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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nonnative Speaker Teachers' Professional Identities: The Effects of Teaching Experience and Linguistic and Social Contexts

  • Author(s): Chung, Ka Hye
  • Advisor(s): Thompson, Katrina D
  • et al.

While a growing number of second language courses are taught by both native and nonnative speaker teachers, the assumption that native speakers are inherently more effective teachers is still quite prevalent, bringing challenges to the construction of nonnative speakers teachers' professional identities. This study problematizes the dominance of "nativeness" in second language learning and teaching precisely because the concept greatly influences and shapes the ways in which nonnative speaker teachers establish their expertise and credibility in the classroom. Even though issues related to these teachers are not limited to the field of teaching English as a second language, to date, the majority of studies on this topic have centered on speakers and teachers of the English language. As societies become increasingly multilingual and multicultural, however, the dichotomy between native and nonnative speakers needs to be reexamined by taking into account speakers of languages other than English. Similarly, the self-perceptions of nonnative speaker teachers need to be investigated in terms of the unequal power relations involved in the labeling of native and nonnative speakers. Using semi-structured interviews with nonnative speaker teachers of English, Spanish, Japanese, and German, this study investigates the factors that affect both teaching practice and the ongoing construction of teachers' professional identities. The most critical factor contributing to teachers' self-empowerment is the notion of their "near-nativeness," a concept which reflects their nonnativeness as well as their experiences learning a second language and their attainment of a high level of proficiency in their second language. Identifying as near-native speakers enabled and empowered teachers to confront and alter their students' prejudices and negative stereotypes about nonnative speaker teachers. At the same time teachers still report a certain degree of insecurity as nonnative speakers particularly in the presence of heritage language students in their classrooms, precisely because teachers conceived of these students as potential native speakers with more intrinsic access to the target language. The findings of this study suggest that nonnative speaker teachers can become successful teachers by embracing their nonnative speaker identities and by capitalizing on their particular awareness of the language learning process. The study findings provide insight into the construction of the professional identities of nonnative speaker teachers, thus further contributing to their self-empowerment.

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