Identity and anxiety in teachers of Arabic and Hebrew : the native vs. nonnative speaker question

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2013-08

Authors

Caravita, Joanna Ruth

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Abstract

This study examines the beliefs of foreign language teachers regarding the relative positions of native and nonnative speakers in foreign and second language education. In particular, I am concerned with the idealization of the native speaker in this context and the foreign language anxiety that may occur in nonnative speaker language teachers if they internalize this idealization. I collected data from 29 college-level Arabic and Hebrew teachers using four methods: (1) a questionnaire on their background and beliefs regarding native and nonnative speaker language teachers, (2) a version of the Teacher Foreign Language Anxiety Scale (Horwitz, 2007), (3) a one-on-one interview, and (4) class observation. By and large, study participants believed that native speakers, because of their nativity, have reached higher levels of linguistic and cultural proficiency with relative ease, and as a result are more readily granted credibility as teachers of their native language. Participants believed that nonnative speakers are more empathetic and understanding of their students' problems because of their own experience and efforts as students of the language. With regard to foreign language anxiety, the main sources of anxiety among the nonnative speaker participants were the fear of making mistakes (and losing credibility as a result), of not having the authority to speak on cultural issues, of not being hired when competing with native speakers, and of addressing professional audiences. Native speakers feared that they cannot anticipate or understand as easily as nonnative speaker teachers the difficulties their students have in learning their language, because they cannot relate to their experiences in the same way. Neither group, however, reported feeling particularly anxious overall. I argue that anxiety was minimal for both groups because of specific steps that participants have taken to overcome the perceived disadvantages of their group and thereby bolster their confidence. Participants reported gaining confidence through some combination of the following factors: (1) gaining experience and education, (2) improving their linguistic and cultural proficiency, (3) presenting the persona of a credible language teacher through extra preparation and language choices, (4) receiving external validation, and (5) realizing that everyone can learn from and teach others.

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