5 most popular posts from 2017

I can’t quite believe it yet, but 2017 is almost over…

It’s been a great year with lots of interesting things happening on TEFL Equity Advocates. To name just two big changes, TEFL Equity Academy and TEFL Equity Job Board opened.

There have been some fascinating posts on the blog from teachers, trainers and recruiters scattered across all four corners of the world. And these amazing authors have attracted almost 70 000 visits with over 50 000 unique visitors from practically every country on the planet!!

So I wanted to thank all of you who have contributed to the site, visited it, shared and commented posts. You’re amazing!

And to round off a great year, I’ve put together a list of the 5 most popular posts from this blog from 2017 (according to my WordPress stats).

Are you ready?

Here we go 🙂

  1.  Why I wish I was a non-native speaker by James Taylor (2 580 hits)

Firstly, let me say that the title of this post is a lie. I don’t wish I was a non-native English speaker teacher (NNEST). As someone from the UK who teaches English as a foreign language, the country of my birth is a huge advantage to me. As has been well documented on this blog, I am much more likely to get a job than someone from Japan, Algeria or Brazil, no matter how qualified or experienced they are. For some students, having a native speaker teacher has a certain cachet, as in most countries it is unusual and many of them think that it means they have a better teacher as a result. So both employers and students seem to think that because I’m English, I must be a better teacher, which has got to be good for me


2. ‘Native speakers’ only ads and EU law by Marek Kiczkowiak(2 576 hits)

Over 70% of the posts advertised on the biggest search engine for TEFL job seekers, tefl.com, are exclusively for NESTs (Native Speaker English Teacher). If you’re not one, don’t bother applying. You might have a PhD and 100 years of teaching experience, but no one will even bother looking at your CV.

Common sense and gut feeling tell most of us that what we have here is a clear case of discrimination. Same as any other type of discrimination, such as based on gender, race or ethnicity. But gut feeling is only just that, and can only get you so far. Have you ever wondered, though, whether such ads were legal?


3. Non-Native speakers encouraged to apply by Rob Sheppard (2 504 hits)

Without discrimination against ‘NNESTs’, I would never be an English teacher. I’d wager I’m not the only one.

In late August of 2006, somewhere in the crowded streets of Kangbuk District in Seoul, a woman with a master’s degree in English and tired eyes walked to the post office with a padded yellow mailer under her arm. The next stop after the post office was the bank. She probably walked with some hurried annoyance at being asked to perform this task, thinking of all the other things she had to do. Inside the mailer was my passport, and at the bank she’d wire me around $600, a full reimbursement of the cost of my flight to Korea…


4. Peter Medgyes’ The Non-Native Speaker Teacher: Why publish a New Edition? by Susan Holden (1 979 hits)

More than 20 years ago, in the early 1990s, there was a lot of discussion about the position of teachers of English who were either native or non-native speakers of the language. In The Non-native Teacher Péter Medgyes, a Hungarian, wrote about the relative advantages and disadvantages, problems and insights, of both groups. This became a successful book, used widely on teacher training courses in many countries.


5. Of ‘native speakers’ and other fantastic beasts by Marek Kiczkowiak (1 903 hits)

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?


TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy – looking back, moving forward

You might have noticed that TEFL Equity Advocates also has an Academy now, where you can take a variety of on-line training courses, which focus on offering ELT professionals practical solutions to the ‘native speaker’ bias that is still so widespread in our industry.

This is a bit of a change and you might be wondering how these courses fit with the rest of the work TEFL Equity Advocates has been doing. So in this post I wanted to tell you more about why I decided to set up the Academy, how I believe it builds on and connects with TEFL Equity advocacy work, as well as how it might help tackle native speakerism.

When I first started TEFL Equity Advocates back in 2014, I had no clue where it might take me. I’d also never imagined that it would gain so much momentum, so quickly.

What started as a simple blog post, where I could vent my frustration at the discriminatory nature of ELT recruitment policies, grew into a website.

What started as a pastime taking up a few hours of my time each month, grew into an almost full-time (unpaid) job.

It’s been a great journey so far. And I think TEFL Equity Advocates has helped to shake the ELT community out of its apathy – or perhaps resignation? – at the discriminatory status quo. It’s also managed to spark a lively debate at the same time as growing a community of dedicated ELT professionals who actively try to tackle native speakerism.

I’ve met some fantastic people along the way who have really helped shape TEFL Equity Advocates by offering advice, submitting blog posts, giving webinars, sharing posts on social media and supporting the project in a myriad of other ways. You know who you are, and I’m forever in debt to you.

But in the last few months, I’ve started to realise that the project has grown so big that it’s basically turned into a full-time job, becoming difficult for one person to manage on top of a (real) full-time job. Just replying to all the comments, FB messages and emails takes up a few hours a week. Not that I’m complaining, though! Love your messages, so please continue writing! 😊

Apart from the huge time investment, there are also of course the costs of running a self-hosted WordPress site, having a dedicated email address, an email automation provider, an app for automating social media posts, a job board… The list goes on.

Growing the advocacy work further requires time, funds and people who can dedicate themselves full-time to working on TEFL Equity Advocates.

More time wasn’t likely to happen, unless I quit my full-time teaching job, which I really enjoy, and which helps pay the bills. So that wasn’t a viable option.

In order to raise funds to continue the work of TEFL Equity Advocates, there were two choices.  First, I could set it up as a charity. This would need to be supported entirely with donations and rely on the generosity of people with no guarantee that it can be supported in this way.

This would also involve devoting even more time to the project, which I didn’t have. It would potentially involve putting together a team of dedicated people who would be willing to work on the project mostly for free.

It would also mean extra admin and paper work needed to set up and run a charity. And admin and paper work are two things I hate with a passion.

But if you’re going to spend a lot of your free time on something, you’d better be passionate about it. You can’t just like it. You’ve got to love it.

So while I hate admin work with a passion, I also love teaching with a passion.

That’s when it struck me.

Why not continue doing what I love doing most, that is teaching and educating, and see if I can tackle native speakerism from a more practical angle, while at the same time earning enough to cover the costs of running TEFL Equity Advocates?

This is how TEFL Equity Academy was born.

You see, I’ve also been working on my PhD on native speakerism for the last two years. During the process I’ve realised that the ‘native speaker’ bias goes far beyond recruitment policies in ELT.

It’s also deeply present in our ideas about the English language and how it should best be taught.

Just to give you one example, we all know that there are about four to five times as many ‘non-native’ users of English than there are ‘native’ ones. We also know from over two decades of research that certain features of pronunciation typical of ‘native speaker’ speech, such as word-stress or vowel quality are not important for intelligibility in international contexts. What’s more, many features of connected speech (e.g. reduced vowels, assimilation) can actually reduce intelligibility.

Yet, we still spend quite a lot of time on word stress, vowel quality or connected speech.


Because deep down many of us still feel that the more ‘native-like’ the pronunciation of our students, the better.

Of course, realising that the ‘native speaker’ bias also affects our teaching practices is one thing.

But being able to change your teaching practice accordingly is something else. Something which takes time and which can’t really be achieved through a blog post or a single webinar.

That’s where I see an opportunity for TEFL Equity Academy to play a crucial role.

It aims to offer ELT professionals practical solutions to native speakerism. It aims to extend TEFL Equity Advocates work and further promote equality not just in the workplace, but also in the classroom.

It also helps fund the website, the job board and any future TEFL Equity Advocates projects.

At the same time, it also allows me to combine two things I’m really passionate about: advocacy and teaching.

As a result of all this, I’ve decided to make two small changes on TEFL Equity Advocates. And since you’re a regular follower of the blog, I thought I’d give you a heads up about them, so you know exactly what’s happening.

First, the name on the top of this website (and of the FB page) will now be TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy. The second change concerns the blog. I used to keep a dedicated blog on TEFL Equity Academy site which focused more on practical teaching tips and issues related to the courses, such as English as a Lingua Franca or teaching pronunciation. Finding it physically impossible to keep up both the Advocates and Academy blogs, I’ve decided to merge the two into a single blog on this site. You can then expect a mix of more advocacy and more teaching oriented posts here. However, the Advocates and Academy posts will be put into separate categories, so you can clearly see which is which.

Hope you enjoy and find TEFL Equity Academy courses useful. 😊

And if you have any questions or comments about the Academy or the recent changes, let me know. Would love to hear what you think!

Cover photo by pine watt on Unsplash.

How to get colleagues to support the NNEST cause – by Nick Michelioudakis

Why not educate people?

Three reasons: i) They know all this stuff already! Let us be clear: 98.7% of all the people who are active in the ELT world are nice, liberal people who are against all kinds of discrimination; ii) telling people the same thing again and again may well trigger reactance (Wiseman 2012 – p. 227); iii) (much more importantly): there is no guarantee at all that informing people or getting people to agree to something will have any impact on the way they behave.

But you do not have to take my word for this – here is professor Dan Ariely to drive the point home. Notice in particular the bit after 1:40. Ask yourself this question: have you ever sent a text message while driving? (I can tell you are nodding to yourself) Why was that? Was it that you were not aware of the risks?

Three different appeals

So – if propaganda does not work, what does work?

Well, consider the following study (Ferrier, Ward & Palermo 2012): The question here was which would be the most effective way to get people to support a charity (‘Save the Children’). There were three experimental conditions: the first group got all the info – they got the facts and figures about child poverty etc. (does this ring any bells? J ); the second group got an emotional appeal (smiling, happy children plus inspirational music); the third group however got nothing. Instead they were asked to design an advertising campaign for the charity.  There was also a control group. Afterwards, each group of people were asked to make a donation to the charity. Care to guess which group offered the most money? Well, the graph below speaks for itself (Ferrier 2014 – p. 38).


Why was the third approach so effective?

Ferrier (2014 – p. 38) gives three reasons:  i) A sense of ownership: by contributing something – a slogan, an idea) people felt closer to the cause. Advertising people know this and they have used this again and again (see this campaign for instance).  ii) Cognitive dissonance: subconsciously people think ‘If I am prepared to do some work for this organization, they have to be doing something good – I wouldn’t do it otherwise’. More importantly however… iii) People felt a sense of autonomy: ‘they were invited to interact with a message on their own terms rather than it being forced on them. This circumnavigates resistance’ (ibid).

I believe that this last point is one we should take note of. Our cause is a just cause – but there is always a risk we might alienate people. Instead, what we should do is get people active. In J. Jaffes’ words, we need to shift from a ‘Tell and Sell’ to a ‘Participate and Play’ approach (ibid – p. 181).

How can we involve colleagues?

Well, we could crowdsource ideas for a start. The campaign still does not have a simple, instantly recognizable logo to act as a trigger (see Berger 2013 [Chapter 2] on the importance of triggers for virality) or a catchy slogan.

But we do not have to ‘prompt’ people in any way. We could simply ask colleagues for ideas on concrete, actionable initiatives (‘asking people to remove discriminatory language from ads’ is a good step forward; ‘awareness-raising’ does not quite cut it – it is too fuzzy). Sue Annan came up with the brilliant idea of having trainee teachers respond to discriminatory ads with e-mails to the companies who had posted them (click here to read the post). Notice the dual effect here: i) the market is beginning to get the message that ‘the times they are a-changing’ and advertising for ‘a qualified teacher – whites only please’ is not acceptable any more and  ii) much more importantly, the trainee herself is not the same person after that e-mail.

Last Words – a toxic relationship

Have you ever tried to persuade a friend of yours to leave a toxic relationship? It is hard, isn’t it? Everybody tells her (it is usually ‘her’) this is going nowhere – the guy (it is usually a guy) is selfish, controlling, abusive but how much does this help? She knows all this after all. The more people tell her, the more reactance kicks in.

Similarly, our field is still in love with native-speakerism. Not with ‘native speaker’ teachers you understand – there is nothing wrong with them – but when the time for inviting speakers comes, the old habits kick in (‘People want the big names’ – ‘We are doing what is best for the association’ etc. etc.) and the old patterns keep perpetuating themselves. In my view, there is no point in preaching to the converted; what is needed is a little nudge for our field to really move forward.


  • Berger, J. (2013) Contagious. London: Simon & Schuster
  • Ferrier, A. Ward, B. & Palermo J. (2012) Behaviour Change: Why Action Advertising Works Harder than Passive Advertising. Presented at Society for Consumer Psychology: Proceedings of the 2012 Annual Conference. Las Vegas, 16-18 February
  • Ferrier, A. (2014) The Advertising Effect. South Melbourne, Oxford University Press
  • Wiseman, R. (2012). Rip it up. London: Macmillan

nick michelioudakisNick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been working in the field of ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner and teacher trainer. His love of comedy has led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube. He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles which have appeared in a number of publications in various countries. He is particularly interested in student motivation and classroom management as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology, Management and Marketing.  For articles or worksheets of his, you can visit his blog at  www.michelioudakis.org 

Recording of my Innovate ELT 2016 plenary

This is the video recording of my 10 minute plenary at Innovate ELT 2016 in Barcelona. Some parts of the original did not record properly, unfortunately, so I had to rerecord them at home. Still, I hope you enjoy it and I would love to hear your comments. Below the video, you can read the transcript of the plenary.

If you’re interested in getting involved in TEFL Equity Advocates campaign, take a look at this page for ideas on how you can help.

Plenary transcript

How many of you in the audience are NNS?

And how many are NS?

And how many of you are English teachers?

This is precisely the point I’d like to make today. We’re all English teachers. And if we want to empower ourselves, it can only be done together. As English teachers.

So I have a very simple dream. A dream that one day we’ll all simply be seen as English teachers. That this artificial divide that seems to separate us, will disappear. Become irrelevant.

So my dream is very simple indeed. It’s a dream that soon we will be valued based on what we do best: teach English; and not based on an accident of birth. Because we are all English teachers. And what defines us is our professionalism. Our ability to teach a language that we all love.

So when I look around today, what I see is English teachers. Not NS and NNS. Simply English teachers. I want you to take a good look around you too. We’re a diverse group. We speak different languages. Come from different countries. But there’s one important thing that unites us: we’re all English teachers.

Can you see that?

We’re all English teachers.

And together we’re stronger. Together we have the power to change ELT. To bring professionalism back into our industry.

And change is possible. It is actually taking place right now. This conference is a sign of change. The topics discussed here are a sign of change. And I, you, we, as English teachers, we can become the driving force of change in ELT.

The story I want to tell you will hopefully show you that change in ELT is possible. No matter how insurmountable the obstacles seem. And all of you there have the power to change things.

There was a time when I didn’t think of myself as a NNS. I thought of myself as an English teacher. Call it naivete or innocence. That time is unfortunately gone. It was a happy time when you thought of yourself as an English teacher. But it all changed back in 2011.

I was teaching in IH San Sebastian. The IH transfer list came out and I applied for work at IH Lisbon. What I didn’t know back then was that I was a NNS. And NNS weren’t welcome in IH Lisbon. I received an email that said my CV wouldn’t be considered and I should try another IH school.

I was furious. My CV won’t be considered because I’m Polish?! This was utter nonsense. I was a qualified and experienced teacher who was proficient in English. What else do you want? Well, clearly, they weren’t that interested in qualifications or experience or proficiency. They simply wanted a native speaker.

I was furious. But thanks to an English colleague, rather than smash the computer screen, sulk, or even worse: give up; I vented my anger into an article. Mind you, I’d never written an article in my life. But I couldn’t just sit silently. I had to speak out. IH Lisbon wasn’t going to get away with it. I wanted to go after them.

I entitled the article ‘Nativity scenes’. I sent it off to several newspapers and magazines, and EL Gazette replied saying they’d publish it. Of course with changes. And there were a lot of them. Remember I didn’t have a clue about writing articles. I was just a young English teacher from Poland venting his fury.

The article must have created a bit of an impact, though, because the CEO of IH World wrote an official reply which was published below the article. And in the reply she promised IH would change their hiring policies. Which as far as I know they did. At least officially.

What does this story show you? That if you’re a young English teacher from Poland venting his fury into an article, even a giant like IH will not be safe.

But jokes aside, what I think it shows is that you also have the power to change things in ELT. We all do. As English teachers, we are ELT.

But change also takes time. It takes a lot of determination. It takes commitment. It takes grit. With IH it might have been a stroke of luck. To really change ELT, it will take time.

But it is possible.

Two years ago I started TEFL Equity Advocates campaigning for equal professional opportunities for NS and NNS teachers in ELT. The basic premise was and still is that we’re all English teachers. And we should be valued for that, for our teaching skills. Not for the language we unwittingly picked up as kids. And the stereotypes, the prejudices, they make us all weaker. They divide us when we should be united.

And equal employment and professional opportunities should be important to all of us. Because the current ELT recruitment model disregards professionalism. It disregards us as English teachers. It is based on a false assumption that the mother tongue of the teacher should be the most important criteria.

Since I started TEFL Equity, one of the most frequent challenges I’ve faced is people saying that things will never change. That I’m fighting a lost cause. There’s a certain defeatism among many ELTers. But remember, we, as English teachers, are ELT. And we have the power to change it. To shape its future.

So the most beautiful moments since starting TEFL Equity have been to hear from teachers:

Thanks, now I know I’m not on my own.

You’ve given me the tools and the courage to fight for my rights.

I used to accept this discrimination as a given, but now I know I shouldn’t, and I won’t.

This is what I call empowerment. And a call to action. If we want change, we need to act. We need to make it happen

So if the issue of inequality between NS and NNS in ELT concerns you, do something about it. Write an article. Talk to your DoS. Propose or give a workshop in your school on the topic. Give a conference talk. Or a webinar. Talk to your local teaching association. When you see a job ad that’s discriminatory, comment on it. Write to the employer.

And last by not least, talk to your students. Discuss this issue with them. As I’ll try to show later today in my session with the learners, it’s a great topic for debate. And as teachers we have the obligation to educate our students. To empower them.

English has changed. It doesn’t belong to the English any more. Nor does it belong to the US, the Irish or the Australians. It belongs to all of us, all those who teach it. Who study it. Who use it. It is an international language. A beautifully diverse one.

Let’s embrace this diversity. Let’s speak out for greater equality in ELT. For greater professionalism. For empowerment.

Let’s speak out for us, English teachers.

We are all english teachers

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


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

Amazing, wasn’t it?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Design @Jonathan Cordero and @Tekhnologic

    Design @Jonathan Cordero and @Tekhnologic

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

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


NESTs, NNESTs and issues of equality in ELT – interview for TEFLology podcasts

UntitledIn this quick post I wanted to share with you the latest episode of TEFLology podcast where I was interviewed about the issues of native speakerism in ELT. Among other things, we chatted about where and how the idea for this website came about, as well as how all of us ELTers can get involved in promoting equality in our profession. Hope you enjoy the podcast! 🙂

You can find all TEFLology episodes here and on iTunes. More about TEFL Equity in this section. For ideas how to get involved click here.

You have the power to change the status quo

It’s been ages since I last wrote a post for TEA blog, which in a way is great, because it means that there have been more and more post from guest bloggers. The PhD that I’ve recently started is also taking up most of what I used to call ‘free time’, but now is more commonly dubbed ‘PhD time’. However, a recent experience I’ve had prompted me to write this article.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

One of the most common myths (apart from my no. 2 favourite – most students prefer NESTs, but that will have to wait for another post) I’ve heard from people on social media or on the blog here in the last year and a half of TEA existence is that we can’t change the discriminatory status quo our profession is locked in. 75% of all ELT job ads are for NESTs only, that’s the way it is, and there’s nothing I, you, we, or anyone else can do about this. End of story. Stop moaning.

Let me start the rebuttal with this quote:

“racism, as well as native speakerism, only survive if they are constantly reinforced through daily discourses that make them seem natural”. (Ruecker & Ives, 2014, p. 407)

There is no doubt in my mind that because native speakerism, i.e. the belief that a NS embodies the ideals of the English language, ELT methodology, and is thus a better teacher (see Holliday, 2006, for an extensive definition and discussion), has managed over several decades to infiltrate nearly all aspects of ELT, it has started to be viewed as an integral part of our profession. Part of the status quo. Omnipresent, yet invisible. Lurking in the background. But above all, disguised as common sense, completely natural and justifiable.

‘Dominant ideologies maintain their hegemonic positions not because they belong only to people in authority but rather because they are pervasive in much larger discourse formations located in a vast array of communicative practices’
(Shuck, 2006, p. 274)

To give just one example, many countries have strict visa restriction whereby only citizens of 7 countries are classified as NES: the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Such visa restrictions legitimize native speakerism and racism, giving the public and the ELT community an impression that discrimination is legal and thus acceptable. They also legitimize the false belief that English is primarily spoken in those 7 Inner Circle countries. That it is their English that NNES students and teachers should imitate. Mind you, there are over 50 countries where English is the official language, and the country with most English speakers in the world is not the US, but India. While on the other hand, only about 5% of South Africa’s population are NES.

Coming back to the notion that we are powerless against the forces of native speakerism that drive our profession, I’d like to remind you that only fifty years ago segregation was still legal in the US. And a century ago the idea that a woman should have the right to vote was laughed at by most people in the West. Fortunately, things do change. Not of their own accord, though. Nor because those who hold power decide to benevolently rid us of discrimination – of which more often than not they reap the benefits. Discriminatory practices change, because of collective and collaborative actions of individuals like you and me. For as Ruecker (2011) points out:

the inequality surrounding native and nonnative speaker, like the inequality surrounding racial categories, is not a deterministic facet of our existence but rather a discursively constructed practice (p. 413).

A couple of days ago I ended up on Spainwise site, which is an online jobs board for English teachers in Spain. The first few job ads that I looked clearly said that only NES need apply. I drafted a very quick email and sent it to the contact address given on the website. Here’s what I wrote:

I have noticed that many job ads that you publish on your website are for NS only. I wanted to inform you that such language in recruitment is illegal within the EU. On 23 May 2003 the EC ruled the following:

“In its answer to Question E-0941 the commission states that the term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law. The Commission also states its intention of continuing to use its powers to fight against any discrimination caused by a requirement for native speaker knowledge in job advertisements.”

Apart from the legal aspect, such ads also bar numerous highly qualified and experienced NNS professionals from applying for the job, putting into question the value of professionalism in ELT. As far as the market demand is concerned, there is absolutely no evidence in literature to suggest that the majority of students prefer any NS to any NNS regardless of everything else, e.g. qualifications. To the contrary, most studies show that students tend to evaluate their teachers based on how they perform in class, rather than on preconceived notions and stereotypes.

I also wanted to inform you that several teaching associations and online job boards, such as TESOL France, IATEFL World and TESOL International, have already taken steps to ensure the ads on their website are not discriminatory and that they comply with EU law.

I am looking forward to hearing back from you.

Believe it or not, a few hours later I got a reply, and a very positive one too. In short, Aidan O’Toole from Spainwise explained that the registered recruiters can post ads on the website, and that it is difficult to monitor all of them. However, he also said:

I have reviewed all the opportunities currently being advertised and removed any which specify ‘native speaker’ as a requirement. I have also placed the following text at the top of the page so I will be notified of any further infringements by the site’s advertisers:

“All posts advertised on this page must be open to native and non-native teachers of English. If you see an advertisement which requires that the applicants be native speakers, please inform the webmaster (info@spainwise.net) and the advertisement will be removed.”

I have e-mailed all the schools which are entitled to advertise on the site and informed them of their obligation to advertise positions for both native and non-native teachers. I have also the following message posted on both the Facebook page and Twitter:

“All posts advertised on Spainwise are open to native and non-native teachers of English. If you see an advertisement which requires that the applicants be native speakers, please inform us (aidan@spainwise.net) and the advertisement will be removed.” (Aidan O’Toole, personal correspondence)

It’s an important step forward, I think, and it only goes to show that it is possible to change the status quo. It is possible to change how recruiters advertise and hire teachers. While they might still covertly discriminate against NNES, what Spainwise did does send an important message to language schools: hiring teachers based on their mother tongue is neither legal nor acceptable. And we’ll have none of it.

If more [teachers] were to respond to specific schools articulating their qualifications but specifically stating that they will not support an institution that perpetuates such prejudice, they could send a message that these institutions may begin to listen to. In […] engaging in activist partnerships, and involving both NNESTs and NESTs in this project of change, there are great possibilities for more equitable hiring practices in the future. (Ruecker & Ives, 2014, p. 21).

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

I’ve sent similar emails many times. It’s true that sometimes you might not get a reply. But you would be surprised how often you actually do, and that most of the time it is quite a positive one. And there are more and more organisations and schools that have already decided to oppose discrimination in recruitment. The full list can be found in the Hall of Fame here. Some have also agreed to be interviewed, leaving a powerful message of support for more equality in ELT recruitment:

  • TESOL International – read their anti-discrimination statement and watch the interview with Rosa Aronson, the Executive director
  • TESOL France – read the interview with Bethany Cagnol, the former president here.
  • IATEFL – watch the interview with Marjorie Rosenberg, the current President.
  • MELTA – read the interview with Helen Strong, the current Chair.

I’m also convinced that:

NESs and NNESs need to work together to dismantle the hierarchy that permeates the ELT profession. [For] while there may be immediate loss for teachers and institutions from inner-circle countries that profit on maintaining their NES authority, there is much more to be gained in the long-term through raising the professionalism of ELT by highlighting the value of disciplinary knowledge and professional training over NES status. (Ruecker, 2011, p. 417)

What I’d like to encourage you to do is next time you see an ad that is for NES only, or in any other way discriminatory, email the recruiter (feel free to copy my email to save time!). Then comment below giving the name, city and country of the school you emailed, and what the response was. You can also highlight that if the school in question decides to revise their future recruitment policies to give equal opportunities to both NES and NNES, it will be placed in the Hall of Fame here.

Change is possible. And you can bring it about. So indignez-vous!



A call to action – Luke Meddings, Hugh Dellar and Scott Thornbury on the NEST vs nNEST debate

meddingsLuke Meddings is an award-winning author, trainer and international speaker. In 2000 he co-founded the Dogme ELT movement with Scott Thornbury, and their book Teaching Unplugged (Delta, 2009) won a British Council ELTon award in 2010. Since then Luke has trained extensively, and in 2011 set up independent e-publishing collective The Round with Lindsay Clandfield. Their own book, 52: a year of subversive activity for the ELT classroom, was published in 2012. (from: http://lukemeddings.com/learning/)

In November, together with Robert McCaul, we gave a talk at TESOL France conference arguing for a more inclusive approach to ELT hiring policies, which would place more emphasis on qualifications and experience, giving both NESTs and nNESTs equal opportunities. You can read Rob’s summary of our talk here.

The talk received quite a positive response from the audience, and while preparing for it, we managed to get some encouraging support from Luke Meddings, Hugh Dellar and Scott Thronbury, who all contributed a short video. In this post I’d like to share these videos with you as they go to show an important and – in my opinion – a reassuring fact: those who know most about teaching English are the least likely to defend or excuse native speaker favouristism in the current ELT hiring policies (visit the Talk to the Expert section for articles and interviews with renown ELT professionals).

Hugh_DellarHugh Dellar is an author, teacher and teacher trainer. He co-authored the Outcomes and Innovations series, and together with Andrew Walkley has recently set up The Lexical Lab. He’s conducted numerous talks and workshops at EFL conferences all around the world. For more information click here. 

For a long time the fact that over 70% of all ELT job ads are for NESTs only has been an accepted status quo, so it is very encouraging to see that many renown ELT professionals are now willing to speak out against it and to advocate giving nNESTs equal employment opportunities. If the recruitement policies in our industry are to change, we will need a combined involvement and effort from all of us: nNESTs, NESTs, recruiters and teaching associations (read more about how you can get involved here and in this article by James Taylor).

thornburyScott Thornbury (born 1950, New Zealand) is an internationally recognized academic and teacher trainer in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). Along with Luke Meddings, Thornbury is credited with developing the Dogme language teaching approach. Thornbury has written over a dozen books on ELT methodology. Two of these, ‘Natural Grammar’ and ‘Teaching Unplugged’, have won the British Council’s “ELTon” Award for Innovation, the top award in the industry (in 2004 and 2010, respectively). Thornbury is also the series editor for the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers, and the author of many academic papers on language teaching (from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Thornbury).

So, if you agree with Luke, Hugh and Scott, I would like to encourage you to challenge the current ELT recruitment policies by recording a similar short video and sharing it on social networks, challenging three friends involved with ELT to do the same. If possible, tag TEFL Equity Advocates, and with your permission, the video will also be also shared on the FB page and added to this website.

Let’s speak out for a TEFL industry which will – as Hugh put it – ‘judge teachers on how well they teach, and not where they were born’.

The best of both worlds by Robert McCaul

rob_mccaulRobert William McCaul (CELTA,DELTA) is a teacher, language learner, examiner, materials developer with over 6 years of teaching experience in countries such as Ecuador, Costa Rica and Vietnam. He currently teaches in Bournemouth, UK, and has recently started blogging on TEFL Reflections.

In this article I wanted to summarise and reflect on the talk I gave with Marek Kiczkowiak this November at TESOL France, in which we argued that the ideal situation for students, teachers and language school owners is to give equal opportunities and to employ both NESTs (Native English Speaking Teachers) and nNESTs (non-Native English

Photo by Vicky Loras

Photo by Vicky Loras

Speaking Teachers) as each group brings different and complementary qualities into the class and staffroom.

Being an English teacher who grew up as a native speaker in Ireland, you might be surprised at my getting involved in equal rights for NESTs and nNESTs. But it is an issue that is close to my heart. I have spent the last few years in staff rooms with a huge number of nNESTs and often they were some of the best teachers – usually having a high degree of language awareness, the ability to anticipate learner errors (and to quickly figure out why these errors were happening) and crucially having the credibility factor i.e. They practice what they preach.

While at my last job for EIU  in Vietnam, I spent a lot of time interviewing teachers and what I looked for in candidates as a recruiter were their qualifications, personality, experience and of course a demonstrable proficiency (in my humble opinion: at least IELTS 7.5 or C1 level), which, as the diagram below suggests, attempts to ensure you hire the best applicant:

From Kiczkowiak and Beddington (2014)

From Kiczkowiak and Beddington (2014)

Upon returning to work in Europe this summer, I was taken aback when I learned that over 70% of the job adverts for EFL positions in the EU are for ‘native speakers’ only – as shown in the chart below. Coupled with the fact that 80% of the EFL teachers are nNESTs, it makes shocking reading.

From Kiczkowiak and Beddington (2014)

From Kiczkowiak and Beddington (2014)

These statistics are by no means an exception. Several independent studies (Selvi, 2010; Lengeling and Pablo, 2012; Ruecker and Ives, 2014)  of different job listing sites all confirmed that between two thrids and three-quarters of all advertised positions are for NESTs only.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that mentioning ‘native speaker’ in an advert in the EU is against the law, as it was for example pointed out in this article:

  • “Advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother tongue’ are not acceptable” (EC Com 694, 2002).
  • “The term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law” (EC, 2003 in response to MEP Linen question).

However, unfortunately, it seems that the majority of the advert writers (directors of studies, recruiters and school owners), in short our colleagues, seem prepared to flout the law. The tragedy is that when you talk to people in the industry about the issue, you are often met with one of two attitudes. 1) We’re past that aren’t we? Or 2) So, you think you’re going to change the world?

I would argue that the complacency associated with the first attitude is misplaced. Ignoring this particular problem doesn’t seem to be making it go away. In fact, according to the chart presented above, the prejudice against nNESTs seems to be firmly established and shows indication of disappearing any time soon of its own accord.

In response to the second mindset, I would argue that this is a largely solvable issue. In my opinion, it would only take a couple of the big recruiters to implement equal employment policies and a notable difference would be made. In fact, some of them have already done this.For example, in 2011 International House World informed all their affiliate schools that they must not recruit for native speakers only (Kiczkowiak 2011). In addition, some job-listing sites such as

Having said that, we often hear that ‘schools have to employ natives only because students demand it’. School owners are naturally concerned about remaining as competitive as possible in their respective local EFL markets, but it is worth asking if learners actually prefer NESTs?

The most lamentable aspect to this whole issue is that very rarely do we talk to the students to find out what they really want. Recently, Marek and I interviewed some of our own students to see what they want in an ideal teacher. Not surprisingly, ‘he/she must be a native speaker’ rarely came up – it seems what they want is someone who is knowledgable and can explain the language to them, who can help them gain the ability to use English in their workplaces and in the lives in general.

A lot more research needs to be conducted in order to find out what students actually want from their teachers although there is ample evidence that students have either no clear preference for NESTs or nNESTs (Lipovsky and Mahboob 2010), they appreciate the different qualities each group brings into class (Benke and Medgyes 2005), or value characteristics such as excellent pedagogical skills (Mullock 2010), high proficiency in the language (Kelch & Santana-Williamson, 2002; Liang, 2002) and tolerance, the ability to motivate, engage and explain clearly (Constantinides 2010), etc. Non of the above have nothing to do with your mother tongue.

However, even if it is ascertained what exactly students want from their teachers, and it turned out it was being a native speaker, it may be decided that what they actually need in order to learn the language effectively does not match this.

Don’t get me wrong. NESTs of course can be excellent teachers too. And just being exposed to a NEST can be a very positive experience for students. NESTs often have an insight into the emotional aspect of the language that nNESTs just don’t have. And of course, just being exposed to various native accents in the classroom can give learners the confidence they need to deal with the real thing when they come across it.

However, learners themselves can be a little naïve. Some of my Spanish students in my beginners class told me that they want to learn correct ‘proper’ English from a native. I’m not really sure what my fair ladythey mean by this. Perhaps they want to learn RP. This reminds me of a kind of Victorian world. The one in which My Fair Lady takes place.

I often get told that I sound native when I speak Spanish. But I do think that I am one of the exceptions that prove the rule. The vast majority of students will end up speaking perfectly comprehensible English in an accent flavoured by their mother tongue. They should not be encouraged from this and forced to sound like some latter day Eliza Doolittle. As David Crystal put it in this interview:

“Sounding native is no longer the point. I can think of only one category of person who needs to sound native – ie totally lose a NS identity – and that is: spies. Everyone else should be proud of their NS identity and not wish to lose it. […] Just as I want to experience the glorious diversity of English accents and dialects in Britain, which enrich our linguistic and literary heritage, so I want to experience this diversity on the newly emerging global scene. I want to hear X-tinted English – fill in the ‘X’ by Canadian, French, Russian, Ghanaian, Brazilian… what you will. It would be a sadly denuded English linguistic world if people were being taught as if this wonderful series of varieties did not exist.”

While pronunciation is one of the most crucial features of any English curriculum, and this should involve super-segmental features predominately, I think that the remit of ELT is to teach learners to be good communicators in English. At a certain point accent becomes a cosmetic issue and it enters the territory of voice coaching.

The most gratifying aspect of developing the talk Marek and I delivered in Paris at the at the TESOL conference was how willingly some of the most recognisable faces of ELT contributed videos supporting the issue. A big thank you to Scott Thornbury, Luke Meddings and Hugh Dellar (click on the hyperlink to watch the videos on YouTube). Much like celebrity endorsement of political campaigns, I feel that this will capture people’s attention and get them on board.

english speakers proportions

From: http://wikitravel.org/shared/File:World_map_percentage_english_speakers_by_country.svg

Like Luke said, English is nobody’s private property. It is all of ours. It belongs to the world. The vast majority of English speakers around the world use it as their L2. So, it is only natural for teachers to reflect this new reality.

Have I convinced you yet?


  • Benke, E., & Medgyes, P. (2005). Differences in teaching behaviour between native and nonnative speaker teachers: As seen by the learners. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-native language teachers: Perceptions, challenges, and contributions to the profession (pp. 195–216). New York, NY: Springer.
  • Constantinides, M. (2010). What kind of teacher are you? [available on-line here]
  • Kelch, K., & Santana-Williamson, E. (2002). ESL students’ attitudes toward native- and nonnative-speaking instructors’ accents. CATESOL Journal, 14(1), 57–72.
  • Kiczkowiak, M. (2011). A (non-)Nativity Scene: Schools breaking EU law. EL Gazette. July 2011: p.4 [available on-line here]
  • Kiczkowiak, M., & Beddington, J. (2014) All teachers are equal but some more than others. Presentation at IATEFL Poland annual conference.
  • Lengeling, M., & Mora Pablo, I. (2012). A critical discourse analysis of advertisements: Contradictions of our EFL profession. In R. Roux, I. Mora Pablo & N. Trejo (Eds.), Research in English language teaching: Mexican perspectives (pp. 89-103). Bloomington IN: Palibro.
  • Liang, K. Y. (2002). English as a second language (ESL) students’ attitudes toward non-native English speaking teachers’ (NNESTs’) accentedness (Unpublished master’s thesis). California State University, Los Angeles.
  • Lipovsky, C., & Mahboob, A. (2010). Appraisal of native and non-native English speaking teachers. In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST lens: Non native English speakers in TESOL (pp. 154–179). Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars.
  • Ruecker, T., & Ives, L. (2014). White Native English Speakers Needed: The Rhetorical Construction of Privilege in Online Teacher Recruitment Spaces.TESOL Quarterly.
  • Selvi, A. F. (2010). All teachers are equal, but some teachers are more equal than others: Trend analysis of job advertisements in English language teaching.WATESOL NNEST Caucus Annual Review, 1, 156-181.

5 months down the road to equity

road a new journeyAbout 5 months ago, at the beginning of April, or late March 2014, I started TEFL Equity Advocates. I couldn’t quite imagine then how quickly it would grow and how much backing it would receive. It’s been a very interesting, at times slightly frustrating, but incredibly rewarding and time-consuming journey, and I would like to tell you a bit more about it, as well as about where the campaign might be heading in the next couple of months.

The idea for the website, or rather at the time the blog, was first conceived with Chris Holmes (now Teacher Trainer in BC Sofia) after and before our BELTA presentation: ‘Misconceptions that just won’t go away’. The talk we gave was our attempt to show the wider public the problems posed by the continued discrimination of Non-Native English Speaker Teachers (NNESTs), and to encourage all teachers to speak out against it. The talk received quite encouraging feedback, so we started wondering how we could promote these ideas on the Internet. At the time, Chris had already set up Budapest nNNEST, a FB group for both NESTs (Native English Speaker Teachers) and NNESTs who support equal hiring policies in TEFL, but while it was very effective for discussions and certain other things, it didn’t work very well for publishing posts and articles. So TEFL Equity Advocates was born.

Having started on Blogspot, I quickly moved it to WordPress (thanks for advising this, James!). And from a simple blog, the thing started evolving and growing, with the ideas for new sections springing up every day quicker than I could actually write them down. It was a time of furious and endless writing, revising, deleting and writing it all over again until it sounded right, which it probably still doesn’t.

I also started contacting various people asking if they would like to write an article on the topic for the website, or share one they had already written. I quickly met (albeit some only virtually) fabulous ELT professionals, who – to my initial dismay – were very supportive and enthusiastic about the campaign. Many have written fantastic posts. Michael Griffin, Torn Halves, James Taylor, Nick Michelioudakis, Larissa Albano, Andrew Woodberry, Sherrie Lee and Sabrina de Vitta – thanks a lot for contributing.

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/7J5PTA

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/7J5PTA

Since the beginning, I’ve tried to make TEL Equity Advocates as open to different ideas about equity between NESTs and NNESTs as possible, and we’ve had some very productive disagreements and debates here. For example, James Taylor wished he was a non-native speaker in this post, but Michael Griffin – while wholeheartedly in favour of equity – pointed out some drawbacks of the approach James (and before him Peter Medgyes) had taken. Yet a different idea came from Torn Halves, who in this article suggested that unless there is a profound shift away from the post-colonial imperial order, equity cannot be achieved. Nick Michelioudakis showed how the halo effect might put NNESTs at an instant disadvantage, while most recently Andrew Woodberry argued in his post that students want classes with NESTs, because the industry has led them to believe that only a native speaker can teach ‘correct’ English, a misconception which I had tried to debunk in this article.

support mine

Photo under Creative Commons: https://flic.kr/p/BEDc6 – changes mine

It also came as quite a big surprise that those at the top of the EFL ladder were also in favour of equal opportunities for their NNEST colleagues. Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury, Luke Meddings, Peter Medgyes, David Crystal, Christina Latham-Koenig and many more (thank you all!) have all expressed their support for this campaign, while James Taylor wrote a brilliant post encouraging and suggesting how the teaching community could get involved in advocating equal rights for all teachers. As a NNEST whose CV has been turned down on several occasions as a result fo my rather un-Englishly sounding name, it is incredibly uplifting that there is a profound desire within the industry to change things for the better.

Still, all is not well in the TEFL kingdom. Websites such as www.tefl.com, www.onestopenglish.com, or www.tefl.net continue publicising discriminatory job ads, and unfortunately many recruiters and language schools are completely impervious to any logical arguments, preferring to base their hiring practices entirely on prejudice. However, there is a glimmer of hope, a green light, which unlike for Gatsby, is perfectly attainable if we all choose to row together against the current.

Josef Essberg, the founder of www.tefl.net – in response to my email and an unpublished article (which will soon see the light of day here) – said that while due to an incredibly large number of job ads sent to them, it is very difficult to filter them all, they “will not from now on knowingly publish a job which specifies “native” or similar”. He also added that they are going to open a section in which NNESTs can ask for advice and help when looking for jobs through their site. To me, this is a very encouraging first step indeed. A promise that change is indeed possible.

It’s been then an incredibly interesting and fruitful 5 months, which lead to countless hours spend glued to the screen writing and posting on FB and Twitter, working hard to increase my myopia. More precisely, however, it’s led to 18 posts, 18 pages, over 21 000 page views, 377 comments, 102 followers, 270 FB fans, 3 interviews (with Peter Medgyes, David Crystal and the Academic Director of IH London, Varinder Unlu) and 2 awards: one for the best website of the month from www.tefl.net in August , and the other for the best blog post of the month from Teaching English British Council, whose team I’d also like to thank for their continuous support.

So what’s next?

In September together with James Beddington we’re presenting a talk entitled ‘All teachers are equal, but some more than others’ at IATEFL Poland, and in November with Robert McCaul at TESOL France with the hope that the movement can reach an even wider audience and that we can persuade a few more people to join and support the campaign. So if you’re in the vicinity, it would be great to see you there 🙂

There are also some good interviews with Teacher Trainers and Academic Directors coming up which will hopefully further help debunk some of the most common negative myths about NNESTs. Of course, there will also be more articles and – I hope – contributions from a variety of EFL professionals. I’d definitely like to hear some more teacher success stories, so if you are one, please let me know 🙂

I would also like to start working on the visual side of the campaign (e.g. the website design, logo, etc.). I’m already getting some valuable help and advice here, but if you think you could contribute, please do get in touch.

However things pan out in the future, though, there’s one thing I’m sure of.

With your help and contributions  we will no doubt have created a brighter and a more equal one!

create future

PS If you would like to contribute to the blog, or help in any other way, or if you would like to just say hi, please feel free to comment below or use the Contact section to email me. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.