Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: A Journey from EFL to ELF

I’m really excited that a book I’ve cowritten with Robert Lowe Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: A Journey from EFL to ELF has now officially been sent to press for printing and should be published in February 2019 🙂

It’s been a long year and a half in the making, and it’s taken us on a fascinating journey. And I don’t think any of us knew exactly where we were going when we started off. Let me explain.

Both me and Robert have been interested in the issue of native speakerism for the last several years, and we both did a PhD on the topic and have published an article together. However, while a substantial body of research has emerged over the years outlining the negative effects native speakerism has on our profession, it became increasingly (and frustratingly perhaps) apparent that there were few practical solutions how we can address native speakerism.

And by native speakerism I don’t mean here simply the discrimination in job ads and professional opportunities, which is perhaps the most visible, but only one of many manifestations of the ideology on our profession.

Native speakerism is a prejudice, an ideology which positions certain individuals as superior or inferior based on their perceived belonging to a ‘native speaker group. And the word perceived is vital, because who gets to be labelled a ‘native’ or a ‘non-native speaker’ is often subjective and ideological.

And similarly to other ideologies, such as sexism or racism, native speakerism does not spread in a vacuum, but is maintained, normalised and justified by powerful, but at the same time seemingly common sense, discourses. These in turn are visible in social practices within our profession.

To give you one example, a fundamental native speakerist discourse or belief is the idea that any ‘native speaker’ is by definition a better model and thus a better teacher of pronunciation. This is clearly reflected not only in biased hiring policies, but also in the fact that we might emphasise standard ‘native speaker’ accents and pronunciation in our materials.

So, what became more and more apparent to us was that the ideology of native speakerism has also very profound effects on how we perceive the English language, its users and – perhaps even more importantly – on how we teach the language.

Our main premise is then that in order to attempt to tackle some of the fundamental beliefs that help spread native speakerism, we need to rethink our approach to teaching English and aim to move from a foreign language that is learnt to communicate with an idealised ‘native speaker’ to a lingua franca that is learnt to communicate globally with a wide variety of English users.

And here is how the book is structured:

Similarly to previous methodology books published by DELTA , the book is divided into three parts:

  1. Part A outlines the theoretical underpinnings for our arguments
  2. Part B gives teachers over 40 practical activities to help them raise awareness of ELF and native speakerism among their students, as well as teach crucial skills needed for communicating in international lingua franca contexts, covering pronunciation, lexis and grammar, communication, intercultural skills, pronunciation and listening
  3. Part C addresses specific areas of teaching which couldn’t be addressed in Part A or B, such as writing materials, teacher training and education, English for academic purposes and business English.

Before the book is published in February 2019, I will be sharing some sample materials so you can take a sneak peek inside it. But if you’re already interested, and would like to

  • be the first one to know when the book is published,
  • get all the updates right in your inbox,
  • download the sample materials as pdfs and use in your classes

then click on the button below to join the pre-launch waiting list:

 

I will also be giving away an exclusive 30-day FREE trial to TEFL Equity Academy once it launches next year to all those who join the pre-launch list.

We’d love to hear what your thoughts about the book are so far, so definitely leave us a comment below.

Understand and Untangle Native Speakerism to Get Hired as a Non-Native Speaker Teacher

Our usual first contact with native speakerism might be seeing countless ads for ‘native speakers’ only or for ‘native level’ teachers.

As ‘non-native speakers’ we might also experience native speakerism when we get turned down for a job, because of our mother tongue (despite having all the right qualifications)

Or when we hear that we can’t teach pronunciation well, because we have a foreign accent.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg…

So if as a profession we are serious about tackling native speakerism and promoting equality, it is vital we understand what native speakerism and how it is spread and normalised in ELT.

Also, as a ‘non-native speaker, this will help you better understand the reasons why many recruiters prefer ‘native speakers’ and learn how to tackle these so you can increase your job opportunities.

That’s why in this video you will learn what the ideology of native speakerism is so that you are better prepared to respond to it.

If you want more tips like these that will boost your chances of getting hired as a ‘non-native speaker’, download my FREE guide “6 Fool-Proof Tips to Boost Your Professional Profile and Get Hired as a Non-Native Speaker Teacher”.

Click on the button below to get it via FB Messenger:

Or via email:

The ‘native speaker’ myth: vocabulary

The other day when I was scrolling through FB, I came across this post by Hugh Dellar:

It reminded me of the assumption that many students, but also teachers and recruiters, hold; namely, that:

a) any ‘native speaker’ knows more vocabulary than any ‘non-native speaker’ can ever hope to know

b) as a result, any ‘native speaker’ makes a better teacher of vocabulary.

So when discussing this issue on-line, you might come across comments like this:

Intuitively, it might seem rather plausible, perhaps even common sense, that a ‘native speaker’ will know more lexis. That they will have an intuitive feel for the language. An innate knowledge of idioms and phrasal verbs.

It might then be argued that a ‘native speaker’ would also be the best teacher of vocabulary. After all, who would explain the nuances and intricacies of the language better than a ‘native speaker’? Who would be able to provide better real-life examples of how a given word is used in context?

  • So are ‘native speakers’ by definition expert informants on vocabulary?
  • And does this make them expert instructors too?

Before you dive in and watch the video below where I examine this issue, let me also make it crystal clear here that I am by no means arguing that by definition ‘native speakers’ are worse teachers. Nor am I suggesting that by definition ‘non-native speakers’ are better.

What I am suggesting is that the nativeness is irrelevant. That what matters is the teacher’s pedagogical preparation and ability to do the job.

Would love to hear what you think, so let me know in the comments section below 🙂

And if you’re a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher who would like to boost their confidence and to learn how to significantly increase their chances of getting hired, download my FREE pdf guide “6 Fool-Proof Tips to Boost Your Professional Profile and Get Hired as a Non-Native Speaker Teacher”.

Click on the button below to get it via FB Messenger:

Or via email:

What do students think and feel about Native Speaker English? by Steve McVeagh

Why is this important? 

Six years ago, during postgraduate study, I first considered the idea that Native Speaker English (NSE) might not be the one English model to rule them all. I read Bhatt and Pennycook  on Singaporean and Indian English, and others, and Modiano and Jenkins  on universal concepts like EIL. There was support for the orthodoxy in Kuo, and Timmis notably brought students’ views into the discussion.

In these times of extensive choice, it should be possible to provide different approaches and models for different students, depending on their reasons for learning the language. Yet I wasn’t convinced this was happening in classrooms around the world. I felt much of this debate was taking place in academic circles, while students performed in a separate sphere. While educators obviously need to discuss what is best for learners, this should be intertwined with awareness of what drives those learners. I wanted to delve deeper into this.

What was investigated?

My research was titled “Are learners’ attitudes to Native Speaker English compatible with their expected use of English in the future?” I had a questionnaire of 11 multi-choice questions, some with subdivisions, answered by 74 English learners. There were five questions on students’ feelings about NSE, and how much these were reflected in their use of the language. Three more probed expected future use, the other three related to learning histories. Results from these latter two groups of questions were cross-tabulated with those concerning attitudes, to look for patterns that may have explained the existence of beliefs.

More than anything, the data revealed the need for further investigation. If a final answer to the title question was required, it would be negative.

I found no clear link between what students had done, or intended to do, and how they felt about, or used, NSE. There was overall, but not overwhelming, support for the traditional view placing NSE atop the mountain of models but there was no clear correlation with any specific conditions to suggest factors that influenced that view, or alternative ones. I will return to the significance of this lack of definitiveness later.

Before that, a look at the results.

Attitudes to NSE

I wanted to see if learners worked towards NSE in their practice. In Q1, respondents were asked to choose which one of three sentences they felt most akin to. 52% went for the evidently pro-NSE option: “When I use English I always try to use it like a Native Speaker.” The other options were the opposing “I don’t try to use English like a Native Speaker.” (19%), and the more centrist, EIL flavoured “When I use English I use what I think is best for the person I am using it with.”(29%)

Q2 surveyed respondents’ (dis)agreement with several positions – “NSs use the correct style of English” (66% agreed); “NSE is only important for use with NSs” (64% disagreed); “Using NSE makes speaking English harder for NNSs” (59% disagreed). These around two-thirds majorities were still less than I had expected, based on my classroom experience.

I wondered if the pro-NSE feelings I had heard expressed so often had been given uncritically whereas here there was deeper consideration of the topic. That there was stronger support for pro-NSE views, in Q2’s results, than for NSE use, in Q1’s, may hint that how learners actually use English doesn’t always match their stated beliefs about the learning process (although this analysis was later contradicted somewhat– see Q11).

Expected future use

The next question started looking at the future for reasons for attitudes. There was roughly a half-half split for those who expected to live in an NS country, and those who didn’t. The more noteworthy point was that future plans seemed to have no bearing on views of NSE. The 52% of NSE-aligned users from Q1, and the ⅔ of pro-NSE views from Q2, were replicated across both groups in Q3. One might expect the respondents showing pro-NSE attitudes in Qs 1 and 2 to have made up the bulk of those bound for NS countries. Yet there was just as much support for NSE as prestige from those not intending to live in an NS culture.

This theme was repeated in much of the subsequent results. Indeed, it was probably the outstanding point.

Another question concerned whom the respondents expected to use English with. Most chose either a mix, or “mostly NSs”. A few chose “mostly NNSs”. Again, the 52% pro-NSE score from Q1 was more or less repeated across each of the fields. Those choosing “mostly NSs” had not expressed more pro-NSE views than those choosing “mostly non-NSs”. So, if we assume an ideal route from (non)NSE-centric use and practice to participation in (non)NSE culture, we would conclude from this that attitudes to NSE were not compatible with future use.

There were several questions – one on how much they expected to use English at work/ socially/ consuming media, and two on learning correct grammar and idiomatic English – that all returned very one-sided results. They expected to use English everywhere, and wanted to learn all facets. There was no value in cross referencing these results to look for patterns among different sub-groups.

Possible reasons from the past

Q8 saw the focus shift to the past. It asked who respondents’ teachers had been, and found a roughly equal split of NSs and NNSs. Again, when analysed in conjunction with results for Qs 1 and 2, no clear differential appeared. The NSE-imitating 52% from Q1 went up to almost 60% for students with more NSTs, and down to below 50% for their counterparts with more NNSTs – an expected direction of movement, perhaps.

However, support both for NSE’s being “the correct style”, and for saying it doesn’t “make communication harder” was less likely among those with more NSTs than among all respondents – probably an unexpected direction of movement.  The idea that NSE is only important when communicating with NSs was unaffected – results for this part of Q2 were closely replicated across all sub-groups of Q8.

Question 9 asked where people had learned English – the bulk had done so in NNS countries. Question 10 focused on learning activities – realia, L2 only classes, learning about NS countries. The main theme continued –scores from Qs 1 and 2 were reflected across nearly all the different response fields. There was one deviation – among those who had learned in “mostly NS countries”. 63% of these always tried to use NSE. Comparing this with the 52% figure from Q1 suggests some environmental influence, this time adhering to the “ideal route”.

Attitudes to NSE (again)

Q11 returned to the topic of views of NSE. 54% said it was easier to communicate with NNSs. Less than half of these (23% of all participants) said they always try to use NSE. A tick in the box for the pro-intelligibility model, perhaps?

Maybe, but 88% of all participants said they prefer to communicate with NSs.

So, a discrepancy between what is easier and what students prefer. It might be that students like to test themselves in tougher waters, presumably in pursuit of the holy grail of NS proficiency. This, though, is at odds with a comparison of the first two questions’ returns, showing more people value NSE than always try to use it.

What next?

So, a mixed bag element to the final piece of analysis, to add to the absence of obvious factors shaping students’ thoughts and actions about the English they use. There wasn’t unfettered love for NSE, nor wholesale dismissal of it. More tellingly, there was no obvious commitment towards practising that which would best suit their futures, while examining backgrounds did not reveal prominent influence either. Yet all this is, in itself, revealing.

If students are not acting in accordance with how they have been taught, or with what they hope to achieve, or, even, what they claim to believe, then the systems that are teaching them are surely not running as smoothly as they could.

For all the academic arguments about NSE, EIL et al, it seems students are ploughing on none the wiser. Discussions regarding what model is best for students to learn will doubtless continue, but they’ll fall short in their impact if the learners are disconnected.

At the very least, there are clearly other factors affecting their views and actions in this area. We need to know more about their hopes, desires, and motives. We can form ideas about what is best in relation to students’ intentions, but these should be partnered with knowledge of why they feel something similar or different. Knowing more about where they’ve come from, where they’re going, and why, is vital to helping them on their journey. A good deal more research in this area is required.

About the Author

Steve McVeagh has previously taught in India, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, and Spain. He has an MA in English Language Teaching, in which he studied socio-political and cultural factors around native speaker English, and this remains a main area of interest for him. He is now teaching online, with students from all around the world.

Link to questionnaire

Link to results

References:

Bhatt, R.M. (2001) World Englishes, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 30, pp 527-550

Pennycook, A. (2008) English as a Language Always in Translation, European Journal of  English Studies, Vol. 12 (1) April, pp. 33-47.

Modiano, M. (2000) Linguistic Imperialism, cultural integrity and EIL, ELT Journal, Vol. 55 (4)  pp339-346

Jenkins, J. (2002). A sociolinguistically based, empirically researched pronunciation syllabus for English as an International Language, Applied Linguistics, Vol. 23(1), pp. 83-103.

Kuo, I. V. (2006) Addressing the issue of teaching English as a Lingua Franca, ELT Journal Vol. 60 (3) pp. 213–21.

Timmis, I. (2002) ‘Native-speaker norms and international English: a classroom view’. ELT Journal Vol. 56(3)pp 240–9.

What makes an effective English teacher? A research project

Last weekend I had the pleasure to present at IATEFL Poland annual conference.

The program was full of interesting workshops and talks, and I was particularly interested in seeing Jasmina Sazdovska‘s and Zsuzsanna Soproni‘s presentation What Makes an Effective English Language Teacher?

There is so much discussion about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ that we actually often forget about what actually matters; that is, teaching effectiveness.

We argue endlessly whether ‘native speakers’ are better pronunciation teachers (coz they have the ‘natural’, ‘original’ accent, right?).

We provide evidence why ‘non-native speakers’ are better at teaching grammar (coz they studied it, so they must know it, right?)

While this line of research has been incredibly popular – starting with Medgyes’ Who’s worth more: a NS or a NNS? – it has since been criticised as the comparative fallacy (Mahboob, 2005; Moussu & Llurda, 2008; Selvi, 2014).

To me, it’s always seemed that it did little to promote equality and a lot to further perpetuate the divide between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. In a nutshell, it’s a bit like fighting stereotypes with more stereotypes (see this post by Michael Griffin about it).

After all, the fact that SOME ‘non-native speakers’ are quite effective at teaching grammar, doesn’t mean ALL or even the majority is. Nor does it mean that they should be assigned grammar classes because they are ‘non-native speakers’.

Unfortunately, in many contexts ‘non-native speakers’ ARE frequently assigned grammar classes (surely, they must know it inside out, right?), while their ‘native’ counterparts might commonly be given conversation classes (you know, they probably don’t know the difference between past simple or present perfect, anyway…).

While no one – I hope- would ever consider assigning different classes to male and female teachers (oh, you know, surely female teachers are more empathetic and compassionate, so…), we do assign different classes, and different stereotypical strengths and weaknesses, to ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ teachers.

What I also find worrying is that the supposed strengths and weaknesses of ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ are immediately attributed to their ‘nativeness’, or lack thereof. This is in fact what essentially Medgyes’ (and colleagues’) research has done.

Such an approach could be argued to further perpetuate native speakerism (rather than contribute to tackling it), which is something we wrote about with Robert Lowe in our paper Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study, which you can read here.

In other words, some ‘non-native speakers’ are NOT effective at teaching grammar BECAUSE they are ‘non-native’.

They are effective at teaching grammar, because they studied it. Because their teacher training program emphasised it.

Teachers are good (or bad) teachers not because of where they were born, or which language they unwittingly picked up as kids.

They are good (or bad) teachers because of the training they received. Because of their experience. Because of the professional development they have engaged in.

The reasons can be numerous. And what makes an effective English teacher is also a complex issue probably also dependent on the sociocultural and educational context.

Which brings me back to Jasmina’s and Zsuzsanna’s research, which – as they put it – aims to “look into different English teacher profiles and qualifications, as opposed to the mere native/non-native divide”.

The research is still ongoing, and Jasmina and Zsuzsanna are still collecting responses from participants. If you’d like to take part, click here to complete the survey.

References:

Lowe, R. J., & Kiczkowiak, M. (2016). Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study. Cogent Education, 3(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2016.1264171

Mahboob, A. (2005). Beyond the native speaker in TESOL. In S. Zafar (Ed.), Culture, Context, & Communication. (pp. 60–93). Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Center of Excellence for Applied Research and Training & The Military Language Institute. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/816218/Beyond_the_native_speaker_in_TESOL

Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340–349. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/46.4.340

Moussu, L. M., & Llurda, E. (2008). Non-native English-speaking English language teachers: History and research. Language Teaching, 41(03), 315–348. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444808005028

Selvi, A. F. (2014). Myths and Misconceptions about Nonnative English Speakers in the TESOL (NNEST) Movement. TESOL Journal, 5(3), 573–611. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.158

My ELT Voyage as a Non-White Native Speaker by Sulaiman Jenkins

“Finally, it needs to be stressed that if ELT wants to develop into a profession rather than remaining a largely unlegislated industry, then it should aim to eradicate all forms of discrimination. To evolve into a profession, the ELT community needs to challenge and remove from its belief system the notion that ‘some speakers are more equal than others,’ to give all members of the TESOL community the justice and equality that they deserve” (Mahboob, 2009, pg. 38).

These are profound words written by Ahmar Mahboob and still ring true almost a decade later.

As a field, we have come a long way in raising awareness of the issues of racism and discrimination (however uncomfortable that has been), but we still have a lot of work to do. I wish to preface this post by saying in no way, shape or form is anything written intended to be antagonizing. I also submit that in discussing this issue, one must walk a very fine line.

On the one hand, we cannot be over-sensitive such that any and everything is considered racism: on the other, we cannot be dismissive of people’s lived experiences and pretend that a problem doesn’t exist.

It is hoped that this post continues the discussion and generates healthy and insightful dialogue with the many bright minds and compassionate hearts in ELT, but from a perspective not heard from too often in our field.

Lastly, I cannot fail to acknowledge the tremendous support I’ve received from the many accessible professionals/academics who have helped me along the way in my career. They are (in no particular order) Maureen McGarvey of IH, Jennifer Jenkins, Adrian Holliday, Julie Ciancio, Travis Bristol, Ali Selvi, Marek Kiczkowiak, and Andy Hockley. Your encouragement and guidance have been invaluable.

BLACK, ‘NATIVE’, & ACADEMIC: A UNIQUE SPACE

No doubt, racism and discrimination exist in the world, and yes even in a nice field like TESOL (Kubota, 2002). While quantifiable data would reveal the extent to which we have a problem with racism, our eyes and our ears tell us that there is indeed a problem.

We have an obligation to tackle these unpleasantries so that human beings can enjoy basic freedoms; among them is having an equal opportunity to earn a living and live a decent life. These freedoms are granted by national and international laws (United Nations), and a basic requisite of employment should always be one’s competence and skill set, and nothing more.

That said, many non-White and ‘non-native’ teaching professionals in ELT still find obstacles to employment based on factors such as skin tone, mother tongue, nationality, and religion. That we even need to articulate this in 2018 is symptomatic of a deeply rooted and terribly stubborn problem.

I now share with you my story as an ELT professional. For me, I occupy a very unique space in TESOL: a black (non-White), ‘native speaking’ academic. From this space, I have:

  1. been denied employment based simply on appearance, regardless of qualifications and
  2. benefited, financially and otherwise, from being a ‘native speaker’.

The last space in this matrix that I occupy is having the ability to contribute to academia in ELT (in my own small way) because of the scholarly tools I was fortunate to gain from an elite education.

To articulate how it feels occupying all of these spaces, often at the same time, is beyond difficult. There are

  • feelings of anger because of marginalization (employment opportunities vanishing simply because of my appearance)
  • feelings of guilt from “remorseful entitlement” (despite being disadvantaged at times due to color, I have an advantage due to native speakerism, and this is something I’ve expressed as being unfair with my ‘non-native’ colleagues)
  • and feelings of tremendous hope and opportunity (that I have a platform to speak out against what I feel is not correct and provide a mouthpiece for a significant segment of the ELT community largely unheard from).

All of these factors contribute uniquely to my experience as a black teacher in TESOL and have laid the groundwork for why I believe I need to be more proactive in being part of the solution to this salient problem.

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION

My teaching experience so far in almost 15 years of teaching has been largely positive. I have been fortunate to

  • have published commentaries,
  • have attended amazing conferences,
  • have held important administrative positions,
  • and have met some fantastic people.

With that, I have also had interesting experiences with issues of discrimination and race. These experiences have mainly revolved around employment discrimination and perceived native speakerism.

I also want to make it clear that I’m speaking from my experience in the context of the Middle East. Other black professionals may have had different experiences (some better, some worse) in other parts of the world, and even different experiences in the Middle East. That said, I know from my conversations with countless other black teaching professionals here that my experience reverberates with many others in the field.

When I’m applying for a position, as a principle and a strategy, I generally don’t hand in passport pages or photos with initial applications (unless stipulated otherwise). My rationale is that I want to be judged first and foremost on my credentials, not how I look.

I was told early in my career, from white and black colleagues, that sometimes recruiters simply reject applications if a candidate is non-White. They encouraged me to “at least get in the door” by being invited to interview because at that stage, it would be more difficult to be rejected.


[Note from the editor] If you’d like to boost your chances of being hired as a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher (even if you’ve been turned down before), download this FREE pdf guide “Six Fool-Proof Tips to Boosting Your Professional Profile and Getting Hired” via FB Messenger:

Or Email:


Interestingly, some of this advice has come from white colleagues who were in charge of recruitment and operating under the directive(s) of their superior. Over time, adopting this approach has indeed exposed some recruiters for being explicitly discriminatory at worst, highly unprofessional at best.

One incident in particular was when I applied to a language institute in Italy. I initially received high praise from the recruiter because of my educational background, academic accomplishments and for being a ‘native speaker’. He was very excited to conduct the interview just as a matter of formality, and he requested the first page of my passport, which I sent.

Unabashed, he sent me an email within minutes saying the position was filled and thanked me for applying.

Ooookay. He really went there?

Bewildered, I had hoped that he was being truthful, but after asking him to explain his previous behavior (high praise if the position was already filled) and receiving no response, I couldn’t shake the idea that I was “qualified” for the job but not what he was “looking for”.

This would happen to me two other times, once for a job in Morocco and the other for a job in Saudi Arabia. In a market underpinned by native speakerism, it seems that some ‘native speakers’ are more equal than others. 

PERCEIVED NATIVE SPEAKERISM

As a black ELT professional, I’ve also often experienced the phenomenon that a ‘native speaker’ can only be White.

Before leaving the US, I was never once questioned about my identity as an American; outside of the US in Saudi Arabia and Morocco has been a different story. In these places whenever someone asks me where I’m from, and I tell them New York City, whether I’m speaking to students, local teachers, or general people, the follow up question is almost always: “No, I mean where are you really from…like originally”?

At first, I used to spend literally 10-15 minutes giving a mini history lesson about how no one is “originally” from America (we’re all immigrants essentially), and that yes black people came over from Africa, but after 400 years we’ve sort of forgotten where we come from exactly.

I quickly picked up that some people outside the US may not view black people as being American, regardless of the countless number of black Americans who are historically or currently world famous.

This has a direct influence on teaching in English class because the formula becomes “originally American = native speaker = good quality”, whereas “not originally American = non-native speaker = lesser quality”. When you’re teaching a class, it’s mind numbing to have to think about the fact that sometimes the value of your teaching will be commensurate with how convinced students are of your “Americanness”: that being perceived as not originally being from America has some influence on the perception of the quality of one’s teaching.

In other contexts, the black experience in the classroom has been even more flagrant. Charles (2017), conducting narrative inquiry research with black teachers in South Korea, asked teachers to document some of their classroom interactions. The study found that professionals had to constantly shake students’ perceptions of blacks as “uneducated…dangerous…[and]… untrustworthy”, perceptions which had been recycled in South Korean media, and the teachers had to devise pedagogical strategies to combat misrepresentations of black Americans.

NON-WHITE/ ‘NON-NATIVE’ SPEAKER OVERLAP

From these experiences, I have grown highly sensitive to the plight of my fellow ‘non-native speakers’, and here I revisit the inherently biased and discriminatory nature of the ‘native speaker’ model.

Ostensibly, ‘native speaker’ means someone who grew up in an English speaking country and has essentially spoken the language from birth, but in reality it has often been used synonymously with being a White speaker from an English speaking country.

Used this way, the model becomes a mechanism to exclude non-Whites from employment, as I have (hopefully) evidenced here. Used another way, the ‘native speaker’ model becomes a mechanism to exclude professionals who hold passports of non–English speaking countries from employment on the basis of being ‘non-native’. It is even used to justify paying ‘non-native’ speakers lower salaries for equal work.

I could go on and on, but this inequality cannot. A teacher, regardless of field or industry, should only be judged on his/ her merit, competence, rapport, innovation, efficiency and passion. Any other criteria are irrelevant, and by judging one on what truly matters, the “justice and equality” Mahboob alluded to will finally be served.

Racism and discrimination have no place in education, and we must work hard to ensure that every teaching professional has an equal opportunity to earn a decent living.


[Note from the editor] If you’d like to boost your chances of being hired as a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher (even if you’ve been turned down before), download this FREE pdf guide “Six Fool-Proof Tips to Boosting Your Professional Profile and Getting Hired” via FB Messenger:

Or Email:


[This post was originally published by Sulaiman Jenkins on his blog here, and is reproduced here with his permission]

sulaiman jenkins 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:

Charles, Q. D. (2017). Black Teachers of English in South Korea (Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University of Pennsylvania).

Kubota, R. (2002). The author responds: (Un) Raveling racism in a nice field like TESOL. TESOL Quarterly36 (1), 84-92.

Mahboob, A. (2009). Racism in the ELT industry. In A. Mahboob & C. Lipovsky (Eds.) Studies in Applied Linguistics and Language Learning. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Ndura, E. (2004). ESL and cultural bias: an analysis of elementary through high school textbooks in the western United States of America. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 17(2), 143-153.

United Nations. (1958). Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention. Geneva: OHCHR. Retrieved June 29, 2018 from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/ Pages/EmploymentAndOccupation.aspx.

Mike Long’s Task Based Language Teaching and Native Speakerism

In April I had the pleasure of finally reading Mike Long’s Second Language Acquisition and Task Based Language Teaching. I was incredibly impressed with the academic rigour, the breadth and depth of the writer’s knowledge, but most of all (as a practising teacher) with the far-reaching practical implications. Having said that, there was one aspect which kept on cropping up throughout the book that made me uncomfortable, namely the idea that authentic language and texts are those produced by ‘native speakers’, and that these ‘native speakers’ are by definition better models of the language and task performance.

To me this is a prime example of how deeply ingrained the ideology of native speakerism is in the minds not just of students who demand classes with ‘native speakers’ or recruiters who refuse to hire ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, but also in the minds of ELT and SLA professionals.

Before I move on to show a few examples of native speakerism that I encountered in Long’s book, let’s first define what native speakerism is.

What is native speakerism?

The term native speakerism was originally coined by Holliday (2005, 2006), who used it in reference to the notion that the linguistic and pedagogical ideals of teaching English spring from Western culture, which a ‘native speaker’ embodies. Houghton and Rivers (2013a) point out that native speakerism has its roots in the dichotomous discourse of us and them, ‘native speakers’ and ‘non-native speakers’, where the former are usually seen as the norm and ideal both in terms of language use and teaching skills, while the latter as deficient and inferior. Thus native speakerism can be understood as

a prejudice, stereotyping and/or discrimination, typically by or against foreign language teachers, on the basis of either being or not being perceived and categorized as a native speaker of a particular language. (…) Its endorsement positions individuals from certain language groups as being innately superior to individuals of other language groups (Houghton & Rivers, 2013a, p. 14).

Of course, as any ideology, native speakerism does not spread in a vacuum, but is maintained, supported and normalised by powerful discourses which make it seem justifiable and acceptable. These are then used as a basis of social practices and actions.

To give one example, native speakerism is supported by the discourse that ‘native speakers’ are better models of the language for our students, and therefore students should be exposed to ‘native speaker’ language in class in order to improve their proficiency. This might lead us to select predominantly materials created by and for ‘native speakers’.

Native speakerism and Long’s TBLT

So how is native speakerism manifested in Long’s discussion of TBLT?

The first clue is how authenticity is construed in the book. For example, Long defines genuine tasks as those “originally designed for native speaker – native speaker communication, not LT” (p.21).

Later he defines authentic materials as “genuine texts, such as song lyrics, news broadcasts, films, newspaper articles, and textbook chapters, originally created by and for native speakers (NSs), not for LT to non-natives” (p.249).

You could argue that in both cases Long’s emphasis is on the fact that authentic texts are not created specifically for language teaching, which is something that I think we’d all agree with.

However, if this was the case, why mention that authentic texts are created by and for ‘native speakers’? Wouldn’t it be enough to say that authentic texts are those originally not intended or created for language teaching and learning?

It would unless you believe that only ‘native speakers’ can be the choice of authentic material and real language.

An interesting indication that this might indeed be what Long believes can be found on p. 271, where Long presents a task whose aim is for students to learn to obtain and provide directions. The first pedagogical task involves listening to three conversations and is incidentally called “The real thing”.

Guess who recorded the conversations? A ‘native’ or a ‘non-native speaker’?

If you answered the former, then well done!

Indeed long writes that the three conversations are to be “real examples of NS giving directions” (p. 271).

So perhaps Long does indeed believe that ‘native speakers’ are by default better language models for our students?

A further clue to answering this question can be found on p. 313, where Long discusses the fifth methodological principle of TBLT, which involves promoting inductive learning of chunks. He suggests that an extensive reading and listening program should be added to the main classroom course.

That per se is perfectly justified and empirically sound given the evidence. However, what is highly questionable in my opinion is his suggestion that students should listen to and read “lively recordings of the texts made especially for language learning by a native speaker [emphasis mine]” (p. 313).

By now, it seems to me that it is impossible to argue that Long is unaware of the implications of his adding the word ‘native speaker’, neither on p. 313, nor in any of the previously quoted examples.

His thesis is otherwise incredibly detailed, his claims based on VERY extensive reading, and his arguments are always phrased carefully and eloquently.

Therefore, I’d argue here that he’s well aware of the implications. In fact, I’d go further and say that he actually believes that:

  • students should be primarily exposed to ‘native speaker’ input
  • only ‘native speakers’ can be a source of authentic language input.

In fact, when a fellow teacher emailed Long to clarify what his position was, his answer was very clear: ‘non-native speakers’ are inappropriate as task models (unless the target task typically involves ‘non-natives’) and ‘native speakers’ are better models of the language.

This is further evidenced by Long’s views on who should conduct a needs analysis.

On p.136, in reference to Selinker, Long writes that an expert informant for a needs analysis “should be a native speaker, well trained and competent in the field of interest”. Again, this begs the question why it should be a ‘native speaker’? Wouldn’t any sufficiently proficient speaker do?

They probably wouldn’t to Long.

When he discusses the use of elaborated input in tasks (rather than simplified or graded input) on p. 253 and 254, he writes that the addition of “to earn money as an implicit paraphrase of to provide for (to earn money to provide for his family)” would be redundant for a ‘native speaker’.

Really?

I’d argue that it would be redundant for a proficient speaker, regardless of their L1.

Having said that, it could also be necessary and appropriate to add it there in a natural conversation to facilitate understanding. There’s plenty of lexical redundancy and paraphrasing in natural speech.

So, bearing all of the above, it seems clear to me that the implicit idea in Long’s version of TBLT is that a ‘native speaker’ is simply by definition always more proficient and as a result would make a better language model.

Interestingly, however, authentic and real tasks will involve ‘non-native speakers’ interacting with other ‘non-native speakers’, rather than exclusively ‘native speakers’. Therefore, if we are to promote authentic input and authentic tasks, these can’t be restricted to ‘native speakers’.

In fact, in the majority of contexts, save a few rare cases where our students for some reason are going to exclusively interact with ‘native speakers’, restricting the input and task models to ‘native speakers’ might not appropriately prepare our learners to use English effectively outside the classroom. In addition, focusing only on ‘native speaker’ language input can give students the idea that ‘non-native speakers’ are inappropriate language models.

Finally, the idea that any input from any ‘native speaker’ is always a better and more authentic model seems to me to be completely erroneous and evident of how deeply embedded native speakerism still is both in ELT and SLA.

References:

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Holliday, A. (2006). Native-speakerism. ELT Journal, 60(4), 385–387. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccl030
Houghton, S., & Rivers, D. J. (2013). Introduction: Redefining Native-Speakerism. In S. Houghton & D. J. Rivers (Eds.), Native-speakerism in Japan. Intergroup dynamics in foreign language education (pp. 1–16). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Long, M. H. (2014). Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching (1 edition). Wiley-Blackwell.

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

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.

Students prefer ‘native speakers’

Whenever I get into discussions with people in ELT about job ads for ‘native speakers’ only, one of the most common replies I get is that it’s all driven by market demand, so until we change students’ perceptions, there’s little that we can do to persuade schools to hire teachers based on merit rather than passport or mother tongue.

This argument has been repeated so often by so many that it’s become one of these ELT unquestionable ‘truths’ (such as catering to learning styles enhances learning, vocabulary is best learnt through lexical sets, etc.) which we accept as given.

So in this post I want to look at the market demand argument to see whether it stands up to scrutiny.

I will argue that students don’t necessarily prefer ‘native speakers’, but that they prefer good teachers.

Students prefer ‘native speakers’

On the face of it, this assumption is pretty solid. However, when you start looking at research evidence, you’ll see that there is little to support it.

And there has been plenty of research done on the topic all over the world. It’s not possible for me to look at all the studies in detail (this would probably take a whole book), but I’ve selected as many as was feasible for this post.

To make it easier to digest, I’ve divided the research findings into several bigger groups:

  • students appreciate ‘non-native speaker’ teachers
  • students value skills an characteristics unrelated to teacher’s L1
  • students’ find teaching effectiveness far more important than ‘nativeness’
  • students would like to be taught both by ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’
  • the preference for ‘native speakers’ (or lack thereof) is not fixed
  • the labels themselves might be part of the problem

I’ve also reviewed some of the findings in this video. Below the video is a more detailed summary.

Students Appreciate ‘non-native Speaker’ Teachers

  • Mahboob (2004), who analysed students’ essays on the topic of who is a better teacher: ‘native’ or ‘non-native’, found that ‘native speakers’ received 29 positive comments and 12 negative ones; in contrast with ‘non-native speakers’ who received 69 positive comments and only 6 negative ones
  • In a survey of 643 ESL students of ten different L1s, Moussu (2006) found that 87% thought the ‘non-native speaker’ teacher teaching them was a good teacher, while 79% would recommend having classes with a ‘non-native speaker’ to their friends
  • University students in Hong Kong reported that they enjoyed studying with ‘non-native speaker’ teachers and overall had favourable attitudes towards them (Cheung and Braine, 2007)
  • In Korea, 64.8% of students disagreed that English should only be taught by ‘native speakers’ (Chun, 2014)

This suggests that ‘non-native speakers’ should not be dismissed out of hand because many students do seem to value what these teachers can bring to the table.

students value skills and characteristics unrelated to teacher’s l1

  • Chinese students have been found to prefer teachers who were knowledgeable, patient and empathetic (Cortazzi and Jin, 1996)
  • In Thailand, Mullock (2010) reports that students valued highly teachers who were knowledgeable about the language, proficient and able to maintain good rapport
  • In my own PhD study involving students in Poland, the four characteristics that participants found to be the most important in a good English teacher were: proficiency, ability to convey knowledge effectively, ability to motivate students and having good rapport with students.

This probably means that if as a director of studies you really want to cater to your students needs and preferences, you might first survey them to find out exactly what they value highly in English teachers and then hire teachers which exhibit these traits or skills.

Students find Teaching effectiveness far more important than ‘nativeness’

  • Walkinshaw and Duong (2012), who studied 50 learners in Vietnam, asked participants to decide whether they found ‘nativeness’ or a particular teaching skill or characteristic (e.g. qualifications, friendly personality, teaching experience, etc.) to be more important. Interestingly, in ALL cases (apart from pronunciation) students valued the teaching skill or characteristic more highly than ‘nativeness’.
  • In my own unpublished PhD I asked Polish EFL learners to list 7 most important skills and characteristic of an effective English teacher. Not a single one listed ‘nativeness’. When I then surveyed students, ‘nativeness’ turned out to be the least important characteristic of an effective English teacher on a list of 10.
  • Similar results were obtained by Ali (2009), who studied EFL students in the Gulf Countries. One of the participants emphasised that:

“teachers should be selected because of their skills, qualification, and dedication, not the (…) English country they lived in” (Eiman, email interview quoted in Ali, 2009, p. 49).

Students Would like to be taught by both ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers

  • In Spain, 70.2% of university students expressed a preference for being taught by both groups (Lasagabaster and Sierra, 2005)
  • In Hungary, 82% percent preferred such a mix (Benke and Medgyes, 2005)
  • In Polish high schools, 95% would ideally like to be taught by both ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers‘ (Kula, 2011)

This suggests that hiring a mix of ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers would better reflect the preferences of the students than hiring ‘native speakers’ only.

The preference for ‘native speakers’ (or lack thereof) is not fixed

  • Pacek (2005), who analysed ESL students in the UK, showed that while at the beginning of the course over 30% were concerned that their teacher was a ‘non-native speaker’, a mere 2% expressed any concerns near the end of the course
  • The more students knew about the lingua franca nature of the English language, the more positive they were towards ‘non-native speaker’ teachers (Jin, 2005)
  • Students who had used English in English as a Lingua Franca contexts (i.e. in multilingual, international contexts where many speakers are other ‘non-natives’) were less likely to see ‘native speakers’ as the only sources of correct English or linguistic authority ( Wang and Jenkins, 2016)
  • Pressure from parents can also cause a preference for ‘native speaker’ teachers (Subtirelu, 2013)

This shows that educating students about the global spread of the English language, as well as exposing them to successful ‘non-native’ users of the language and good ‘non-native speaker’ teachers might contribute towards diminishing the preference for ‘native speakers’.

The labels themselves might be part of the problem

  • Aslan and Thompson (2016) asked ESL learners to rate different qualities (e.g. ability to motivate them) of the teachers that were currently teaching them. In order to avoid possible unconscious bias against ‘non-native speakers’, the researchers did not use the labels ‘native’ or ‘non-native’, so the students simply had to rate how good their teacher was without associating this rating with one of the labels. When results were analysed, it turned out that statistically there was no significant difference between how high (or low) the participants rated ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ teachers on the different skills and qualities. In other words, in the eyes of the students the ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ teachers were equal.
  • McKenzie (2008) highlights that only the recordings of ‘native speakers’ who participants correctly identified as ‘native speakers’ were rated highly. In other words, when students KNOW we’re listening to a ‘native speaker’, they’re more likely to respond to their pronunciation more positively than they would otherwise
  • Watson-Todd and Pojanapunya (2009), and Kramadibrata (2016) show that there is a discrepancy between the explicit and implicit attitudes students exhibit towards the two groups. In both studies they also show that non-White teachers are rated less favourably on their pronunciation and teaching skills

This suggests that a profound unconscious bias might be in play, possibly influenced by the ideology of native speakerism.

Conclusions and practical implications

The research reviewed here shows that there is little evidence to suggests that the vast majority of students prefers ‘native speakers’ regardless of everything else.

It is clear that many students appreciate ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. It is also clear that quite a few would like to be taught by both groups.

There is also little doubt that there are numerous other skills and qualities which students value more highly in English teachers. In other words, it seems to me that deep down what students want are good English teachers.

If you are a school director, I completely understand that you might be worried about hiring ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. I hope that this post might reassure you that students’ preferences are much more complex than an unequivocal preference for ‘native speakers’.

I would also suggest that asking the students who they prefer: a ‘native speaker’ or a ‘non-native’ is the wrong question to ask. What it’s likely to elicit is a response based on prejudices, myths and biases caused by native speakerism.

What is vital to do as a result is to talk to our students and discuss this issue with them. Rather than immediately succumb to pressure from students or their parents, I think it is important to first talk to them. To reassure them about the quality and professionalism of ALL your teaching staff. To strongly support the ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. To ask students to give the ‘non-native speaker’ teacher a chance.

I’ve talked to numerous school directors who do these and much more and who do not give in to parents’ or students’ demands.

And it seems to work very well for them. Their schools are doing well. The vast majority of students are happy. The students who initially complained and then continued having classes with the ‘non-native speaker’ teacher are still at the school and are happy.

So I completely understand that customer satisfaction is fundamental for a director of studies.

But if we really want to respond to our students’ preferences, we need to go much deeper than simply asking them if they want a ‘native’ or a ‘non-native’.

We need to ask the students what personal qualities they find important in an English teacher. What skills do they value highly. What are their specific learning needs and goals.

And then choose (or recruit) the teacher that best fits this profile.

References

Ali, S. (2009). Teaching English as an International Language (EIL) in the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) Countries: The Brown Man’s Burden. In F. Sharifian (Ed.), English as an International Language: Perspectives and Pedagogical Issues (pp. 34–57). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Aslan, E., & Thompson, A. S. (2016). Are They Really “Two Different Species”? Implicitly Elicited Student Perceptions About NESTs and NNESTs. TESOL Journal, n/a-n/a. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.268

Benke, E., & Medgyes, P. (2005). Differences in Teaching Behaviour between Native and Non-Native Speaker Teachers: As seen by the Learners. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers (pp. 195–215). New York: Springer US. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-24565-0_11

Cheung, L. Y., & Braine, G. (2007). The Attitudes of University Students towards Non-native Speakers English Teachers in Hong Kong. RELC Journal, 38(3), 257–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033688207085847

Chun, S. Y. (2014). EFL learners’ beliefs about native and non-native English-speaking teachers: perceived strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 35(6), 563–579. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2014.889141

Cortazzi, M., & Jin, L. (1996). Cultures of learning: Language classrooms in China. In H. Coleman (Ed.), Society and the language classroom. (pp. 169–203). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jin, J. (2005). Which is better in China, a local or a native English-speaking teacher? English Today, 21(03), 39–46. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266078405003081

Kramadibrata, A. (2016). The Halo surrounding native English speaker teachers in Indonesia. Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 5(2), 282. https://doi.org/10.17509/ijal.v5i2.1352

Kula, J. (2011). Postawy polskich uczniów szkoły średniej wobec nauczycieli rodzimych i nie-rodzimych użytkowników języka angielskiego. Studium przypadku. (MA). Jagiellonian University, Kraków.

Lasagabaster, D., & Sierra, J. M. (2005). What do Students Think about the Pros and Cons of Having a Native Speaker Teacher? In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers (pp. 217–241). New York: Springer US. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-24565-0_12

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