IATEFL 2016 Plenary by Silvana Richardson: The Case for NNESTs


Richardson’s plenary was a well-prepared, well-delivered, passionate plea for an end to the discrimination against Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs). It was a great talk; it’s received lots of praise from others and doesn’t need more from me. So I just want to indicate a few points where I think Richardson over-egged the pudding. Given that there’s so much compelling evidence to support her case, there’s really no need to spoil it by giving a distorted picture of current SLA research.

Here are the slides I object to:


The Monolingual Bias of SLA

Very few SLA researchers today assume that NS is the “best model”; or that NSA is the best route;  or that a NS is the best teacher. It’s simply not true.

Nor is it true that most SLA researchers view the L1 as “an obstacle”.



Generative Grammar

Chomsky’s theory of generative grammar (UG) gives no support whatsoever to any argument in favour of monolingualism or Native Speakerism. Chomsky’s choice of a limited domain was based on considerations of scientific theory construction; to suggest that UG theory is ideologically biased in such a way that it’s somehow contributed to discrimination against NNESTs is plain silly. 



Cognitivist Theories of SLA

A cognitivist approach to SLA research can’t fairly be used as evidence for the “Supremacy of the ‘mono’”, whatever that means. Richardson suggested that the image of the tunnel in the slide indicates how narrow, dark and confining the “cognitivist theoretical space” is. But “cognitivist” approaches take many forms, and indeed one of those forms is emergentism, which Richardson seems happy to endorse. Unless more information is given about what’s being referred to, the sweeping assertion that a cognitivist approach to research leads to “narrow approaches to teaching learning and teacher education” is unwarranted. It’s equally unwarranted to assert that a cognitivist aproach to SLA leads necessarily to native speakerism, monolingualism or monoculturalism.



Task-Based LT and the Lexical Approach

Neither task-based language teaching (TBLT) nor the lexical approach tries to “thrust a monolingual approach upon the world”. What unites the very different views of proponents of TBLT and Lexical approaches, such as Willis, Long, Nunan, Skehan (TBLT) and Lewis and Dellar (Lexical Approach), is their commitment to the fight for equal rights for NNESTs.    


Paradigm Shifts

Along the course of her talk, Richardson gives recurrent indications that she has a poor view of current SLA research, which might explain why, in her eagerness to promote her cause, she chooses some dubious bedfellows. Richardson suggests that a paradigm shift from “SLA” to “Plurilingual Development” will somehow usher in a new world of ELT practice where NNESTs are no longer discriminated against. This naïve view rests on attributing ideological positions to the two “sides”, such that those involved in current “cognitivist” SLA research are regarded as conservative reactionaries who support the status quo, while those promoting the shift to “Plurilingual Development” are seen as a liberating vanguard. The most cursory examination of the political views of education and social organisation expressed by those in the two camps will quickly show this up for the falsehood that it is. 

And then there’s the small matter of academic excellence and the pursuit of knowledge to be considered. I suggest that Richardson watches the video recording of Larsen Freeman’s IATEFL 2016 plenary and then reads Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008) Complex systems and applied linguistics. I think she’ll be struck by the woeful lack of clarity and the poor standards of scholarship and argumentation displayed. She might then like to compare these examples of a “Plurilingual Development” paradigm with the work of those working in the current “cognitivist” SLA paradigm; as an almost random example: Cook and Singleton (2014) Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition. 

There are plenty of things to criticise about the state of SLA theory, but they don’t include an insensitivity to the cause of NNESTs, and the wide range of research projects currently being pursued don’t deserve to be lumped together and given the careless treatment they get here.   

I’ll post a full review of Larsen Freeman’s plenary next week.     

4 thoughts on “IATEFL 2016 Plenary by Silvana Richardson: The Case for NNESTs

  1. I’d never heard of Richardson and I didn’t hear the talk, but I’ll assume that you’ve covered the problematic points. Except one, perhaps: the irritating (mis)use of the term ‘paradigm shift’. There has never been a paradigm shift in SLA theory (I should say theorizing), and the term seems simply irrelevant to language teaching. Or has someone come up with a theory of language teaching while I wasn’t paying attention?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Depressing to see once again, as so often, the methodological, Galilean, construct of ‘the ideal speaker-listener’ misininterpreted as being somehow prescriptive and authoritarian. Physisists and economists both fruitfully, strategically, ignore frictions in order to make instructive models. Why wouldn’t linguists do the same?

    Liked by 1 person

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