Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: A Journey from EFL to ELF

I’m really excited that a book I’ve cowritten with Robert Lowe Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: A Journey from EFL to ELF has now officially been sent to press for printing and should be published in February 2019 🙂

It’s been a long year and a half in the making, and it’s taken us on a fascinating journey. And I don’t think any of us knew exactly where we were going when we started off. Let me explain.

Both me and Robert have been interested in the issue of native speakerism for the last several years, and we both did a PhD on the topic and have published an article together. However, while a substantial body of research has emerged over the years outlining the negative effects native speakerism has on our profession, it became increasingly (and frustratingly perhaps) apparent that there were few practical solutions how we can address native speakerism.

And by native speakerism I don’t mean here simply the discrimination in job ads and professional opportunities, which is perhaps the most visible, but only one of many manifestations of the ideology on our profession.

Native speakerism is a prejudice, an ideology which positions certain individuals as superior or inferior based on their perceived belonging to a ‘native speaker group. And the word perceived is vital, because who gets to be labelled a ‘native’ or a ‘non-native speaker’ is often subjective and ideological.

And similarly to other ideologies, such as sexism or racism, native speakerism does not spread in a vacuum, but is maintained, normalised and justified by powerful, but at the same time seemingly common sense, discourses. These in turn are visible in social practices within our profession.

To give you one example, a fundamental native speakerist discourse or belief is the idea that any ‘native speaker’ is by definition a better model and thus a better teacher of pronunciation. This is clearly reflected not only in biased hiring policies, but also in the fact that we might emphasise standard ‘native speaker’ accents and pronunciation in our materials.

So, what became more and more apparent to us was that the ideology of native speakerism has also very profound effects on how we perceive the English language, its users and – perhaps even more importantly – on how we teach the language.

Our main premise is then that in order to attempt to tackle some of the fundamental beliefs that help spread native speakerism, we need to rethink our approach to teaching English and aim to move from a foreign language that is learnt to communicate with an idealised ‘native speaker’ to a lingua franca that is learnt to communicate globally with a wide variety of English users.

And here is how the book is structured:

Similarly to previous methodology books published by DELTA , the book is divided into three parts:

  1. Part A outlines the theoretical underpinnings for our arguments
  2. Part B gives teachers over 40 practical activities to help them raise awareness of ELF and native speakerism among their students, as well as teach crucial skills needed for communicating in international lingua franca contexts, covering pronunciation, lexis and grammar, communication, intercultural skills, pronunciation and listening
  3. Part C addresses specific areas of teaching which couldn’t be addressed in Part A or B, such as writing materials, teacher training and education, English for academic purposes and business English.

Before the book is published in February 2019, I will be sharing some sample materials so you can take a sneak peek inside it. But if you’re already interested, and would like to

  • be the first one to know when the book is published,
  • get all the updates right in your inbox,
  • download the sample materials as pdfs and use in your classes

then click on the button below to join the pre-launch waiting list:

 

I will also be giving away an exclusive 30-day FREE trial to TEFL Equity Academy once it launches next year to all those who join the pre-launch list.

We’d love to hear what your thoughts about the book are so far, so definitely leave us a comment below.

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

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

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

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

But this is just the tip of the iceberg…

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

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

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

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

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What makes an effective English teacher? A research project

Last weekend I had the pleasure to present at IATEFL Poland annual conference.

The program was full of interesting workshops and talks, and I was particularly interested in seeing Jasmina Sazdovska‘s and Zsuzsanna Soproni‘s presentation What Makes an Effective English Language Teacher?

There is so much discussion about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ that we actually often forget about what actually matters; that is, teaching effectiveness.

We argue endlessly whether ‘native speakers’ are better pronunciation teachers (coz they have the ‘natural’, ‘original’ accent, right?).

We provide evidence why ‘non-native speakers’ are better at teaching grammar (coz they studied it, so they must know it, right?)

While this line of research has been incredibly popular – starting with Medgyes’ Who’s worth more: a NS or a NNS? – it has since been criticised as the comparative fallacy (Mahboob, 2005; Moussu & Llurda, 2008; Selvi, 2014).

To me, it’s always seemed that it did little to promote equality and a lot to further perpetuate the divide between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. In a nutshell, it’s a bit like fighting stereotypes with more stereotypes (see this post by Michael Griffin about it).

After all, the fact that SOME ‘non-native speakers’ are quite effective at teaching grammar, doesn’t mean ALL or even the majority is. Nor does it mean that they should be assigned grammar classes because they are ‘non-native speakers’.

Unfortunately, in many contexts ‘non-native speakers’ ARE frequently assigned grammar classes (surely, they must know it inside out, right?), while their ‘native’ counterparts might commonly be given conversation classes (you know, they probably don’t know the difference between past simple or present perfect, anyway…).

While no one – I hope- would ever consider assigning different classes to male and female teachers (oh, you know, surely female teachers are more empathetic and compassionate, so…), we do assign different classes, and different stereotypical strengths and weaknesses, to ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ teachers.

What I also find worrying is that the supposed strengths and weaknesses of ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ are immediately attributed to their ‘nativeness’, or lack thereof. This is in fact what essentially Medgyes’ (and colleagues’) research has done.

Such an approach could be argued to further perpetuate native speakerism (rather than contribute to tackling it), which is something we wrote about with Robert Lowe in our paper Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study, which you can read here.

In other words, some ‘non-native speakers’ are NOT effective at teaching grammar BECAUSE they are ‘non-native’.

They are effective at teaching grammar, because they studied it. Because their teacher training program emphasised it.

Teachers are good (or bad) teachers not because of where they were born, or which language they unwittingly picked up as kids.

They are good (or bad) teachers because of the training they received. Because of their experience. Because of the professional development they have engaged in.

The reasons can be numerous. And what makes an effective English teacher is also a complex issue probably also dependent on the sociocultural and educational context.

Which brings me back to Jasmina’s and Zsuzsanna’s research, which – as they put it – aims to “look into different English teacher profiles and qualifications, as opposed to the mere native/non-native divide”.

The research is still ongoing, and Jasmina and Zsuzsanna are still collecting responses from participants. If you’d like to take part, click here to complete the survey.

References:

Lowe, R. J., & Kiczkowiak, M. (2016). Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study. Cogent Education, 3(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2016.1264171

Mahboob, A. (2005). Beyond the native speaker in TESOL. In S. Zafar (Ed.), Culture, Context, & Communication. (pp. 60–93). Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Center of Excellence for Applied Research and Training & The Military Language Institute. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/816218/Beyond_the_native_speaker_in_TESOL

Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340–349. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/46.4.340

Moussu, L. M., & Llurda, E. (2008). Non-native English-speaking English language teachers: History and research. Language Teaching, 41(03), 315–348. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444808005028

Selvi, A. F. (2014). Myths and Misconceptions about Nonnative English Speakers in the TESOL (NNEST) Movement. TESOL Journal, 5(3), 573–611. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.158

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Or Email:


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

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

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

Ooookay. He really went there?

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

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

PERCEIVED NATIVE SPEAKERISM

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

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

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

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

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

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

NON-WHITE/ ‘NON-NATIVE’ SPEAKER OVERLAP

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

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

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

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

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


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

Or Email:


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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Long’s Task Based Language Teaching and Native Speakerism

In April I had the pleasure of finally reading Mike Long’s Second Language Acquisition and Task Based Language Teaching. I was incredibly impressed with the academic rigour, the breadth and depth of the writer’s knowledge, but most of all (as a practising teacher) with the far-reaching practical implications. Having said that, there was one aspect which kept on cropping up throughout the book that made me uncomfortable, namely the idea that authentic language and texts are those produced by ‘native speakers’, and that these ‘native speakers’ are by definition better models of the language and task performance.

To me this is a prime example of how deeply ingrained the ideology of native speakerism is in the minds not just of students who demand classes with ‘native speakers’ or recruiters who refuse to hire ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, but also in the minds of ELT and SLA professionals.

Before I move on to show a few examples of native speakerism that I encountered in Long’s book, let’s first define what native speakerism is.

What is native speakerism?

The term native speakerism was originally coined by Holliday (2005, 2006), who used it in reference to the notion that the linguistic and pedagogical ideals of teaching English spring from Western culture, which a ‘native speaker’ embodies. Houghton and Rivers (2013a) point out that native speakerism has its roots in the dichotomous discourse of us and them, ‘native speakers’ and ‘non-native speakers’, where the former are usually seen as the norm and ideal both in terms of language use and teaching skills, while the latter as deficient and inferior. Thus native speakerism can be understood as

a prejudice, stereotyping and/or discrimination, typically by or against foreign language teachers, on the basis of either being or not being perceived and categorized as a native speaker of a particular language. (…) Its endorsement positions individuals from certain language groups as being innately superior to individuals of other language groups (Houghton & Rivers, 2013a, p. 14).

Of course, as any ideology, native speakerism does not spread in a vacuum, but is maintained, supported and normalised by powerful discourses which make it seem justifiable and acceptable. These are then used as a basis of social practices and actions.

To give one example, native speakerism is supported by the discourse that ‘native speakers’ are better models of the language for our students, and therefore students should be exposed to ‘native speaker’ language in class in order to improve their proficiency. This might lead us to select predominantly materials created by and for ‘native speakers’.

Native speakerism and Long’s TBLT

So how is native speakerism manifested in Long’s discussion of TBLT?

The first clue is how authenticity is construed in the book. For example, Long defines genuine tasks as those “originally designed for native speaker – native speaker communication, not LT” (p.21).

Later he defines authentic materials as “genuine texts, such as song lyrics, news broadcasts, films, newspaper articles, and textbook chapters, originally created by and for native speakers (NSs), not for LT to non-natives” (p.249).

You could argue that in both cases Long’s emphasis is on the fact that authentic texts are not created specifically for language teaching, which is something that I think we’d all agree with.

However, if this was the case, why mention that authentic texts are created by and for ‘native speakers’? Wouldn’t it be enough to say that authentic texts are those originally not intended or created for language teaching and learning?

It would unless you believe that only ‘native speakers’ can be the choice of authentic material and real language.

An interesting indication that this might indeed be what Long believes can be found on p. 271, where Long presents a task whose aim is for students to learn to obtain and provide directions. The first pedagogical task involves listening to three conversations and is incidentally called “The real thing”.

Guess who recorded the conversations? A ‘native’ or a ‘non-native speaker’?

If you answered the former, then well done!

Indeed long writes that the three conversations are to be “real examples of NS giving directions” (p. 271).

So perhaps Long does indeed believe that ‘native speakers’ are by default better language models for our students?

A further clue to answering this question can be found on p. 313, where Long discusses the fifth methodological principle of TBLT, which involves promoting inductive learning of chunks. He suggests that an extensive reading and listening program should be added to the main classroom course.

That per se is perfectly justified and empirically sound given the evidence. However, what is highly questionable in my opinion is his suggestion that students should listen to and read “lively recordings of the texts made especially for language learning by a native speaker [emphasis mine]” (p. 313).

By now, it seems to me that it is impossible to argue that Long is unaware of the implications of his adding the word ‘native speaker’, neither on p. 313, nor in any of the previously quoted examples.

His thesis is otherwise incredibly detailed, his claims based on VERY extensive reading, and his arguments are always phrased carefully and eloquently.

Therefore, I’d argue here that he’s well aware of the implications. In fact, I’d go further and say that he actually believes that:

  • students should be primarily exposed to ‘native speaker’ input
  • only ‘native speakers’ can be a source of authentic language input.

In fact, when a fellow teacher emailed Long to clarify what his position was, his answer was very clear: ‘non-native speakers’ are inappropriate as task models (unless the target task typically involves ‘non-natives’) and ‘native speakers’ are better models of the language.

This is further evidenced by Long’s views on who should conduct a needs analysis.

On p.136, in reference to Selinker, Long writes that an expert informant for a needs analysis “should be a native speaker, well trained and competent in the field of interest”. Again, this begs the question why it should be a ‘native speaker’? Wouldn’t any sufficiently proficient speaker do?

They probably wouldn’t to Long.

When he discusses the use of elaborated input in tasks (rather than simplified or graded input) on p. 253 and 254, he writes that the addition of “to earn money as an implicit paraphrase of to provide for (to earn money to provide for his family)” would be redundant for a ‘native speaker’.

Really?

I’d argue that it would be redundant for a proficient speaker, regardless of their L1.

Having said that, it could also be necessary and appropriate to add it there in a natural conversation to facilitate understanding. There’s plenty of lexical redundancy and paraphrasing in natural speech.

So, bearing all of the above, it seems clear to me that the implicit idea in Long’s version of TBLT is that a ‘native speaker’ is simply by definition always more proficient and as a result would make a better language model.

Interestingly, however, authentic and real tasks will involve ‘non-native speakers’ interacting with other ‘non-native speakers’, rather than exclusively ‘native speakers’. Therefore, if we are to promote authentic input and authentic tasks, these can’t be restricted to ‘native speakers’.

In fact, in the majority of contexts, save a few rare cases where our students for some reason are going to exclusively interact with ‘native speakers’, restricting the input and task models to ‘native speakers’ might not appropriately prepare our learners to use English effectively outside the classroom. In addition, focusing only on ‘native speaker’ language input can give students the idea that ‘non-native speakers’ are inappropriate language models.

Finally, the idea that any input from any ‘native speaker’ is always a better and more authentic model seems to me to be completely erroneous and evident of how deeply embedded native speakerism still is both in ELT and SLA.

References:

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Holliday, A. (2006). Native-speakerism. ELT Journal, 60(4), 385–387. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccl030
Houghton, S., & Rivers, D. J. (2013). Introduction: Redefining Native-Speakerism. In S. Houghton & D. J. Rivers (Eds.), Native-speakerism in Japan. Intergroup dynamics in foreign language education (pp. 1–16). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Long, M. H. (2014). Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching (1 edition). Wiley-Blackwell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English as a Lingua Franca Week – don’t miss the FREE webinars and the raffle

This week Brazil’s English Language Teachers (BrELT) group is organising English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) week. Starting today, there will be two FREE (yay!) webinars a day.

You can learn more about the event by clicking here.

I’m giving a talk on Thursday at 5pm Brasilia time (UTC -3) or 9pm GMT and 10pm CEST entitled How to Create Materials and Lesson Plans for Teaching English as a Lingua Franca. 

I’m also doing a raffle giving away over $800 worth of online courses from TEFL Equity Academy which will help you tackle the ‘native speaker’ bias and promote equality by writing materials for teaching English as a Lingua Franca. The winners will be announced at the end of the webinar.

To register for the webinar and to take part in the raffle, click on the button below:

You can also sign up via email:

What can you win?

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English as a Lingua Franca (valued at $129)

Learn how to quickly create effective and engaging materials and lesson plans to teach English as a Lingua Franca.

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How to Teach Pronunciation: Interviews with Experts (valued at $129)

Learn how to write materials and lesson plans for teaching pronunciation from the most prominent researchers such as John Levis or David Deterding, as well as acclaimed teacher trainers and materials writers such as Nicola Meldrum or Mark Hancock.

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Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: Interviews with Experts (valued at $129)

Learn how to write materials for English as a Lingua Franca from the most prominent experts on English as a Lingua Franca such as Paola Vettorel, Martin Dewey or Nicos Sifakis.

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English Teacher’s Advanced Guide to Pronunciation Teaching (valued at $139)

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FREE Bonus #1 – Lifetime Updates (priceless)

Every year, following the feedback from course participants, as well as the latest developments in ELF research and teaching practice; I update the course, refreshing the content and adding new material.

That way as a course participant you will always get the latest content and new teaching ideas that will help you teach ELF more effectively.

Get these updates FOREVER for FREE now and you won’t have to pay a penny again, even if the course fee goes up!

FREE Bonus #2 – Full Offline Access to ALL courses (valued at $200)

No Internet? No problem 🙂

Enjoy the course offline – take it with you for a walk, view it in a park on your mobile, watch the lectures in a cafe while drinking a delightful cup of coffee.

…Download all the videos and watch them even when you’re offline

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FREE Bonus #3 – Lifetime access (priceless)

Being and English teacher myself, I completely understand how busy your schedule can get. Offsite classes, correcting essays, marking exams, split shifts… I’ve been there!

That’s why I want you to be able to enjoy the course for as long as you want. Lifetime access gives you the flexibility to start and finish the course whenever it suits YOU best!

FREE Bonus #4 – Training Recording and Slides (valued at $78)

Come back to the recording of this training in the future so you can revisit all the points covered and take action.

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How to tackle native speakerism by writing materials that promote English as a Lingua Franca

We all know that there’s a huge problem in ELT. Around three quarters of all jobs are for ‘native speakers’ only.

There is still also quite a widespread belief in our profession that ‘native speakers’ make better teachers.

That they’re more proficient.

Have wider vocabulary. Intuitive feeling for collocations. Intimate knowledge of the culture. The list goes on.

Whether the argument stands to scrutiny is a topic for another post. However, the problem is that these positive beliefs about ‘native speakers’, and the implicit negative ones about ‘non-native speakers’, do not only give rise to discriminatory recruitment policies.

They are also at the very core of how we’ve been teaching English.

What do I mean by this?

Well, when we teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) or English as a Second Language (ESL), we emphasise conformity with a standard ‘native speaker’ model (as an aside, this standard has often little to do with how ‘native speakers’ use language in reality, and in itself is an idealisation).

When we teach pronunciation, we often see foreign accent as negative, and the more ‘native-like’ the pronunciation, the better.

When we teach communication, ‘native speaker’ norms of communication are assumed as the default correct ones. The list goes on.

These assumptions would probably work very well if English WAS a foreign language, such as Polish.

After all, if you’re learning such a widespread and globally useful language as Polish, you’re very likely learning it exclusively in order to be able to interact with ‘native speakers’ of that language and their culture. So it makes perfect sense in this case to focus in teaching on ‘native speaker’ language and their culture.

However, the case with English is fundamentally different. It is NOT used as a foreign language, but as a global lingua franca. In fact, our students are on average much more likely to use it to communicate with other ‘non-native speakers’, rather than with ‘native speakers’.

So why would we still insist on teaching ‘native-like’ pronunciation?

Why emphasise ‘native speaker’ idioms which might not be transparent globally?

Why default to ‘native speaker’ communicative norms?

Why focus on ‘native speaker’ culture?

If we want our students to become successful user of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), and not merely as a foreign or second language, we need to better reflect the reality of the English language.

And this reality is that English has become the global lingua franca used primarily by ‘non-native speakers’.

As a result, we might need to promote not only an ELF mindset, but also an ELF skillset.

What do I mean by this?

To promote the ELF mindset, we need to first raise our students awareness of the fact that English IS a global language. It is also important to critically reflect in class and discuss issues such as native speakerism, intelligibility and accents, as well as discriminatory recruitment policies.

Second, we need to promote skills that will help our learners use English successfully in international, lingua franca contexts. A focus on communicative strategies that have been shown to facilitate communication in ELF contexts is vital. We should also emphasise intelligibility when teaching pronunciation to help our students be easily understood to the widest variety of English users possible. 

Ok, but how do we go about it? How do I adapt my course book? How can I create lesson plans that promote both the ELF mindset and the ELF skillset? 

Especially if I’m already a busy teacher with a lot going on.

With busy teachers and materials writers like yourself, I’ve developed this FREE on-line training How to Write Materials and Lesson Plans for Teaching English as a Lingua Franca. This 45-minute training will give you practical ideas for promoting both the ELF mindset and skillset in your lesson plans and materials, without having to put much additional work in.

And making this transition from EFL to ELF will not only help our profession tackle the native speakerist beliefs outlined at the beginning of this post, but also make your materials truly innovative and global.

Enrol via FB Messenger below:

 

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Of native speakers and other fantastic beasts

We all refer to ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ not just in English Language Teaching (ELT), Second Language Acquisition (SLA) or linguistics, but also in daily life. Consider the following sentences:

  • She’s a ‘native speaker’ of Spanish.
  • I don’t know how to say this, to be honest. Let’s ask a ‘native speaker’.
  • We can’t hire you because you’re a ‘non-native speaker’.
  • The aim of this research is to study the differences between Chinese bilingual English learners and native monolingual English speakers in expressing motion.

So the term’ native speaker’ seems very familiar to us. After all, we could argue that everyone is a ‘native speaker’ of the language they learned first. And we all have probably seen, met and had a beer with a ‘native speaker’, right?

Why then put inverted commas around the terms as I’m doing now? And stranger still, why say: I no longer review research that compares ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers as though the groups are real and not imagined, as Adrian Holliday recently did on Twitter.

What does Holliday mean when he says that the two groups are not real but imagined? And “when we say:

  • you’ll have to ask a native speaker, or
  • don’t ask me, I’m not a native speaker,

what is it we are appealing to? What is it that human native speakers know? What sort of knowledge does the native speaker have?” (Davies, 2012, p.1).

Native speakers and language proficiency

Most of us I think would agree that a ‘native speaker’ is proficient. Perhaps not in the idealised sense as someone who lives “in a completely homogeneous speech-community, who knows its (the speech community’s) language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors” (Chomsky, 1965, p.3). However, certainly a ‘native speaker’ is proficient in their mother tongue.

But proficient how?

All sorts of people are proficient. I happen to be completely proficient (or at C2 level on the Common European Framework) in three languages. Does this make me a ‘native speaker’ of all three of them?

Possibly, at least if we are discussing the question on purely linguistic grounds. Yet, I’d never call myself one (more on this later).

So how would we characterise ‘native-like’ proficiency that ELT recruiters are so fond of now?

We can’t really talk about this subject without referring to the late prof. Alan Davies. Over the years he proposed six linguistic factors that define ‘native speaker’ proficiency:

1.      early childhood acquisition;

2.      intuition about grammar (both pertaining to dialect and standard language);

3.      capability to generate spontaneous and fluent discourse;

4.      capability to write creatively;

5.      ability to translate into their L1;

6.      and creative communicative range (Davies, 1991, 2003, 2012, 2013).

Are these six characteristics exclusive to ‘native speakers’?

In this post Geoff Jordan confidently asserts that there is a difference between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, citing studies which seem to confirm that ultimate, or ‘native-like’ attainment of a language is very rare. In addition to the ones he mentions, when Sorace (2003) compared grammaticality judgments of ‘native’ and proficient ‘non-native speakers’, she concluded that there was a fundamental difference between the two groups.

However, there are also other studies which shed serious doubts on Sorace’s findings. For example, Birdsong (1992, 2004), Bialystok (1997) and Davies (2001) also studied judgments of grammaticality and all concluded that statistically there was no significant difference in the judgments made by ‘native’ and proficient ‘non-native speakers’. In other words, both groups have very similar intuitions about the language. And it is important to add that they all focused on adult learners who were well past the critical or sensitive period (see below).

So linguistically speaking, is there a difference between the two groups? There might well be. And the word MIGHT is important here.

It is important because as Davies (1991, 2003, 2013) himself highlights, apart from the first factor, none of the others are exclusive to ‘native speakers’.

We’ve dealt with point 2 (language intuition) above. As points 3, 4 and 6 are concerned, think of people like Joseph Conrad, born and baptised in Poland as Józef Korzeniowski. Or Vladimir Nabokov. But also thousands of other ‘non-native speakers’ who are incredibly proficient in English.

While it is more common for translators and interpreters to translate into their L1, there are also those who translate into L2. Personally, I find it much easier to switch between Spanish and English (or vice versa), rather than any of these two and my L1, Polish. I’m not a professional translator or an interpreter, but your L1 does not make you one either, so I don’t see why you couldn’t learn to translate into your L2 (or L3).

This leaves us with early childhood acquisition. What is it, though, that a child acquires? Well, clearly points 2-6. But then it seems that they don’t seem to be exclusive to ‘native speakers’, which means we’re back to square one.

Geoff Jordan also quotes a review of the research that has been conducted on critical/sensitive period, which seems to suggest that it is incredibly rare for ‘non-native speakers’ to reach ‘native-like’ proficiency, as there are different cut-off points. This might well be true, although we still have the problem of defining ‘native-speaker’ proficiency (or indeed the ‘native speakers’ who took part in those studies). There are also the studies cited above on grammaticality which show that ultimate attainment is possible even for adult learners. And of course there all those ‘non-native speakers’ out there who are virtually indistinguishable from a ‘native speaker’. Finally, to quote Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson (2003, p.580) – whose 2009 paper Geoff quotes to prove there is a fundamental difference between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ – “the highly successful L2 speakers that we have characterised as having reached ‘only’ near-native proficiency are, in fact, native-like in all contexts except perhaps in the laboratory of the linguist with specific interest in second language learning mechanisms.”

So while Geoff is 100% convinced that there must be a fundamental linguistic difference between the two groups, I think we would do well to hedge this statement: there MIGHT be a difference. One reason is that while SLA researchers have placed nativeness at the centre of its enquiry (i.e. as the benchmark against which learners’ progress should be measured), they have had surprisingly little to say about who this ‘native’ (or ‘non-native’) under scrutiny actually is (Davies, 2013). As Han (2004) points out, SLA researchers – such as Sorace (2003) cited earlier – have taken the ‘native speaker’ for granted, to a large extent ignoring the individual (linguistic) differences between them.

The second reason is that while Geoff authoritatively states that there is a difference between the two groups, other researchers in the field are much more cautious. For example, in a recent publication Hulstijn (2015) observes that while past a certain age it MIGHT be difficult or unlikely for people to acquire ‘native-like’ proficiency, it is possible (see e.g. Birdsong’s studies). Furthermore, he also points out that even though some learners don’t reach full mastery (as measured by an SLA researcher in lab conditions), they can still be functionally bilingual, which brings us back to Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson’s quote from above.

Even more importantly, however, I think we need to look beyond language proficiency as the defining characteristic of a ‘native speaker’. In fact, it is quite ironic that in the opening sentence of his blog post Geoff calls Russ Mayne (Evidence-based EFL) a “cheery cherry-picker of evidence”, when he himself has cheerfully cherry-picked the evidence limiting the discussion to SLA research, completely ignoring wider sociocultural issues that are also at play. I wouldn’t be the first one to say that SLA should adopt a more socially informed approach, though. For a very extensive discussion please see Block (2003).

So I’m not saying the evidence Geoff presented is wrong. However, it is very limited. And thus questionable.

As Block (2003, p.4) says, SLA has for a long time dealt with “essentialized interlocutors, with essentialized identities, who speak essentialized language”. Who the ‘native’ or the ‘non-native speaker’ under study really is has very rarely been problematised in SLA. However, Block’s (and others’) calls for a more socioculturally oriented SLA have largely fallen on deaf ears.

The possible reason for this is exemplified really well by one of Geoff’s Tweets where he referred to what I’m planning to engage in the rest of the post as “sociolinguistic twaddle that obfuscates a simple psychological reality”. But wouldn’t the reverse hold true as well? Namely, that the psycholinguistic twaddle obfuscates a rather complicated, but also incredibly fascinating sociolinguistic reality?

I’ll let you judge for yourself. But let’s look at the evidence first, shall we?

Sociolinguistics and the ‘native speaker’

So, putting psycholinguistic differences and the issue of proficiency aside for a minute, there are two other good reasons why I would never call myself a ‘native speaker’ of English, or of any other language that isn’t Polish for that matter. And they have nothing to do with my proficiency in English, or in Polish. The first reason is because I don’t feel affiliated with the language. In other words, I don’t feel I belong in the ‘native speaker’ community (Brutt-Griffler & Samimy, 2001). Even if I did, though, would I be accepted as a ‘native speaker’?

The answer is quite likely no. So affiliating with the speech community and being proficient aren’t enough. The third factor is being accepted as a ‘native speaker’ by the speech community (Inbar-Lourie, 2005). This of course can lead to differences between the self-perceived and externally perceived linguistic identity of a speaker. For example, some people would describe themselves as a ‘native speaker’ and affiliate with the speech community, but wouldn’t be accepted as such, or vice versa.

The reasons for this can be quite varied, but many scholars have pointed out that being a ‘native speaker’ of English is frequently associated with being white and Western-looking (Kubota & Fujimoto, 2013; Romney, 2010). For example, Li and Andres, two ‘native speaker’ teachers of English of Hong Kong and Mexican descent, respectively, who were studied by Javier (2016), report having their ‘nativeness’ questioned on numerous occasions by students, recruiters and colleagues. So while in an SLA researcher’s lab they might be authoritatively proclaimed to be classic ‘native speakers’, they don’t seem to be treated as such in reality.

To illustrate this further, I’d encourage you to watch this short clip.

Another problem is that some multilingual people find it difficult to identify with one or the other group. For example, Faez (2011) studied English teachers in Canada and their feeling of linguistic self-identity. The participants identified with six different categories:

  1. bilingual;
  2. English as a first language speaker;
  3. second-generation English speaker;
  4. English-dominant;
  5. L1-dominant;
  6. English-variety speaker (Faez, 2011, p. 16).

And there is more. Piller (2002), for example, interviewed L2 users of English. A third of them reported they could successfully assume the ‘native speaker’ identity and pass off as one in front of other ‘native speakers’. A curious finding from this study was also that the participants had had their L1 identity, or their ‘nativeness’ questioned at times – corroborating Javier’s (2016) findings. As a result, Piller suggested that being a ‘native speaker’ is something one does, rather than an immutable category bestowed on the individual at birth.

As a proficient speaker of three languages (but possibly a ‘native speaker’ of just one of them), I can completely relate to Piller’s (2002) findings. For example, there are times where I can and in fact do pass for a ‘native speaker’ of Spanish (whether I am one psycholinguistically is a different kettle of fish, but I’m not planning to go to an SLA lab any time soon to find out). In addition, my proficiency in Polish seems to fluctuate a lot too. For example, after prolonged stays abroad some of my relatives or friends have told me I speak in a strange way, and I catch myself translating idioms directly from English or Spanish to Polish.

To sum up, there might be psycholinguistic differences between the two groups. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Especially as far as English is concerned, there are important questions of power, prejudice and racism. To give you an analogy, we’d probably all agree that there are certain biological and physiological differences between men and women. However, we’d also agree that there are many individuals who would find it difficult to subscribe to one or the other category, and that we cannot simply ignore the sociocultural reality when talking about these two groups. And being a ‘native speaker’ is far from so biologically or physiologically clear-cut as being a man or a woman.

What I’m trying to say is that while there MIGHT be psycholinguistic differences between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, we can’t ignore the sociolinguistic aspects. If we do, we are simply – to steal Geoff’s phrase – cheerfully cherry-picking evidence.

Whichever position you subscribe too, though, or even if you’re sitting on the fence; there’s a very important question that remains.

What do we do with the ‘native speaker’?

Paikeday (1985a) tried killing it over forty years ago (see his article May I kill the native speaker?). Not the flesh-and-blood ‘native speaker’, you see, but the term itself as it is currently and uncritically used in linguistics and SLA. To cut a long story short, Paikeday utterly failed.

But many others followed. This time not trying to kill the ‘native speaker’, but offering more neutral and objective terms to use in SLA and ELT. For example Rampton (1990) suggested expert user. Jenkins (2000, 2007, 2015a) proposed using monolingual, bilingual and non-bilingual English speaker, while Paikeday (1985b) – having failed to kill the ‘native speaker’ – suggested proficient user. The problem with all these attempts is that they have had very little impact, and the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are still widely used.

The second option is to continue using the two terms and the acronyms NEST, NNEST, NS and NNS. This has certainly helped put the finger down on the problem of discrimination many ‘non-native speakers’ suffer from. It has also led to an establishment of what some have referred to as a NNEST movement, creation of a NNEST Interest Section by TESOL International, as well as countless articles and books on the topic (Kamhi-Stein, 2016; Selvi, 2014, 2016). However, as Kumaravadivelu (2016) points out, what the NNEST movement has utterly failed at is bringing about a more equal professional ELT field, where teachers are judged on their merits rather than a perceived belonging to one or the other group.

In addition, the continuous use of the two terms and their acronyms has led to a situation where they are accepted as well-defined, objective and value-free. Yet, who is perceived as a ‘native speaker’ is anything but an objective matter, but has everything to do with power, prejudice, ideology and even racism. As Holliday (2013, p.25) writes, the two labels are “ideological, chauvinistic and divisive”, and the quasi-mythological status the ‘native speaker’ enjoys in linguistics, SLA and ELT has very little to do with language proficiency, but everything with opinions and biases (Aboshiha, 2015) that are themselves rooted in the ideology of native speakerism (Holliday, 2005, 2015).

I’d argue – as Davies (2011) did – that both being a ‘native speaker’ and the mother tongue are fundamentally social traits, just as culture is. This ties in with Rampton’s (1990) distinction between language expertise, inheritance and affiliation. In other words, you might be a ‘native speaker’ in terms of language proficiency, however, you don’t necessarily need to have inherited the language, nor to feel affiliated with it. All the other permutations are of course also possible.

What I’m trying to say is that who is a ‘native speaker’ (and who isn’t), just like any aspect of our identity is “dynamic, dialogic, multiple, situated, and, more importantly, contextually negotiated” (Faez, 2011, p.5). It can also evolve over time (see e.g. Hansen, 2004). And there are times in ELT when it’s not you who decides whether you are or aren’t a ‘native speaker’, but the recruiter. Or the students. Or your colleagues.

As a result, I think it’s important that we recognise these complexities and stop treating ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ as if they were well-defined and objectives categories of meaning. The two groups might be different, but the difference is much more complex, nuanced, fuzzy and subjective than what Geoff presented in his post.

So I’m not that surprised after all that Adrian Holliday refuses to review research that treats ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ as though the groups are real and not imagined. Perhaps it’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps Block’s (2003) call for a more socioculturally oriented SLA will be finally heard. At the very least, when used in research, the two categories need to be problematised, and their subjective nature needs to be recognised.

Hence the inverted commas (see Holliday 2005, 2013, 2015). To remind the writer and the reader that ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are very much subjective, ideological and value-laden terms. And to distinguish the flesh and blood ‘native speaker’ (Davies, 2013) from the fantastic beast the NS has become in theoretical linguistics and SLA labs.

If you’re interested in further exploring these issues, you might enjoy the on-line course Going beyond the ‘native speaker’ model in ELT, which I run on TEFL Equity Academy. It’s a 20-hour course where we discuss the issues we touched upon in this blog post in much more detail, and look at the practical implications this discussion has for teachers, trainers and materials writers.

References:

Bialystok, E. (1997). The structure of age: in search of barriers to second language acquisition. Second Language Research, 13(2), 116–137. https://doi.org/10.1191/026765897677670241

Birdsong, D. (1992). Ultimate attainment in second language acquisition. Language, 68(4), 706–755. https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.1992.0035

Birdsong, D. (2004). Second Language Acquisition and Ultimate Attainment. In A. Davies & C. Elder (Eds.), The Handbook of Applied Linguistics (pp. 82–105). Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Block, D. (2003). The Social Turn in Second Language Acquisition . Edinburgh University Press.

Brutt-Griffler, J., & Samimy, K. K. (2001). Transcending the nativeness paradigm. World Englishes, 20(1), 99–106. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-971X.00199

Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Davies, A. (1991). The native speaker in applied linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Davies, A. (2001). What Second Language Learners Can Tell Us about the Native Speaker: Identifying and Describing Exceptions. In R. L. Cooper, E. Shohamy, & J. Walters (Eds.), New Perspectives and Issues in Educational Language Policy (pp. 91–112). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Benjamins.

Davies, A. (2003). The native speaker: myth and reality (2nd ed.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Davies, A. (2012). Native Speaker. In The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0855/abstract

Davies, A. (2013). Native Speakers and Native Users: Loss and Gain. Cambridge University Press.

Faez, F. (2011). Reconceptualizing the Native/Nonnative Speaker Dichotomy. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 10(4), 231–249.

Han, Z. (2004). To be a native speaker means not to be a nonnative speaker (Book Review). Second Language Research, 20(2), 166–187.

Hulstijn, J. H. (2015). Language proficiency in native and non-native speakers: theory and research. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

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Culture, native speakers and teaching English

‘Native speakers’ know the culture.

They can provide students with cultural insights about the English language.

And this is what students want and need to master the language.

This is an argument that comes up time and time again to justify why ‘native speakers’ are better teachers, why they are preferred by students, and why so many recruiters prefer to hire them over ‘non-native speakers’. Naturally, the argument also presupposes that ‘non-native speakers’ lack the cultural insight into the English language, and probably can never obtain it. At least not to the degree a ‘native speaker’ has.

Let’s pause for a second, though, and ask ourselves:

  • How would you define target culture, especially as far as language teaching is concerned?
  • What does culture mean in relation to the English language?
  • If our students are much more likely to use English with other ‘non-native speakers’, what’s the point of learning anything about the target culture (as you defined it above)?
  • Is learning about the target culture necessary to become fluent in a language?
  • Does knowledge about the target culture make you a more skilled user of the English language (consider its global use)?

I address some of these questions in this extract from my BBELT 2017 plenary:

Now over to you:

  • How would you answer the questions above?
  • What’s your take on culture, ‘native speakers’ and teaching/learning English (or any other foreign language for that matter)?

Really interested to hear what you think, so do get in touch in the comments section below.

If you’d like to further explore the ‘native speaker’ debate and its practical implications for teaching English, you might be interested in my on-line courses Going beyond the ‘native speaker’ model in ELT. Implications for teaching, training and materials writing, as well as Understanding the global nature of English. Practical guide for English teachers.