Showcase: Kay Irie

Kay Irie


In this edition of Showcase, Kay Irie shares how her editorial work for the Learner Development SIG has helped her gain confidence and come to terms with herself as a non-native speaker of English working in the field of TESOL.

My involvement in the Learner Development (LD) SIG over the last six years has given me great opportunities for professional and personal growth. By actively participating in the LD SIG community, I have gained a deeper understanding of autonomy, broadened my own view of learning and teaching, and acquired academic and practical skills. But what I really appreciate the most is that it has helped me to build my self-confidence as a non-native speaker of English (NNSE) professional in TESOL. I am now comfortable with my strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities. That self-confidence was very low six years ago; as a Japanese woman coming from the world of advertising into the field of language education, I felt more than a little unsure of myself entering an environment that seemed dominated by non-Japanese males.

In December 2006, Andy Barfield, the current LD SIG co-coordinator and then lead editor of the SIG newsletter, Learning Learning, asked me to shadow him to be the next lead editor. I had just received my doctoral degree earlier that year from Temple University and started a full-time university teaching job. Yet, I was feeling uneasy about my legitimacy as a NNSE teacher-researcher, and as an editor of an English language publication. When I confided my lack of confidence to Andy, he immediately suggested Alison Stewart to co-shadow with me. Ever since, with the help of Andy and many other experienced senpai (先輩= seniors), Alison and I have worked together on various editing projects: Learning Learning, Realizing Autonomy: Practice and Reflection in Language Education Context (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), as well as the program booklet and online proceedings <> of the 2011 LD SIG conference.

My initial view of editing was primarily correcting other people’s writing. As soon as I started to shadow, however, my perspective shifted dramatically. On the practical side, editing requires a lot of organizational skills to keep the publication on schedule and communication skills to get the cooperation of many people. This is where my experience in business became an advantage, giving me a sense of self-efficacy early on. My Japanese became useful when it came to dealing with printing companies and submissions in Japanese. It was reassuring to feel useful and capable.

As for editing skills, it did not take me a long time to realize it has more to do with working with writers to articulate and express ideas clearly than fixing what is wrong. I’ve learned (and am still learning) what to look for and how to ask effective questions about ideas, organization, focus, and logical connections. That is far more important than being 100% accurate in the usage of articles or verb tense in subjunctive mood (although that would be nice too!).

When I encounter something difficult to understand, I still wonder if it is my reading or the writing that is falling short. But I don’t worry about it so much anymore as I always work with a team or a partner whom I can share my concerns with. I’m no longer afraid to say, “I don’t know.” And in return, I am becoming more aware that my own experience may provide insights into how the writing may be better appreciated by the majority of the field; us NNSE teachers. Good writing should be easy for anybody to understand. I could not have gained the confidence and expertise if it weren’t for the supportive environment created by the LD SIG.

An exciting prospect for my professional development is that I resumed my research on L2 motivation last year. It was the passion for teaching, learning, and research I witnessed in the LD SIG and JALT communities that inspired me and reminded me of the joy of discovering and sharing with others. Although I am taking a break from editing work for the LD SIGright now, I recentlytook over the role of LD SIG treasurer from Hiromi Furusawa. I have no experience in accounting, just like how I was with editing six years ago, but I am not so worried this time as I know that I am going to get all the support I need.

All in all, my six years with the LD SIG and JALT have helped me to become aware of my own strengths, more comfortable with my weaknesses, and have opened my eyes to the possibilities for learning and being inspired through working together with language teaching professionals from diverse backgrounds.


Kay Irie (入江恵)is Associate Professor at the Foreign Language Center, Tokai University in Kanagawa. Her research interests include L2 motivation and learner autonomy. She can be contacted at <kayirie@tokai.u-jp>.

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