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.
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.
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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.
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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:
English as a first language speaker;
second-generation English speaker;
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.
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.
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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.
[Note from the editor: This post was originally published on Sue Annan’s blog here, and is reproduced on TEFL Equity with Sue’s permission. You can read more about Sue below the blog post]
I have been interested in native speakerism and felt sure that part of the problem was the fact that training courses did not offer a great deal of support for Non Native teachers post course. This is, of course, not the only problem needing to be addressed.
In my own little corner of the world I wanted to create change, if possible, and I consider myself extremely lucky to work for Trinity College, London , who allow a degree of flexibility when each centre designs their course.
I started from a position of strength; my school is more than happy to employ anyone with the right qualifications, regardless of nationality. We also often find non-native trainees on our bi-annual certTESOL courses, and do our very best to help them find work afterwards- in fact, often they stay around for a while and work for us, giving them more experience when they do strike out later on their own.
This time in my programme I made room for the changes I wanted to initiate.
On day 1 we finished with a session called Different Englishes in the Classroom, which included a look at ELF. This was to open the trainees’ eyes to the variety of standard and non-standard language which they would be exposed to, and to develop a tolerance for linguistic variety. Language doesn’t remain static in a box, and there is little need for grammar/ phonology police who believe in their own variety at all costs ( I have come across trainees who think like this).
In a session in week 2, looking at Exploiting Authentic Material, I included the teacher as a resource. We discussed roles of teachers and the benefits of having a native/ non-native teacher in a classroom. Agreement was reached that many clients were brainwashed by companies into believing the NEST was the better option, but in reality, there was no difference if both were qualified to teach.
By week 3 we had started to receive job offers online from a mix of sources. This often happens and in the past I shared them on a job wall without a great deal of thought. This time I analysed the language and was unhappy with the findings. Of the offers available, only 2 had no restriction according to nationality, passport, age or experience.
At the start of the fourth and final week, I set up a job forum. We discussed sensitivity to local conditions, the present roles of NEST / NNEST teachers and other information to help guide them in the world of work after the course. At this point I divided them into groups and gave them the job applications to read. They quickly found the same conditions that I had, so I asked them how they felt. The group had bonded extremely well, and, protective of Madgalena their resident Pole, were incensed on her behalf. I also had two older ladies on the course who would also be disadvantaged by the criteria stated.
I asked them to draft replies to the emails we had received. They were very clear in their distaste for such advertisements and explained that they believed the companies were wrong to stipulate these conditions, in some cases acting illegally.
Interestingly, they had a couple of replies. One company offered to remove the offending paragraph from their literature, and the other company said that they would henceforth accept each application on merit. Others were not interested in replying, and one company suggested that we keep them in mind in the future, should WE change our mind!
As an experiment, this worked extremely well. It was easy to shoehorn the topic into other sessions, and to create an opportunity for discussion at all times. Having Magda there was an excellent way for the trainees to really think about the issues, and she was their go-to person for help with their own language awareness questions.
I would be happy to suggest that the idea of incorporating such activities into a CertTESOL or a CELTA should be given consideration. It didn’t disrupt my course at all- in fact I feel that it added value. After all, we promise that our qualification will open the world for our participants- not just for some of them!
[from the editor: if you’re interested in similar training ideas, check out this section of the blog, as well as this article by Karin Krummenacher, Dan Baines and Marek Kiczkowiak]
Sue is a teacher and teacher trainer working for a private language school in the largest of the Channel Islands. As well as being an Eltchat moderator, she is a member of Iatefl BEsig’s online team and is passionate about online learning. She believes that we should all make a difference, no matter how small, to ensure equal treatment for all teachers, with the objective of developing professional standards.
[Note from the authors: This post originally used information stating that there are no initial teaching training courses discussing English as a Lingua Franca or nativespeakerism. However, the Trinity Cert syllabus includes explicited references to ELF as of 2016. The post has been updated to reflect this. Thanks to the attentive readers for pointing this out.]
One of the biggest elephants in the room is that there is not a single initial teacher training course where discussing English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and native speakerism are part of the curriculum. Zero. Nought. Zilch. Nada.
While the TrinityCert curriculum bravely encourages trainers to raise awareness of the emergence of ELF in teaching practice and the learner profile assignment, we still believe more explicit input on both ELF and native speakerism is needed as these areas of knowledge go hand in hand. Fortyunately, we were assured that implementing focus on native speakerism on TrinityCert is something Trinity is currently working on (see comments below).
As far as CELTA is concerned, although there is some mention of varieties of English on its curriculum, and while a successful candidate should “understand the main ways that varieties of English differ from one another”; the CELTA trainers we’ve spoken to all confirmed that it’s entirely up to them whether to talk about the lingua franca/international nature of the English language, or not. To top it off, when we asked the person responsible for providing information about CELTA courses at the Cambridge stand at IATEFL 2017 exhibition whether ELF was part of the curriculum, instead of an answer we got a question: Sorry, but what is ELF?
Naturally, this discouraged us from asking ask whether there was any discussion of native speakerism on the course.
It’s a shame these topics are not a bigger part of the curriculum because when Dan Baines surveyed several hundreds of trainees, teachers, trainers and directors of studies; it turned out 97% of the trainees surveyed thought native speakerism was acceptable. 97%!
This is quite shocking, but not surprising if we’re to be honest. After all, they’re right at the beginning of their careers. And if the teacher trainers on the course don’t raise awareness of ELF or native speakerism, then how are the trainees supposed to realise they might be heading in for quite a discriminatory job hunt (especially if they’re ‘non-native speakers’).
It’s also a shame that there is room on CELTA syllabus for probably the biggest ELT myth of them all – learning styles. According to the curriculum, successful candidates “demonstrate an awareness of the different learning styles”. The learning styles myth has been debunked a zillion times (see here, for example), so it’s a pity that such a reputable teacher training qualification would choose to include it over areas such as ELF or native speakerism, which are backed by volumes of academic research.
The recent debate about the relevance of ELF at IATEFL 2017, where Peter Medgyes tried to convince the audience that ELF is of no practical interest to teachers (and in the process showed his own lack of awareness of ELF research), also proved that there is still a huge gap between research and practice in this area. A gap that I think must be bridged. What a better place to bridge this gap then TrinityCert and CELTA? Not to mention the DipTESOL or DELTA.
With all this in mind, Karin Krummenacher, Dan Baines and I conducted a study which aimed to raise TrinityCert trainees’ awareness of ELF and native speakerism. We presented the results at IATEFL 2017 conference in Glasgow, and you can watch the talk below:
So now over to you:
Were these two topics ever discussed during your teacher training?
As a teacher trainer, do you already include these topics? Why (not)?
Do you think they should be discussed with trainees? Why (not)?
How could trainers go about discussing these topics?
Looking forward to your comments.
Karin Krummenacher is a Prague based teacher trainer, conference speaker and published writer. She takes an active interest in teacher development and equality in the industry. Her latest research deals with differentiation on initial teaching training courses. Karin holds Cambridge Delta.
Dan is a teacher, director of studies, teacher educator, researcher and occasional conference speaker and blog post writer. He is the Trinity DipTESOL coordinator at Oxford TEFL in Prague and shares pictures of his whiteboard on Twitter (@QuietBitLoudBit) for fun.
Marek Kiczkowiak is the founder of TEFL Equity Advocates. He runs face-to-face and on-line courses about English as a Lingua Franca and native speakerism. He’s a frequent conference speaker and has given plenaries at international conferences. He’s currently teaching EAP at the University of Leuven, Belgium. He holds a BA in English Philology, Cambridge CELTA and DELTA, and is now working towards a PhD in TESOL at the University of York, UK. He also runs now a sporadically updated blog about ELT at TEFL Reflections and co-authors a regular podcast about teaching and learning English at The TEFL Show.
Yes, it’s this time of year – IATEFL 2017 is almost here. Last year we had a phenomenal plenary from Silvana Richardson about the prejudice many ‘non-native speaker’ teachers suffer from in ELT, which I wrote about here. There were also several really interesting workshops and talks on the topic of ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’. So I was really looking forward to seeing what there is in store for those of us interested in equal professional opportunities for ‘non-native speakers’.
It turns out there isn’t much.
Apart from the talk I’m co-presenting with Dan Baines and Karin Krummenacher, which I’ll talk a bit more about in a moment, there is only one other talk that mentions the acronym NNEST (Non-Native Speaker Teacher) in the abstract:
Title: Sink or swim? Preparing trainees for the EFL jobs market.
Time and date: 4th April 2.35pm – 3.05pm
Speaker: Dita Phillips (British Study Centres Oxford-Teacher Training)
Abstract: The murky (sometimes shark-infested) waters of the EFL/ESOL jobs market can be a daunting prospect for newly-qualified teachers, especially non-native speakers (NNESTs). What more can trainers on pre-service courses do to help? I will discuss my survey of CELTA graduates and give practical ideas for helping trainees as they prepare to take the plunge and look for work.
There is also a talk which forms a part of a forum on teacher identity:
Title: ‘I’m not really an expert’: NEST schemes and teacher identity
Time and Date: 06th April 2-3pm
Speakers: Sue Garton (Aston University) & Fiona Copland (University of Stirling)
Abstract: In this presentation, we will examine the identities that native English-speaker teachers (NESTs) and local English teachers (LETs) construct when working together on NEST schemes. Through an analysis of interview and observational data, we will show that these identity constructions can affect team-teaching relationships in both positive and negative ways.
One more talk relevant to the ‘native speaker’ debate, which I had originally missed, is this one:
Title: We are. We can. We teach.
Time and date: Thursday 6 April 1645-1715
Abstract: What makes someone a good or successful teacher? Is it simply a question of whether a teacher is a native-speaker or not? Traditionally, that has been the case but recent debate suggests this way of thinking is flawed. How, then, should we define success instead? This talk aims to offer a solution: using teaching competences.
In a way perhaps, the whole debate about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers might be taking us away from what is really important, that is the ability to teach, regardless of your first language or nationality. So I’m really looking forward to the talk. Hopefully, it will provide a fresh perspective on the debate.
Finally, as Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson pointed out in this blog post, there’s also only one presentation focused on English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). This is a shame as I really hoped that after last year’s plenary, there would be a much wider choice of talks on native speakerism and ELF.
Did you know that 50% of trainees on certificate level TEFL courses Dan Baines surveyed find job ads for ‘native speakers’ only acceptable? In other words, 50% of people taking Trinity Cert or CELTA see nothing wrong with advertising for ‘native speakers’ only.
This was what prompted us to start our research project – we wanted to raise trainees’ awareness of native speakerism and English as a Lingua Franca. To start a discussion about these issues. To get them thinking about these things.
And ultimately, to see if we could change their beliefs about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers and the English language.
To this end, we developed a series of awareness-raising tasks on Moodle which the trainees did during their 4-week TrinityCert course. We conducted a survey at the beginning of the course, and once they’ve completed the tasks, and we also interviewed them to get a more in-depth perspective on their beliefs.
What were the results?
Come to our talk to find out 🙂
Title: NESTs and NNESTs: awareness-raising and promoting equality through
Speakers: Karin Krummenacher, Daniel Baines (Oxford TEFL Prague) & Marek
Kiczkowiak (University of Leuven)
Time and Date: 06th April 2-2.30pm
Abstract: This talk explores how trainers can raise trainees’ awareness of ELF and native speakerism on pre-service training courses through online and face-to-face
activities. It presents the effects these had on trainees’ beliefs and gives
participants an array of practical ideas and activities they can incorporate into
their own training routine. It concludes with implications for teacher training
courses in general.
You might also be interested in reading the article Karin, Dan and I published in ELTed Journal, where we outline why and how trainers should raise awareness of native speakerism. You can access the pdf here.
Dan and Karin also wrote blog posts for TEFL Equity Advocates:
‘Native speakers’ are better at teaching speaking and should be given conversational and high level classes, right? They can’t tell a verb from a noun, though, so don’t ask them to teach any grammar.
‘Non-native speakers’ know the grammar better and since they know the students’ L1, they should teach lower levels, right? They’re never proficient enough, though, so don’t give them advanced groups.
Stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudices about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers such as the ones above are rife in our profession. If you join any discussion on the topic, you’re bound to see more than one.
When we talk about native speakerism, we also frequently think that it always benefits ‘native speakers’. They get better jobs. They’re paid more. They get to travel around the world. However, this is just one side of the coin.
While native-speakerism has gained much attention in recent years, the complex ways in which it influences the lives and career trajectories of individual teachers has often been overlooked. So in this newly published paper Robert Lowe from the TEFLology podcast and Marek Kiczkowiak from TEFL Equity Advocates show how things such as geography, teaching context and personal disposition can affect the influence that native-speakerism has on the careers of teachers. The paper is titled “Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study” and was published in the journal Cogent Education. In it, they take an innovative dialogic approach where the voices and personal experiences of the two authors come to the fore.
The first article in this series of blogposts looked at the general attitudes to discrimination around the industry in general. This second piece will look at the disparity of belief between trainee and novice teacher and those who are more experienced.
Trainee teachers and native speakerism
When contrasting the views of trainee teachers with the rest of the industry it can be seen that some of the data is consistent with the overall tendencies whereas some shows more variation. Regarding visible tattoos, requiring EU passports, asking for C1 proficiency and employment of Caucasian teachers, there is very little difference in these attitudes except that trainee teachers seem marginally more likely (6%) to see a language requirement as justification and are slightly more likely (again 6%) to see racist hiring policies in China as unjustified.
However, there seems to be a much greater disparity with the issue of native speaker requirements. Promisingly, 68% of teachers in general found the requirement for native English speakers to be both discriminatory and unjustified while the number of trainee teachers stands at a much smaller 50% meaning that 50% find this practice either justifiable (20%) or simply not discriminatory at all (30%).
The data also suggests that teachers become more aware of native speakerism as a form of discrimination as they move through their career. As can be seen in chart 1, the likelihood of considering nativespeakerism to be an unjustifiable form of discrimination seem to rise with experience.
This data would seem to suggest one, or a combination, of scenarios.
1. As teachers become more experienced, they become less likely to see being a NNEST as being a hindrance or to see being a NEST as a legitimate “qualification”
2. The trainee teachers who believe being a NEST is a legitimate requirement simply leave the industry.
3. Perceptions of what a NES is change over time and therefore changes their attitude.
There also seems to be a difference in interpretation when respondents are considered by job (chart 2). The groups who found native speakerism the least justifiable are the people in jobs that typically require a greater amount of experience (academic management and teacher trainers). What is interesting in the case of academic management is that these are often the people responsible for the hiring of teachers, so, possibly due to market demand, directors of studies are enforcing prejudices they disagree with whilst adding to the further discrimination of NNESTs. What is striking is that 73% of ex-teachers felt that these hiring practices were unjustified, suggesting that the reason for the change in attitude is not down to teachers simply leaving the industry.
What is a native speaker?
There was much less variation between trainee teachers and more experienced teachers when it came to defining the term native speaker (they were instructed to choose as many as they agreed with, not to choose one definition). As can be seen from chart 3, the distribution is very similar with “born in an English speaking country” and “grew up speaking English at home” being the most chosen options by both groups. However, with the exception of other, each option was chosen more frequently overall than it was by the trainee teachers, suggesting that the more experienced were more confident about how to define this term. Some of the differences may suggest that trainee teachers are less knowledgeable about issues such as World Englishes and bilingualism. Twice as many trainees chose to fill in the “other” field, but many responses contained contained rather vague phrases such as “mother tongue” or “first language”.
The biggest surprise with the data was that there was no overall consensus on what being a native speaker means. 65% was the highest percentage, with nothing else breaking, or in many cases coming close to, the 60% mark. If the professionals that make up the industry can’t agree on what this term means, why do we see it nearly everywhere we look.
Textbook and non-textbook examples
At the outset it was expected that trainees’ interpretation of well-known forms of discrimination and non-discrimination (racism, sexism, ageism, relevant skills and qualifications) would mirror the overall tendencies of the group. However, whilst this was found to be true for racism and the requirement for a high English proficiency, others differed. The surrounding context of the women’s college and the summer camp led to variation in opinion, with many stating the requirements of this specific context as the reason to justify the discrimination.
With the issue of the native speaker requirement, on the other hand, there was no such contextual justification. Nothing about the country or the type of position was mentioned at any point, but just that students prefer it and that NEST may just be better in some areas. It’s not surprising that over time teachers encounter native speakerism within the profession, but how often is this addressed in pre-service and early service education? It wasn’t mentioned on my CELTA nor was there any mention of it on my DELTA or MA TESOL.
Reasons for individual differences
Above I outlined 3 possible reasons for the disparity between trainees and the rest of the industry on the issue of native speakerism, but the evidence presented seems to suggest that there is only one conceivable reason for it. Firstly, there doesn’t seem to be a huge shift in definitions of what a NES is. If you separate the charts and lay one on top of the other, the distribution is nearly identical with the only significant differences being the open-mindedness in general responses, indicated by the higher percentages for each descriptor. The idea that those unaware of native speakerism or those who feel it is justified are leaving the industry also seems to be unfounded as ex-teachers were one of the most likely to see native speaker based discrimination to be unjustifiable. Which takes us back to the first explanation that awareness of the issue comes with experience.
Native speakerism and teacher training
This begs a couple of very important questions. Why is it taking so long for more teachers to acknowledge the discrimination in ELT? Why isn’t there any focus on issues of discrimination in teacher education courses? It seems unlikely that there is some kind of conspiracy to keep this a secret to protect the interests of NESTs, but more likely that when trying to force methodology, language awareness, teaching practice etc. into 120 hours, some issues are seen as simply less important. Silvana Richardson’s recent IATEFL plenary was a great step forward in addressing the elephant that has been camped in the room for decades, but in many ways she was preaching to the choir. The standing ovation at the end was deserved and you could see the emotion in the eyes of those present as she described their experiences through her own, but these people are the industry. How are we sending the message to those who have yet to join?
Many institutions, TESOL France and IATEFL, to name a couple, have taken a firm stance on job advertisements with discriminatory language, but the fact still remains that dozens of ads are posted elsewhere everyday that go unchecked. The jobs themselves are frequently aimed at teachers with minimal classroom experience, instead preferring a place of birth as the experience to supplement CELTA/Cert TESOL, making them appealing for teachers fresh from training courses. As a result, many teachers unknowingly fuel the fire of this discrimination by applying for and accepting these jobs and furthering the idea that NS status makes a significant difference to one’s ability to do the job. If this is the case, teachers deserve to be fully informed about the myth they are perpetuating and the biases in the industry; some will inevitably exploit to their own ends, but others may take a stand and educate others.
There has been a lot of recent debate about whether initial teacher training courses privilege NEST and there have been many fine arguments put forward by both sides. However, what does remain clear is that there is definitely inadequate attention given to issues such as this despite there being so many opportunities for its inclusion. Most courses offer some kind of career support, so why not take 15 minutes to highlight the kind of prejudice that exists? Why not find an hour to look at qualities of good teaching/teachers and explore where this fits within the NEST/NNEST dichotomy?
[from the editor: If you’re looking for inspiration for activities, check out the article Dan Baines co-wrote with Marek Kiczkowiak and Karin Krummenacher, which is available here. You might also want to take a look at sample lesson plans here, or attend the upcoming webinar with Michael Griffin and Zhenya Polosatova entitled: Exploring NNS issues in a teacher training course.]
Daniel Baines is the Director of Studies at Oxford House Prague and a Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor. He holds an MA TESOL from Sheffield Hallam University and has given talks at conferences in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and most recently at IATEFL in the UK. His primary research interests are native speakerism in ELT and reflection in initial teacher training. He was a finalist in the 2014 British Council ELT Masters Dissertation Award.