Category Archives: TEFL issues

A NNEST perspective on teacher development: a complicity of silence?

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate about initial teacher training programmes such as CELTA or CertTESOL and how adequately they prepare people to enter ELT profession. For example, Hugh Dellar argues in this post that such courses are biased towards native speakers. The article sparked quite a bit of a debate, so I’d recommend reading the comments below it, as well as this critique by Anthony Gaughan. On the other hand, James Taylor takes a much more positive view of the CELTA in this article. And if you feel more like listening rather than reading, then you can check out this podcast by The TEFL Show where Rob McCaul and I discuss the pros and cons of the CELTA.

So where do I stand in this debate? Well, I acknowledge that there are some really good things about CELTA or CertTESOL:

  • they’re cheap in comparison to an MA
  • they’re short
  • they’re internationally recognised
  • they’re practical

Now that we’re done and dusted with the positives, let’s look at some criticisms. I take a much more critical view of these courses for a number of reasons. I can’t discuss all of them in one post, so I decided to focus on one, the Non-Native English Speaking Teacher (NNEST) perspective, which is partly related to Hugh’s argument. I expand his argument to talk about teacher development in ELT more general, but all of the points I make also refer specifically to initial teacher training programmes.

[NB: This article originally appeared in IATEFL Teacher Development SIG Newsletter (73), p. 8-9. You can download a pdf copy of it from my academia.edu profile here. I’d like to thank Adam Simpson and Willy Cardoso for their comments and suggestions on the initial draft of the article.]

Introduction

When I was originally asked to write this article for IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group newsletter on Teacher Development (TD) for NNEST, I thought that the whole premise was somewhat divisive. I don’t really buy Medgyes’ (1992) argument that “NESTs and non-NESTs use English differently and, therefore, teach English differently” (p. 346). Treating the two groups as if they were separate entities can lead to creating even more stereotypes (read this article by Michael Griffin). After all, both NESTs and NNESTs need to undergo pedagogical training and to participate in TD programs if they are to be successful teachers, for “teachers are made rather than born” (Phillipson, 1992, p.14).

However, the more I pondered the topic, the more I realised that there is indeed a NNEST perspective on TD (see Mahboob, 2010 for NNEST lens). While NNESTs have and still continue to make significant contributions to our profession, they have for decades been treated as second-class citizens. And despite the growing NNEST movement and support for it, there seems to remain a certain reluctance to embrace the idea of equality between NESTs and NNESTs (Holliday, 2005); a certain complicity of silence, if you will.

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Photo under CC by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig from flickr.com

Indeed, as far as TD is concerned, the issue of native speakerism in ELT barely ever receives any attention during CELTA, DELTA or in-house TD programs. So, this article will outline some of the ‘silenced’ issues and argue that they must feature more prominently in TD if our profession is to ever extricate itself from the unprofessional and damaging grip of native speakerism.

For the purposes of brevity, the four main issues will be summarized here. I acknowledge the criticisms of NEST and NNEST labels, but for want of better terms use them here. Finally, this article should not be construed as a ‘rant’ against ELT, but rather as a suggestion for areas that I think should be discussed more openly and regularly during TD sessions. For “racism, as well as native speakerism, only survive if they are constantly reinforced through daily discourses that make them seem natural” (Ruecker, 2011, p.407).

Hiring policies

CELTA’s promise of “open[ing] the door to exciting teaching opportunities all over the world” should be taken with a pinch of salt, as research (e.g. Selvi, 2010; Ruecker & Ives, 2014; Mahboob & Golden, 2013) shows that approximately 75% of all job ads published online are for NESTs only. Not only does this mean that a NNEST with CPE grade A, CELTA, DELTA and a BA in English Studies will not even be considered, but also that any application from a NEST from the ‘Outer Circle’ (e.g. Zimbabwe, India) may well be rejected too. In fact, in certain countries (e.g. South Korea), NES status is further ‘refined’ to being white and Western-looking. This has its obvious negative effect on the importance of professionalism in ELT. However, what I find more damaging is that not discussing this issue during TD programs creates a vicious circle. NNESTs are not given support or tools to fight such prejudice. Conversely, NESTs find this advantageous, and thus have little incentive to openly question such policies.

One ingenious initiative to address this was started by @StudyCELTA. They inform their candidates about discriminatory job ads and direct them to @TEFLwork job board which only accepts equal opportunities ads.

ELF and World Englishes

I only came across these two terms (for a detailed discussion see Jenkins, 2007) six years into my teaching career, having by that time done both CELTA and DELTA. I can’t remember them having been discussed in any of the two courses, nor any in-house TD workshops I’d attended. The fact that most interactions in English nowadays take place in situations where no Native English Speaker (NES) is present is crucial, as it allows us to question the idea that students or teachers should aspire to a rather idealised NES model from the ‘Inner Circle’ (e.g. the UK, the US). It can be quite liberating for those NNESTs who have already developed the “impostor syndrome” (Bernat, 2008), simultaneously aspiring to comply with NES norms while being aware of the near impossibility of the task. For a NEST it is also vital to become aware of the fact that the English they speak is just one of a multitude of Englishes, and thus what is deemed correct or an error becomes much less clear cut. If we are to adequately prepare our students for interacting in English outside the class, we need to acknowledge and embrace the fact that “the standard English is no longer the preserve of a group of people living in an off-shore European island […]. It is an international language” (Widdowson, 1994, p.8).

Teaching methods

There seems to be a silent agreement within ELT to view teaching methods as neutral, apolitical, universally applicable and having sound theoretical or empirical foundations. Yet, these assumptions have been questioned on numerous occasions (see Pennycook, 1994 for a comprehensive discussion). In fact, if one examines the countless ELT methods that have over the years “roll[ed] out of Western universities and through Western publishing houses” (Kumaravadivelu, 2006, p. 20) and have been propagated with “an evangelical zeal” (Kachru, 1990, p.15), it is difficult not to notice the economic, political and cultural interests of the Centre lurking in the background (Pennycook, 1994, p.152). The “active, collaborative, and self-directed ‘learner-centred’ teaching–learning techniques” (Holliday, 2005, p.1) have been promoted as clearly superior to other methods, despite an acute lack of empirical evidence, and a disregard for local educational traditions. While TD courses certainly teach you how to best apply these ‘superior’ methods in class, they show little attempt at cultivating a more critical approach to ELT methodology. Thus, in their vast majority, courses such as CELTA produce teachers who are unaware of the underlying Anglocentricity of most ELT methodology, and who will “work within the confines of the institutions of the existing hegemonic order” (Kumaravdivelu, 2014, p.12) helping to perpetuate the privileged position of NS. On the other hand, what these courses should aim to do if we are to move beyond the pervasive ideology of native speakerism (see Holliday, 2006 for a brief discussion), which still imbues our profession, is to cultivate active and critical members of ELT profession.

Students want NESTs?

We’re constantly told by recruiters (e.g. Edge, 2011; Mahboob et al. 2004) that it’s all due to market demand. Students want NESTs, so schools can’t hire NNESTs, unless they pretend to be NESTs – as some colleagues have had to do. However, as Cook (2000) put it, “Nowhere is there an overwhelming preference for NS teachers. Being an NS is only one among many factors that influence students’ views of teaching” (p. 331). The majority of students want good teachers. It seems then that there is a profound disjunction between what many ELT professionals believe students want (i.e. a NEST at all costs, regardless of everything else) and what the majority of students actually want. There is also a belief that as far as the demand for NESTs is concerned the client is always right. On the other hand, we are prepared to question countless other misconceptions about learning and teaching languages that our students might have. This not only further undermines NNESTs’ confidence in their own abilities, but also buttresses the dominance of NESTs in ELT. Exploring this during TD is crucial as it can help us move the focus away from L1 as the most important and sought-after ELT ‘qualification’ to a discussion “about critical competencies of effective teachers and effective teaching regardless of that teacher’s background”(Farrell, 2015, p.3). Finally, it allows for an exploration of the qualities that students really value in English teachers, and of how these can be fostered in teachers.

Conclusions

I started this article with the premise that ELT is still imbued with native speakerism; that is the belief in inherent superiority of NESTs. While there are various other reasons why, despite over 20 years of NNEST scholarships and advocacy, native speakerism is “alive and kicking” (Phillipson, 2012). A very important factor seems to be that, as far as TD is concerned, there is a complicity of silence, a certain unwillingness to discuss and question it. Looking back at my career, I am convinced that if the four issues discussed here had been put on the table much earlier on, before I found out the hard way what effects native speakerism has on job prospects, for example, I would have been much better prepared to question the assumptions behind it and to defend my own rights. I also think that many more NESTs would also speak out against native speakerism, defending not only their NNEST colleagues, but also the value of their own professionalism, experience and qualifications.

PS: If you are concerned about professional equality between native and non-native speakers in ELT, check out and support TEFL Equity Advocates work here.

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References:

Bernat, E. (2008) Towards a pedagogy of empowerment: The case of ‘impostor syndrome’ among pre-service non-native speaker teachers. TESOL. English Language Teacher Education and Development Journal, 11, 1-8. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/16022259/699956107/name/impostor_syndrome_native_speakerBernat2008.pdf

Cook, V. (2000). The author responds… TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 329-332. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2307/3587957/references

Edge, J. (2011) The Reflexive Teacher Educator in TESOL. New York: Routledge.

Farrell, T.S.C. (2015). It’s Not Who You Are! It’s How You Teach! Critical Competencies Associated with Effective Teaching. RELC Journal, 46 (1), 1-10. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://rel.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/01/27/0033688214568096.abstract

Holliday, A. (ed.) (2005) The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holliday, A. (2006). Native speakerism. ELT Journal, 60(4), 385-387. Retrieved September 30, 2015 from: http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/4/385.full.pdf+html

Jenkins, J. (2007) English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kachru, B.B. (1990).World Englishes and Applied Linguistics. World Englishes, 9(1), 3-20. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-971X.1990.tb00683.x/abstract

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Dangerous liaison: Globalization, empire and TESOL. In J. Edge (Ed.), (Re)locating TESOL in an age of empire (pp. 1–26). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2014). The Decolonial Option in English Teaching: Can the Subaltern Act? TESOL Quarterly, DOI: 10.1002/tesq.202

Mahboob, A. (Ed.). (2010) The NNEST Lens. Non Native English Speakers in TESOL. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Mahboob, A., Uhrig, K., Newman, K., & Hartford, B. (2004). Children of a lesser English: Nonnative English speakers as ESL teachers in English language programs in the United States. In L. D. Kamhi-Stein (Ed.), Learning and teaching from experience: Perspectives on nonnative English-speaking professionals (pp. 100–120). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Mahboob, A., & Golden, R. (2013). Looking for native speakers of English: Discrimination in English language teaching job advertisements. Voices in Asia Journal, 1(1), 72–81. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: https://www.academia.edu/4517679/Looking_for_Native_Speakers_of_English_Discrimination_in_English_Language_Teaching_Job_Advertisements

Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340-349. Retrieved September 30, 2015 from: http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/46/4/340.short

Pennycook, A. (1994). The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language. Harlow, Essex, UK: Longman Group Limited

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford University Press.

Phillipson, R. (2012). Linguistic imperialism alive and kicking. The Guardian. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/mar/13/linguistic-imperialism-english-language-teaching

Ruecker, T. (2011). Challenging the native and nonnative English speaker hierarchy in ELT: New directions from race theory. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 8, 400–422. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/15427587.2011.615709

Ruecker, T. and L. Ives. 2014. White Native English Speakers Needed: The Rhetorical Construction of Privilege in Online Teacher Recruitment Spaces. TESOL Quaterly. Early view. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tesq.195/abstract

Selvi, A. F. (2010). All teachers are equal, but some teachers are more equal than others: Trend analysis of job advertisements in English language teaching. WATESOL NNEST Caucus Annual Review, 1, 155–181. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: https://www.academia.edu/226716/All_Teachers_are_Equal_but_Some_Teachers_are_More_Equal_than_Others_Trend_Analysis_of_Job_Advertisements_in_English_Language_Teaching_2010_

Widdowson, H. G. (1994). The ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly 28(2), 377–88. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2307/3587438/abstract

 

 

 

‘ELF and TESOL: A change of subject?’ summary of Prof. Widdowson’s plenary

Finally, I managed to get my act together and write another blog post. It’s been too long! But the PhD in TESOL I started recently has swallowed up what had previously been called free time. You might also have noticed a flurry of activity around The TEFL Show podcasts, which I co-author, and which you can find now on their brand new website here. So, I was delighted when last weekend I managed to get away for a weekend to go to TESOL Italy convention in Rome. So for the next couple of posts I’ll be writing up summaries of some of the sessions I’ve seen. We’ll start it off not with the first talk, but with perhaps the one I’d been looking forward to most: Prof. Henry Widdowson’s plenary at the end of Day 1. NB: this summary has been edited following Prof. Widdowson’s suggestions and feedback.

The third plenary session that I saw during TESOL Italy 2016 was given by Prof. Henry Widdowson. Having read many of his books and papers I was really looking forward to finally seeing him live giving a talk. As you can see from the photo below, I wasn’t the only one looking forward to this opportunity – the room was absolutely packed (you might be able to see Barbara Seidlhofer and Diane Larsen-Freeman sitting in the first row). I actually had to ‘borrow’ a chair from the terrace area and sneak in right beside the podium to be able to see the talk.

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As the title suggests, the talk proposed that the Teaching of English as a Second/Foreign Language needs to undergo a paradigm shift from teaching English as a language ‘belonging’ to and ‘owned’ by Native English Speakers (NES), to teaching English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). This issue has been widely discussed recently in academic publications, and was explored in-depth in two books Defining issues in ELT by Widdowson himself and in Understanding ELF by Barbara Seidlhofer.

The talk started with a historical overview of the shift away from a Structural Language Teaching (SLT) to Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) which took place in ELT starting in the late 70s and early 80s. Many might think of this change as a profound paradigm shift from a structure, grammar and correctness oriented approach to a focus on productive skills, communication and interaction. However, Prof. Widdowson points out here that in fact very little changed. The subject being taught remained essentially the same. So did the basic assumptions behind teaching.

In fact, in certain basic respects we haven’t moved on at all. The (idealised) NES competence was the subject of SLT and still is that of CLT. The two approaches might seem radically different at the surface, but they’re underlying assumptions remain exactly the same. And as a result of these assumptions, learners are only labelled as successful provided they conform with the NES models.

It is true that in SLT the focus of teaching was slightly different as the emphasis was placed on linguistic terms. In addition, English was thought of as radically different from students’ L1, which made it seem really difficult to learn. Students had to internalise this foreign and alien code. A lot of SLT also focused on differences in form between L1 and L2.

The introduction of CLT was said to lead to a radical shift in how English was to be taught, and what aspects of it. Radical at face value only, however. For example, it is true that communicative competence, as opposed to the linguistic or structural one, started to be viewed as paramount. Communicating meaning in interactions was emphasised over ‘dry’ grammar. All of this reflected a similar change in linguistics. However, it is not true that language taught through SLT was decontextualized. SLT DID focus on meaning too. The difference was that in SLT the context was subservient to the code or the linguistic structure. On the other hand, in CLT the linguistic structure is viewed as subservient to the context.

But if we examine the underlying assumptions of the subject matter (English language) to be taught and the context in which it is to be presented, it becomes clear that actually no shift had taken place. After all, it was still the (idealised) NES norms of language use which were to reign supreme and had to be abided by if a NNES was ever to be deemed a successful learner. While CLT focused on context and SLT on linguistic structure, they were both underscored by the same assumption: there was to be only one correct context or structure, of course that of a NES. And it is an orthodoxy that is still followed. The C in CLT is highly misleading, because the method is not concerned with communication per se, but rather with communication in conformity with NES norms. It seems then that CLT was not a radical shift at all, but rather a quick and somewhat superficial make over.

If we then examine the acronym TESOL/TEFL, it becomes self-evident that the E can only mean one thing. English of NES, that of Inner Circle speakers. So the only correct English belongs to NES, and the communicative competence so cherished by CLT is of course that of a NES too. That is, a successful learner in CLT has to conform with how English is used in communicative situations by NES. We could say then that what CLT has done is to have doubled the difficulty faced by learners: they now not only need to use English correctly, i.e. conform with the NES linguistic code; but also appropriately, i.e. conform with the NES communicative and interactional rules. For, as Prof. Widdowson put it, it was believed that “Otherwise you’re communicatively disabled”.

The real radical shift in ELT might come from ELF, which aims to change the paradigm of dependence on NES norms, of viewing learners as constant failures.  For what the use of ELF shows is how the resources of the language can be strategically exploited in non-conformist ways to achieve communication as appropriate to different contexts and purposes. Such non-conformist uses correspond in many ways to so-called learner ‘error’, which can also be seen as attempts to make the language being taught communicatively real and in correspondence  with the learners experience of their own language. From the learning perspective, the E of TESOL/TEFL/ELT would then become the E of ELF, not the E of NES. Hence, the proposed change of subject.

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You might wonder, though, why we should be looking forward to the ELF shift. Hasn’t CLT been successful enough? On the superficial level, perhaps yes. However, when we look at the underlying native speakeristic assumptions behind SLT and CLT, the picture becomes much less optimistic.

The first corrosive effect of relying on NES norms is that learners are doomed to failure from the very beginning. They are made to conform with communicative norms and structural rules of native- speaker English, and their performance is constantly being evaluated in terms of their inability to conform with these norms and rules. In other words, learners remain forever locked in a state of linguistic and communicative disability. Hence, as Prof. Widdowson summarised it, ELT methodologies “have amounted to a pedagogy of failure”.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves why students do not conform, where the errors come from. Learners will have the pragmatic awareness from their L1 and learning will always involve transfer from L1 experience. However, there is no valid reason why it should be seen as a negative interference. Functionally, then, these errors could be seen as communicative transfer. The student focuses on what is communicatively important or salient, and filters out what has little pragmatic value. Yet, teachers spend hours trying to correct these ‘errors’, to eradicate the interference which at the end of the day has little communicative importance. As a result, the natural learning of communicative capability  is hindered by teacher’s insistence on conformity with the NES norm.

On the other hand, ELF relates English more closely to the learners. From a foreign and alien tongue impossible to master, English becomes more familiar and real, a language that is actually learnable, that can be appropriated by the learner, made their own. ELF removes the necessity to conform with NES norms which dooms all learners to a painful and demotivating failure. It moves the focus to pragmatic and communicative capability  per se, rather than the NES communicative competence of CLT.

Prof. Widdowson concludes the talk by highlighting that the insistence on conformity with NES norms actually hinders the development of learner autonomy, a concept which we as teachers supposedly go into great pains to develop. After all, the student is faced with an irresolvable dilemma: practising the newly learned language outside the class (i.e. learner autonomy) will inevitably lead to making errors, and hence failure. What this creates is that just as employers have employees, teachers have teachees, who must conform with the rules set by the teacher, and are not allowed to experiment with the new language. However, students should be allowed to develop communicatively. We need to cease to judge learners success or failure in view of the errors they make. Instead of this ‘pedagogy of failure’, ELF focuses on the positive, on the “development of the potential to use English” ie of a communicative capability.

As teachers, we need to change how we think of English as a subject. Why teach a competence that so few learners can achieve?

Why not instead teach a more realistic model. Set realistic objectives, which reflect learning, not failure. Objectives which are achievable.

If we continue with the pedagogy of the NES ideal, we teach learners to fail. We stigmatise them as incompetent, forever communicatively disabled.

However, if we accept the reality of the English language, which is no longer the sum of NES norms, the purpose of teaching becomes the development of students’ capability to use English with whichever linguistic resources at hand, whether conforming to NES norms or not.

Henry Widdowson is an authority in the field of applied linguistics and language teaching, specifically English language learning and teaching. Widdowson is perhaps best known for his contribution to communicative language teaching. However, he has also published on other related subjects such as discourse analysis and critical discourse analysis, the global spread of English, English for Special Purposes and stylistics. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Language Teaching and Learning calls him “probably the most influential philosopher of the late twentieth century for international ESOL” (674). Widdowson is Emeritus Professor of Education, University of London, and has also been Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Essex and Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Vienna. He is the Applied Linguistics adviser to Oxford University Press and series adviser of Oxford Bookworms Collection. Widdowson is co-editor of Language Teaching: A Scheme for Teacher Education. He is the series editor of Oxford Introductions to Language Study and the author of Linguistics (1996) in the same series. He has also published Defining Issues in English Language Teaching (2002), and Practical Stylistics: An Approach to Poetry (1992). His most recent book is Text, Context, Pretext. Critical Issues in Discourse Analysis (2004), published by Blackwell’s (from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Widdowson).

TESOL Convention 2015 – ‘NEST or NNEST: does it matter in pronunciation teaching?’ by Marla Yoshida

This was by far the best session I attended. Not just because of the topic, which I’m really interested in (see the work I’ve been doing with TEFL Equity Advocates), but primarily because of the way in which it was delivered. Active. Funny. Engaging. And above all – you could see that the speaker was very passionate about the topic.

Originally, the session was to be given by Marla Yoshida, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to make it. So her colleague, Roger Dupuy gave the workshop in her place:

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The terms NEST and NNEST are used throughout as following:

  • NEST: Native English Speaking Teacher
  • NNEST: non-Native English Speaking Teacher

We started the session with some discussion where we had to answer the question posed in the title of the session. The two points that were raised by the participants were:

  • most students should focus on intelligibility rather than obtaining a native-like accent
  • some students walk in with a bias not only for a NEST, but more specifically for a blond blue-eyed NEST

So what does the research tell us about NESTs and NNESTs:

  • 80% of teachers are NNESTs
  • most teach in countries where English is not in general use
  • NESTs and NNESTs differ in their teaching style
  • each group has their strengths and weaknesses, BUT
  • both can be skillful and effective teachers

While as far as linguistics is concerned, the native speaker fallacy – i.e. the belief in inherent linguistic superiority of a native speaker – has long been dead, it is still to a great extent deeply ingrained in ELT (see this post for more information).  And what about teaching pronunciation? Does it matter whether the teacher is a native speaker? And more importantly – what skills, knowledge and qualities are needed for successful pronunciation teaching?

Some points raised in the workshop are that good pronunciation teachers should:

  • be able to produce the sound
  • be able to show how to make the sound
  • teach suprasegmentals: intonation, sentence stress, etc.

So what are the potential strengths NESTs have when teaching pronunciation? First, they might be a good pronunciation model. Also, they’ll have an intuitive feeling for the language.

However, typically a NEST will have no conscious knowledge of the phonetic system. Additionally, they might not be empathetic since they don’t really know what the student is going through. Finally, NESTs might have unrealistically high expectations. Roger summarised very nicely this section by saying that: ‘just because you have good teeth, doesn’t mean you should be allowed to be a dentist’.

What about NNESTs then? Typically, NNESTs:

  • are good learner models
  • understand learners and predict problems
  • have more conscious knowledge
  • have more realistic expectations
  • lack intuitive knowledge

So when we take all of this into consideration, Roger recommends that NNESTs:

  • make good use of their strengths
  • be a good role model
  • develop understanding of how pronunciation works
  • work on improving their pronunciation

On the other hand, if you’re a NEST, you should:

  • remember that intuition isn’t enough AND
  • back it up with solid knowledge
  • build an ability to predict problems
  • know your own pronunciation
  • learn a new language

Finally, Roger gave some recommendations for everyone who’s teaching pronunciation:

  • never stop learning
  • share your experience
  • learn from others
  • build up an arsenal of ideas

He also challenged everyone to learn how to quickly draw a cross-section of the mouth to use with learners to indicate how different sounds are made:

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Before we concluded the session, Roger shared with us Marla Yoshida’s website, which is an absolute treasure trove of ideas. I highly recommend you visit it! We watched some really motivating videos about NNESTs who managed to overcome their initial fears and worries about teaching. You can watch them here. Some advice which they gave was:

  • ‘Get out of your comfort zone. Try. Be brave.’
  • ‘Don’t wait for a miracle. Pronunciation doesn’t happen because of wishful thinking.’

I’d also suggest reading some of the Teacher Success Stories posted regularly on TEFL Equity Advocates, and perhaps writing one yourself.
So to conclude, whether you’re a NEST or a NNEST does indeed matter for teaching pronunciation. Not in the way we traditionally used to think about this, though. It matters because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, which we will need to overcome. Both NESTs and NNESTs need to work hard to be effective pronunciation teachers.

But with enough dedication and preparation, we can all do it!

TESOL Convention 2015: ‘The employment issues committee – building the bridge to better employment’

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One of the most interactive and interesting sessions that I attended during this year TESOL Convention focused on employment issues and problems in English language teaching. As you can imagine from some of my previous posts (e.g. ‘The TEFL blame game’) and my work with TEFL Equity Advocates, I’m quite concerned about working conditions and worker rights in our industry. Unlike IATEFL, TESOL has tried to address the concerns and problems English teachers face and has developed an Advocacy Action Centre, which you can read more about here. They also issued several position statements, opposing native speaker favouritism, among other things. So I was quite interested to see what issues would be brought up during the session.

First, we were divided into groups depending on our teaching context. I was in the EFL group together with two teachers from Japan, one from Oman and one recruiter mostly working in the Arabian peninsula. The other groups included ESL, K to 12 and those teaching in US or Canadian universities.

Each group first discussed the issues that they would like TESOL to do more advocacy on. Then we reported the points raised by each group to the others. Below I made a list of all the points that the different groups raised.

  • corporatisation trend, subcontracting to outside companies
  • task force looking at pay structure, work load, etc.
  • high tuition but low salary for teachers
  • accreditation (K to 12)
  • high stakes test hurt collaboration between teachers (K to 12)
  • high overturn
  • labour laws and traditions in different countries
  • short-term contracts
  • PhD required more and more to teach English (Japan)
  • age discrimination
  • NEST favouritism
  • being a NS treated as a qualification
  • TESOL and affiliates should do more advocacy

Apart from those, I’d personally add:

  • difficult to have foreign teaching qualifications accredited and recognised to teach in the public sector
  • often CELTA treated as more important than a BA or MA degree in English (especially if it’s from a non-English speaking country)
  • observations used as a controlling tool rather than for professional development

I will be very interested to see whether any of these points will be actually taken up by TESOL, or let alone lead to some concrete changes. Having said that, it still feels really nice that we can openly discuss and express our concerns and that TESOL takes time to organise sessions like these and listen to our little rants 🙂

What are your biggest concerns about employment and workers’ rights as an English teacher?

2015-03-26 12.25.07

TESOL Convention 2015: ‘Teachers’ Roles in Crossing Borders and Building bridges’ by Dr. Sonia Nieto

posterIt’s my first TESOL Convention and it’s absolutely overwhelming to say the least. Not many familiar faces either, as most of my colleagues decided to go to IATEFL, so I was delighted that in the opening keynote I bumped into Debbie West, chair of TESOL France, who was friendly as ever and introduced me to a couple of people.

The room was packed for the opening keynote presentation by Dr. Sonia Nieto. I took out my laptop and made some notes as she spoke, which I’ve now turned into a brief overview of what she’d said. I wish I’d remembered to take a couple of photos to add to this post, but never mind. Lesson learned. Will make sure I take a few pictures from the sessions tomorrow. Hopefully, this one will be the first of what I’m planning as a series of posts from this year TESOL Convention, so stay tuned.

In her talk Dr. Nieto focused on stories of teachers who have worked mostly in public education system in the US often with recent immigrant children. However, the lessons from here can be applied to other ELT settings too. Based on the examples of these teachers she discusses how we can build bridges for our students to help them cross the borders without losing their original identities and cultures.

So what does it take to cross borders and build bridges?

Dr. Nieto uses the bridge as a metaphor – it is built on solid ground, but soars to heaven. It connects otherwise disconnected places, giving access to a different shore. Most importantly, though, the bridge mustn’t be burnt once we’ve crossed it although unfortunately it often is.

To put it in a different way, the traffic over the bridge shouldn’t be only one way from the students L1 culture to their L2 culture. Rather, there should be possibility of going backwards and forwards at will, so that the L2 culture is adopted by the student without losing their original identity.

Dr. Nieto also points out what building bridges is not:

  • pre-determined curriculum
  • set of strategies
  • watered down curriculum
  • feel-good approach
  • only for sts from particular backgrounds

And then she goes on to give some practical examples:

  • learn to say sts names correctly
  • label the room with sts languages
  • display the work of all sts
  • learn about your sts lives
  • get to know your sts families
  • learn another language

Dr. Nieto then describes in more depth what we need to take into account to build bridges between cultures in our classrooms:

  1. Asking profoundly multicultural qs:
  • who’s taking calculus?
  • who’s gifted and talented?
  • who’s teaching the children?
  • where is the ESL program located?logo
  • questions of Access and Equity
  1. Being anti-racist and critical pedagogues:
  • beyond heroes and holidays
  • structural inequality, not just individual prejudices
  • high expectations for all
  • praxis: not only talking, but doing
  • Access and Equity
  1. Becoming a sociocultural mediator:
  • taking sts from where they’ve come from to somewhere else, but…
  • … taking who the students are, their identity with them
  1. Challenging taken-for granted assumptions, such as:
  • sts need to learn the basics first
  • intelligence is innate
  • skin colour determines ability
  • immigrants care less about education
  • standard English is the only game in town
  1. Understanding the sociopolitical context:
  • societal level: who counts? what counts?
  • school level: do policies benefit some sts more than others?
  • who benefits, who loses?

In the next section Dr. Nieto discusses how to build bridges between cultures:

  1. individuality and culture – while the culture says who we are, it doesn’t determine us; consequently, it can’t be imposed on the sts, but has to come from them
  2. inclusive pedagogy and curriculum (culture, language, experience)
  3. a stance and dispositions of teachers – here Dr. Nieto gives examples of teachers who embody each value:
  • engage in critical self-reflection – John Gunderson: “Teaching is about relationships, not about knowing how to do a lesson plan”
  • demand high quality work from all sts – Angeles Perez: “I pride myself on getting them (sts) to set their goals; and they are high goals”
  • affirm identities, expand sts worlds – Heather Brooke Robertson: making relevant books available; challenging labels “The labels placed on our sts are racist social constructions I work to eliminate every day”
  • continue to learn – Bill Dunn: “In my struggle to understand [Spanish] I’ve learned not only a great deal about my sts, but also about myself”
  • value diversity in word and deed – Mary Jade Haney “I teach in a profession that balances the universe”

All in all, a great opening plenary. Looking forward to tomorrow. And fingers crossed I can keep up regular updates from the talks I’ll go to. Promise to take some photos.

Looking forward to your comments.