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

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

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

The “mono” myth

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

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

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

Not that much hope for me though…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope not.

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

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

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

The “multi” reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hypocrisy of the market

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

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

The neglected reality

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

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

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

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

OMG! My French teacher is Polish

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

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

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

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

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

About Katarzyna Komorek:

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

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

References:

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

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

Do you trust your students when they smile in class? by Nicky Sekino

Your job may not be secure when your class is going well. Maybe, your students are making progress. Maybe, there are laughers in the class. Maybe, you have a higher academic degree. But all that will be of little value if you are a non-native speaker of English – at least in my case.

It was a company in Tokyo that dismissed me from an English education program for its employees. According to my employer, an educational institute, the company in Tokyo said, “It was about time to replace him with a new instructor, who is a native speaker of English.” I am certainly a non-native speaker of English. My mother tongue is Japanese. My employer, however, did little to protest this discriminatory dismissal. I am now of the impression that the commercial maxim of, “The customer is always right,” has worked.

My employer knows I have an M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Teachers College Columbia University. I am, maybe, the longest-working teacher in the institute’s payroll.

The news devastated me because my class had been going well. When the course started a year ago, my students spoke less than survival English. If I said, “Who is he?” my students would say, “Yes.” When the students’ English comprehension was virtually zero, the progress of the class was very slow. I consulted with my employer and it suggested for a bilingual class. I asked my students if they wanted me to talk to them in Japanese when I give instructions and do the rest of the class in English. To my surprise, they said, “No.” They wanted me to do the class in English only: a nice surprise.

Something strange happened. The company in Tokyo complained about the “English-only” policy. Being surprised, I asked my students if they changed their mind. They said, “No.” They managed to hint, in a broken fashion, a fabricating act in the part of their employer.

So, I decided to do the class in English and speak very slowly. It was, however, painful to say, “Doo youu uundeerstaand?” One year later, I did not have to speak at a ridiculously slow speed.

My students were engineers. They wanted to study technical English, too. I happily accepted this wish. I asked them if they would prepare short speeches with some technical contents. I said this because I knew they wrote English reasonably well. My students said, “Yes.” Afterward, they prepared short speeches and presented them in each class. In fact, their speeches were good after some error correction.

The course came to an end in a year.  I asked my students if they wanted to continue the study. They said, “Yes,” – with a smile. I went home with a smile.

The following day, the company in Tokyo contacted my employer to say that it would renew the contract with one new condition. The condition was to replace “the instructor with someone else who is a native speaker of English.” My employer accepted the request.

Afterthoughts

This experience of mine with the company in Tokyo is not new. It is another case of many more incidents with similar developments, which reminds me that I live in the Japanese world of English education.

I no longer blame people openly for discrimination. If I did, it would just stun them because many people have no idea about racial discrimination – especially from the view of someone who is on the receiving end. They would think I am insane who is complaining about something that does not exist. As the readers may have suspected, the company in Tokyo did not know they had committed racial discrimination.

Besides racial discrimination, the Japanese world of English education has some other issues to tackle. Motivation is one. Many people think students will learn English more if the class is fun. This idea is generally true, but it is not so simple with business people who believe in the native speaker fallacy that native speakers of English would make better teachers.

I sometimes forget that Japanese is an implicit language. English, on the other hand, is a descriptive language. So, for instance, “Yes,” means “Yes,” in English. However, “Yes,” means “Yes,” or “Maybe yes,” or, “Yes, I have heard you,” in Japanese. It was maybe my naiveté to believe in my students when they requested for a monolingual class. Maybe they were saying, “Yes” to please me but, in fact, they were thinking, “No.” I do not know. A friendly warning for the readers is to be aware of the dichotomy of the Japanese language. Students are speaking English but they are possibly following a communication logic that is outside of the English language.


About the author:

nicky sekinoMr. Nicky Sekino is an experienced teacher of English. He began teaching at American universities and Japanese vocational schools in the 1980’s. Since then, he has continued teaching and the number of his past students has exceeded 2000. His current teaching context is the business world and his students are business people. He has an MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Teachers College Columbia University.

Who is qualified to teach English? by Amy Thompson

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

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

Perhaps.

Is it discrimination against particular demographics?

Most definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

Equity in ELT – who do we need to convince? by Kenneth Arnold

I fully support TEFL Equity advocates and want to fight discrimination, so I clicked on the link here about what we could do. One of the suggestions is to make a blog post about it, so here is my attempt.

Not discriminating against someone due to their place of birth seems such an obvious thing, I started wondering who we need to convince. Obviously we need to convince someone or it wouldn’t still be a problem. I have tried to narrow the situation down to four basic groups for the sake of simplification. I am speaking very generally here.

  1. Experienced teachers/Teacher Trainers: I’ll start with the category that I fall into. I’ve been involved in ESL for about 20 years now as have most of the people I work with and we have worked in a number of countries in Europe and Asia.

You only need to look around this blog or watch videos produced by all of the big names in this profession to see the support against discrimination. I personally don’t know of any teacher trainers who believe in native speakerism. This has no doubt come about through experience. Just working in this industry for any length of time will put you into contact with talented, qualified NNESTs. You can’t avoid them. And any teacher trainer will tell you there are strong and weak NNEST just like native speakers. NNESTs tend to have certain advantages, such as being about to empathize with their students. While you might occasionally find an experienced native teacher, teaching in isolation, who believes that “natives are the best”, it’s fairly clear that they have no real influence on the profession and for all intents are “flat-Earthers”.

So why are we spending time lecturing each other in conferences or by writing blogs trying to convince each other? It’s fairly clear you are preaching to the choir when it comes to convincing those who have experience in this area. I’m fully aware that anyone frequenting this blog doesn’t need any convincing.

  1. New/Pre-service teachers: A friend of mine did some research that demonstrated that new and pre-service teachers are much less likely to notice discrimination in general in our industry. This makes sense. Quite often this might come from marketing for TEFL courses (“If you can speak English, you can teach English.”) With native speakers, they are probably less likely to notice it because it is discrimination in their favour. Particularly if you are only planning on being in this profession for a short time, why not take advantage of it. And in general, more than anything, it could just be a lack of exposure/interest.

I know that for myself, as a young teacher all those years ago, I hadn’t really thought about it until I observed an experienced non-native at my school. She taught such a knowledgeable, organized lesson that I left feeling inadequate in my own teaching. Of course, it inspired me to try harder, learn more grammar and try to improve in many ways.

I see this on a monthly basis in my training courses. Native speakers are routinely convinced of non-native teachers’ effectiveness just by being around them, seeing them teach. Recently, I had a native speaker trainee, in the final week of the course, tell a Belgian trainee just how impressed with her he was, being able to do what he was doing, all in a second language. Evidence of a clear convert.

So while we can preach to new teachers about discrimination, you probably don’t need to hit them over the head with it. Just being around, working in the industry with NNESTs of ability should convince them. To be honest, new teachers are not involved in the hiring process anyway. So if they stay in the profession for any length of time and become an experienced teacher or trainer they should convert.

(Interestingly, NNESTs seem to not support each other on occasion. I remember at a conference, watching the eye-rolling of the audience of NNESTs when the next presenter with a clearly non-English sounding name was announced. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies)

  1. Language schools/Employers: It is pretty common to see Native Speaker clearly labelled among job adverts in any country it seems, quite often, almost without thought. (A local ad advertised “Real Native Speaker” as the first requirement. I wonder what prompted that the “real” be included? Of course, as a friend points out, it doesn’t specify “of English” so technically everyone is a “Native Speaker” of some language.)

In the EU, it is quite clearly against the regulations of discriminatory practice but still happens constantly. Most school owners will sheepishly shrug their shoulders and say that native speakers are what the clients demand.

Now why is this? In Prague, there is often a clear case of “Keeping up with the Jones’s”. Native speakers were once rarer therefore more prestigious to have. Students could boast, “I have an actual British teacher.” And feel better than their friends who were learning from a native Czech who had been teaching Russian up until everything changed. In the old days, teachers might be only a few units ahead of their students in the course books. Of course these days are long gone, but the hangover still remains.

While the language school owners’ answers might appear sheepish, they do strike at the heart of the matter. They are in a service industry and will do whatever the students demand. If, for some reason, students believed they were better taught by pink-haired female teachers with interesting dress sense, then you’d see hiring ads like “REAL pink haired teachers only.” In many ways, the owners are just following the market trends, like all businesses.

  1. Students: Which leaves us firmly in the lap of the students. For whatever misguided reasons, this myth is perpetuated by the clients. Theirs is the attitude which needs be changed to have any hope of ending the discrimination. As a former colleague once told me, “It all comes down to the students’ attitudes.”

And how do we change their attitudes? I’m open to ideas. Anyone? Anyone?

kenneth-arnoldKenneth Arnold has degrees in education and English and has worked in TEFL teaching and training since 1997. Originally from St. Louis, he completed his higher education with the Shenker TEFL certificate in Italy and the Cambridge DELTA. Kenneth has taught English in various countries including Malaysia, South Bohemia, Italy, Spain, and the U.S., in many academic settings. He currently works for TEFL Worldwide Prague. When not teaching or training, Kenneth enjoys history, reading, and spending time with his young daughters.

Making job specifications more specific by Alex Moore

The fact that you’ve visited this website and are reading this tells me you probably don’t need convincing that “native-speakerism” is a myth that discriminates against thousands of qualified teachers, for whom English happens not to be their native language.

I’m also going to assume you’ve read Marek’s post about “native speaker only” job adverts, and his suggested write-back campaign.

Advertising for native speakers only is considered discriminatory by TESOL International or IATEFL, and a breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Writing back is an excellent way of reminding employers of this, and showing that teachers, of whatever background, care.

You can’t say “native speakers only” any more. However, there is a one-word dodge that could, potentially allow schools to continue the hiring practice.

Imagine you are the DoS or principal of a school where students, or their families, seem to prefer native speakers. You may know that academic opinion is against them on this, but it would be too hard to change their minds. You’re also worried that, if you tried, they might take offence or feel let down, and take their business to the school down the road who will tell them what they want to hear. TEFL Equity might be an admirable principle, but it’s a principle you can’t afford to have.

So you’d like to continue employing native speakers, but know you can’t explicitly advertise for them. You ask for native-level speakers instead. That one extra word send out the right message, “non-native speakers have a chance, if their English is good enough”, but retains all the power: “We decide who is native-level, and who isn’t”. A school could, covertly, still only hire native speakers. Instead of telling non-native applicants that they’re being turned down because of the crest on their passport, they could just say “Sorry, we don’t think your English is native-level”. End of chat.

This “native-level” phrase isn’t hard to find. Looking more or less randomly on the “International jobs board” at EslCafe.com, I found schools in Turkey and Russia that listed “NATIVE LEVEL”, in capitals, in the first line of their text. Another, in Hungary, asked for “native fluency” and one in Spain had a requirements list where, tellingly, “native level of English” was listed above “TEFL or CELTA”.

I found similar results at TEFL.com. A company that runs summer schools in the UK and elsewhere in Europe asked for applicants with an “English native level of competence” (sic), and similar phrases seem to be common throughout adverts for British summer schools. A full-time job advert in Poland, the country I currently work in, shouts that it wants an “ENGLISH NATIVE LEVEL SPEAKER” in the headline, though weirdly doesn’t mention this in the “qualifications” list later.

In all these cases, I have no idea what thought process lay behind the wording of the adverts. For all I know, these schools may give NNESTs a fair hearing, and may have many on their payroll. But, if I were a non-native, seeing that advert, I might still wonder: “Is there any point in applying for this?”

Also, all of these schools are in ECHR signatory countries, so are presumably aware of their Article 14 responsibility. Would they advertise for natives only, if they were legally free to do so? I don’t know, but we’re entitled to be suspicious.

So, inspired by the aforementioned write-back campaign against “native only” adverts, here is an alternative letter, aimed at the more widespread (in Europe) “native-level” phrase:

Dear __________,

I am writing in reply to your recent job advert for English teachers, posted at [web address].

Your advert lists “native-level” command of English as a requirement for candidates.

“Native-level” is a vague phrase. It is highly open to interpretation, both on the employers’ side and the potential applicants’. Many qualified teachers, for whom English happens to be a second language, might be put off from applying by this wording – a scenario where both parties potentially lose out.

As I’m sure you know, there are many ways of formally classifying language ability. If you specify a CEFR level, IELTS grade or Cambridge Suite exam grade, applicants will know the standard they are being judged against, and have an objective way of demonstrating their proficiency.

Furthermore, non-native speakers, as English teachers, can provide an inspiring example to your students, living proof that hard work, dedication and practice pay off. Compared to native speakers, they will also know the exam systems available to their students, having passed through one or more of them themselves.

Bearing this in mind, I hope you might consider amending the above-mentioned advert, and future adverts, to include a more precise phrase than “native-level”.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

This is not about telling schools who they should and should not hire. I am proud to say the company I currently work for requires candidates to have an IELTS band 8, or demonstrate a CEFR C2 level, and employers are perfectly entitled to set such high standards. But falling back on a weasel phrase like “native-level” is as good as not setting standards at all.

alex-mooreAlex Moore currently works in Poland. Before becoming an English teacher, he worked as a journalist for a local newspaper group in his native South Wales. After qualifying, his first spell abroad was in China, from 2011 to 2016 (“a six-month career break that got seriously out of hand”). During that time he played a key role in opening two new language school campuses in Chongqing and was appointed Foreign Teacher Manager by i2. Since then, he has worked at CSL in Swansea and is now at IH Bielsko-Biala.
Fun fact: In his very first placement in China, the school sent him back to the agency after three days, complaining he “stuttered too much”. Since then, his delivery has improved, or his DoSes have become more considerate, or both.

What does a red phone box have to do with learning English in 2017? by Richard Willmsen

[From the editor: this post was originally published on Richard’s blog here and is republished here with his full consent]

One of my roles in life involves testing the English language to make sure it’s working properly. It’s in this capacity that I get to fly down to Mérida for a few days, eat sopa de lima and cochinita pibil in nice restaurants, and pay a visit to an excellent language school. It’s easy to find because it has a red phone box outside. Everyone I meet there is friendly and seems competent. The owners (both English, in their thirties) greet and chat to the students as they arrive; they seem to know their names and both speak very good Spanish. As for the teachers, they are young, cheerful, and seem to be mostly English.

The school, which goes by the name of the London Academy and has been open for around two years, is “the only British language school in Mérida with 100% qualified British teachers that offers a true British cultural experience”. The images on the walls show cool young people enjoying themselves in London. It’s unlike a lot of  ‘British’ schools I’ve worked at in the past in that there’s a refreshing lack of photos of Beefeaters and the Royal Family and the atmosphere is by no means austere and reserved as it is in some anglophone learning environments. Entering the school I worked at for several years in Lisbon was like going to the dentists: staid, forbidding and snobbish. The school in Mérida is selling an updated version of the UK. It certainly needs to stand out, because there are a lot of schools in that particular suburb. When I walk round the block I count another four. Some seem to be part of chains and most are selling themselves on cost: low prices, discounts if you pay upfront for online classes and year-long courses.

Ultimately it’s a question of marketing. What the London Academy is selling is a tourist experience. For the students (or at least for their parents) the school is a corner of a foreign field. They will be immersed in the classroom in an English-only environment with a representative of the target culture. What the teachers get is a reasonably-paid job and an experience of living abroad, one which gives them the chance to learn some of the language and, if they’re lucky, become friends, or possibly very good friends*, with some of the locals. Nowadays in the world of English language teaching this is quite a retro model. It is based on the promotion of the assumption that the teacher is a monolingual native speaker with no or little knowledge of the host culture. Bringing a new cohort of teachers over every year is very expensive at a time when there is more competition from schools which use other images and associations to promote the learning of English.

There also seems to be a growing recognition that the language study trips abroad business is similarly a branch of tourism. The school I worked at for several years in London has just been bought up by a language travel organisation. It is true that there is no easier environment to learn and teach in. The students get some experience of interacting in an English-speaking setting and they also make English-language friendships with each other. This doesn’t mean that they start watching Eastenders and spend every night down the rub-a-dub. Rather they bond over their dislike of the food, the absurd rents they have to pay and the hangovers they picked up (and the fellow students they didn’t) in bars and clubs where most other customers (and the staff) are also there to improve their English. This is perfectly natural; after all, on holiday, you tend to make friends with other tourists rather than the locals. Some students do arrive with the impression that it’s all about becoming “English” (which is a useful marketing illusion), but they soon knuckle down to the more important and less confusing task of developing an English-speaking life. It’s far more important for Mehmet, who lives in Istanbul and deals with Chinese people on the phone, to understand Wei Wei from Shandong than it is for him to understand what Russell Brand says**. As for the teacher, their job largely involves creating a environment conducive to social and cultural exchange, with their role a mix of tour guide, cultural mediator, facilitator and occasional counsellor.

Sadly, thanks to a combination of international competition in the education market, arbitrary and ill-thought-out changes to visa rules and the global economic situation, the language school industry in the UK (and London in particular) has taken a hammering over the last few years, with very well-established places going to the wall and the survivors getting snapped up by international concerns. It is also possible that over the next few years the international marketing of British English by institutions such as the British Council will encounter difficulties in a world which no longer views Britain as vibrant, mobile and welcoming but rather as insular, hostile and closed. Whereas most marketing of English courses tends to sell an image of mobility – in the words of an advert I saw recently, ‘Where can you go if you don’t know English?’ – all this talk of shutting borders is designed and destined to do permanent damage to one of the very remaining industries which the UK still dominates.

Another major change in the world of English language teaching is a shift away from the notion that native speakers automatically make better language teachers. That’s not to say that the assumption is by any means dead. Browsing websites advertising teaching jobs in Mexico recently I was shocked by the number of ads looking for ‘native speakers’ and specifying ‘no experience necessary’. I’d imagine that most people learning a language would want a teacher with experience. But the rationale for this never was pedagogical. Again, it’s more to do with marketing, to the extent that one term commonly used in China for a foreign teacher is ‘dancing monkey’. Anyone ‘foreign’ will do as long as they don’t have a Chinese face or name.

There seems to be growing acceptance nowadays that the best attribute a teacher can have is the ability to teach, regardless of where they happen to have been born. The spread of English as a lingua franca has led to a growing recognition that it does not ‘belong’ to any one national group. Indeed, it helps to have consciously learnt the language you’re teaching. Having done so gives the teacher insights into the learning experience which allow them to give their students shortcuts and to identify potential pitfalls and misunderstandings. Non-native teachers also make more realistic role models, as the old joke about an English learner saying that when he grows up he wants to be a native speaker acknowledges. Plus it’s also true that a ‘native’ level of English is not a desirable goal. In international settings it is often British, American and Australians who have most difficulty making themselves understood, given their reliance on irony and idioms which may be lost on people who don’t share their cultural background. The trend is partly driven by economic changes – although native speakers are more profitable, non-native teachers are cheaper – but it has a positive effect as better teachers find it easier to get work.

The notion of ‘native speaker’ is problematic in any case. I’m one of them, yet there are lots of lots of ‘foreigners’ who use(d) ‘my’ language better than I do: Conrad, Nabokov, Zizek and Varoufakis all spring immediately to mind. My Italian wife writes things in her job that are much better than anything I could produce***. The idea that a ‘native speaker’ is an exemplary model has given way to a focus on proficient, competent or expert speakers. Similarly, the category of ‘mother tongue’ speaker does not take account of people who grew up speaking one language at home and another at school. Ultimately, nation state and language are just not a very good fit, especially in relation to English.

I myself found out quickly in Portugal many years ago that in a monolingual EFL classroom it’s the monolingual teacher who has problems expressing what they want, especially when dealing with teenagers. Students know their own culture and can communicate perfectly well with each other. Hence they can run rings round a teacher who has little training and almost no experience of inspiring learning and imposing discipline. Such a relationship depends partly on the personality of the teacher and partly on their ability to assert their authority over the language on the basis of their national identity. Anyone who has taught in such a context will recognise the frustrations described by George Orwell in his story ‘Shooting an Elephant‘. It is all too common for fledgling (and sometimes veteran) EFL teachers to develop the attitude of a colonial policeman and to dismiss the ‘natives’ as lazy, stupid “evil-spirited little beasts” who are out to “make (your) job impossible”.

This doesn’t mean that teaching and learning is impossible in such a context but where it does take place it tends to be by accident. My own ‘teaching journey’ has taught me that any meaningful educational experience has to be based on cultural exchange. Every teacher who sticks at it works out eventually that if you’re not learning, you’re not teaching. The model I’ve been describing is about trying to impose one identity on another. What must take place instead is a recognition and validation of each others’ identities. This involves drawing on the students’ expert knowledge of their language, their experiences, expertise and social roles rather than dismissing all of the above and relying instead on a combination of communication games, bullying and luck.

I would like therefore to put forward five suggestions for roles that EFL teachers can usefully adopt in a monolingual teaching/learning environment:

  1. The students’ knowledge of their own language is an essential classroom resource. This means that both the teacher and the students sometimes need to play the role of translators. It also implies a ceding of control and a certain amount of humility on the part of the teacher. My students know their own languages better than I do and sometime meanings have to be negotiated and dictionaries referred to. This has the advantage of reflecting real language use; in any given human interaction where more than one language is involved discussions over corresponding forms, functions and meanings are ever-present and sometimes other authorities have to be invoked. Clearly there are activities where this is not appropriate, and the teacher needs to establish when and why only the target language should be used. In a cooperative environment with purposeful activities students will be happy to go along with this.
  2. Tip number 1 implies that the teacher should speak or be learning the language of their students. There are, bizarrely, language teachers who have no experience of learning another language or who have never done so successfully. Such teachers are not able to understand and relate to the frustrations and ritual humiliations their students are exposing themselves to. Several times in my teaching career I have been put on the spot by a student asking me to perform a task I have asked them to do. Such experiences have helped me to reflect on how useful and how ‘doable’ the activity I’m imposing is. Once, with a class of Italian teenagers who were traumatised by the prospect of their Trinity Exam, I did the task myself in very imperfect Italian, getting them to play the role of examiners. A light bulb went on. They realised that they didn’t need to be completely fluent and that it was fine to make mistakes as long as they basically made themselves understood. They all went on to pass the exam. In order to be a teacher you also need to be a learner. This is a role no teacher should ever stop playing; there are always new things to learn.
  3. If you are teaching in another country you are also a model of someone immersed, out of their depth, occasionally thrown in at the deep end, experiencing anxiety, and sometimes losing face. Your ability to articulate these feelings and reflect on those experiences in English will be better than that of your students****. This involves drawing on your own experiences.  This paragraph itself could generate a very useful lesson for students struggling to articulate their own experiences with the language. It doesn’t mean that the teacher is an exemplary language learner but as someone who learns and also thinks about language a lot you do have insights to offer.
  4. A teacher needs most of all to be a teacher, with a range of approaches and techniques to suit each particular class. Hence our role is not that of an oracle on our language and culture. Both students and teachers have gaps in their knowledge of the world. That is fine. A classroom can be a very useful place to identify things that we don’t know and to figure out how we can find out. It very often happens that I learn new things in English*****, and when that happens I point it out to my students. As a language teacher I know that some students fail to understand that one’s command of a language is never total. Pointing it out by using yourself as an example helps students to recognise that their English need not and can not ever be ‘perfect’. I am there in the classroom because of my teaching experience and ability, and not as a proxy for the Queen or for Cambridge University.
  5. Teachers should also facilitate sharing of emotional experiences. We can help the students visualise their learning experience and identify specific examples of progress. One excellent way to do this is to explore learning metaphors: are they on a journey, climbing a mountain, working out in a gym, hanging out with some friends once a week? In tackling such themes the teacher is playing the role of a counsellor. In order for this to be effective the teacher needs to work constantly on creating an encouraging and forgiving environment based on an ethic of cooperation rather than on shaming people who make mistakes.

These tips are written with the teaching of English in mind. Some of them also apply to other languages. For example, I can’t say that the list of characteristics of various French supermarkets I spent ninety minutes learning in an intermediate French class a few years ago has helped me a great deal when talking to recent Senegalese immigrants in Rome. The same applies to Spanish and to an extent Portuguese; there’s not much point learning to lithp or to use o senhor appropriately when you’re off to live in Mexico or Brazil. Some other-language courses I’ve encountered have confused language competence and grammatical knowledge, with little room for error and a very narrow definition of success. The teaching of English does have something to offer language teaching in general given that there is simply more practise and research taking place.

It’s different with, say, German, Italian, Japanese or Finnish, since almost all speakers of these languages are from those countries or have spent time there. Then learning things like the names of personalities and radio advertising jingles is important. At the moment I live in Italy, where what hinders my comprehension most is a lack of knowledge of the (admitedly very complex) culture. It is, however, only one of many possible experiences. In past I’ve tended to assume that my own learning experiences are the only or the ultimate model, which is clearly not the case.

Several years ago in London there was a best-selling book/CD for English language learners called ‘Get Rid Of Your Accent‘. The cover featured a woman who looked like Agatha Christie and sounded like Lord Reith’s elocutionist. As David Crystal points out, learners do need a pronunciation role model but the notion there is one way of speaking is absurd. People certainly need to have a command of Standard English, but in a globalised world intelligibility is the main issue. The same goes for local varieties of grammar. A former colleague used to teach his newly-arrived elementary students to ask everyone they met “What do you do work-wise?”, a question guaranteed to draw a blank look from Akiko from Kyoto. It can be useful to teach students to understand local accents in questions like ‘wotjado?’ and ‘naamean?’, but it’s pointless and unfair to ask them to speak in that way. Sometimes over the years my lessons have been about making students talk just like me. That,to briefly use a particularly British English term, is bollocks.

* In some cases, very many very close friends.

** Mind you, there’s a wonderful story about teaching TEFL from the man himself here.

*** This is not meant to suggest that I have a number of wives from different countries. Maybe I should ask her how to rephrase it to make it more clearer.

**** If it isn’t, you may have wandered into an INSET session by mistake.

***** Such as how to spell ‘bizarrely’.

richard-willmsenI’m an DELTA-qualified English teacher and IELTS examiner from the UK and I’ve taught in Ireland, the UK, Portugal, Spain, China and Mexico. I’m currently working at a university in Rome. I post regularly about EFL, languages, politics and whatever else takes my fancy at www.infinite-coincidence.com.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOS NNESTS PUEDEN SER MÁS DINÁMICOS

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

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

LOS NNESTS TIENDEN A TENER MEJORES RECURSOS PARA LA ENSEÑANZA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In reflection: Lessons learned after 2 years of hiring NNESTS by Andrew Davison

My experience working with NNESTs started just over 2 years ago when I setup my business Learn English Budapest. We’re not a language school, but rather an agency that matches up private English teachers with students in the city. The aim when I set out was to give teachers a convenient alternative to putting up flyers and posting on expat forums.

For the first few months I, like many other schools sadly still do, had a negative opinion of non-native teachers. I assumed natives were simply better at teaching the language, and it wasn’t until I was approached by Marek Kiczkowiak, founder of TEFL Equity Advocates, that I had a chance to really question my views on the matter.

What started as an exchange of emails on the subject of natives vs. NNESTS, turned into an experiment on my part. I decided to start accepting NNESTS onto my team to see what the results were and not even a few of weeks later I realised I’d been making a mistake by avoiding recruiting them.

At the time, I summarised my findings in an interview. Today I’m back, and happy to announce the launch of my new website Teacher Finder. It’s the same concept, except this time we’ll be matching people with language teachers in over a dozen cities worldwide. We’ll also be expanding into new languages: Spanish, Italian, French, Hungarian, Arabic and German, just to name a few. Of course, non-native teachers are more than welcome to apply.

For anyone else out there running an agency or language school, and who might be hesitant to work with NNESTS, I decided to reveal some of my findings over the last 2 years.

Most students value experience more than the mother tongue

When it comes to teaching, it is obvious that the most important qualifications are the teacher’s ability to explain their subject and, well, teach. This is especially true for language teachers. In a world where English is the international lingua franca, and the ranks of non-native speakers outnumber the natives by at least three to one, it is ridiculous to think that non-natives can’t be as good teachers as the “chosen ones” who are born into an English-speaking language environment.

There is one thing you can’t learn from a textbook, however, and that is experience. Whenever I have the choice between an experienced non-native teacher and a newbie native one – the former gets the job. Teaching is one of those professions that is more like an art and it takes everyone time to perfect theirs. That is especially true when it comes to teaching private students – knowing how and to what extent to tailor the offered lessons to the student’s needs is something that only practice can teach.

Students won’t demand a native teacher if you don’t give them the option

Of course, “native” still have a certain stereotype attached to it, and given the option, most people will still opt for one. Indeed, there used to be a tick box on the signup form on the Learn English Budapest website that said, “Do you want a native English teacher? Yes/No”. Not surprisingly, most people ticked native or nothing at all.

I decided to remove this box and instead replace it with a question that asked students “Describe what you perfect teacher would be like?” Over the next few months, it became obvious that students weren’t looking for someone who was native. They were more interested in finding a teacher who shares their interests and can sufficiently explain the topic they’re interested in.

From then on, I have had no students contacting me to complain about being matched with a non-native English teacher. Most are pleasantly surprised to see how well (often, even better than native speakers) NNESTS can explain complicated grammar and draw parallels with their native languages.

NNESTS can be more proactive

One of the factors that speaks loudest in favour of NNESTs is that they have experience with learning a language themselves. They have great understanding of what their students are going through and what might be the biggest obstacles to fluency.

Their own language learning experience has oftentimes also taught them some innovative techniques in how to better explain and understand English.  When I asked my teachers about the secret tips and tricks they find most useful when teaching English, I quickly saw that the NNESTS were the ones who knew so much more about how to keep constantly improving their (and their students’) language skills.

NNESTS tend to have better resources for teaching

Again, since NNESTS have been through the goliath task of becoming fluent in another language, they have most likely scoured the landscape of possible language learning resources to find the best. While NESTs have the luxury to always be able to fall back on being native speakers and can come up with “resources” off the top of their heads, NNESTs usually cover that gap by being a lot better prepared for lessons.

They’re also the ones to introduce students to more off-the-book language learning methods and help them improve quicker with language hacking. I’ve noticed that, as a rule, they also put a lot more effort into creating their own resources and combining different strategies to find the best way to teach any given student.

When it comes to teaching children, NNESTS often do best

When I think back to my own school days and the foreign language classes we had, I can’t remember a single native language teacher. When it comes to beginners and children, the ability to explain a language in their native language and to limit the pressure learners feel is irreplaceable.

When I was young and taking my first Spanish lessons, I wouldn’t have survived being confronted with an actual Spanish person listening to me make a mockery of their language. From what I’ve learned from the feedback I get from students they often feel the same way when they’re just starting off. The more advanced ones might be happy to be pushed out of their comfort zone, but children don’t tend to thrive in that environment.

Conclusion – While stereotypes about native teachers remain, NNESTs are often better equipped to teach English

Even on Teacher Finder, we still get people asking for native English teachers but, more often than not, they will not press the issue. We’ve also successfully managed to explain the benefits that come with having non-native English teachers.

I would say the biggest upside to having a NNEST teaching you is that they fully understand what you’re going through as a language learner. Since they themselves have struggled with the same grammar issues, they have an insight into what it takes to clearly explain the rules. This is especially important when teaching children, who can get discouraged by having a native teacher.

Although it, regretfully, took me a while to get there, I now realise that NNESTs can be better equipped and prepared to take on students than native teachers. In the end, all that really matters to students is to find someone they can connect with and who makes language learning fun, no matter whether they’re native or non-native.

andrew5041Andrew Davison is the founder of Teacher Finder and also enjoys writing and travelling in his spare time. He splits his time between living in London and Budapest.

The long and winding road to success by Tatiana Njegovan

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.

touluse

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.

to-acomplish-great-things

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

tatianaTatiana Njegovan, originally from Serbia is a self-employed tacher of English in Toulouse, France

Sexism, racism, ageism and native speakerism – job ads in ELT

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.

General tendencies

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.

Culture

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.

Language schools

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.

Conclusions

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