drew on the fine tenets/fallacies. Ofelia wrote to me some months ago, Maryam Brjian, mb2452@columbia.edu. She has just finished a dissertation on English teaching in Iran which she will defend April 1st. For the moment, she is in the United States again, but I don’t know whether she still is. Ofelia is now a professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

4. Prior to the publication of your seminal book Linguistic Imperialism in 1992 conventional wisdom among linguists was that language spread was a naturally occurring phenomenon. Perhaps the greatest significance of your book was to show that the current position of English in the world was clearly not the inadvertent and natural result of language spread as it has been traditionally defined. Also, as Alastair Pennycook pointed out in his book English and the Discourses of Colonialism, you have been one of the few writers on ELT who have written about in detail why colonialism should be seen as the context in which present day language policies are framed. Pennycook compares your treatment of these aspects of language teaching and ELT history with those of Kelly (1969) and Howatt (1984), for example. How did you originally come to realize that the global spread of English is so closely linked to colonialism and also to the Americanization or homogenization of world cultures? Also, how important and relevant are the conclusions of your seminal book Linguistic Imperialism and the five tenets you identified (especially tenet #2 “the ideal teacher of English is a native speaker” and the “native speaker fallacy”) to ELT and especially non-native teacher issues in 2009? (Questions 4, 5 and 6 from Terry Doyle, City College of San Francisco, ESL Instructor).

Dr. Phillipson: The short answer to the first question is that my experience of being paid for nine (youthful!) years by the British government to promote English worldwide, and of working in countries with different political agendas (Third World liberation Algeria and communist Yugoslavia, now both tragically fractured) made me sensitive to issues of colonialism, neo-colonialism, and global and local inequalities.

One seminal experience was that my wife, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas (see www.tove-skutnabb-kangas.org), was asked by a Norwegain ‘aid’ NGO in the early 1980s to get involved in support for the liberation movement of Namibia, SWAPO, then still occupied by apartheid South Africa. It later transpired that well-intentioned NGOs in Scandinavia were attempting to support Namibian refugee children living in camps in Angola and Zambia by sending them literacy materials. And guess what? Large amounts of money were being spent on British mother-tongue basic readers presenting a world in which ‘Peter is helping Daddy wash the car, while Susan is doing the washing-up with Mummy’, and pictures of middle-class Brits to match. We were appalled, and started to look deeply into what had happened in post-colonial education in ‘independent’ countries in Asia and Africa. Tove was already then a well-established scholar in bilingualism studies, with a worldwide network, and publications for UNESCO dating back to the 1970s. We were twice at ‘aid’ conferences for SWAPO in Zambia, planning education for an independent country, and have never looked back. We have been deeply influenced by many African and Indian scholars and creative writers (see, for instance, our “Reviewing a book and how it relates to ‘global’ English, Wizard of the crow by Ngŭgĭ wa Thiong’o”. The European English Messenger, 16/1, 2007, 50-54. It can be downloaded from my website, along with several recent articles, www.cbs.dk/staff/phillipson).

I am afraid that the native speaker fallacy is alive and kicking in many parts of the world. English as a ‘lingua franca’ belongs in the same category of generally unchallenged myths that serve to propel English forward uncritically, and which I have written about at length.

5. In your book English Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy, you contrast the “diffusion of English paradigm” with the “ecology of languages paradigm”. Among other things, the “ecology of languages paradigm” promotes multilingualism and linguistic diversity, additive foreign/second language leaning, and equality in communication. In this book you also advocate English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) as a way to legitimate a shift away from native speaker norms towards equipping people to function effectually as non-native speakers. Can you explain further how the “ecology of languages paradigm” can bring about truly equitable communication? Also, what are the negative consequences of continuing to treat native speakers as the learning target? How can the ELF model make a positive contribution to non-native teacher issues, to help decrease discrimination against non-native job applicants and to put to rest the idea that non-native teachers have to define their identity in terms of “native teachers”?

Dr. Phillipson: Much of what I have written earlier (in this NNEST contribution and generally) can be seen as pointing in the direction of a world of more equitable communication. I think that analysis and discussion of the native speaker issue, and of the legitimation of Englishes in all their diversity, are often derailed by a failure to distinguish clearly between norms in speech and in writing. The amount of variation in written English worldwide is minimal, except in texts that are of purely local significance. Whereas in speech the position is much more varied. This applies equally to so-called ‘native speakers’ as much as to non-natives.

Research into ELF is still in its infancy, even if the Vienna project has now made a large corpus accessible on the internet. But there is no direct connection between insights from the kind of research that Seidlhofer and Jenkins stand for and what happens in classrooms. On the other hand, if classrooms can sensitise learners to a wide variety of relevant types of spoken English, develop the receptive competence of learners, while maintaining clear and different goals for the types of spoken proficiency that are needed for different contexts, and different levels of the education system (local — regional — national — international), I see this as ensuring that English is learned appropriately, additively, and with no reason for any teachers to define themselves as either native or non-native, but rather as proficient users of English.

6. Dr. Phillipson: In the March, 2009 interview Marinus Stephan on this blog, Dr. Stephan

mentions that your book Linguistic Imperialism is one of the best books he has read in the politics of ELT. He also says that much criticism has been leveled at your book. No doubt, Dr. Stephan is alluding to criticism of your arguments which come from what I feel are un-informed people who refuse to see the connections between colonialism, Americanization, and now globalization. How would you reply to people who say that the “native speaker fallacy” is no longer relevant when it comes to policy decisions and hiring practices?

Dr. Phillipson: I agree that much of the criticism of Linguistic imperialism tends to be rooted in political differences. I am also tired of the book being misrepresented, even by eminent scholars like John Joseph, and Bernard Spolsky, to whom I have responded in ‘Linguistic imperialism: a conspiracy, or a conspiracy of silence?’ Language policy, 6/3-4, 2007, 377-383.

7. How do you think we should call ourselves? What do you think English speakers should be called in the future? Would terms such as intercultural speakers, multi-linguals, or translinguistic teachers be more accurate and representative than “non-native speakers”? (Questions 7 and 8 are from Ana Wu, City College of San Francisco, ESL Instructor).

Dr. Phillipson: I strongly agree with the need to get away from the non-native label. It may be no comfort for you to learn that teachers of English in Scandinavia are never referred to in this way! Also, ESL means very different things in different parts of the world. Obviously TESOLers should be minimally bilingual. There was a symposium on this topic organised by Shelley Taylor at TESOL 2008 in New York (with, among others, Tove, Jim Cummins, Ofelia García, and Joan Wink), one purpose being to attempt to persuade the High and Mighty in TESOL to make a clear break with monolingualism. The short papers from this symposium are appearing in a number of the TESOL Quarterly which I have already read proofs for.

I don’t think my (European) views on what labels might go down well in your local contexts are relevant. Good luck in producing something snappy and valid.

8. You have written and discussed very controversial issues. How do you deal with criticism? How do you react to people who disagree with your ideas?

Dr. Phillipson: This is a tricky issue. Tove told me, as soon as Linguistic imperialism was published, that I would need to develop a thick skin. I felt the need to spend quite a bit of time responding to critiques of my work that I thought were invalid, in several journals. I list the references in my new book, which does not regurgitate these ‘dialogues’, though the book does contain my reviews of books by people like David Crystal, Abram de Swaan, and Janina Brutt-Griffler, scholars who basically claim that linguistic imperialism never existed (!), and that I got it all wrong – which happily a lot of people worldwide don’t agree with (the book was published in China in 2000 and in India in 2008, better late than never). One is tempted to simply ignore attacks that either misrepresent what one has written or contradict one’s conclusions on false premises. This has also happened with what Tove and I have written about linguistic human rights. On the other hand, if one does not challenge conflicting views, they have a habit of getting recycled by others as though they are uncontested. Ideally scholarly dialogue should take things forward, and lead to better empirical descriptions and to an improvement of our concepts and theoretical approaches – for which all of us, including myself, need to be open-minded.

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

Carmen Velasco-Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ana Wu: Thank you for this interesting interview!


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

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