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Review of  The NNEST Lens

Reviewer: Bryan Meadows
Book Title: The NNEST Lens
Book Author: Ahmar Mahboob
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.3111

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EDITOR: Mahboob, Ahmar
SUBTITLE: Non Native English Speakers in TESOL
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2010

Bryan Meadows, Department of English, University of Texas, Pan-American,
Edinburg TX USA


In the preface, Jun Liu defines this book as marking ''the new beginning of the
necessary discussion on the unnecessary divide in our profession'' (p. xii). The
divide he refers to is the practice of categorizing English language teachers
according to their native language status, giving rise to the two categories of
Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) and Native English Speaking
Teachers (NESTs). The distinction supports an underlying monolingual,
monocultural bias to the field which disadvantages NNESTs by evaluating them not
on their language and pedagogical skills but on their place of origin, first
language acquisition, and physical appearance. Critiques of the NNEST/NEST
divide surfaced in the 1990s. The original contribution of this volume is the
concept of the ''NNEST lens'' which crystallizes the critiques of the past decades
while projecting a way out of the NEST/NNEST divide. Mahboob writes that the
central goal of the book is ''a step that moves the Applied Linguistics (AL) and
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) profession in a
direction where one's mother tongue, culture, nationality, and race do not
define one's professional identity and position'' (p. xiii). The author organizes
the book's chapters under five themes, paraphrased here as, (1) Theory and
Ideologies, (2) Attitudes and Perceptions, (3) Strategies and Approaches, (4)
NNEST/NEST Collaboration, and (5) Teaching Ideas.

'The NNEST Lens' (Ahmar Mahboob)

The first chapter introduces the NNEST lens concept and defines it as ''a lens of
multilingualism, multinationalism, and multiculturalism through which NNESTs –
as classroom practitioners, researchers, and teacher educators – take diversity
as a starting point, rather than as a result'' (p. 1). Drawing on established
literature, Mahboob sheds light on assumptions that support NS privilege in
English Language Teaching (ELT), and traces the development of the NNEST
movement. He next forecasts the book, identifying five organizing themes: (1)
Dominant literature and ways of thinking in Applied Linguistics and TESOL; (2)
Attitudes and Perceptions; (3) Ideas, strategies, and approaches relevant to all
stakeholders; (4) Ways of achieving productive and effective collaboration
between NNESTs and NESTs in the workplace; (5) Ideas NNESTs can adopt in their

Chapter 2, 'The Colour of English' (Mary Romney)

This chapter interrogates racial biases in ELT hiring practices. It offers an
insightful critique of Kachru's influential inner-circle model by pointing to
its racialized underpinnings. Kachru's model (p. 20-21) divides the
English-speaking world geographically into three concentric circles: (1) inner
circle (US, UK, Canada, etc.), (2) outer circle (India, Nigeria, Singapore,
etc.), and (3) expanding circle (Brazil, China, France, etc.). Taking Jamaican
English as a case study, the chapter advances the argument that directly linking
race to language leads to faulty judgments of teachers and students, not to
mention racialized hiring decisions. The author's personal experiences
underscore the urgency of this issue. She reports that there is hopeful movement
in the field: Kachru's inner circle model is shifting its organizing principle
from geography to language expertise. This development removes an oft-cited
justification for racialized hiring practices.

Chapter 3, 'Maintaining an Optimal Distance: Nonnative Speakers' Pragmatic
Choice' (Noriko Ishihara)

This chapter challenges the conventional wisdom that the NS is the only
appropriate target model for language teaching. The author examines two case
studies of NNSs who resist NS target pragmatic norms. Ishihara's examination is
through a phenomenological lens, or an inquiry into ''the essence of a phenomenon
through research participants' lived experience'' (p. 38). The case studies
underscore that ELT professionals can learn much from the lived experiences of
practicing bilinguals, rather than basing second language acquisition theory and
practice on those of monolinguals.

Chapter 4, 'The Principles of Bilingual Pedagogy in EFL' (Ross Forman)

This chapter considers the role of students' first language (L1) in the second
language (L2) classroom. In the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) situation,
NNESTs share an L1 with their students -- a significant advantage often
overlooked. Through case studies, the author highlights three contributions the
L1 makes to L2 classrooms: (1) It is a tool to maximize L2 learning; (2) It
places students in a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) (i.e. the performance
space between what a learner can do alone and what they can do with assistance)
in the context of an L2 assignment; (3) It contextualizes L2 texts for students.

Chapter 5, 'Does a Good Language Teacher have to be a Native Speaker?' (Barbara

This chapter explores the question of what makes a successful teacher in the
context of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching in Thailand. Surveys and
interviews with English language students in Thailand found that students
attribute complementary strengths to both NESTs and NNESTs. However, students
did not specifically mention the NS/NNS divide in their responses. The author
concludes that students in this setting appreciate an English teacher who
possesses expertise in English and personal knowledge of the local community.

Chapter 6, 'Empowering Nonnative-English Speaking Teachers in the Classroom'
(Sibel Tatar & Senem Yildiz)

The authors explore NNEST self-perceptions in the context of a real-world
problem: hiring practices that work against NNESTs in Turkey. A content analysis
of interview, focus group, and observational data highlights NNEST strengths:
(1) Knowing the local students; (2) Knowing what it is like to study an L2; (3)
Using a shared L1 as a strategic pedagogical tool. Also, an interesting finding
was that students who saw successful NNESTs developed positive attitudes toward
their efficacy.

Chapter 7, 'The ''Who's Worth More?'' Question Revisited: MA TESOL Practicum Host
Teachers' Perceptions of NES and NNES Teacher Trainees' (Ekaterina Nemtchinova)

While plenty of studies report on student attitudes about NNESTs, this chapter
addresses the perspectives of ELT teacher trainers, something less-understood in
the literature. Surveys of teacher trainers in the US found that mentor teachers
make little differentiation between NNEST and NEST trainees. Mentors treat both
as novice teachers with skills to develop. The surveys did find that respondents
credit NNESTs with a greater awareness of multiculturalism but also noted that
NESTs can build such awareness with experience.

Chapter 8, 'Appraisal of Native and Non-Native English Speaking Teachers'
(Caroline Lipovsky & Ahmar Mahboob)

This study adds a unique dimension to our understanding of student perceptions
by applying appraisal analysis to student narratives. Appraisal analysis
provides a means for not only capturing student evaluative attitudes but also
the linguistic construction of those attitudes. Analyses found that students
used a range of means to express negative evaluation (e.g. negation of a
positive term, explicit comparisons) and that not knowing students' L1 is a
double-sided issue for both NNESTs and NESTs. The chapter concludes that
students recognized the individual strengths of NESTs and NNESTs and therefore
did not express a clear preference either way.

Chapter 9, 'Strategies to Prepare Teachers Equally for Equity' (Leslie Barratt)

This chapter articulates a ''strategy bank'' for teacher trainers to evaluate and
correct monolingual bias in their approaches. Without these strategies, future
teachers are doomed to repeat the status quo. Intended to help student teachers
develop a critical awareness of the criteria used to evaluate English language
teaching, the strategies include: awareness raising strategies, discourse
inclusion strategies, equity management strategies, and professional development.

Chapter 10, 'Coping Strategies for NNES Teachers' Development' (Ana Wu, John
Liang, & Tünde Csepelyi)

After recognizing some of the typical challenges unique to NNESTs in the ELT
field, the authors offer practical and candid advice to NNESTs for successful
entry to the profession. Step one is about getting started, including developing
a positive self-image and extending intercultural friendships. Step two is about
getting prepared, including starting informal networking and confidently sharing
learner insights. Step three is about stepping out into the real world,
including getting involved with the professional community and broadening as
well as deepening expertise.

Chapter 11, 'Training Non-Native English Speaking TESOL Professionals'
(Ekaterina Nemtchinova, Ahmar Mahboob, Zohreh Eslami, & Seran Dogancay-Aktuna).

TESOL graduate programs do not allow for NNESTs who need more time to develop
academic and linguistic abilities. To rectify this situation, the authors offer
strategies and suggestions for training in the classroom: (1) Provide
opportunities for role-plays, simulations, and supervised practical training;
and (2) Use class time to raise awareness of pragmatic competence and
strategies. They propose that TESOL programs must help NNESTs develop the
linguistic competence they will need to be effective instructors.

Chapter 12, 'Students' Evolving Perspectives on World Englishes, Non-Native
English Speakers, and Non-Native English Speaking Teachers Based on a Graduate
Course' (Rebecca L. Oxford & Rashi Jain)

This chapter recounts a graduate course wherein student teachers engaged with
their own attitudes and were able to alter their perceptions about the place of
NNESTs in the global context. By the close of the course, students reported
feeling more educated about their own stances that unfairly discriminate against
NNESTs. The authors intend for this chapter to inspire similar courses, because
while students may not entirely buy into the NS fallacy, hiring practitioners
often do.

Chapter 13, 'Collaborative Teaching of EFL by Native and Non-Native
English-Speaking Teachers in Taiwan' (Wen-Hsing Luo)

Taking the ELT market in Taiwan as a backdrop, this chapter explores NEST/NNEST
collaborative teaching arrangements. Based on teaching observations and
interviews with teachers, the author concludes that good collaborative teaching
involves: respect, equality, flexibility, language, empathy, collaborative
culture, and time and knowledge (i.e. REFLECT). Drawing on these findings, the
author then proposes a general model for collaboration, which includes four
central components: (1) Lesson planning; (2) Collaborative teaching; (3)
Monitoring; (4) Collaborative reflection.

Chapter 14, 'Strength Through Difference: Optimizing NNEST/NEST Relationships on
a School Staff' (Jan Edwards Dormer)

This chapter explores NEST/NNEST collaboration, not in the classroom, but in the
workplace as professional colleagues. Based on interviews and observations at
two school sites in Brazil and Indonesia, the author identifies two areas in
which collaboration can be cultivated. For teacher training, workplaces can
encourage collaborative workshops, and for teacher interaction, schools can use
strategic scheduling in order to cultivate time for NNEST/NEST collaboration.
This chapter advocates a workplace where NEST/NNEST collaboration draws out the
best from both positions, which is a potential benefit for all school stakeholders.

Chapter 15, 'Using Corpora for Language Enhancement, Teaching and Research'
(Dilin Liu)

This chapter presents practical ideas for NNESTs to apply corpus linguistics to
teaching and research. After covering the basics of corpus linguistics, the
author offers practical advice, grouped into four categories: (1) Lexicogrammar
(e.g. patterns in word collocations); (2) Register variation (e.g. ascertain
frequency ratios of specific phrases); (3) Principles (e.g. groupwork/specific
tasks); (4) Research (e.g. approach corpora as teaching resources).

Chapter 16, '''With a Little Help from the Corpus'': Corpus Linguistics and EFL
Teaching' (Monika Bednarek)

Similar to the previous chapter, this author's purpose is to introduce readers
to corpus linguistics and to survey its multiple applications to the NNEST's
classroom. The author presents a list of suggested applications of corpus
linguistics, including: (1) Investigating learner errors in order to make
instruction more efficient; (2) Using corpora like a NS resource for those
NNESTs who do not have personal access to NSs; (3) Comparing L1/L2 cognates. She
closes with helpful resources and ideas for developing classroom assignments.


This is a welcome volume with thought-provoking and practical ideas for
addressing the NNEST/NEST divide, a long festering issue in the ELT profession.
This volume is successful in articulating an agenda for conscious change in the
field. It calls for ELT practitioners at all levels (e.g. teachers, program
directors, teacher trainers) to critically reconsider their assumptions and to
make practical adjustments in how they engage with the profession. Such action
can lead to the field conquering its silenced paradox: a monolingual bias in a
field dedicated to cultivating multilingualism.

There are many outstanding aspects to this volume. One is its reader-friendly,
applied perspective, which serves its central aim to spur critical reflection
and subsequent action. The volume offers actionable ideas for everyone (e.g.
instructors, administrators, teacher trainers) and leaves each reader with
little excuse to not implement at least one change immediately. Second, many of
the chapters are written through the first-person voice of experienced NNESTs,
something that adds to the book's compelling message. This is a very appealing
way to read these kinds of reports, especially because these ideas are intended
to immediately influence practice.

While there are commendable strengths to the volume, there are a few points of
apparent weakness. The book excels as an agenda for practical avenues out of the
NS paradigm and represents a strong statement of advocacy for the NNEST lens.
What feels to be lacking, however, is sufficient coverage of the theoretical
grounding necessary to support that advocacy. The book seems to take the
arguments for critical transformation (i.e. the NNEST lens) as pre-supposed.
Thus, one imagines that this book will have the greatest impact on the
already-converted. With a more in-depth and extensive justification of the NNEST
lens, the book could also win over its skeptics.

Also, apart from the preface and opening chapter, the editor's voice is largely
absent from the book's discussion. One can imagine that important points could
be crystallized if the editor's voice were more prominent (e.g. section
introductions, concluding chapter). His voice would have been welcomed, for
example, to mitigate one question that developed in this reviewer's mind during
reading. Several chapter contributions report that students/teacher trainers
either do not consciously differentiate between NNESTs and NESTs or they
recognize the complementary strengths of both. This sort of finding undercuts
the book's calling, which is to raise awareness about the biases that work
against NNESTs. This raises the question: If people involved in ELT already
recognize the unique strengths that NNESTs bring to the classroom, what is the
need for the NNEST lens? What one infers is that the NEST/NNEST issue is never
cut and dry and that there are no simple, quick answers. This is one example of
where the editor's voice could lead the reader through such questions and doubts.

Still, this volume offers an inspiring invitation to an honest and candid
dialogue among all ELT professionals. Further studies will augment what Mahboob
et al. have established with this volume. In the coming discussion, one
anticipates learning how the NNEST lens accords with related critiques of the
applied linguistics status quo (e.g. Intercultural Education, Heritage Language
Education, Generation 1.5 Students, Poststructuralist Identity, among others),
all of which are areas that share intuitive links with the NNEST lens.

''The NNEST Lens'' is a look ahead to what the profession could look like if we
put multilingualism at the center of what ELT is all about. This reviewer
anticipates the positive impact this volume will have on a collective movement
in that direction.

Bryan Meadows is an assistant professor of applied linguistics at the University of Texas, Pan-American. His research interrogates the role of nationalism to shape language learning/teaching practices at all levels. His primary method is ethnographic critical discourse analysis of formal language classroom settings. He owes much gratitude to Steven Randall (University of Arizona) and to the Linguist List editorial team for their comments on earlier drafts of this review.

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