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2017 Conference - The Multilingual Instructor in Ecological Perspective
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With globalization, the situation of foreign language instructors has become more complex. Whether they are NS or NNS, their cultural and professional legitimacy has grown more problematic now that the local target culture has become more multilingual and more multicultural; language learning technologies have become more attractive than the experience of the foreign abroad; and declining enrollments bring more precarity to the language teacher’s profession. While these changes have affected the way we conceive of language learning (see Kramsch 2014, Douglas Fir Group 2016), little attention has been paid to how it is affecting the language instructors. Most of these instructors are today multilingual and multicultural, they have lived in various countries and have rich multidimensional identities. Yet they are hired to represent the monodimensional native or near-native speaker and to teach one standard national language and culture. They are asked to become ever more “effective” in that monodimensional endeavor, not to put their multidimensional experience to use to help learners “operate between languages and cultures” and with heightened “historical and social consciousness” (MLA Report 2017).

This paper reports on a study conducted by Claire Kramsch and Lihua Zhang from 2013 to 2015 on nine campuses of the University of California, through an online survey of 43 native and 37 non-native instructors of 17 different languages followed by one-hour semi-structured interviews with 35 native and non-native instructors. The survey gathered information about the instructors’ professional and cultural experiences and their strategies for change and adaptation. The interviews followed an ecological approach (van Lier 2004) to find out how language instructors deal with the complexity of their profession: as speakers of the language, as knowledge providers, as professional teachers, and as language educators. The findings dramatize the paradoxes of the multilingual language instructor in the monolingual environment of American academia.

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