Transnational English Language Teachers?

Up until this posting, the subtitle for this blog has been “Global Citizens, Migrant Workers, Transnationals.” I included the word “transnationals” because it was a buzzword that appealed to me at the time, but what does it actually mean?

I have found that “transnational” is most often used to describe organizations or corporations rather than people, but I’ve been finding the term more in the social science and humanities. I’m currently reading through a fascinating overview of the term being used in the study of history in the book below.


However it does not give me a clear definition of the term, especially to describe people. The purpose of the book is to give example of how “transnational” is used to describe history and studies of history.

So far, the best I could find is from the book Transnational Competence: Empowering Professional Curricula for Horizon-Rising Challenges, which presents the model of transnational competence to higher education institutions as a model for 21st century learning. (Some of us ELTs are quite aware of how “21st century learning” is used to promote certain types of agendas and/or technology in our schools.) Here’s how the book attempts to define transnational in its second chapter:

Transnational phenomena and dynamics “cross, alter, transcend, and even transform borders and boundaries”

“Transnational” directs attention to activities that traverse and interlink levels (urban, rural, national, regional) at the same time that it recognizes the permeable status of physical borders and intangible boundaries that have not disappeared.

“Transnational” also galvanizes change and transforms curricular visions by explicitly integrating and building on the efforts and advances contributed by advocates of internationalizing higher education and of multicultural education.

“Transnational” captures the diversity and multiplicity of contemporary domestic-foreign boundary exchanges without requiring global reach.

Koehn & Rosenau (2010), pp. 5-6

None of these describe people, but the first sentence indicates that it describes phenomena and dynamics. So if ELTs cannot be transnational, then how about our profession? This book suggests that all higher education learning outcomes should be transnational because we will be living transnational lives in the near future if not now.

English in Transnational History

The previous section points out that English language teaching is an act of transnational education as ELTs are preparing students to “cross, alter, transcend, and even transform borders and boundaries.” But the book that failed to provide a definition of “transnational,” provides an example of the role of English in transnational history.

What would cultural globalization do to indigenous cultural traditions?

…globalization has seemed to promote, and to be promoted by, the near universal use of English as the language of communication. It has become the language not only of diplomatic negotiations and transnational business transactions but also of cultural activities.

Above all, English has become the chief medium of scholarly production and communication. Academic conferences of scientists as well as humanities scholars, regardless of where they are held, are usually conducted in English. Universities are ranked by the number of English-speaking publications by their faculty and courses are frequently taught in countries such as China, Korea, and Turkey in English–even by instructors whose native language is something else.

Iriye (2013), p.49

Through this point of view, these are major reasons for our students to learn English. Higher education or English for Academic Purposes is means to these ends, so could we propose English for Transnational Purposes?

A Transcultural Historical Perspective on English Language Teaching

In the last chapter of the book, Iriye writes that he expects non-national identities and groups will continue to attract the attention of historians. He provides youth groups and “the transnational coming together of individuals and groups of people pursuing their shared avocations, be they scholarship, music, and other cultural activities, sport, or traveling” as examples of these non-national groups (p.73). I believe English language learners and teachers fit into this category as many of us are at the epicenter of scholarship and cultural activities.

Furthermore, Iriye is also interested in the most obvious aspect of our profession, traveling across borders to either teach English language learners abroad to learn English in an immersive experience abroad. This transnational phenomenon has been rapidly increasing since the 1990s, however he hasn’t seen many studies in this area:

…few scholars seem to have examined this quintessentially transnational phenomenon in historical perspective. Students of global history would be particularly interested in this topic inasmuch as an increasing number of cross-border travelers began to originate in non-Western parts of the world such as the Middle-East and East Asia in the last decades of the twentieth century. What such transnational experiences do to individual tourists’ view of themselves, of others, and of the world is a fascinating to explore, the more so since the tourism industry in all countries has assumed a position of great significance in their economic affairs. Economic globalization in a sense goes together with social globalization.

Iriye (2013), p.75

I believe we can extend this to the education industry, which is becoming more internationalized in many countries all over the world. A certain degree of English language education still acts as a key to enter the broader world of higher education at the international level.

Teaching English for Transnational Purposes

Now let’s turn from taking an outward look at our profession and toward an inward look at our profession. How can we integrated transnationalism into our curriculum? Our profession has a myriad of purposes and approaches to teaching and learning the English language. I assume there is room for one more, here is my proposal with a model to work from, the transnational competence model from Koehn & Rosenau (2010).

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 3.26.58 PM.png

How could we adopt this model to English language teaching practices? I don’t think it would be too hard to demonstrate how one’s current EAP curriculum already is an ETP curriculum. Perhaps it would be better to contextualize this question in classrooms that provide opportunities for English language learners to interact with the community.

Perhaps I bit off more than I can chew with this last question, but I think English language teachers and programs should reflect on how they can contribute to the needs, if any, for transnational competence. I am unsure of how many universities are transforming their mission statements to develop this type of competence, but I am more sure that many English language teachers have the skills to help universities and other schools reach these goals.

So, back to the title question, “Are English language teachers transnational?” No, but are teaching objectives can be and the lifestyles for many of us are. To secure our way of life in the future, if the future continues to be both more globalized and more localized, I argue that we should market ourselves as leaders or models in transnational competence.


Iriye, A. (2013). Global and Transnational History: The Past, Present, and Future. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Koehn, P.H. & Rosenau, J.N. (2010). Transnational Competence: Empowering Professional Curricula for Horizon-Rising Challenges. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.


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