When I was asked to say a few words about my experience as a NNEST (Non-Native English Speaking Teacher), I was thrilled. So far I’d mostly been talking to my friends and family who are not in the ELT industry and while they’re amazing listeners it does make a difference to be able to speak directly to the readers who might be confronted with some NNEST issues themselves.
My name’s Katerina Lanickova, I was born in the Czech Republic and I’m currently living in Berlin, Germany. My main line of work is giving one-to-one and group in company English training, both general and business English. When I’m interviewed by the companies and I’m asked why I think I’m the right person for the job I tell them that (next to the usual things) my being a non-native speaker of English has made me well aware of what it takes to learn the English language and that I can empathize and help with all sorts of foreign language learning issues. After I decided to turn my non-nativeness into a strength and make it a selling strategy, I have seen that this approach actually gets the best results (see this infographic for NNEST strengths).
Of course I didn’t always have such a positive attitude to all this.
The first years of my teaching life were still relatively easy – I was teaching for a language school in the Czech town Brno and while there were native speakers working and living there of course, there weren’t too many of them and the ELT business was booming so I never felt that I had to compete with them for teaching jobs.
I had doubts of my own whether the students would be happy to have me as a teacher when some other students had native speakers. When I was asked to co-teach a B2 class with a native speaker, I did feel nervous but I decided that the best thing would be to just go ahead with it and do my best. Halfway through the semester I found out that the class preferred my teaching style much more, and this was really the push I needed to feel confident about the whole issue. Apart from this, it never really made my classes full of Czech adult learners unhappy or surprised to have a Czech teacher.
But things really changed for the worse when I moved to Berlin in 2010. This was the time when I started having my abilities questioned simply because I was a NNEST. Having a university teaching degree and CELTA, as well as a few years’ teaching experience prior to my move, I felt like I was suddenly back at the beginning.
Without sounding too dramatic, it was virtually impossible to get a teaching position at any of the language schools here. For the first time in my life I was getting emails which specifically stated NNEST as the reason for not hiring me. One school actually wrote to me that they promised native English teachers (NESTs) in the 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 to accept about living and working in a new country, along with other rules and regulations that I was learning about. In retrospect, I wish I’d informed myself better about this issue because that might have given me more confidence and power.
Eventually, after more than half a year, I did get an offer. I was so overjoyed when a small language centre outside Berlin asked me to teach for them that a two-hour commute (one-way) seemed like a small price to pay. After this, things really began to improve and the more people I got to know and teach, the easier everything got.
Nowadays, I get more teaching inquiries than I can take on and I’ve certainly gained more confidence about the whole self-employed teaching lifestyle. I negotiate direct contracts with companies and individuals who’d like to improve their English and by a mixture of luck and hard work I ended up giving training in top management and even politics. I have met the most amazing teachers, both NESTs and NNESTs, and what I have learned is really that the whole issue of nativeness is irrelevant and should be non-existent really. It is not a factor that makes one teacher better than another one. I know brilliant NEST teachers as well as bad NNEST teachers, and vice versa.
The non-native “problem” I went through was completely unnecessary and based on no hard evidence whatsoever. I ask myself what it’ll take to get rid of the perceived NNEST/NEST difference in teaching quality and instead draw the attention to the more usual job selection criteria like teaching qualifications, experience, you name it. Good luck!
Katerina is a teacher of business and general English courses and her specialty lies in teaching English for Tax Professionals. She has worked with learners from all walks of life and has experience with creating online-based video learning material. Katerina holds a BA degree in Teaching English, a graduate degree in American studies, CELTA and she’s currently pursuing Delta. Born in the Czech Republic she has been a resident of Berlin since 2010 and loves teaching multicultural classes. When not in class, she’s training for long-distance running events. Her website can be found here and her LinkedIn profile here.