'The Native factor' what's next after Silvana Richardson's IATEFL 2016 plenary


It was Day 2 of IATEFL 2016. 9am. Silvana Richardson gave her plenary ‘The Native factor – the haves and the have-nots’. A plenary that is bound to go down in history. One of the best things that could have happened to our industry. It’s a plenary that should be a must see for all future plenary speakers. It received a standing ovation. It was interrupted several times by loud applause from the audience. Some had tears in their eyes when it finished. A perfect mix of pathos, ethos and logos. So if you haven’t seen it yet, please watch it now. I’ll wait for you.

Amazing, wasn’t it?

It’s probably not surprising then that the social media have exploded with blog posts about the ‘Native factor’. Lizzie Pinard wrote a great summary of the plenary. She also wrote a follow-up post which really hit the nail on the head as far as the inadequacy and simplicity of the NS and NNS labels is concerned.

Mercedes Viola wrote a post putting together some very interesting quotes, videos and pictures about being native, non-native and bilingual. Not least from the famous David Crystal, whom I interviewed for TEFL Equity here, and who said he doesn’t use the term native speaker as a linguist any more. The way forward?

Andy Hockley wrote an article about management in ELT, where he towards the end promises that “From this point forward, if anybody who has responsibility for recruitment says in one of my sessions ‘We have to hire native speakers, because the students expect/want it’, I will respond as I did back then, that even if that is 100% true it’s not a good enough answer.” And of course, this is not 100% true. Probably more close to 0% true. For example, in a recent study done in Vietnam, students were found to place greater importance on six other factors than on being a NS.


For other examples, please watch Silvana’s plenary, or check out the reading list here on TEFL Equity.

Hugh Dellar via Lexical Lab reflects on CELTA and whether it privileges native speakers in this very thought-provoking article. Mind you, it’s worth reading the comments below it as it seems Hugh has opened a can of worms.

And in this 5-minute video which I recorded for The TEFL Show podcasts I reflected on a couple of things Silvana said in her plenary.

Also, Isabela Villas Boas addressed the NS and NNS dichotomy in this post.

If I missed any posts, please let me know, as there has been a flurry of blogging activity post Silvana plenary, so if you’ve written a post about it, I’d love to add it to the list.

And Silvana’s wasn’t the only IATEFL 2016 presentation on the topic. Together with Burcu Akyol, Josh Round and Christopher Graham we gave a panel discussion on tackling native speakerism, that is a prejudice against those perceived as non-native speakers of English. Here’s a short video introducing the talk:

Lizzie Pinard wrote a fantastic summary of the session which you can read here. Mike Harrison kindly offered to record the audio, and it will be available soon on TEFL Equity, so please stay tuned 🙂

Then Dita Phillips gave a presentation entitled: I’m a non-native English speaker teacher – hear me roar! It was summarised by Lizzie Pinard in this post.

I also saw a very interesting talk about intercultural communication and English as a Lingua Franca, which I reported on in this video for The TEFL Show podcasts:

You might be wondering then what’s next. How are we going to capitalise on the increased interest in the prejudice against those in ELT who are perceived as ‘non-native speakers’. Well, the first thing me and Silvana decided to do is to post all the questions which she couldn’t answer during the Q&A session on this blog, so we can continue the discussion. The first lot will be up next week, so stay tuned.

Of course, each of us is in a different position within ELT. Some of you might be school directors or recruiters. Some of you might be teacher trainers. Others might be chairs of teaching associations, while others simply English teachers. And probably several of you are some or all of the above. So there are different things you could do depending on your position. And some specific action points are listed here.

But there are some things each and every one of us can and probably should do if we want ELT to finally become a more egalitarian profession, where teachers will not be divided into two antagonistic species, but a profession which values all of us for what we do best: teach English. So if you’d like to get involved, consider some of the below points:

  • give a workshop at your school
  • present at a conference
  • give a webinar – TEFL Equity is always looking for new presenters, so please check out the webinars page
  • write an article for a newsletter or a blog post – if you’d like to write for TEFL Equity, please get in touch. You can check out the blog for inspiration here
  • add the supporter’s badge to your site – find out more how to do this here

    Design @Jonathan Cordero and @Tekhnologic
    Design @Jonathan Cordero and @Tekhnologic
  • if you see a discriminatory job ad on a jobs board or on social media, please write to the advertiser – it will only take a couple of minutes, but can cause some real change (read my post about this here)
  • you can also write a statement of support for TEFL Equity – read other statements here
  • find out whether your school or teaching association has equal employment oportunities policy; if they don’t suggest one – you can base it on position statements against discrimination issued by teaching associations such as TESOL International
  • use social media – tweet about it, post on FB, share blog posts and videos related to the issue
  • you can also contribute financially by donating to TEFL Equity campaign by clicking on the button below – find out more about how the funds are being used and why they are needed here
    Donate Button with Credit Cards

And if there are any other ways in which you feel you could get involved in the campaign, please comment below or get in touch.


32 thoughts on “'The Native factor' what's next after Silvana Richardson's IATEFL 2016 plenary”

  1. Great wrap-up of the discussions around Silvana’s plenary. I myself wrote a post for the Richmondshare blog on this issue (which I started writing even before Silvana’s plenary but was fortunate to have had the chance to enhance with her thoughts), based on a recent discussion on a Facebook page. Have a look at one of the comments and you will see that we still have a long way to go! http://www.richmondshare.com.br/the-native-versus-non-native-teacher-dichotomy-challenging-mental-models/

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  3. This is just another outgrowth of the pernicious political correctness movement, arguing that we are really all the same. Oh, such folly. I’d love to compete in the Tour de France, but no matter how hard I train, I just don’t have the physique. I want my students exposed to native speakers who can tap into a rich linguistic and cultural trove simply inaccessible to non-natives socialized in a different tongue. The decision to hire natives or non-natives should be left to those doing the hiring. By the way, since most of you don’t seem to speak German at native level, let me assure you that the abbreviation “NS” will not go over too well in Germany.

      1. My students tell me that they want native speakers only. They appreciate having a language role model whose pronunciation is perfect, whose grammar is impeccable. They tell me that they chose to study at our institution because we only hire qualified native speakers in all of the languages we offer.

        1. Just a quick thought: perfect pronunciation and impeccable grammar don’t exist. I wonder how your students would react to a qualified, experienced and proficient non-native speaker. My experience has been that students prefer a good teacher. Full stop. There’s copious research from around the world that shows the majority of students don’t always prefer native speakers. Many have quite positive attitudes to non-natives too. And according to most studies, the vast majority of students would like to have classes both with native and non-native teachers.

          1. I think the decision concerning whom to hire should rest entirely on the person who does the hiring (sorry, I’m repeating myself). Our students want excellent teachers with native speaker background. They were exposed to non-native speakers in secondary school and demand more from university level education. Why not give them what they want? I fail to see how that could possibly degrade the efforts non-natives have spent in learning the language and becoming professional teachers, as has been argued. I would never claim that students “always prefer” native speakers, by the way. If your needs are served hiring a non-native speaker of whatever language, then that’s perfectly fine. How could it not be? What I strongly resent, however, is the at times dictatorial language of victimhood and oppression inserted in this argument.

          1. Helen, you’re trying to turn this into a technical question. The core issue, it seems to me, is pseudo-philosophical (Derrida deconstructing binary oppositions leading to the current PC craze), linguistic and post-colonial (what is native speaker English and who speaks it), and economic (they won’t hire me because I’m not a native speaker). As I’ve said before: You don’t want to hire a native speaker (of whatever definition)? Great, more power to you. But please don’t tell me what I do is unprofessional or even, as some seem to imply, morally repugnant.

      2. “They appreciate having a language role model whose pronunciation is perfect, whose grammar is impeccable.” – As Marek says, it is doubtful that such a thing exists. But if it does, then I would say, for example, Silvana Richardson would fit the bill nicely. She’s not a “native speaker” though!

        1. Thank you for your support – you just made my argument. If a non-native fits your particular bill, so much the better.

          1. Errrrm that was your ‘bill’ I was responding to, not mine! I was merely pointing out that a ‘non-native speaker’ could fulfil it (while not all ‘native speakers’ could). So i think you’ll find I just crushed your argument. 🙂

          2. Nope, sorry. My point from the outset was: You decide who’s best for you, according to your quality standards. If a non-native meets those criteria for you – great!

    1. “The decision to hire natives or non-natives should be left to those doing the hiring.”
      The decision to use child labour in factories should be left to the multinational corporations.
      The decision to execute people because of their sexual preferences should be left to the governments.
      The decision to abuse their children should be left to the parents.

      We’re talking about basic human rights, here, Peter. WE get to determine what kind of society we want to live in.

      1. Sorry, Helen. but you lost me the moment you implied I condone child labor. My goodness. Sense of proportion, please?

  4. Pingback: IATEFL Birmingham 2016: We’re all teachers | Sandy Millin

  5. Tatiana Njegovan

    I am very glad about the new moments in “the teaching business”, to call it that way. I am an English teacher who came to live in France in 2002 from Belgrade, Serbia, where for 12 years I worked as a full-time certified teacher of English. My husband got a job here in avio industry and that was the reason why we came. My professional history here in France is sad and complicated because of my origins, although I validated my Master 1 at  French University, obtained C2 level in French and have in my CV TOEFL, Cambridge Proficiency Cerificate, experience with all levels of students and in my heart true love for my profession. On my way  I have met 100% French collège teachers of English who spoke French with faked English accent to make everyody believe that thay have Anglo-Saxon blood.(Funny enough – the others believed them). My  friends  gave me the advice to lie that  my parents are English during job interviews. I could never do that, but there were those who probably did. After almost 14 years of struggle and suffering I finally started working as an English Coach because I was lucky to come across an employer who does not discriminate his candidates without first giving tham a chance. However, he is one in ten thousand.I hope that my story was not in vain and that I and all the other professional, conscientious and enthousiastic English teachers who do not have Anglo-Saxon blood in their veins will  soon begin to be judged by their merit  and not by their origins.I have a dream.Thank you for existing. I hope that I can help  other teachers. Please let me know if there is anything I can do. All the best, Tatiana NJEGOVANEnglish Coach Toulousetatiananjegovan@yahoo.fr06 31 35 42 99TESOL France member

    WordPress.com | marekkiczkowiak posted: “It was Day 2 of IATEFL 2016. 9am. Silvana Richardson gave her plenary ‘The Native factor – the haves and the have-nots’. A plenary that is bound to go down in history. One of the best things that could have happened to our industry. It’s a plenary tha” | | Respond to this post by replying above this line |

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    | | | | ‘The Native factor’ the aftermath of Silvana Richardson’s IATEFL 2016 plenary by marekkiczkowiak |

    It was Day 2 of IATEFL 2016. 9am. Silvana Richardson gave her plenary ‘The Native factor – the haves and the have-nots’. A plenary that is bound to go down in history. One of the best things that could have happened to our industry. It’s a plenary that should be a must see for all … Continue reading ‘The Native factor’ the aftermath of Silvana Richardson’s IATEFL 2016 plenaryRead more of this post marekkiczkowiak | April 20, 2016 at 11:21 am | Tags: Campaign, Hiring policies, IATEFL 2016, James Taylor, language schools, Market demand, Native Speaker, NEST, NNEST, non-Native Speaker, Silvana Richardson, Support | Categories: Get involved | URL: http://wp.me/p4Gcmh-os | Comment |    See all comments |



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  6. I’m going to summarise Silvana’s plenary in a teacher training 15 minute forum this month. I’ve double-checked with our equal ops, diversity & inclusion coordinator our policy for recruiting teachers and also how we handle student questions about nnest.

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  9. I might be commenting a bit late but I’ll give it a shot anyway as I’ve only just discovered this inspiring talk. I’m a native-speaker of English and I also work as an English teacher. I thought the talk was fascinating and gave me lots to think about and I’d like to offer another perspective.

    Yes, I agree that ‘nativeness’ is a poor indicator as to whether someone makes a good teacher or not. Totally agree. I would choose a qualified non-native over a native with no relevant qualifications any day. But I have a bit of an issue when it is said or implied that there is no difference between the English of a native speaker and that of a non-native. There is a difference – neurologically speaking – between the acquisition of our L1 and our L2. I have colleagues and friends who have learnt English as a second language to an very high level. However, you can still hear (albeit slightly) that it’s their second language, and they still make odd mistakes that a native would never make. In answer to a comment above: you can hear that Silvana has a light accent and makes the odd mistake. This doesn’t mean I’m creating a hierarchy in terms of teaching suitability, but I see no reason to deny there’s difference.

    Part of this is cultural identity: as a native speaker of English, my first language is part of who I am. We only have one childhood, family, education with all of those formative experiences etc. I don’t feel this can be replaced by a CPE certificate, however politically correct people want to be. In other professions, such as translation or interpreting, people work into their first language only and the difference is acknowledged (it’s exceptionally rare that the EU, for example, will hire someone in the English/French/Czech interpreting booth who’s not a native speaker).

    If you look at the student surveys Silvana presented, I don’t think they were that inconclusive at all. It shows that students have different learning needs and that students prefer natives and non-natives for difference reasons. Get rid of the native-bias, yes. But why not acknowledge, celebrate and make the most of these differences rather than just try and ignore them? I freely acknowledge that I have no experience of learning English as a foreigner and that a non-native teacher has something I don’t have in this regard. However, my non-native colleagues will still come to me to double check word usage/grammatical exceptions. I believe both teaching backgrounds are useful.

    However, I thought this was an inspiring talk and I have taken a lot away from it. There is discrimination that we should be dealing with and I am all for the shift towards bilingual learning – indeed, gaining proficiency in my students’ L1 has greatly improved the quality of learning in my classroom, and I think all teachers (including/especially native English speakers!) should ideally have a good knowledge of their students’ mother tongue and make use of this.

    In short, I love that we are acquiring new languages/cultures/experiences – but that doesn’t mean we have to forget that differences are there. Indeed, we can celebrate them.

    1. Hi Chris,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I agree with you to an extent that there are differences, however, we should be careful not to fall into a comparative fallacy, whereby all non-native speakers are better at teaching grammar and can empathise with students more, while all native speakers are better at teaching pronunciation and speaking. When it comes to proficiency, of course psycho or neurolinguistically speaking, there’s a fundamental difference between the two. However, most applied linguists will tell you that this difference is of virtually no importance in practical terms. And I don’t think it makes much of a difference in class.
      So I agree that we should embrace diversity, but this shouldn’t be based on stereotyping one or the other group. Instead, we should embrace the individual skills and differences of each and every teacher, regardless of their nationality.

  10. Pingback: IATEFL 2017 and the native speaker debate – TEFL Equity Advocates

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