NNEST Newsletter

NNEST News, Volume 6:1 (June 2004)

by User Not Found | 10/27/2011
In This Issue of NNEST Newsletter...

Editor's Remarks
Letter From the Past Chair (2003-2004)
Practicing What We Preach
English Conversation Class: Does It Matter if the Teacher Isn't a Native Speaker?
Practical, Effective Tactics for Prospective NNEST Professionals
NNEST Caucus Leaders 2004-2005
About This Member Community

Editor's Remarks

By Khalid Al-Seghayer, e-mail: alseghayer@yahoo.com

Thus far, nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) have made tremendous accomplishments in many aspects in the realm of second/foreign language learning and teaching. Yet, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. One good sign in this protracted and hurdle-filled journey is that we have begun to acknowledge our shortcomings, as pinpointed by some of the articles included in this issue. It seems difficult to expect any movement in our professional lives without looking closely at the things we lack. This issue of the NNEST e-newsletter contains three articles along with a letter from the chair.

In his letter, Masaki Oda, our caucus chair, draws on the fact that issues related to NNESTs have recently received wide attention within the profession of teaching English as a second/foreign language because of the hard work of the NNEST caucus leaders and members.

Maintaining exceeding language and pedagogy competencies requires lifelong commitment on the part of NNEST professionals. Unfortunately, a large number of prospective and in-service NNEST professionals tend to limit their contact with English to inside their schools and classrooms. In "Practicing What We Preach,"George Braine encourages NNEST professionals to make English an integral part of their daily lives by speaking it, reading it, watching English television channels or programs and English movies, and writing in English. In other words, NNEST professionals need to seek every opportunity to use English beyond their English classrooms. Braine also offers several practical suggestions on what can be done to promote the use of English among our potential students inside classrooms and English departments and beyond schools.

In the perspective of many professionals, NNESTs are inferior to native-English-speaking teachers (NESTs) when it comes to teaching pronunciation and conversation. In "English Conversation Class: Does It Matter If the Teacher Isn't a Native Speaker?" Hwajin Lee attempts to answer the following question: In an English conversation classroom, does it matter if the teacher is not a native speaker of English?

Dealing effectively with potential challenges is a key factor that NNESTs need to take into account to overcome such challenges, and as a result, have successful careers. In "Practical, Effective Tactics for Prospective NNEST Professionals," Hiromi Saito offers practical suggestions on how NNESTs should react when ESL learners perceive them negatively, what they should do when asked about something they do not know how to answer, and what they need to do to accommodate NEST colleagues in the workplace.

This issue marks the end of my editorship, and hence, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the contributors with whom I had the privilege to closely work over the past 2 years. As I truly enjoyed reading, editing, and most of all learning from your fine articles, I am sure that NNEST caucus members perceived your work well also. I would also like to urge you to consider contributing to the NNEST e-newsletter. During my term, I had the chance to contact more than 120 potential contributors from around the globe and only managed to obtain articles from 15 authors. I hope that the situation will not be the same for the incoming editor.

At this point, I would like to say to NNEST caucus members, thanks very much for giving me the chance to serve you!

Enjoy this issue of the NNEST e-newsletter.

Letter From the Past Chair (2003-2004)

By Masaki Oda, Tamagawa University, e-mail: oda@lit.tamagawa.ac.jp

Dear Caucus Members,

It was at TESOL'94 that I first presented a paper on the issue of native versus nonnative English-speaking ELT professionals to TESOL affiliates worldwide. At that time, presentations on such issues had never received any attention. I am very pleased to see that, 10 years later, we have a group of professionals who have undertaken to direct attention and enlighten others on the importance of the NNEST-related issues in the profession. In looking at how many presentations are directly or indirectly related to our caucus activities, I must say thanks to our past leaders who have led us to where we are now.

I am very sorry to say that my activity as chair has been limited because of my health problems. However, Ahmar Mahboob has taken over most of what I was supposed to do so that the caucus activities would not be interrupted. Thanks also goes to Khalid Al-Seghayer, newsletter editor, and Lucie Moussu, webmaster, for their contribution to the NNEST caucus. I am confident that the incoming chair, Ahmar Mahboob, and his team will serve the NNEST caucus well.

Masaki Oda

Practicing What We Preach

By George Braine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, e-mail: georgebraine@cuhk.edu.hk

(Editor's Note: Based on a paper presented at the colloquium "Issues and Strategies for Mentoring NNESTs" at the TESOL Annual Conference, Baltimore, March 2003.)

Both my wife and I began our careers as English teachers in Sri Lanka. We have a common first language, which is Sinhala, but we frequently converse in English.

When I was a graduate student in Texas, a classmate, a nonnative speaker (NNS) and an English teacher, happened to be visiting when my wife called me on the phone. We spoke briefly in English. After I hung up and turned to my classmate, I saw that he was indignant. "You spoke in English!" he cried. I patiently explained to him that my wife and I often speak in English, and we did this because it came quite naturally to us. After all, as English teachers, the English language was part of our identity too, and we spoke and read in English, listened to English songs, and watched English movies.

After more than 10 years, I have nagging memories of this incident. And, with my involvement with the NNS movement, I am disturbed by the lack of commitment to English by many of my NNS colleagues and graduate students. These are professionals or professionals in the making who will have a lifelong relationship with the English language, and for whom English is their bread and butter. Yet, in their day-to-day lives, English appears to play only a minor role, to be used, rather reluctantly, in their teaching or academic pursuits.

As professionals, we know the power of language acquisition as opposed to learning. In order to acquire a language, we must read widely, speak the language at every opportunity, participate in conversations, and watch television and movies. We preach this to our students and our children, continually reminding them of the importance of the exposure to English. But when is the last time we bought and read an English newspaper or a magazine, read a novel or a nonfiction book for pleasure, or watched an English movie? Simply stated, do we practice what we preach?

Next to the fear of speaking in accents, especially when native speakers are present, writing in English offers the biggest challenge to NNSs. Many NNS English teachers are not good writers: I have known teachers who are incapable of writing a simple letter without making errors. Research has shown fairly conclusively that more reading leads to better writing and that leisure reading or reading for pleasure is a significant enhancer of writing quality. But how many of us actually read for pleasure? If we are teachers, we have to read our school textbooks. If we are graduate students or scholars, we read reference books or academic articles (definitely not pleasurable reading, in my opinion). But how often do we pick up an English novel or a magazine or more than glance through a newspaper? I have visited the households of English teacher colleagues that are like cultural deserts as far as English reading material is concerned. There isn't an English book, a magazine, or a newspaper in sight.

I may be politically incorrect here, but please don't get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that we should abandon our mother tongues and become monolingual users of English. The mother tongue is part and parcel of our very being and will remain so as long as we live. But it is not our mother tongue that has provided us with a career and a livelihood. It's English, and we are not mere users of English. We are its teachers. We proudly proclaim that English belongs to all of us, that we have wrested it away from the native speakers and made it our own. But we appear to have a love-hate relationship with English, and we are the losers for it.

Let me turn to Hong Kong, where I live and teach, as an example. In a recent issue of the NNEST e-newsletter, Icy Lee wrote an interesting article on this issue. The government pours millions of dollars into the English language curriculum in Hong Kong. But the local English teachers, all of whom are nonnative speakers, are under siege. They have come under fire for their declining English proficiency and their failure to enhance students' English standards. In response to such criticism, the government announced the launch of benchmarking tests 3 years ago. The objective of benchmarking is to make sure that all English teachers possess the minimum proficiency to teach English and to encourage them to strive for higher levels of language proficiency.

The first benchmarking tests (consisting of speaking, reading, listening, writing, and classroom language) were conducted in 2001. When the results were announced, faith in local English teachers was further shaken. Overall, the teachers did not do very well, particularly in writing and speaking. Only 33% of the candidates passed in writing, and only half passed in speaking. Local newspapers had a field day, with headlines like "Teachers Flunk English Test" and "Must Do Better." In the second benchmarking tests held in 2002, the passing rates were even lower. Fewer than 30% of the candidates passed in writing, and fewer than 40% passed in listening. The results of the 2003 benchmark test have not been any better. It's no wonder that the government imports so-called native English teachers to boost the standard of English teaching in Hong Kong.

I am not optimistic about future English teachers in Hong Kong. The undergraduate English majors I teach--and many of them go on to become English teachers--have little interest in enhancing their English proficiency outside the classroom. Many of them cannot recall when they last read an English newspaper, a magazine, or a book for pleasure. They speak English only when conversing with me and other expatriate teachers. Programs on the English channel on television are subtitled in English and so are English movies, so there's not much chance of picking up any English from these sources, even if the students bother to watch them. Although English has been a living language in Hong Kong for the past 150 years, it's still a foreign language, with little impact on the day-to-day lives of these undergraduates, our future English teachers.

With graduate students, the situation is even more disheartening. These are students who are taking an MA, an MPhil, or a PhD in applied linguistics; most of these students are destined to become English teachers. I have hardly ever heard them speak in English among themselves. I have never seen them reading an English novel or even a nonfiction book for pleasure. The local English newspaper and English magazines are alien to many of them. Of course, they read the prescribed textbooks and the journal articles, but this is done because they have little choice.

What about teachers and teacher-trainees in other countries? The proficiency level of English teachers in Sri Lanka has been falling alarmingly. This hardly comes as a surprise because a recent survey showed that very few English teachers in Sri Lanka read English newspapers or did any type of reading for pleasure. They used English mainly for classroom teaching. An experienced teacher trainer in Sri Lanka recently told me that some of her trainees spoke pidgin. The situation is similar in other countries. I heard over the summer that many English teachers in rural Panama only used English in the classroom to teach the same classes using the same textbooks as they had done for years. We hear the success stories of those who have succeeded, and the need for critical pedagogy and other trendy issues in ESL contexts. But the proficiency-level of the majority of English teachers in peripheral EFL countries would shock many of us.

The followings are something you can do:

  • At least in your presence, ensure that your students speak in English, especially in EFL contexts. For graduate students, make this a rule.
  • Create an English zone in your English departments. This could be a room where English newspapers and magazines are available and where students are required to speak in English.
  • Practice what you preach, and be an example to your students. With your NNS graduate students, talk about your reading habits and show them what you read for pleasure. My small library at home does not contain a single applied linguistics text, and I point this out to my students when they visit.
  • Get your graduate students to write reflectively on their courses every week. All the writing they do is on rather boring and required academic assignments. Reflective writing, without the pressure of a grade, will bring out the best in them.
English Conversation Class: Does It Matter if the Teacher Isn't a Native Speaker?

By Hwajin Vivien Lee, Princeton Review Korea, e-mail: hjvivienlee@hotmail.com

Working with the computer one day in September, I found an e- mail message. It read, "many Chinese students think that listening to . . . Chinese speaking English is . . . a waste of time . . . and harmful . . . why should they listen to `bad' English . . . you (the native-English-speaking teacher) . . . are the model" (D. Tibbetts, personal communication, September 29, 2003). Not only was the content surprising, but it also made me doubt my desire to pursue a master's degree in TESOL. Indeed, it had such an impact that I betrayed spending that second semester of my master's program studying how to teach English because, according to the writer, it might be impossible for me to become a model who produces "good" English because I would not be a native-English-speaking teacher (NEST).

The reason that I began my research can be traced back to this personal episode. In the process of my inquiry, however, I recognized that the number of nonnative English speakers entering TESOL programs is steadily rising, and therefore, the non-NEST (NNEST) issue seemed not only to be personal.

Furthermore, unless such negative perceptions of NNESTs vanish, it is likely that nonnative TESOL graduates will lose their competitive edge and be discriminated against in the ELT market. This anxiety has already been confirmed in a casual meeting with my fellow students (J. Park & S. Kwak, personal communication, October 8, 2003). That is to say that more private English institutes in Korea exclusively employ NESTs for conversation programs, whereas Korean-speaking teachers still remain in grammar classes where the teacher's L1 is not considered to be a serious issue.

With this observation as the rationale, I will now attempt to locate an answer to a question: In an English conversation class, does it matter if the teacher isn't a native speaker? My discussion will focus on NNESTs in a conversation course because it is in such conversation courses or spoken English programs that not being a native speaker can be of great concern. Through this article, I will posit three hypotheses that implicate bias against NNESTs and query their legitimacy. First of all, I will put forward that the NNEST's foreign accent is impossible to change and validate the credibility of that statement with evidence of native speakers' distinctive accents. Next, I will suggest another hypothesis, which is that the NNEST knows little about the spoken second language, and again examine whether that hypothesis can be justified. I will also discuss the appropriateness of authentic input. I will then elucidate whether or not a good English teacher is necessarily a native English speaker to expand the scope of my discussion. In so doing, I will make every effort to support the contention that the teacher's nonnativeness does not matter in an English conversation class.

Amin (1999) reported that students who learn English, either as a medium of instruction or as a main subject, expect their teacher to use what they perceive to be the standard dialect associated with White speakers, yet they are not certain about what this standard dialect is. In her article, Lee (2000) wrote that one of her students said, "Ms. Lee is a good teacher; however, she has a Chinese accent." In these cases, NNESTs appear to have a natural-born defect, namely the foreign accent, which cannot be converted into the standard dialect associated with White speakers, and this is seen to make the NNEST a poor teacher.

The two accounts also convey ESL/EFL learners' bias toward the NNEST, and it can be said that such bias becomes stronger in an English conversation class. The reason is that there is an assumption that the teacher in speaking classes should be fluent in the target language, and, in general, such fluency is associated with an NEST. At this point, some questions arise: Do all native speakers have the same accent, and are they equally competent in the native language?

Among the attempts to respond to these queries, Davies' 2003 book The Native Speaker: Myth and Reality is by far the most noticeable. He attempts to shed light on the mythical native/nonnative dichotomy as well as the native speaker's properties and concludes that native speakers' communicative competence differs one from another, and that, in spite of the rigor of the task, an adult nonnative speaker can become an L2 native speaker.

The author also pointed out that the language of a speech community is regarded as a standard not because the language is most perfect, but either because the community has power or because it seems "to be desirable to imitate" (Davies, 2003, p. 130). In addition, he claimed that, from a psycholinguistic perspective, every human is a native speaker of his or her individual language, and he suggests that one's grammar may be different from the other's grammar, albeit there is intelligibility. With respect to this, an NEST made the following comment: "NESTs normally have intuitions only on the variety they speak" (C. Gabrielatos, personal communication, October 29, 2003).

Hence, according to Davies (2003), although students await an NEST as their speaking model, the NEST's accent does not seem to be an absolute norm because every NEST has a distinctive accent, just as NNESTs' accents differ from that of NESTs. Therefore, my first hypothesis, that the NNEST's foreign accent is impossible to change, may not deserve consideration.

Other researchers such as Nayar and Lippi-Green also agree with Davies. First, Nayar (1994) advocated that one is merely a native speaker of his or her idiolect, and the native/nonnative division results from a politically arrogant attitude. Nayar also puts forward that English is the co-owning language, which is to say that everyone who uses English can be regarded as a native speaker of English. Here again my hypothesis lacks logic because it can be said that one native speaker is heard by another as having a nonnative accent, if not a foreign accent, just as all nonnative speakers are.

Next, Lippi-Green (1997) remarked on the northerners' manner about the southerners' accents in the United States. As described by the author, both southerners themselves and non-southerners view the southern states as culturally and historically different (pp. 205-209), and most distinguished is, from the northerners' point of view, the southerners' "twang" or "drawl" (p. 202). Lippi-Green also indicated that Texas is seen as typically southern and Florida is rarely seen so, despite the fact that they are both south of the Mason-Dixon Line (p. 203). Interestingly, connotations of the southern accent seem ubiquitous. Like the current U.S. president, who is a native Texan, the two former Korean presidents, who grew up in southern parts in Korea, have been the objects of mockery for their so-called nonstandard accents.

In relation to this, I could hear an NEST's meaningful lesson in which she employs a film called American Tongues. In her class, she likes to play the film because it shows that "speakers of some dialects are highly regarded and . . . others are discriminated against because of the way they sound" (J. H. Snoke, personal communication, October 29, 2003).

Another NEST says that "I know. . . educated native English-speaking people who needed subtitles when watching the Scottish film Train Spotting" (D. Kees, personal communication, October 28, 2003). Hidden behind these words are the speakers' attitudes. To put it another way, it is not that those native speakers were unable to understand the Scottish accent but that they actually did not want to do so (Davies, 2003). Simply, intelligibility is, to a large extent, determined by one's attitude toward language.

The arguments so far appear to prove that the first hypothesis, that the NNEST's foreign accent is impossible to change, cannot be supported because (a) even the NESTs vary in their individual language varieties and (b) the native/nonnative paradigm per se originates from power and attitude issues rather than linguistic issues.

Once students dismiss skepticism about the NNEST's accent, they make a stronger connection with the teacher because he or she is nonnative (Thomas, 1999). In fact, researchers and NNESTs have accorded that the NNEST's empathy for ESL/EFL learners is what cannot be achieved by NESTs. However, this is not my immediate concern. I now turn to the next hypothesis: The NNEST knows little about the spoken second language.

There is an assumption among students that they will learn as many spoken expressions as possible in a conversation course in EFL settings, and consequently, this assumption makes them feel disappointed by the presence of an NNEST in the class. This is because of a supposition that the NNEST has less knowledge about spoken language than the NEST does and a disposition that students rely on the teacher.

Reves and Medgyes (1994) conducted a survey that researched the first supposition (that the NNEST has less knowledge about spoken language than the NEST does). In short, the survey results are that the NEST has more skills on language in use and colloquial registers, whereas the NNEST is more able to teach grammar rules and formal registers.

However, the research seemed to be distorted from the outset. First, the representatives of the British Council in 16 non-English-speaking countries selected the respondents who were, for the most part, less experienced or "unqualified" teachers (Reves & Medgyes, 1994). Next, the questionnaire largely comprised close-ended forms, which could possibly have tailored the participants' answers to the surveyor's intent.

Finally, Reves and Medgyes' (1994) overall interpretations of the responses drew on the idea of language deficit. To put it differently, they judged that the NNESTs' lack of speaking ability often makes them dependent on the native language and may contribute to the "development of pidgins" (p. 360). What they imply does not differ from the "linguistic imperialism" (Davies, 2003, p. 155) that considers English as the single standard code. Reves and Medgyes also claimed that NNESTs should benefit from contact with NESTs to increase their language proficiency, not mentioning the NNESTs' own effort.

In addition, according to the two researchers, the NNEST tends to teach less contextual language because of their limited knowledge (Reves & Medgyes, 1994). On the one hand, this may be true. On the other hand, however, the NESTs are also equipped with each distinctive level of pragmatic competence as asserted by Davies (2003). Among researchers, Samimy and Brutt-Griffler (1999) were skeptical about this survey, and they therefore attempted to conduct a survey with more qualified NNESTs as participants as will be detailed later.

In conclusion, it may be possible to generalize the second hypothesis, that the NNEST knows little about spoken language; nevertheless, that should not by any means be understood as an inadequacy. Rather, it should be perceived as an element that motivates the NNEST to employ sufficient authentic materials that help learners acquire colloquialism as will be discussed below.

Next, the disposition of the students' reliance on the teacher is what has to be handled carefully because no matter how much the teacher is responsible for fostering an authentic environment, it is the students' final duty to internalize knowledge from that environment. The NEST's existence by itself does not symbolize the students' successful learning of spoken English. As indicated by an English instructor, a "teacher cannot teach a language to an unwilling student" (A. Tillyer, personal communication, November 5, 2003).

Such cases are often observed in a classroom in any English language program in the United States. For example, mostly young, say, Korean students just sit in the class with the NEST and always mingle with one another outside the classroom, and that results in the loss of chances to speak English. Thus, their stay in the United States ends up being nonproductive.

Therefore, it cannot be overemphasized that the teacher's L1 alone does not necessarily guarantee students' accomplishments in L2 acquisition. More critical to language learning is the students' voluntary effort to seize the knowledge given by the teacher. Thus, no matter how true the second hypothesis is, it cannot be the reason for the students to lose hope; rather, they should find motivation inside themselves.

Meanwhile, in terms of the authentic data, an e-mail message said that "TV talk . . . is far from natural . . . written by writers thinking about what people would say in a situation . . . not the same as . . . real . . . in TV shows the participants know they are being taped . . . and are likely to modify their speech . . . " (S. M. Ford, personal communication, October 8, 2003). The message seemed, although an interesting observation, narrow minded (if not wrong), because people are constantly changing communication modes according to when and where they interact with whom in reference to what, even in real life.

In comparison with this, another two e-mail messages agreed on the usage of various authentic linguistic samples, as either in "lots of exposure to authentic material is best . . . I have . . . used sources from NPR . . . also . . . songs with clear lyrics . . ." (M. Anthony, personal communication, October 27, 2003) or in "there is no limit to authentic materials . . . anything in English . . ." (M. L. Bland, personal communication, October 1, 2003).

It is, of course, necessary for teachers to be able to discriminate proper sources from those available. However, it is real-world English that students will eventually encounter, and in that event it will be the teacher's job to teach how to communicate effectively in any situation rather than to display merely good examples.

Indeed, what the English teacher can and must do for the students has been a major concern. This is not only because language is a major part of an individual's identity that affects his or her attitude, but also because, among many other languages, English has the most power to influence learners' minds. In other words, the teacher must remove the learners' affective filter to an appropriate extent and aid them in learning English. Then, the native/nonnative dichotomy does not appear to be very essential to arguments about teacher qualification. Thenext section will be devoted to discussing the final hypothesis (a good English teacher is necessarily a native English speaker) that expands my view, which has been confined to the conversation teacher.

As stated before, Reves and Medgyes' (1994) study revealed such procedural problems as selecting the less-experienced NNESTs and providing mainly a close-ended questionnaire. Their perspective mostly reflected the notion of language deficit. Reviewing this problem, Samimy and Brutt-Griffler (1999) conducted a study using a similar but more in-depth method. They surveyed in multiple ways, including using a questionnaire, discussions, interviews, and autobiographical narratives, with all the participants enrolled in an MA or PhD program in TESOL in the United States.

The results were by their nature more positive than those of the previous study. More than 80% of the interviewees evaluated their control of English asexcellent or good, and 54% of them responded that language proficiency affects the teaching a little, with 6% indicating not at all (Samimy & Brutt-Griffler, 1999). Also, despite the perception of the NEST's and NNEST's different instructional behavior as in the former study, Samimy and Brutt-Griffler's subjects did not consider the NEST to be superior to the NNEST. Here a respondent made the meaningful comment that a "successful teacher never depends on nativeness" (p. 135). What most of the respondents claimed was that an English teacher's success can be achieved by embracing such various components as program goals, curricula, students' level and age, and the teacher's own character and abilities. No respondents believed the third hypothesis that a good English teacher is necessarily a native English speaker.

Furthermore, Phillipson (1992) described an "ideal" teacher, borrowing the view of European foreign-language teaching, as one who is highly competent in the target language and has the "same linguistic and cultural background" as students (p. 15). Similarly, Liu (1999) reported that the literature advocated the advantages of NNESTs such as having experiences common to the learners' and being more responsive to the learners' needs and goals. Effect of such empathy is well noticed in one student's journal in which the student wrote with regard to the NNEST, "I am happy. You are like us. You understand my feelings about English" (quoted in Thomas, 1999, p. 12).

In addition, according to Lee (2000), the NNESTs are "good role models" for their ESL/EFL students, and they convey the strong message that nonnative speakers can become not only fluent speakers but also English teachers.

Meanwhile, Liu's (1999) study expressed some skepticism about the role model conception. The respondents in his study, who were professionals in ESL programs, denied that the presence of NNESTs positively influenced learners in any way and admitted that an NNEST's native-like English at times discourages the learners and even increases their affective filter (Liu). However, it seems that such emotional inhibition is nurtured in the students' mind, and if the teacher recognized the problem, it would be that he or she should and could find the answer. In that event, the teacher's command of a class and students is more essential than his or her grasp of the language. Again, the third hypothesis that a good English teacher is necessarily a native English speaker or a native-like English speaker is not the case.

Quoting the UNESCO monograph, Phillipson (1992) insisted that a "teacher is not adequately qualified to teach a language merely because it is his mother tongue" (p. 15). It is perhaps the NNESTs themselves, not anybody, who condemn the nonnativeness and therefore are not confident of their identity, as Davies (2003) keenly pointed out that the native-nonnative "boundary" is proposed not only by NESTs but also by NNESTs (p. 9). In short, the study results and literature discussed here nicely refute that a good English teacher is necessarily a native English speaker.

This article has in particular observed the NNEST in a conversation class, proposed the three hypotheses that stigmatize the NNEST as inadequate for such a class, and examined the validity of these hypotheses. In brief, the arguments so far are summarized as follows.

First, the hypothesis that the NNEST's foreign accent is impossible to change cannot be warranted, not only because native speakers of English, like those of any language, have distinctive accents according to geographical and cultural context but also because everyone is a native speaker of his or her idiolect. In other words, everyone is a nonnative speaker of another's individual language, and thus, among native English speakers, one's accent can be thought of as a foreign accent to another.

Second, it may be the case that the NNEST knows little about the spoken second language; nevertheless, this hypothesis should not be dealt with merely as the NNEST's deficit. Instead, efforts should be made to accept that native English speakers also differ from one another in communicative competence. Meanwhile, it is reasonable to argue that the NNEST can employ authentic sources for the purpose of completing his or her knowledge and to furnish students with examples of spoken English. Also, it is worth noting that, although both NESTs and NNESTs agree that the NEST has more intuitions about colloquialism, the NEST per se without a learner's own endeavor does not ensure the learner's successful language acquisition.

Third, the hypothesis that a good English teacher is necessarily a native English speaker cannot be rationalized because, based on study results and classroom experience, researchers and teachers have confirmed that the teacher's English either as L1 or as L2 is not as important as his or her instruction. More vital to effective teaching as well as learning is, according to researchers and teachers, the synergy between teachers and students who esteem each other.

In conclusion, I am not arguing here that all the strong points of the NESTs, who will be my fellow teachers in the future, should be disregarded. Nor am I maintaining that the NNESTs should be defended from any reasonable weaknesses. What I have persistently been demanding throughout this article is that being an NNEST should not by any means be a reason to be undervalued in a conversation class because those who are called teachers, either NESTs or NNESTs, are already qualified, if not perfectly competent, to teach.

In the 34th Annual TESOL Convention, Freeman and Freeman (2000) proposed a checklist for effective teaching; none of the items in the list refer to the teacher's nativeness or nonnativeness. Finally, in an English conversation class, does it matter if the teacher isn't a native speaker? As Liu (1999) commented, "what matters is the teacher's professionalism" (p. 100).


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Freeman, D., & Freeman, Y. (2000). Checklist for effective practices with English learners. TESOL Matters, 9(6). Retrieved October 7, 2003, fromhttp://www2.tesol.org/isaffil/intsec/columns/199912-be.html.

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Reves, T., & Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native English speaking EFL/ESL teacher's self-image: An international survey. System, 22(3), 353-367.

Samimy, K., & Brutt-Griffler, J. (1999). To be a native or non-native speaker: Perceptions of "non-native" students in a graduate TESOL program. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 127-144). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Thomas, J. (1999). Voices from periphery: Non-native teachers and issues of credibility. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching(pp. 5-13). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Practical, Effective Tactics for Prospective NNEST Professionals

By Hiromi Saito, English Language Institute at Queens College, City University of New York, e-mail: hiromisaito@hotmail.com

Nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs), especially those who teach in the ESL context, often encounter a variety of challenges. Needless to say, highly linguistic, pedagogical, and cultural competencies are assumed to guard against such challenges. However, NNESTs need to employ some techniques to overcome different related challenges, such as the unfavorable perception of ESL/EFL learners toward NNESTs, NNESTs' lack of knowledge of some language-related issues, and NNESTs' relationships with native English teachers in the workplace. This article is put forth to address these issues and spell out some practical suggestions that are derived from personal experience.

Revealing One's Identity

Declaring your identity as an NNEST and sharing your strong merits or qualifications at the outset of the class is considered to be an important issue in the profession of teaching English as a second/foreign language. ESL learners come to class with the presumption that their English instructors are expected to be native-English-speaking teachers. When students find out otherwise, they may have unanswered questions about who their teacher is, what qualifications she or he has, and how they will benefit from being taught by an NNEST. I, myself, often share my identity with my students at the first meeting of each class I teach. I stress the fact that I have enough language knowledge (about my own language and English), and I have enough cultural knowledge of my own and English. Personal experience shows that utilizing such a strategy had positive results. I noticed that my students come to know me better, trust my qualifications, and regard me as a role model for successful English learners. I often receive questions and requests for advice pertaining to effective methods and good materials for learning English.

Dealing Effectively With the Expected Negative Comments

Another related challenge is the negative prejudgment that ESL students have toward NNESTs. Some ESL learners think that NNESTs are inferior to native-English-speaking teachers (NESTs). Their stand is not based on sound judgment; rather it is based solely on the idea that an NEST is better able to teach his or her own language (English) than an NNEST. Such beliefs sometimes affect us in a harmful way and make us lose our confidence. In the middle of all this we seek to overlook the fact we, NNESTs, are behind so many successful ESL learners and that there are some ESL learners who hold positive thoughts toward us.

Conducting Yourself Professionally

Another important technique that NNESTs should be aware of is to avoid being oversensitive. Based on my personal observations, I notice that NNESTs tend to feel intimidated by admitting their lack of knowledge concerning certain grammatical points or other related English language issues. It is perfectly all right to openly say "I don't know" when you do not know the answer to the question being asked. This is commonly practiced by all instructors in every subject, and ESL is no exception. Relating from my own experience, I do not see this as an issue equated only with NNESTs. NESTs go through similar experiences as well and often seek answers from their colleagues to the questions that their students ask them. After reflecting on this issue, I am now convinced more than ever that it is extremely difficult to find one who knows everything about English. No matter what the native language of the speaker, there are bound to be many things the speaker does not know.

Knowing that the expectation of ESL learners toward NNESTs is higher, I would, however, employ the "I do not know" strategy more carefully. I've found that playing the facilitator role is very effective in handling a situation that involves not knowing the answer to the questions that students ask you. I usually let the students reach the answer by themselves, help each other, and provide them with hints and clues throughout the situation.

Dealing With NESTs in the Workplace

In the workplace, it is vitally important that we establish a good relationship with our NEST colleagues. NNESTs often are sensitive to how our NEST colleagues perceive us, and we are afraid of the fact that they may look at us as incompetent English teachers only because of our status as NNESTs. However, creating good relations with them allows us to win their trust, support, encouragement, cooperation, and appreciation. It is true that occasionally we may encounter some NESTs who may think that we are not capable of teaching English. My advice would be to engage them in a healthy discussion so that we can show them our strengths and bring to their attention the advantages we bring to the ESL classroom. Another suggestion is not to rush to be defensive when you hear negative comments made by NESTs. Try, instead, to find it how it came about and why this person made such comments. One day, a coteacher told me point blank, "Listen, all of your students are complaining about you. I am only saying this to you because I am very concerned about you." ALL of my students are unhappy with me? I was in shock and in tears. When I told another teacher about this, he told me that this teacher has done the same thing to other teachers--native English speakers--in the past. The lesson I learned from this experience was that in any workplace there are bullies, and the ESL classroom is no exception. I also became more determined not to allow such people to bother me.

Concluding Remarks

NNESTs have many disadvantages working as ESL teachers in an NEST-dominant world, but as long as we do our best and continuously work to improve our language and teaching skills, we have nothing for which to be ashamed. In fact, our becoming successful language learners and teachers gives great encouragement to many of our students. We are making a major contribution to this multicultural society.

NNEST Caucus Leaders 2004-2005

Ahmar Mahboob
East Carolina University
2117 Bate Building
Greenville, NC 27858 USA

Khalid Al-Seghayer
P.O. Box 55347
Riyadh 11534
Saudi Arabia

Past Chair
Masaki Oda
Department of International Studies
Tamagawa University
Machida, Tokyo 194-8610

George Braine
Department of English
Chinese University of Hong Kong

Newsletter Editor
Silvia Andrea Pessoa, spessoa@andrew.cmu.edu
Fabiana Sacchi, fsacchi@umich.edu

Lucie Moussu
Department of English
Purdue University
Wes Lafayette, IN 47905 USA

About This Member Community Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL Caucus (NNEST)

The Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL Caucus was established in October 1998 to strengthen effective teaching and learning of English around the world while respecting individuals' language rights.

NNEST Leaders, 2004-2005

E-mail mailto:nnest@tesol.org

Chair: Ahmar Mahboob
Chair-Elect: Khalid Al-Seghayer
Newsletter Editor: Silvia Andrea Pessoa
Newsletter Coeditor: Fabiana Sacchi

Web site: http://nnest.moussu.net/

Member discussion list: Visit http://www.tesol.org/getconnected/ to join NNEST-L, the open discussion list for NNEST members, or visithttp://lists.tesol.org/read/?forum=nnest-l if you are already an e-list subscriber.