How to get colleagues to support the NNEST cause – by Nick Michelioudakis

Why not educate people?

Three reasons: i) They know all this stuff already! Let us be clear: 98.7% of all the people who are active in the ELT world are nice, liberal people who are against all kinds of discrimination; ii) telling people the same thing again and again may well trigger reactance (Wiseman 2012 – p. 227); iii) (much more importantly): there is no guarantee at all that informing people or getting people to agree to something will have any impact on the way they behave.

But you do not have to take my word for this – here is professor Dan Ariely to drive the point home. Notice in particular the bit after 1:40. Ask yourself this question: have you ever sent a text message while driving? (I can tell you are nodding to yourself) Why was that? Was it that you were not aware of the risks?

Three different appeals

So – if propaganda does not work, what does work?

Well, consider the following study (Ferrier, Ward & Palermo 2012): The question here was which would be the most effective way to get people to support a charity (‘Save the Children’). There were three experimental conditions: the first group got all the info – they got the facts and figures about child poverty etc. (does this ring any bells? J ); the second group got an emotional appeal (smiling, happy children plus inspirational music); the third group however got nothing. Instead they were asked to design an advertising campaign for the charity.  There was also a control group. Afterwards, each group of people were asked to make a donation to the charity. Care to guess which group offered the most money? Well, the graph below speaks for itself (Ferrier 2014 – p. 38).


Why was the third approach so effective?

Ferrier (2014 – p. 38) gives three reasons:  i) A sense of ownership: by contributing something – a slogan, an idea) people felt closer to the cause. Advertising people know this and they have used this again and again (see this campaign for instance).  ii) Cognitive dissonance: subconsciously people think ‘If I am prepared to do some work for this organization, they have to be doing something good – I wouldn’t do it otherwise’. More importantly however… iii) People felt a sense of autonomy: ‘they were invited to interact with a message on their own terms rather than it being forced on them. This circumnavigates resistance’ (ibid).

I believe that this last point is one we should take note of. Our cause is a just cause – but there is always a risk we might alienate people. Instead, what we should do is get people active. In J. Jaffes’ words, we need to shift from a ‘Tell and Sell’ to a ‘Participate and Play’ approach (ibid – p. 181).

How can we involve colleagues?

Well, we could crowdsource ideas for a start. The campaign still does not have a simple, instantly recognizable logo to act as a trigger (see Berger 2013 [Chapter 2] on the importance of triggers for virality) or a catchy slogan.

But we do not have to ‘prompt’ people in any way. We could simply ask colleagues for ideas on concrete, actionable initiatives (‘asking people to remove discriminatory language from ads’ is a good step forward; ‘awareness-raising’ does not quite cut it – it is too fuzzy). Sue Annan came up with the brilliant idea of having trainee teachers respond to discriminatory ads with e-mails to the companies who had posted them (click here to read the post). Notice the dual effect here: i) the market is beginning to get the message that ‘the times they are a-changing’ and advertising for ‘a qualified teacher – whites only please’ is not acceptable any more and  ii) much more importantly, the trainee herself is not the same person after that e-mail.

Last Words – a toxic relationship

Have you ever tried to persuade a friend of yours to leave a toxic relationship? It is hard, isn’t it? Everybody tells her (it is usually ‘her’) this is going nowhere – the guy (it is usually a guy) is selfish, controlling, abusive but how much does this help? She knows all this after all. The more people tell her, the more reactance kicks in.

Similarly, our field is still in love with native-speakerism. Not with ‘native speaker’ teachers you understand – there is nothing wrong with them – but when the time for inviting speakers comes, the old habits kick in (‘People want the big names’ – ‘We are doing what is best for the association’ etc. etc.) and the old patterns keep perpetuating themselves. In my view, there is no point in preaching to the converted; what is needed is a little nudge for our field to really move forward.


  • Berger, J. (2013) Contagious. London: Simon & Schuster
  • Ferrier, A. Ward, B. & Palermo J. (2012) Behaviour Change: Why Action Advertising Works Harder than Passive Advertising. Presented at Society for Consumer Psychology: Proceedings of the 2012 Annual Conference. Las Vegas, 16-18 February
  • Ferrier, A. (2014) The Advertising Effect. South Melbourne, Oxford University Press
  • Wiseman, R. (2012). Rip it up. London: Macmillan

nick michelioudakisNick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been working in the field of ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner and teacher trainer. His love of comedy has led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube. He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles which have appeared in a number of publications in various countries. He is particularly interested in student motivation and classroom management as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology, Management and Marketing.  For articles or worksheets of his, you can visit his blog at 

'Psychology and the NEST brand' – an upcoming webinar with Nick Michelioudakis



These are the Plenary Speakers for the IATEFL 2016 Convention. Number of NNESTs: 1. 1 out of 5? What’s wrong with the NNEST team? Perhaps we need a new coach?!

Let me state at this point that in my opinion IATEFL is one of the best TEFL organisations in the world and certainly the most PC one around (notice the men – women ratio and the great Jan Blake on the right). And yet… And yet…

Why does this happen? And not only at IATEFL, but many other conferences. For example, TESOL Italy 2015 had four plenary speakers, none of whom were NNEST, let alone Italian! TESOL France 2015 – 0 out of 3. TESOL Macedonia-Thrace – 0 out of 4. The list could go on.

So why does this happen? I believe the answer lies in our brains’ heuristics and biases. This webinar aims to give some answers about why we continue to see NNESTs as ‘the inferior brand’, why the vast majority of EL teachers are faced with a ‘glass ceiling’ and why most of us continue to feel there are good reasons things are the way they are.

Among the questions the webinar aims to answer are the following:

  • How can you make sure your essay gets a high mark?
  • Which low-tech device is a woman’s best friend?
  • Why were so many top athletes born under the Capricorn / Aquarius / Pisces sign?
  • Which soft drink tastes better? Pepsi or Coke?
  • I am not a racist, am I?
  • How can you get your VW Sharan for $ 2,000 less?
  • How can you tell if a man is successful?
  • How can you maximise the chances of your CV getting a response?
  • How can you get people to like you?

[NB: The Webinar is not about techniques and activities, it is about Psychology. The concepts that will be presented (The Halo Effect / The Mere Exposure Effect / Pluralistic Ignorance etc.) can help make sense of a number of aspects of real life – from gender discrimination to racism].

How can I join the webinar?

TEA webinar poster - Nick

Designed by @theteacherjames


The webinar is free of charge and no registration is necessary. To join follow these steps:

  1. Click on (or copy and paste) this link:
  2. Enter as a guest. Use your full name and your country in brackets, e.g. Marek Kiczkowiak (Poland)

To check what time the webinar will be happening in your time zone, click on this link.

[Nick Michelioudakis has been a Teacher / Teacher Trainer for longer than he cares to remember. To see some of his published work, you can visit his blog at or his YouTube channel (‘Comedy for ELT’ / ‘Psychology and ELT’)]

'Why are there so few NNESTs at the top? – the Magnifier effect' by Nick Michelioudakis

nick michelioudakisNick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) is an Academic Consultant with LEH (the representatives of the Pearson PTE G Exams in Greece).  In his years of active involvement in the field of ELT he has worked as a teacher, examiner and trainer for both teachers and Oral Examiners. His love of comedy led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ project on YouTube. He has written numerous articles on Methodology, while others from the ‘Psychology and ELT’ series have appeared in many countries. He likes to think of himself as a ‘front-line teacher’ and is interested in one-to-one teaching and student motivation as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology.  When he is not struggling with students, he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess.  For articles or handouts of his, you can visit his site at

NESTs and NNESTs: The Magnifier

‘Why are there so few NNESTs at the top?’

No way!

Look at this table (Gladwell 2008 – p. 27). This is the roster of the 2007 Czechoslovakian National Junior soccer team which

From Gladwell 2008 – p. 27

From Gladwell 2008 – p. 27

actually got to the World Cup finals. Do you notice anything? That’s right. Nearly 75% of all players were born in January, February and March! The odds of such a thing happening by chance are astronomically low. Nor was this an isolated incident. What does it mean? Is it that children born in those months are somehow endowed with superior athletic prowess? Is is their star sign that helps? And what could such a phenomenon possibly have to do with NNESTs?!?  Read on.

How to succeed as an athlete

How does this happen? It’s very simple. In most countries, young players are grouped in cohorts depending on their age. The age bracket is one year.  In most cases the cutoff point is January the 1st. When coaches start scouring the country for new talent, they look at the different cohorts separately – and they start looking at them when they are really young. At the age of 8 or 9 a few months can make a real difference in how big, strong, fast and coordinated someone is. So naturally, it is mostly kids who were born at the beginning of each year that get chosen. ‘But surely’ you might say ‘this initial minor difference just disappears after a few years – when all the kids are fully grown’. Yet here is the thing – it doesn’t! Look at the table again. You will notice that most players were born in 1987 and 1988 – yet the World Cup took place in 2007; the players were about 20 years old! Why had the initial pattern not changed? According to Gladwell, it is all down to that initial selection. Young kids who are chosen get much better coaching and, crucially, they get to play a lot more than the other kids. Gradually, what starts as an insignificant difference, sure to disappear after a few years, becomes a real difference in ability. In later screenings, the same players get chosen again – and this time they really are better. Here is Malcolm Gladwell giving us a similar example from Hockey:

This is the mechanism which I call ‘The Magnifier’: Some people get selected for ‘higher things’ on the basis of some small difference (real or imagined). The opportunities that result from this, actually do make them better over a period of time. Gladwell also gives figures about another sport – baseball. The pattern is the same. It is hard to argue with the evidence. [NB: Notice that there is no prejudice or stereotyping in the selection of the athletes; they are chosen purely on merit. When a coach watches kids play s/he cannot tell immediately when they were born. But what about Men and Women? Or NESTs and NNESTs?].

A (slightly) different explanation for the glass ceiling

I would like to argue that the same mechanism can explain a number of differences that we see all around us. Take women for instance. In 2011 women made up less than 4% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies and held fewer than 17% of seats in Congress (Gneezy & List “The Why Axis” – p. 35) and that despite all the progress that has been made over the years in the field of gender equality. How are we to account for this?

‘Naturally’ (this is meant to be ironic) people associate top positions with men. Steinpreis, Anders and Ritzke sent CVs for an academic tenure-track job to 100 university psychologists. The CVs were identical except for one difference: half of them were by Dr Brian Miller and the other half by Dr Karen Miller. Results: 75% thought the former was good enough, but just under 50% thought the latter had what it takes (Steinpreis et al. 1999). 1 Unlike what happens in sports, stereotypes are very much present when it comes to men and women – and they are triggered instantly.

And then what happens? If I am a CEO and I think that my male managers are ‘higher flying’ than my female ones, I tend to invest more in them (Fine 2010 – ch. 5); I send them to more seminars, I involve them in more challenging projects and I follow their progress more closely so they ‘grow into’ the role I had visualized for them. Unsurprisingly, after a while, some of them do become better than their female colleagues. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy and it works in exactly the same way as teacher expectations did in the famous Rosenthal and Jacobson study (Rosenthal and Jacobson 1968 – to watch a short clip on the study, just click here).

The point I want to make here is this: we know that women in the workplace start with a slight initial handicap because of traditional gender-role stereotypes. One would expect this difference to gradually disappear as both men and women acquire more qualifications and experience. Yes this is not the case; instead, because of ‘The Magnifier’, the opposite seems to happen! Here is Malcolm Gladwell again talking about the way the same mechanism manifests itself in kindergartens. Many parents worry about whether their child will be able to keep up with children who are on average a few months older. Yet they reckon this difference will gradually disappear. Only it doesn’t! ‘The small initial advantage that the child born in the early part of the year has over the child born at the end of the year persists. It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement that stretch on and on for years’ (Gladwell 2008 – p. 28).


Are NNESTs underrepresented at the top levels of ELT? Sometimes our view of reality is distorted, so it pays to look for plenary speakersevidence. I have just picked up a random title from my bookshelf (‘Learning One-to-One’ – CUP 2010). As I am typing this, I am looking at the ‘Recent Titles in this Series’ column. Let us check out the names: ‘Eric Taylor’ sounds British / American, while ‘Anita Szabo’ sounds like the writer comes from Poland or Hungary perhaps – you get the idea. Not very scientific admittedly, but it should do… Results: NESTs: 30 – NNESTs: 10. You might say that this particular publisher is based in the UK, so this is only what one might expect. OK, let us turn to Greece. What about Plenary Speakers in recent TESOL Greece Conventions? Here are the results for the past 5 years: NESTs: 15 – NNESTs: 10. 2 But don’t take my word for it. You can do this yourselves. I would be very interested to hear what you find…

Now imagine you are a school owner. Your DOS has retired and you have two really good teachers who could take his/her place. Their CV is almost identical, they have the same experience more or less and they are both keen and motivated. One of them is a NEST and the other a NNEST. Who do you choose? Well, this is almost a no-brainer, really. The market prefers NESTs we are told again and again, so choosing the former makes good business sense. But what happens next?

Suddenly, that particular teacher gets all kinds of professional development opportunities: she gets to see how the school works, she gets to evaluate, select and prepare materials and s/he gets involved in syllabus design. She gets to observe and evaluate other colleagues, she exchanges ideas with them during the feedback process and she may even be called upon to run Professional Development workshops herself. In addition, she might get sent to various ELT events where she hears about new developments in the field and that helps her grow as a professional. This will also give her additional opportunities for networking. 3 After a while, chances are that her CV will look a lot different from that of her colleague who was somehow ‘left behind’.

The Magnifier and ELT:

Of course, one might find all this unconvincing. Is this how things really happen, or is this simply a ‘just so’ story? In my opinion there are a number of factors which account for why NNESTs tend not to rise as much as they should: it’s partly historical reasons, partly practical considerations, partly the ‘Halo Effect’. The Magnifier simply exacerbates the phenomenon. Whatever the causes however, it is the results that matter. Speaking of the Czech team Gladwell says “The talent of essentially half of the Czech athletic population has been squandered4 . It is the same with ELT.

1 By the way, does anybody have any doubt about what the results would be if this study were to be replicated with fictional CVs by NESTs and NNESTs?

2 Could it be that people expect NEST Speakers in big events? Indeed they do. A couple of years ago, a young girl posted a complaint on the TESOL GR FB page after the programme for the Convention had been released. She said she was disappointed, particularly because there were not so many speakers from the US and the UK. If people are prepared to post complaints in public about something which is so anti-PC, you can imagine how many more feel this way…

3  This slight bias (which however can have huge long-term effects) can be seen everywhere. The editor of a local ELT publication once confided in me: ‘I like it when you send me articles as I have no editing work to do’ (= no mistakes to correct / no phrases to change). Now, imagine you are a busy editor; the deadline is approaching and you have room for one of two long articles – one by a NEST and another by a NNEST. Of course it should be the content that matters, but still…

4 Gladwell 2008, p. 31 [his italics]


  1. Fine, C. “Delusions of Gender” Icon Books 2010.
  2. Gladwell, M. “Outliers” Penguin 2008.
  3. Gneezy, U. & List, J. “The Why Axis” Random House Books 2013.
  4. Rosenthal, R.; Jacobson, L. 1968. Pygmalion in the classroom. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  5. Steinpreis, R.E., Anders, K. A., & Ritzke, D. 1999  “The impact of gender on the review of the curricula vitae of job applicants and tenure candidates: A National Empirical Study.”  Sex Roles: A Journal of Research Vol 41, Nos 7/8, pp. 509-528.

5 months down the road to equity

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

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

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

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

Under Creative Commons from:

Under Creative Commons from:

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

support mine

Photo under Creative Commons: – changes mine

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

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

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

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

So what’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

create future

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

Screening out the chaff? by Nick Michelioudakis

Photo from:

Photo from:

This happened a few years ago. I had just completed my military service and I had found a job with a local EL school, but I thought I would also apply to the BC for part-time exam invigilation work. Exams have always been big business in Greece, but back then exam-related jobs were also quite well paid…

So I went to the British Council (BC) HQ in Athens and I asked for an application form. The administrative staff were all Greek and they were very friendly and efficient. They promptly gave me the form and they were generally very helpful. And then I thought I would ask for something else as well.

The thing is, I had a colleague who worked at the BC and she had told me that at the time they were recruiting Oral Examiners (OE) for the Cambridge ESOL exams. So I politely asked whether I could fill out one of these forms as well. The attitude of the staff changed immediately – and it showed in their facial expressions which alternated between shock, horror and extreme incredulity (‘What??!? A NNEST (non-Native English Speaker Teacher) wanting to become a Cambridge ESOL OE? What next??’). Please bear in mind that all the staff were Greek!

Image from: Changes mine.

Image from: Changes mine.

There were mumblings, hesitations, half-hearted excuses of the ‘I think the deadline has elapsed’ or ‘I believe they have enough candidates already’ kind, but in the end they reluctantly gave me the form and I duly filled it out. To say that I was completely taken aback by this sudden change would be an understatement. I knew that the requirements were some years of teaching experience and the RSA DELTA and my CV was perfectly ok in this regard.

When I got home, I called my colleague and told her what had happened. ‘Well’ she said, ‘how they feel is neither here nor there, as now it is all up to the Senior Team Leader. Nevertheless, just to make sure that he hears of your application, why don’t you photocopy your CV and qualification and send everything to him by post? Just to be on the safe side, you understand…’ (Thank you Rania!)

So I did that and I was really pleased when I was invited for an interview a few days later… There followed the training; there were about 20 of us as far as I can remember, and I think we were told that they would only hire 10. Needless to say I was thrilled to hear that I was one of them (being a Cambridge OE was an extremely prestigious post back then and it always amazed me to see how it functioned as a ‘heuristic’ in future interviews… Once people saw that on the CV, they never looked any further (‘If you are good enough for Cambridge ESOL, you are good enough for us’ [never mind that you might be hopeless as a teacher…]).

Looking back, I think this experience taught me two things: a) in many cases it is NNESs (non-Native English Speakers) who perpetuate these ‘double standards’ against NNESTs and b) although I have never witnessed any incident of overt, deliberate unfair treatment of NNESTs, I firmly believe that there is something very much akin to what in other cases might be called ‘institutional discrimination’. You don’t see that many black CEOs and in the same way you don’t see that many NNEST Team Leaders. Some things are simply ‘not done’. I mean, when was the last time you saw a woman smoking a pipe?!?

nick michelioudakisNick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) is an Academic Consultant with LEH (the representatives of the Pearson PTE G Exams in Greece). In his years of active involvement in the field of ELT he has worked as a teacher, examiner and trainer for both teachers and Oral Examiners. His love of comedy led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ project on YouTube. He has written numerous articles on Methodology, while others from the ‘Psychology and ELT’ series have appeared in many countries. He likes to think of himself as a ‘front-line teacher’ and is interested in one-to-one teaching and student motivation as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology. When he is not struggling with students, he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess. For articles or handouts of his, you can visit his site at

Who owns ELT? 'The Halo Effect' by Nick Michelioudakis

Before you start reading Nick’s post, please watch the video below which explains ‘the halo effect’ Nick refers to in the article, and shows how superficial features shape our opinions about people.

In the EFL world, being a non-Native English Speaker Teacher (NNEST) means you’re Melvin, the short guy.

Nick Michelioudakis “Who owns English? Is it the native speakers (NS) or the non-native ones (NNS)? And who owns ELT? Is it Native English Speaker Teachers (NESTs)s or NNESTs? I would like to argue that in the latter case, we still have a long way to go before we come close to anything resembling a level playing field.

It all boils down to accent of course… It’s such a shibboleth, isn’t it? The problem is its saliency. Research shows that babies as young as 6 months old can detect whether someone is speaking with a foreign accent (and, for good evolutionary reasons, they prefer people who sounds like their parents) 1.

But why should it matter? In the past of course, a NEST could serve as a ‘good’ model of ‘The Queen’s English’ (preferably) but these days with so much audio-visual material available, this advantage has all but disappeared given that any NNEST can go to YouTube and bring the Queen herself into the classroom. What is more, studies have shown that a NNEST has some advantages too – she can more easily understand the mistakes her students might make and she is often better able to explain grammar rules to them (due to the fact that she has had to study them herself). [more on it in James’ article: Why I wish I was a NNEST]

Yet this is not quite how things work. Work by Kahnemann, Cialdini and others, has shown that the default state of our mind is ‘laziness’. If you are a DOS and you want to hire a teacher, chances are you are not going to weigh everything up in order to make the right choice. Instead, more often than not, you (like everyone else) will rely on heuristics – fast and frugal devices for making quick decisions.

And as heuristics go, this one is hard to beat. Think about it; there are three key traits a good teacher should have: good knowledge of the language, good knowledge of methodology and the ‘right’ personality (friendly, accessible, enthusiastic etc.). If they are NNEST, you as the DOS need to check all three – if they are NEST, you need only look at two. It’s a no-brainer really… A native-like accent creates a ‘halo effect’ [remember Melvin and Marcus?]. It’s a bit like your handwriting; in a famous study, identical essays were marked more highly in one condition because they were written in more neat handwriting. 2

Nor is it just a question of what the DOS thinks; what about the market? Clients also seem to employ the same heuristic – to a far greater degree perhaps than the more knowledgeable ELT professionals. I remember some time ago a brilliant colleague telling me about her experience in a summer school; despite the fact that the kids were perfectly happy, the DOS had to replace her when a group leader complained that she was not a NEST… (never mind that she had a MSc in ELT…)

‘Unfair’ you might say. Well, I suppose it is… Surely every individual should be judged on the basis of her qualities and qualifications. This issue of stereotyping comes up again and again. Just because a woman has children does not necessarily mean that she can put in less hours at work (and therefore she is perhaps less suitable as a CEO) – yet in 2011 women made up only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs 3.

OK – here is one of my favourite studies: researchers sent out CVs to various employers. The qualifications were exactly the same. The only difference was the name. In one case it was typically white-sounding (Emily, Greg), while in the other case it was black-sounding (Lakisha, Jamal). Guess which ones got more responses 4. Now here is a thought experiment: what if we were to send out 100 identical CVs to various EL schools? Half of them could be signed ‘John Smith’ and the other half ‘George Papadopoulos’. Is there anybody who seriously thinks that the name would make no difference?

Of course in ELT we are a nice lot. So nice perhaps, that this niceness often distorts our perception of reality. I am quite sure that the vast majority of NESTs would like this issue to disappear. Indeed so fervent is this desire, that some of them go so far as to assert that this problem has already vanished! ‘This is not how things should be – ergo, this is not how things are’ * When I hear such pronouncements I just smile. Yet I must say, I sometimes feel the urge to go up to them and whisper in their ear ‘Yes, but you are not black…’ J

*There is a technical term for this; it is called ‘The Moralistic Fallacy’.

1 Kinzler, K. D., Dupoux, E. et al. (2007) ‘The native language of social cognition’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104(30): 12557-12580.

2 Nisbett, K. E. & Wilson, T. D. ‘The halo effect: evidence for unconscious alteration of judgments’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1977, 35, 250256.

3 Gneezy, U. & List, J. ‘The Why Axis’ Random House 2013.

4 Bertrand, M. & Mullainathan, S. (2003) ‘Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. National Bureau of Economic Research.

About the author:

nick michelioudakisNick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) is an Academic Consultant with LEH (the representatives of the Pearson PTE G Exams in Greece). In his years of active involvement in the field of ELT he has worked as a teacher, examiner and trainer for both teachers and Oral Examiners. His love of comedy led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ project on YouTube. He has written numerous articles on Methodology, while others from the ‘Psychology and ELT’ series have appeared in many countries. He likes to think of himself as a ‘front-line teacher’ and is interested in one-to-one teaching and student motivation as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology. When he is not struggling with students, he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess. For articles or handouts of his, you can visit his site at