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Multiple Identities Emerge through Collaboration

Through their collaboration in person and over e-mail, Noriko Ishihara and Magara Maeda have learned to see themselves and others as more than simply native- or nonnative-speaking teachers. See Sandra Piai's Out of the Box article, "You Can Train Me, and You Can Educate Me, But You Can't Develop Me--I Develop" (Essential Teacher, December 2005, pp. 20-23).

We are collaborating native- and nonnative-speaking language teachers in a perhaps nontraditional partnership: one of us (Magara) is a native-Japanese-speaking teacher of Japanese, and the other (Noriko) is a nonnative-English-speaking ESL teacher. Since 2003, we have met regularly and exchanged written reflections by e-mail to discuss pedagogical issues.

In an effort to understand the nature of our collaboration as professional development, we have recorded and analyzed our collaborative dialogue. The analysis has shown that our experience and expertise have emerged through the multiple perspectives we bring to the dialogue, including those of an ESL/EFL teacher, a Japanese language teacher, a native-speaking (NS) teacher, a nonnative-speaking (NNS) teacher, a language learner, a teacher educator, and a researcher.

We have never found ourselves confined to one or even a few of these categories; rather, we both represent all of them. In dialogue, our perspectives shift dynamically, allowing us to draw from all our experience and expertise. While doing so, we transcend conventional statuses often imposed on us, moving beyond simply being, for example, an NS or NNS language teacher. Our multiple perspectives and identities have empowered our professional selves and reinforced our collaboration (see Ishihara and Maeda 2005; Maeda and Ishihara 2004).

Magara: Unlocking Teaching Beliefs

I was an experienced NS teacher of Japanese being retrained in content-based instruction (CBI). In CBI, content is the organizing principle and determines target grammar structures to be taught. In developing a lesson plan from content to language, I was having difficulty identifying language objectives. Noriko’s metalinguistic awareness as a NNS ESL teacher helped me pinpoint specific language structures and make a bridge between language and content more consciously and effectively.

More importantly, recursive cycles of extensive reflection on my multiple identities, such as NS teacher, NNS learner, and novice CBI instructor, helped me unlock my teaching beliefs. This reflection mostly took the form of collaborative dialogue in which Noriko used her own multiple perspectives (e.g., as a NNS, a teacher, a collaborator, a teacher educator) to probe the beliefs behind my instructional decisions.

Noriko: Learning to Communicate Teaching Rationales

In developing a Web-based, pragmatics-focused curriculum for learners of Japanese (see Ishihara n.d.), I brought my experience of teaching English pragmatics as a NNS teacher to Japanese language teaching, in which I was a novice native speaker. Magara’s perspectives as an expert Japanese teacher and her native speaker intuition helped me see how Japanese learners and teachers would perceive the curriculum.

As a result, the collaboration was an opportunity for me to improve the way I communicated the rationale for my curricular decisions to various audiences, including students, teachers, and researchers. In this case, Magara’s expertise as an NS teacher of Japanese enhanced my novice NS perspectives as I was transferring my experience as an NNS curriculum writer to a new, NS context. In return, Magara learned about ways to incorporate pragmatics into language teaching and the potential risk of imposing NS norms on learners.

We Are Native and Nonnative Speakers, and More Than That

Our collaboration shows that, although NS/NNS teacher issues are often approached as if the two categories were fixed and polarized constructs, nativeness or nonnativeness defies easy definition (e.g., Braine 1999; Liu 1999). Language educators often live in two or more linguistic and cultural worlds, as they are familiar with at least once language in addition to their native language. They possess dual identities as native speakers of one language and nonnative speakers of another. In teaching, they may tend to draw from their language learning experience, in which they indeed are nonnative speakers.

But nativeness and nonnativeness alone do not define teacher expertise. Like us, teachers are likely to have many other identities--such as student, teacher educator, administrator, or researcher--that result in various perspectives on teaching. These perspectives may shift, with particular positions becoming activated and deactivated (Abell 2000), just as our perspectives shifted repeatedly during our collaboration.

Multiple Perspectives Enhance Collaboration between Teachers

Our experience shows that teachers with varying perspectives can collaborate successfully. Collaboration between NS and NNS ESL/EFL teachers has been effective (see, e.g., Farrell 1999; de Oliveira and Richardson 2004), and collaboration between teachers with varying expertise--for instance, between content and ESL teachers or between teachers of different languages--might also be successful.

Through our collaboration, we have learned that there is no reason for us to label ourselves and other language teachers as NS or NNS; we represent both. Beyond our identity as both native and nonnative speakers, we bring multiple professional identities and multilayered perspectives to our collaboration.


Abell, S. K. (2000). From professor to colleague: Creating a professional identity as collaborator in elementary science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 37:548-62.

Braine, G. 1999. Non-native educators in English language teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

de Oliveira, L. C., and S. Richardson. 2004. Collaboration between native and nonnative English-speaking educators. In Learning and teaching from experience: Perspectives on nonnative English-speaking professionals, ed. L. D. Kamhi-Stein, 294-306). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Farrell, T. S. C. (1999). Reflective practice in an EFL teacher development group. System 27:157-72.

Ishihara, N. n.d. Strategies for learning speech acts in Japanese.

Ishihara, N., and M. Maeda. 2005. Collegial in-service teacher collaboration as professional development: Transcending traditional dichotomies. Teacher Education Interest Section Newsletter (June).

Liu, J. 1999. Nonnative-English-speaking professionals in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly 33:85-102.

Maeda, M., and N. Ishihara. 2004. A unique model of collaboration: Drawing on our multiple perspectives beyond the NS-NNS status. Paper presented at the Learning from Models of NEST/NNEST Collaboration colloquium, 38th Annual TESOL Convention, Long Beach, CA, April.

Noriko Ishihara ( is a PhD candidate in second languages and cultures education and teaching, and Magara Maeda ( is a PhD student in second languages and cultures education and Japanese, at the University of Minnesota, in the United States.