Embracing the International TESOL Perspective

This weekend, I participated in the Southwest Fulbright Symposium in Texas, and it was just what I needed for renewed inspiration about the importance of international perspective in our field.  In one morning, I listened to colleagues talk about brokering peace in Colombia, pharmacy student exchanges between Brazil and the United States, analysis of how the Mexican economy is portrayed in film, optometry innovations in Perú, and ways small private universities are promoting international experiences for their students.

I, in turn, spoke about how transnational teachers (specifically U.S. and Mexico) undergo different teacher identity and language awareness development than other types of teachers.  All in all, the conversations were fascinating and helped me grapple with something with which I continually struggle.

Sometimes, I wonder if, as a TESOL professional from an anglophone country (i.e., the United States), I am promoting linguistic imperialism, or the transfer of a dominant language to other people, often at the expense of the languages already present in that context.I think as TESOL professionals, we would be remiss if we didn’t account for this perspective as a sort of counterbalance to the potential benefits of learning English and participating in English-speaking discourse communities in all their various forms.  As a TESOL teacher educator, I think it’s important to  present future and current teachers with the case for language rights so that, ideally, they might make pedagogical decisions that are more inclusive of local English use in their context, as well as all of the different ways that language learners can be bilingual (or trilingual, or multilingual).

However, one message that I took away from my own Fulbright experience and that I was reminded of this weekend at the symposium, was the importance of the perspectives that international interactions bring to our lives.  TESOL is one field where many different perspectives converge, and, in my mind, that is one reason it is such a vibrant profession.  My closest friends from my doctoral program are Slovakian, Irish, German, Polish, and Serbian.  My current doctoral students are from Puerto Rico, Brazil, China, Iraq, and the United States, not to mention all of the places from which my amazing graduate and undergraduate students come.  I wouldn’t have met any of them had it not been for TESOL and English language teaching, and I hope that all that I have learned and am still learning from them permeates my own practices and worldview.

The power relationships among languages can and do have negative consequences, but the use of English as a world language, as well as study and respect for Global Englishes in local contexts, also serve as powerful tools to communicate with each other.  I encourage TESOL educators and teacher educators to continue to develop their international perspectives by connecting with colleagues from other countries who might speak different kinds of English, traveling to other countries for conferences or job opportunities, and making a point to network with colleagues from around the world at TESOL’s many conferences and professional development seminars.

It’s definitely a continuous balancing act to consider the role of English learning and teaching in different contexts, so I’ll be curious to hear how other teacher educators  mediate these phenomena.  Let me know in the comments!

About Kristen Lindahl

Kristen Lindahl
Kristen Lindahl holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialization in L2 teacher education from the University of Utah. She is currently assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches pre-service ESL/TESOL educators at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Dr. Lindahl has taught K–12 and college ESL, and actively pursues consulting and coaching teachers of English learners in public and English language schools around the globe.
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One Response to Embracing the International TESOL Perspective

  1. Eva A. Combs says:

    There is a dynamism in the TESOL profession (at least from my perspective), I love and delight in it. It is amazing, the amount of opportunities I have had, but I worry about equity, too. I have been to other (developing) countries to teach, they can’t afford Western textbooks or subscriptions to TESOL Quarterly (heck, I live in the US, and I can’t either). They are professionals, though, like we all are. They do everything they can. They organize conferences, write papers, teach. What could be gained if there were truly an exchange of expertise and ideas, not drips and drabs? – This is why having international collegues does, but it’s not as much as it could be, and it is not equal. Not everyone can travel to a conference. I know many great educators in TESOL who cannot. TESOL is a dynamic field, but not everyone can participate in it as fully as all.