Reader Response Journal

“I May Be a Native Speaker, But I’m Not Monolingual”: Reimagining All Teachers’ Linguistic Identities in TESOL by Elizabeth M. Ellis

In this article, Ellis explores teachers’ linguistic identities, beyond the NEST/NNEST dichotomy, which she argues simplifies teachers’ experiences of language, since it focuses exclusively on English. In the NEST v. NNEST mindset, NESTs are presumed to be monolingual and NNESTs are presumed to be bilingual, deficient in English and often speakers of the same language of their students and the dominant model of teaching English in English hides teachers’ other language skills. Ellis elicited personal linguistic narratives from 29 English teachers in 7 countries that contradict these constructs. She found that many of the so-called NESTs were in fact multilingual, with varied language learning experiences that sometimes included being able to speak the same language as their students to a high degree of proficiency. In addition, teachers who were perceived as NNESTS not only had broad linguistic repertoires and varied language learning experiences, they also often considered themselves to be native speakers (sometimes with a caveat about their accents). Ellis draws on traditions such as bilingual life-writing (memoirs such as Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation), plurilingualism (a European approach that takes a broader view of linguistic repertoires than multilingualism, by acknowledging various levels of competence, attrition and relearning across the languages an individual knows), and the move towards recognizing the learner’s L1 as both a learning tool and an important aspect of their identity, to establish a place for teacher’s multilingual learning experiences as an important aspect of their teaching and teacher identity. She envisions a world where teachers will regularly be asked “how rich is your linguistic repertoire and how can this be deployed as a pedagogical resource?” instead of whether they are a native or nonnative speaker or which variety of English they speak (606).

For me, this article was particularly relevant, because I am a multilingual native English speaker, and I often feel like the rest of my linguistic repertoire gets erased or is invisible to my students. I’ve been using much more of a plurilingual approach to teaching here in Ecuador, where my classes are of necessity a hybrid of Spanish and English. But it was only last week that one group of my students thought to ask me if I speak anything else (which I do, to varying levels of competence). I really think that for students to see their teachers as language learning role models is really powerful, and I wish more teachers would include their language histories when they introduce themselves to new classes. For example, I don’t know how any of my previous language teachers learned their languages and I don’t know if any of them spoke languages beyond English and what we were learning. I think that standardizing the “what is your linguistic repertoire” question as part of the hiring process would be really beneficial. I remember when I first arrived here how frustrating it was that my principal just saw me as a deficient Spanish speaker, rather than a multicompetent user of many languages. As a native English speaker, my L1 is valued, but this experience gave me a sense of the frustrations that I hear my NNEST friends talk about, where they are defined by what they aren’t, rather than recognized for the skills and abilities they do have. I really hope Ellis’ ways of conceptualizing language repertoires catch on within the field, and that differentiating childhood home languages from current dominant languages and accounting for both circumstantial and elective language learning experience becomes more common. I know that they languages I speak benefit me hugely as a teacher, and I think that these experiences should be valued throughout the field. By doing this, we can move away from valuing nativeness as the most important factor in a teacher’s linguistic identity, and start creating more accurate and less biased ways of talking about teachers’ language backgrounds. This would also open the way for more plurilingual classroom pedagogy and structured reflection on past language learning experiences as part of teacher training programs, which would better serve our students.

Ellis, E. M. (2016.) “I may be a native speaker, but I’m not monolingual”: Reimagining all teachers’ linguistic identities in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 50(3), 597-630.

Reader Response Journal

Pluralizing English? Variation in High-Stakes Academic Texts and Challenges of Copyediting by Joel Heng Hartse and Ryuko Kubota

This article looks at the conflict between the move towards greater acceptance of variety in English (World Englishes, ELF, translanguaging, etc.) and the requirements for error-free standard language in academic publishing. The authors use their collaboration on Demystifying Career Paths after Graduate School, a book edited by Kubota, a non-native speaker, and copyedited by Hartse, a native speaker, to look at the tensions between their commitment to pluralization in theory and their actual editing practice, even though they made retaining non-native speaker authors’ voices a deliberate and explicit goal. To frame their discussion of their own work, they outline four approaches to variation in written texts by non-native speakers, the traditional error-based approach, the World Englishes approach, the translingual approach and the written English as a lingua franca approach. The latter three are more inclusive and accepting of variation, but are difficult to reconcile with publishers’ expectations. (Interestingly, a corpus of Written English as a Lingua Franca in Academic settings (WrELFA) was developed by the University of Helsinki and should provide more data for future explorations on non-native speakers’ high-stakes writing.) They explore the ambiguity of most academic journals’ standards in terms of language, and note TESOL Quarterly and the Journal of English as a Lingua Franca as two exceptions that explicitly welcome writers with different norms. Next, they explore the “text history” of their own editing process, looking at specific changes and the reasons they made them while editing their book. Specifically they address changing individual words (would, getting tenure), resolving sentence-level ambiguity, and changing the book’s title to conform to native speaker norms. They acknowledge the role that native speaker intuition played in these changes, despite their desire to edit as lightly as possible. They end the piece with suggestions for more progress towards the recognition of variation by publishers and recommend that second language writing researchers communicate their findings to those in gate keeping positions at publication. They suggest several potential research questions and call on everyone involved in the publication process to balance intelligibility with non-native speakers’ voices, encouraging copyeditors in particular to ask “why do I want this change to be made?” (p. 81) for every change.

I read this article because, as co-editor of the Social Responsibility Interest Section newsletter for TESOL, I’m editing non-native speakers’ writing for publication for the first time, and many of the questions that Hartse asked himself are ones I’ve been wondering about. Second language writing has never been a major area of exploration for me, and most of the students I’ve taught have been at a much lower proficiency level, so this is my first time really thinking about how to give effective feedback to really high level non native speaker writers, and where the line between errors, variation and style is. One thing I was struck by was how much “native speaker intuition” was referred to, which I’m sure is the case in my own editing as well. I’m definitely going to start being more critical of the way I approach my editing work, and distinguishing between what’s actually impeding communication or making the ideas unclear, versus what’s just my own personal preference in terms of style or language use. It’s definitely true that there is a tension between our ideals as advocates of inclusive approaches and the expectations of readers and publishers, but I think TESOL newsletters are exactly the type of publication best positioned to actually incorporate new approaches.

Heng Hartse, J. & Kubota, R. (2014). Pluralizing English? Variation in high-stakes academic writing and challenges of copyediting. Journal of Second Language Writing, 24, 71-82.

Reader Response Journal

Unpacking the Native Speaker Knapsack: An Autoethnographic Account of Privilege in TESOL by Steve Iams

In this article, Iams begins by laying a foundation for auto ethnography as a valid form of inquiry within TESOL and situates himself in a position of privilege within the field. In the past, the majority of autoethnographic work has been done from the perspective of those with less privilege, so he is filling a gap by providing a personal account of a white, male native speaker. He begins his personal story by recounting how he got his first job in Japan, based on his native speaker status alone. He juxtaposes this with Philipson’s fallacies (monolingual, native speaker, early start, maximum exposure and subtractive fallacies) (1992, 185), but notes that none of this was part of his awareness at the time. He was also not considering himself as embarking on a career in TESOL. Next, he joined the Peace Corps, and was suddenly declared a teacher trainer. While the experience was personally fulfilling, he questioned the “unintended consequences of damaging the quality of English instruction and jeopardizing the professional identity of local non-native English-speaking teachers” (Wang & Lin, 2013, p. 5). He asked himself how does one become a TESOL professional and wound up enrolling at SIT. While there, his language and power project on NNEST issues, which he did with an older Korean woman, opened his eyes to some of these issues. For his project, they did a simulation where participants looked through job ads as if they were native or non-native speakers. In autoethnographic terms, this represented an epiphany for him. Searching for a job after graduation, he wound up training teachers in Korea, a situation where he was positioned as an “ideal language teacher” according to a study of Japanese students’ perspectives. The issues raised by his language and power project became more real when a qualified Korean colleague was not able to fill a real and immediate void in his institution, simply because he was not a native speaker. Despite the volume of research and advocacy devoted to disrupting the native/non-native dichotomy, the linguistic imperialism that Philipson wrote about is still present within the English teaching world. He ends without answering any questions, but expressing his discomfort with some of these tensions.

For me this article was really interesting, in part because I know Steve and I really respect the ways he uses his privilege to be an ally to others. It was also interesting to see how closely our careers paralleled each other, with one year of teaching in East Asia, four years of Peace Corps and then SIT, where the language and power project was a pivotal moment for me as well. Hearing the personal progression of his thinking is important, because issues of equity won’t change without the investment of people in privileged positions working alongside those who are being undervalued by the field. It makes me think of the Sister Scholars and their article Women Faculty of Color in TESOL: Theorizing Our Lived Experiences, where they presented personalized accounts of their positions within the academy. It’s noteworthy, because it’s 6 women of color alongside one white woman. The position of us white native speakers is also informed by race and native speaker status, so including our voices denormalizes white native experience as the assumed norm. From a critical perspective, disrupting the hegemony of privileged teachers is super important in creating a more just profession.

Iams, S. (2017). Unpacking the native speaker knapsack: An autoethnographic account of privilege in TESOL. Korea TESOL Journal, 12(2), 3-22.

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

Wang, L. Y., & Lin, T. B. (2013). The representation of professionalism in native English-speaking teachers recruitment policies: A comparative study of Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 12(3), 5–22.