May 29, 2016

Michael Burri

This interview will be also posted on the "NNEST of the Month" blog, June 1, 2016.

"A Conversation with a Multilingual" presents:

Michael Burri

First, I would like to congratulate Michael Burri on his publications about pronunciation teaching and the preparation of pronunciation instructors, and also on his winning the 2015 TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper of NNEST Issues. Personally, I was very humble when Mr. Burri attended our “Voices from the NNEST Blog: Envisioning Landscapes for Future Generations,” at 2014 TESOL Convention, and am immensely honored for his acceptance of our invitation to feature his interview in this blog.

Ana Wu: You have a degree in Electromechanical Engineering in Switzerland. Could you tell us what led you to pursue a career in teaching ESL/EFL and a Ph.D specializing in the teaching speaking skills - particularly in the area of pronunciation pedagogy?
Mr. Burri: I spent the first 4 years of my life in the US but then completed my formative school years, including a 4-year apprenticeship in Electromechanical Engineering, in Switzerland. After gaining a couple of years of valuable work experience as an engineer, I felt a strong desire to (re)learn English for my proficiency had deteriorated to the extent that I was barely able to communicate in the language I was once fluent as a little boy. So I decided to study ESL in New Zealand. Upon my arrival, I was placed in the lowest level (pre-intermediate) but within 12 weeks I was pretty much fluent again – having learned English as an L1 in the US turned out to be an enormous advantage and subsequently sped up my acquisition/learning process exponentially. My time as an ESL student in New Zealand awakened in me a real interest in language learning, and so I completed a TESOL certificate at the same school in 1999. In early 2000, I landed my first teaching job at a small, family-run language school in Osaka (Japan). After a few enjoyable years in the classroom, I felt the need to get more teaching credentials and therefore enrolled in the MA TESOL at Trinity Western University (Canada) in 2004. Dr. Bill Acton took me on as his research assistant and his mentorship, passion and knowledge about the field was instrumental in getting me involved in TESOL and, ultimately, in helping me specialize in oral communication, particularly pronunciation instruction.

Ana Wu: In 2015, the NNEST IS and its members were honored to award you the TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper of NNEST Issues.

a. Could you tell us what the paper was about?
Mr. Burri: The paper was about some preliminary findings that eventually were published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education (AJTE) in 2015. At the time of the presentation I was still trying to wrap my head around what the data were actually telling me. I had collected a large amount of data because I not only followed 15 graduate students (10 NNESTs and 5 NESTs) during the length of an entire postgraduate course on pronunciation pedagogy, but I collected pretty much every word that was spoken and written during the course of the semester. A preliminary data analysis suggested a connection existed between participants’ linguistic background and their cognition development. This led me to analyze the data according to participants’ self-identified nativeness, which in turn ended up being the presentation I gave at TESOL.

The paper explored and compared the development of student teachers’ beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and knowledge (cognition) (Borg, 2006) about pronunciation pedagogy. I collected data in a postgraduate course on pronunciation pedagogy – offered at an Australian university – over a period of 17 weeks. In a nutshell, the findings showed that participants’ cognition shifted towards a more balanced approach to pronunciation instruction (i.e., student teachers thought that both segmentals and suprasegmentals should be taught in L2 classrooms). As stated in the abstract, “Non-native speakers’ self-perceived pronunciation improvement, an increase in their awareness of their spoken English, and native/non-native collaboration played critical roles in facilitating participants’ cognition growth.” The findings also supported previous cognition research suggesting that teacher cognition is a complex area to study (e.g., Aslan, 2015; Feryok, 2010). The article can be downloaded here for free.

b. What led you to be interested in NNEST issues?
Mr. Burri: My own linguistic and cultural background naturally led me to be interested in NNEST issues, but a couple of instances I encountered during my years of teaching English in Japan also contributed to my interest in this area. The first incident took place at the immigration office in Osaka in January 2000. I showed the officer the full-time teaching contract I had signed the day before. He glanced at my Swiss passport but stamped my American one……the other event was a native speaking colleague sarcastically commenting on my English being “not quite native-like.” That comment really bothered me, and it took me quite a while to figure out what my place as an L2 teacher in this field was, and what kind of teacher I want to be. My graduate studies at TWU helped me tremendously in this regard. Once I was able to better understand my identity and role as a TESOL practitioner (and researcher), I developed a keen interest in NNEST issues, especially in areas that are intricately and often politically intertwined, such as nativeness, accents, pronunciation and identity.

Question 3: Congratulations on the publication of your article “Student Teachers’ Cognition about L2 Pronunciation Instruction: A Case Study” published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education in 2015! Your study examined the cognition (i.e. beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and knowledge) development of student teachers during a postgraduate subject on pronunciation pedagogy.  One of your findings suggested that student teachers speaking English as an L1 did not gain the same understanding of the role of suprasegmentals in pronunciation instruction as their NNS peers (p.76) and that NS cognition was enhanced by learning about pronunciation pedagogy together with their nonnative classmates (p.77).

What do you think teacher trainers in TESOL programs can do to prepare NNSs become effective in the teaching of pronunciation?

Mr. Burri: That is a really good and important question. First of all, L2 teacher educators should draw on the strong declarative knowledge of the English sound system many NNSs bring to their programs. NSs tend to lag behind a bit in this regard, and so teaming up NNSs with NSs and have them work collaboratively on the sound system as well as on learning to teach pronunciation can be mutually beneficial. If a class consists solely of NNSs, pedagogical aspects of pronunciation instruction should be more emphasized. I find that NNSs often need and desire to learn about practical tools – or pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986) – to be able to connect their existing theoretical knowledge with practical classroom application. Parts of my research (e.g., Burri, Baker & Chen, accepted) showed that one way to achieve this is to first train student teachers in various techniques and then provide them with opportunities to visit real-life L2 classrooms to observe some of the techniques in application. If observations are logistically not possible, using video footage of L2 instructors teaching pronunciation is an effective alternative to foster student teachers’ understanding of how pronunciation can be addressed in L2 classrooms.

Also, as discussed in the AJTE paper, plenty of opportunities should be provided for NNSs to work on their own pronunciation and language awareness. There is a close relationship between NNSs self-perceived improvement of their pronunciation and an increase in their confidence about having the ability to teach pronunciation to their students. Providing language support for NNESTs is not a new concept (e.g., Braine, 2005; Liu, 1999; Park, 2006; Snow, Kamhi-Stein, Brinton, 2006) but it seems to me that a pronunciation course is an ideal venue to help NNSs work on their own pronunciation, and, at the same time, equip them with the tools to include pronunciation in their L2 classrooms.

Ana Wu: I find your paper very encouraging because many previous studies on NS-NNS collaborations show that the NNS is the one who benefits the most from team-teaching (Matsuda & Matsuda, 2001). Your study suggests not only that NSs can benefit more than NNSs, but more interestingly, that this can happen in teaching pronunciation where many NNS have expressed not having much confidence and expertise (LLurda, 2005). Were you surprised with your findings? What other topics should be the focus of new lines of research?
Mr. Burri: Teaching a couple of pronunciation courses prior to my doctoral studies enabled me to gain an understanding of the fact that NSs can learn a great deal from NNSs, especially in regards to the sound system of the English language. My thesis then provided me with empirical evidence; thus, I was not necessarily surprised but rather excited that the data confirmed some of my previous observations. What was surprising, however, was the extent to which the NNSs became increasingly more confident as the course progressed. The NSs saw this unfolding and suggested during the focus groups that NNSs would be better suited to teach pronunciation. What was also interesting was that this “ascribed identity” (Morita, 2004, p.598) further enhanced the NNSs’ beliefs that they possessed the ability to teach pronunciation.

Research now needs to examine more closely how NNSs (and NSs) teach pronunciation in their classrooms. My research has established that pronunciation teacher preparation can be effective, yet we need to know more about instructors’ pedagogical practices. Some recent studies (e.g. Baker, 2014; Foote, Trofimovich, Collins, & Urzúa, 2013; Levis, Sonsaat, Link, & Barriuso, 2016; Lim, 2016; Murphy, 2011; Wahid & Sulong, 2013) have provided important insights in this regard, but there is a definite need for more research that examines the effects of teaching practices on students’ pronunciation development, particularly in intact classroom contexts. This line of inquiry is important because to further improve pronunciation teacher preparation and, ultimately, pronunciation teaching as a whole, we need to better understand how L2 teachers – irrespective of their linguistic background – teach pronunciation and what challenges and successes they experience in their classrooms.

I also feel that classroom-based research would help foreground NNESTs pedagogical strengths. Sometimes I feel that we are focusing perhaps too much on fighting the NNEST/NEST dichotomy. This is, of course, important work, but to advance the field further, it might be more effective if we highlight more the positive pedagogical aspects of being a NNEST and the advantages multilingual instructors bring to their classrooms.

Ana Wu: What do you think are the characteristics of an effective pronunciation instructor?
Mr. Burri: Effective pronunciation instructors generally possess a solid understanding of phonology and phonetics as well as have a wide variety of pedagogical tools at their disposal to (a) diagnose L2 learners’ pronunciation needs and then (b) help them achieve intelligible pronunciation. Pronunciation is a motor skill (see, for example, Underhill’s, 2016, and/or Acton’s, 2016, work) and therefore effective pronunciation teachers are in tune with their body (or at least have a good grasp of the articulatory system), and, as our haptic work has shown, they use systematic gestures, movements and touch to provide their students with plenty of kinesthetic/tactile learning opportunities. A pronunciation instructor should also be a bit of an entertainer and create a safe and enjoyable classroom atmosphere in which learners can take risks and experiment with the sound system. Pronunciation is intertwined with a speaker’s identity in complex, social and psychological ways (Goodwin, 2014) and often “closely connected to self-image” (Levis & Moyer, 2014, p.276). As a result, many learners perceive pronunciation work to be a bit invasive. Creating a comfortable and supportive classroom environment is, therefore, essential in pronunciation work.

These characteristics apply to native and non-native pronunciation teachers. I firmly believe –and research is beginning to show this empirically – that NNSs can teach pronunciation as well as NSs, especially if they are trained in using systematic techniques. However, the provision of such training (or lack thereof) in graduate programs continues to be one of the biggest hindrances to effective pronunciation instruction. As several studies have shown (e.g., Foote, Holtby, & Derwing, 2011; Henderson et al, 2012; Murphy, 2014), pronunciation is seldom included in TESOL programs, and therefore the teaching of it tends to be not only based on instructor intuition and ideology (Hismanoglu & Hismanoglu, 2010) but it often lacks systematicity (Darcy, Ewert, & Lidster, 2012). This ad hoc type of approach is ineffective in helping students improve their pronunciation. It is relatively simple, to improve the efficacy of pronunciation instruction in NNEST and NEST classrooms, TESOL programs must include a pronunciation pedagogy course.

Ana Wu: I also need to congratulate you and your collaborators on your workshops on haptic pronunciation instruction (e.g. Acton et al. 2014, 2013; Burri, 2016; Kielstra et al. 2015), an integrated system for pronunciation instruction. At TESOL Convention, I had to fight to get a seat in a room with more than 100 people. What are your current projects?
Mr. Burri: Thank you for coming to our workshop. Doing these sessions and collaborating with Bill Acton, Amanda Baker, Karen Rauser, Brian Teaman, Shine Hong, and Nathan Kielstra (and several others) on the development of this haptic pronunciation teaching and learning system has been a real privilege. These workshops have always been well attended and well received, but we now need to establish an empirical research base for the system to further improve. We are in the process of writing an article about a study we conducted with L2 instructors in Australia. This paper should provide some interesting insights into haptic pronunciation instruction. Moreover, we are planning a study that is going to explore how Vietnamese teachers address pronunciation in their L2 classrooms.

I also intend to continue my research with the participants that took part in my doctoral study. Several of them are now practicing teachers (in Australia and Asia) and I hope to visit their classrooms in the near future to see how and to what extent they are implementing in their present contexts some of the pronunciation teaching knowledge they gained during their graduate studies. This type of longitudinal research is paramount for us teacher educators to obtain a better understanding of pre-service and in-service teacher needs, and, subsequently, to enhance the preparation of pronunciation instructors.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this insightful interview and rich resources! I am looking forward to reading your publications on your next studies!

List of References

Acton, W. (2016). Haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation research. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from

Acton, W., Baker, A. A., Burri, M., & Teaman, B. (2013). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference (pp. 234-244). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Aslan, E. (2015). When the native is also a non-native: "Retrodicting" the complexity of language teacher cognition. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 71(3), 244-269.

Baker, A. A. (2014). Exploring teachers' knowledge of L2 pronunciation techniques: Teacher cognitions, observed classroom practices and student perceptions. TESOL Quarterly, 48(1), 136-163.

Borg, S. (2006). Teacher cognition and language education: Research and practice. London: Continuum.

Braine, G. (Ed.). (2005). Teaching English to the world: History, curriculum, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Burri, M., Baker, A., & Chen, H. (accepted). “I feel like having a nervous breakdown”: Pre-service and in-service teachers’ developing beliefs and knowledge about pronunciation instruction. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation.

Darcy, I., Ewert, D., & Lidster, R. (2012). Bringing pronunciation instruction back into the classroom: An ESL teachers' pronunciation "toolbox". In J. Levis & K. Lavelle (Eds.), Proceedings of the 3rd Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference (pp. 93-108). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Feryok, A. (2010). Language teacher cognitions: Complex dynamic systems? System, 38(2), 272-279.

Foote, J. A., Holtby, A. K., & Derwing, T. M. (2011). Survey of the teaching pronunciation in adult ESL programs in Canada, 2010. TESL Canada Journal, 29(1), 1-22.

Foote, J. A., Trofimovich, P., Collins, L., & Urzúa, F. (2013). Pronunciation teaching practices in communicative second language classes. The Language Learning Journal, 1-16.

Henderson, A., Frost, D., Tergujeff, E., Kautzsch, A., Murphy, D., Kirkova-Naskova, A., Curnick, L. (2012). The English pronunciation teaching in Europe survey: Selected results. Research in Language, 10(1), 5-27. doi: 10.2478/v10015-011-0047-4

Levis, J., Sonsaat, S., Link, S., & Barriuso, T. (2016). Native and nonnative teachers of L2 pronunciation: Effects on learner performance. TESOL Quarterly, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1002/tesq.272

Lim, S. (2016). Learning to teach intelligible pronunciation for ASEAN English as a lingua franca: A sociocultural investigation of Cambodian pre-service teacher cognition and practice. RELC Journal. doi: 10.1177/0033688216631176

Liu, D. (1999a). Training non-native TESOL students: Challenges for TESOL teacher education in the west. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching, (pp.197-210). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Llurda, E. (Ed.). (2006). Non-native language teachers: Perceptions, challenges and contributions to the profession (Vol. 5). Springer Science & Business Media.

Matsuda, A., & Matsuda, P. K. (2001). Autonomy and collaboration in teacher education: Journal sharing among native and nonnative English-speaking teachers. CATESOL Journal, 13(1), 109-121.

Morita, N. (2004). Negotiating participation and identity in second language academic communities. TESOL Quarterly, 38(4), 573-603.

Murphy, D. (2011). An investigation of English pronunciation teaching in Ireland. English Today, 27(04), 10-18.

Murphy, J. (2014). Teacher training programs provide adequate preparation in how to teach pronunciation. In L. Grant (Ed.), Pronunciation myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching (pp. 188-224). Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

Park, S. (2006). EFL teacher training for South Korean elementary school teachers. In M. L. McCloskey, J. Orr, & M. Dolitsky (Eds.), Teaching English as a foreign language in primary school, (pp.191-200). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.

Snow, M. A., Kamhi-Stein, L. D., & Brinton, D. M. (2006). Teacher training for English as a lingua franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 26, 261-281.

Wahid, R., & Sulong, S. (2013). The gap between research and practice in the teaching of English pronunciation: Insights from teachers' beliefs and practices. World Applied Sciences Journal, 21, 133-142.


January 27, 2011

Dilin Liu

NNEST of the Month
February 2011
dliu [at] as [dot] ua [dot] edu

Ana Wu: Could you tell us your educational and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Liu: After completing my undergraduate education with a major in English at Jiangxi University (now Nanchang University) in China and teaching at the university for a few years, I came to the U.S. in 1985 to pursue graduate studies, first receiving a master’s degree in TESOL from Oklahoma City University and then a Ph.D. in English from Oklahoma State University. I taught and served as the Director of MA TESOL at Oklahoma City University from 1991 to 2006 (first as assistant, then associate, and full professor). In 2006, I took the position of Associate Professor (promoted to Full Professor last year) and Coordinator of Applied Linguistics/TESOL in the English Department at the University of Alabama because UA is a research university where I would have more resources and time for research, something I enjoy doing very much. As for why I decided to become an educator, I guess it’s my destined professional calling. As just mentioned, I was selected upon graduation by my undergraduate alma mater to stay as an instructor of English. Then, when I was working on my dissertation at Oklahoma State University, I received a call from a former professor at Oklahoma City University encouraging me to apply for their advertised MA TESOL position. I applied, interviewed, and was offered the job. And the rest was history. Of course, the main reason I’ve been an educator for two decades now is that I really love teaching and research. I enjoy interacting with students and seeing them learn and grow. I sincerely believe, cliché as it is, teaching is a profession where what you do can truly make a difference in people’s lives.

Ana Wu: In your book chapter “Training Non-Native TESOL students: Challenges for TESOL Teacher Education in the West,” (1999) you said that cultural study, especially the study of cultures of English-speaking countries is therefore a subject that many NNS students want and should do more (p.207). Given that international graduate students in TESOL or applied linguistics programs stay in the USA two-four years, how can they maximize their opportunities to interact with local people, and continue to improve their communication skills and intercultural competence?
Dr. Liu: Based on my own experience and observation, the best thing to do is to find (or create) all possible opportunities to interact with individuals of other cultures or ethnic groups in this country. For example, one should try to participate in as many school and community activities as possible, including attending meetings of student organizations, visiting church and political gatherings, and attending/watching sports games. Also, one should try to read newspapers, listen to radio programs, and watch TV. The reason for participating in the aforementioned social, political, and sports activities is that, as I pointed out in my books on idioms, metaphor, and culture (2002, 2008), political, religious, business, and sports activities constitute arguably the most important aspects of American culture. The jargon used in these activities permeates American English (i.e., many English expressions/idioms come from these activities: promised land, touch base with, and the jury is still out [on something]. . .). A good knowledge of these topics will enable us to have a better understanding of the values and beliefs of American people (and also, believe it or not, a better command of American English as a byproduct). It is important to remember, however, that a casual participation and observation would not be enough. You have to be sensitive and pay close attention to what you observe, i.e. to note closely what people do and say. Then you have to reflect on what you observed, thinking about why the people acted the way they did and to what extent what they did and said is similar to or different from what people in your own culture typically do in the same context or situation.

Ana Wu: You have published over 30 journal articles, book chapters, and proceeding articles as well as three books (two authored and one edited). Also, you have served on the Editorial Advisory Boards of The ELT Journal (2001-2004), TESOL Quarterly (2005-2008), Reflections on English Language Teaching (since 2006), and the new TESOL Journal (since 2009). How do you deal with writer's block and avoid procrastination? Would you share some of your writing rituals?
Dr. Liu: I don’t think I really have a good answer to the question of dealing with writer’s block and avoiding procrastination. I often have to fight these problems myself. One thing that I think may help us in dealing with writer’s block is to always keep an eye on issues that interest or puzzle you in your teaching and learning (as teachers, especially NNEST, we are always learning). If you constantly ask questions and try to find answers, you are likely to come up with a topic worth writing about. Concerning overcoming procrastination, I usually set aside blocks of time and a self-imposed deadline for a writing project.

Ana Wu: You also have remarkable experience holding leadership positions in TESOL. Before being currently coordinator and professor of Applied Linguistics/TESOL in the Department of English at the University of Alabama, you directed and taught the MA TESOL program at Oklahoma City University for 16 years. You were also the President of Oklahoma TESOL (1996-1997) and the Chair-elect/Chair of the Applied Linguistics Interest Section (1994-1996, 2010-2012).

a. How did you prepare yourself for these leadership positions? What kept you motivated when dealing with difficult teachers? What inspired you when feeling marginalized or unsupported?
Dr. Liu: Actually, I didn’t really do anything special in preparing for these positions and I haven’t really had colleagues that are difficult to work with. I think I’ve been just very lucky as I have always had very supportive colleagues and administrators.

b. According to Manrique and Manrique (1999), studies on immigrant non-European faculty demonstrate that 20% of male faculty were discriminated against by colleagues in their departments. Have you ever faced subtle or covert disrespect to your authority? What are your most vivid memories noticing innuendos about your nationality or racial remarks from your peers or administration? How did those events affect your teaching philosophy?
Dr. Liu: I’m afraid I might not be in the 20% mentioned by Manrique and Manrique. As I said above, I’ve been very fortunate to have extremely supportive colleagues and administrators, partially as evidenced by my successful tenure/promotional experiences at both OCU and UA. I’m not sure whether I’ve faced subtle or covert disrespect. The reason I’m not sure is perhaps I’ve always tried not to view any comments on my nationality, race, or accent as disrespect or discrimination. Instead, I’ve tried to see such comments in a positive light and use them as a motivation to improve. For example, I remember that, during my interview for the Oklahoma City University job, a few of the search committee members commented on the fact that I was not a native English speaker and the likely implications it might have (e.g., students’ concerns). One member said, “We could say that you [referring to me] are from California.” (I guess the person mentioned California because it’s known as a place with many immigrants). I considered the comment good-natured or good-humored, but I also used it as a constant reminder for me to work harder to prove that I could be as good as anyone else. My effort paid off. In my twenty years of teaching in the U.S., I’ve had very few students complaining about my English. In fact, many of them praised my command of English. Many non-native English speaking students stated in the course evaluations that they viewed me as their role-model and wanted to emulate me.

c. What strategies would you consider essential to NNESTs with foreign background in order to navigate the cultural politics in one’s academic community?
Dr. Liu: I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer because of a lack of real challenges I’ve experienced in this regard. To me, good performance on your job is the most important thing. If you do well on your job, generally your colleagues, administrators, and, most importantly, your students, would appreciate you. I may be wrong on this but it’s the impression I have based on my experience.

Ana Wu: What do you see yourself doing ten years from now? What do you want to be remembered for and why?
Dr. Liu: I may be retired then but even in retirement I probably will still be doing some teaching and writing. I would like to be remembered as a life-long language learner, teacher, and researcher who has had the wonderful opportunity to learn a second language and use it in a very rewarding profession. My reason for wanting to be remembered not only as a language teacher but also a language learner and researcher is that, to me, to be a successful language educator, one must simultaneously be a life-long language learner and researcher.

Ana Wu: Thank you for your contribution to the blog.


Liu, D. (1999). Training non-native speaker TESOL students: The challenges for TESOL teacher education in the West. In G. Braine (Ed.). Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 197-210). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Liu, D. (2002). Metaphor, culture, and worldview: The case of American English and the Chinese language. Lamar, MD, University Press of America.

Liu, D. (2008). Idioms: Description, comprehension, acquisition, and pedagogy. New York: Routledge.

Manrique, C. and Manrique, G. (1999). The Multicultural or Immigrant Faculty in American Society. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press.

December 27, 2010

Bonny Norton

NNEST of the Month
January 2011
bonny [dot] norton [at] ubc [dot] ca

1. From Ana Wu, City College of San Francisco:
a. Would you tell us how and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Norton: This is an interesting question. In many ways, I did not “decide” to become an educator; it was one of the few options available to me as a young woman growing up in a large South African family in the 1960’s and 1970’s. When I observed working women in our society, the few professionals were mainly teachers and nurses. I remember my father saying to me, half-jokingly, “Why do you want to go to university? You are just going to get married and have children.” Because of our family’s limited resources, it was essential that I get a scholarship to fund my university education, and this was available through the education department. Fortunately, I found teaching a meaningful, challenging, and enjoyable profession, and was very happy to become a full-time educator.

b. Besides having published extensively, you have been a keynote speaker in more than 40 countries/cities, including in Gramado, a beautiful city in Brazil known for their chocolate, hydrangeas, and annual film festival (As a Brazilian away from home, I am always nostalgic). Would you share some of your most vivid experiences visiting and giving a presentation in a country for the first time?
Dr. Norton: I have immense curiosity about the world, and find that professional invitations to speak in different countries provide the perfect opportunity to gain insight into a country and its people. Before I leave (and on long plane journeys) I always read about the history of the country I’m visiting, the different groups in the country, its political structure, its cultural practices, its languages. Wherever possible, I seek out English language newspapers, and read these on a regular basis. This helps me to understand the people I meet and the educational practices I observe. I also read novels from authors in the host country, and I’m particularly interested in learning about struggles for greater social justice and educational opportunity.

I remember well my visit to beautiful Gramado, which was so different from other regions of Brazil I had visited. In Rio, for example, I jumped on a local bus and visited a favela on the outskirts of the city (my hosts were shocked when they learnt of this activity!). The poverty in the favela reminded me that Brazil remains a country where extreme wealth and extreme poverty co-exist, with disturbing consequences for educational opportunity. Gramado was an idyllic town with an alpine character. Was I really in Brazil?

2. From Young Mi Kim, Assistant Professor of English, Duksung Women’s University, Seoul, Korea
In teaching my university students in Korea, I became interested in the study of ICC (intercultural communicative competence). Byram (1997) said that the goal of ICC is for students to strive to extend their ability to perceive events in a new cultural context, and in this way come to have a broader intercultural identity that will enable them to move fluidly though a range of cultural contexts.

I think it is very important for students to be aware of positive and negative changes in their identity through EFL courses and other events such as watching American television programs ( a variety of American television programs such as ‘CSI,’ ‘Gossip Girl,’ and ‘America’s Top Model’ are available to watch on cable TV in Korea with Korean subtitles). However, during interviews it is very difficult to get students to talk about any changes in their identity. They always say my courses and watching the TV programs don’t effect their identity at all. They don’t think about the relationship between language, media, English learning and identity at all.

First of all, I would like to know whether you think it is better for students to be made aware of changes in their identity through the course explicitly and also to be able to describe these changes in order to increase their communicative competence in English. If it is better, how can I increase their awareness? What kind of strategies can I teach my students to develop their awareness of changes in their identity? In general, in order for my students to have positive development of their identity, what should I do as an EFL teacher at the University level?

Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.

Dr. Norton: Thank you for these questions. When I consider issues of “identity” among the students in my classes, I seldom use the term “identity” as such. At some level, this is an abstract term that is difficult to relate to. What I consider, instead, are the ways in which students relate to one another, to classroom practices, to me as a teacher, and to the wider society. As I said in my 2000 book (p.5): “I use the term identity to reference how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is structured across time and space, and how a person understands possibilities for the future.”

Discussions about a student’s relationship to the world, in the different domains of their lives (the home, the classroom, the playground, the workplace etc) all give me insight into a student’s complex and multiple identity. That identity, of course, also changes across time, as students engage with new ideas and relate to different people. The central questions I ask in my classroom are, “What is the student’s investment in the language practices of my classroom? How can I ensure that I structure classroom activities in ways that foster and encourage investment?. A student’s investment is integrally related to their identity: i.e. the way they relate to the world and their hopes for the future. If students have little investment in the language practices of my classroom, they may become bored, resentful, and resistant. A challenge for any teacher!

3. From Terry Doyle, Civic Center Campus of CCSF, ESL Instructor
a. In your article “Identity as a sociocultural construct in second language research” (2006) you mention that in the 1970s and 1980s second language researchers made a distinction between social identity and cultural identity. In recent years you and other researchers have come to the realization that one’s social identity cannot be separated from one’s cultural identity, and in this article you argue for the need to adopt an interdisciplinary and critical approach to identity research which entails studying identity in language education using a sociocultural construct. In your opinion, is such an interdisciplinary approach better able to describe the identity formation of new second language teachers, especially those who are teaching a language other than their “native” language?
Dr. Norton: This is a thoughtful question. Traditional conceptions of “social identity” are associated with the field of sociology, which is in turn primarily concerned with practices in (mainly urban) institutions such as schools, homes, law courts, and hospitals in a given society. Sociology assumes a “top-down” more macro-analytic approach to an investigation and understanding of these institutional practices. “Cultural identity” is associated with the field of anthropology, and assumes a “bottom-up” more micro-analytic approach to cultural practices. Such cultural practices include child rearing, marital conventions, religious belief systems, etc.

More recently, interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge construction have collapsed distinctions between the social and cultural. A second language teacher, for example, works within a given institution, which is part of larger set of social institutions (departments of education etc), but is simultaneously grappling with diverse cultural practices in her classroom (ways of talking, interacting, reading, and writing). In this context, both top-down, macro-level and bottom-up, micro-level analysis is needed to understand her practice. A second language teacher who is teaching in a language other than her native language faces a different set of challenges than a teacher teaching in her native language. Consider, for example, the current challenges faced by non-native English teachers in the state of Arizona, in the USA.

b. In your 1997 article “Language, identity, and the ownership of English” in TESOL Quarterly (1997) your introduction to the special topic issue on “Language and Identity,” there is quite an extensive review of articles on NNEST issues and the ownership of English. Since that time, the literature on both identity and language learning and also NNEST and the ownership issues have developed greatly. In your opinion where do these two literatures intersect? In particular, how may research on identity in second language education inform the education of new second language teachers, especially those who are “non-native” teachers?
Dr. Norton: This is another important question. My first and immediate response is to note that the vast majority of teachers who teach English internationally are not native speakers of the language. Interestingly, it is often in western, English-dominant countries such as the USA and the UK that the “non-native” standing of English teachers is a topic of debate. In many countries in Africa, for example, the English teacher is an English teacher, and not a NNEST. Having said this, however, I am aware that in Asian countries like China, Korea, and Japan, many institutions give disproportionate value to the “native speaker,” often causing concern and distress amongst local NNEST. The work of Aneta Pavlenko has been particularly powerful in encouraging NNEST to consider themselves “bilingual teachers” rather than NNEST. Manka Varghese, Vaidehi Ramanathan, Brian Morgan, Kelleen Toohey, Karen Johnson, Margaret Hawkins, Bill Johnston, Matthew Clarke are other scholars who are grappling with these issues, amongst others. Issues of power are central.

c. I am currently doing research on the role of the mentor-student teacher relationship in the teacher education process and the identity formation process of ESL teachers. In particular, I have been thinking about development of collective identity of student ESL teachers. Danielewicz in her book Teaching Selves defines a new teacher’s collective identity as “being recognized by others as a teacher”. She writes that the development of collective identity comes about when a student teacher is working in an actual classroom with a mentor teacher and also that what kind of affiliation occurs between the mentor teacher and student teacher is very influential on that student teachers’ collective identity development. In your opinion, how does collective identity come about for new teachers? How can a mentor teacher encourage and promote collective identity development? What is the role of the mentor teacher in the development of collective identity of student teachers? For example, what kind of feedback might be appropriate after student teacher lessons during the practicum?

Danielewicz, J. (2001). Teaching Selves: Identity, Pedagogy, and Teacher Education. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Dr. Norton: As someone who has taught for nearly thirty years, and served as a teacher educator for the last 15, I know that I am continually refining my own practice. My own learning has never stopped. Every class I teach offers a new challenge and a new set of possibilities. So in mentoring new teachers, I reassure them that teaching is a journey, and that every class is unique. I make mistakes; I have lapses in judgement. However, what I try to do in every class is to learn more of each student in the class, and seek to establish some kind of relationship with each student, so that I can adapt my practice to students’ needs and investments. This is what I model for my student teachers. In every class with student teachers, I am constantly assessing how the student teachers are responding to my instruction, and determining if I need to adjust my practices. The mentor teacher serves as a model for student teachers, but also seeks to encourage the student teacher to find her own comfort level, and to build on her particular strengths.

Clearly, student teachers have complex and multiple identities, with diverse investments in the language practices of their classrooms. These will likely relate to past experiences of learning and teaching, and their imagined identities as teachers. The mentor needs to seek to understand these investments and identities, so that the mentoring experience is rewarding for both parties. At the same time, the mentor teacher needs to be aware that some of the challenges a student teacher has may have little to do with preparation, energy, and commitment. Sometimes student teachers may be disempowered if their race and/or gender, for example, is not valued in the classroom. These issues relate to dominant social practices in the society at large.

d. Also, how important is how the two participants in this process refer to each other? Danielewicz used the terms “mentor teacher” and “student interns,”but I prefer to refer to both participants in this collaborative process as “co-teachers.”For as Danielewicz points out, it is the act of naming more than experience itself which makes us who we are. What is your opinion about this?
Dr. Norton: This is a complex question. Although both participants are indeed “co-teachers,” there is also a power imbalance between them. It may be most productive to name this difference, rather than assume it doesn’t exist.

e. Related to my previous question about the role of the mentor-student teacher relationship in the teacher education process, and what might be particularly interesting for readers of this blog, is a question about the collective identity development of student teachers who are international students working with teachers in an ESL context.

Can you see any difference in the collective identity development of international (NNES) MA TESOL students and United States-born (NES) MA TESOL students?
Dr. Norton: With regard to collective identity development, issues of “imagined communities” and “imagined identities” might be relevant here. (See Kanno & Norton, 2003; Norton, 2001; Pavlenko & Norton, 2007). If an NNES MA TESOL student wishes to remain in the United States rather than return to the country of origin, the imagined professional community would differ from that of the NNES student who is returning home. Similarly, the NES MA TESOL student who plans to teach internationally rather than in the USA would also likely have different investment in the future than the NES student who plans to remain local.

f. Do you think it is useful and appropriate for new and also experienced teachers to focus consciously on their identity formation? What seminal papers and books would you recommend to NNES and NES professionals to learn more about research on identity in language learning and also in teacher education?
Dr. Norton: As I have noted in my publications, every time a person speaks, reads, or writes, they are engaged in the negotiation of identity. A teacher may not use the term “identity”, but there is no doubt that a teacher’s sense of self is implicated in all classroom exchanges. If students do not listen to a teacher, she will feel discouraged; if students are excited by a class exercise, she will feel happy and successful. Such feelings are all implicated in a the teacher’s sense of “self” and identity.

I have a chapter on Identity in an edited volume by Nancy Hornberger and Sandy McKay, which has just been published by Multilingual Matters (Norton, 2010). My chapter highlights current research on identity and language learning. I have another chapter, co-authored with Margaret Hawkins, on Critical Language Teacher Education. (Hawkins & Norton, 2009). As mentioned above, the work of Aneta Pavlenko, Vaidehi Ramanathan, Manka Varghese, Brian Morgan, Kelleen Toohey, Margaret Hawkins, Karen Johnson, Bill Johnston, Matthew Clarke and others all address identity and teacher education in innovative and intriguing ways.

Ana Wu: It’s a great honor to have you in our blog. Thank you for this informative interview!


Hawkins, M., & Norton, B. (2009). Critical language teacher education. In A. Burns & J. Richards (Eds.), Cambridge guide to second language teacher education. (pp. 30-39) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kanno, Y., & Norton, B. (Guest Eds.). (2003). Imagined communities and educational possibilities [Special issue]. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2(4).

Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change. Harlow, England: Longman/Pearson Education.

Norton, B. (2006). Identity as a sociocultural construct in second language education. In K.Cadman & K. O'Regan (Eds.), TESOL in Context [Special Issue], 22-33.

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2001). Non-participation, imagined communities, and the language classroom. In M. Breen (Ed.), Learner contributions to language learning: New directions in research (pp. 159-171). Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Norton, B. (2010). Language and identity. In N. Hornberger & S. McKay (Eds). Sociolinguistics and language education. (pp. 349-369). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Pavlenko, A., & Norton, B. (2007). Imagined communities, identity, and English language teaching. In J. Cummins & C. Davison (Eds.), International handbook of English language teaching (pp. 669-680). New York: Springer.