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.

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.

Who is qualified to teach English? by Amy Thompson

The answer, of course, is someone who is a competent user of English with specific training in the field of language pedagogy.

Why, then, do we still see job advertisements requesting that the applicants be native speakers of English? Is this a lack of understanding on the part of the employer?


Is it discrimination against particular demographics?

Most definitely.

Arguably, companies who will only hire native English speakers to fill teaching positions are selling an image to their customers – an image of an “authentic” product in their eyes; the companies promote it, and the customers buy it.  However, the instances of “image over quality” are abundant. Galloway (2014) tells the story of a multilingual Eastern European who was required to take on a fake American identity for her job in Japan.  My bi-racial former MA student was not allowed to take part in a marketing campaign for the language school where she worked in China because she looked “too Asian.” A friend’s husband was only offered a job teaching English in Eastern Europe by telling them he was from “America” (South America, in fact, but the employer didn’t bother to dig deeper).

One oft-used argument of hiring native-speaking teachers is so that students will have a good model for pronunciation. However, results from Levis et al. (2016) refute that argument with finding that “there was no significant impact of teachers’ language backgrounds on students’ overall improvement of comprehensibility and accentedness” (p. 22). Similarly, findings from Huensch and Thompson (2017) indicate that “many students in this FL context did not perceive their instructors’ nonnativeness as an obstacle to successful pronunciation instruction” (p. 17). Thus, in cases when both English (i.e. Levis et al) and languages other than English (i.e. Huensch and Thompson) are the target languages, there is evidence that both native and non-native speakers are successful at teaching pronunciation.

Is it the case that this obsession with native English speakers is driven by the potential English language students, or is it the misguided attempt at authenticity on the part of the companies offering English language instruction? What can be done to promote the idea that “native speaker of English” and “English teacher” aren’t synonymous?

One way of approaching this point of inquiry is to ask students. This asking, however, has to be done carefully, as to avoid what’s known as a type of “linguistic priming,” which means to include terms that would sway answers one way or another. In other words, how do you ask students what they think about native English-speaking teachers (NESTs) and non-native English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) without mentioning the term “native speaker” or “non-native speaker”?

Aslan and Thompson (2016) set out to do just this. In a series of carefully constructed questions involving teacher characteristics, 76 responses were collected from ESL students taking classes at an English language program that, at that time, employed 23 NESTs and 19 non-native NNESTs (i.e. an almost balanced number). A semantic differential scale inspired by Gardner’s AMTB was used.  Each item was composed of two opposing adjectives, such as these examples below from the original article: Attitudes toward students – approachable vs. unapproachable; Teaching style and practice – tolerant vs. strict; Personality – nervous vs. relaxed.

The results?  Of the 27 adjective pairs, there was only one significant difference: the students found the NNESTs to be significantly more creative that the NESTs.  Otherwise, there were absolutely no significant differences.

The conclusion is that when the politically and culturally charged terms of “native speaker” and “non-native speaker” are not mentioned, students are likely not to perceive a difference in the quality of their English language instruction between these two groups of instructors. And, indeed, why should they if the hiring entity offers employment based on qualifications as opposed to the native language of the employee?


Aslan, E. & Thompson, A.S.  (2016).  Are they really ‘two different species’? Implicitly elicited student perceptions about NESTs and NNESTs. TESOL Journal. Early View, 1–18. doi:10.1002/tesj.268

Galloway, N. (2014). ‘I get paid for my American accent’: the story of one multilingual English   teacher (MET) in Japan. Englishes in Practice, 1(1), 1-30.

Huensch, A., & Thompson, A. S. (2017). Contextualizing attitudes toward pronunciation: Foreign language learners in the United States. Early View, 1 – 22. Foreign Language Annals. doi:10.1111/flan.12259

Levis, J. M., Sonsaat, S., Link, S., & Barriuso, T. A. (2016). Native and nonnative teachers of L2 pronunciation: Effects on learner performance. TESOL Quarterly, 50(4), 894–931. doi: 10.1002/tesq.272

amy thompsonAmy S. Thompson, Ph.D. (Ph.D. Michigan State University, 2009) is an Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics and currently the Associate Department Chair in the Department of World Languages at the University of South Florida.  She is also currently the graduate director for the Ph.D. program in Linguistics and Applied Language Studies (LALS), teaching a range of graduate level theoretical and methodological courses in applied linguistics. Her primary research interests involve Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition and the interaction of these IDs and multilingualism. In conjunction with these topics, she also incorporates ethical issues regarding perceptions of native and non-native speaker language teachers. Examples of her research can be found in journals such as the Modern Language Journal, TESOL Quarterly, Foreign Language Annals, and the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. You can read more about her and her research here.

Of native speakers and other fantastic beasts

We all refer to ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ not just in English Language Teaching (ELT), Second Language Acquisition (SLA) or linguistics, but also in daily life. Consider the following sentences:

  • She’s a ‘native speaker’ of Spanish.
  • I don’t know how to say this, to be honest. Let’s ask a ‘native speaker’.
  • We can’t hire you because you’re a ‘non-native speaker’.
  • The aim of this research is to study the differences between Chinese bilingual English learners and native monolingual English speakers in expressing motion.

So the term’ native speaker’ seems very familiar to us. After all, we could argue that everyone is a ‘native speaker’ of the language they learned first. And we all have probably seen, met and had a beer with a ‘native speaker’, right?

Why then put inverted commas around the terms as I’m doing now? And stranger still, why say: I no longer review research that compares ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers as though the groups are real and not imagined, as Adrian Holliday recently did on Twitter.

What does Holliday mean when he says that the two groups are not real but imagined? And “when we say:

  • you’ll have to ask a native speaker, or
  • don’t ask me, I’m not a native speaker,

what is it we are appealing to? What is it that human native speakers know? What sort of knowledge does the native speaker have?” (Davies, 2012, p.1).

Native speakers and language proficiency

Most of us I think would agree that a ‘native speaker’ is proficient. Perhaps not in the idealised sense as someone who lives “in a completely homogeneous speech-community, who knows its (the speech community’s) language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors” (Chomsky, 1965, p.3). However, certainly a ‘native speaker’ is proficient in their mother tongue.

But proficient how?

All sorts of people are proficient. I happen to be completely proficient (or at C2 level on the Common European Framework) in three languages. Does this make me a ‘native speaker’ of all three of them?

Possibly, at least if we are discussing the question on purely linguistic grounds. Yet, I’d never call myself one (more on this later).

So how would we characterise ‘native-like’ proficiency that ELT recruiters are so fond of now?

We can’t really talk about this subject without referring to the late prof. Alan Davies. Over the years he proposed six linguistic factors that define ‘native speaker’ proficiency:

1.      early childhood acquisition;

2.      intuition about grammar (both pertaining to dialect and standard language);

3.      capability to generate spontaneous and fluent discourse;

4.      capability to write creatively;

5.      ability to translate into their L1;

6.      and creative communicative range (Davies, 1991, 2003, 2012, 2013).

Are these six characteristics exclusive to ‘native speakers’?

In this post Geoff Jordan confidently asserts that there is a difference between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, citing studies which seem to confirm that ultimate, or ‘native-like’ attainment of a language is very rare. In addition to the ones he mentions, when Sorace (2003) compared grammaticality judgments of ‘native’ and proficient ‘non-native speakers’, she concluded that there was a fundamental difference between the two groups.

However, there are also other studies which shed serious doubts on Sorace’s findings. For example, Birdsong (1992, 2004), Bialystok (1997) and Davies (2001) also studied judgments of grammaticality and all concluded that statistically there was no significant difference in the judgments made by ‘native’ and proficient ‘non-native speakers’. In other words, both groups have very similar intuitions about the language. And it is important to add that they all focused on adult learners who were well past the critical or sensitive period (see below).

So linguistically speaking, is there a difference between the two groups? There might well be. And the word MIGHT is important here.

It is important because as Davies (1991, 2003, 2013) himself highlights, apart from the first factor, none of the others are exclusive to ‘native speakers’.

We’ve dealt with point 2 (language intuition) above. As points 3, 4 and 6 are concerned, think of people like Joseph Conrad, born and baptised in Poland as Józef Korzeniowski. Or Vladimir Nabokov. But also thousands of other ‘non-native speakers’ who are incredibly proficient in English.

While it is more common for translators and interpreters to translate into their L1, there are also those who translate into L2. Personally, I find it much easier to switch between Spanish and English (or vice versa), rather than any of these two and my L1, Polish. I’m not a professional translator or an interpreter, but your L1 does not make you one either, so I don’t see why you couldn’t learn to translate into your L2 (or L3).

This leaves us with early childhood acquisition. What is it, though, that a child acquires? Well, clearly points 2-6. But then it seems that they don’t seem to be exclusive to ‘native speakers’, which means we’re back to square one.

Geoff Jordan also quotes a review of the research that has been conducted on critical/sensitive period, which seems to suggest that it is incredibly rare for ‘non-native speakers’ to reach ‘native-like’ proficiency, as there are different cut-off points. This might well be true, although we still have the problem of defining ‘native-speaker’ proficiency (or indeed the ‘native speakers’ who took part in those studies). There are also the studies cited above on grammaticality which show that ultimate attainment is possible even for adult learners. And of course there all those ‘non-native speakers’ out there who are virtually indistinguishable from a ‘native speaker’. Finally, to quote Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson (2003, p.580) – whose 2009 paper Geoff quotes to prove there is a fundamental difference between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ – “the highly successful L2 speakers that we have characterised as having reached ‘only’ near-native proficiency are, in fact, native-like in all contexts except perhaps in the laboratory of the linguist with specific interest in second language learning mechanisms.”

So while Geoff is 100% convinced that there must be a fundamental linguistic difference between the two groups, I think we would do well to hedge this statement: there MIGHT be a difference. One reason is that while SLA researchers have placed nativeness at the centre of its enquiry (i.e. as the benchmark against which learners’ progress should be measured), they have had surprisingly little to say about who this ‘native’ (or ‘non-native’) under scrutiny actually is (Davies, 2013). As Han (2004) points out, SLA researchers – such as Sorace (2003) cited earlier – have taken the ‘native speaker’ for granted, to a large extent ignoring the individual (linguistic) differences between them.

The second reason is that while Geoff authoritatively states that there is a difference between the two groups, other researchers in the field are much more cautious. For example, in a recent publication Hulstijn (2015) observes that while past a certain age it MIGHT be difficult or unlikely for people to acquire ‘native-like’ proficiency, it is possible (see e.g. Birdsong’s studies). Furthermore, he also points out that even though some learners don’t reach full mastery (as measured by an SLA researcher in lab conditions), they can still be functionally bilingual, which brings us back to Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson’s quote from above.

Even more importantly, however, I think we need to look beyond language proficiency as the defining characteristic of a ‘native speaker’. In fact, it is quite ironic that in the opening sentence of his blog post Geoff calls Russ Mayne (Evidence-based EFL) a “cheery cherry-picker of evidence”, when he himself has cheerfully cherry-picked the evidence limiting the discussion to SLA research, completely ignoring wider sociocultural issues that are also at play. I wouldn’t be the first one to say that SLA should adopt a more socially informed approach, though. For a very extensive discussion please see Block (2003).

So I’m not saying the evidence Geoff presented is wrong. However, it is very limited. And thus questionable.

As Block (2003, p.4) says, SLA has for a long time dealt with “essentialized interlocutors, with essentialized identities, who speak essentialized language”. Who the ‘native’ or the ‘non-native speaker’ under study really is has very rarely been problematised in SLA. However, Block’s (and others’) calls for a more socioculturally oriented SLA have largely fallen on deaf ears.

The possible reason for this is exemplified really well by one of Geoff’s Tweets where he referred to what I’m planning to engage in the rest of the post as “sociolinguistic twaddle that obfuscates a simple psychological reality”. But wouldn’t the reverse hold true as well? Namely, that the psycholinguistic twaddle obfuscates a rather complicated, but also incredibly fascinating sociolinguistic reality?

I’ll let you judge for yourself. But let’s look at the evidence first, shall we?

Sociolinguistics and the ‘native speaker’

So, putting psycholinguistic differences and the issue of proficiency aside for a minute, there are two other good reasons why I would never call myself a ‘native speaker’ of English, or of any other language that isn’t Polish for that matter. And they have nothing to do with my proficiency in English, or in Polish. The first reason is because I don’t feel affiliated with the language. In other words, I don’t feel I belong in the ‘native speaker’ community (Brutt-Griffler & Samimy, 2001). Even if I did, though, would I be accepted as a ‘native speaker’?

The answer is quite likely no. So affiliating with the speech community and being proficient aren’t enough. The third factor is being accepted as a ‘native speaker’ by the speech community (Inbar-Lourie, 2005). This of course can lead to differences between the self-perceived and externally perceived linguistic identity of a speaker. For example, some people would describe themselves as a ‘native speaker’ and affiliate with the speech community, but wouldn’t be accepted as such, or vice versa.

The reasons for this can be quite varied, but many scholars have pointed out that being a ‘native speaker’ of English is frequently associated with being white and Western-looking (Kubota & Fujimoto, 2013; Romney, 2010). For example, Li and Andres, two ‘native speaker’ teachers of English of Hong Kong and Mexican descent, respectively, who were studied by Javier (2016), report having their ‘nativeness’ questioned on numerous occasions by students, recruiters and colleagues. So while in an SLA researcher’s lab they might be authoritatively proclaimed to be classic ‘native speakers’, they don’t seem to be treated as such in reality.

To illustrate this further, I’d encourage you to watch this short clip.

Another problem is that some multilingual people find it difficult to identify with one or the other group. For example, Faez (2011) studied English teachers in Canada and their feeling of linguistic self-identity. The participants identified with six different categories:

  1. bilingual;
  2. English as a first language speaker;
  3. second-generation English speaker;
  4. English-dominant;
  5. L1-dominant;
  6. English-variety speaker (Faez, 2011, p. 16).

And there is more. Piller (2002), for example, interviewed L2 users of English. A third of them reported they could successfully assume the ‘native speaker’ identity and pass off as one in front of other ‘native speakers’. A curious finding from this study was also that the participants had had their L1 identity, or their ‘nativeness’ questioned at times – corroborating Javier’s (2016) findings. As a result, Piller suggested that being a ‘native speaker’ is something one does, rather than an immutable category bestowed on the individual at birth.

As a proficient speaker of three languages (but possibly a ‘native speaker’ of just one of them), I can completely relate to Piller’s (2002) findings. For example, there are times where I can and in fact do pass for a ‘native speaker’ of Spanish (whether I am one psycholinguistically is a different kettle of fish, but I’m not planning to go to an SLA lab any time soon to find out). In addition, my proficiency in Polish seems to fluctuate a lot too. For example, after prolonged stays abroad some of my relatives or friends have told me I speak in a strange way, and I catch myself translating idioms directly from English or Spanish to Polish.

To sum up, there might be psycholinguistic differences between the two groups. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Especially as far as English is concerned, there are important questions of power, prejudice and racism. To give you an analogy, we’d probably all agree that there are certain biological and physiological differences between men and women. However, we’d also agree that there are many individuals who would find it difficult to subscribe to one or the other category, and that we cannot simply ignore the sociocultural reality when talking about these two groups. And being a ‘native speaker’ is far from so biologically or physiologically clear-cut as being a man or a woman.

What I’m trying to say is that while there MIGHT be psycholinguistic differences between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, we can’t ignore the sociolinguistic aspects. If we do, we are simply – to steal Geoff’s phrase – cheerfully cherry-picking evidence.

Whichever position you subscribe too, though, or even if you’re sitting on the fence; there’s a very important question that remains.

What do we do with the ‘native speaker’?

Paikeday (1985a) tried killing it over forty years ago (see his article May I kill the native speaker?). Not the flesh-and-blood ‘native speaker’, you see, but the term itself as it is currently and uncritically used in linguistics and SLA. To cut a long story short, Paikeday utterly failed.

But many others followed. This time not trying to kill the ‘native speaker’, but offering more neutral and objective terms to use in SLA and ELT. For example Rampton (1990) suggested expert user. Jenkins (2000, 2007, 2015a) proposed using monolingual, bilingual and non-bilingual English speaker, while Paikeday (1985b) – having failed to kill the ‘native speaker’ – suggested proficient user. The problem with all these attempts is that they have had very little impact, and the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are still widely used.

The second option is to continue using the two terms and the acronyms NEST, NNEST, NS and NNS. This has certainly helped put the finger down on the problem of discrimination many ‘non-native speakers’ suffer from. It has also led to an establishment of what some have referred to as a NNEST movement, creation of a NNEST Interest Section by TESOL International, as well as countless articles and books on the topic (Kamhi-Stein, 2016; Selvi, 2014, 2016). However, as Kumaravadivelu (2016) points out, what the NNEST movement has utterly failed at is bringing about a more equal professional ELT field, where teachers are judged on their merits rather than a perceived belonging to one or the other group.

In addition, the continuous use of the two terms and their acronyms has led to a situation where they are accepted as well-defined, objective and value-free. Yet, who is perceived as a ‘native speaker’ is anything but an objective matter, but has everything to do with power, prejudice, ideology and even racism. As Holliday (2013, p.25) writes, the two labels are “ideological, chauvinistic and divisive”, and the quasi-mythological status the ‘native speaker’ enjoys in linguistics, SLA and ELT has very little to do with language proficiency, but everything with opinions and biases (Aboshiha, 2015) that are themselves rooted in the ideology of native speakerism (Holliday, 2005, 2015).

I’d argue – as Davies (2011) did – that both being a ‘native speaker’ and the mother tongue are fundamentally social traits, just as culture is. This ties in with Rampton’s (1990) distinction between language expertise, inheritance and affiliation. In other words, you might be a ‘native speaker’ in terms of language proficiency, however, you don’t necessarily need to have inherited the language, nor to feel affiliated with it. All the other permutations are of course also possible.

What I’m trying to say is that who is a ‘native speaker’ (and who isn’t), just like any aspect of our identity is “dynamic, dialogic, multiple, situated, and, more importantly, contextually negotiated” (Faez, 2011, p.5). It can also evolve over time (see e.g. Hansen, 2004). And there are times in ELT when it’s not you who decides whether you are or aren’t a ‘native speaker’, but the recruiter. Or the students. Or your colleagues.

As a result, I think it’s important that we recognise these complexities and stop treating ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ as if they were well-defined and objectives categories of meaning. The two groups might be different, but the difference is much more complex, nuanced, fuzzy and subjective than what Geoff presented in his post.

So I’m not that surprised after all that Adrian Holliday refuses to review research that treats ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ as though the groups are real and not imagined. Perhaps it’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps Block’s (2003) call for a more socioculturally oriented SLA will be finally heard. At the very least, when used in research, the two categories need to be problematised, and their subjective nature needs to be recognised.

Hence the inverted commas (see Holliday 2005, 2013, 2015). To remind the writer and the reader that ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are very much subjective, ideological and value-laden terms. And to distinguish the flesh and blood ‘native speaker’ (Davies, 2013) from the fantastic beast the NS has become in theoretical linguistics and SLA labs.

If you’re interested in further exploring these issues, you might enjoy the on-line course Going beyond the ‘native speaker’ model in ELT, which I run on TEFL Equity Academy. It’s a 20-hour course where we discuss the issues we touched upon in this blog post in much more detail, and look at the practical implications this discussion has for teachers, trainers and materials writers.


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Kumaravadivelu, B. (2016). The Decolonial Option in English Teaching: Can the Subaltern Act? TESOL Quarterly, 50(1), 66–85.

Rampton, M. B. H. (1990). Displacing the “native speaker”: expertise, affiliation, and inheritance. ELT Journal, 44(2), 97–101.

Romney, M. (2010). The Color of English. In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST Lens: Non Native English Speakers in TESOL (pp. 18–34). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.

Paikeday, T. M. (1985a). May I Kill the Native Speaker? TESOL Quarterly, 19(2), 390–395.

Paikeday, T. M. (1985b). The Native Speaker Is Dead! An Informal Discussion of a Linguistic Myth with Noam Chomsky and Other Linguists, Philosophers, Psychologists, and Lexicographers. Toronto: Paikeday Pub. Inc.

Selvi, A. F. (2014). Myths and Misconceptions about Nonnative English Speakers in the TESOL (NNEST) Movement. TESOL Journal, 5(3), 573–611.

Selvi, A. F. (2016). Native or non-native English-speaking professionals in ELT: “That is the question!” or “Is that the question?” In F. Copland, S. Garton, & S. Mann (Eds.), LETs and NESTs: Voices, Views and Vignettes. (pp. 51–67). London: British Council.

Sorace, A. (2003). ‘Near-nativeness’. In The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition , ed. C. J. Doughty and M. H. Long. Oxford: Blackwell. 130-151.

Recruiting for diversity: a NNS/NS diversity based recruitment policy by Andy Hockley

Note: This is the second of two blog posts. The first sought to explain what diversity is all about and why it is important, and specifically why it is important in our context in language teaching organisations (and indeed what it should mean to us).  This one, the second, is intended to offer some ideas about how we can think about our hiring policies and practices such that we ensure a diverse group of teachers and other staff.

Recruiting for Diversity

An NNS/NS diversity based recruitment policy

In the previous post, hopefully I managed to make it clear why diversity – in all its forms – is something we should strive for. This diversity is a two stage process – firstly an ethical and diversity focussed recruitment policy, and secondly a genuinely inclusive and open communication process as in any learning organisation.

Here, I will be looking at the first of these, the creation of an ethical recruitment policy and set of practices. The second question – that of building a genuine learning organisation – requires more space than a simple blog post will permit.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it is not quite as simple as making it a policy to hire a mixture of native and non-native speakers, or indeed any other policy that promotes a diversity-based recruitment policy. Clearly that is a good first step, and one that needs to be taken if your language teaching organisation (LTO) doesn’t already have such a policy. But even with such a policy we have a number of cognitive biases that are an obstacle to truly making unbiased hiring decisions. We base decisions on our own experiences and often our own autobiography. We also find it very hard, if we are a member of a privileged group, to recognise that privilege. We like to believe that we got where we are through merit alone.  When the status quo is challenged we (those of us of privilege) feel attacked.   This, unfortunately, feels more true today than it ever has, in the year of Brexit and Trump’s election. Bias affects everyone, not just those who are proud of that fact, but also those of us who like to see ourselves as free of any form of prejudice. In short, we are biased, regardless of good intentions or awareness.

Research conducted in firms that championed diversity found that actually during hiring decisions, any of these unconscious biases came to the fore. When candidates were asked to solve maths problems (in the banking sector, for example), men were assumed to be “having a bad day” if they got something wrong, whereas for women it was an indication of a lack of ability. In other examples,  white men who were shy or nervous were seen as modest, whereas non-whites were seen as unassertive. (Burrell, 2016)

In our context, I’ve heard academic managers who are recruiting teachers say that they’d rather hire someone with a CELTA than someone with a three year degree from a pedagogical university. Now it’s possible that there are reasonable reasons for this – some such degrees have no practical component, whereas with someone who has successfully passed the CELTA you know you’re getting someone who’s survived under pressure and has spent, well, 6 hours in the classroom. But be sure, is this decision founded upon genuine reasons or is it simply that “I went through the CELTA, I understand this route into teaching, because it’s just like mine, and therefore I’m comfortable with it”?

So, within your hiring systems you need, as much as possible, to try and remove that bias from the process.  You can do this in part through software – famously, for example, Google uses algorithms as part of its  hiring process – which can remove the possibility that you, the person making the decision, will be unconsciously influenced by something you see on the applicant’s CV, such as name, age, background, and so on – the list of possible things that can subtly touch your inner biases is almost endless!  At present these pre-built software solutions may be beyond the reach of most LTOs, but it is worth looking at what Google or GapJumpers, say, are doing to eliminate bias to see if it can be replicated in some way in your own context.

Once you begin interviewing, you need to be much more structured. In short, stop going with your instinct.  You instinct is biased.  Ask everyone the same questions and in the same order. Make sure (as much as it is humanly possible) to make the process as systematic and objective as you can. Ideally, have an interview panel, which will again reduce the level of subjectivity. We work in education – we know that we can’t rank students’ ability on their answers to entirely different questions, so why do we still do this in interviews?

The key here is to ask the same questions in the same order – and to note down our responses to their answers after each question, not only at the end of the interview. That way we can compare like with like – what everyone said in response to Question 2, for example.

Finally if you find you are choosing between two roughly equally qualified candidates for the same job, then accept that you have biases and choose the one that represents “diversity” more than the other.  I know that sounds like some form of bias in the other direction, but that’s the only way you break down bias. If you’re playing darts and you consistently throw lower than the target you’re aiming at, the only way to counteract that is to aim higher. Higher than feels natural, higher than feels right. Only then will you start breaking out of the habit of shooting low.

In conclusion, diversity (in all its aspects) is important. Many years’ worth of studies show that it improves performance, decisions making, creativity, innovation and flexibility. In our profession, diversity includes hiring non-native speaker teachers as much as it does anything else.  By discriminating in favour of native speaker teachers (whether consciously or unconsciously) we are not helping our own organisations and failing our students.

hockley5042Andy Hockley is the co-ordinator of IATEFL’s Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) and is a freelance educational management consultant and trainer based in deepest Transylvania. He has been training (both teachers and managers) for 20 years and has been coordinating and training on the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) since its inception in 2001. He is co-author of ‘From Teacher to Manager’ (CUP, 2008), ‘Managing Education in the Digital Age’ (The Round, 2014) and author of ‘Educational Management’ (Polirom, 2007).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Bock, L. (2015) Work rules!: Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead. United States: Grand Central Publishing.

Bohnet, I. (2016) How to take the bias out of interviews. Available at: (Accessed: 11 November 2016).

Burrell, L. (2016) We just can’t handle diversity. Available at: (Accessed: 24 August 2016).

Morse, G. (2016) Designing a bias-free organization. Available at: (Accessed: 24 August 2016).

PolicyTerms, A.P. and ConditionsDisclaimerCandidates’Security (2015) Diversity in the workplace benefits employers. Available at: (Accessed: 19 August 2016).

Diversity in recruitment – why should we seek it? by Andy Hockley

Note: This is the first of two blog posts. The first seeks to explain what diversity is all about and why it is important, and specifically why it is important in our context in language teaching organisations (and indeed what it should mean to us).  The second, to follow, will talk about how we can think about our hiring policies and practices such that we ensure a diverse group of teachers and other staff.

What is diversity and why should we seek it?

An introduction to diversity

Diversity in organisations involves hiring and supporting a workforce of people with differences. The typical range of differences mentioned and referred to in the literature include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities and economic backgrounds. The idea of a diverse workplace is that employees work together to create a culture of inclusiveness, where all employees feel valued.

Being part of a diverse organisation has many benefits. One of the most obvious is that an organisation with a diverse range of experiences and points of view to draw from will inevitably have a greater range of approaches to dealing with possible problems or new challenges.  This also clearly illustrates why diversity is not merely about hiring practices – a diverse organisation will not benefit from its diversity if employees are not listened to and have no voice.

Diversity in language teaching organisations

In addition to the differences mentioned above which are meant to be tackled by diversity policies, I would suggest that in language teaching organisations (LTOs), and particularly in the teaching staff, we need also to ensure (as much as possible) a diversity of first language speakers.  Specifically, a mix of native and non-native speaker teachers. I am, of course, aware that the vast majority of LTOs around the world do not have the option of having such a mix, as they can only possibly hire local non-native speaker teachers – this is of course the reality of many contexts. However, for language schools that do have the option of hiring native speaker teachers, the aim should be to hire a diverse teaching body – meaning some native speakers and some non-native speakers – as well as diversity in race, gender, age, etc.

But, why is this form – that is to say speakers of different languages – of diversity important? Why is striking a balance of non-native and native speakers teachers so valuable? There are 4 main reasons

  1. Staffroom Sharing

The great benefit of diversity is having a diverse body of experiences to draw from. It is in staffroom interactions – teachers sharing ideas, getting suggestions, brainstorming ways of dealing with certain students and certain lesson aims – that this is most obviously valuable in the academic side of an LTO. Non-native speakers contribute greatly to these conversations – not only through their own experiences as teachers and as trainee teachers (frequently non-native speaker teachers have gone through much more in depth training than native speakers), but also through their own experiences in learning the target language in the first place. These professional conversations that occur in the better staffrooms are immeasurably enriched by the presence of non-native speaker teachers.

  1. Student Learning

It is difficult to research the effects of different factors on student learning as so many variables come into play. However, there is a slowly growing body of research into the effects of ethnic diversity in the teaching body into student learning in LTOs. The findings of these studies tend to show that there are benefits in having a diverse teaching body because (a) teachers from the “mainstream” privileged groups tend to have lower expectations of students – which in turn tends to result in lower student achievement; and (b) members of minority ethnic groups in the teaching body have a greater understanding of ethnic minority learners’ cultural experiences, and they are better able to serve as role models (Donlevy, Meierkord, and Rajania, 2016).

We cannot simply transpose these early research findings over to the non-native/native speaker question, but it would seem – especially in the case of (b) above – to make sense to at least consider (and research) the benefits that having non-native speaker teachers have on student achievement.

It is also important to note that research has been conducted into students’ attitude towards native speaker and non-native speaker teachers and concluded that students do not have a preference for one over the other (see articles on this site)

  1. Organisational Culture

As with any form of diversity, having a more diverse workforce has a positive impact on organisational culture. Having a variety of viewpoints, a variety of backgrounds, a variety of skillsets, enhances the organisational learning as well as the potential personal mastery of all.

In addition, in many “onshore” LTOs, the commonly observed organisational divide between academic and administrative sides of the school is exacerbated when all the teachers are expatriate native speakers.  A diverse teaching body makes a huge difference in this instance. (By “onshore” in this context, I mean language schools whose market is local, where the languages taught are not – usually – the languages of the country or region in which they are located.  An English language teaching school in Spain, for example, or a school teaching Spanish in Brazil.  By contrast an “offshore” LTO is one for which the market is elsewhere, such as a school teaching English in Australia to students wishing to study in universities there.)

  1. Societal Benefits

The message our organisations promote when they truly embrace diversity is not to be ignored. Offshore LTOs help with promoting wider integration in society when they employ truly ethical hiring practices. Onshore LTOs, on the other hand, provide a model for people in the community to aspire to.

In addition:

Finally, a growing body of literature investigates how the demographic make-up of public organisations affects policy outputs, often focusing on the theory of representative bureaucracy. This literature suggests that public sector organisations (such as schools) are more likely to formulate and implement policies that are in the interest of the service recipients (such as pupils) when they mirror the target population on key demographic dimensions, such as race or ethnicity. (Donlevy, Meierkord, and Rajania, 2016)

I hope that you will see the value, therefore of having a diverse workplace – in all ways. Be they related to race, sexuality, age, gender, ability, socio-economics, and in our particular context, first language.

In my second post, I’ll suggest some ideas regarding recruitment policies and practices that can help to build a more diverse workplace.

hockley5042Andy Hockley is the co-ordinator of IATEFL’s Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) and is a freelance educational management consultant and trainer based in deepest Transylvania. He has been training (both teachers and managers) for 20 years and has been coordinating and training on the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) since its inception in 2001. He is co-author of ‘From Teacher to Manager’ (CUP, 2008), ‘Managing Education in the Digital Age’ (The Round, 2014) and author of ‘Educational Management’ (Polirom, 2007).

Bibliography & Further Reading

  • AlphaMeasure (no date) Diversity in the workplace: Benefits, challenges and solutions. Available at: (Accessed: 23 August 2016).
  • Donlevy, V., Meierkord, A. and Rajania, A. (2016) Study on the diversity within the teaching profession with particular focus on migrant and/or minority background. Available at: (Accessed: 19 August 2016).
  • PolicyTerms, A.P. and ConditionsDisclaimerCandidates’Security (2015) Diversity in the workplace benefits employers. Available at: (Accessed: 19 August 2016).
  • The radical transformation of diversity and inclusion | Deloitte US | inclusion (2015) Available at: (Accessed: 23 August 2016).

In reflection: Lessons learned after 2 years of hiring NNESTS by Andrew Davison

My experience working with NNESTs started just over 2 years ago when I setup my business Learn English Budapest. We’re not a language school, but rather an agency that matches up private English teachers with students in the city. The aim when I set out was to give teachers a convenient alternative to putting up flyers and posting on expat forums.

For the first few months I, like many other schools sadly still do, had a negative opinion of non-native teachers. I assumed natives were simply better at teaching the language, and it wasn’t until I was approached by Marek Kiczkowiak, founder of TEFL Equity Advocates, that I had a chance to really question my views on the matter.

What started as an exchange of emails on the subject of natives vs. NNESTS, turned into an experiment on my part. I decided to start accepting NNESTS onto my team to see what the results were and not even a few of weeks later I realised I’d been making a mistake by avoiding recruiting them.

At the time, I summarised my findings in an interview. Today I’m back, and happy to announce the launch of my new website Teacher Finder. It’s the same concept, except this time we’ll be matching people with language teachers in over a dozen cities worldwide. We’ll also be expanding into new languages: Spanish, Italian, French, Hungarian, Arabic and German, just to name a few. Of course, non-native teachers are more than welcome to apply.

For anyone else out there running an agency or language school, and who might be hesitant to work with NNESTS, I decided to reveal some of my findings over the last 2 years.

Most students value experience more than the mother tongue

When it comes to teaching, it is obvious that the most important qualifications are the teacher’s ability to explain their subject and, well, teach. This is especially true for language teachers. In a world where English is the international lingua franca, and the ranks of non-native speakers outnumber the natives by at least three to one, it is ridiculous to think that non-natives can’t be as good teachers as the “chosen ones” who are born into an English-speaking language environment.

There is one thing you can’t learn from a textbook, however, and that is experience. Whenever I have the choice between an experienced non-native teacher and a newbie native one – the former gets the job. Teaching is one of those professions that is more like an art and it takes everyone time to perfect theirs. That is especially true when it comes to teaching private students – knowing how and to what extent to tailor the offered lessons to the student’s needs is something that only practice can teach.

Students won’t demand a native teacher if you don’t give them the option

Of course, “native” still have a certain stereotype attached to it, and given the option, most people will still opt for one. Indeed, there used to be a tick box on the signup form on the Learn English Budapest website that said, “Do you want a native English teacher? Yes/No”. Not surprisingly, most people ticked native or nothing at all.

I decided to remove this box and instead replace it with a question that asked students “Describe what you perfect teacher would be like?” Over the next few months, it became obvious that students weren’t looking for someone who was native. They were more interested in finding a teacher who shares their interests and can sufficiently explain the topic they’re interested in.

From then on, I have had no students contacting me to complain about being matched with a non-native English teacher. Most are pleasantly surprised to see how well (often, even better than native speakers) NNESTS can explain complicated grammar and draw parallels with their native languages.

NNESTS can be more proactive

One of the factors that speaks loudest in favour of NNESTs is that they have experience with learning a language themselves. They have great understanding of what their students are going through and what might be the biggest obstacles to fluency.

Their own language learning experience has oftentimes also taught them some innovative techniques in how to better explain and understand English.  When I asked my teachers about the secret tips and tricks they find most useful when teaching English, I quickly saw that the NNESTS were the ones who knew so much more about how to keep constantly improving their (and their students’) language skills.

NNESTS tend to have better resources for teaching

Again, since NNESTS have been through the goliath task of becoming fluent in another language, they have most likely scoured the landscape of possible language learning resources to find the best. While NESTs have the luxury to always be able to fall back on being native speakers and can come up with “resources” off the top of their heads, NNESTs usually cover that gap by being a lot better prepared for lessons.

They’re also the ones to introduce students to more off-the-book language learning methods and help them improve quicker with language hacking. I’ve noticed that, as a rule, they also put a lot more effort into creating their own resources and combining different strategies to find the best way to teach any given student.

When it comes to teaching children, NNESTS often do best

When I think back to my own school days and the foreign language classes we had, I can’t remember a single native language teacher. When it comes to beginners and children, the ability to explain a language in their native language and to limit the pressure learners feel is irreplaceable.

When I was young and taking my first Spanish lessons, I wouldn’t have survived being confronted with an actual Spanish person listening to me make a mockery of their language. From what I’ve learned from the feedback I get from students they often feel the same way when they’re just starting off. The more advanced ones might be happy to be pushed out of their comfort zone, but children don’t tend to thrive in that environment.

Conclusion – While stereotypes about native teachers remain, NNESTs are often better equipped to teach English

Even on Teacher Finder, we still get people asking for native English teachers but, more often than not, they will not press the issue. We’ve also successfully managed to explain the benefits that come with having non-native English teachers.

I would say the biggest upside to having a NNEST teaching you is that they fully understand what you’re going through as a language learner. Since they themselves have struggled with the same grammar issues, they have an insight into what it takes to clearly explain the rules. This is especially important when teaching children, who can get discouraged by having a native teacher.

Although it, regretfully, took me a while to get there, I now realise that NNESTs can be better equipped and prepared to take on students than native teachers. In the end, all that really matters to students is to find someone they can connect with and who makes language learning fun, no matter whether they’re native or non-native.

andrew5041Andrew Davison is the founder of Teacher Finder and also enjoys writing and travelling in his spare time. He splits his time between living in London and Budapest.

TESOL Spain position statement against discrimination

Recently, TESOL Spain has issued a position statement against discrimination in ELT, opposing job ads that require the candidate to be a ‘native speaker’, have ‘native-like’ fluency, or speak with ‘standard’ English. I had a chance to talk to the current president of TESOL Spain, Annie Altamirano, to find out a bit more about the statement and why it was issued. We also had a chat about how TESOL Spain is planning to put the statement into practice, promoting equality in Spanish ELT and supporting both their ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ members. We finished off by talking about ELT in Spain and what still needs to be done so that teachers are recruited and valued based on their skills, rather than their first language.

In compliance with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, TESOL-SPAIN stands in opposition to discrimination against teachers on the basis of their national, ethnic or linguistic background, religion, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, in terms of hiring, promotion, recruitment for jobs, or employment conditions.

With respect to the common, long-standing notion, unsupported by research, that a certain ethnicity, accent, or national background gives a person an advantage as a teacher of English, TESOL-SPAIN firmly believes that all teachers should be evaluated and valued solely on the basis of their teaching competence, teaching experience, formal education and linguistic expertise. Therefore, TESOL-SPAIN does not condone job announcements that list “native English,” “native command of English,” “native-like fluency,” “standard accented English,” or similar, as required or desirable qualities.

The statement is available on TESOL Spain website here.

What can we do to promote equal professional opportunities for NS and NNS in ELT? How can I get involved?

Two days after Silvana Richardson’s brilliant plenary: The Native factor (read more about it here), there was an equally fascinating Q&A session. However, since it was impossible to address all the questions posed by the audience then and there, Silvana and I decided we would continue the discussion on this blog. We gathered all the questions and divided them into four groups according to the emerging topics:

  1. NS and NNS labels: a false dichotomy? – read the questions, the comments, and join the discussion here.
  2. Proficiency: is there a minimum level for a language teacher? – read the questions, the comments (99 and still counting), and join the discussion here.
  3. NS and NNS identity: issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority. – read the questions, the comments, and join the discussion here.
  4. What can we do to advance equality in ELT? How can I get involved?

This is the fourth post with questions on the topic of what can be done to promote equality in ELT. We’d like to invite you to answer the questions below in the comments section. We’ll then gather the answers and post a follow-up article also including our comments.

What can we do [516775]

Designed by @tekhnologicblog

  1. What can be done to address this problem on initial teacher training courses?
  2. How can we encourage other teaching associations to get involved?
  3. What’s the next step – what can we do? How do we organise?
  4. How can I change the parents’ or headmaster’s attitude towards NESTs and NNESTs?
  5. How do we deal with a government that wants NESTs and has strict visa restrictions for NNESTs from abroad?

If you’d like to get involved in TEFL Equity campaign, check out the Get involved page here for ideas about what you can do. And feel free to get in touch too.

If you’re interested in reading up a bit on NS and NNS issues, native speakerism or English as a Lingua Franca, check out the Reading List section with links to academic publications that are freely available on the internet. If you prefer to watch something, check out Videos section for a selection of talks and interviews.

NS and NNS identity: issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority.

Two days after Silvana Richardson’s brilliant plenary: The Native factor (read more about it here), there was an equally fascinating Q&A session. However, since it was impossible to address all the questions posed by the audience then and there, Silvana and I decided we would continue the discussion on this blog. We gathered all the questions and divided them into four groups according to the emerging topics:

  1. NS and NNS labels: a false dichotomy? – read the questions, the comments, and join the discussion here.
  2. Proficiency: is there a minimum level for a language teacher? – read the questions, the comments (99 and still counting), and join the discussion here.
  3. NS and NNS identity: issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority.
  4. What can we do to advance equality in ELT? How can I get involved.

This is the third post with questions on the topic of identity, issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority. We’d like to invite you to answer the questions below in the comments section. We’ll then gather the answers and post a follow-up article also including our comments.


Designed by @tekhnologic

  1. The NNEST voice is an incredibly powerful source of quality exposure for learners in low-resource environments. How can we encourage NNESTs to value it?
  2. How can we cope as NNESTs when stakeholders want students to learn native speaker accents?
  3. How to overcome self-esteem and self-confidence problems many NNESTs face?
  4. What about NNESTs teaching away from their home countries? Where do they fit in the NEST and NNEST debate? What is their status?

Next week we will post the remaining topic on what you can do to support equal professional and employment opportunities for NS and NNS in ELT. So if you’re interested in continuing the discussion, stay tuned. Follow the blog on Twitter, FB or via email so you don’t miss any of the discussion. You can also read the questions, comments, and get involved in the discussion on NS and NNS labels: a false dichotomy here, and on Proficiency: is there a minimum level for a language teacher? here.

And if you’re interested in reading up a bit on NS and NNS issues, native speakerism or English as a Lingua Franca, check out the Reading List section with links to academic publications that are freely available on the internet. If you prefer to watch something, check out Videos section for a selection of talks and interviews.