October 2017
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Nathanael Rudolph, Mukogawa Women's University, Nishinomiya, Japan & Bedrettin Yazan, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

Nathanael Rudolph


In This Special Issue…

Guest Editors

Nathanael Rudolph

Mukogawa Women’s University

Bedrettin Yazan

The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

This special issue reflects upon the 2016–2017 TESOL Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL Interest Section (NNEST-IS) Electronic Village Online workshop, hosted by TESOL’s Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section. The overarching theme of the workshop was “Promoting Professional Equity in ELT, and Practice Attending to the Complexity of Identity and Interaction in Contexts Around the Globe.” The goal for the workshop was for its 60 participants to explore the different ways critically oriented scholars in the discursive field of English language teaching (ELT; Pennycook, 2007) have apprehended and approached identity, experience, and inequity, and the implications their lenses have had for framing who teachers are and can or should be or become. Clarifying what people are problematizing allowed us to then dialogue regarding the ways we, as professionals, might seek to advocate for the reconceptualization of language ownership, learning, use, and instruction, in our classrooms and in professional activities, as well as to attend to the dynamic complexity of identity and interaction in and beyond the classroom. Through “a constant skepticism, a constant questioning of the normative assumptions of applied linguistics” (Pennycook, 2001, p. 10), it was our hope to engage in “a restive problematization of the givens of applied linguistics and presents a way of doing applied linguistics that seeks to connect it to questions of gender, class, sexuality, race, ethnicity, culture, identity, politics, ideology, and discourse” (p. 10).

What critical scholars largely agree on, implicitly and explicitly, is that in attending to identity and experience and addressing inequity, stakeholders in ELT, critically oriented and otherwise, are problematizing, challenging, and at times reifying and affirming what we (the guest editors) would apprehend as essentialized and idealized notions of being and becoming. (This language is grounded in postmodern and poststructural theory, and would therefore not be acknowledged, accepted, or utilized by many scholars positioning themselves or being positioned within criticality. Nevertheless, these concepts serve as a way to dialogue regarding the continued transformation of our field.) By essentialization, we are speaking of the discursive construction (or acceptance and perpetuation) of borders demarcating self-other, us-them, purity-impurity, correctness-incorrectness, and valuable-not valuable relating to language, culture, place, and identity (Rutherford, 1990) that give shape to idealized notions of who learners, users, and instructors are and can or should become in ELT and the communities in which the ELT is located (Rudolph, 2016). Yet criticality is certainly far from conceptually homogenous. Thus, one fundamental challenge participants in the workshop quickly discovered in dialogue with each other related to, "What do we mean when we say 'move beyond idealization?'", and "Where are we seeking to go?"

Some scholars who position themselves or are positioned as critical scholars do not problematize one-size-fits-all approaches to ELT predicated upon an idealized native speaker (NS; imagined as White, Western, most often North American or British, male, urban dwelling, and middle to upper class), but instead challenge the native speaker fallacy (Phillipson, 1992), or the idea that native speakers are by default ideal teachers of English. These scholars contend that nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs), as part of a native-English-speaking teacher (NEST)/NNEST binary, have had their personal-professional identities and professional training and experiences "othered." Such individuals argue that NNESTs' ownership and use of local language (which they are imagined to share with their students) and their English language learning experience enables them to better connect with and guide learners. NESTs and NNESTs can therefore complement each other, in ELT. The goal for criticality through such a lens is to cultivate a field in which teachers can work side by side, drawing upon their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Other scholars challenge both decontextualized ELT grounded upon the idealized "NS construct" and the idealization underpinning the NS fallacy. This scholarship views idealization as underpinned by "native speakerism" (Holliday, 2006), or the globalized discourse originating in the West and shaping the globalized field of ELT that NSs/NESTs whose identities correspond with the NS construct should be privileged professionally. Idealization of NSs/NESTs therefore results in the essentializing and marginalizing of the translinguistic, transcultural, and transnational identities and abilities of NNSs/NNESTs. In problematizing native speakerism and the native speaker fallacy, these scholars point to the emergent diversity and complexity of contexts, users, varieties, and functions of English around the globe, and the necessity of teachers to value and draw upon their and their students' identities in preparing for interaction in the classroom and the world beyond. The goals for criticality therefore include problematizing the linguistic, cultural, ethnic, political, socioeconomic, religious, geographic, academic, gender-related, and professional discourses that serve to privilege NSs/NESTs and marginalize NNSs/NNESTs, using reasons critical and practical.

Additional scholars, drawing upon postcolonial, postmodern, and poststructural theory, contend that that identity is dynamically, contextually, and discursively negotiated (Davies & Harré, 1990). These scholars contend that creation, limitation, and elimination of personal and professional space for being and becoming in ELT, whether speaking of language ownership, learning, use, or instruction, is context specific and fluidly connected to the local-global construction of linguistic, cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, political, educational, geographical, professional, and gender-related borders of identity and community membership in the setting in which the ELT is situated (e.g., Aneja, 2016; Houghton & Rivers, 2013; Park, 2015). This work takes issue with binary-oriented, dominant, and critical approaches to identity, experience, and inequity, contending that the essentialization of identity and experience may result in the following few specific issues.

  1. the devaluation, ignoring, invalidation, or even suppression of learner, user, and instructor negotiations of lived experience that do not fit neatly into categories of identity;

  2. essentialization of the complexity of contextualized, local-global negotiations of privilege-marginalization, and conflation of teaching contexts and experiences at all levels, within and across contexts;

  3. assignment of local language(s) to the NNEST category, which results in an additional binary of local and nonlocal NNESTs, and a general stripping of translinguistic and transcultural identity from all individuals not positioned as local;

  4. little to no space or need for learners, users, and instructors to attend to their own positionality beyond that of their assumed, categorically affiliated identity within ELT; and

  5. the potential co-option of criticality apprehending identity through essentializing categories, by localized discourses of essentialization and idealization, to reinforce constructions of and agendas for binaries of self-other within communities and self-other in terms of communities juxtaposed against “the world beyond.” (Yazan & Rudolph, in press).

The goal of such a lens is to cultivate a criticality that is contextually and sociohistorically sensitive and attentive to the creation, limitation, and elimination of space for individuals in communities and ELT constructed therein and to encourage explorations of practice attending to the complexity of identity and interaction in and beyond the classroom that include all professionals.

Throughout the course of the workshop, participants had the opportunity to discuss criticality in depth, shared their lived experiences wrestling with essentialization and idealization, and cultivated both friendships and professional relationships with each other. Weekly conversations were augmented by presentations and live sessions by four researcher-practitioners. In Week 2, Nathanael Rudolph presented on the topic, "Critical Worldviews and Constructions of 'Moving Beyond the Idealized Native Speaker': Implications for Inquiry and Practice." During Week 3, Geeta Aneja explored the topic of "(Non)native Speakering in Teacher Education: Where It Comes From, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It." Next, in Week 4, Ana Solano-Campos presented on the theme of "Beyond the NS/NNS Binary: Intersectionality in Contexts of (Neo)Colonial Bilingualism," followed by Rashi Jain, who in Week 5 invited participants to explore the theme "Examining Translingualism in TESOL, and Exploring the Intersection of Translingual Scholarship and NNEST Issues."

Following conclusion of the workshop, select participants were invited to contribute articles to this special issue of the NNEST Newsletter, highlighting their personal-professional experiences negotiating identity and criticality. We are honored to include articles by Pamela Arrarás, currently teaching English and intercultural studies in secondary public schools in Argentina, and Joya Senchowa, a primary school teacher and master trainer in Assam, India. Thank you to Pamela, Joya, and all moderators, presenters, and participants in the NNEST-IS Electronic Village Online workshop! A warm and heartfelt thank you, as well, to Burcu Ates and Baburhan Uzum, current NNEST Newsletter coeditors, who have graciously allowed us to frame this special issue.


Aneja, G. A. (2016). (Non)native speakered: Rethinking (non)nativeness and teacher identity in TESOL teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 50, 572–596.

Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of selves. Journal for the theory of social behaviour, 20(1), 43–63.

Holliday, A. (2006). Native-speakerism. ELT Journal, 60(4), 385–387.

Houghton, S. A., & Rivers, D. J. (2013). Native-speakerism in Japan: Intergroup dynamics in foreign language education. Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.

Park, G. (2015). Situating the discourses of privilege and marginalization in the lives of two East Asian women teachers of English. Race Ethnicity and Education, 18(1), 108–133.

Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pennycook, A. (2007). The myth of English as an international language. In S. Makoni & A. Pennycook (Eds.), Disinventing and reconstituting languages (pp. 90–115). Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.

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

Rudolph, N. (2016). Beyond essentialism: Apprehending “identity” and “motivation” through a poststructuralist lens. In M. Apple, D. Da Silva, & T. Fellner (Eds.), L2 selves and motivations in Asian contexts (pp. 217–227). Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.

Rutherford, J. (1990). The third space: Interview with Homi Bhabha. In J. Rutherford (Ed.), Identity, community, culture, difference (pp. 207–221). London, England: Lawrence and Wishart.

Yazan, B., & Rudolph, N. (Eds.) (in press). Criticality, teacher identity, and (in)equity in English language teaching: Issues and implications. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Nathanael Rudolph is an Associate Professor at Mukogawa Women’s University, in Nishinomiya, Japan. Nathanael's research interests relate to postmodern and poststructural approaches to teacher and learner identity, (in)equity in the field of ELT, and approaches to teacher education and classroom practice that challenge essentialized and idealized (non)nativeness. He is the Chair-elect of the NNEST Interest Section.

Bedrettin Yazan is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. His research interests include language teacher learning and identity development, language policy and planning, teaching English as an international language, and collaboration between ESL and mainstream teachers. He also serves as the Chair of NNEST IS.

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Extended to 1 November 2017 for December 2017 issue