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Native speakers only job ads and EU law

I don’t need to tell you that the vast majority of ELT jobs in the private sector are for ‘native speakers’ only. But when I wrote this blog post back in 2014, I would have never expected to see such job ads:

It’s quite ironic to see such job ads in 2019 on the European Job Mobility Portal, because as I will explain here in a second, such job ads are against EU regulations.

So seeing such job ads again recently when I started looking for jobs in Brussels made me go back to this original post from 2014 and update it with what happened to me.

But let’s first look at what EU regulations have to say about job ads for ‘native speakers’ only.

Article 21 of EU basic rights reads as follows (highlighted by me):

Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited. 

You can access the full document here. Apart from confirming what we all know, namely that discrimination against race and nationality is illegal in the EU; the important thing for us is that Article 21 also mentions discrimination based on language. 

Let’s delve deeper and see what gems EU law holds for us in store.

In 2001, in an answer to written question E-4100/00, the European Commission (EC) stated that:

It follows that the native speaker criterion could be considered to be discriminatory and thus incompatible with the Community rules on the freedom of movement of workers in the Community.

In May 2002 the EC also announced that:

The Commission is of the opinion that the phrase “native speaker” is not acceptable, under any circumstances, under Community law. […] the Commission recommends using a phrase such as “perfect or very good knowledge of a particular language” as a condition of access to posts for which a very high level of knowledge of that language is necessary.

That same year, a Commission Communication of 11 December 2002 on ‘Free movement of workers – achieving the full benefits and potential’ (COM (2002) 694 final), when asked about language requirements for particular jobs, reads as follows:

the language requirement must be reasonable and necessary for the job in question and must not be used to exclude workers, so that advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother tongue’ are not acceptable.

One year later, when a German MEP, Jo Leinen, asked the EC whether the words “native speaker” could be used in a job advertisement, 0n 23 May 2003 the EC ruled the following:

In its answer to Question E-0941 the commission states that the term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law. The Commission also states its intention of continuing to use its powers to fight against any discrimination caused by a requirement for native speaker knowledge in job advertisements.

It probably couldn’t be much clearer.

So what does this mean for you as a ‘non-native speaker’ job seeker?

You have quite a lot of ammunition here that you can use to convince a recruiter they should rethink their hiring policy and take you on. You can see exactly how to apply this in a reply to a recruiter in this FREE email template I prepared for you:

 

Let me give you a personal example of how you can apply the above email.

So as I said at the beginning of this post, I decided to go back to it now, 5 years after it was published, because I was recently job hunting. I applied for a really interesting position teaching English at EU institutions. The catch: only ‘native speakers’ should apply…

Me being me, though, I simply applied. I ticked all the boxes, had all the right qualifications, experience and skills. In excess.

To my surprise, I got an immediate response. The employer was very interested in my profile. But since I no longer put my first language on my CV (I just say: Polish, English and Spanish C2 level – read this blog post for more CV tips for ‘non-native speaker’ teachers), the recruiter wanted to know what my first language was: they would only accept ‘native speakers’…

Fortunately I was prepared. I dug out the email template (see above), which I’d used many times before to good effect, tweaked it, and sent.

I got back to work and didn’t think much about it. My phone was on silent and charging in the other room, so when a few hours later I got a reply from them saying: ‘We’ve been trying to call you. Could you please get back to us asap?’, I almost jumped up.

Indeed, they’d called me 5 times. I phoned back and we had a nice long chat.

To cut the long story short, they invited me to come to the interview!

In the end, I didn’t take the job, because an even more interesting opportunity presented itself (I’ll be writing materials for National Geographic Learning and working part-time for Universite Libre de Bruxeles), but there is an important take-away message here for you:

Why am I telling you this story?

Because you can and will have exactly the same results. You CAN convince employers to hire you as a ‘non-native speaker’. Even if initially they only want ‘native speakers.

The first step to do that is a well-written and well-argued email. And to make your life easier, I’m sharing with you the same email I’ve used and perfected over the years to maximise positive responses.

You can download it below;

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Aggie
Guest
Aggie

I really couldn't agree more! I am afraid, however, that amny of the language schools/recruiters who want NEST teachers exlusively, are fully aware of the fact what they do is discrimination, yet they couldn't care less about it…As a non-native EFL teacher I have experienced a great deal of discrimination, as pressumably most of us, NNEST's. Having over 10 years of teaching experience under my belt (inluding teaching EFL in schools and universities in the UK), being fully qualified (BEd, MA, CETLA) I cannot win when competing with unexperienced NEST's with merely CELTA or TEFL certificate at best. Long story… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Aggie,Thank you for your comment.I know how you feel, because as a NNEST I've also been discriminated more than once. However, I'm much more optimistic about the future.Things have been changing for the better in the recent years, and are bound to continue in the future. Most respected language schools stopped to recruit teachers based on their nativeness, and some organisation have also issued statements condemning native speakers only ads (e.g. TESOL France, CATESOL). Of course, as you say, schools can still discriminate in a less conspicuous way. However, I do think that more and more employers are starting… Read more »

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[…] a foreign language, the country of my birth is a huge advantage to me. As has been well documented on this blog, I am much more likely to get a job than someone from Japan, Algeria or Brazil, no matter how […]

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[…] The previous post I wrote for this blog opened a can of worms and caused quite a stir on the British Council FB page, where a fervent discussion started – which you can still read here. I’m really grateful to the BC team for sharing the post, leading the discussion and supporting the rights of NNESTs. The vast majority of those who participated in the debate agreed that ‘nativeness’ – or lack thereof – doesn’t make you a good or a bad teacher, which shows you how far we’ve moved on in the last 20 years. […]

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[…] English Speaker Teachers) only. Many language schools prefer hiring NESTs (despite the fact that in the EU it is illegal to do so) because of the supposed ‘market demand’, i.e. students want to have classes […]

Ted
Guest
Ted

Hello. This is interesting. However this is leading to the propogation of the so called EU version of the English language. Whats that? Well. We are seeing non english words being introduced. Moreover, many words are being missused in the EU. It’s corrupting our language. But the worst thing is that many very traditional words arent being taught to language learners by non native teachers, because they dont know them. Non natives often dont understand the subtle ambiguities, double meanings, or more complicated humour. Not to mention accents. Ive never met a non native teacher who speaks like a native.… Read more »

Pascal Venier (@pascalvenier)
Guest

As a Native speaker of French I taught French at the University of Salford in Manchester UK for more than 20 years and — far from having had to “explain a lot them” as you put it — not once have I had to explain anything or correct any of my colleagues who were non-native speakers of French and taught that language. Interestingly, for all the languages apart from English, there are in British universities language department almost a parity between Native speakers and non-native speakers. This partly, but partly only, reflected the fact that Translation was being taught. As… Read more »

Anna Barbulescu
Guest

What a cliche, a native who can’t use punctuation properly hahaha! It’s ‘aren’t, not ‘arent’ and ‘don’t’, not ‘dont’, etc etc etc…!

Kristan Smith
Guest
Kristan Smith

>>What a cliche, a native who can’t use punctuation properly hahaha! It’s ‘aren’t, not ‘arent’ and ‘don’t’, not ‘dont’, etc etc etc…!

There should be a period, or exclamation, or possibly a colon or even dash after “What a cliche” here. But there >shouldn’t< be a comma.

Harry
Guest
Harry

So you think that “for students who really want to understand the language in depth”, native teachers are best. Presumably to teach those “very traditional words” that NNESTs skip because they simply don’t know them. Ok, what would be the point then? If these words are so wonderfully obscure (but so important at the same time) that only natives can learn them, so difficult to learn that even non-native teachers who have spent YEARS studying English and advancing their careers don’t know them, do you think that students will be able to learn them by having lessons a couple of… Read more »

soloalgunaspalabras
Guest

Dear Marek, Many thanks for your illuminating post. I only came across it a day or two ago. Just by a coincidence, today I received an email: “I am sorry to say that we are only hiring native English speakers for this position, and will therefore not be able to consider your application.” Normally, I would never respond this kind of email, rather press “delete”. But today I couldn’t help it. It took me about three minutes. “Dear Whoever, You may be interested to know that it is illegal under EU law to discriminate against non-Native English speakers, which is… Read more »

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[…] Adding insult to injury is the fact that mentioning ‘native speaker’ in an advert in the EU is against the law, as it was for example pointed out in this article: […]

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[…] that applicants for a position need to have a certain first language is in fact a contravention of EU law (Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Human Rights). This, then, gave me the necessary […]

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[…] my sense is that things are somewhat better now but with plenty of work still to be done. In Europe the EU legal framework has helped a bit, but a glance at online ads will show the law is often flouted and I suspect […]

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[…] ‘Native speakers only’ ads and EU law […]

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[…] also have English as one of their official languages are also excluded. A clear contravention of EU legislation and an example, some would argue, of race-based hiring policies (see Michael Griffin’s post about […]

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[…] contracts that they had with their clients (NB: this practice is illegal in the EU as you can read here).  The policy of hiring only native speakers seemed to be just one of the things that there were […]

patricepalmer
Guest

I have been asked to recruit Native English speakers for China. I had an ad on social media and one of my TESL colleagues in another city provided me with this link. I am not sure how to proceed now. Should I refuse to recruit for China because they require Native speakers only? How do we change this attitude in other countries? Patrice

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[…] First, EU-based schools would stop breaking the law and risking being taken to court (yes, advertising for NSs is illegal, and yes, there are legal […]

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[…] teachers (NNESTs) in their school. Uh-oh.  You also would be right to suspect that it is actually against the law to discriminate on the basis of one’s place of birth [2, […]

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[…] Perhaps we should step away from the entire native English speaker debate entirely. Discrimination against race and nationality is illegal in the EU. […]

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[…] In addition, when the ad is within the EU, we post an additional notice to the effect that stipulating native speaker in ad is illegal according to article 21. […]

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[…] If you’ve ever tried to post a job offer on tefl.com, you’ve probably seen this notification below which provides you with short information about what’s acceptable and unlawful within the EU. […]

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[…] also going to assume you’ve read Marek’s post about “native speaker only” job adverts, and his suggested write-back […]

Rue
Guest
Rue

This is a very powerful article, made me realize why I would want to teach and pursue career in teaching English as a second language. I’m in the middle of job hunting here in Thailand and it breaks my heart to see ads about schools specifically looking for native speakers only. I am not a native speaker but I’m pretty sure I’m eligible for the job. Working as a teacher for more than six years I thought that I would be able to apply for any teaching job there is out there unfortunately, there is only a few jobs that… Read more »

cetta
Guest
cetta

I really don’t feel it’s discrimination! It is just a choice in who they want teaching a specific language………many jobs specify certain requirements in their position, and this is one of
them!
Thank you,
cetta

Becca
Guest
Becca

Are you able to read the legislation? What you feel is not relevant, what is relevant is that it is considered discriminatory by law.

Graeme Black
Guest

While I understand the frustration of being a NNEST, I think legislation is a waste of time. TEFL employers don’t discriminate just because they are bigoted, they do so because they are responding to demand. In Spain most clients are parents (the users being children) and the majority of them have a relatively low level of English. They have no way of ascertaining whether or not a teacher speaks decent English. The first question I am asked is whether the teacher is native. They are absolutely convinced that native teachers are best. I would have to be an idiot to… Read more »

Becca
Guest
Becca

Well, evidently you do not get why legislations are in place in sovereign states, and this is something I wouldn’t brag about, seeing that you are an adult.
The “demand” needs to be adjusted to the law. And the market is something that we humans have created, therefore, it needs to benefit humans, all of them.

Becca
Guest
Becca

Hi Marek,

Would you have a website/link that I could use to report discriminatory job ads in Europe? This is becoming ridiculous as I am seeing ads for random jobs that DO NOT require teaching asking for English native speakers and this needs to stop. I am talking about Germany.
Some jobs are advertised for a position in which the English native speaker is required to only speak English but the SAME job requires other applicants to speak English, their native language plus another language!
I am boiling now, this needs to be reported!

Thanks in advance for your help!

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

By law it’s not discriminatory if it’s related to the requirements of the job.
If that was the case they wouldn’t be able to specify language ability and testing ie for medical staff. Teaching a language involves teaching the culture, esp for organisations such as the British Council.

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