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


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

Amazing, wasn’t it?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Design @Jonathan Cordero and @Tekhnologic

    Design @Jonathan Cordero and @Tekhnologic

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

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


'It's what the students want' by James Taylor

One of the most common counter arguments you’ll hear if you get into an argument about the qualities of native vs non-native teachers is “Well, it doesn’t really matter as this is what the students want anyway. I’m just meeting their expectations.” I really don’t buy this point of view, not for any research based reason, but based on my experience teaching in four different continents. I’ve never heard a student say to me “James, it’s so good to have a teacher from England, it’s much better than having a local teacher.” I’ve also never heard of a school failing because of their lack of native teachers. In fact, the only prejudice I’ve ever heard has come from school owners.

But even if we accept that this is true, which I categorically don’t, it’s still a weak and flawed argument. The students must be getting this idea from somewhere, as they are unlikely to be experts in language learning or education. I would like to suggest that if you think that students want a native teacher, perhaps the idea comes from how they are sold English courses.

Let’s take a look at some examples. Perhaps the most popular online learning platform for English is the Open English website. This is what you’ll see when you open their site, right at the top of the page:

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Scroll down a bit, and you’ll find this:

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This one sentence is so flawed and problematic, it needs its own blog post. Open English have a history of insulting, prejudiced advertising so this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Here’s a new app that recently appeared in my Facebook feed:

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It’s even called Native! Here’s how it works:

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There you go – who knew language learning could be so easy! But seriously, the only mention of teaching is “your personal language tutor”, whoever that may be. The entire promotion of this app is a continuation of the fallacy of native superiority, although I would add that it is an insult to anyone who teaches English with it’s assumption that all you have to do to learn a language is ‘speak’.

And if I do a cursory search for English courses where I live in Costa Rica, here’s what I find:

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The teachers are North American and English

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About us: All of our English and Portuguese teachers are foreigners, natives that speak English or Portuguese to a professional capacity, certified and with experience.”

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Other strengths of this programme: The large majority of our teachers are natives of the USA or Canada, they have studied education and are highly specialised.

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… with teachers that have English as a native language.


So perhaps the problem here is not that the students automatically think that a native teacher is better, but rather this is what they learn from what they are being sold by marketing people and school owners who probably, at best, have a fleeting idea of how to learn a language. If you think this is what students want, then you might be better off speaking to the person who markets your school and ask them why they are relying on this outdated and outmoded method of promotion.

48942-jamestaylorheadshotOriginally from Brighton, UK, James has taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea, Belgium and Costa Rica. He is the current President and a co-founder of BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. You can also find him moderating #ELTchat, a weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, blogging and taking photographs. You can read his blog here.

Recording of James Taylor's webinar: 'Why I wish I was a non-Native English speaker'.

Poster designed by James Taylor

Poster designed by James Taylor

In this post I’d like to give you a summary of the first TEFL Equity Advocates webinar: ‘Reflections on “Why I wish I was a non-Native English Speaker”’, which was given on February 22nd by James Taylor, the president of BELTA (the Belgian English Teachers Association), which supports the project. You can watch the complete recording of the webinar below. You can read more about the upcoming webinars here.


The original post, which sparked a heated debate on social media and countless comments on this blog, written by James was entitled ‘Why I wish I was a non-Native English Speaker’ and can be read here. James started the webinar by summarising the main points of the original article, which was aimed at increasing the awareness of the teaching strengths that a typical NNEST (non-Native English Speaker Teacher) has. James pointed out that NNESTs can:

  • provide their students with an excellent role model of how to study and succeed
  • provide a role model for specific aspects of the language, most notably clear an intelligible pronunciation
  • better anticipate L1-related learning problems, and offer solutions based on their own experience
  • understand and use learners’ L1 when necessary
  • better understand learners’ culture, educational background and local learning needs or practices
  • have a better understanding of the broader/global English culture, as compared to a much more localised knowledge a NEST has

After summarising the main points of his original article, the participants discussed four questions James posed. You can read the full transcript of the discussion that took place here. Below I summarised the main points that had been raised:

  1. Personal experiences of NEST favouritism

Vicky and Adi pointed out that the concept of a NS can often be linked to race and certain physical features, i.e. an Asian-looking US citizen might not necessarily be regarded as a NS because of their looks. Elena (Russia) and Evelin (Hungary) said that although their students are very satisfied with their classes, they are still paid less than equally or less qualified NS at their schools. However, Marjorie highlighted that there was no difference in pay between NESTs and NNESTs in Austria, except for freelance situations. Karin agreed this was also the situation in Israel. Others mentioned that in Greece, Brasil, Argentina or Germany being a NS gives you better job prospects. On the other hand, Chuck thinks that NNEST situation in Japan has improved a lot and that increasingly qualifications and experience are becoming more important for recruiters. Finally, several people raised the issue that in many countries it is difficult for NESTs to get a job in the public sector, because they do not have the locally recognised teaching degree.

  1. What is a Native Speaker nowadays? What does it mean to you? Is it a useful term?

Vicky, Evelin, Joris and Marijana think a NS is someone born and raised in an English-speaking country, however, Chuck jokingly points out that he’s ceased to be a NS a long time ago and asks whether after 20 years of living abroad you can still be one. Elena, who works in Russia, mostly associates the term with a US or UK citizen. Vicky believes, however, that the issue is much more complex – although she lived most of her life in Greece, most people still consider her a NS because she has the Canadian passport and was born there. Helen points out, though, that having being born and raised in an English-speaking country doesn’t mean one can speak the language perfectly in all situations and registers, which is often how a NS is marketed. David thinks that setting the NS as a language goal for our student is unrealistic. Thiaggo believes that the term is doing a disservice to our field. Several people agree with him and suggest abandoning the term all together in favour of a more inclusive one.

  1. Shouldn’t we be ignoring the whole idea of NNESTs and NESTs and talk about good teachers instead?

Many participants give examples indicating that both NESTs and NNESTs have different strengths and weaknesses, which are often highly dependent on each and every individual. As a result, they suggest that ‘nativeness’ should not be taken into consideration in hiring teachers. While in many parts of the world NNESTs are still perceived as inferior to NESTs, Meike suggests that the ideal situation is that students are taught by both groups. As mentioned above, some participants think that the term native speaker should not appear on job ads, and David suggests that high proficiency in English is used instead, which all candidates (NESTs and NNESTs alike) should be tested on. Finally, Priscila points out that we should be talking about what good teaching means rather than about where the teacher is from.

  1. What can we do to improve the situation of NNESTs?

As a recruiter, hire the best teachers regardless of where they’re from. As a NS, don’t stay silent when your NNS colleagues are treated unfairly. Talk to your Teaching Association about the issue. Ban job ads that include the term native speaker from your job listings (as TESOL France, MELTA and tefl.net have done). When you are told that a NEST is better than a NNEST, don’t ignore it, but question it. Raise awareness of the problem.

If you’ve enjoyed James’ webinar, you can read more about the upcoming ones here. The next one is going to be on: Lexis, Speaking and the Non-Native Speaker Teacher, will take place on May 10th and the speaker will be Hugh Dellar. Don’t miss it!

5 months down the road to equity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

support mine

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

create future

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

Get Involved by James Taylor

We can all do something to help the campaign for equity in the TEFL industry between native and non-native teachers. Read on to find out what you can do…

If You’re A NNEST

If you’ve been turned down for jobs because of your nationality, don’t give up. Make sure potential employers know the qualities you have, and if they still don’t want to employ you, then you probably don’t want to work for them anyway.

Get organised. Form a group with other local teachers and put pressure on employers. Speak to your local association (see below) and ask for their support.

If you’re in the EU, remind the employer that advertising that includes native only restrictions is illegal (more information here).

If you’re a success story, share your story. Tell everyone about how you managed to do the thing you love and contact Marek so he can put it on the blog.

If You’re A NEST

Speak to your management if you know they have a NEST only policy and try to make them rethink it. If you’ve profited from a policy based on a prejudice, then you have a responsibility to try and stop it.

If You’re A Student

Trust the people who organise the lessons and teach them – don’t ask for a native English teacher. And if they only employ natives, you could tell them that English is an international language and you would like to hear a variety of accents, as well as have a great role model. If you do this, you may well help some wonderful local teachers in the process.

If You’re An Association Member or Organiser

Take a stand, just as TESOL France has. Earlier this year, they refused to accept any more job adverts that insisted on NEST’s only. Why can’t your association do something similar?

Speak to your members, and ask them for their feedback. Find out how widespread the problem is in your country, and if it’s an issue, discuss with them what can be done about it.

If You’re An Employer

You are the person that we’re trying to persuade. Decide what kind of school you want to run, one that wishes to offer the best quality lessons for its students and to play a positive role in the local community, or a short-term profit machine. Employ the best people based on the qualifications and experience, regardless of their birthplace, whether that’s thousands of kilometres away or around the corner.

Speak to your students. You might claim that they only want NESTs, but what is this based on? What I’ve found is that they aren’t really that fussed and that they know the truth, which is that the only thing they need is a great teacher. If you believe it too, everyone will be better off.

And everyone can contribute by…

…challenging this prejudice head on. If you see anyone advertising a native only position, or perpetuating some of these myths, send them to the TEFL Equity Advocates blog so they can see examples of how their thinking is becoming outdated.

…joining one of the FB support groups to keep up to date.

…share this blog and its articles with your colleagues, whether via email or social media.

…give a presentation at your local conference on why non-native teachers shouldn’t be discriminated against.

…write a statement of support and send it to the blog, where you’ll be added to the roll call of supporters including Jeremy Harmer, Luke Meddings and Peter Medgyes (see Support us section here).

This situation won’t change overnight, but every small push by every one of us will eventually make a huge difference.


James Taylor: Originally from Brighton, UK, I have taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea and Belgium. Currently based in San Jose, Costa Rica, I teach adults at Centro Cultural Britanico. I am the current President and a co-founder of BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. You can also find me moderating #ELTchat, a weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, blogging and taking photographs. You can read my blog here.

Equity without myths or stereotypes by Michael Griffin

On 20th May James Taylor published a post on this blog entitled: Why I wish I was a non-native speaker of English, which caused quite a stir and a very enthusiastic response. I really encourage you to read both James’ post and the comments below it, before (or after) reading this post by Michael Griffin.

In a nutshell, James exposed the problem of discrimination against NNESTs in TEFL and showed that it is based on illogical prejudices:

“As someone from the UK who teaches English as a foreign language, the country of my birth is a huge advantage to me. As has been well documented on this blog, I am much more likely to get a job than someone from Japan, Algeria or Brazil, no matter how qualified or experienced they are. For some students, having a native speaker teacher has a certain cachet, as in most countries it is unusual and many of them think that it means they have a better teacher as a result. So both employers and students seem to think that because I’m English, I must be a better teacher, which has got to be good for me.”

In the post he argued that NNESTs are not worse teachers than NESTs, but that they actually have many strengths which the latter could never have, e.g. NNESTs can better advise students on language learning strategies. As many of us, James hopes these strengths are finally acknowledged by all recruiters and students, so that both NESTs and NNESTs are given equal opportunities of employment:

“I would rather be judged by my ability, experience and qualifications equally against anyone else who wishes to apply for the same job. It’s not to my advantage, but that’s the world I want to live in.”

While Michael Griffin shares James’ opinion that native speakers are unjustly favoured within TEFL, and that we need to start treating all teachers equally, he proposes a different approach to fight against the discrimination, which hopes to deal away with some prevalent myths and stereotypes.

Michael Griffin: “As a fan of this blog I was thrilled and honored when Marek Kiczkowiak asked me if I might be interested in contributing something here. I was even more honored and pleased when I saw one of the first pieces on the blog was an interview with Peter Medgyes which is well worth reading. Back in 2012 I wrote about some of my thoughts on what Medgyes listed as advantages of “NNEST” Teachers.

In this current post I’d like to share a more concise and maybe even more balanced view of my thoughts on the advantages Medgyes listed. I do this with full respect for Dr. Medgyes and full knowledge that his list comes from a long time ago and was a useful addition to the conversations of that time.  I am also aware what I am saying is not exactly groundbreaking and has been covered by others in much greater depth and with greater lucidity.

My excitement about writing a guest post on this blog turned into a bit of trepidation when I saw the excellent post from James Taylor last week because my post (which incidentally I wrote before seeing his) might seem to go against many of the points in his, especially at first glance. Something we surely agree on is that native speakers are often unjustly advantaged in the field and this is something that needs to change.

The final caveats before I truly start is to say I am not sure how helpful it is to continue talking in these binary terms nor I am sure exactly what terms like native speaker and non-native speaker really mean, but I will use them here for the purpose of discussion.

In “The Non-native Teacher” Medgyes shares some advantages of non-native teachers over native speaking teachers. They are as follows:

a) Only non-NESTS can serve as imitable models of the successful learner of English…

b) Non-NESTS can teach learning strategies more effectively…

c) Non-NESTS can provide learners with more information about the English language…

d) Non-NESTs are more able to anticipate language difficulties…

e) Non-NESTS can be more empathetic to the needs and problems of their learners…

f) Only non-NESTS can benefit from sharing the learners’ mother tongue…

One key theme that emerged from the discussion on my aforementioned blog post was that Dr. Medgyes’s list might be more applicable to monolingual native speakers without training. If that is the case then perhaps the list is a bit more palatable and understandable for me.

The original list doesn’t seem to allow for native speakers who have learned another language, let alone the students’ L1, which seems both confusing and problematic. Surely an L1 user of English can be a nice model for her (as an example) Czech speaking students if she uses Czech to a high level. In this case, she is admittedly not an imitable model of a successful learner of English but is perhaps a good (and imitable) model of a language learner. The teacher I just described would, of course, also benefit from the ability to use the students’ mother tongue, albeit not as a mother tongue. By simply believing native speakers are capable of learning other languages and even the students’ L1 I think  we have called points F and A into question.

Anticipating language difficulties, as in point D, is not something only NNESTs can do, is it? I can see how knowing the students’ L1 could be helpful here but I don’t think it is the only factor. What about training? What about thorough planning? What about experience and reflecting on experience? What about a knowledge of language and second language acquisition? What about knowing our students and having strategies and techniques to know them and their abilities? I think these are key factors in teachers anticipating language difficulties and more important than the simple fact of the teacher’s L1. On a personal level I’d like to think that all those hours I spent in pain with About Language were not in vain. I’d like think that this experience and knowledge can be and has been helpful for my students.

Point E reads, ”Non-NESTS can be more empathetic to the needs and problems of their learners.” Sure they can be. So can men. And women. And physics teachers. And math teachers. And teachers born on Tuesdays. Or left-handed teachers. Or not. I don’t think this category makes much sense and I don’t think NNESTs have a monopoly on empathy. Could we agree that this comes down to more individual and personal factors?

Just like empathy, I don’t think NNESTs inherently have a greater ability to teach learning strategies or information about the English language. Nor do I think NESTS do. There are variations about the degree of knowledge in these areas that vary widely and wildly and are not necessarily based on the teacher’s L1. I have personally met many native speakers armed with a thorough knowledge of learning strategies and way for effectively highlighting and teaching these. I have met NNESTs with very limited knowledge in these areas. I have also met NNESTs who were convinced their way of learning English was the only way and I have watched as they forcibly and to my mind unsuccessfully pushed these ways on students. I am not indicting all NNESTS for this, because that would be silly. It is just something I have seen. I have met NNESTS with wide knowledge of learning strategies. I have also met NNESTS with an incredibly deep knowledge on the English language and NESTS without. And vice versa. And all points between.

I don’t mean to disregard or disrespect the work that English teachers around the world (the vast majority of them NNESTs) do and I surely don’t want to ignore the efforts many have made to become successful users of English. From my view, the idea that native speakers are automatically better teachers is equally as wrong as the idea they are automatically worse in the areas listed above. Likewise, I don’t think NESTS are inherently better or worse at teaching speaking or listening nor do I think NNESTS are inherently better or worse at teaching grammar or learning strategies. I don’t think anyone is a better or worse teacher based only on their mother tongue. I hope I provided at least some food for thought here without sounding like someone who is whining and defending the reputations of a group that probably doesn’t need much defending. I thank you very much for reading and I thank Marek for offering me the chance to share some thoughts here. I am looking forward to continuing the discussion in the comments.”

Michael Griffin, currently working in the Graduate School of International Studies at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, has been in the ELT field for nearly 15 years. In that time he has held a wide variety of positions and titles including cover instructor, curriculum designer, teacher-trainer, trainer-trainer, general layabout, English camp instructor, and Assistant Director. He is actively involved in #KELTchat and is an #iTDi mentor. You can read his blog here and is @michaelegriffin on Twitter.

Why I wish I was a Non-Native English Speaker by James Taylor

I’m thrilled that James Taylor agreed to write a guest post for us 🙂 I met James in Costa Rica and we worked in the same school for a while. He talked me into starting blogging and gave some invaluable advice on it, as well as on teaching freelance. Here’s what he says about himself:

Originally from Brighton, UK, I have taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea and Belgium. Currently based in San Jose, Costa Rica, I teach adults at Centro Cultural Britanico. I am the current President and a co-founder of BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. You can also find me moderating #ELTchat, a weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, blogging and taking photographs. You can read my blog here.

So without much further ado, let’s find out why on earth James wishes he was a NNEST…

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

As a result, you can’t be blamed thinking that I am pleased about this situation. Without any effort on my part, I’m placed ahead of the vast majority of teachers around the world in the job market. But you’d be wrong, it offends me and I want to see it change. I’m also tall, white, heterosexual and male and these are also a benefit to me in wider society (click on the links to find out more), but I have no desire to live in a world where nationality, size, race, sexuality and gender are the yardsticks by which our employability is measured. I would rather be judged by my ability, experience and qualifications equally against anyone else who wishes to apply for the same job. It’s not to my advantage, but that’s the world I want to live in. So if you’re a NNEST, this post is for you. There are many reasons why you have an advantage over NEST’s like me in the classroom.

For a start, you provide their students with an excellent role model of how to study and succeed. No matter how good a teacher I am, I will never be able to look my students in the eye and say “I know how you feel, I know how frustrating this language can be and I will guide you through it.” That’s a very powerful thing to be able to say, and I wish it could come out of my mouth.

You also provide a role model for specific aspects of the language, most notably pronunciation. Luckily in ELT we have largely disposed of the idea of the ‘native speaker as model’ in how we ask our students to speak, and now focus more on intelligibility and clarity in a variety of international contexts. You are perfectly positioned to provide a working, clear model for the students of how this is possible, and can provide them with strategies and techniques to help them get there, plucked from personal experience.

This can also apply to other aspects of language learning. English is a messy and unpredictable language, and rules are broken so regularly they aren’t worth saying. Once a student has learned the basic structures of the past, present, future, modals and conditionals, they have to tackle all the horrible anarchy of phrasal verbs and prepositions. As a NEST, I never had to actively learn these things, whereas the NNEST has had to suffer through them to reach the level where they are qualified to teach them. This NEST wishes he could use that experience to help his students.

The use of the learners first language is an idea that is currently coming back into vogue, after a couple of decades out of fashion. A long way from grammar translation teaching, current thinking takes a more sophisticated look at how it can be used. It is clear that when the teacher is from the same linguistic culture as their students, they have a massive advantage in an accurate and nuanced use of the L1 over an NEST. I can get really good at Spanish, but my Costa Rican colleagues will always have an advantage in using L1 in the classroom. No matter how hard I wish for it, that won’t change.

Empathy and understanding are crucial aspects of language teaching. Local teachers will have a much better idea of the local environment and the lives of their students. You will be much more aware of what English means to people in your culture and what the possible implications of learning it are. You will understand the educational background of the learners and how that influences their current learning practices, and you are likely to have an understanding of the personal environment the student has to study English within. I can learn these things, but to reach your level will take me years, and no amount of wishing will help me.

Learning about the culture is one of the most interesting side effects of learning a language, and you would think that this is one place where the NEST has a clear advantage, but I’m not so sure. Firstly, there is no such thing as a culture of the English language. It is used in too many countries by too many people to be homogeneous. So as a NEST, I can only represent a very small element of that and that is inevitably the bit that I know best. In my case it is British, specifically English, specifically the south of England – there’s an awful lot missing there.

You can have a more well-rounded view of the culture and find it easier to pick and choose from the things that interest them, and you think will interest their students. You can offer your students insights into a variety of communities, backgrounds and viewpoints without the natural bias that I have towards my own. I can try and rid myself of this, but I wish I could resist this natural inclination as easily at it would be for you.

So it’s true that I don’t wish I was a NNEST at this time. In many countries, the industry is unfairly set up in my favour and some students unwisely think I’m a better teacher. But there are many reasons why you have the upper hand, and it’s not just the ones listed above. The tide is turning, slowly, but it’s turning. In the future you will have more rights and be more respected by an industry in which you are the backbone. And this is the point that needs to be remembered – they are many, many more of you than there are of me. You have the power, so use it. I just wish more of you realised that.”

What are your views? Do you agree with James? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.