How are Pre-service Teachers Being Prepared to Work in Multilingual Contexts?

This month we published Preparing Teachers to Work with Multilingual Learners, edited by Meike Wernicke, Svenja Hammer, Antje Hansen and Tobias Schroedler. In this post the editors discuss the project that inspired the volume as well as the research initiatives currently emerging from the project. 

Among the many challenges, the current COVID-19 global pandemic has brought to light a heightened need to take into account the reality of language diversity in our societies, especially in a time of crisis. Conveying rapidly changing information related to public health cannot only happen in the dominant or official language. Local communities require reliable, consistent access to relevant information in the languages they use, including minoritized languages that have historically been devalued and continue to be marginalized across many regions of the world. This sense of urgency is also a reality in educational contexts, where teachers are confronting an ever wider range of culturally and linguistically diverse students in their classrooms. This past year, with repeated lockdowns making home-schooling and online learning and teaching the only options, the importance of home languages has become all the more salient as teachers are navigating daily communication with students and their parents. An ever-important question that both pre-pandemic and the current realities raise is, “how are pre-service teachers being prepared to work in multilingual contexts?”

This edited volume responds to exactly this question. The chapters presented here discuss in detail the kinds of multilingual approaches that are being developed in teacher education programs and professional learning in countries across Europe and North America, in response to the national and regional language-in-education policies implemented over the past several decades.

What makes this volume unique is that it is not merely a collection of research studies centered on a common theme. Rather, the volume is the culmination of an international research project initiated at the University of Hamburg in Germany in 2018, bringing together emerging researchers from Canada, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Sweden and the United States for the purpose of exploring key approaches to linguistic diversity in current pre-service teacher education. Two webinars and a face-to-face workshop in Hamburg resulted in an exceptionally rich exchange of ideas on multilingualism, producing not only a much-needed overview of different international perspectives on multilingual teacher preparation, but also providing an opportunity for project participants to take a step back from their own educational setting and to situate their practices and perspectives within a larger context.

Notably, the chapters highlight the complexity of each educational context and the role that history, language policies, and institutional and programmatic priorities play in the development and implementation of a multilingual focus in teacher education. Of particular interest are the country-specific issues that have evolved due to the history and ongoing presence of multiple languages in educational contexts. The authors who have contributed to the volume take a critical view of how multilingualism itself is conceptualized within and across these settings, while considering not only migrant-background learners but also students from Indigenous, autochthonous and heritage language backgrounds, or speaking minoritized regional varieties. Overall, the book highlights the positive and valuable impact that explicit instruction on theories of multilingualism, pedagogies in multilingual classrooms, and lived realities of multilingual children can have on beliefs and practices of pre-service teachers.

To date, the MultiTEd project has already led to further collaborations for a number of the researchers in their respective contexts. For example, the book has prompted countrywide discussions among teacher educators, practitioners and researchers in Canada with an emphasis on “Centering multilingual learners in teacher education.” A Germany-Sweden collaboration is exploring pre-service teachers’ beliefs about multilingualism in different national settings while research partnerships between Italy, Germany and Estonia are working to expand cooperation in teacher education and are focused on inclusive linguistic practices and the promotion of social equity in educational settings through translanguaging pedagogies. Research extending from the study described in the US context is currently investigating multilingual, inclusive approaches in remote contexts, including online instruction during the pandemic and in teacher education. In response to the ideological and structural challenges highlighted by students and teachers in this research, the group is now exploring advocacy efforts to address state-level education policies as they relate to languages in the classroom. The MultiTEd project also underpins work in Finland connected with the research alliance FORTHEM Multilingualism in School and Higher Education. Moreover, it has initiated further international cooperation to commonly analyze the role of multilingualism in teacher education in Austria as well as South Africa. And not only is the volume providing a useful comparison for ongoing empirical investigations about teachers attitudes toward multilingualism or the volume’s contributors, the chapters are also being built into future research projects, seminars, and teacher education courses. In that regard, the authors and editors are happy to share their experiences and collaborate with interested scholars to further explore the subject in other national or regional contexts.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Preparing Teachers to Teach English as an International Language edited by Aya Matsuda.

Language Teacher Noticing as Professional Development

This month we are publishing Language Teacher Noticing in Tasks by Daniel O. Jackson. In this post the author explains the concept of ‘teacher noticing’ and the book’s aims.

To teach effectively we need to notice. Detailed accounts of how language teachers attend to and act upon student contributions in a range of ways are somewhat rare, however. The article I have already published on this topic needed expansion. My new book dives deeper into this key aspect of teachers’ mental lives and how it develops. The Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching (PLLT) series is the ideal venue for this research.

Teacher noticing involves attention, interpretation, and decision-making. It is a form of reflection that happens during engagement with learners. That engagement can be cognitive, affective, or social – it’s something we experience every time we teach. For years, such encounters have informed my practice and my identity as a teacher. This book examines noticing by a group of pre-service English language teachers studying at my university in Japan. It offers fresh insight into the teacher’s role in task-based language teaching in this setting and beyond.

The book’s main purpose is to introduce the concept of teacher noticing to the second language field. It situates noticing among related concepts and theories, but instead of being a purely theoretical book, it uses evidence to shed light on noticing in practice. I drew on a rich array of sources and methods to illustrate the implications for teacher development. The results show how tasks guide pre-service teachers to notice verbal and nonverbal resources that underlie successful communication in a second language.

I regard this effort as a tribute to and a continuation of the work of the late Richard “Dick” Schmidt, who was Professor Emeritus in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He is especially renowned for his widely cited noticing hypothesis. Dick was my PhD supervisor and he truly was a great mentor. For this book, I revisited his account of learner noticing and sought out connections with teacher noticing. It frames joint attention by teachers and learners within expanding contexts of tasks, programs, and schools.

Ultimately, I aim to encourage dialogue between teacher educators and language teachers about learning to notice. Pre-service teachers should have opportunities to observe on video how they interact to orchestrate performance on a range of tasks. I also offer practical suggestions to improve the noticing skills of in-service teachers. A key point for reflection is to consider when, what, and how you and your students notice during lessons.

Lastly, I could not have come this far without the support of my loving family, many wonderful students, teachers and colleagues, the PLLT series editors, and everyone at Multilingual Matters – thank you all!

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Recognition by Alison Stewart.

A History of Bilingual Education in the US

We recently published A History of Bilingual Education in the US by Sarah C.K. Moore. In this post the author briefly summarises the book’s content.

The Bilingual Education Act (BEA) (later Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to promote bilingual-bicultural education programs. Many experts have dissected its systemic undoing – what the author of my new book’s Foreword, Terrence G. Wiley, Arizona State University Emeritus Professor and former President of the Center for Applied Linguistics, has referred to as ‘the sunsetting’ and ‘grand erasure’ of Title VII. An initial goal in my research for this book was to better understand the ‘Title VII Fellows Program’ – it funded postgraduate students seeking Masters and Doctoral level degrees enrolled in universities as part of the BEA. In addition to the ‘Title VII Fellows Program’, myriad other activities once supported bilingual education in the US.

This book offers sociohistorical snapshots and revisits periods during which aid for bilingual programs existed on a national scale. Although perhaps fleetingly, a time did exist when bilingual education in the US was supported by federally administered services. ‘The Network’ of the 1970s and later was comprised of a countrywide system of resource centers serving a combination of regions and language groups, including for materials development, dissemination and assessment activities, and bilingual educator training.

By the 1990s, ‘bilingual’ education connoted a particular political stance – one either in favor of endorsing language as a civil right or against ‘affirmative ethnicity’ (made mainstream by conservative Washington Post columnist, Noel Epstein during the 1980s). We widely accept that the BEA emerged in part from the Civil Rights and Chicanx movements of the same era; it was also politically agreeable, which benefited its marshaling to passage.

Contemporarily, most multilingual education programs are labeled Dual Language Education – an arguably deliberate middle-of-the-road phrasing less ‘politicized’ than the sullied ‘bilingual’ education. Dual Language Education programs are expanding across the country rapidly and the three states targeted by the English-Only Movement (California, Arizona, and Massachusetts) have either overturned or pulled back emphasis on English-priority instructional approaches for Emergent Bilingual students. Notably however, numerous scholars have laid out in striking detail examples of racism, linguistic imperialism and prejudicial ideologies often underlying in characteristics and implementation of these programs.

Given the history of bilingual education programs and supports enabled by the BEA and Title VII, now may be a pivotal time to examine whether these could be re-conceptualized in ways that serve existing and new programs – and also, fundamentally, position language as a civil right – in harmony with the 1968 conception of bilingual-bicultural education.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Dual Language Bilingual Education by Kathryn I. Henderson and Deborah K. Palmer.

What is ‘Ultralingualism’?

This month we published The Performance of Multilingual and ‘Ultralingual’ Devotional Practices by Young British Muslims by Andrey Rosowsky. In this post the author explains the concept of ‘ultralingualism’, which is central to his book.

One of the words in the title of my book may be unfamiliar – ultralingual. And I could be accused perhaps of introducing a new term unnecessarily. And, moreover, without a significant degree of academic consensus. Yet, as a word, and as a concept, it is born out of nearly a quarter century of research which has focused, primarily, on what I would now call ‘ultralingual’ practices. My research into language practices in, primarily, minority religious communities, which I originally called ‘liturgical literacies’ (Rosowsky, 2008), regularly came up against the issue of how to account for reading and other language practices (artful recitation, memorisation, singing, for example) which appeared, on the surface, to be divorced from meaning, or from referential meaning to be more precise.

Fishman (1989) famously coined the term ‘religious classical’ to denote language varieties which were exclusively used for liturgical purposes such as Lutheran German, Geez and Ecclesiastical Greek. Such varieties are invariably linguistically distant from the spoken languages of their congregations and so understanding of what is being read or recited is often absent or incomplete. It is this which I am calling ‘ultralingualism’ and is an attempt to capture the experience of, usually, very accurate decoding accompanied by a, sometimes heightened, experience which could be considered spiritual or emotional and which is achieved beyond the words performed – thus ultralingual. However, in more recent and very detailed and useful categorisations of linguistic competences (Blommaert & Backus, 2012), there is still no obvious place for the near universal practice of ultralingualism. If it isn’t ‘full’ competence, then is it ‘partial’ or ‘minimal’?  Both the latter terms seem inadequate.

And although much of my research has featured ultralingualism in a religious context, there are many other contexts where it appears. Singers in all shapes and sizes often end up being very comfortable singing in an ultralingual way. How many choir members understand the Vulgar Latin of Carmina Burana? I recall a former colleague of mine, Professor Greg Brooks, working in east Africa in the 1960s, relating to me how he would often be asked to read out letters in Kikuyu (written in Roman script) to his Kikuyu speaking caretaker whilst not understanding the language himself. This could be called another form of ultralingualism, albeit a more prosaic one.

This book offers a fresh look at language practices of young British Muslims and provides ample support for ultralingualism as a useful term to account for such practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Maintenance, Revival and Shift in the Sociology of Religion edited by Rajeshwari Vijay Pandharipande, Maya Khemlani David and Miriam Eisenstein Ebsworth.

Foundations and Frustrations in Adolescent Newcomer Programming

This month we are publishing Educating Adolescent Newcomers in the Superdiverse Midwest by Brian David Seilstad. In this post the author explains how the idea for the book came about.

Schooling is often represented in dichotomous terms as either a liberator or an oppressor. Reading about various student experiences across diverse histories and contexts reflects and refracts this reality and underscores the equity and social justice goals inherent in education. Adolescent newcomers globally and in the US Midwest, the focus of this book, are particularly relevant to this theme in that they arrive in new locations, often as refugees or other transnational migrants, buoyed with an array of skills, experiences, and dreams that can support their, it is hoped, adaptation and creation of lives of dignity. However, the research on adolescent newcomers points out that this is neither an easy nor straightforward task and that schools often struggle to support and retain students, leading to disparate and sometimes troubling outcomes for both individuals and society (Fry, 2005; Short & Boyson, 2012; Suárez-Orozco et al, 2010).

This project was born from several personal experiences and convictions. First is my own history of living and learning in other cultures and facing the intense challenges of languacultural learning, particularly as an adolescent or adult.  Second is a conviction that schools, among all social institutions, can be positive transformative agents for learners if the institution and educational actors are highly attuned and responsive to the lives of the learners. Largely as a result of my White, American male background, a majority of my own schooling and learning experiences have been affirming and engaging, but I recognize that this is not the case for many learners throughout the world, a situation that remains a deep need for redress.

These aspects led me to explore in this book the languacultural practices of an adolescent newcomer program community in the US Midwest. The inquiry includes descriptions of the program’s history and policies while following and recording the daily class activities of one cohort of first-year high school students across their academic year. The students collectively spoke varieties of Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Kibembe, French, Somali, Nepali, and Arabic in a program with many staff and teachers of similar linguistic backgrounds and proficiencies.  This approach provides a broad and relevant context while maintaining a focus on daily communicative interactions as the core of the learning experience – indeed, what is education other than one extended experience in language development?

The chapters of the book ultimately center the disparate experiences and outcomes of the students and underline that, while the program supports many learners well, the program’s English-centric ideologies, policies, and practices create obstacles to many students that, in some cases, are insurmountable and lead to intense frustration and even dropping out. This leads to a recommendation that the program reorient its priorities to understanding the students’ languacultural backgrounds, specifically their home language literacy, and designing learning experiences to fully embrace and support the students’ emergent or experienced bilingualism.

Taken as a whole, the book strives to present a vision for humanity and schools –  one that is positive and affirming of all peoples and reflective of the beauty that emerges from the diversity and complexity of the human experience. While this may remain unrealized in many contexts, it must remain, particularly for educators, our global aspiration and driving purpose. I am deeply thankful to the program’s many administrators, teachers, bilingual assistants, and students for allowing me to share a year in their lives and discuss their own perspectives about these issues. I hope that readers of the book will find meaning here, and any comments or questions can be communicated to:

Brian Seilstad (American College Casablanca, Morocco) bseilstad@aac.ac.ma or website.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Researching Language in Superdiverse Urban Contexts edited by Clare Mar-Molinero.

A Multilingual Environment on Study Abroad – Barrier or Benefit?

This month we published Language Learning in Study Abroad edited by Wenhao Diao and Emma Trentman. In this post the editors explain how the multilingual environment of study abroad can be beneficial.

Study abroad has been a central part of our lives for the last two decades, starting with our own experiences studying abroad and working with study abroad students, and culminating with researching and leading study abroad programs ourselves, some of which are described in our chapters in this book.

As language learners, we were sold on the promise of the magical linguistic gains we’d make during study abroad through the immersion experience, and saw these same dreams reflected in the expectations of our research participants. Yet, as we discovered ourselves, and as the chapters in this book demonstrate across a variety of locations and programs, study abroad is usually not an experience of monolingual immersion. Both language learners and the contexts in which they study are inherently multilingual. All too often, this multilingualism, and especially the presence of Global English, is framed as an obstacle to language learning, as learners struggle to make friends in the local language, negotiate racialized and gendered experiences, and generally wonder how to learn a language in a multilingual environment.

Yet, what if the multilingual environment is not a challenge to overcome with language pledges and other program interventions, but one in which language learners can use their full linguistic repertoires to expand them? And what if the multilingual realities are what historicize and contextualize the study abroad experience in post-colonial societies, neoliberal economies, and cultural discourses that position certain language learners as non-legitimate speakers of their target language(s)? The chapters in this book detail how language learners in study abroad locations throughout the world use a variety of strategies to gain an awareness of the cultural nuances of being and becoming multilingual. Some chapters also demonstrate the consequences for learners who hold on to their monolingual language ideologies. The implications of this mindset shift are many, particularly for the context of teaching languages to English speakers from wealthy Anglophone countries that are often viewed as centers of economic globalization.  Rather than focusing on how to make a multilingual environment more monolingual, or advising learners to avoid compatriots and English speakers, we can encourage learners to engage in translanguaging practices and negotiate their multilingual identities in ways that expand their linguistic repertoires and develop a critical multilingual awareness. This focus has the additional benefit of recognizing the translanguaging and identity negotiation skills of minoritized students, both of which are often overlooked in the language classroom.

We would like to thank the authors of the chapters in this volume, Uju Anya, Lucien Brown, Janice McGregor, Lourdes Ortega, Tracy Quan, Jamie A. Thomas, and Brandon Tullock, for their insightful contributions. It is our hope that this volume will inspire study abroad researchers and practitioners to help students develop skills to negotiate language learning in multilingual environments.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Study Abroad, Second Language Acquisition and Interculturality edited by Martin Howard.

The Effects of Open Education on Language Education

We recently published Open Education and Second Language Learning and Teaching edited by Carl S. Blyth and Joshua J. Thoms. In this post the editors explain what open education involves.

We first began talking about the possibility of a co-edited book on open education and second language (L2) learning and teaching at an open education conference in Park City, Utah in 2011. At the time, it felt as if we were part of only a small group of applied linguists in the US interested in the open education movement. We knew that colleagues from many other parts of the world, especially in the EU, were much more engaged in and had more fully embraced open education in their classrooms and with their research. We continued working on our own projects for several years after that time period, with Carl leading various open efforts in the US via the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) at The University of Texas at Austin. As more colleagues in the US and in other parts of the world began to become aware of the disruptive affordances of open education, we re-visited the outline for the book that we had created and formally launched the project.

Open education can be defined via three main components: 1. open educational resources (OER), which are any kind of materials or tools that are created with the intention of freely sharing them with others without restrictive copyright or fees; 2. open educational practices (OEP), which include any kind of professional development activity that aims to inform others how to create, locate, and/or adapt OER or pedagogical activities that afford learners more agency in the learning process; and 3. open access scholarship, which involves sharing one’s research via open access journals and open digital repositories. Inherent in these three components are values such as accessibility, inclusivity, equity, and the democratization of knowledge. In essence, open education is about removing barriers to pedagogical resources, professional development practices/opportunities, and scholarship.

While the aforementioned barriers have always been present in our field and in other disciplines, the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on these concerning issues. Our book therefore is timely in that it explores how open education efforts in L2 learning and teaching can mitigate obstacles while creating new knowledge ecologies. The book is theoretically grounded in ecological perspectives on L2 learning and teaching and explores open education via a transdisciplinary approach. Contributors’ work is organized via three main areas:

  • open efforts that affect learners’ developing knowledge in L2 instructional environments;
  • open work affecting educators’ developing knowledge in L2 teacher education; and
  • open initiatives related to developing knowledge in other areas in the field of L2 education.

Finally, it is important to note that this book is available via open access under a CC BY ND license. For more information about our book and to download a free copy, please see Multilingual Matters’ website.

Carl S. Blyth (University of Texas at Austin, USA) cblyth@austin.utexas.edu; website.

Joshua J. Thoms (Utah State University, USA) joshua.thoms@usu.edu; website.

How To Design, Run and Assess Quality Bilingual Programmes

We recently published Developing and Evaluating Quality Bilingual Practices in Higher Education edited by Fernando D. Rubio-Alcalá and Do Coyle. In this post the editors explain what to expect from the book.

We are pleased to reach the final stage of publication of the volume Developing and Evaluating Quality Bilingual Practices in Higher Education. It’s been more than two years of successful triangulation work with the authors and Multilingual Matters, which have led to the birth of a book that deals with topics surprisingly scantly covered in the literature of bilingual education. The publication of the book will undoubtedly unfold new perspectives on how quality bilingual programmes can be designed, run and assessed.

We have had the privilege of working with a host of experienced, recognized and well-known authors who have paved the way for producing a text with meaningful and grounded content. Emma Dafouz has prefaced the volume, and David Marsh, Wendy Díaz, Víctor Pavón, Patrick Studer, David Lasagabaster, Jennifer Valcke, Karin Bage, Pat Moore, Kyria Finardi, Inmaculada Fortanet, Maria Ellison, Felipe Guimaraes, Javier Ávila, Francisco Rubio and Rocío López have contributed to writing nine excellent chapters that have been strategically devised into two main parts. The first part is devoted to theoretical issues and discussion about language policy and internationalization, and the second to the application for setting up, supervising and evaluating bilingual programmes and classroom practice. We are very grateful to all of them and also to those that have endorsed the publication, namely Magnus Gustafsson, María Luisa Pérez Cañado and Esko Koponen.

The book is valid for all contexts in higher education. While the authors work mainly in Europe (UK, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland) and America (Mexico and Brazil), the contents can be applied to any geographical area. Being keynote speakers, many of the authors participate in international academic events and therefore, the mindset permeating our volume promotes a globalized vision and represents institutions around the world.

It addresses policymakers (especially those chapters related to the analysis of language policies), programmes’ coordinators, researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders (especially those chapters referred to the exposition of tools and analysis of quality indicators).

It is our challenge to make a significant contribution to the field of bilingual education so that we inspire the use and adaptation of innovative tools to raise the quality of each and every one of the myriad of multilingual programmes. In fact, if there is no quality in those programmes after the considerable economic and human effort it entails, what is the purpose of having those programmes at all?

Fernando D. Rubio-Alcalá and Do Coyle

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Academic Biliteracies edited by David M. Palfreyman and Christa van der Walt.

A Lens into the Psychological Experiences of Learners and Teachers in Integrated Content and Language Settings

This month we published The Psychological Experience of Integrating Content and Language edited by Kyle Read Talbot, Marie-Theres Gruber and Rieko Nishida. In this post Kyle explains how the book came about.

The three of us (Kyle, Marie-Theres, and Rieko) are all interested in the psychological factors that impact language learning and teaching. As such, we are thrilled that our edited collection, The Psychological Experience of Integrating Content and Language, has found a home as a part of Multilingual Matters’ Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series. We happen to think that this book offers a unique perspective into what we believe is an under-researched area; namely, how learners and teachers think and feel about teaching in integrated content and language (ICL) settings (e.g. FMI/EMI, CLIL, CBI, etc.). This collection of research papers covers a diverse range of settings and educational levels and topics such as the self and identity, cognition, learner and teacher beliefs, challenges and opportunities of learning and teaching in ICL programs, well-being, and self-efficacy, as well as professional development, classroom interventions and implementations.

The idea for this collection came together quickly. Kyle and Marie-Theres were working together as part of a nationally funded research project in Austria (ÖNB fund no. 17136) with several wonderful colleagues (thanks all!). The primary focus of this research project was on teacher well-being in CLIL settings across educational levels in Austria. Essentially, we were curious as to how CLIL contexts impacted the way teachers felt about their teaching in these settings, how this affected their lives on a more holistic level, and whether they were thriving in their roles or merely rolling with the punches. The primary investigator, Sarah Mercer, presented some of the preliminary findings of this research project as part of a symposium at the PLL3 conference in Tokyo. As it happened, Rieko was also featured in that symposium and was also researching CLIL settings. Before too long we were all brainstorming about a possible edited collection to house some of the work from our various research projects.

So why did we choose to center this collection of research papers on the psychological experiences of learners and teachers in ICL contexts specifically? Put simply, we view ICL programs as forms of educational innovations. Educational innovations have the potential to be destabilizing for learners and teachers (though they can also be enriching or everything in between). We are also aware that ICL settings are rapidly expanding globally and across levels of education. In speaking to the spread of EMI in higher education specifically, Macaro, Curle, Pun, An, and Dearden (2018) suggest that, “it is hard to see anything but further expansion of EMI in HE” (p. 68). In our view, the same can be said for other ICL program types across educational levels. With this in mind, we think some urgency is needed in addressing how these programs impact the experiences of the learners and teachers and we hope this collection is a small step in that direction. We think this collection of papers will be informative for teachers who find themselves teaching in various ICL settings, researchers interested in the integration of content and language or the psychology of language learning and teaching, and policymakers who may be faced with decisions of how to implement an ICL program in their context.

In sum, we are incredibly proud of this collection and excited that it has made its way into the world. We hope that this book finds its way onto many bookshelves and serves as a spark for future ideas and research in this domain and beyond.

Kyle Read Talbot

kylereadtalbot@gmail.com

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Investigating Content and Language Integrated Learning edited by Liss Kerstin Sylvén.

Native Speaker Privilege and Linguistic Racism in ELT

This month we published The Role of Context in Language Teachers’ Self Development and Motivation by Amy S. Thompson. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book.

This book is the culmination of years of experience as a researcher/scholar in SLA, before which I was a language teacher. As a researcher, I’m oftentimes hesitant to ask for participants; I feel as if I am encroaching on others’ personal space and time. For the data used to write this book, some of the language professionals represented are personal acquaintances, and some were part of an IREX fellowship program. An unforgettable moment when collecting data for this project was when a dyad of the IREX teachers thanked me for taking the time to listen to and record their stories. During the fellowship program, these teachers, some of whom had over 20 years of teaching experience, had been repeatedly instructed on how to teach more effectively – how to incorporate the American way of doing things. This particular teacher dyad told me “thank you for listening to our experiences, as we also have something to offer to the teaching profession.” In all of the conversations with the teachers, not one of them indicated a desire to be a native English speaker; in fact, their bi-/multilingual identities played a strong role in forming their ideal teacher selves.

I have taught languages both in my L1 (English) and in my L2s (Spanish and French); thus, I have been on both sides of the native/non-native spectrum. Nonetheless, as a white American L1 English speaker, I have enjoyed privileges that others have not. For these reasons, and others, this book is personal. The experience that I had with this data collection made me even more determined to accurately depict the teachers’ stories. I learned all that I could about their contexts when working on the individual chapters and sent the willing teachers, and others familiar with the contexts, drafts of the chapters for feedback. I purposefully did not censor comments from the teachers relating to the impact of American politics on learning English; as academics, our jobs are to push boundaries, which includes breaking down white fragility. English speakers, particularly white English speakers, need to be confronted with their privilege. Linguistic racism is still prevalent world-wide today, and in order to combat it, we need to first acknowledge its existence, as well as the effects it has on language curriculum and policies.

Early on in my university education, I saw the privilege for native speakers of English; I was hired (“hired” being not really the case, as the work was as a volunteer) as an “assistante anglaise” during my study abroad year in Paris where I taught English classes at a public elementary school and at the high school “Henri IV.”  I was 20 years old and had absolutely no training as a language educator; I was hired because of my L1 English-speaking status. After graduation, I was officially hired (with the whopping salary of 743 euros a month) as an “assistante anglaise” in the small Pyrenean town of Bagnere-de-Bigorre.  Again, I had absolutely no training in language pedagogy.

My situation isn’t unique.  Places all over the world are hiring L1 English speakers (or those who can physically pass for L1 English speakers), sometimes ignoring those who have spent years training and have passed rigorous content and pedagogy exams.  My friend’s brother who was hired to teach in Chile; my student who was hired in China so they could put her face on the recruiting brochures; my own situation being hired to teach English in France; the Turkish government’s campaign to bring in native speakers to teach English all over the country – situations such as this undermine and undervalue the years of education of bi-/multilingual English teachers all over the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities overseas English teaching has afforded me; in fact, it was the start of my academic career in Applied Linguistics. Sitting in my small room in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, I remember thinking to myself that I had so much still to learn about language learning and teaching. Fast forward to today, I now have the experience of mentoring future language teachers and researchers. Like many Americans, talking about racism is difficult for me, but I push myself to read and have discussions about race and racism, including linguistic racism. Likewise, these issues are difficult to integrate into classroom discussions; however, these are not topics that we can continue to ignore, and we have the responsibility as language educators and researchers to ensure that our students, as future language researchers and educators, have the tools and resources needed to break down linguistic racism via curricular and/or policy change. What steps will you take today to help move us towards this goal?

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency edited by Hayriye Kayi-Aydar, Xuesong (Andy) Gao, Elizabeth R. Miller, Manka Varghese and Gergana Vitanova.