November 30, 2005

Mark James

The NNEST Caucus 
Member of the Month
November 2005

Mark James

Amir: Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background (e.g. linguistic, academic, professional, ...)?
Mark: Having been raised in a monolingual, monocultural environment (a very white suburb of Boston Massachusetts), my life was very simple and so was my worldview. This all changed during college when I decided to volunteer two years as a missionary for my church. As luck would have it, they ended up sending me to Tahiti! My work took me to a number of island nations and territories, where I came into contact with a number of peoples and cultures that I had never given much thought to in my youth. I also had the opportunity to study a number of languages. These experiences led me to the field of ESL/FL when I returned to my studies.

Having obtained a B.A. TESOL from Brigham Young University-Hawaii and an M.A. TESOL from Brigham Young University in Utah, I obtained my first full-time position teaching ESL back at BYU-Hawaii. Though the stay was only meant to be 2-3 years (I was hoping to sail on to other “ports unknown”), the quality of life in Hawaii (including my job) have kept me and my family happily anchored here. Fortunately, the University of Hawaii created a PhD in Second Language Acquisition in 1989 and I was able to obtain my doctoral degree without having pull up stakes. Happily, my professional endeavors have allowed me much travel, and the international nature of BYU--Hawaii’s student body (nearly 50%) has given me many opportunities to associate with many peoples and cultures.

Amir: What are your areas of interest?
Mark: I have been interested in second language reading for most of my professional life and more recently in the role of vocabulary development in that L2 reading.
I am also interested in teacher development (just finished 7 years as chair of our department, which has a B.A. in TESOL).

Amir: And your “extracurricular” hobbies and interests?
Mark: My wife (from Singapore) is very active as a Real Estate Broker here in Hawaii and I spend a fair amount of time fixing up the “projects” she buys and sells. The time I have spent with my sons in carpentry work of one kind or another has been very satisfying. I also enjoy spearfishing and reading in my leisure time.

Amir: Do you have contacts with NNESTs in your present job?
Mark: In addition to the NNEST’s who are my colleagues at BYU—Hawaii, I associate everyday with the many NNES’s in our B.A. program who hope to become teachers of ESL/FL one day. Also, for the past 12 years I have been the editor of the TESL Reporter, a practical journal for ESL/FL teachers worldwide. As Editor I have worked very hard to see that the journal remains for and by teachers, particularly those who are outside U.S. and U.K. spheres and whose voices are not heard as often as they should be.

Amir: What are your most vivid memories (positive/negative) of any NNEST in your academic and/or professional practices?
Mark: The most vivid memory, I think involves a young Japanese student who was in her senior year in our B.A. program. One day I was walking out of class and across campus, when I heard the sound of muffled crying under a tree not far away. I turned to look and there she was sitting on the grass, fresh from my class, head in hands. My first thought was, “Wow, was my teaching really that bad?!” I approached her and asked what was the matter. Her response, “I can’t do this week!” (Such great California English, I thought!) To make a long story short, we walked together back to my office, where we sorted out all that was plaguing her (work, school, research, etc). She survived that week, finished her degree, and later became a stellar full-time teacher in our ESL program. A year after being hired, she presented a paper at the Hawaii State TESOL Conference on her first year as a NNEST. It was proud moment for me. To top it all off, I recently got an email from her (she’s now working in Japan) telling me that she had been accepted to present on a panel at the TESOL convention in Florida this year. For a teacher educator, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Amir: How would you describe the most important contributions of non-native speaker professionals in L2 learning/teaching, and applied linguistics?
Mark: By sheer numbers, NNES teachers represent the mainstream in our profession. A singular contribution of their collective voice is, by definition, authenticity. Secondly, I believe that collective voice has contributed to the internationalization of the professional and political organizations which support the field of ESL/FL.

Amir: How did you get to know about NNEST Caucus? What are the things (if any) you would like to see the Caucus and its members initiate/do?
Mark: Well, first of all, I met George Braine very early on in the formative years of the Caucus. He has been a constant source of inspiration. As for the Caucus itself, I do not have any suggestions. I will say that it has been rewarding to watch the Caucus grow in recent years. This growth is, in part, due to its increasing size, but it is also a matter of maturation, I think. The Caucus has moved on from the early efforts (necessary at the time) of circling the wagons, and counting the troops. From a position of growing strength the caucus has reached out in confidence to both NES and NNES professionals in an effort to join hands on equal grounds, confident in what it (as well as individual NNES’s worldwide) can offer to the profession at large.

Amir: If you were to name a seminal paper on NNEST issues, what would that be?
Mark: That question is not easily answered because we are still in the seminal stages of our professional awareness of these issues. The few papers and publications that appeared in the ‘80’s would qualify by definition, I suppose! There are related efforts, though, that I find fundamental. These include Larry Smith’s call (in a paper delivered to educators in Singapore in the mid-1970’s) for all to recognize the fact that English no longer (if it ever did) belongs to anybody--It belongs to the world. One can, by extrapolation, conclude that it doesn’t belong to NES teachers or teacher educators either.

Amir: Thanks a lot for your time!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mark,
Thank you for your support of the Caucus and for understanding the position of NNESTs in the field. I wanted to ask you a question on a slightly different theme. I notice that your initial contact to ESL comes through missionary work and that you are still involved with BYU. Based on this experience, I was wondering how you see the role of English and ESL in relation to spreading a specific religion? How do you see the role of spreading the love for Christ and teaching of English relate to each other? What relationship do you see between the spread of religion and language? And, how would you react to Pennycook's criticism of Teaching English as a Missionary Language?
Thank you!

December 09, 2005 4:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have raised some important questions An. I sometimes wonder if people who have a Christian orientation in TESL have a primary purpose of teaching language or of converting people to Christianity? Are they nice to foreigners because they are inherently good people (and perhaps many sincerely are), or are they nice to foreigners because they have a hidden agenda?

December 09, 2005 5:51 AM  
Blogger lucie said...

Thanks Mark, for this very interesting interview!

To respond to the second comment, I'd like to say that everyone has an "agenda" when we're nice. We may want want to make friends, sell a product, convince people of something, gain voters, teach something, kill someone, hide something, care for people, harm people, earn money, please a boss, and many other things.

If I happen to have two students who don't care about school and are getting really bad grades, and who also happen to be males, for example, I won't conclude that all males are bad students and want to waste my time. There are people with good and bad intentions everywhere and in all groups that you can think of, not just religious ones.

December 11, 2005 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Mark responding . . .

I am intrigued by the first commentary. Although I have not had any experience personally with teaching ESL for missionary purposes, I recognize that it is a practice. There is a caucus, whose members might be better able to prepared to answer the question about the appropriacy of "using ESL" so-to-speak, for proseletyzing.
As a side note, it should be pointed out that any organization, whether it be governmental, civic, corporate, or religious, has the right to offer employment or life skill improvement courses to their constituents, and to the community at large. One would hope, that in all cases, the classes were being offered "in good faith" (no pun intended!). That is, one would hope that the ESL classes were not just a cover for hidden political/commercial purposes (in the case of government or corporate-sponsored classes, or hidden conversion purposes.
There is a growing literature and debate on the hidden agendas of syllabi, materials,professional organizations, teacher education programs, etc, that are hosted,or sponsored by western governments and institutions. Much of the debate uses terms like "linguistic or cultural imperialism" and "colonizing the mind."
In this light, any organization, school, or religion ought to think carefully about their approach to teaching ESL/FL.

December 14, 2005 6:16 PM  

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