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

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

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

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

But this is just the tip of the iceberg…

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

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

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

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

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Do you have an accent? – a lesson plan

Have you ever had people comment on your accent?

Sometimes, these comments can be very positive: oh, you have such a lovely accent.

But sometimes, they can also be rather negative.

And the truth is that we all have certain subconscious biases towards and against certain accents. We think of some as posh, while others might be uncouth. Some are funny, others sexy. Some sound highly educated, while others do not.

This issue is certainly not limited to ‘non-native speaker’ accents, but as a ‘non-native speaker’ myself, and a language learner myself, I can tell you that it can sometimes be difficult to come to grips with your accent.

Should I hide it?

Should I be proud of it?

Why do people judge me by it and not listen to what I have to say?

Bearing this in mind, I think it’s vital to bring this issue to students’ attention. In particular, because having a foreign accent might be a problem for some learners. Something some might be uneasy about, or maybe even slightly ashamed of. Some might want to get rid of it all together.

But I personally think that accents are great. They make English the beautifully varied lingua franca that it is.

And, there is absolutely no evidence that having a standard ‘native speaker’ accent will make you any easier to understand in international contexts.

So I thought I’d prepare a short lesson plan based on a video that Andy Barbiero shared with me on FB today (thanks, Andy!).

Lead-in:

Discuss these questions with the person next to you:

  • How do you feel about your accent in English?
  • Do people ever notice it or comment on it? If so, how?
  • To what extent do YOU judge people by their accents?
  • What stereotypes do you have about certain accents?

Watching 1 (00 – 00:41):

Watch the first part of the video:

  • What is your reaction to what the speaker says? Why?
  • Have you ever had similar situations? What happened?

Accentism:

In the next part of the video, the speaker will talk about accentism:

  • What do you think it might be?
  • How might it be related to the other -isms, such as sexism or racism?

Watching 2 (00:41 – 1:30):

Watch the video to check. Then discuss:

  • To what extent is accentism a form of discrimination?
  • How does it compare to the other forms of discrimination (e.g. ageism, sexism, racism)?
  • Can (and should) something be done in order to protect people from this prejudice? Why (not)?

Hiding your accent:

The speaker will now talk about his friend Nas, who is from the Middle East, and who has worked very hard to hide his accent. Discuss:

  • Have you ever tried hiding your accent? Why (not)? Do you know anyone who has?
  • Why might some people want to completely get rid of their accent?

Watching 3 (1:30 – 2:25):

  • What is your reaction to the video?
  • Do you agree that people shouldn’t spend time trying to reduce their accent? Why (not)?

Why not hide your accent:

The speaker will now give their reasons why you shouldn’t hide your accent:

  • Make a list of possible reasons with the person next to you
  • He will also make an analogy between accents and music taste. What do you think might he say about it?

Watching 4 (2:25 – end):

Check your answers from above.

Discussion and reflection:

Having watched the video, discuss with the person next to you:

  • What are your thoughts about accentism? To what extent is it a real prejudice? Should measures be taken to stop it? How?
  • How do you now feel about your own accent? Would you like to get rid of it? Why (not)?
  • How can you avoid judging other English users by their accents?

Follow-up:

Spend the next few days listening to different accents. Note down:

  • Which accent was it?
  • What was your initial reaction to the accent?
  • How could you avoid stereotyping that person by their accent?

Share your ideas with your classmates in the next class.


Did you enjoy this lesson plan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Or Email:


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

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

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

Ooookay. He really went there?

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

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

PERCEIVED NATIVE SPEAKERISM

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

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

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

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

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

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

NON-WHITE/ ‘NON-NATIVE’ SPEAKER OVERLAP

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

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

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

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

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


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

Or Email:


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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

How to Become a Highly Employable and Successful ‘Non-Native Speaker’ Teacher in the Next THREE weeks

As a ‘non-native speaker’ have you ever…

…felt like all the ELT (English Language Teaching) jobs out there are for ‘native speakers’ only?

…spent hours polishing your CV and sending rock-solid applications just to be turned down yet again because they only hire ‘native speakers’?

…been on the verge of giving up on your dreams of finally getting the ELT job you deserve, because you’re constantly told that we won’t hire ‘non-native speakers’?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, I’ve got very good news for you.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy has been working very hard to raise awareness of the discrimination and persuade recruiters to adopt equal opportunities policy. And we’ll continue to do so in the future 🙂

But meanwhile, there’s actually a lot that YOU can do to improve your chances of landing your next ELT job despite the discrimination.

Curious?

Watch this video to find out how you can completely turn your career around become a highly employable and successful ‘non-native speaker’ teacher.

So if you’d like to learn the exact steps that will boost your chances of landing your next ELT job in just THREE weeks (even if you’ve been turned down before), check out my course “How to become a highly employable and successful ‘non-native speaker’ teacher”.

Currently the course is available for exclusive early access, which means that I’m looking for a small, selected group of highly motivated and committed ‘non-native speaker’ teachers who would like to turn their careers around and learn a proven step-by-step method that is guaranteed to get you the jobs YOU deserve.

The exclusive early access is only available until Sunday 22nd July, when the enrolment for this course will close. And I’m not sure when it will open again. And when it does, the price will jump by at least $100.

So click here to secure your LIFETIME access.

What are you going to learn in the course?

Module 1: Understanding Native Speakerism

In this module you will learn where the prejudices, biases and the discrimination against ‘non-native speaker’ teachers stems from so you can tackle native speakerism more effectively.

You will also understand the specific beliefs and practices that help spread and maintain native speakerism, so that you are able to target them and increase your chances of employment. Finally, we will outline a step-by-step roadmap that will allow you to become a highly employable and successful ‘non-native speaker’ teacher.

Module 2: Busting the ‘Native Speaker’ Myth

You will understand why ‘native speakers’ are NOT better English teachers and boost your confidence.

You will bust some of the most typical reasons given by recruiters to justify hiring ‘native speakers’ only, so that you can effectively respond to them and increase your chances of being hired.

Module 3: Understanding and Utilising Your Strengths as a ‘Non-Native Speaker’ Teacher

In this module you will gain an understanding of the unique strengths you as a ‘non-native speaker’ have, so that you can highlight these to recruiters and boost your professional profile.

You will gain confidence by knowing how you can utilise your strengths in the recruitment process.

This module will also help you craft a winner’s mindset that will significantly increase your employability.

Module 4: Creating an Irresistible Professional Profile

You will understand which qualifications are necessary to impress the recruiter and stand out from the crowd.

You will learn how to highlight and showacase your language proficiency and which proficiency test you should take.

In this module you will also learn how to harness the power of social media and find the right niche to market your unique strengths and abilities.

Module 5: The Application Alchemy

This module will give you the exact strategies you need to drastically improve your success rate in the application process.

You will walk away with an irresistible CV and cover letter which are bound to catch the employer’s eye and get you an invitation to the interview.

You will also learn how to avoid the dodgy language schools and focus on those which offer equal opportunities, so you can save time and easily triple positive responses to your applications.

And finally, you will discover two secret but incredibly simple tricks that will ensure that your CV and application letter are read with attention.

Module 6: Crashing it at the Interview

Having been accepted for the interview, you will now learn the exact strategies that will easily boost your chances of being hired.

You will also understand and know how to avoid the most typical mistakes that ‘non-native speaker’ teachers make at the interview, so you can ensure a positive response from the recruiter.

You will finish this module being confident and completely prepared for the next interview by learning what the most typical questions are and how you can answer them effectively.

Module 7: Succeeding Beyond the Interview

This module will show you what you need to do to become a highly successful ‘non-native speaker’ teacher’.

You will learn how to promote equality and discuss native speakerism in your classroom, so that you can be confident that students appreciate you as a teacher.

You will understand how you can use your strengths as a ‘non-native speaker’ in the classroom in order to achieve better learning outcomes and receive more positive feedback from your students and the employer.

So if you want to start getting the jobs that you deserve within the next three weeks, sign up on the course before the enrolment closes this Sunday July 22nd.

See you there! 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students prefer ‘native speakers’

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

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

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

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

Students prefer ‘native speakers’

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

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

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

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

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

Students Appreciate ‘non-native Speaker’ Teachers

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

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

students value skills and characteristics unrelated to teacher’s l1

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

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

Students find Teaching effectiveness far more important than ‘nativeness’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The labels themselves might be part of the problem

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

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

Conclusions and practical implications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahboob, A. (2004). Native or non-native: What do the students think? In L. D. Kamhi-Stein (Ed.), Learning and Teaching from Experience. Perspectives on Nonnative English-speaking Professionals (pp. 121–148). Ann Arbor, MA: University of Michigan Press.

McKenzie, R. M. (2008). The role of variety recognition in Japanese university students’ attitudes towards English speech varieties. Journal of Multilingual & Multicultural Development, 29(2), 139–153. https://doi.org/10.2167/jmmd565.0

Moussu, L. M. (2006, August). Native and Nonnative English-Speaking English as a Second Language Teachers: Student Attitudes, Teacher Self-Perceptions, and Intensive English Administrator Beliefs and Practices. Purdue University, Lafayette, IN.

Mullock, B. (2010). Does a Good Language Teacher Have to Be a Native Speaker? In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST Lens: Non Native English Speakers in TESOL (pp. 87–113). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.

Pacek, D. (2005). “Personality Not Nationality”: Foreign Students’ Perceptions of a Non-Native Speaker Lecturer of English at a British University. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers (pp. 243–262). New York: Springer US. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-24565-0_13

Subtirelu, N. (2013). What (do) learners want (?): a re-examination of the issue of learner preferences regarding the use of “native” speaker norms in English language teaching. Language Awareness, 22(3), 270–291. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658416.2012.713967

Walkinshaw, I., & Duong, O. T. H. (2012). Native- and Non-Native Speaking English Teachers in Vietnam: Weighing the Benefits. TESL-EJ: Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, 16(3), [no pagination]. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244014534451

Wang, Y., & Jenkins, J. (2016). “Nativeness” and Intelligibility: Impacts of Intercultural Experience Through English as a Lingua Franca on Chinese Speakers’ Language Attitudes. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 39(1), 38–58. https://doi.org/10.1515/cjal-2016-0003

Watson Todd, R., & Pojanapunya, P. (2009). Implicit attitudes towards native and non-native speaker teachers. System, 37(1), 23–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2008.08.002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did neither.

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

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

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

It became obvious that this conversation was a moot point.

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

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

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

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

I was speechless.

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

All that was background noise to him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

ELTtoo: A movement to raise awareness and take action against harassment and bullying in ELT

TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy is proud to support ELTtoo movement, which aims to raise awareness and take action against harassment and bullying in ELT.

About ELTtoo

#ELTtoo: working to build safer work environments for everyone.

#ELTtoo is a movement of educators who want the voices of people that have been harassed, bullied and intimidated to be heard, no matter who they are or where they are.

Our mission is to work with people to raise awareness of these issues and provide support, guidance and appropriate training so that all our work environments are harassment- and bullying-free.

#ELTtoo is a call for real change in ELT for all genders worldwide.

What are we doing?

  • Raising awareness of the serious issue of abuse, harassment and bullying
  • Sharing personal stories
  • Sharing information about sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying: what it is, and actions you can take if you are a victim of abuse
  • Actively supporting the idea of a safe, fair and comfortable workplace for all
  • Working together with professional bodies and organisations to share and provide clear guidelines and support for ELT professionals

What are we being careful to NOT do?

  • If any individuals feel bad about any of their past actions and as a result of this campaign decide to re-evaluate their own code of ethics and change their future actions, that is great news. HOWEVER, we are not here to name and shame.  We want to look forward not back, to help build a better future for educators.

No more silence. No more ignoring. No more tolerance of harassment, abuse or discrimination.

An open letter to all ELT professionals

Dear fellow ELTers,

We are writing on the behalf of teachers, academic managers, teacher trainers, materials writers, researchers and other professionals who work in ELT. The recent #metoo campaign brought to light just how prevalent sexual harassment and bullying is in our profession. Many people came forward to tell what had happened and is still happening to them on a daily basis in their places of work and at public events. Your stories have been heard and we thank you for sharing them so openly and bravely.

This is how we will tackle this problem head-on.  Raising awareness and providing support through the ELTtoo platform

We want people to be held accountable for their behaviours and by doing so, make our profession a safe and equitable place for everyone.

Unfortunately, we have allowed harassment to go on too long, making excuses for the perpetrators or thinking that if we ignore it, it may just improve or go away.   We want this to change. We want to tell your stories through our voice so that we can make ELT a safer place for all.

Yours Sincerely,
Varinder Unlu, and the ever-increasing supporters of this movement from all genders.

About Varinder Unlu

Varinder Unlu has worked in ELT for 26 years in all contexts from private language schools to FE and HE, teaching students of all ages.  She has been a DOS/Academic Manager since 2002.  She is currently Academic Manager at Glion Institute of Higher Education.  She is also a teacher trainer for both Cambridge CELTA and Trinity TESOL, a materials writer and a conference speaker.   She is the coordinator of the Inclusive Practices and SENs IATEFL SIG.

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/.