fbpx

Why I wish I was a Non-Native English Speaker by James Taylor

I’m thrilled that James Taylor agreed to write a guest post for us 🙂 I met James in Costa Rica and we worked in the same school for a while. He talked me into starting blogging and gave some invaluable advice on it, as well as on teaching freelance. Here’s what he says about himself:

Originally from Brighton, UK, I have taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea and Belgium. Currently based in San Jose, Costa Rica, I teach adults at Centro Cultural Britanico. I am the current President and a co-founder of BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. You can also find me moderating #ELTchat, a weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, blogging and taking photographs. You can read my blog here.

So without much further ado, let’s find out why on earth James wishes he was a NNEST…

“Firstly, let me say that the title of this post is a lie. I don’t wish I was a non-native English speaker teacher (NNEST). As someone from the UK who teaches English as 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 qualified or experienced they are. For some students, having a native speaker teacher has a certain cachet, as in most countries it is unusual and many of them think that it means they have a better teacher as a result. So both employers and students seem to think that because I’m English, I must be a better teacher, which has got to be good for me.

As a result, you can’t be blamed thinking that I am pleased about this situation. Without any effort on my part, I’m placed ahead of the vast majority of teachers around the world in the job market. But you’d be wrong, it offends me and I want to see it change. I’m also tall, white, heterosexual and male and these are also a benefit to me in wider society (click on the links to find out more), but I have no desire to live in a world where nationality, size, race, sexuality and gender are the yardsticks by which our employability is measured. I would rather be judged by my ability, experience and qualifications equally against anyone else who wishes to apply for the same job. It’s not to my advantage, but that’s the world I want to live in. So if you’re a NNEST, this post is for you. There are many reasons why you have an advantage over NEST’s like me in the classroom.

For a start, you provide their students with an excellent role model of how to study and succeed. No matter how good a teacher I am, I will never be able to look my students in the eye and say “I know how you feel, I know how frustrating this language can be and I will guide you through it.” That’s a very powerful thing to be able to say, and I wish it could come out of my mouth.

You also provide a role model for specific aspects of the language, most notably pronunciation. Luckily in ELT we have largely disposed of the idea of the ‘native speaker as model’ in how we ask our students to speak, and now focus more on intelligibility and clarity in a variety of international contexts. You are perfectly positioned to provide a working, clear model for the students of how this is possible, and can provide them with strategies and techniques to help them get there, plucked from personal experience.

This can also apply to other aspects of language learning. English is a messy and unpredictable language, and rules are broken so regularly they aren’t worth saying. Once a student has learned the basic structures of the past, present, future, modals and conditionals, they have to tackle all the horrible anarchy of phrasal verbs and prepositions. As a NEST, I never had to actively learn these things, whereas the NNEST has had to suffer through them to reach the level where they are qualified to teach them. This NEST wishes he could use that experience to help his students.

The use of the learners first language is an idea that is currently coming back into vogue, after a couple of decades out of fashion. A long way from grammar translation teaching, current thinking takes a more sophisticated look at how it can be used. It is clear that when the teacher is from the same linguistic culture as their students, they have a massive advantage in an accurate and nuanced use of the L1 over an NEST. I can get really good at Spanish, but my Costa Rican colleagues will always have an advantage in using L1 in the classroom. No matter how hard I wish for it, that won’t change.

Empathy and understanding are crucial aspects of language teaching. Local teachers will have a much better idea of the local environment and the lives of their students. You will be much more aware of what English means to people in your culture and what the possible implications of learning it are. You will understand the educational background of the learners and how that influences their current learning practices, and you are likely to have an understanding of the personal environment the student has to study English within. I can learn these things, but to reach your level will take me years, and no amount of wishing will help me.

Learning about the culture is one of the most interesting side effects of learning a language, and you would think that this is one place where the NEST has a clear advantage, but I’m not so sure. Firstly, there is no such thing as a culture of the English language. It is used in too many countries by too many people to be homogeneous. So as a NEST, I can only represent a very small element of that and that is inevitably the bit that I know best. In my case it is British, specifically English, specifically the south of England – there’s an awful lot missing there.

You can have a more well-rounded view of the culture and find it easier to pick and choose from the things that interest them, and you think will interest their students. You can offer your students insights into a variety of communities, backgrounds and viewpoints without the natural bias that I have towards my own. I can try and rid myself of this, but I wish I could resist this natural inclination as easily at it would be for you.

So it’s true that I don’t wish I was a NNEST at this time. In many countries, the industry is unfairly set up in my favour and some students unwisely think I’m a better teacher. But there are many reasons why you have the upper hand, and it’s not just the ones listed above. The tide is turning, slowly, but it’s turning. In the future you will have more rights and be more respected by an industry in which you are the backbone. And this is the point that needs to be remembered – they are many, many more of you than there are of me. You have the power, so use it. I just wish more of you realised that.”

What are your views? Do you agree with James? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Show this post some love. Share it with colleagues.

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on vk
Share on pinterest
Share on email

124
Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Ahhhh… there was a time when I got so discouraged as I was rejected at least 50 times in Shanghai, China. Being a NNEST did not seem easy at all. Finally I got a job to teach online where people could only hear my American accent and not look at my non Caucasian face. I went on with ESL teaching and didn't give up. It was when I was doing DELTA and an instructor made me realize about my strengths of being a NNEST. My instructor was a NEST and so are you, James. Its the people like both of… Read more »

Francesca Sitia
Guest

This was an interesting article and I ve appreciated the humbleness with which Tailor admits the drawbacks of being a NEST and how NNEST can better undertand their student s needs. However,it s hard to convince people that you are a potentially good NN English teacher:schools don t even have a look at your CV,no matter how trained and qualified you are!I hope the situation will change…

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Really well written article, I agree with many of the points you raised.

I'm also a native, and I've experienced people trusting my opinion above more experienced non-native teachers. The English I know comes from my home country (England) but this does not represent the world of the English language. We all need to learn.

I believe though that if we have at least attempted to learn another language then we can be in a position to share empathy.

Tiago Coutinho
Guest

That's true, unfortunately we live in today's teaching world!

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I wonder when will the tide actually turn, because working in London I heard a few times that they need native speakers (quality of teaching was a lower tier requirement it seems). In my cover letters I always put some advantages of being a NNEST, like the fact that I went through everything my students go through (which you mentioned) and this allows me to establish a great rapport with my students. Also some of my students told me that it's easier to understand me than NESTs (even though I barely have any accent). Eventually it will change, but now… Read more »

theteacherjames.com
Guest

Thank you Anonymous. I hope your story will inspire other teachers in your situation to continue to fight to get the jobs you deserve. Congratulations.

mahmoud fawzy
Guest

magnificent I can see how you appreciate and encourage NNEST.I'm Egyptian NNEST.thanks a lot,I agree with what you said .It's the first time I read about this subject. You really encouraged me.I see you love your job and your mother tongue greatly so you want all teachers to work hard and confidently thinking of new ideas. I think you really gave very useful concepts to us and this gives more power and enthusiasm to NNEST.I don't want to discuss the advantage of being a NEST as I think it is something crystal clear.Yet your view gives new hope for NNEST… Read more »

Marjorie Rosenberg
Guest

Thanks James for this well-though out post. We actually have a mixture at the university where I teach and I am on the only native speaker doing general English classes, all of my colleagues are Austrian and studied English. I think it is a good balance as we can always ask each other questions and share ideas with each other. As I struggled to learn German, I use that as an example of what it is like to learn a second language and my students understand that as well. And perhaps being an American also gives me the chance to… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

I hope so too! Good luck, Anonymous 🙂
BTW, we're planning to publish teacher success stories regularly, so if you ever wanted to write a post about how you succeeded, let me know 🙂

Jonathan Cordero
Guest

Thanks James for the post and thanks to Marek and Co for bringing attention to an issue that's so often shrugged off as 'the way things are'. As a NNEST myself, even after a decade of experience and training, I still know for a fact that I have the first 30 min or so (tops!) of the first class to 'convince' my new Ss that I know what I'm doing and that they're not being ripped off. I'm sure many NNESTs will agree this is the case. More importantly I think Ss are also right, (at least in part) they're… Read more »

theteacherjames.com
Guest

I hope it will too Francesca, and if we keep talking about it, I believe it will.

theteacherjames.com
Guest

Thanks Anonymous. I agree with you that learning another language can help us a great deal. In fact I would say it's essential for any native speaker teacher to do as part of their ongoing professional development.

theteacherjames.com
Guest

Thanks Tiago, but we can change it!

damo04
Guest

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

damo04
Guest

I love this post. Thanks James, you've expressed so many things I've been thinking lately but haven't had the wherewithall to express so clearly as you've done. The other thing that gets me about these posts asking for 'Natives', like these: http://www.english-test.net/esl-jobs/17/ …is that they're illegal under EU law: http://teflreflections.blogspot.com.br/2014/04/native-speaker-only-ads-illegal-in-eu.html But not only that. As a native speaker, they offend me. Are they saying that the only reason I can get a job with them is because of where I was born? Not only is that racist, but it seriously devalues the 15 years I've spent trying to be the… Read more »

Tyson Seburn
Guest

Along with TESOL France recently, we are starting to consider how to take the stand about this issue, especially with regard to job ads. In a very multicultural city as Toronto, it's imperative that this distinction bear little in the hiring process. Thanks, James, for more fodder and well constructed arguments. Stay tuned.

ratnavathy
Guest

Dear James,Heartfelt and lovely post. Having said that, though, the fact still does remain that it would be “literally” impossible for me (and many others in my boat) to get a job in most of the countries you've mentioned above (unless, of course, if I decide to work “illegally” without a proper working visa). The tide is turning, for sure – I've read recent articles on how it's starting to dawn on the governments of some of these countries about the ridiculously exorbitant amounts they allocate in their annual budgets for ELT, only to be disappointed with the outcome. The… Read more »

Katya
Guest

Great post. Thanks James. I always knew there are NESTs who understand how privileged they are just because they were born in an English speaking country. I'm a Ukrianian. I learned English in the British Council in Ukraine. My first time abroad was when I went to do TEFL course in London. I stayed in London for 5 weeks and then got a job in China. Since then I have been lucky (most of the time) and persistent and have had a successful career in ESL. I've taught in China, Indonesia and Vietnam and now I'm in Oman. For the… Read more »

theteacherjames.com
Guest

Thanks for your comment Daniel. You're right to wonder when this will happen, and unfortunately I think the answer is not overnight. It will take a long time, and it will take a lot of pressure over a many years. That's what it takes to defeat prejudice. But I do believe we'll get there eventually.

theteacherjames.com
Guest

Thanks Mahmoud, I'm really pleased to see that this has encouraged you.

theteacherjames.com
Guest

Thanks Marjorie. I completely agree that there are many things that us NEST's can do to try and make up for the things we lack. Learning a language is one of the best, and should be a part of any NEST's professional development. But in this post I wanted to really emphasise those areas where NNEST's have a big advantage, and encourage them to make the most of it to increase the equality in our industry, which is exactly what you describe in your final sentence.

Sandy
Guest

Despite being a lifelong language learner, I was never aware of the NEST/NNEST issue before I became an EFL teacher. Most of my teachers have been non-natives, and all of them have been able to speak English, so it is impossible for me to truly understand what it's like for my students, particularly at lower levels, to be confronted by someone who has no idea how the language they are teaching compares to the students' first language. My own language learning helps, and I can empathise, but it is impossible for me to ever know what it's like to learn… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

It must. I think the tide's already been changing for quite some time. Take a look, for example, at the first success story we published, Francesca 🙂

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Totally agree with James. It's the NNEST – like you and me, Tiago – who need to cause this change. We can't just moan and complain. We've got to act. Things are not going to change of their own accord. Nor are the people at the top very likely to do it.

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

I think the tide's already changing. And thanks to people like James it might change much more quickly. Nowadays there are actually very few NESTs I think who would still argue that a proficient and qualified NNEST is always an inferior teacher.
Good luck in London!

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Jon!Totally agree with your first point. As a NNEST you've got to prove yourself in the first 20 or so minutes of the new class. I've had some CPE prep groups where I could really feel they were 'testing' me.A very important point, Jon. I think the whole supposed 'demand' for NS has largely been a product of decades of marketing native speakers to the sts as the ultimate, infallible English language gurus. Since the sts don't really know how to learn a language, or what constitutes a good teacher, as a recruiter it's our job to explain it… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

I removed it because for some reason it'd been posted twice. You can read the same comment below.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Having worked in China, Russia and a UK summer school I now work in Poland, the DoS is Polish and by absolutely superb, with many years of experience. We have a mix of native and non native teachers which is great as you can get ideas from each other, we respect the different strengths we have. Having said that students still want native speaker teachers despite the fact that it isn't always in their best interests. I teach an elementary student, I often think he'd progress more if his teacher could speak Polish – but he specifically requested a native… Read more »

Elena Matveeva
Guest

I reallu enjoyed this post. In the language school where I'm currently teaching we have a native English speaker teacher and sevetal NNESTs. I still see the prejudice which mostly come from the head of our sschool. Students though sometimes choose NNEST over NEST. So I guess students have their own opinion and they understand how they can benefit from NNEST and from NEST. I think a combinayion is the best choice. I really appreciate the opinion of our NEST comcerning the usage of English. It's fun to exchange experience and opinions. I am grateful to NEST who, same as… Read more »

Sharon Hartle
Guest

Well written article James, 🙂 and I hope a lot of people share it because you are absolutely right the more we talk about these things and make the problem “visible” to people the more awareness there will be and then slowly, perhaps, change will happen. I have to agree with Sandy too though, that you are probably preaching mostly to the conversted here. In my university in Verona, we have one or two bilingual teachers but they cannot really be described as NNESTs as they were born in Canada, or travelled extensivley. Until recently that was it! Everyone else… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

I'm also glad you like James' post, Mahmoud 🙂

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

I also believe that a mix of NESTs and NNESTs makes for a great staffroom atmosphere. It's always nice to exchange ideas and help each other out.I agree with both of you, James and Marjorie. As a teacher I think it's quite important to try learning a language yourself. Whether you succeed or not, you'll learn how it feels to be struggling with new words/grammar, make mistakes, etc. This knowledge can be really helpful in the class I'd say.Elena – as you point out, various studies have proven that students actually appreciate a lot being taught by NESTs and NNESTs.… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Dam04,
Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you feel offended, and I hope more NESTs will as well. The problem is not going to disappear soon, but posts like this are important. Discrimination against NNESTs has been a bit of a dirty secret in TEFL, and it's important we put it in the spotlight and speak out against it.
I do agree that a more inclusive approach is needed. There's a post about it coming soon, so stay tuned 🙂

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Tyson,Thanks for your comment. I've seen the statement TESOL France has issued. It's great to see that large organisations are jumping on the bandwagon. It'd be great if the BC and IH issued similar anti-discrimination statements, but I doubt it's going to happen any time soon.Nevertheless, things are definitely changing for the better. The more we discuss the issue, the more we publicise it and criticise it, the more likely it is that schools will adopt more equal hiring policies.Keep me posted about TESOL France activities regarding job ads. Would love to hear more about it. It could make… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Ratnavathy,
Thanks for your reply.
The tide has definitely been changing for quite some time. I do hope we won't have to wait 30 years before native-only job ads disappear 🙂

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Sandy,Thanks for the comment. I'm glad it didn't disappear the second time round 🙂In my opinion the 'market demand' is largely the result of decades of advertising NESTs as the only people who can teach you English, combined with negative experiences with local teachers in public schools. Prejudices takes second to form, but years to eradicate. Although it might be difficult, the Academic Staff should inform the clients about the traits and qualifications of good teachers, as well as the fact that being a NEST doesn't make you a better or a worse teacher. Following the market demand is… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Sharon,I guess both you and Sandy are right in that we're preaching mostly to the converted. However, we're getting the message out there and hopefully it'll reach the unconverted too, and at least make them think 🙂I definitely agree with you that there are many other equally important factors that make a teacher a good one. It's sad that nativeness, or even just language proficiency, has been given so much more prominence than, for example qualifications, experience, etc. Being a teacher is so much more than just knowing the language!Let's hope that with this blog, and more posts from… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.
I think the DoS has the responsibility to explain to the student what actually makes a good teacher. Succumbing to the market demand is a good short term strategy. It might even bring more students. But in the long run, the more experienced the students become, and the more exposure they have to NESTs and NNESTs, the more they'll start to appreciate that being a good teacher has nothing to do with your birth certificate.
Where in Poland do you work?

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Katya,
Thanks for your comment. Really glad to hear you've been successful 🙂
Your story would make for a great post in our 'Teacher success stories' series. If you'd like to put a blog post together, drop me a line: marek_kiczkowiak@hotmail.com
Cheers

Carmen Arias Blazquez
Guest

Vey good article James, and thanks Marek for its publication. Being a NNSET for a long time in a small community in my country , I should tell you that prejudice is mostly spoken out loud not from students but from people who have never attempted to learn a foreign language ( mostly students parents ) . In my school there is perfect harmony between us NN and our American Language Assistant, Julia , we learn from each other and most aspects you deal with in your article run naturally together , and students get the best from each approach… Read more »

justawordinthegrandstory
Guest

Great post! I totally agree, and what's more {sorry if someone else already commented this} . . . NNEST always have to be qualified in order to get a job. I had some great NNEST friends that were awesome teachers because they had actually studied the discipline. I get frustrated when we NESTs are just given a job because of our birth certificate and native language, when we may not be qualified at all. I completely agree with James on the, I appreciate the advantage I have, but I don't want to just be given a job because I am… Read more »

Unknown
Guest

I'm a NNEST and I find your post quite similar to everything I say to my NES employers 🙂 When it comes to hiring I've never experienced unfair treatment – I'm qualified enough, so that's the good thing.However, the problem I see is that NESTs usually get more advanced levels, and we get the levels up to intermediate. I understand the idea, but not many people realize that lower levels need a native speaker to start their education with proper pronunciation and – the most important thing – ability to communicate with someone who doesn't speak their native language. When… Read more »

Jonathan Cordero
Guest

Thanks Marek! Loved the quote by Ford and couldn't agree more. Keep up the good work as always and please do let us know if we can help from here. Saludos!

Isabela
Guest

Dear James, what a great post. You really tapped into the crucial aspects regarding the native speaker fallacy that some say are dead (usually native speakers) and others are sure it isn't (the non-native ones). In the institution where I work, being native is not considered advantageous either by students or leaders. However, in Brazil as a whole it is considered so, unfortunately. I know of an initiative with public school teachers having conversation classes with a native speaker with no qualifications at all, just because he is a native speaker. BTW, I'm interviewer for the nnest-of-the-month blog, part of… Read more »

Living in Barcelona
Guest

You were very courageous to talk about a complex issue. You had faced the Brazilian mentality, which is so cruel sometimes with experienced and qualified teachers who are not native speakers, and how tough it is. And another point, the hardest part of being a Native speaker in another country, in my case Spanish, I feel so insecure teaching Spanish, but many people still believe that I can, and all the time I have to be rude to them and say it NO! I can't. Once, again Congrats for being courageous and share with us your point of view!

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Hi Carmen,This article had to be published. It was just to good to be kept off-line 🙂This is the most frustrating thing! Obviously, if you've never tried or have utterly failed at learning a foreign language, then you will think it's mission impossible to become proficient. Therefore, you will conclude that only NESTs can really know the language. I've also found that such people are the quickest to doubt that NNESTs can be good teachers. Those who know the most about the profession and learning languages, are the least likely to discriminate or be prejudiced against NNESTs.I'm glad there's “perfect… Read more »

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Thanks for your comment.
Yes, it is very frustrating, though, fortunately, things are changing for the better. I totally agree with you and James – I'd never want to be given a job just because I'm Polish. I'd much rather be given it because I'm more qualified to do the job than the other candidates.

Marek Kiczkowiak
Guest

Thanks for your comment.I can't see why NNESTs and NESTs should be given different levels to teach because of their nativeness or lack thereof. It's degrading and humiliating to be told that you are only good enough to teach up to intermediate. I think there are benefits of having different teachers, regardless of the level and the teachers' nationality, because students will get exposure to different, for example teaching styles and accents.Having a NEST as a teacher on a low level can actually make things more difficult for students, especially if the teacher is not very experienced. Take a look… Read more »

eef
Guest

Thanks, James, I really loved your post. It's great to see how your article triggered such openness of different teachers, whether they are native speakers or non native speakers. You have definitely encouraged us non- native teachers. It's reassuring to feel that we don't have to be different or have to hide our non-Englishness. This mentality change will help us to love our subject even more and will force us to push the boundaries of what English can actually mean in our own culture.

Ken Lackman
Guest

Very good points, James. I do agree with you and I have always felt that NNESTs have certain distinct advantages. Most importantly, I think, NNESTs understand the difficulties learners have in acquiring the language. And they certainly start with a much better understanding of English grammar than the average NEST. It often takes years for a NEST to catch up to them. However, as a firm believer in the Lexical Approach, I think that it's the reverse for lexically-based teaching. The average NEST starts with a lexical awareness that would take the average NNEST years to gain. The bottom line,… Read more »

Join our tribe

Support Equality. Tackle Native Speakerism.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit
Share on vk