I have, since 2013, worked as a program manager of Rikkyo University’s Center for English Discussion Class, a large-scale, unified-curriculum course that caters to roughly 4,700 students per year at a university in Tokyo, Japan. I am jointly responsible for curriculum design and evaluation and for hiring, training, and overseeing the professional development of 42 full-time instructors. It is a fulfilling job, in which my decisions affect the language learning of a significant number of students and I have the opportunity to interact with a diverse and committed group of teachers.
Because of the large number of instructors we require, and because each of them is on a five-year limited-term contract, we generally conduct recruitment twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. When we post a job listing for the hiring of our instructors, we include the statement:
Applicants of any nationality are welcome to apply’ and make no mention of English proficiency or ‘nativeness’.
In an ideal world, this would not be necessary. However, we want to be explicit about the fact that we are interested in seeing candidates with the appropriate teaching ability regardless of any other criteria.
We attract applications from nationalities all over the world, which makes us feel confident that we are choosing from a relatively broad range of candidates and therefore, based on the simple mathematics, ultimately selecting a higher quality of instructor than if we were to limit ourselves in any way. It seems both counter-intuitive and self-harming, not to mention ethically objectionable, to needlessly narrow your options when seeking to find the best person for a job. Our recruitment criteria focuses purely on appropriate teaching skills and awareness of relevant language learning principles, so differences in L1-speakerhood, gender, ethnicity, or any other non-teaching related factors are consciously and happily ignored.
As new teachers go through our orientation training program, the issue of “nativeness” continues to be irrelevant in the context of acquiring awareness of the unified curriculum and considering how best to help students achieve our course aims. These aims focus on mutual intelligibility among students, which means that no one variety of English is identified as a desirable model. While our instructors’ main role in the classroom is to facilitate large amounts of student-to-student interaction, they also demonstrate the type of discoursal and strategic competence that is a goal of the course. The message is that “nativeness” plays no part in determining whether or not this is possible for any individual.
At the end of each semester, our students complete a survey with space for open comments. I do not recall ever reading a comment, either positive or negative, that referenced a teacher’s nationality or L1. If a student were to begin the course with any preconceived notions about who should or should not be teaching them English, these prejudices do not seem to persist in light of their actual classroom experience.
In the staff rooms, there is just as likely to be intercultural miscommunication between, say, American and British instructors as between “native” and “non-native” instructors. It is very interesting to witness first-hand the blurring of distinctions between “dialects” and “varieties” of English in this context. While unhelpful generalizations do get made on occasion, as happens among most large multicultural groups, instructors tend to become aware that their collective idiolects contain overlapping elements of a variety of possible uses of English. Distinctions of L1 or D1 (first dialect) status, therefore, become untenable.
In short, a hiring policy that allows us to seek the best teachers for the position, regardless of a candidate’s L1, has resulted in no discernible disadvantages for our center while providing many advantages, first among them a welcome diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. Discrimination on the grounds of nationality or “native” speaker status appears self-defeating, lacking in sound principles, and damaging to the health of our industry.
Matthew Schaefer is a program manager on Rikkyo University’s Center for English Discussion Class in Tokyo, Japan. Previously, he worked as a language teacher and/or Director of Studies at various language schools in France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. His interests include assessment of ELF and professional development for teacher trainers. He is also a founding member and co-host of the TEFLology Podcast.
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.
Butif 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.
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
Note: This is the first of two blog posts. The first seeks to explain what diversity is all about and why it is important, and specifically why it is important in our context in language teaching organisations (and indeed what it should mean to us). The second, to follow, will talk about how we can think about our hiring policies and practices such that we ensure a diverse group of teachers and other staff.
What is diversity and why should we seek it?
An introduction to diversity
Diversity in organisations involves hiring and supporting a workforce of people with differences. The typical range of differences mentioned and referred to in the literature include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities and economic backgrounds. The idea of a diverse workplace is that employees work together to create a culture of inclusiveness, where all employees feel valued.
Being part of a diverse organisation has many benefits. One of the most obvious is that an organisation with a diverse range of experiences and points of view to draw from will inevitably have a greater range of approaches to dealing with possible problems or new challenges. This also clearly illustrates why diversity is not merely about hiring practices – a diverse organisation will not benefit from its diversity if employees are not listened to and have no voice.
Diversity in language teaching organisations
In addition to the differences mentioned above which are meant to be tackled by diversity policies, I would suggest that in language teaching organisations (LTOs), and particularly in the teaching staff, we need also to ensure (as much as possible) a diversity of first language speakers. Specifically, a mix of native and non-native speaker teachers. I am, of course, aware that the vast majority of LTOs around the world do not have the option of having such a mix, as they can only possibly hire local non-native speaker teachers – this is of course the reality of many contexts. However, for language schools that do have the option of hiring native speaker teachers, the aim should be to hire a diverse teaching body – meaning some native speakers and some non-native speakers – as well as diversity in race, gender, age, etc.
But, why is this form – that is to say speakers of different languages – of diversity important? Why is striking a balance of non-native and native speakers teachers so valuable? There are 4 main reasons
The great benefit of diversity is having a diverse body of experiences to draw from. It is in staffroom interactions – teachers sharing ideas, getting suggestions, brainstorming ways of dealing with certain students and certain lesson aims – that this is most obviously valuable in the academic side of an LTO. Non-native speakers contribute greatly to these conversations – not only through their own experiences as teachers and as trainee teachers (frequently non-native speaker teachers have gone through much more in depth training than native speakers), but also through their own experiences in learning the target language in the first place. These professional conversations that occur in the better staffrooms are immeasurably enriched by the presence of non-native speaker teachers.
It is difficult to research the effects of different factors on student learning as so many variables come into play. However, there is a slowly growing body of research into the effects of ethnic diversity in the teaching body into student learning in LTOs. The findings of these studies tend to show that there are benefits in having a diverse teaching body because (a) teachers from the “mainstream” privileged groups tend to have lower expectations of students – which in turn tends to result in lower student achievement; and (b) members of minority ethnic groups in the teaching body have a greater understanding of ethnic minority learners’ cultural experiences, and they are better able to serve as role models (Donlevy, Meierkord, and Rajania, 2016).
We cannot simply transpose these early research findings over to the non-native/native speaker question, but it would seem – especially in the case of (b) above – to make sense to at least consider (and research) the benefits that having non-native speaker teachers have on student achievement.
It is also important to note that research has been conducted into students’ attitude towards native speaker and non-native speaker teachers and concluded that students do not have a preference for one over the other (see articles on this site)
As with any form of diversity, having a more diverse workforce has a positive impact on organisational culture. Having a variety of viewpoints, a variety of backgrounds, a variety of skillsets, enhances the organisational learning as well as the potential personal mastery of all.
In addition, in many “onshore” LTOs, the commonly observed organisational divide between academic and administrative sides of the school is exacerbated when all the teachers are expatriate native speakers. A diverse teaching body makes a huge difference in this instance. (By “onshore” in this context, I mean language schools whose market is local, where the languages taught are not – usually – the languages of the country or region in which they are located. An English language teaching school in Spain, for example, or a school teaching Spanish in Brazil. By contrast an “offshore” LTO is one for which the market is elsewhere, such as a school teaching English in Australia to students wishing to study in universities there.)
The message our organisations promote when they truly embrace diversity is not to be ignored. Offshore LTOs help with promoting wider integration in society when they employ truly ethical hiring practices. Onshore LTOs, on the other hand, provide a model for people in the community to aspire to.
Finally, a growing body of literature investigates how the demographic make-up of public organisations affects policy outputs, often focusing on the theory of representative bureaucracy. This literature suggests that public sector organisations (such as schools) are more likely to formulate and implement policies that are in the interest of the service recipients (such as pupils) when they mirror the target population on key demographic dimensions, such as race or ethnicity. (Donlevy, Meierkord, and Rajania, 2016)
I hope that you will see the value, therefore of having a diverse workplace – in all ways. Be they related to race, sexuality, age, gender, ability, socio-economics, and in our particular context, first language.
In my second post, I’ll suggest some ideas regarding recruitment policies and practices that can help to build a more diverse workplace.
Andy Hockley is the co-ordinator of IATEFL’s Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) and is a freelance educational management consultant and trainer based in deepest Transylvania. He has been training (both teachers and managers) for 20 years and has been coordinating and training on the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) since its inception in 2001. He is co-author of ‘From Teacher to Manager’ (CUP, 2008), ‘Managing Education in the Digital Age’ (The Round, 2014) and author of ‘Educational Management’ (Polirom, 2007).
Bibliography & Further Reading
AlphaMeasure (no date) Diversity in the workplace: Benefits, challenges and solutions. Available at: http://www.multiculturaladvantage.com/recruit/diversity/diversity-in-the-workplace-benefits-challenges-solutions.asp (Accessed: 23 August 2016).
Donlevy, V., Meierkord, A. and Rajania, A. (2016) Study on the diversity within the teaching profession with particular focus on migrant and/or minority background. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/education/library/study/2016/teacher-diversity_en.pdf (Accessed: 19 August 2016).
PolicyTerms, A.P. and ConditionsDisclaimerCandidates’Security (2015) Diversity in the workplace benefits employers. Available at: http://www.adecco.co.uk/news/diversity-in-the-work-place.aspx (Accessed: 19 August 2016).
The radical transformation of diversity and inclusion | Deloitte US | inclusion (2015) Available at: http://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/radical-transformation-of-diversity-and-inclusion.html (Accessed: 23 August 2016).
[note from the editor: this post was translated into Spanish from this article also published on the blog by Andrew Davison by Marina Escalada]
Mi experiencia en cuanto a trabajar con profesores de inglés no nativos (NNESTS en sus siglaseninglés), comenzó hace poco más de 2 años, cuando empecé mi negocio, Learn English Budapest. No somos una escuela de idiomas al uso, sino una agencia que pone en contacto a profesores de inglés con estudiantes de toda la ciudad. Cuando comencé, la meta era ofrecer una alternativa cómoda a los folletosy a anunciarse enforos de expatriados.
Durante los primeros meses, yo, al igual que otras muchas escuelas tristemente aún siguen haciendo, tenía una opinión negativa de los profesores no nativos. Asumía que los profesores nativos eran, simplemente, mejores ala hora de enseñar el idioma.
No fue hasta que fui contactado por Marek Kiczkowiak, fundador de TEFL Equity Advocates (Defensores de la Igualdad en TEFL), que realmente tuve la oportunidad de cuestionar mi opinión sobre el tema.
Lo que empezó como un intercambio de correos sobre el tema de nativos y no nativos (NESTS/NNESTS*) se convirtió en un experimento por mi parte. Decidí empezar a aceptar a NNESTS en mi equipo para ver que resultadosobtenía y tan sólo unas pocas semanas después,medi cuenta de que había estado cometiendo un error al no contratarlos.
En aquel entonces, compartí un sumario de mis conclusiones en una entrevista. Hoy, vuelvo a estar aquí y me complace anunciar el lanzamiento de mi nuevo sitio web, Teacher Finder. Es el mismo concepto, excepto que estavezpondremos a personas en contacto con profesores de idiomas en más de una docena de ciudades alrededor del mundo. También nos expandiremos incluyendo nuevos idiomas: Español, Italiano, Francés, Húngaro, ArabeyAlemán, entreotros. Porsupuesto,losprofesores nonativos son bienvenidos.
Para todos aquellos que se dedican a la gestión de agencias o escuelas de idiomas y que tengan dudassobre trabajar con NNESTS, comparto aquí algunos de los resultados observados durante los últimos 2 años.
LA MAYORÍA DE ESTUDIANTES VALORAN LA EXPERIENCIA MÁS QUE LA LENGUA MATERNA
Cuando se trata de enseñar, es obvio que las requisitos más importantes son, la habilidad del profesor a la hora de explicar el tema y, obviamente, enseñar. Esto es particularmente cierto en cuanto a profesores de idiomas. En un mundo donde la lengua franca internacional es el inglés y el número de hablantes no nativos empieza a sobrepasar el de nativos, es ridículo pensar que los no nativos no pueden ser tan buenos profesores como los “elegidos”, que han nacido en un ambiente donde se habla inglés.
LOS ESTUDIANTES NO EXIGIRÁN UN PROFESOR NATIVO SI NO LES DAS LA OPCIÓN
Por supuesto, “nativo” sigue estando imbuido de un cierto estereotipo y, dada la opción, la mayoría de personas aún optan por un nativo. De hecho, solía haber una casilla en el formulario online de Learn English Budapest donde se leía: “¿Quieres un profesor nativo? Si/No. No es de sorprender que la mayoría de personas marcasen la casilla “nativo” o lo dejasen en blanco.
Decidí quitar esta casillay reemplazarla con la siguiente pregunta dirigida a los estudiantes: “Describe como sería tu profesor perfecto”. Durante los siguientes meses, resultó evidente que los estudiantes nobuscaban a alguien que fuera nativo.Estaban más interesados en encontrar a un profesor que compartiera sus intereses y pudiera explicar ampliamente el tópico en el que están interesados.
A partir de ese momento, no me ha contactado ningún estudiante para quejarse de haberle sido asignado un profesorno nativo deinglés.La mayoría están encantados al ver que los NNESTS pueden explicar gramática complicada (a menudo, mejor que los hablantes nativos) y establecer analogías con sus idiomas nativos.
LOS NNESTS PUEDEN SER MÁS DINÁMICOS
Uno de los factores que más favorece a los NNESTS es que tienen experiencia propia de haber aprendido el idioma. Poseen una gran comprensión de lo que los estudiantes están pasando y de cuáles pueden ser los mayores obstáculos para alcanzar la fluidez.
Su propia experiencia del aprendizaje del idioma, ha menudo les ha enseñado algunas técnicas innovadoras sobre cómo explicar mejor y entender inglés. Cuando pregunté a mis profesores cuales eran los consejos y trucos que les son de más ayuda a la hora de enseñar inglés, en seguida vi que los NNESTS eran los que sabían mucho más acerca de la manera de mejorar sus habilidades lingüísticas, (y las de sus alumnos).
LOS NNESTS TIENDEN A TENER MEJORES RECURSOS PARA LA ENSEÑANZA
De nuevo, ya que los NNESTS han pasado por la inmensa tarea de llegar a hablar otro idioma con fluidez, han explorado las posibilidades, dentro del panorama de recursos de aprendizaje de idiomas, para encontrar los mejores. Mientras que los NESTS cuentan con el lujo de poder contar siempre con el recurso de ser hablantes nativos y poder elaborar “recursos” improvisados, los NNESTS normalmente, cubren ese espacio preparándose mejor las lecciones.
También son los que comparten con los estudiantes más métodos de aprendizaje alternativos a los libros y les ayudan a mejorar más rápidamente el manejo del idioma. También he observado que, por norma general, también hacen más esfuerzo en crear sus propios recursos y combinar estrategias diferentes para encontrar la mejor manera de enseñar a cada alumno.
CUANDO SE TRATA DE ENSEÑAR A NIÑOS, LOS NNESTS, A MENUDO LO HACEN MEJOR
Cuando rememoro mis días en la escuela y las clases de idiomas que nos daban, no puedo acordarme de, ni tan siquiera, un profesor de idiomas nativo. Cuando se trata de principiantes y niños, la habilidad de explicar el idioma en su idioma nativo y limitar la presión que el estudiante siente, es irreemplazable.
Cuando era joven y estudiaba mis primeras lecciones en español, no hubiera podido sobrevivir frente a unapersonaespañola oyéndome imitar su idioma; por lo que he aprendido de los comentarios que recibo de los estudiantes, a menudo, estos se sienten igual cuando están empezando. Los más avanzados puede que se sientan cómodos siendo expuestos a más presión, pero los niños no suelen progresar en ese entorno.
CONCLUSIÓN: MIENTRAS QUE LOS ESTEREOTIPOS LIGADOS A LOS PROFESORES NATIVOS CONTINÚAN, LOS NNESTS ESTÁN, AMENUDO,MEJORPREPARADOSPARAENSEÑARINGLÉS.
Incluso en Teacher Finder aún tenemos gente pidiendo profesores deinglésnativospero,muya menudo, no presionan sobre el tema. También hemos conseguido explicar con éxito los beneficios inherentes en el aprendizaje con profesores no nativos de inglés.
Diría que una de las ventajas de tener a un NNEST enseñándote, es que entiende perfectamente por lo que estás pasando como estudiante del idioma. Al haber pasado por el mismo esfuerzo frente a las cuestiones gramaticales, entiende lo que se necesita para poder explicar claramente las normas. Esto es particularmente importante con los niños, quienes pueden desanimarse si tienen a un profesor nativo.
A pesar de que, desafortunadamente, me tomó un tiempo llegar a darme cuenta, ahora se que los NNESTS pueden estar mejor equipados y preparados para enseñar que los profesores nativos. Al final, lo que realmente les importa a los estudiantes es encontrar a alguien con quien puedan conectar y que haga del aprendizaje del idioma algo ameno, indistintamente de si son nativos o no nativos.
Andrew Davison es el fundador de Teacher Finder y también disfruta escribiendo y viajando en su tiempo libre. Vive entre Londres y Budapest.
*NEST(S): siglas en inglés de “Native English Teacher-s”. En español, Profesor(es) Nativo(s) de Inglés.
NNEST(S): siglas en inglés de “Non-Native English Teacher-s”. En español, Profesor(es) No-Nativo(s) de Inglés.
On the 31 October 1991 my ten-year old dream came true – I became an English teacher.
I was born in Belgrade, the capital of former Yugoslavia, today Serbia. I successfully passed my State Certification Exam there too. I worked not only as a teacher in a high-school but also as a Sworn Court Interpreter. I had an excellent score on TOEFL 620/700 and I obtained Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English. In other words, things were going great.
In 2002 my husband got a new job in the aeronautics and we moved to Toulouse in southern France. There, I was told that I had to redo my last two years of graduate studies if I wanted to work again as a teacher. Which I did.
I first did 3 years of French at the university obtaining the C2 level in French and the Certificate of Teaching French as a Foreign Language. Afterwards, I studied English at the French university for two years together with students who were almost half my age. I passed all my exams and went to teach in collèges (higher grades of elementary schools in France) and in Lycées (grammar schools).
The atmosphere was such that I very soon realised that I must hide the fact that I was from Serbia. I let the students for a long time believe that I was from Russia, since my name is Tatiana. I did not say it myself, but I never denied when they when they concluded (wrongly) that I am Russian.
Yet, how stupid and unnecessary seemed to me to have to do that. I do not like lying and I felt humiliated having to lie about my origin. I knew I was a good teacher of English and I never stopped believing in that. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of the ‘long and winding road’ (the name of one of Beatles’ songs).
I could not stand any longer having to lie to teenagers and found a job in a private school of foreign languages. I felt like an ugly duckling there. Some of the students and fellow teachers were treating me badly because of my origin – I was neither a native speaker of English nor a French teaching English. This lasted for a year and finally I decided to take some time off; otherwise, I felt I was going to burst.
So I quit and started doing private tutorial classes and giving volunteering teaching lessons to the groups of adults who were very kind and appreciated very much both my work and my personality. I kept on applying for teaching jobs. However, every time I met the school manager the first question I was asked was always “Where do you come from?”.
My friends told me to lie, to invent British parents, phony Anglosaxon name (a common phenomenon – when I worked in a collège I met an excellent teacher of English who was French, so good that she objectively did not need to lie about her origin, but who spoke French with a false English accent all the time), but lying my way through life was never my idea of living. So, many times the conversation with my potential employer was finished after just one question.
And then, suddenly, when I almost gave up hope, one employer did not ask me anything about my origin. One of the things he asked me at the job interview was to speak English and I got the job. From that moment on my life changed completely.
I became a self-employed teacher of English working full time and often overtime. I do ‘prépa concours’ courses preparing young French students for very complex and difficult entrance exams for Les Grandes Ecoles (Private Elite Universities). I also prepare students for IELTS, TOEFL, GMAT (verbal part), ACT, SAT, TOEIC, BULATS and other English language exams.
The proof that I am a good teacher is that my students pass their exams. I never hide from them where I am from. If they insist, I sometimes tell them my little life story and they find it inspiring because they are learners of English themselves.
In addition, with regard to the level of preparation of a teacher of a foreign language I can say that I have a C2 level of French and the Teaching Degree, but can I teach French to a C level student? I don’t know. I can definitely teach levels A1 – A2, I might help somebody who is a B1 level or B2 maximum.
However, never, never in my whole life has it happened to me to come to my lesson unprepared. Never. I am proud of myself and do not feel that my origin is a handicap, but a source of strength because a native English teacher wouldn’t know what it is like to learn English.
I am the member of TESOL France and I admire and respect a lot both my NNEST and NEST colleagues. They are my role models and my inspiration. They are my teachers and I will never stop learning from them. They are dedicated, serious and enthusiastic about their job just like me. We teachers understand that we must never stop developing ourselves professionally, learning from the best among us and modernising our teaching methods.
So this is my story with a happy-end. I think that I was very, very lucky. The important thing, though, is to never stop trying, to keep on searching – somehow at the end the pains will prove to be worth it. However, I am not sure that all similar stories have a happy ending like mine.
To sum up, I would like to emphasise that the quality of teaching does not necessarily come from being a NEST. It is simply based on doing our best, on loving our job and believing that we have become the teachers of English, the first world language today, in order to build bridges, connections and communication between people of different origins, thus diminishing any prejudice, discrimination and bias that degrades our human and professional dignity
Tatiana Njegovan, originally from Serbia is a self-employed tacher of English in Toulouse, France
I’ve never defined myself as a fighter. I’ve always followed the rules and believed that if everyone did so, the world would be a wonderful place to live. You might see my attitude as a little bit naïve but I’ve always believed in equality, in the end, we live in the 21st century, we’re getting smarter and more conscious every day. Nevertheless, until very recently I had not seen anything wrong about language schools wanting to hire only native speakers.
What has changed?
You might wonder how somebody, who’s always lived in their idealized bubble, finally realised that the world we lived in was not as perfect as it seemed. Well, it happened pretty much by accident. A couple of months ago, I attended a TESOL conference in Vitoria-Gasteiz. I had made a list of all the talks I wanted to attend, and the one about acting against native-speakerism was… not on my list. It was actually my boss who, the day before the conference, encouraged me to go to that talk. I had not had any expectations, and I think that’s why the talk affected me so much. I left the room with my legs shaking and a thousand thoughts running in my mind at the same time. I realised I had been a target and probably an object of discrimination. But, how was it possible that I hadn’t realized it before?
It’s all about being in the right place at the right time
After the talk, I started thinking about my “employment history” and I realised that luck was very important. Because of various reasons, I always looked for the job in the middle of school year. As you can probably imagine, if a language school looks for a substitute teacher in January or February, they need them asap. I have never been asked to pretend I am a native speaker or not to mention my origins. I just got the job I had been looking for without any problems. The life in my idealized bubble was just perfect. Thanks to the fact that I am a well-organized and hard-working person, usually modest too J, I’ve never had problems staying in a language school because my employers knew about my experience, qualifications and teaching style. Being a non-native was a fact but not a stumbling block.
All good things come to an end…
Some time ago, I started feeling a need to change something in my life. As an EFL teacher, I simply thought that it might not be a bad idea to change the place of living. My colleagues recommended I used tefl.com to apply for jobs. If you’ve ever used the webpage, you probably now that it’s full of job offers for EFL teachers you can apply for directly and instantly. At first I was pretty impressed by the number of offers. However, after some time, I realised that all of them had one thing in common: everyone was looking for native level English speakers.
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Well, there is nothing wrong or incorrect about looking for proficient English speakers. As a teacher I know that the better the teacher’s English (by which I also mean qualifications), the more students will possibly benefit from classes. What struck me the most though, is the fact that experience is not as valuable to some employers as language proficiency.
Time to apply
Whenever I see an interesting job offer, I jump at the chance and send my application. I started the whole process around April. Since that moment, I hadn’t had any problems until the moment when I wanted to apply for a job and I suddenly saw this notification on the screen:
At first I thought it was just a system bug. In the end the job offer said “native level English speaker”, and if you just have a quick look at my profile, you’ll see that there’s no higher level of language competence than “fluent”. However, before the questions about the foreign languages, there is one tricky question: “Are you a native level English speaker?”. To your surprise, my answer to the question was “No”. Why? Firstly, what does native-like even mean? It is already quite problematic to decide who a native speaker actually is not to mention a native-like speaker. Well, I was not born in an English-speaking-like country, my parents do not speak an English-like language and my education was never in an English-like language. Thus, my answer to the question was “No”. Therefore, I could not apply for the job mentioned above.
Since that moment I have been thinking a lot about this loophole in TEFL.COM’s system. Wouldn’t it be better to simply use CEFR (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) which is widely accepted and respected to verify teachers’ English language proficiency? It is worth mentioning that according to CEFR a C2 English language speaker has “the capacity to deal with material which is academic or cognitively demanding, and to use language to good effect at a level of performance which may in certain respects be more advanced than that of an average native speaker”. You’ve probably noticed that being born and raised in an English speaking country is absolutely not a requirement here. Neither is an RP pronunciation. A C2 English speaker might actually have a better linguistic competence than a native speaker, now the question is, how does this influence the teaching process? Non-native speakers actually underwent the learning process themselves and know what it is like to be in students’ shoes. They quite often, just like me, have a teaching degree, postgraduate studies and CELTA. They’re simply prepared for the job because they’ve been working their whole life (or most of it) to do this job.
I am not a native speaker, a fact I am not ashamed of. Anyone who has studied a foreign language and is capable of teaching it knows how difficult and challenging this task is. I’ve found being judged, only on the basis of me being born and raised in a non-English speaking country, outrageous, offensive and unacceptable. I’ve been denied the possibility to apply for a job which is a pure example of discrimination. That was the moment my bubble burst and I felt the need to speak out against the discrimination of non-native English speaker teachers.
What’s the euphemism for irony?
If you’ve ever tried to post a job offer on tefl.com, you’ve probably seen this notification below which provides you with short information about what’s acceptable and unlawful within the EU.
First, Tefl.com inform school schools that it is illegal to advertise for native speakers. Consequently, the advertisers ask for “native-like” English speakers to comply with the law. At this point we have to be honest, those who advertise for “native-like level” are still looking for “native speakers”, they just put in politically correct words. As a result, unless I tick the box in my online resume that I am a ‘native-like level English speaker’, my application will be rejected right away.
The webpage’s terms and conditions are undoubtedly legal, but difficult to implement or stick to in practice thanks to the system which, probably, automatically discriminates against non-native-like speakers.
One more thing I have to clarify here. Before I did my CELTA, my application had also been rejected once or twice because I did not have “relevant” qualifications (some employers asked specifically for CELTA) which I found absolutely acceptable. But the very first moment I could not apply for a job because I was born and raised in Poland in a monolingual Polish speaking environment I decided to take an active stand.
“If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime.” ― Jack Kerouac
I have to admit, that even though discrimination itself is not a pleasant thing, it may be an eye-opening experience. After the talk in March, I was sort of aware that something similar might happen to me. However, what struck me even more than being discriminated on the grounds of my mother tongue, were my colleagues’ reactions. One of them, a teacher form Ireland, asked me directly why I did not say I was a native-like speaker in my profile (His justification – “Your English is better than mine”). He did admit I was right when I asked him if he would say that he was English instead of Irish in order to get a job.
I have no intention of denying who I am and where I come from. My colleague’s reactions showed me that we have to raise people’s awareness and highlight the current situation. We have to stand up to all those ridiculous requirements and fight for ourselves.
One for all and all for one
Designed by @teflninja
As I said in the beginning, I’ve never defined myself as a fighter but I’ve realised that if we do not want to live in the world where all teachers are equal but some teachers are more equal than others, we have to take an active stand and speak out against the discrimination now.
Paulina Woźniak officially started teaching English in 2013, however she says that she actually started the job at the age of… four. In 2015, she started teaching English in Spain and she’s recently started a new teaching job in the south of Spain. As a teacher she likes the challenges involved in the job, believes that chocolate can solve all of the problems and tries to pass on her passion for English to her students. After doing her CELTA, she’s now looking for a new challenge.
This is the video recording of my 10 minute plenary at Innovate ELT 2016 in Barcelona. Some parts of the original did not record properly, unfortunately, so I had to rerecord them at home. Still, I hope you enjoy it and I would love to hear your comments. Below the video, you can read the transcript of the plenary.
If you’re interested in getting involved in TEFL Equity Advocates campaign, take a look at this page for ideas on how you can help.
How many of you in the audience are NNS?
And how many are NS?
And how many of you are English teachers?
This is precisely the point I’d like to make today. We’re all English teachers. And if we want to empower ourselves, it can only be done together. As English teachers.
So I have a very simple dream. A dream that one day we’ll all simply be seen as English teachers. That this artificial divide that seems to separate us, will disappear. Become irrelevant.
So my dream is very simple indeed. It’s a dream that soon we will be valued based on what we do best: teach English; and not based on an accident of birth. Because we are all English teachers. And what defines us is our professionalism. Our ability to teach a language that we all love.
So when I look around today, what I see is English teachers. Not NS and NNS. Simply English teachers. I want you to take a good look around you too. We’re a diverse group. We speak different languages. Come from different countries. But there’s one important thing that unites us: we’re all English teachers.
Can you see that?
We’re all English teachers.
And together we’re stronger. Together we have the power to change ELT. To bring professionalism back into our industry.
And change is possible. It is actually taking place right now. This conference is a sign of change. The topics discussed here are a sign of change. And I, you, we, as English teachers, we can become the driving force of change in ELT.
The story I want to tell you will hopefully show you that change in ELT is possible. No matter how insurmountable the obstacles seem. And all of you there have the power to change things.
There was a time when I didn’t think of myself as a NNS. I thought of myself as an English teacher. Call it naivete or innocence. That time is unfortunately gone. It was a happy time when you thought of yourself as an English teacher. But it all changed back in 2011.
I was teaching in IH San Sebastian. The IH transfer list came out and I applied for work at IH Lisbon. What I didn’t know back then was that I was a NNS. And NNS weren’t welcome in IH Lisbon. I received an email that said my CV wouldn’t be considered and I should try another IH school.
I was furious. My CV won’t be considered because I’m Polish?! This was utter nonsense. I was a qualified and experienced teacher who was proficient in English. What else do you want? Well, clearly, they weren’t that interested in qualifications or experience or proficiency. They simply wanted a native speaker.
I was furious. But thanks to an English colleague, rather than smash the computer screen, sulk, or even worse: give up; I vented my anger into an article. Mind you, I’d never written an article in my life. But I couldn’t just sit silently. I had to speak out. IH Lisbon wasn’t going to get away with it. I wanted to go after them.
I entitled the article ‘Nativity scenes’. I sent it off to several newspapers and magazines, and EL Gazette replied saying they’d publish it. Of course with changes. And there were a lot of them. Remember I didn’t have a clue about writing articles. I was just a young English teacher from Poland venting his fury.
The article must have created a bit of an impact, though, because the CEO of IH World wrote an official reply which was published below the article. And in the reply she promised IH would change their hiring policies. Which as far as I know they did. At least officially.
What does this story show you? That if you’re a young English teacher from Poland venting his fury into an article, even a giant like IH will not be safe.
But jokes aside, what I think it shows is that you also have the power to change things in ELT. We all do. As English teachers, we are ELT.
But change also takes time. It takes a lot of determination. It takes commitment. It takes grit. With IH it might have been a stroke of luck. To really change ELT, it will take time.
But it is possible.
Two years ago I started TEFL Equity Advocates campaigning for equal professional opportunities for NS and NNS teachers in ELT. The basic premise was and still is that we’re all English teachers. And we should be valued for that, for our teaching skills. Not for the language we unwittingly picked up as kids. And the stereotypes, the prejudices, they make us all weaker. They divide us when we should be united.
And equal employment and professional opportunities should be important to all of us. Because the current ELT recruitment model disregards professionalism. It disregards us as English teachers. It is based on a false assumption that the mother tongue of the teacher should be the most important criteria.
Since I started TEFL Equity, one of the most frequent challenges I’ve faced is people saying that things will never change. That I’m fighting a lost cause. There’s a certain defeatism among many ELTers. But remember, we, as English teachers, are ELT. And we have the power to change it. To shape its future.
So the most beautiful moments since starting TEFL Equity have been to hear from teachers:
Thanks, now I know I’m not on my own.
You’ve given me the tools and the courage to fight for my rights.
I used to accept this discrimination as a given, but now I know I shouldn’t, and I won’t.
This is what I call empowerment. And a call to action. If we want change, we need to act. We need to make it happen
So if the issue of inequality between NS and NNS in ELT concerns you, do something about it. Write an article. Talk to your DoS. Propose or give a workshop in your school on the topic. Give a conference talk. Or a webinar. Talk to your local teaching association. When you see a job ad that’s discriminatory, comment on it. Write to the employer.
And last by not least, talk to your students. Discuss this issue with them. As I’ll try to show later today in my session with the learners, it’s a great topic for debate. And as teachers we have the obligation to educate our students. To empower them.
English has changed. It doesn’t belong to the English any more. Nor does it belong to the US, the Irish or the Australians. It belongs to all of us, all those who teach it. Who study it. Who use it. It is an international language. A beautifully diverse one.
Let’s embrace this diversity. Let’s speak out for greater equality in ELT. For greater professionalism. For empowerment.
Earlier this year Marek Kiczkowiak and I gave a talk at TESOL Spain in Vitoria-Gasteiz about native speakerism in teacher training (you can download the ppt here). In preparation for the talk, I set up a survey on general issues of discrimination in ELT to get an idea of different attitudes about discrimination in general, but predominantly to look at native speakerism; that is, the prejudice against individuals based on their mother tongue or perceived ‘nativeness’. The survey features a series of ELT job adverts with examples of language which could be interpreted as discriminatory. Participants were simply asked to judge if the language was discriminatory and if it was, was the discrimination justified in the context provided. The scenarios were as follows.
A women’s college in Saudi Arabia seeking only female teachers.
A summer camp for teenagers seeking only teachers aged 18-30.
A private language school in Prague seeking only native English speaker teachers.
A language school in China seeking only Caucasian teachers.
A language school in Japan unwilling to hire anyone with visual tattoos.
A university in Turkey seeking only teachers with C1 or above language proficiency.
A language school in Poland only willing to hire teachers with an EU passport.
Some of the adverts were genuine and taken from www.tefl.com whilst others were adapted to include the discriminatory language. In total, over 580 people took part in the survey coming from all over the world and from every corner of the industry, from trainee teachers to teacher trainers to academics.
Looking at the collected data, some things were unsurprising. Overall, 92% of respondents believed that a Turkish university requiring teachers to have a minimum language proficiency of C1 was completely reasonable with the majority stating that this is a necessary attribute for the job and, in theory, attainable by anyone. A similar percentage (88%) felt that seeking a Caucasian teacher was unjustifiably discriminatory, the only surprise perhaps being that 6% felt it was in no way discriminatory.
The other ads were more divisive. Half of the respondents felt that refusing to employ someone due to visible tattoos was unjustified discrimination with a quarter feeling that it was either justified or not discrimination at all. Requiring a teacher to have an EU passport was only found to be discriminatory by 44% of those responding with 14% overall finding the discrimination justified. The issue of the employment of only women for a women’s college in Saudi Arabia was the most controversial. The majority (44%) felt that asking for female teachers wasn’t discriminatory whereas a third felt that despite being discriminatory, within the context provided, it was justified. The two questions that showed the most similar attitudes were regarding the need for native speakers and for teachers to be within a certain age range with 68% and 62% respectively finding the terminology both discriminatory and unjustified. In each case 12% found the language to be discriminatory but justified in some way. Analysing the justifications given for the discrimination a few trends became clear.
The most common justification given for both the Saudi and the Japanese contexts was that of culture. Many, for example, were keen to point out that having visible tattoos was not, in itself, a reason to refuse employment, but considering the connotations tattoos have in Japan e.g. organised crime, it may be culturally more sensitive to employ teachers who do not have tattoos on display. Similarly, many pointed out that considering the political and religious climate in Saudi Arabia it may be necessary to only employ women to teach women. However, many were also keen to express their dissatisfaction with what they saw as an incredibly oppressive regime with one stating that “Saudi is a patriarchal hellhole”.
Ability to do the job
Another trend that arose was discriminatory criteria that could affect the successful candidates’ ability to do the job in question. The most common, unsurprisingly, was the requirement for a university teacher in Turkey to have a suitable level of English proficiency – one respondent even commented that they didn’t believe that C1 was high enough for such a position. Ability to do the job was also the most commonly stated justification for the summer camp wanting employees under 30. A number of participants stated that working at a summer camp requires a lot of energy and younger applicants may be better equipped to deal with those demands. In addition to this, there were a number who believed that native English speakers would be better able to teach colloquial language and culture and therefore be more suitable to be English teachers and so justifying the discrimination in this case.
The third major justificatory factor was that which was seen to be imposed on the language schools by external factors. Market demand was often mentioned as a factor in both hiring native speakers and in hiring only Caucasian workers. The general tone of such justification was that if that is what the customer wants, then the language school should do its best to meet those demands, even if it means not employing the most qualified or experienced teachers. It was also felt that visa requirements set by the government could be an acceptable reason for discriminatory language in job advertisements. It was pointed out many times that the process of getting a visa in the EU can be expensive and schools may not have the financial resources to sponsor this.
It’s clear from the responses to the survey that discrimination can be justified in a number of different ways. However, much of the justification provided seems to shy away from individual responsibility to the situation. Market demand is a convenient excuse to prefer Caucasian teachers as accusations of racism can then be firmly levelled at the customer in the same way that seeking NEST has frequently drawn the comment “I’d love to hire NNEST, but the students want natives”. Despite the convenience though, it’s a cowardly and reckless response. As long as language schools continue to persist with NEST/NNEST labels, they perpetuate the idea that there is somehow a difference between the two and no amount of insistence of market demand can abdicate them from the responsibility of creating such demand. A demand, incidentally, that there is no academic evidence of.
Ability to do the job is a much more acceptable justification to prefer one group over another and would rarely be described as discrimination. However, there is, again, no evidence that a NEST is any more capable of teaching idiomatic language or pronunciation than a NNEST only that some individuals are better than others. There are NNEST with tremendous language proficiency and phonological ability just as there are NEST with pronunciation and grammar that few would identify as native and vice-versa.
What isn’t clear is whether this discrimination is fuelled by a genuine ignorance to the fact that NEST are not intrinsically more capable, a genuine belief that this market demand is really there or whether the motives are something more sinister entirely such as attempts to maintain the NES dominance of the industry. What is clear is that despite the percentage of respondents finding native speaker requirements unacceptable being encouraging (68%), the 32% minority at around one third of the industry is a noisy one.
The next post in this series will look at the perceptions of teachers in training and compare them to those of the industry in general. You might also be interested in a paper I co-wrote with Karin Krummenacher and Marek Kiczkowiak, where we suggest practical activities that could be used in initial teacher training programmes such as CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL to tackle native speakerism. The paper is available for free via ELTed journal here. You can also download it for free from academia.edu here or from researchgate.net here.
Daniel Baines is the Director of Studies at Oxford House Prague and a Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor. He holds an MA TESOL from Sheffield Hallam University and has given talks at conferences in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and most recently at IATEFL in the UK. His primary research interests are native speakerism in ELT and reflection in initial teacher training. He was a finalist in the 2014 British Council ELT Masters Dissertation Award.
After watching Silvana Richardson’s IATEFL 2016 plenary ‘ The native factor, the haves and have-nots’ this April I immediately asked myself what I could do to raise awareness of some of the issues Silvana highlighted. Through meeting Marek on Twitter we started chatting about my ideas. So, this post is to share with you the activities I have recently done to help my teaching colleagues and customer service staff be more aware of ‘The N factor’. I hope I might inspire you to do something similar in your organization!In May 2016, to get the ball rolling, I presented a slot in our monthly teacher 15 minute forum (a CPD event for teachers where teachers have 5 minutes to summarize a teaching idea, an article or an area of interest) on ‘The N factor’. 10 teachers came and for most of them it was the first time they had heard about this area of hot debate. I highlighted some key facts and figures from Silvana Richardson’s plenary and commented on how our own staffroom was made up of both NS and NNS and that we should all be proud of who we are. I reiterated this point by quoting Peter Medgyes, who I was lucky enough to hear speak at the EICE Valencia conference this May.
To spread the word to all teaching staff I shared my 15 minute forum slides in an email and wrote a short summary of my 15 minute slot in our weekly teacher newsletter. I also continued to talk about the topic over the next few days and weeks with anyone who would listen to me!
Afterwards, I also realized that our customer service staff might be interested in hearing what I had to say. After all, they deal with the public every day and a frequent comment they hear is ‘Of course, I presume that all your teachers are mother-tongue speakers.’ I wondered how confident my customer service colleagues were in handling this scenario and how knowledgeable they were of the advantages that both NS and NNS teachers can bring to the classroom.
Our Director and Customer Service Manager were very keen and enthusiastic about my suggestion so in June I organized 2 briefing sessions. Chatting with a fellow teacher Ania Krzyzosiak, we decided to prepare and run the customer service sessions together (you can download the handout here). That way, there would be both a NS and NNS delivering the session and 2 brains and pairs of hands are always better than one! 16 colleagues attended and our 30 minute briefing generated a lot of healthy discussion and comments. I think the Venn diagram activity, where they had to think about the qualities that NS and NNS can bring to the classroom, was particularly thought-provoking and made my non-teaching colleagues consider advantages that they had never really thought about til then.
The exit tickets we collected at the end of the 2 customer service sessions included comments such as ‘More convincing arguments for answering the basic question.’ and ‘Non-NEST teachers can teach as accurately as NEST teachers.’
IATEFL 2016 may be over but Silvana Richardson brought to the foreground very important issues and there is still plenty to be done on tackling discrimination and misconceptions in many organisations and at many levels in the ELT world. I work for the British Council and we have a global policy of equal opportunity for recruitment. That said, I still feel it is important to discuss ‘The N factor’ in my workplace. I hope my small contribution will go some way to continuing this debate and that after reading this blog you might be thinking of how you, too, can spread the NSNNS word!
If you’d like to see some lesson materials for adult students connected to the NS NNS topic then click here. If you have any ideas or comments about this blog then post them below and/or tweet them to me at @Sarah_TTrainer .
About the author
Sarah’s teaching and teacher training career over the last 20 years has taken her to Eastern Europe, the Far East and Europe, where she currently works at the British Council. A Cambridge CELTA and Young Learner extension tutor, she has trained both teachers working in the state sector and in ELT. She is currently Coordinator of the Bilingual Education Consultancy Service British Council Italy and teaches adults and young learners. You can follow her on Twitter @Sarah_TTrainer
Recently, TESOL Spain has issued a position statement against discrimination in ELT, opposing job ads that require the candidate to be a ‘native speaker’, have ‘native-like’ fluency, or speak with ‘standard’ English. I had a chance to talk to the current president of TESOL Spain, Annie Altamirano, to find out a bit more about the statement and why it was issued. We also had a chat about how TESOL Spain is planning to put the statement into practice, promoting equality in Spanish ELT and supporting both their ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ members. We finished off by talking about ELT in Spain and what still needs to be done so that teachers are recruited and valued based on their skills, rather than their first language.
In compliance with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, TESOL-SPAIN stands in opposition to discrimination against teachers on the basis of their national, ethnic or linguistic background, religion, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, in terms of hiring, promotion, recruitment for jobs, or employment conditions.
With respect to the common, long-standing notion, unsupported by research, that a certain ethnicity, accent, or national background gives a person an advantage as a teacher of English, TESOL-SPAIN firmly believes that all teachers should be evaluated and valued solely on the basis of their teaching competence, teaching experience, formal education and linguistic expertise. Therefore, TESOL-SPAIN does not condone job announcements that list “native English,” “native command of English,” “native-like fluency,” “standard accented English,” or similar, as required or desirable qualities.
The statement is available on TESOL Spain website here.