Ulla M. Connor
of the Month
Prof. Ulla M. Connor
uconnor [at] iupui [dot] edu
Prof. Connor: Growing up in Finland and attending a Finnish public high school, I studied several foreign languages -- Swedish, English, German, and Latin. I loved learning foreign languages and literatures and admired my language teachers very much. In school, my Finnish born teachers taught English through mainly the grammar translation approach and read aloud to us British and American master pieces in most fascinating styles and tones. At the university, some of my professors were native born British or American, but the majority of the courses were taught by professors, for whom English was not a first language but who knew the history and structure of the English language superbly. I studied hard and was rewarded by a scholarship in the United States to finish an MA thesis. That is how I ended up in the US. The transition from EFL to ESL was fairly natural.
Ana Wu: In 1996 TESOL Convention, you joined George Braine and others to talk about non-native speaker professionals in TESOL before there was even a NNEST caucus. Eleven years has passed since then. What are the things you would like to see the Caucus and its members initiate and do?
Prof. Connor: It is hard to believe how much the NNEST caucus has achieved under the leadership of George Braine and others! In addition to the caucus achievements, its individual members such as Jun Liu as the TESOL President and Suresh Canagarajah as the TESOL Quarterly editor have brought recognition to the significant contributions of nonnative English speaking professionals. The caucus has sponsored a great many colloquia on political issues concerning the naming of English teachers for whom English is not a first language. Personally, I have no problem of being called a nonnative speaker of English even though I could also be called bilingual, maybe even multilingual, and English language proficient. Granted, names can be important, but I believe that addressing the research and teaching of language skills and how we can become better and better in how we teach and conduct ourselves professionally should be a major concern of the Caucus.
Ana Wu: Your list of publications and presentations is very extensive and diverse. You have been the recipient of respectable national and international honors, and very competitive awards. What advice would you give to NNES novice teachers who are just starting their careers?
Prof. Connor: Work hard and believe in yourself. Share your thoughts and teaching successes with other teachers and researchers through presentations at conferences and writings in published outlets. Find mentors and friends to share your ideas and develop them into presentations and publications. Don't worry about your "accent."
Ana Wu: If you were to name a seminal paper on NNEST issues, what would that be? Why?
Prof. Connor: George Braine's book Non-Native Educators in English Language Teaching (1999) was a seminal book and contains several inspiring chapters.
Ana Wu: As an NNEST in the U.S., what have been your most vivid memories (positive/negative) in your academic and/or professional practices?
Prof. Connor: I yet cannot get over the attitudes held by many ESL program directors who do not hire nonnative speakers of English. They don't seem to understand that NNS teachers, after having learned the language, may know it much better than native speakers who have acquired it without conscious rules. These biased directors seem to be bothered by an "accent," even though in the world today 2/3 speakers of English on any given day are nonnative speakers!
Among many positive experiences, perhaps the most gratifying one was being appointed the first endowed chair in my school at my university. The endowment was created by a couple who have lived most of their lives in Indianapolis but have done extensive traveling overseas. My "accent" does not seem to bother them!
Ana Wu: Prof. Connor, thank you for such inspiring interview! It was a pleasure meeting you!