Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Non-native EFL teachers’ intercultural identities: A comparison of China and the Netherlands

Students in EFL (English as a foreign language) classes may regard their non-native teachers as successful models of intercultural communication and mediators between the cultures of English-speaking countries (ES cultures) and their own cultures. Teachers who are aware of such roles may introduce and compare cultures in a more conscious way to cultivate students’ intercultural competence. We define such awareness as their intercultural identities. The research project is aimed at describing and comparing Chinese and Dutch EFL teachers’ awareness of themselves when teaching cultures of English-speaking countries.

Duration
2009  -   2017
Funding
The 'Fundamental Research Funds for the Central University' [grant number 08143012], Xi’an Jiaotong University, Shaanxi, China

Researchers

  • Dadi Chen MA - PhD candidate
  • prof.dr. N. Verloop - supervisor
  • dr. E.H. Tigelaar - co-supervisor
  • B.H.J. Smit MSc - advisor/co-author

Project description

Aim

Intercultural competence has become an important need in the globalized world and an ultimate goal in learning English as a foreign language (EFL). Students in EFL classes may regard their non-native teachers as successful models of intercultural communication and mediators between the cultures of English-speaking countries (ES cultures) and their own cultures. Teachers who are aware of such roles may introduce and compare cultures in a more conscious way to cultivate students’ intercultural competence. We define such awareness as their intercultural identities. The research project is aimed at describing and comparing Chinese and Dutch EFL (English as a foreign language) teachers’ awareness of themselves when teaching cultures of English-speaking countries (ES cultures).

Societal relevance

Language and culture are intricately intertwined. Students get a lot of information about ES cultures from their EFL teachers. When a non-native English-speaking teacher teaches English to learners, he/she needs to face the challenge of helping students to understand cultural values, norms, et cetera, different from their own, so as to promote intercultural competence. The purpose of the project is therefore to identify EFL teachers’ intercultural identities to help teachers reflect upon their identities so as to avoid confusion, gaps, stereotypes, and biases in teaching ES cultures.

Scientific relevance

Non-native English-speaking teachers’ identity has been concerned in many recent studies (Braine, 1999, 2006, 2010; Moussu & Llurda, 2008; Samimy & Kurihara, 2006). However, teachers’ identity is mainly studied from the perspective of pedagogical roles or the NS-NNS dichotomy. Teachers’ cultural, intercultural, national, and transnational identities remain undertheorized (Byram, 1997). Seldom are the cases of the individual non-native teachers’ cultural identities examined, or compared in two different “outsider” cultural backgrounds.

Research questions

The following research questions were answered in order to deal with the issue outlined above.

  1. How do Chinese and Dutch English teachers define their intercultural identities in relation to ES cultures and cultural teaching? What are the similarities and differences between the two groups?
  2. What other variables in the personal backgrounds of the teachers, apart from nationality, are related to their intercultural identities?
  3. How do the non-native teachers’ cultural values relate to their intercultural identities? Or, do the teachers’ cultural values predict their intercultural identities to a significant extent?
  4. How do non-native EFL teachers form their intercultural identities? What implication can we get from the knowledge about their identity formation?

Methods

We developed an online questionnaire based on an extensive literature review and on our interviews and observations in China and the Netherlands. By means of a survey in the two countries, we explored how Chinese and Dutch EFL teachers considered their intercultural identities in relation to ES cultures and intercultural teaching activities, what variables in their personal backgrounds were related to such identities, and whether there were any differences between the two national groups. We also formulated expected associations between their cultural values and intercultural identities so as to see if there is any connection between teachers’ background and their identities.

Results and conclusions

Participants in the questionnaire survey were 190 Chinese and 154 Dutch EFL teachers. It was found that the Dutch teachers considered themselves closer to ES cultures and were more confident in teaching and comparing cultures. Gender, educational background, and type of class were found to be associated with teachers’ intercultural identities. We found also that Chinese and Dutch EFL teachers emphasize different cultural values. The Chinese teachers valued conservation (conformity, tradition, security) and self-enhancement (power, achievement) more than the Dutch teachers. The Dutch teachers valued openness to change (stimulation, self-direction) and self-transcendence (universalism, benevolence) more than the Chinese teachers. Some of the cultural values (e.g., benevolence, tradition, and power) predicted the intercultural identities of the teachers as expected but others failed to do this or did this in a direction contrary to what was expected. Assumptions regarding the influence of the cultural values of non-native teachers of EFL on their intercultural identities need to be modified.

We concluded from our findings that the intercultural identities of non-native EFL teachers in different countries can be very different, personal background and cultural values can play a role in such differences, as well as some factors in personal background, such as teachers’ gender, final level of education, and type of class they taught. Teachers who live in a country which is quite different from ES cultures (e.g., China) might need to spend more time and opportunity to learn about foreign cultures, as a way to improve their sensitivity to cultural differences and knowledge, attitude, skill in intercultural teaching.

Follow- up

The project is a first step to understanding non-native EFL teachers. We hope there will be further studies on teachers from other countries/regions, on comparison between EFL and ESL teaches, on the relationship between contextual factors and teachers’ identities, and on the relationship between teachers’ intercultural identities and their teaching practice.

Foto: China Photos / Getty Images News / Getty Images / Universal Images Group

Chen, D., Tigelaar, D. E. H., & Verloop, N. (2016). The intercultural identities of nonnative English teachers: An overview of research worldwide. Asian Education Studies, 1(2). Doi: 10.20849/aes.v1i2.48

Chen, D., Tigelaar, D., & Verloop, N. (2011). Theorizing non-native ESP/EGP teacher intercultural identity: A way out of confusion. International Conference on English for Specific Purposes in Asia, 21-23 October 2011, Xi’an Jiaotong University, China.

2017: dissertation

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