November 2019
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Parawati Siti Sondari, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania, USA

Being an English teacher with experience teaching in two English language schools and a teacher’s college in Indonesia has afforded me with varying degrees of contact with English language teachers from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and England. Reflecting upon my contact with them, in this article, I describe the trajectory of my positioning as an English teacher along the lines of a continuum with the dichotomy of native English speaker teacher (NEST) and privileged nonnative English speaker teacher (NNEST) on one end and translingual orientation on the other end. This continuum is multidimensional because it permeates multiple layers of language teaching, including the sociopolitical dynamics of each institution and my professional teacher identity.

As an NNEST coming into contact with privileged NNESTs (Caucasian English teachers not from English-speaking countries) and NESTs, I was situated in a contact zone, a social space in which I continuously (de)constructed my identity in “highly asymmetrical relations of power” (Pratt, 1991). In such relations of power imbalance, NESTs supported by pervasive native-speakerism ideology and privileged NNESTs hold the upper hand as they represent the essentialized Western culture “from which spring ideals both of English language teaching and of English language teaching methodology” (Holliday, 2006). The way I perceive it in my context, this results in a dichotomy between a group of NESTs and privileged NNESTs and a group of underprivileged Indonesian NNESTs. However, by the very means of interrogating such a dichotomy in my contact with them, I was able to turn challenges and obstacles into affordances, thus constructing my translingual identity, which mediated the development of my professional teacher identity.

My early teaching experience, facilitated by a nongovernment not-for-profit organization recognized by UNESCO, in a nationally renowned English school from 2007–2011 marked my first contact with European English teachers. The head of the school told us, the local teachers, that a guest teacher would visit and teach one session in each of our classes. We were instructed to share them our teaching materials that the guest teacher would cover. The first guest teacher I had contact with was a male Dutch (a privileged NNEST). He had no prior teaching experiences because his educational background was in economics and law. Nevertheless, he had many privileges compared to us, local teachers: He was allowed to teach without supervision and evaluation, received higher payment, and was fully accommodated by the school. He told me once that he joined the teaching program to travel around the world without expenses. Despite his lack of expertise in language teaching, the school considered his internship an effective marketing strategy.

At that time, I did not question anything; I thought that he was much better than me both in teaching and language skills because he was Caucasian and therefore resembled a native speaker, which represented Western culture (Mahboob & Golden, 2013). I felt inferior; the feeling derived from my blind belief in the myth of native speaker superiority, or in this case native-speaker look-alike superiority, resulting in my long engagement in (self) marginalization (Canagarajah, 2013; Park, 2017). After the Dutch guest teacher, the internship continued with other guest teachers from Poland and other European countries. The owner of the school was also acquainted with an Australian teacher who served as a guest teacher and who later influenced the construction of my identity as a teacher and translingual.

In mid-2011, I decided to challenge myself by applying to another English school specializing in teaching college students, dominated by students from the best technology institute in Indonesia. This course offered three main packages of teachers: full local NNEST, mixed NNEST and NEST, and full NEST. The pricing doubled when a NEST was involved. For the mixed NNEST-NEST classes, the sessions were shared equally; the NNEST taught the first half of the session, and the NEST taught the second. As a local teacher, I never had a team-teaching with NESTs.

At this school, I befriended a female Briton. With my insecurity from previous contact with guest teachers, I was more anxious because we shared classes and had to work together to talk about teaching materials and the students. Working with her gave me the opportunity to learn about myself as a teacher who could hold an equal position with a NEST. She and I discussed teaching materials, teaching methods, and student-related topics, just as I occasionally had with my NNESTs colleagues. We also shared our problems in the classroom and negotiated ways to deal with such problems. In turn, I was able to identify my strengths as affordances, including my identity as an English language learner, my knowledge of specific Indonesian cultural practices, and my experiences as a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant who had undergone rigorous standardized English language testing and interviews. I was able to tap into my own resources and experiences, which were similar to what my students underwent, and worked together with my students to achieve their learning goals. I felt empowered; it is ironic that I was beginning to shy away from the dichotomy of NEST and NNEST in my collaboration with the British English teacher and in my teaching practices in an institution that makes a fortune out of this dichotomy. This NEST and NNEST dichotomy started to falter. I began to see myself as a legitimate English teacher with my own niche.

Based on these experiences in two private English schools, I would like to suggest that NESTs and privileged NNESTs in Indonesia have the upper hand in the TESOL profession; it is easy for them to secure a job with much a higher salary than Indonesian NNESTs in large part because the society strongly maintains the NEST/NNEST dichotomy. This ideology is pervasive in English language teaching in the Indonesian context because the idea of native-like competence underlies the deficiency perspective and because the practices of glorifying NESTs are widespread (Novianti, 2018; Setiawan, 2015).

At first, because I held the deficient view in which NESTs are perfect models of speakers and teachers, I felt that it was acceptable for NESTs and privileged NNESTs to receive better facilities and salaries. After all, they had traveled a long way to Indonesia and deserved to be paid at their country’s standard of living. I considered them superior in all respects. Despite these mixed feelings, I decided to do my best by establishing a good rapport with my students, preparing my lessons the best I could, and having constant discussions with my NEST friends. As a result, my NEST friends and I were learning from each other. We shared the same interest: to deliver effective instructional practices. These experiences led to a belief that this NEST/NNEST dichotomy is, in Canagarajah’s word (2013), unproductive.

I also had several opportunities to team-teach with the Australian NEST that I met at the first school I worked for. He started working at the teacher college that I worked for in 2013. Our program decided to hire him with the intention to expose our students to a native speaker. The head of the program decided to hire him as a colecturer in a cross-cultural communication course and a guest lecturer for other courses. As a guest lecturer, he taught one session in each of the courses. I had the opportunity to work with him as a guest lecturer. Instead of having him teach my class by himself as I had with other lecturers, I asked him to team-teach with me: I wanted to make the best use of that one session. In my previous encounters with NESTs, I had a little bit of confidence, but I was still very anxious. In our first team-teaching session, I expressed my concerns about having the team-teaching session with him and explained what I planned to do in the classroom. To my surprise, he was excited about what we were going to do, and the lesson turned out great. We were negotiating and collaborating, and we created a unique space for us and the students to work on the same goal: effective communication as translinguals and learning. Since then, we maintain friendship and engage in productive conversations about language teaching in our institution.

In two crucial and successful contacts with the female British teacher and the male Australian teacher, I was shuttling back and forth in the continuum from dichotomy to translingual orientation. In both contexts, I was aware that I was constructing and performing my professional teacher identity. However, I was not aware of my translingual identity, which resulted in my shuttling back to the dichotomy. I believe that the collaborations between my colleagues (NESTs) and myself (NNEST) have allowed me to go beyond the dichotomy of the native and nonnative ideology because I could negotiate my pedagogical practices and develop symbolic competence to “create ‘relationship of possibility’ or affordances” (Kramsch & Whiteside, 2008). My colleagues and I learn from each other as colleagues with equal teaching potential as professional teachers. However, what was missing at those times was the reflexive and deliberate interrogation of prevailing ideologies and power relations as an enactment of translingual practices, which is pivotal in my construction of professional teacher identity. As I gained awareness of the importance of such reflexive practices of my translingual identity in my current academic and pedagogical practices, I began to actively construct and perform my translingual identity in the “intersectionality of identities” (Alvarez, Canagarajah, Lee, Lee, & Rabbi, 2017), particularly in the construction of my professional teacher identity. This allows me to navigate any possible resources whenever I shuttle back to the dichotomy as a NNEST and engage in the process of “(self) marginalization” (Park, 2017).


Alvarez, S. P., Canagarajah, S., Lee, E., Lee, J. W., & Rabbi, S. (2017). Translingual practice, ethnic identities, and voice in writing. Crossing Divides: Exploring Translingual Writing Pedagogies and Programs, 31.

Canagarajah, A. S. (2013). Translingual practice: Global Englishes and cosmopolitan relations. New York, USA: Routledge.

Holliday, A. (2006). Native-speakerism. ELT Journal, 60(4), 385–387. doi:10.1093/elt/ccl030

Kramsch, C., & Whiteside, A. (2008). Language ecology in multilingual settings. Towards a theory of symbolic competence. Applied Linguistics, 29(4), 645–671. doi:10.1093/applin/amn022

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.

Novianti, A. (2018). Native versus non-native English speaking teachers: An insight into Indonesian students’ voices. Jurnal Pendidikan Bahasa Dan Sastra, 11(2), 44–57. doi:10.17509/bs

Park, G. (2017). Narratives of East Asian women teachers of English: Where privilege meets marginalization. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Pratt, M. L. (1991). Arts of the contact zone. Profession, 91, 1–18.

Setiawan, A. W. (2015). Attitudes towards Indonesian teachers of English and implications for their professional identity (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Adelaide, Australia.

Parawati Siti Sondari is a Fulbright scholar currently pursuing a PhD in the Composition and Applied Linguistics Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her interests include second language acquisition, teacher identity, and language teacher education.
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