Why is the term ‘non-native speaker’ so problematic? by Sulaiman Jenkins

I’ve had a lot of fruitful discussions with Marek Kiczkowiak and Andy Hockley as of late, and it was from our dialogue that I was encouraged to inject another perspective into this international conversation on native speakerism.

As a Black American, a ‘native speaker’ of the language, and a graduate of some of the US’s most prestigious academic institutions (Amherst/BA, NYU/MA), I have both enjoyed the privileges of native speakerism while simultaneously sharing some of the struggles of my ‘non-native’ teacher colleagues. For that, I felt it imperative that I join the discussion, helping my peers realize that they are just as talented and capable (in many instances, more so!) than anyone holding a US, British, Canadian, or any other Inner Circle passport.

I’d like to eventually talk about my personal experiences with what I term ‘perceived’ native speakerism in a later blog post. But for now, my primary concern is discussing why we urgently need a more constructive, empowering term to describe native speakers of languages other than English.

In a recent article I wrote about “a powerful plenary session …[in which] Richardson (2016) reminded us that the term, ‘non-native’ has been and continues to be offensive to many professional English language instructors…offensive….because it ‘asserts what [people] are by negating what [they] are not” (Jenkins, 2017). The use of the term “non-native” perpetuates the stereotyping of TESOL professionals and research has shown that the recycling of this term in professional circles leads some ‘non-native’ TESOL teachers to feel inadequate. She asked in the session, ‘How is it possible that it is still a legitimate term in our professional discourse in 2016?’ (Richardson 2016).

That question reminded me of a similar issue in the US about a derogatory term for Native Americans that a particular sports team continued to use even though many Native Americans had repeatedly stated it is highly offensive and petitioned to have it removed. If the people to whom the term is referring are upset and offended by it, then it reasons that it should not be acceptable to use it, right?

Furthermore, in TESOL is there any academic currency to using descriptors (i.e. ‘non-‘) that affirm an identity by confirming what it is not? In describing myself as a ‘non-Canadian’ and ‘non-Republican’ speaker of English, are these descriptions helpful, in the least, in providing meaningful information about what my capabilities in language teaching are? Even more basic than that, could one discern what my nationality is? What my political affiliation is?

The ‘non-’ identifier simply indicates that I’m not a Canadian citizen nor a Republican, but it doesn’t provide any information beyond that: and it certainly doesn’t indicate my level of core pedagogical or theoretical competencies, things that I would assume are much more important to a recruiter hiring qualified candidates.

As such, we really need to (re) consider an alternative, meaningful and constructive term that more accurately and congenially accounts for “over 80% of the teachers of English in the world” (Richardson 2016). I mean, it is 2018! The success of the Me Too movement shows us that rapid change is possible to break molds that have been in place for decades.

For decades in ELT, scholars have been calling our attention to the contentiousness of using such terms, acknowledging that they are indeed problematic (Holliday and Aboshiha 2008). Jenkins (2000) in her analysis of English as a Lingua Franca stated that referring to a ‘native speaker’ of a truly international language “cannot be acceptable or appropriate for a language that has passed into world ownership”. She also stated that “it is entirely inappropriate, indeed offensive, to label as ‘non-native speakers’ those who have learnt English as a second or foreign language” (Jenkins ibid: 9). In a study by Holliday (2005), one professional pleads for “avoid[ing] using the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native’…[for]…these terms are imprecise and misleading’ and that ‘as long as we use the ‘non’ as a descriptor, such teachers will be perceived as lacking in something essential and therefore of less value” (Holliday 2005: 160).

Consequently, in trying to delegitimize the usage of such terms, scholars have flirted with a number of alternatives (Jenkins 2000; Selvi 2011), but as Selvi mentioned, we seem to be “a long way from reaching consensus about whether to adopt any of these labels” (Selvi 2011). Though there may not be consensus about new labels, that still does not validate using the ‘native/non-native’ dichotomy as “legitimate term[s] in academic discourse” on the grounds of “the practical convenience of maintaining the distinction” (Moussu and Llurda 2008, p. 318).

I would add that we subtly endorse discriminatory practices when we continue to legitimize and perpetuate the very terms that promote this division. We must be cognizant that “every language user is in fact a native speaker of a given language (Nayar 1994), and therefore speakers cannot be divided according to whether they have a given quality (i.e., native speakers) or they do not have it (i.e., non-native speakers), based on whether English is their first language or not” (Moussu and Llurda 2008, p.317).

Thus, we need a new framework, a new construct, that accurately describes teachers whose mother tongues are languages other than English. That framework should address the following features:

  • Mother tongue of a TESOL professional, where such identification has some academic, pedagogical, or professional relevance
  • Usage and ability to manipulate the language and not simply “speaking” it (I’m not just a speaker of English, I actually teach it, write it, read it, etc.)
  • Competency and fluency in the English language (to what degree said teacher understands the language, can articulate its rules, can accurately utilize a wealth of vocabulary, etc.)

I truly believe that if we can begin with relevant descriptions, then we can more easily dispel archaic notions of ‘native’ vs ‘non-native’ speaker teachers and move closer to eradicating discrimination.

Sulaiman Jenkins earned his MA in TESOL from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education. He has been in the field of ELT, most notably in Saudi Arabia, for more than 14 years. He has also contributed to academia by way of publishing numerous articles in top peer reviewed journals. He is currently working at an engineering university in Saudi Arabia and is also a Senior Research and Activism Contributor for Turnkey Educational Group’s Research and Activism blog.

 

References:

Holliday, A. 2005. The struggle to teach English as an international language. Oxford University Press.

Holliday, A., & Aboshiha, P. 2009. The Denial of Ideology in Perceptions of ‘Nonnative Speaker’ Teachers. TESOL Quarterly, 43(4), 669-689. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/27785049 (accessed February 23, 2017)

Jenkins, J. 2000. The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, S. (2017). The elephant in the room: discriminatory hiring practices in ELT. ELT Journal, 71(3), 373-376.

Moussu, L., and Llurda, E. 2008. Non-native English-speaking English language teachers: History and research. Language Teaching, 41(03), 315-348.

Nayar, P. B. (1994). Whose English is it? TESL-EJ 1.1, F-1.

Richardson, S. 2016. The haves and the have nots. IATEFL. Available at https://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2016/session/plenary-silvana-richardson (accessed February 7, 2017)

Selvi, A. 2011. The non-native speaker teacher. ELT J 2011; 65 (2): 187-189. doi: 10.1093/elt/ccq092

How to implement a successful equal opportunities policy by Matt Schaefer

I have, since 2013, worked as a program manager of Rikkyo University’s Center for English Discussion Class, a large-scale, unified-curriculum course that caters to roughly 4,700 students per year at a university in Tokyo, Japan. I am jointly responsible for curriculum design and evaluation and for hiring, training, and overseeing the professional development of 42 full-time instructors. It is a fulfilling job, in which my decisions affect the language learning of a significant number of students and I have the opportunity to interact with a diverse and committed group of teachers.

Because of the large number of instructors we require, and because each of them is on a five-year limited-term contract, we generally conduct recruitment twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. When we post a job listing for the hiring of our instructors, we include the statement:

Applicants of any nationality are welcome to apply’ and make no mention of English proficiency or ‘nativeness’.

In an ideal world, this would not be necessary. However, we want to be explicit about the fact that we are interested in seeing candidates with the appropriate teaching ability regardless of any other criteria.

We attract applications from nationalities all over the world, which makes us feel confident that we are choosing from a relatively broad range of candidates and therefore, based on the simple mathematics, ultimately selecting a higher quality of instructor than if we were to limit ourselves in any way. It seems both counter-intuitive and self-harming, not to mention ethically objectionable, to needlessly narrow your options when seeking to find the best person for a job. Our recruitment criteria focuses purely on appropriate teaching skills and awareness of relevant language learning principles, so differences in L1-speakerhood, gender, ethnicity, or any other non-teaching related factors are consciously and happily ignored.

As new teachers go through our orientation training program, the issue of “nativeness” continues to be irrelevant in the context of acquiring awareness of the unified curriculum and considering how best to help students achieve our course aims. These aims focus on mutual intelligibility among students, which means that no one variety of English is identified as a desirable model. While our instructors’ main role in the classroom is to facilitate large amounts of student-to-student interaction, they also demonstrate the type of discoursal and strategic competence that is a goal of the course. The message is that “nativeness” plays no part in determining whether or not this is possible for any individual.

At the end of each semester, our students complete a survey with space for open comments. I do not recall ever reading a comment, either positive or negative, that referenced a teacher’s nationality or L1. If a student were to begin the course with any preconceived notions about who should or should not be teaching them English, these prejudices do not seem to persist in light of their actual classroom experience.

In the staff rooms, there is just as likely to be intercultural miscommunication between, say, American and British instructors as between “native” and “non-native” instructors. It is very interesting to witness first-hand the blurring of distinctions between “dialects” and “varieties” of English in this context. While unhelpful generalizations do get made on occasion, as happens among most large multicultural groups, instructors tend to become aware that their collective idiolects contain overlapping elements of a variety of possible uses of English. Distinctions of L1 or D1 (first dialect) status, therefore, become untenable.

In short, a hiring policy that allows us to seek the best teachers for the position, regardless of a candidate’s L1, has resulted in no discernible disadvantages for our center while providing many advantages, first among them a welcome diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. Discrimination on the grounds of nationality or “native” speaker status appears self-defeating, lacking in sound principles, and damaging to the health of our industry.

Matthew Schaefer is a program manager on Rikkyo University’s Center for English Discussion Class in Tokyo, Japan. Previously, he worked as a language teacher and/or Director of Studies at various language schools in France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. His interests include assessment of ELF and professional development for teacher trainers. He is also a founding member and co-host of the TEFLology Podcast.

A Non-Speaking Native Teacher

I recently learned of a website with some questionable messaging about accent and native speaker models of pronunciation. The site presented itself as something of an advocacy group fighting accent discrimination, but their messaging actually reinforced some of the selfsame problems they claimed to combat, concluding that the solution to accent discrimination was accent reduction.

I briefly engaged with their Twitter account, articulating as best I could what was wrong with their approach. When I saw a few days later that TEFL Equity Advocates had gotten wind of the site, I was glad, and I commented to that effect. Marek then asked if I’d be interested in blogging on the topic. My response was this:

“While I definitely have some strong feelings on the matter, I don’t think I’m the right person to write this one.”

I wrote that reply quickly and without much forethought. After the fact, though, I reflected: That was really—like, really—uncharacteristic. Most of the time, my opinion is forthcoming, whether it’s been sought or not. Not to put too fine a point on it, but my urge to express my opinion is often compulsive, bordering on the pathological. If opinorrhea isn’t yet a word or diagnosis, it ought to be, in my entirely unsolicited and unqualified opinion.

But then so why did I shy away from sharing my opinion in this case?

I believe firmly in the power of advocacy, and the issue of equity in ELT is one that I’m passionate about, that I’ve written about before. I’m also pretty damned sure I know how to lay out for this dude precisely why his website is so frigging offensive. So what gives? Am I losing my edge? My nerve? Going soft in my old age?

I sat there in the lounge at O’Hare, awaiting my flight out after TESOL 2018, and thought back on what it could be that informed my reticence. The more I reflected, the surer I felt that I’d made a good decision. But why?

What I came to realize is that something in me, in my notion of what advocacy is and ought to be, has changed.

It’s a shift that reflects another that (I now know) has been happening in the world of activism for some time, since long before the message really got through to me: Passion for a cause doesn’t always translate to ad-vocating (speaking for) as loudly and as often as possible.

Sometimes as activists we take on the role of an advocate; others it’s better to adopt the stance of an ally, which comes with a language all its own. Sometimes being an ally does mean speaking up, but a whole lot of other times it means sitting down and shutting up. If you’re passionate enough about social justice that you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance that you already know this and the reasons for it.

I was born with nearly every privilege there is.

This has given me the confidence and voice and platform to speak my mind whenever I please, invited or un-. People with the same privilege profile as me have been doing an outsized share of the talking and writing and decision-making for most of recorded history, generally to the exclusion of other voices. Righting that imbalance will necessarily mean that those of us who take for granted our right to voice our opinions whenever we like need to not talk quite so goddamn much.

No matter how strong my opinions may be, there are others who are better positioned to speak about certain issues, in terms of their expertise, experience, and identity. If we profess to be allies, a massive part of that role is listening and learning, referring to and deferring to those other voices. The language of being an ally is still relatively new to me, so I won’t get in over my head; read more on this from people who know what they’re talking about here and here and here.

This does not, of course, mean that I never speak up.  These days, I find myself asking some questions before I speak up in a conversation that isn’t exactly “my” fight:

  • Have I been asked to speak up?
  • Am I the most qualified voice available to speak on this matter?
  • Has what I want to say already been said?
  • If I speak up, does that mean speaking over someone else?
  • If I do not speak up, will someone else?
  • How could my identity be informing my perspective on this topic?

Et cetera. This is hardly exhaustive.

I’m stubborn and vocal by nature, so I still fail my own test regularly (studies suggest that an increase in skull density is symptomatic of opinorrhea). I’m also in the early stages of understanding and accepting this concept, so I’m sure I haven’t put this in the best terms possible. I’m certainly not telling anyone else what form their activism ought to take. I just want to share a stage in the evolution of my own views. I’m sure I’ll reread this in two or three years and smack myself for some clumsy definitions and half-baked ideas. So be it.

I’m speaking up now because I haven’t heard much about the language of allies in the TEFL equity conversation, and I think maybe that should change.

Anyway, I’ll shut up for a bit now, and if you’re like me, maybe you will too.

rob shephardRob Sheppard is the founder of Ginseng, an online English school that proudly hires highly skilled teachers irrespective of L1. He is also co-chair of the Adult Education Interest Section at TESOL International.

A closed-minded school in an open-minded country by Laura Brass

Friday, August 25, 2017: A bad interview and a bad haircut. In that order and equally frustrating. While I can get over the latter, telling myself that hair grows back, I cannot come to terms with the former. I keep thinking that closed-up people who do whatever they please in a free democratic country like Canada are simply dangerous. And outrageous. How this soul-crushing-eye-opening experience unfolded is the story I tell here.

After I had agreed to meet for an interview for an English teaching position at 3:30 pm, the HR person in charge of scheduling called again at 8 pm (I missed her call) and left a voicemail informing me that the interview had been switched to 1 pm. I found it odd, but I called back and confirmed.

Little did I know that this would be one of the worst experiences I have had in my eight and a half years of living and working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Canada. Correction: The worst job interview EVER. Full stop.

Kerrisdale Academy (one of the many private ESL schools that have sprung like mushrooms after the rain in beautiful British Columbia, Canada), is a Chinese owned school that specializes in prepping students in fields such as English, Math, and Physics. If you are a non-native English speaking (NNES) teacher like me, BEWARE! Better yet, you might want to stay away from this school. And if you’re stubborn, curious, eager, or any of the above, and decide to go in for an interview, be prepared to deal with people discriminating against any professional (regardless of how qualified, experienced, dedicated, etc., they are) who was not born in Canada! Linguicism (i.e., discrimination due to someone’s accent).

5 minutes to 1 pm, I was there. The receptionist, who also played the role of one of the interviewers, politely told me in English that Mr. Lee was not available yet, then switched back to Chinese and continued conversing with someone. About ten minutes later, Mr. Lee showed up and asked me to wait until he washed his hands. Ok!?

Then the three of us – Mr. Lee, the receptionist-HR-interviewer lady, and I – walked down a narrow hallway to a very small classroom with a few chairs, desks, a tiny board, and … well, that was it. Oh, and the paint on the walls was peeling here and there leaving them greyish. Or was that just dirt? I couldn’t tell. A bad omen.

While I was quickly taking in the room, I had flashbacks of other schools I had interviewed for, good ones such as EC in Toronto, Ontario, which had smart boards and polite professionals, or less so like Dorset College in Vancouver, BC, which refused to turn up the heat in the winter, so we had to wear our coats in the classroom. I am getting off topic. Let’s get back to August 25, 2017.

Mr. Lee pulled a chair (for himself) while I was left to find my way in front of him and the receptionist-HR lady. We all sat and he began what soon turned out to be a clear-cut example of ignorance and discrimination. Below is a paraphrase of the dialogue that followed:

Mr. Lee: What language do you speak in Romania?

Me: {I take a deep breath} In Romania we speak Romanian, a Latin-rooted language, like Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Then I went on to tell him how helpful my first language (L1) is when I teach students whose L1 is Latin rooted. I could see that he was NOT interested.

I smiled to myself and looked at him for his next question. But there wasn’t a question per se. Instead, Mr. Lee’s tirade started, which he repeated verbatim THREE TIMES in a row.

Mr. Lee: You and me have an accent. I teach Math, you teach English. Students can complain about your accent. They don’t complain about Canadian teacher but they complain about teacher like you.

It crossed my mind that: (1) I should get my phone and record this guy (his monologue would make for some interesting research material) and (2) this was a complete waste of my time: I should simply get up and leave.

I did neither.

After patiently and politely listening to Mr. Lee ramble about my accent defining me as a rather faulty teacher, I had to say something.

Me: Are you saying that, if you hire a teacher and a student complains about their accent, you fire them?

Mr. Lee: No, but I want you to know that student may complain about your accent.

It became obvious that this conversation was a moot point.

Moving on, Mr. Lee did not care at all about me having finished my MEd in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) from the University of Calgary, Alberta (with a 4.0 GPA), as if that degree is non-existent.

The fact that I am TESL Canada and TESOL Ontario accredited and I have over a decade EFL/ESL/EAP/IELTS/TOEFL/FCE/CAE teaching experience meant squat to Mr. Lee (whose English is far from fluent – accent not included).

Mr. Lee was, however, hell-bent on my BA in English and Literature from the University of Pitesti, Romania (which he heavily underlined on my resume) as if that was the only qualification I had that mattered.

To add insult to injury, Mr. Lee did not appreciate the fact that I had fast-tracked my masters (I explained to him what that meant). To him, it meant that I did not work while completing two MEd years in one.

I was speechless.

I felt like laughing, but decided to sit through the whole interview. Besides, I wanted to see how far this would go. So, I played along. Mr. Lee did ask me if during my masters I studied speaking and pronunciation! I told him that the Interdisciplinary MEd enabled me to build sound theoretical and pedagogical knowledge in specialized areas such as ESL curriculum design and development, teaching methods, language assessment, grammar, linguistic content, task-based approaches, digital literacies, etc. I invited him to view samples of teaching materials I have designed and implemented at and read articles that I have published.

All that was background noise to him.

There were other questions, as to levels taught, availability, salary rate, etc. Although ten seconds into the interview (when Mr. Lee started his monologue about my accent and the likelihood that students would complain about it) I knew I would never accept work from an institution that treats qualified professionals as if they are simply a geographic dot on a map, I kept it professional: I finished the interview.

Once the interview was over and I left the building, I cried. Then I wiped off my tears.

As I was telling my husband about this utterly frustrating experience, I realized how important it is to share it with the rest of the world and raise a red flag about institutions like Kerrisdale Academy based in Vancouver, BC, whose employers think it is ok to treat NNES ESL instructors the way Mr. Lee treated me.

I know I should have taped the interview. I know I should have given Mr. Lee a piece of my mind. I know I should have left the room the moment the interviewer implied the first time that having an accent erases ALL my experience, qualifications, and achievements, reducing me to a NNES who, in his opinion, is not a good teacher.

I also know that I am thankful for this experience, as it reminded me of who I am: a qualified NNES ESL teacher passionate about teaching English – my L2.

A bad haircut can be easily fixed. If anything, as time goes by, it becomes a thing of the past.

A bad interview, on the other hand, is a different story. As time passes, unless we all do something about it, it will not become a thing of the past. It is not that easy to change people like Mr. Lee’s mentality. As a matter of fact, it may never change.

This is not to say that I accept such behavior. On the contrary, I am a strong advocate of equality between NES and NNES ESL teachers whose employability should be based on their qualifications and abilities as instructors, not their accent or whatever ridiculous reasons individuals like Mr. Lee, born and most likely raised outside of Canada, find appropriate to bring from their own cultural biases.

We live in Canada 2018 – a welcoming home to thousands of immigrants and refugees from across the globe, as attested by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people … You are home. Welcome home.” (Trudeau, 2015).

It comes as no surprise that “Canada’s population grew by 1.7 million people since the last census in 2011. Immigrants accounted for two-thirds of the increase” (Campion-Smith, 2017) and that the number of foreign-trained skilled immigrants – NNES ESL teachers included – is steadily growing (CIC News, 2017).

Reminder for Mr. Lee and all the Mr. Lees out there: In Canada, linguicism is u-n-a-c-c-e-p-t-a-b-l-e.

Laura Brass Pic[17541]Laura Brass has an MEd in TESL from the University of Calgary, Canada, a BA in Education from the University of Pitesti, Romania, and is TESL Canada and TESOL Ontario certified. With over 15 years local and international experience under her belt, she has taught English to diverse learners for varied purposes (e.g., EFL, ESL, EAP, CAE, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) in the public and private sectors. A language learner herself, she embraces a student-centered approach that keeps the students’ needs at the forefront and focuses on fostering autonomous L2 learners. She is interested in language and identity, multilingual acquisition, ESL curricula design, digital literacies, etc. You can view samples of her teaching materials at www.laurabrass.weebly.com. Her article, “Eleven Unexpected Lessons of Research Writing,” was recently published by the Canadian Journal for Teacher Research: http://www.teacherresearch.ca/blog/article/2017/07/30/333-eleven-unexpected-lessons-of-research-writing.

References:

Campion- Smith, B. (2017, February 8). Immigration fuels Canada’s population growth of 1.7 million in five years: latest census. The Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/02/08/canadas-population-grew-17m-in-5-years.html

Canada: Citizenship and Immigration Canada News (2017). (2016, September). Canada Immigration Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.cicnews.com/2016/09/canada-welcomed-record-320932-new-immigrants-immigration-numbers-set-increase-098533.html

Trudeau, J. (2015, December 11). You are home: Canada’s Justin Trudeau welcomes Syrian refugees. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9_zWhkS4oQ

The importance of promoting equal opportunities by Steven Cameron

In our area of the education sector, the most common cause for concern, is an unfair policy towards non-native speakers as English language teachers.

Many people in ELT would probably agree that native and non-native teachers both have advantages over the other. While native speakers are normally fantastic sources of vocabulary, non-native teachers often have a stronger grasp on grammar, than newly qualified mother tongue English speakers.

Ultimately, it might be said that these pros and cons cancel each other out, and one is left with the individual qualities of teachers. What can really matter, and truly make a difference to a student’s experience, is the connection they have with a teacher who exudes interest and passion for their work, over the source of their English skills.

Having reached this conclusion a school may then come into conflict with clients or parents with strong views on what is best for them, and their children. Indeed, from personal experience at private language schools, it is the clients who are most resistant to non-native teachers. There is an assumption in many countries that native is best.

Perhaps, in this position it is the duty of the school to remain strong in supporting their non-native teachers. After all, it is the prerogative of the organisation to hire the teachers they deem most suitable. We shouldn’t forget, that if an agent, client or parent chooses to book an English language course with a school, that there is an implied trust in the school’s judgement to employ the most appropriate teachers.

It is worth noting that no accreditation body requires an organisation to employ only native speaking teachers. Priorities are unfailingly given to qualifications, and a teacher’s mother tongue does not appear as a concern for any accreditor or government body.

At our academy, we are lucky to have a supportive mix of native and non-native teachers and I believe it adds a wonderful balance to our team. We are proud to be an equal opportunities employer, and this is something we will continue to promote.

Steven Cameron has 11 years’ experience in ELT. With a CELTA and DELTA, he has expELA Blue with red line Square Logo for Facebook[20443]erience of teaching in Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and the UK. Since September 2016 he has held the position of Director of Studies for ELA-Edinburgh, and is a Teacher Trainer for Trinity CertTESOL. ELA-Edinburgh has over a decade of experience in providing English language courses to an international community and specialises in providing tailored courses to suit the individuals needs. Based in the heart of the culturally rich Edinburgh, ELA-Edinburgh is privileged to be able to draw on the city’s diversity for the quality of its teaching staff. You can follow ELA-Edinburgh on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A NNES in a NES World by Laura Brass

Everyone reaches a point in their life when they ask themselves who they are, whether they are at a major crossroad professionally, emotionally, spiritually, or find themselves reeling from a dramatic event that became their wake-up call. To me, this moment came a few years after I had immigrated to Canada, when my husband and I decided that it was time we went back home to Vancouver. To my surprise, once back in Vancouver, I came to the realization that home was no longer home. Time for me to push the pause button and look at how far I have come since I first set foot in Canada and ask myself who I have become.

Standard English, World Englishes, and My Languages

Sounding different in English seemed to point to my otherness, so when I came across Kachru’s (1986) model of English circles, I thought it was as good a starting point in my quest for who I am as any. He distinguishes between countries and languages that belong to the:

  • (a) inner circle (e.g., the UK, the US, Canada, Australia) where English is the first language (L1);
  • (b) outer circle (e.g., Singapore, India, Philippines, Kenya, etc.) where English is an official language;
  • and (c) expanding circle (e.g., Brazil, China, Japan, Turkey, etc.) where English is taught as a subject in school.

When I was living in Europe, I taught English as a foreign language (EFL); in Canada, I teach English as a second language (ESL). Same subject, different names.

Standard English is represented by fixed grammar rules and formal written norms used mainly for institutional purposes (e.g., exams, business meetings, etc.), whereas non-standard or spoken English is characterized by a more flexible lexis used for communication purposes. The latter allows for varieties of the same language, which are oftentimes frowned upon because they break with the standard language. Shunning these Englishes from the standard English community does not make them vanish from thousands of worldwide second language (L2) speakers’ active vocabulary. While the need for the written form to keep its constancy to avoid linguistic chaos is understandable, the spoken form should be allowed more freedom (Brass, 2016).

Another point worth noting is the separate Englishes within L1 countries. There are definitive and obvious differences within the English language when one crosses the US or Canada. For instance, “Don’t bleve nutting ya ‘ears and only ‘alf ya sees” is a Newfoundland saying for “Don’t believe everything you hear” or “If I had my Druthers” is a southern American saying for “If I had my way.” Even single words can be a part of the regular dialect in some areas and non-existent in others. How often do you think that Manhattanites use reckon in their daily conversations? L1 countries have many different Englishes very much based on geography, socioeconomics, race, and religion.

My languages, apart from my mother tongue, can be summed up as the good, the bad, and the ugly: English, French, and Latin. I started learning French one year before taking up English. Does it mean that French is my second language and English is my third?

I preferred English, so soon I became more proficient in it than I was in French. Does this make English my second language, pushing French third?

For over a decade now I have thought in English, communicated in English, and written in English 95 % of the time. Does this mean that English has become my first language?Can a mere five percent make such a huge difference?

A friend of mine was born in England, moved to Belgium when he was just a few months old, grew up in Canada from age three to fourteen, then lived in Israel for five years, relocated back to Belgium, and now has returned to Canada. Which one is his first language: French, Flemish, Hebrew, or English? He is fluent in all four.

Having learned my L2s in a dual program relying on the audio-lingual and grammar-translation methods, code-switching played a major role in my second language acquisition (SLA). Whenever I was lost for words in L2, L1 would come to the rescue and vice versa. To this day, I constantly switch from one language to another, although I think more in English these days because I speak it at home and at work. Culturally, I feel more Romanian than Canadian, which is a deeper aspect of my personality and frame of mind.

What does that say about me, linguistically, sociologically, and psychologically? That there are two distinct languages which make up two distinct identities? That there is a split of identities or, on the contrary, a blend of multiple identities?

On Being an Immigrant in Canada

An immigrant myself, originally from Romania, I am a non-native English speaker (NNES); I made Canada my home in 2008. After having my education, work experience, language proficiency, age, funds, and adaptability assessed by a points system, I was deemed eligible for the express entry pool under the Federal Skilled Worker program (Government of Canada, 2017). Six months after submitting my application, I received the letter in the mail: I had been given the green light to live and work in Canada – to become a Canadian.

Exhilarated by the prospect of starting anew, little did I know back then what being an immigrant entailed. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1995), immigrant refers to “someone who comes from abroad to live permanently in another country” (p. 712). A landed immigrant or permanent resident can work and study, but they cannot vote or get a Canadian passport; it is a temporary status until they become citizens. Ng and Estable (1987) point out that the term, which initially encompassed all foreign-born individuals, is now used with a different connotation: “The common-sense use of ‘immigrant women’ generally refers to women of colour, women from Third World Countries, women who do not speak English well, and women who occupy lower positions in the occupational hierarchy” (p. 29). From experience, I can attest to the fact that in everyday conversation, immigrant highlights the difference between NNESs and their native (NES) counterparts.

As far as language is concerned, the concept of non-nativeness negates rather than asserts the speaker, which brings us to the paradox of “highly educated immigrants who drive taxicabs and pizza delivery vans, bewildered at the new reality of life in Canada that falls short of its promises” (Cervatiuc, 2009, p. 255). The author attributes this situation to the lack of English proficiency; based on my personal experience, I tend to disagree. In fact, English proficiency is one of the mandatory criteria to be eligible to immigrate as a skilled worker (e.g., General IELTS examination). Once skilled worker immigrants land in Canada, they realize that due to their foreign credentials they will not be able to perform the jobs that they are qualified for. A paradox and a conundrum.

At the other end of the spectrum, the country allows non-skilled NNESs who buy considerable property to get status and yet they live on social services, which speaks to a different kind of non-nativeness. In a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver, British Columbia, where the real estate industry has been booming, allowing lots of foreigners to enter the country via buying property, new identities are being shaped and with them closed-up communities of people who do not speak English at all.

There seems to have been a shift from language to financial benefits reserved for a particular category of foreign non-Canadian investors who take full advantage of the perks Canada has to offer. Is a new fast-growing NNES category already heavily influencing the labor market? Are educational credentials becoming obsolete in major Canadian centers? Is English losing ground in Canada or is it just another language-money-power game?

On Shaping Identity as a NNES ESL Teacher in a NES World

In an attempt to figure out who I am now, I decided to take a closer look at how language and identity work for or against NNES English as a Second Language (ESL) professionals. I browsed through the extant literature that explores immigrants’ (successful) stories. A trend, a leitmotif, seems to transcend: Everyone has a story that follows a similar pattern. Whether people leave their home countries because they have to (as is the case with thousands of recent Syrian refugees fleeing to Canada and all over the world) or because they want to, hoping to make a better future for themselves and their families (as is my case), immigrants leave the familiar behind embarking on a journey into the unknown and self-discovery.

Unlike Canada, where people of various ethnicities live in close vicinity, in my home country, former communist Romania, people from other countries were kept at bay, hence everyone looked the same or at least everyone I knew. Growing up, I never thought of otherness and never questioned nor doubted my identity. Having lived in Canada for eight and a half years, the apparently innocuous question, “Where are you from?” to this day takes me by surprise.

My initial answer, “I am from Romania,” is accompanied by different explanations that start with but as if I have to explain my reasons for being here, which makes me feel guilty for not being a NES. The impostor syndrome (Cuddy, 2015). The sin of being born outside the inner circle (i.e., an English-speaking country) weighs heavy on the NNESs’ shoulders. I have learned first-hand that the stigma of being a NNES in a NES country does not vanish in time.

In Canada, the constant need to ask, “Where are you from?” is a phenomenon that has turned a simple ice breaker into an ice maker. According to Ramos (2003) and Selasi (2014), it speaks to relations of power (or lack of it). Many were the cases when my answer to “Where are you from?” generated the following, “Oh, Budapest is the capital city, isn’t it?” No, it isn’t.

Not knowing where to place someone’s country of origin on a mental map can make the person being asked feel powerless. I wholeheartedly embrace Selasi’s (2014) suggestion to ask, “Where are you a local?” instead, which shifts focus on where life occurs, not where it started. “I’m Canadian but my parents come from Romania” sounds as if I am trying to explain myself and why I am here; “I’m a local of Vancouver and Targoviste” relies on personal experiences that no one can take away or deny.

Selasi (2014) goes on to explain that, because countries appear (e.g., Timor-Leste) and disappear (e.g., Czechoslovakia), they cannot define our identity, but experiences can: “All experience is local and all identity is experience.” (Selasi, 2014).

A revelation. I was born in Romania, briefly studied in the UK and worked in the US, and I am currently residing in Canada. I do not live in Romania, the UK, or the US anymore, but I remember the experiences that I had while there; they have shaped me into who I am. While some aspects of my identity are presently dormant, others have become more prevalent these days. I constantly forge a new identity from the already existing multi-layers. Fifty shades of Laura.

Identity is a complex and complicated matter. It is my unique barcode or fingerprint. I have changed over time and so has my identity. To quote Bruce Lee (c. 1966), “When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.”

A few years after immigrating to Canada and going back home to visit family, I saw everything different; it all seemed changed: “We can never go back to a place and find it exactly where we left it, something somewhere will always have changed, most of all, ourselves” (Selasi, 2014). I found myself mixing Romanian with English words within the same sentence. Romanglish if you will. At times, I felt lost in translation and caught up in between two completely different worlds and languages, which echoes Norton and Toohey’s (2011) argument that identity is a site of struggle.

As far as my newly acquired Canadianness is concerned, I am drawn to it and distanced from it at the same time. This ambivalent sense of self has resulted from good and bad language experiences that I’ve had over the past decade.

In identifying with Vancouver, I don’t want to cut away from my past, leaving behind part of my identity to embrace a new one. My grandmother used to say that no matter how far one travels, they carry their sorrows and joys with them.

While I admit that there must have been a void that made me think relocating could fill, it is important to stay in touch with my roots. The desire to know and understand myself is fueled by the need to come to terms with my Romanian heritage and my current Canadian existence. In trying to answer Khayatt’s (2001) question, “Who is entitled to determine who we are?” (p. 79), I have come to realize that I want the freedom to be both a Canadian and a Romanian.

Final Thoughts

Little did I know when I packed my life, said goodbye to family and friends, and bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver, British Columbia, that being a NNES ESL immigrant female teacher in Canada was no easy feat. Looking back, it seems both brave and foolish, but if I were to do it all over again, I would not hesitate.

I have learned through trial and error to add rather than discard the newly formed layers of my Canadian identity and not feel stuck between two cultures and languages (Gardner, 2012). Now I see what Greene (1998) means when he urges us to recreate ourselves and our image rather than allow others to define us: I am more than a nationality.

I am a local of two distinct worlds, a by-product of my own experiences, a citizen of the world born in Romania, adopted by Canada, a passport holder of the European Union, a member of the Commonwealth, and a language chameleon.

References:

Brass, L. (2016). Same person: Different languages, different identities? (Unpublished paper). Vancouver, British Columbia: University of Calgary.

Canada: Who can apply: Federal skilled workers (2017, July 14). Government of Canada.  Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/apply-who.asp?_ga=2.119077322.273954601.1502841759-1696982595.1500423967.

Cervatiuc, A. (2009). Identity, good language learning, and adult immigrants in Canada. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 8(4), 254-271. doi:10.1080/15348450903130439.

Cuddy, A. (2015). Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. New York: Little, Brown, & Company.

Kachru, B., B. (1986). The alchemy of English: The spread, functions, and models of non-native Englishes. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Khayatt, D. (2001). Revealing moments: The voice of the one who lives with labels. In James, C. E., & Shadd, A. (Eds.), Talking about identity: Encounters in race, ethnicity, and language. (pp. 68- 83). Toronto, Canada: Between the Lines.

Lee, B. (2013, July 12). Be like water. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APx2yFA0-B4&t=6s.

Ng, R., & Estable, A. (1987). Immigrant women in the labour force: An overview of present knowledge and research gaps. Resources for Feminist Research16(1), 29-33.

Norton, B., & Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social change. Language Teaching, 44(4), 412-446. doi.org/10.1017/s0261444811000309. 

Patel, H. (2013, June). Who am I? Think again. [Video file]. Retrieved from      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPhHHtn8On8.

Rundell, M., Fox, C., Gillard, P., Jackson, T., O’Shea, S., & Nichols, W. (Eds.) (1995). Longman dictionary of contemporary English. Essex, England: Longman Group Ltd.

Selasi, T. (2014, October). Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local. [Video file]. Retrieved from  http://www.ted.com/talks/taiye_selasi_don_t_ask_where_i_m_from_ask_where_i_m_a_local#t-5969.7

Laura Brass Pic[17541]Laura Brass has an MEd in TESL from the University of Calgary, Canada, a BA in Education from the University of Pitesti, Romania, and is TESL Canada and TESOL Ontario certified. With over 15 years local and international experience under her belt, she has taught English to diverse learners for varied purposes (e.g., EFL, ESL, EAP, CAE, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) in the public and private sectors. A language learner herself, she embraces a student-centered approach that keeps the students’ needs at the forefront and focuses on fostering autonomous L2 learners. She is interested in language and identity, multilingual acquisition, ESL curricula design, digital literacies, etc. You can view samples of her teaching materials at www.laurabrass.weebly.com. Her article, “Eleven Unexpected Lessons of Research Writing,” was recently published by the Canadian Journal for Teacher Research: http://www.teacherresearch.ca/blog/article/2017/07/30/333-eleven-unexpected-lessons-of-research-writing.

On H2O, Bella and the courage to be yourself by Katarzyna Komorek

I just can’t get rid of that thought recently that the native vs non-native speaker teacher dilemma is oddly similar to the one concerning drinking water (be forgiving please, as I’m zero-waste lifestyle obsessed at the moment).

Why? Because we reached for bottled water (natives) thinking that it’s better for us than tap (non natives). Whilst it takes just a little bit of research to learn that it is not always the case. It even appears that the two kinds may and often do present the same proprieties. The tests show another funny analogy: sometimes tap is better, sometimes the bottled one is. So how did we come to believe this? Well, the answer is simple: because some strongly determined guys had great marketing skills. That’s all it is, as for water. As for native vs non-native speaker teacher dilemma it is obviously a little bit more complicated…

The “mono” myth

Have you heard of that 4 year-old Russian girl named Bella who speaks seven languages “without a prominent accent“?

Her parents “hired native tutors for each new language” and because they wanted her “to speak English like a native speaker, the mother spoke with Bella in English and Russian from birth, alternating every other day”. The parents also “organize small educational excursions with native speakers”.

But also: “The budding linguist practices English with her mother, and is tutored by native speakers for other languages”.  So there it is NNESTs: good news! Bella managed to learn English from her Russian mom! Hurrah!

Not that much hope for me though…

You see, I am a French language teacher. And, to some people’s surprise, “French” doesn’t appear on any of my official documents. Apparently, that would make my choice of profession more credible. So in order to get some recognition, I need to be passed through tests just like tap water. Now, the results may improve the image some people have of me. But no matter what I do, (un)fortunately I can’t change my own label.

But let’s get back to the Russian toddler. As soon as I heard of her I started reading because coming from a perfectly monolingual environment I can’t help being fascinated by these stories of bi and multilingual children. And the thing that stroke me was the fact that the reoccurring term in all the articles was “native”.

But wait a second! Has she even had time to become native to her mother tongue?

I believe some linguists and child development specialists would argue. But it didn’t end there.

The commentators would notice her perfect accent was particularly noticeable when she spoke French! Apparently, the French is richer (?) in accent than any other language (???), therefore the results are better when it is taught by natives. So there we are using native speakers to teach this girl who is as a result multilingual. It is even kind of funny, don’t you think?

But what are we really hoping to achieve? Maximize her chances of getting the most out of a language by using “perfect” models (that we know don’t exist elsewhere but in our heads)? Turn her into a native speaker of all of these languages? Give her a linguistic and identity schizophrenia?

I hope not.

We just want to teach her many languages at a time and that is great. And whether Bella’s a prodigy or not she also illustrates the language learning rule that the more you know the easier it is to learn even more.

But why can’t we brag we’ve done that with the help of non native speaker teachers? And will Bella be able to become a recognized language teacher in her adult life? Or does her credibility and empowerment finish on being a student?

What is the most awkward in Bella’s story for me is that the parents somehow unconsciously seem to contribute to perpetuate the message: the way to success leads through native speakers. But she still learned English from her Russian mom, didn’t she? 

The “multi” reality

Ok, I’m writing all this because I happen to be a French teacher without a French passport. Neither Belgian, Canadian, Congolese or Algerian. But what French language has got to do with Algeria? Well, yes, colonialism, sadly. Fortunately, though, it was reappropriated as a communication tool and is widely used as a lingua franca there. So could you imagine having a French teacher with an African accent?

I’ve thought a lot throughout my teaching experience about the role of the “nativeness”concept and the controversy it arouses. Some of them might be specific to the language I happen to teach. But others are common to all languages.

Just like the following question: how did it happen that we started to attach so much importance to a concept that we can’t really properly define?

The native speaker understood as a universal, ideal and original model just doesn’t exist, we know it by now. Chomsky accidentally contributed to this myth because for some reason someone understood his words literally.

It seems that the former empires saw no inconvenience because this is how they were still able to assure their cultural influence in territories where they were losing political power. The industry followed, scenting higher rates for classes with the luxury authentic, one and only “native speaker”. One could say some kind of inverted colonial import phenomenon started to happen. We used to get coffee from Guatemala. Now we send “native speakers” there.

The little Russian girl might be specially gifted but we also know we’re all born with this kind of a linguistic tabula rasa onto which our parents, our environment, school, friends etc. engrave our language patterns and habits, accents… So from scratch it is possible to engrave literally anything, from Switzertuch to Inuit and every single “native speaker” of it will be different and will also master to different extent different language skills.

And yet we are stuck on being impressed by the toddlers accent! And specifically the French one. But what if her French had an African melody? And if the small girl spoke with a Russian accent would she still be all over the news? Would she be admired with the same awe? Or would she be considered comical?

I think the right question to ask should be: would that change anything in her intelligibility and communication skills? Or would it only influence our perception of her as a language user or even a person? 

The hypocrisy of the market

By the beginning of June 2017 three major websites advertising French teaching jobs around the globe put up 159 ads, only 4 of which did mention a precise language level required for the position (twice C1 and once C2) and one of them actually referred to English, important for daily life communication in the given country of expatriation. Other than that, only “native speaker” or having French as a “mother tongue” is the language level requirement term that is used all across the globe from France to Japan. But it goes even further sometimes: one school in India does “positive discrimination” prioritizing Canadians because of Quebec year and interestingly enough, to enroll in a “bilingual” internship in New Zealand one must be a “native French speaker” but only “good level” of English is required, while the candidate is expected to teach both of the mentioned languages.

I am personally fond of “maitrise parfaite”, “maitrise totale” or “niveau d’excellence” (excellence level) terms. Now, please do tell me: do you have a diploma for this? I imagine it as a big glittery piece of sophisticated document saying “Congratulations X, you master Y language totally/perfectly”. Or “You achieved excellence level”. What now? “Game over”? Has anyone thought for a minute if this is even possible? Can anyone master  a language “totally”? It is certainly necessary for language schools to require their potential candidates be familiar with the certifications and exam grids that the language they will be teaching falls into, but it would be also fair to show them that the authors of the ads can apply these grids as well. 

The neglected reality

Just like English in all its forms, there is great variety in the French spoken around the world. Take Africa alone – the half of the French speaking population of the planet originates from there (OIF numbers) and by 2050 85% of Francophones will live in Africa. Quebec, Belgium, Haiti, Switzerland – each of them have got their own variety of French. In France itself, there are regions where the “r” is rolled in a way that a Polish speaker could totally blend in. But still, there are some varieties of the same language that are glamour and others that are considered not sexy. I believe if we dig into this subject, we will get to questions that are old as the planet. Power, politics, imperialism, dominant vs dominated dichotomy…  the reality only gets more complex.

But still, the market craves the “norm”. The ideal(istic?) language product polished and shiny as if we snatched it straight from a showcase in Paris Galleries Lafayette and yet we want to fit it in our mouth and for it to become ours, become us. Whom do we want to cheat? It would be deadly boring if everyone spoke with the same accent, don’t you think ? Instead of faking till you make it just embrace diversity and dare to be yourself.

There are 900 000 French language teachers around the globe according to OIF But how many of them are native speakers? I never excelled in maths and however approximate, the calculations can be quickly done if there are 76 millions of “native speakers” of French (Ethnologue, 2015) and 125 million (OIF, 2014) people are learning French around the world. Considering that not all native speakers left their countries with the mission of teaching their mother tongue to foreigners, who is teaching the language of Molière out there? Taking these numbers into account, are we doing any good to our students by closing our eyes to the “native speaker” idolization?

In French teaching industry, if “non nativeness” is debated it is rather in a context of insecurity of the non natives, their insufficient language competence and avoidance strategies they use in order to get by and make peace with their identity and credibility questioning. It is  high time to bring the real debate into light.

OMG! My French teacher is Polish

Let me come back to me not having an Algerian passport.

I’ve been teaching for more less six years now in different cultural and educational environments. I’ve never encountered any problem, at least up-front, from my students, would it be complaining about my passport, my identity or my mother tongue. I don’t consider it something I should be hiding away from them, nor something to be particularly proud of. I am what I am in large part by accidents of the universe. What I do find important and try to pass on to my students is that a language is first of all means of communication. It does not belong to anyone, it is there, for historical and political reasons, confined to borders of a country. If you want to use it, you learn it and you do so from active language users. And if you are discriminatory about the version of it you want to learn it will only make you poorer. Because all its different versions, colors, accents, twists is what make the language richer.

I do not even want to go into the debate about native and non native speaker teachers being worse or better teachers. Is anybody born a teacher? You learn anything in life by experience. And you’re definitely never done learning. So, I’d say don’t waste your time on choosing between a native and or a non native teacher! I agree totally with Silvana Richardson on this one:  choose a teacher who learns instead!

This is also because being a teacher is so much more than just being a successful speaker of a language, we all know it. I believe natives vs non natives dilemma should be included in curricula and explored in teacher training courses. There has been enough research so far to back it up, why not give it finally the space it deserves?

Recently I’ve been participating in a MOOC about inter-comprehension between roman languages. And I believe this is the route to follow. I think in the future we won’t be learning languages but inter-comprehension of languages from the same family. We would all do ourselves a favor if we stopped pretending right now there’s one language or one version of a language that has to be imposed as it is superior for some reasons. In general I am all for “less is more” but knowledge is certainly a field where this golden rule doesn’t apply. It’s rather the opposite: the more you know, the better! So investigate on that tap water right now!

About Katarzyna Komorek:

katarzyna komorekI’m just another freelance French teacher and aspiring activity leader interested in intercultural issues. I’m based between France and Poland and over my six years of experience I’ve taught French as a foreign language in The Netherlands, Iraqi Kurdistan, Honduras, Nepal and Russia. I have never experienced complaints in regard to my “non nativeness”, just the contrary: I believe a non native speaker teacher can really embody an example of their students’ success in language learning, inspire and motivate them by being a living proof of the fact that yes! it is actually possible to learn this thing, including the subjonctif !

But once an employer asked me if I would mind if my name was changed to “Catherine”.  “Your accent is good enough! The students won’t be able to tell.” – he argued and explained how much better for the school’s image it would be to just label me a “native speaker”… At that time I lacked the courage to be myself. And that just didn’t feel right.

References:

DERVIN, Fred & BADRINATHAN Vasumathi. (2011). L’enseignant non natif : identités et légitimité dans l’enseignement-apprentissage des langues étrangères, E.M.E. & InterCommunications sprl, Bruxelles – Fernelmont.

VILLARD Laurence avec BALLIER Nicolas. (2008). Langues dominantes, langues dominées. Univesrité de Rouen et du Havre

Buy a megaphone: Non-discriminatory language is not enough by Karin Krummenacher

Do you believe in primal scream therapy? I am not going to lie to you: It had not been a great day before I set foot into the weirdly medievally furnished meeting room that would be the backdrop of scenes that made me want to scream. Feeling like King Arthur, waiting for the other parties to arrive I had no idea I was only half an hour away from considering buying a pillow just so I could scream into it to release my frustration.

Spoiler: I did not buy that pillow. I postponed my tantrum to the privacy of my own home, as decent postmodern humans do. And now I write about it on the internet. As postmodern humans do.

Back to the meeting room. The interviewers have arrived. Now listen to this:

Roberta: You come highly recommended by the person who used to teach this course. Do you have any experience teaching English to non-native speaking English teachers in Prague?

Karin: Absolutely. In fact, I specialised in this exact area for the extended assignment of my Delta. The paper I wrote is called Language Development for In-service Non-Native English teachers in the Czech Republic.

Roberta: Oh, really? Well that’s wonderful! Exactly who we are looking to hire. Say, are you from the US or the UK?

Karin: I am Swiss. As stated in my CV.

Roberta: Really? Are you sure? I cannot hear your accent. Lena, can you hear that she is not a native speaker?

Lena: No. Hm. What a pity. I think we need to discuss this real quick.

See where this is going?

IMG_1166

I expected them to leave the room, to come back and escort me outside with a made-up shallow excuse for why they could not employ me. Far from it! They turned to each other and started discussing in Czech right in front of me, simply assuming that I, the dumb foreigner, will not understand them. They talked about how it was a shame that I am not a native.

Roberta (turns back to me): Would you like to teach German?

Karin: I am not a German teacher.

Roberta: That is ok. You are a native.

Karin: I am not. My native language is Swiss-German and I am neither qualified nor able or interested to teach any language but English.

Lena: Are you sure you did not go to university in an English speaking country? That could count.

Karin: I am quite certain I did not.

They continued to talk in Czech. The most humiliating, degrading experience of my professional life, I think. That’s when the pillow thought started to take shape. Eventually they turned back around to me.

Karin: No, je to škoda, že jsem velmi kvalifikovaná, ale narodila jsem se na špatném místě.

Baffled looks. They realise I understood their entire conversation.

Lena: Unfortunately, we cannot offer you to teach the course. We need a native speaker. It is nothing against you, really. It is “psychological”. The participants want to know their teacher is a native speaker.

Karin: You realise you have told me that the other applicants are less qualified and that I am the perfect fit. You understand this is discrimination and against EU law, right?

Roberta: No, it is just psychologically. For the participants. We have lots of non-native teachers for low levels. Maybe we could find some A1 or A2 classes you could teach…

Luckily, I am much better off now than the last time I had this conversation. I have a wonderful full-time job as a teacher trainer that I love, I do not need the money, I was just interested in the work as it is an area of expertise of mine. And, as opposed to last time this happened to me, I know my rights. I know Roberta and Lena are wrong, they are mossbacked, they are unprogressive, they are a plague to our industry. And they are smiling at me.

What this made me realise is how easy it is to forget how backward things still are, what the reality of EFL hiring still is, once you surround yourself with intelligent forward-thinking people.

Since my last post for this blog I have done a lot of research, given workshops, published articles, talked at conferences, presented at IATEFL, worked with great minds on the issue of native speakerism. I discussed the topic with the elite of the industry. And it is easy to forget that that is not the majority of the industry. Sitting in that room, being disrespected and discriminated against by two smug language school owners, making the most offensive claims there are, was a good strong reality check.

Do not get me wrong: Not for a second was I ever under the impression we had won our battle. But I had seriously thought that there was much more awareness now than half a decade ago. That people would at least be ashamed when sitting face to face with a person they are discriminating. At least in Europe.

They are not.

can't believe i still have to protest this shit[17491]

Now, to be completely honest with you, I am not a very good activist. I am too impatient and too lazy and do not enjoy repeating myself like a parrot to people who do not want to listen. I am so tired of this. And I have other research to do, other fights to fight, other thoughts to think. I am fed up. I did not even choose to be so passionate about this issue. In fact, the violation of my very own rights has got old a while ago. I am just not very good at this whole thing. Luckily though, I am good at being angry. I might even be the best at being angry. You would not believe my stamina, my passion, the fuel anger is to my actions.

In the words of Miley Cyrus: We can’t stop and we won’t stop.

I will not buy a pillow. But a megaphone. I will be louder, fight harder and ruffle more feathers.

As a very concrete action, I have decided that I will not accept empty talk any longer and be more critical of alleged changes.

I often get job advertisements from language schools in order to share them with my network of English teachers and recently certified teachers. Many of them ask for native speakers. I used to email them back, explaining that would be discrimination, etc. Asking them to change the wording. They usually would and I would then share the ad.

This week I received another request to share a job opening. Stating “native speakers only” on three occasions within the ad. I was about to write back and realised that same school had already received the nice “could you please change the wording”-email over five times. Clearly, they had not changed a single thing and definitely not their hiring practices but were just paying me lip service to get their ad out there.

I wrote to the school that I do not support hiring processes that promote discrimination in any form and that, should they be ready to revise their practice and focus on applicants’ qualifications and experience rather than their places of birth, they could contact me again in the future with concrete evidence thereof. Until then: Find your natives yourself.

Avoiding discriminatory terminology is a great start and a step in the right direction. But it does not end with terminology.

What needs to follow is deeds and a revision of beliefs that lead to discrimination in the first place. It is some sort of evidence of our work when discriminatory language becomes a no-go for language schools but it does not change that they have a pile of native CVs they actually consider and a pile of non-native CVs which then land in the bin.

Honestly, that the word native is now replaced by native-like competency or native-level speaker, to make ads non-discriminatory, shows that there is no profound change yet, just a strategy around it. Our claims need to get bigger. We can not be happy with the bones the industry throws us. We need genuine change.

Buy a megaphone and pack a lunch. This whole thing is going to take a while.

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karin krummenacherKarin is a Prague based teacher trainer, international conference speaker, and published writer. She takes an active interest in teacher development and equality in the industry. Her latest research deals with differentiation on initial teaching training courses. Karin does not sound like a native English speaker but like the proficient non-native speaker she is and thinks that is very much the way it should be. Give her a shout at karin.krummenacher@gmail.com

ELT Vacancies Open For All – by Martin Sketchley

In my English teaching career, I have furthered my interest the recruitment and employment of English language teachers. I am currently responsible for the recruitment and employment of young learner teachers and have employed teachers from UK, USA as well as from Europe. Our school has zero tolerance against the discrimination of English teachers and we attempt to lead by example. We have employed teachers from Poland and Italy, and they are not seen any different in our school. This was great development where I had to work against deep-rooted discrimination in South Korea against native and non-native English speakers, as well as between the recruitment of English teachers from either America, Canada or the United Kingdom.

In a recent blog post on my website, I uncovered an advertisement by a language school in China seeking a professional with one catch: “no Asian face”.

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I was flabbergasted that recruiter would authorise such an advertisement with the requirement that those who are considered ‘Asian’ (whatever that means) should not apply for this position. One has to wonder whether there are still organisations in the world which need to learn that such discrimination in any language can be detrimental to both recruiters as well as the school seeking the teacher. This is the reason why I have developed a recruitment area on my website: to ensure that all English teachers, irrespective of their ethnicity or their country of origin, have equal opportunities.

Before a job post is accepted on my website, I personally review the post and then amend anything if required before it is agreed. However, from the limited success so far, I have not had to amend much and I was very surprised that a recent job post contained the clause: “English native speakers or Candidates from Europe, Latin America with clean accent.

Although it is not ideal to maintain teachers of English only have a ‘clean accent’ or to only focus on particular regions of the world, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Ideally, the advert would focus on all teachers of English around the world irrespective of nationality or ethnicity. However, this is a small success as Chinese recruiters are finally noticing that professional English teachers can be sourced from countries besides those that officially have English as their first language.

Furthermore, the many potential candidates that have registered on my website are speakers whose first language is not English. This is incredibly rewarding for me as I would really like to see more ‘non-native teachers’, some of whom I have had the pleasure of working with, have the same opportunities as native English teachers and if my website advocates equal opportunities in English language teaching, so much the better.

As Marek has mentioned in a previous blog post, non-native English teachers are just as suitable for employment opportunities as native English teachers and with 70% of online advertisements seeking for native English teachers, it tacitly disregards all suitable non-native English teachers for the post.

In fact, I received wonderful feedback (see screenshot below) about one particular job advertisement on my website from a person called Andy Barbeiro who said it was “the best job advert for an ELT position I have ever seen! Transparent, detailed and non-discriminatory (mother-tongue never mentioned once!) The proof that these kinds of job posts are so rare is in Hussein F. Allam ‘s previous comment. It’s clear from the post that all qualified teachers can apply. If I was still teaching, I’d jump at this opportunity.

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I’m so pleased to see that my hard-work is now being recognised and that it is gaining popularity among teachers no matter their nationality.

I do hope that teachers irrespective of their ethnicity or their nationality register and apply for employment opportunities as well as employers post teaching opportunities for applicants no matter their physical location on my website. It would be a great achievement to assist in the battle against negative stereotypes for non-native English teachers and ensure that the entire ELT profession is more highly respected by all: employers and recruiters.

martin sketchleyMartin Sketchley has been an English language teacher for over eleven years now, with teaching experience in South Korea, Romania as well as the UK. He is Young Learner Co-ordinator at LTC Eastbourne and teaches students from around the world. He is responsible for curriculum development, teacher training as well as organising formal and informal observations for teaching staff. Martin also is an Assistant Examiner for Cambridge ESOL Examinations and marks writing for the Cambridge exams (PET, FCE, etc.). He holds an MA in English Language Teaching from the University of Sussex, a Diploma, Trinity Young Learners Extension Certificate (TYLEC) as well as a CELTA. Finally, Martin runs a website (ELT Experiences) which focuses on teaching, lesson observations and recruitment and he also uploads videos to his YouTube Channel.

Why NNESTs? International English and the implications for teacher development

Teacher identity is a delicate flower. After all, we are what we teach, so it is essential to reflect on who we are as language teachers, especially, if the language is English and more importantly, when English is an additional language for us, non-native English speaker teachers.

There are far more non-native English speaker teachers (NNESTs – pronounced en-NESTs) than native speaker English teachers (NESTs), and even though identity issues between the two groups may overlap, Marcela and I chose to look at the specificities of non-native teachers.

Our main tenet is that with English becoming a global / international language, NNESTs are gaining a competitive advantage: they are bilingual and bicultural (often multilingual and multicultural) as well as lifelong learners of an additional language. It follows that there can only be two drawbacks in the 21st century: not knowing English and knowing only English.

Teaching English as an international language has certain implications and we draw attention to some of these from the point of view of teacher development. Whether you’re a NEST or an NNEST, we hope you will enjoy reading our concise book on “Why NNESTs?”

In the book we invite readers to reconsider the smouldering debate on who is better: native or non-native? We argue that both species bring a somewhat different set of skills to the table, and as international English becomes more and more widespread, the divisions are getting blurred as well as obsolete. While this may not happen without the active participation and advocacy of all members in the ELT community, the winds of change are blowing.

You can order a digital copy of the book here. A paper version is available here.

elisabeth bekesErzsébet Békés is a Hungarian English teacher with more than 40 years of ELT experience. As a volunteer, she taught English to North-African migrants in Crete, set up Language Improvement Centres in Ethiopia, spent six months teaching English for Tourism to members of an indigenous tribe in the Amazonian jungle and gave crash courses in Survival English to undocumented “sea gypsies” while visiting Borneo. Based in Ecuador and working as a teacher trainer, she is a fully competent and proud non-native speaker teacher of English.

marcela carrascoMarcela Carrasco has been teaching English for over 30 years. Born in Cuenca, Ecuador and brought up in Tehran, Iran under Mohammad Reza Shah’s regime and then educated in the United States, Marcela spent her formative years in cultures at odds with each other. As the owner and director of a hugely successful language school in Ecuador’s cultural capital, Cuenca, she has lived and walked multiculturalism. As a bilingual teacher of English and Spanish, her identity is neither – she is one of the world’s new global citizens.