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

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

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

The “mono” myth

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

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

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

Not that much hope for me though…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope not.

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

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

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

The “multi” reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hypocrisy of the market

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

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

The neglected reality

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

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

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

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

OMG! My French teacher is Polish

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

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

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

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

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

About Katarzyna Komorek:

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

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

References:

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

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

Per Aspera ad Astra by Lina Gordyshevskaya

I did not really plan to be an English teacher. As most things in my life, it happened by accident rather than according to some plan.

I was fresh out of the university (Edinburgh) holding an MA in Scandinavian Studies, and I had no idea what to do with my life. There was an offer from a university in Sweden for a master’s programme in the same field, but I had been postponing making a decision whether I should accept it or not. I did not want to study for two more years and write another thesis, you see.

Finally, I made up my mind: I would go to Japan and continue learning Japanese, my recent hobby. Meanwhile, I would teach English since I had already been doing it for some time but voluntarily, and enjoyed it. The future finally seemed bright, and I could not think of any potential problems to face. How naïve I was…

To equip myself with some methodological knowledge and to raise my employability, I took a TEFL course in my hometown in Russia. In Japan, I started with a kid entertainer job (chatting to kids in English while they were waiting in the queue for the activity), which I did not like and escaped as soon as I felt I just could not take it anymore.

Finding a teaching job was tough: most schools seemed so cool with their websites filled with pictures of people in business suits laughing together; I was simply afraid, I did not feel qualified enough. And Kobe itself just did not have many opportunities.

I managed to become a substitute teacher at some small eikaiwa teaching a couple of days per month (if I was lucky). In April, I started a second job, with guaranteed hours. I was promised to get 15-16 hours, and I was really happy. However, I only got 6. When I asked why, I was told that many parents were not satisfied with me being new and young, so they signed their kids up for other teachers’ classes. Nothing was said of my non-nativeness – yet.

While teaching those 6 hours a week, I realised that teaching young learners was not really my thing. It was ok, but it did not inspire me. I decided to take a break – and CELTA. It blew my mind. Literally. It gave me that self-confidence I lacked before. I moved to Kanto and started looking for a job that would be suitable for my post-CELTA teaching experience. It appeared that the problem was not finding a suitable job but me being suitable for teaching English.

‘Native English speaker’.

‘Must hold a passport from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand’.

‘Seeking for a native English instructor’.

‘Only preferable candidates will be contacted after our initial screening’. I was not preferable. I did not have the ‘right’ passport.

I could not understand why.

Why does having a Russian passport supposedly make me worse teacher than any native teacher?

Why does being born in a non-English-speaking country make me less employable?

Why does having a degree from a university in the UK and two teaching qualifications mean nothing if English is my second language (by the way, I have been learning it since I was 4)?

I felt humiliated. I felt desperate. I cried on my husband’s shoulder asking him all these questions interrupted with sobs after every other word. He tried his best to support me, and eventually, after getting a headache and blocked nose, I would tell to myself ‘OK, I’ll try once again and take it easy’.

I tried to apply for universities as well since they hire non-natives but lacked teaching experience at the university level and did not hold a relevant degree, and did not have publications.

Finally, I got an offer from a big chain eikaiwa, the only one among many that hired non-natives quite actively. And yet, almost all non-natives I met there were on part-time contracts while 90% of full-time-contract instructors were from the countries where English is the first language. Despite anything, I was grateful to be there. I was grateful to them for hiring me, a non-native teacher. Only now, I think how twisted it is to be grateful for something that is (should be!) natural.

I did not give up on getting a university job. The thing is that I wanted to teach groups of young adults using a communicative approach, and it was hardly possible in the eikaiwa. I also did not like being constantly reminded that we are selling a product. I do not sell a product. I teach. T-E-A-C-H. So I tried and tried again and again.

And I got it.

I was lucky, I guess. It was the only university that required neither specific teaching experience (just general would do) nor publications. I had to prove during model teaching that I was able to teach communicative lessons, and I did.

When I got a job offer, my heart froze and then started beating crazily. I could not believe my own eyes. I could not breathe. I was ecstatic. I did it. I won this battle.

I know I will face discrimination in the ELT field again – we simply cannot change things just in the blink of an eye. However, next time I will choose not to feel humiliated but proud of who I am.

Teaching is a profession, and, as in any other profession, skills matter more than nationality. I have met amazing and inspiring teachers from all over the world, and it is not their nativeness – or non-nativeness – that makes them amazing and inspiring. It is their passion for teaching and developing as professionals. I think these two should be the minimum requirements instead of that one you can find in every single teaching job ad.

linaLina graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies in 2015. She obtained TEFL in 2015 and CELTA in 2016. This August, she was invited to teach demonstration lessons for a CELTA course in St Petersburg. Lina has taught YL, teenagers, and adults of various levels both in groups and privately. Currently, she teaches EAP (discussion) at a university in Japan and loves her job. She blogs regularly for https://eltbylinablog.wordpress.com/.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See where this is going?

IMG_1166

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

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

Karin: I am not a German teacher.

Roberta: That is ok. You are a native.

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

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

Karin: I am quite certain I did not.

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

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

Baffled looks. They realise I understood their entire conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-native speakers encouraged to apply – by Rob Sheppard

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.

When I arrived in Seoul about a week later I was so absorbed in my own exhaustion, excitement, and culture shock that all I thought when I met this woman, my new supervisor, was that she didn’t seem particularly friendly. I must have been a bit dense, because it took me a full six months to become fully cognizant of the uneven lay of the land.

Our school had 20 teachers: 10 Korean and 10 ‘foreign’ (a term I initially chafed at). The Korean teachers all held masters’ degrees from English speaking countries, while the requirement for foreign teachers was simply a bachelor’s degree and ‘native English,’ (which generally meant a desirable combination of passport and complexion). For the Korean teachers this was a career, but for most of the foreigners it was a gap year. The Korean teachers worked full time (which in Korea regularly means mandatory overtime); the foreigners only 15-20 hours per week. The Korean teachers made the equivalent of around $15 per hour: the foreign teachers something like 30% more than that.

These highly qualified, talented Korean English teachers watched kids like me cycle in and out of their country like it was spring break, make our bland observations about their culture, collect our paychecks, and saunter out of the office after 3 hours of work. That they still welcomed and befriended us rather than despising us is a graciousness I’ll never fathom.

The injustice of this situation really only hit me like it did because, by the time I finally recognized it, I was already good friends with several of these Korean teachers. At the time I dealt with it in the only way I knew how, in the staging of meaningless acts of protest: wearing shorts and a punk t-shirt to work, oblivious to the fact that this was only a further exercise in privilege.

Since then I like to think I’ve grown up some. Realizing this was more than a gap year, I got an MA TESOL and eventually got good at doing this teaching thing. So far I’ve been lucky. I’ve been given a shot more than once and hired above my experience level, and privilege of various kinds has no doubt factored into those opportunities.

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of leading teams of teachers, of hiring, training, and promoting some amazing ELT professionals. That first experience with the injustice of native-speakerism has stuck with me, and I’ve done what I can to make certain it never happens on my watch, in my programs. I can say with confidence that the three best hires I’ve ever made were of non-native speakers.

There are those who say that students would rather learn from native speakers, and as a program administrator at a nonprofit, my ultimate duty is to serve a population. So I have had to give this argument careful consideration. And indeed, I have heard rooms full of students affirm that they would prefer an “American teacher.” That attitude certainly exists. But more importantly I’ve seen that bias vanish in minutes, as they fall under the spell of their incredible new teacher whose first language happens to be Chinese, or Russian, or Portuguese.

Meeting student needs doesn’t always mean catering to every misguided want. Many students hold some serious misapprehensions about what ought to happen in a classroom. It is our responsibility as educators to disabuse them of these ideas.

To me the core argument against native-speakerism is two-fold:

First of all, the notion that native speakers have a leg up on non-natives is simply unfounded. A quick metaphor explains why. If I need to understand the inner workings of my computer, who’s the better resource: Paolo who built his own computer, or rich-kid Evan whose mom just bought his ungrateful ass a new iMac?

Once that illogic has been demonstrated, the more compelling part of the argument comes in. Saying you “prefer” a native speaker doesn’t change the fact that it’s discriminatory. In my experience, if the rationale for a policy or a preference or a belief about a group of people can be traced back to the circumstances of that group of those people’s birth, that’s usually a good time to start raising eyebrows and asking questions. A whole lot of injustice arises from that kind of reasoning, and this is no exception.

Recently, I’ve started my own business, Ginseng. It’s a mission-driven online English school offering live group classes to students around the world. As we state on our homepage, we see teachers as the most valuable resource we can offer, so we want the best. We intend to pay and treat them very well. With competition out there touting native speakers left and right, I certainly had to consider whether I would be wise to do the same. Business is business, right?

But why do people learn English? Why do we teach English?

For me at least it’s in large part because of the opportunities it affords my students. I didn’t come here to found the next E.F.  So what kind of hypocrite would I be if I professed to be increasing opportunity, only to go and offer that opportunity only to those who were born into the privilege of native English?

It was this that led me to enthusiastically embrace the mission of TEFL Equity. It was also this that led me to commit 10% of our student slots to providing free classes to those who can’t afford to pay. If your values align with ours, and are interested in joining a team, I hope you’ll check out Ginseng’s job listings, complete with the TEFL Equity badge. Non-native speakers are encouraged to apply.

rob shephardRob Sheppard is senior director of adult programs at Quincy Asian Resources and the founder of Ginseng English, an online, mission-driven English school that will fully launch in late 2017. He also serves on the community advisory council at First Literacy, is a member of the Open Door Collective, and is co-chair elect of TESOL’s Adult Education Interest Section.

 

Who is qualified to teach English? by Amy Thompson

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

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

Perhaps.

Is it discrimination against particular demographics?

Most definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

The Beauty and Horror of Explaining Mixed Conditionals (Among Other Grammar Points) by Madeline Castillo

One of the most misused grammar forms is the mixed conditionals, and this is not really much of a surprise. The use of one verb tense in a sentence is already difficult, so imagine having to put together two verb tenses in one sentence — it’s almost a nightmare!

For most ESL teachers, myself included, a mixed conditional sentence is a classroom conundrum. I have seen how it transforms into a total horror show as you try to explain not only how the sentence is constructed, but also what it means. I have watched as my students’ faces scrunch up in confusion when I mention how these situations or conditions (mostly imaginary) affect results (either in the past or the present). I have looked for signs of me second-guessing myself as doubt sets in.

The last bit, perhaps, is the worst. More than the form or function of any grammar point, the biggest challenge for a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher is the fact that any explanation you give can easily be trumped by a ‘native speaker’ teacher’s “That’s just how it is.” Even though some tend to have a less structured ESL background, ‘native speakers’ are usually preferred to non-native English speakers. In the ESL industry, there are many instances when one’s value as a teacher is primarily determined by ethnicity, and not knowledge, experience or skill. The privilege of having been born in a ‘native English-speaking’ country has long been a standard and not having the ‘right’ nationality, a stigma. As a result, gifted and proficient teachers are sidelined for less experienced and less effective ‘native’ individuals.

However, ‘non-native speaker’ teachers know mixed conditionals well, not just because we studied them in school or because we teach them in class. We know this lesson topic well because we have learned to live with a few conditional questions ourselves: Would I be more credible if I had been born and raised by parents whose primary language was English? If that company I applied for saw me as a native English speaker, would I have gotten that teaching job? Had I been born in the US or the UK, would I be a better English teacher?

Almost a year ago, I joined Learntalk, an ESL startup, and was tasked to create a written grammar exam for our teachers. As it is a way for us to check our overall proficiency is as a company, everyone had to take the test. Most were pretty happy with the results – save for my boss. Born and raised in the UK, he thought that he’d be one of the few who’d ace the test. When he got the results, they were pretty mediocre, with some of our teachers scoring higher than he did! What’s remarkable is that we are all Filipino ESL teachers: all ‘non-native’, different backgrounds, same passion. That incident was one of the many instances that prove that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a ‘native English speaker’ or not. Knowledge has never been just skin deep, and never will be.

I’ve been teaching English for more than six years now, and mixed conditionals are still a pain to teach. Students still get confused occasionally and at times I still doubt my own understanding. However, there is comfort in knowing that my grasp of conditionals and English grammar is just as good as my understanding and acceptance of my own self as a teacher.

madelineMadeline Castillo is an ESL teacher, lifestyle writer and dancer from the Philippines. She has been teaching English to both children and adults for more than six years now. In 2016, she joined Learntalk, an EdTech startup that harnesses technology to give students a fully immersive language learning experience without the need to travel and live in a distant country, while at the same time providing all the grammatical rigor of a classroom setting. The company operates in three segments, providing language training to individuals, corporates and education institutions around the world.

Native Speaker Privilege and Unprofessionalism within the ESL Industry by Kevin Hodgson 

These days, there is a lot of talk about privilege, particularly white male privilege, in English language media.  It is argued that people who fit these racial and gender profiles receive institutional benefits because they “…resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions” (Kendall, 2002, p. 1).  However, others have argued that the term is problematic because the issue of inequity is much more dynamic or overlapping and ignores other important variables such as social and economic class.  A quick perusal of the comments section on any online article dealing with the topic will immediately reveal just how strongly opinionated people are on either side of the debate; it has only helped to create even more divisiveness in societies that are already ideologically separated by an ever growing political schism of conservatism vs. liberalism. 

Seen from a global perspective, however, one wonders why no mention is even given to another form of privilege in the English speaking media, one that affects over 7 billion people worldwide: native speakerism.  According to Peggy McIntosh (1998), white males believe that their privileges are “conditions of daily experience” universally available to all, but they are in reality, however, “unearned power conferred systematically”. Now, couldn’t the same statement be made about people who are born in countries where English is the native language, or more specifically, in Kachru’s ‘inner circle nations such as Britain, Canada or the United States of America?  Whether it is in competition for a career job with a successful international corporation or simply traveling overseas for pleasure, native English speakers, regardless of race or gender, always have an advantage, and, therefore, have privilege over those who are not.

There are many countries in the world, like Japan for example, where people who wish to attend a University must study English for 12 years and then pass an English language exam before they can even take their first course, and then, if they decide to have a professional career such as an engineer when they graduate, they must have a higher level of reading proficiency than the average native English speaker in order to keep up to date with the most current literature in their field. Similarly, in many other countries, like those in the Arabian Gulf, the situation is even more daunting because the person hoping to go to University not only has to pass an English Language entrance exam but also must study almost all faculty subjects in English.  If these non-native speakers then hope to compete for a career position with a successful, international corporation, they may have to compete with a native English speaker for whom a high level proficiency in a subsequent language was most likely an option rather than an obligation (while native speaking university students can focus on mastering their individual subject matter, non-native speakers must also master a foreign language, often one that is linguistically antithetical to her or his own, in addition to their major or study their major in a subsequent language).  Language acquisition requires an enormous investment of time, effort and finance, and the luxury of not having to make that investment is certainly a privilege that most people in the world have not been granted.

Even the simple and enjoyable act of traveling has numerous taken-for-granted privileges for native speakers. For as long as they are traveling to a popular tourist destination, the average native English speaker will not have to utter a single syllable in the local language in order to have their needs met, whereas most non-native speakers are going to have to learn some basic “survival” English in order to get past customs, make accommodation reservations, and, yes, even eat, a linguistic conundrum that very few native speaking travelers have had to experience. Personally, when I travel overseas, I always try to learn some local vocabulary and expressions prior to my trip.  I do this not only because I am an applied linguist and interested in languages but also because I am aware of my native speakerist privilege and try to show a little respect, something very few of my fellow native speakers seem to do.  This has become evident by the reactions of surprise I have received from locals when I simply ask them a one sentence question in their language before blabbing away in English: “Excuse me, do you speak English?”  It really doesn’t take much effort to learn one sentence, but you’d be surprised how many of my fellow native speaking colleagues even bother to do that much when they travel abroad.

Speaking of my colleagues, if native English speakers enjoy numerous privileges studying, working and traveling in international contexts, then Native speaking English language instructors enjoy extraordinary special privileges, particularly with attaining employment; it has been well documented that many, if not a majority of, employers of English language instructors adopt discriminatory hiring practices against non-native speakers (Mahboob & Golden, 2013).  What is not documented, however, but is plainly obvious to anyone who works in this field, is that a very large percentage of these native English speakers are also mono-lingual.  In my own personal experience, I have been working in this field for almost 17 years in 3 different countries, and I can state without hesitation that, generally speaking, mono-lingualism and mono-culturalism are the norm for the majority of native speakers I have worked with or met. This is very disturbing precisely because it shows how much the applied linguistics profession is affected by, and consequently condones and encourages, native-speakerist privilege.   After all, ESL is concerned with not only teaching English, but teaching it as a subsequent language, and, therefore, the personal experience of having acquired one should be a logical pre-requisite to teach; how many other professions would allow people to do a job without any personal and practical experience?  Moreover, having subsequent language proficiency only enhances a language’s instructor’s credentials because it increases their ability to meet their students’ affective and pedagogical needs. Instructors with subsequent language acquisition, particularly in their students’ mother tongue in EFL contexts, are more qualified to conduct contrastive analysis, adopt teaching practices that are context sensitive, and, most importantly, empathize with their students and act as a model of a successful language learner, thereby enhancing student motivation while simultaneously reducing accusations of adhering to ethnocentric pedagogical practices (Hodgson, 2008).

Personally, I would very much like to expose the depth of native-speakerist beliefs within this profession by conducting research on monolingual native speakers with regard to this topic.  However, inaction is less a result of my own lethargy but rather acknowledgement that any such attempt would be futile; it would be extremely difficult to get such people even to participate in such a study, and, if there were willing participants, it would be even harder to get them to do so honestly.  I believe I can assert this claim with confidence because of my experience with my native speaking colleagues over the years, especially when they have discovered my strong feelings against native-speakerism. 

Although the personal anecdotes from throughout my career are numerous, I will share only a few that I feel are the most revealing. Once when I was in an interview for a managerial position and my research interests became the topic of discussion, I was asked by one of the interviewers if my research findings would affect my hiring practices.  After replying in the affirmative, the interviewer then asked me how I felt about hiring all Indian instructors because they were willing to work for so much less.  I understand the point that the interviewer was trying to make, but to me it was irrelevant, and I responded that qualifications should be the main requirement and instructors should receive the same remuneration regardless of their passport or place of birth.  Nothing more about the matter was said and the interview switched to another line of query (for the reader’s interest, I did not get the job; however, I am honest and willing to admit that I may have had other shortcomings that resulted in the final decision).

Another time, after I had one of my manuscripts published, I was confronted by a mono-lingual native speaking colleague who disagreed strongly with my findings and related opinions.  The article in question dealt with the negative psycho-linguistic affect of adopting native speaker models of linguistic competence in English language teaching (Hodgson, 2014).  During the lengthy and uncomfortable conversation, it became evident that this colleague had read only the conclusion (even though teaching research skills at a tertiary institution was part of this person’s professional responsibilities!).  Whatever I said to this person simply feel on deaf ears and I was told very tersely that I was wrong and that only native English speakers are the most qualified to teach the English language.  Realizing it was impossible even to debate the matter with my interlocutor, I ended the discussion by suggesting that my colleague conduct research and then submit findings to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.  Although this confrontation with this person was a very unpleasant experience, it remains an even bitter memory because this person was well known for prioritizing personal financial gain over professional responsibilities by leaving campus during official working hours for supplementary IELTS work.

I mention these two examples because I believe they illustrate the crux of the matter; the affirmation of native-speakerist beliefs, and the corresponding privileges that accompany them, continues to provide unquestioned legitimacy for the financial security of mono-lingual, native speaking instructors in general and the relaxed, professionally inactive ones in particular; so long as both the general public and employers, students and teachers, all buy into the native-speaker fallacy, then the status quo will remain unquestioned, and, consequently, the main qualification of, and justification for, the native-speaking instructor’s professional and financial position will be his or her ‘nativeness’.  However, so long as this continues, we cannot justifiably consider applied linguistics a profession; without a universally accepted system of employment based solely on merit and ability, our profession can only be classified as an unethical industry in which the consumers have been convinced by unscrupulous advertising to buy a lesser quality product at an overpriced cost. 

If the main method to combat white privilege is through reflection and acknowledgement of the privilege and then its abolition (Kendall, 2002), then perhaps this tactic could be applied to native speaker privilege as well. For this to happen, however, it will require acknowledgement among native English speakers about their privilege (which, in turn, will require them to cease viewing division through their domestic lenses (at least temporarily) and see their shared privilege in international contexts), and resistance among non-native learners to support institutions financially that support the prolongation of such privileges.  The issue of native-speakerism has been discussed for decades now, and too many native speaker instructors have unjustly benefited from it while too many non-native learners and teachers have been unethically disadvantaged by it.  It is time to put theory into practice and make applied linguistics the respectful profession it deserves to be.

kevinKevin Hodgson has been teaching English at both the secondary and tertiary levels in Canada, Japan and the U.A.E for 15 years.  He holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics from Brock University, Canada, and his current research interests are in the fields of native-speakerism and psycho-linguistics..

References

  • Hodgson, K. (2008). Unloading the native speaking EFL instructor’s burden: The correlation between knowledge of students’ language and culture and the ability to meet their affective and pedagogical needs. Retrieved from here 
  • Hodgson, K. (2014). Mismatch: Globalization and Native Speaker Models of Linguistic Competence, RELC Journal.45 (2), 113-134.
  • Kendall, F. (2002). Understanding White Privilege. Retrieved from here. 
  • Mahboob & Golden, (2013). Looking for Native Speakers of English Discrimination in English Language Teaching Job Advertisements, Voices in Asia Journal, 1 (1), 72-81. 
  • McIntosh, P. (1988). White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through  Work in Women’s Studies.  Retrieved from here.

 

Reflexión: lecciones aprendidas después de dos años contratando profesores de inglés no nativos

[note from the editor: this post was translated into Spanish from this article also published on the blog by Andrew Davison by Marina Escalada]

Mi experiencia en cuanto a trabajar con profesores de inglés no nativos (NNESTS en sus siglas en inglés), comenzó hace poco más de 2 años, cuando empecé mi negocio, Learn English Budapest. No somos una escuela de idiomas al uso, sino una agencia que pone en contacto a profesores de inglés con estudiantes de toda la ciudad. Cuando comencé, la meta era ofrecer una alternativa moda a los folletos y a anunciarse en foros de expatriados.

Durante los primeros meses, yo, al igual que otras muchas escuelas tristemente aún siguen haciendo, tenía una opinión negativa de los profesores no nativos. Asumía que los profesores nativos eran, simplemente, mejores a la hora de enseñar el idioma.

No fue hasta que fui contactado por Marek Kiczkowiak, fundador de TEFL Equity Advocates (Defensores de la Igualdad en TEFL), que realmente tuve la oportunidad de cuestionar mi opinión sobre el tema.

Lo que empezó como un intercambio de correos sobre el tema de nativos y no nativos (NESTS/NNESTS*) se convirtió en un experimento por mi parte. Decidí empezar a aceptar a NNESTS en mi equipo para ver que resultados obtenía y tan sólo unas pocas semanas después, me di cuenta de que había estado cometiendo un error al no contratarlos.

En aquel entonces, compartí un sumario de mis conclusiones en una entrevista. Hoy, vuelvo a estar aquí y me complace anunciar el lanzamiento de mi nuevo sitio web, Teacher Finder. Es el mismo concepto, excepto que esta vez pondremos a personas en contacto con profesores de idiomas en más de una docena de ciudades alrededor del mundo. También nos expandiremos incluyendo nuevos idiomas: Español, Italiano, Francés, Húngaro, Arabe y Alemán, entre otros. Por supuesto, los profesores no nativos son bienvenidos.

Para todos aquellos que se dedican a la gestión de agencias o escuelas de idiomas y que tengan dudas sobre trabajar con NNESTS, comparto aquí algunos de los resultados observados durante los últimos 2 años.

LA MAYORÍA DE ESTUDIANTES VALORAN LA EXPERIENCIA MÁS QUE LA LENGUA MATERNA

Cuando se trata de enseñar, es obvio que las requisitos más importantes son, la habilidad del profesor a la hora de explicar el tema y, obviamente, enseñar. Esto es particularmente cierto en cuanto a profesores de idiomas. En un mundo donde la lengua franca internacional es el inglés y el número de hablantes no nativos empieza a sobrepasar el de nativos, es ridículo pensar que los no nativos no pueden ser tan buenos profesores como los “elegidos”, que han nacido en un ambiente donde se habla inglés.

LOS ESTUDIANTES NO EXIGIRÁN UN PROFESOR NATIVO SI NO LES DAS LA OPCIÓN

Por supuesto, “nativo” sigue estando imbuido de un cierto estereotipo y, dada la opción, la mayoría de personas aún optan por un nativo. De hecho, solía haber una casilla en el formulario online de Learn English Budapest donde se leía: “¿Quieres un profesor nativo? Si/No. No es de sorprender que la mayoría de personas marcasen la casilla “nativo” o lo dejasen en blanco.

Decidí quitar esta casilla y reemplazarla con la siguiente pregunta dirigida a los estudiantes: “Describe como sería tu profesor perfecto”. Durante los siguientes meses, resultó evidente que los estudiantes no buscaban a alguien que fuera nativo. Estaban más interesados en encontrar a un profesor que compartiera sus intereses y pudiera explicar ampliamente el tópico en el que están interesados.

A partir de ese momento, no me ha contactado ningún estudiante para quejarse de haberle sido asignado un profesor no nativo de inglés. La mayoría están encantados al ver que los NNESTS pueden explicar gramática complicada (a menudo, mejor que los hablantes nativos) y establecer analogías con sus idiomas nativos.

LOS NNESTS PUEDEN SER MÁS DINÁMICOS

Uno de los factores que más favorece a los NNESTS es que tienen experiencia propia de haber aprendido el idioma. Poseen una gran comprensión de lo que los estudiantes están pasando y de cuáles pueden ser los mayores obstáculos para alcanzar la fluidez.

Su propia experiencia del aprendizaje del idioma, ha menudo les ha enseñado algunas técnicas innovadoras sobre cómo explicar mejor y entender inglés. Cuando pregunté a mis profesores cuales eran los consejos y trucos que les son de más ayuda a la hora de enseñar inglés, en seguida vi que los NNESTS eran los que sabían mucho más acerca de la manera de mejorar sus habilidades lingüísticas, (y las de sus alumnos).

LOS NNESTS TIENDEN A TENER MEJORES RECURSOS PARA LA ENSEÑANZA

De nuevo, ya que los NNESTS han pasado por la inmensa tarea de llegar a hablar otro idioma con fluidez, han explorado las posibilidades, dentro del panorama de recursos de aprendizaje de idiomas, para encontrar los mejores. Mientras que los NESTS cuentan con el lujo de poder contar siempre con el recurso de ser hablantes nativos y poder elaborar “recursos” improvisados, los NNESTS normalmente, cubren ese espacio preparándose mejor las lecciones.

También son los que comparten con los estudiantes más métodos de aprendizaje alternativos a los libros y les ayudan a mejorar más rápidamente el manejo del idioma. También he observado que, por norma general, también hacen más esfuerzo en crear sus propios recursos y combinar estrategias diferentes para encontrar la mejor manera de enseñar a cada alumno.

CUANDO SE TRATA DE ENSEÑAR A NIÑOS, LOS NNESTS, A MENUDO LO HACEN MEJOR

Cuando rememoro mis días en la escuela y las clases de idiomas que nos daban, no puedo acordarme de, ni tan siquiera, un profesor de idiomas nativo. Cuando se trata de principiantes y niños, la habilidad de explicar el idioma en su idioma nativo y limitar la presión que el estudiante siente, es irreemplazable.

Cuando era joven y estudiaba mis primeras lecciones en español, no hubiera podido sobrevivir frente a una persona española oyéndome imitar su idioma; por lo que he aprendido de los comentarios que recibo de los estudiantes, a menudo, estos se sienten igual cuando están empezando. Los más avanzados puede que se sientan cómodos siendo expuestos a más presión, pero los niños no suelen progresar en ese entorno.

CONCLUSIÓN: MIENTRAS QUE LOS ESTEREOTIPOS LIGADOS A LOS PROFESORES NATIVOS CONTINÚAN, LOS NNESTS ESTÁN, A MENUDO, MEJOR PREPARADOS PARA ENSEÑAR INGLÉS.

Incluso en Teacher Finder aún tenemos gente pidiendo profesores de inglés nativos pero, muy a menudo, no presionan sobre el tema. También hemos conseguido explicar con éxito los beneficios inherentes en el aprendizaje con profesores no nativos de inglés.

Diría que una de las ventajas de tener a un NNEST enseñándote, es que entiende perfectamente por lo que estás pasando como estudiante del idioma. Al haber pasado por el mismo esfuerzo frente a las cuestiones gramaticales, entiende lo que se necesita para poder explicar claramente las normas. Esto es particularmente importante con los niños, quienes pueden desanimarse si tienen a un profesor nativo.

A pesar de que, desafortunadamente, me tomó un tiempo llegar a darme cuenta, ahora se que los NNESTS pueden estar mejor equipados y preparados para enseñar que los profesores nativos. Al final, lo que realmente les importa a los estudiantes es encontrar a alguien con quien puedan conectar y que haga del aprendizaje del idioma algo ameno, indistintamente de si son nativos o no nativos.

andrew5041Andrew Davison es el fundador de Teacher Finder y también disfruta escribiendo y viajando en su tiempo libre. Vive entre Londres y Budapest.

*NEST(S): siglas en inglés de “Native English Teacher-s”. En español, Profesor(es) Nativo(s) de Inglés.

NNEST(S): siglas en inglés de “Non-Native English Teacher-s”. En español, Profesor(es) No-Nativo(s) de Inglés.

Attitudes to discrimination in ELT job ads – the importance of teaching experience by Dan Baines

The first article in this series of blogposts looked at the general attitudes to discrimination around the industry in general. This second piece will look at the disparity of belief between trainee and novice teacher and those who are more experienced.

Trainee teachers and native speakerism

When contrasting the views of trainee teachers with the rest of the industry it can be seen that some of the data is consistent with the overall tendencies whereas some shows more variation. Regarding visible tattoos, requiring EU passports, asking for C1 proficiency and employment of Caucasian teachers, there is very little difference in these attitudes except that trainee teachers seem marginally more likely (6%) to see a language requirement as justification and are slightly more likely (again 6%) to see racist hiring policies in China as unjustified.

However, there seems to be a much greater disparity with the issue of native speaker requirements. Promisingly, 68% of teachers in general found the requirement for native English speakers to be both discriminatory and unjustified while the number of trainee teachers stands at a much smaller 50% meaning that 50% find this practice either justifiable (20%) or simply not discriminatory at all (30%).

The data also suggests that teachers become more aware of native speakerism as a form of discrimination as they move through their career. As can be seen in chart 1, the likelihood of considering nativespeakerism to be an unjustifiable form of discrimination seem to rise with experience.

This data would seem to suggest one, or a combination, of scenarios.

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1. As teachers become more experienced, they become less likely to see being a NNEST as being a hindrance or to see being a NEST as a legitimate “qualification”
2. The trainee teachers who believe being a NEST is a legitimate requirement simply leave the industry.
3. Perceptions of what a NES is change over time and therefore changes their attitude.

There also seems to be a difference in interpretation when respondents are considered by job (chart 2). The groups who found native speakerism the least justifiable are the people in jobs that typically require a greater amount of experience (academic management and teacher trainers). What is interesting in the case of academic management is that these are often the people responsible for the hiring of teachers, so, possibly due to market demand, directors of studies are enforcing prejudices they disagree with whilst adding to the further discrimination of NNESTs. What is striking is that 73% of ex-teachers felt that these hiring practices were unjustified, suggesting that the reason for the change in attitude is not down to teachers simply leaving the industry.

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What is a native speaker?

There was much less variation between trainee teachers and more experienced teachers when it came to defining the term native speaker (they were instructed to choose as many as they agreed with, not to choose one definition). As can be seen from chart 3, the distribution is very similar with “born in an English speaking country” and “grew up speaking English at home” being the most chosen options by both groups. However, with the exception of other, each option was chosen more frequently overall than it was by the trainee teachers, suggesting that the more experienced were more confident about how to define this term. Some of the differences may suggest that trainee teachers are less knowledgeable about issues such as World Englishes and bilingualism. Twice as many trainees chose to fill in the “other” field, but many responses contained contained rather vague phrases such as “mother tongue” or “first language”.

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The biggest surprise with the data was that there was no overall consensus on what being a native speaker means. 65% was the highest percentage, with nothing else breaking, or in many cases coming close to, the 60% mark. If the professionals that make up the industry can’t agree on what this term means, why do we see it nearly everywhere we look.

Conclusions

Textbook and non-textbook examples

At the outset it was expected that trainees’ interpretation of well-known forms of discrimination and non-discrimination (racism, sexism, ageism, relevant skills and qualifications) would mirror the overall tendencies of the group. However, whilst this was found to be true for racism and the requirement for a high English proficiency, others differed. The surrounding context of the women’s college and the summer camp led to variation in opinion, with many stating the requirements of this specific context as the reason to justify the discrimination.

With the issue of the native speaker requirement, on the other hand, there was no such contextual justification. Nothing about the country or the type of position was mentioned at any point, but just that students prefer it and that NEST may just be better in some areas. It’s not surprising that over time teachers encounter native speakerism within the profession, but how often is this addressed in pre-service and early service education? It wasn’t mentioned on my CELTA nor was there any mention of it on my DELTA or MA TESOL.

Reasons for individual differences

Above I outlined 3 possible reasons for the disparity between trainees and the rest of the industry on the issue of native speakerism, but the evidence presented seems to suggest that there is only one conceivable reason for it. Firstly, there doesn’t seem to be a huge shift in definitions of what a NES is. If you separate the charts and lay one on top of the other, the distribution is nearly identical with the only significant differences being the open-mindedness in general responses, indicated by the higher percentages for each descriptor. The idea that those unaware of native speakerism or those who feel it is justified are leaving the industry also seems to be unfounded as ex-teachers were one of the most likely to see native speaker based discrimination to be unjustifiable. Which takes us back to the first explanation that awareness of the issue comes with experience.

Native speakerism and teacher training

This begs a couple of very important questions. Why is it taking so long for more teachers to acknowledge the discrimination in ELT? Why isn’t there any focus on issues of discrimination in teacher education courses? It seems unlikely that there is some kind of conspiracy to keep this a secret to protect the interests of NESTs, but more likely that when trying to force methodology, language awareness, teaching practice etc. into 120 hours, some issues are seen as simply less important. Silvana Richardson’s recent IATEFL plenary was a great step forward in addressing the elephant that has been camped in the room for decades, but in many ways she was preaching to the choir. The standing ovation at the end was deserved and you could see the emotion in the eyes of those present as she described their experiences through her own, but these people are the industry. How are we sending the message to those who have yet to join?

Many institutions, TESOL France and IATEFL, to name a couple, have taken a firm stance on job advertisements with discriminatory language, but the fact still remains that dozens of ads are posted elsewhere everyday that go unchecked. The jobs themselves are frequently aimed at teachers with minimal classroom experience, instead preferring a place of birth as the experience to supplement CELTA/Cert TESOL, making them appealing for teachers fresh from training courses. As a result, many teachers unknowingly fuel the fire of this discrimination by applying for and accepting these jobs and furthering the idea that NS status makes a significant difference to one’s ability to do the job. If this is the case, teachers deserve to be fully informed about the myth they are perpetuating and the biases in the industry; some will inevitably exploit to their own ends, but others may take a stand and educate others.

There has been a lot of recent debate about whether initial teacher training courses privilege NEST and there have been many fine arguments put forward by both sides. However, what does remain clear is that there is definitely inadequate attention given to issues such as this despite there being so many opportunities for its inclusion. Most courses offer some kind of career support, so why not take 15 minutes to highlight the kind of prejudice that exists? Why not find an hour to look at qualities of good teaching/teachers and explore where this fits within the NEST/NNEST dichotomy?

[from the editor: If you’re looking for inspiration for activities, check out the article Dan Baines co-wrote with Marek Kiczkowiak and Karin Krummenacher, which is available here. You might also want to take a look at sample lesson plans here, or attend the upcoming webinar with Michael Griffin and Zhenya Polosatova entitled: Exploring NNS issues in a teacher training course.]

daniel bainesDaniel Baines is the Director of Studies at Oxford House Prague and a Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor. He holds an MA TESOL from Sheffield Hallam University and has given talks at conferences in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and most recently at IATEFL in the UK. His primary research interests are native speakerism in ELT and reflection in initial teacher training. He was a finalist in the 2014 British Council ELT Masters Dissertation Award.

TEFL.com – et tu contra me? by Paulina Woźniak

To be or not to be…

I’ve never defined myself as a fighter. I’ve always followed the rules and believed that if everyone did so, the world would be a wonderful place to live. You might see my attitude as a little bit naïve but I’ve always believed in equality, in the end, we live in the 21st century, we’re getting smarter and more conscious every day. Nevertheless, until very recently I had not seen anything wrong about language schools wanting to hire only native speakers.

What has changed?

You might wonder how somebody, who’s always lived in their idealized bubble, finally realised that the world we lived in was not as perfect as it seemed. Well, it happened pretty much by accident. A couple of months ago, I attended a TESOL conference in Vitoria-Gasteiz. I had made a list of all the talks I wanted to attend, and the one about acting against native-speakerism was… not on my list. It was actually my boss who, the day before the conference, encouraged me to go to that talk. I had not had any expectations, and I think that’s why the talk affected me so much. I left the room with my legs shaking and a thousand thoughts running in my mind at the same time. I realised I had been a target and probably an object of discrimination. But, how was it possible that I hadn’t realized it before?

It’s all about being in the right place at the right time

After the talk, I started thinking about my “employment history” and I realised that luck was very important. Because of various reasons, I always looked for the job in the middle of school year. As you can probably imagine, if a language school looks for a substitute teacher in January or February, they need them asap. I have never been asked to pretend I am a native speaker or not to mention my origins. I just got the job I had been looking for without any problems. The life in my idealized bubble was just perfect. Thanks to the fact that I am a well-organized and hard-working person, usually modest too J, I’ve never had problems staying in a language school because my employers knew about my experience, qualifications and teaching style. Being a non-native was a fact but not a stumbling block.

All good things come to an end…

Some time ago, I started feeling a need to change something in my life. As an EFL teacher, I simply thought that it might not be a bad idea to change the place of living. My colleagues recommended I used tefl.com to apply for jobs. If you’ve ever used the webpage, you probably now that it’s full of job offers for EFL teachers you can apply for directly and instantly. At first I was pretty impressed by the number of offers. However, after some time, I realised that all of them had one thing in common: everyone was looking for native level English speakers.

 

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Well, there is nothing wrong or incorrect about looking for proficient English speakers. As a teacher I know that the better the teacher’s English (by which I also mean qualifications), the more students will possibly benefit from classes. What struck me the most though, is the fact that experience is not as valuable to some employers as language proficiency.

Time to apply

Whenever I see an interesting job offer, I jump at the chance and send my application. I started the whole process around April. Since that moment, I hadn’t had any problems until the moment when I wanted to apply for a job and I suddenly saw this notification on the screen:

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2 Source: http://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/jobpage.html?jobId=79209&countryId=

At first I thought it was just a system bug. In the end the job offer said “native level English speaker”, and if you just have a quick look at my profile, you’ll see that there’s no higher level of language competence than “fluent”. However, before the questions about the foreign languages, there is one tricky question: “Are you a native level English speaker?”. To your surprise, my answer to the question was “No”. Why? Firstly, what does native-like even mean? It is already quite problematic to decide who a native speaker actually is not to mention a native-like speaker. Well, I was not born in an English-speaking-like country, my parents do not speak an English-like language and my education was never in an English-like language. Thus, my answer to the question was “No”. Therefore, I could not apply for the job mentioned above.

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3 Source: https://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/resume/language-experiences.html

What’s actually worth discussing

Since that moment I have been thinking a lot about this loophole in TEFL.COM’s system. Wouldn’t it be better to simply use CEFR (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) which is widely accepted and respected to verify teachers’ English language proficiency? It is worth mentioning that according to CEFR a C2 English language speaker has “the capacity to deal with material which is academic or cognitively demanding, and to use language to good effect at a level of performance which may in certain respects be more advanced than that of an average native speaker”. You’ve probably noticed that being born and raised in an English speaking country is absolutely not a requirement here. Neither is an RP pronunciation. A C2 English speaker might actually have a better linguistic competence than a native speaker, now the question is, how does this influence the teaching process? Non-native speakers actually underwent the learning process themselves and know what it is like to be in students’ shoes. They quite often, just like me, have a teaching degree, postgraduate studies and CELTA. They’re simply prepared for the job because they’ve been working their whole life (or most of it) to do this job.

I am not a native speaker, a fact I am not ashamed of. Anyone who has studied a foreign language and is capable of teaching it knows how difficult and challenging this task is. I’ve found being judged, only on the basis of me being born and raised in a non-English speaking country, outrageous, offensive and unacceptable. I’ve been denied the possibility to apply for a job which is a pure example of discrimination. That was the moment my bubble burst and I felt the need to speak out against the discrimination of non-native English speaker teachers.

What’s the euphemism for irony?

If you’ve ever tried to post a job offer on tefl.com, you’ve probably seen this notification below which provides you with short information about what’s acceptable and unlawful within the EU.

First, Tefl.com inform school schools that it is illegal to advertise for native speakers. Consequently, the advertisers ask for “native-like” English speakers to comply with the law. At this point we have to be honest, those who advertise for “native-like level” are still looking for “native speakers”, they just put in politically correct words. As a result, unless I tick the box in my online resume that I am a ‘native-like level English speaker’, my application will be rejected right away.

The webpage’s terms and conditions are undoubtedly legal, but difficult to implement or stick to in practice thanks to the system which, probably, automatically discriminates against non-native-like speakers.

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One more thing I have to clarify here. Before I did my CELTA, my application had also been rejected once or twice because I did not have “relevant” qualifications (some employers asked specifically for CELTA) which I found absolutely acceptable. But the very first moment I could not apply for a job because I was born and raised in Poland in a monolingual Polish speaking environment I decided to take an active stand.

“If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime.” ― Jack Kerouac

I have to admit, that even though discrimination itself is not a pleasant thing, it may be an eye-opening experience. After the talk in March, I was sort of aware that something similar might happen to me. However, what struck me even more than being discriminated on the grounds of my mother tongue, were my colleagues’ reactions. One of them, a teacher form Ireland, asked me directly why I did not say I was a native-like speaker in my profile (His justification – “Your English is better than mine”). He did admit I was right when I asked him if he would say that he was English instead of Irish in order to get a job.

I have no intention of denying who I am and where I come from. My colleague’s reactions showed me that we have to raise people’s awareness and highlight the current situation. We have to stand up to all those ridiculous requirements and fight for ourselves.

One for all and all for one

 

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Designed by @teflninja

 

As I said in the beginning, I’ve never defined myself as a fighter but I’ve realised that if we do not want to live in the world where all teachers are equal but some teachers are more equal than others, we have to take an active stand and speak out against the discrimination now.

paulina-wozniakPaulina Woźniak officially started teaching English in 2013, however she says that she actually started the job at the age of… four. In 2015, she started teaching English in Spain and she’s recently started a new teaching job in the south of Spain. As a teacher she likes the challenges involved in the job, believes that chocolate can solve all of the problems and tries to pass on her passion for English to her students. After doing her CELTA, she’s now looking for a new challenge.