Péter Medgyes’ ‘The Non-native Teacher’ – why publish a new edition?

More than 20 years ago, in the early 1990s, there was a lot of discussion about the position of teachers of English who were either native or non-native speakers of the language. In The Non-native Teacher Péter Medgyes, a Hungarian, wrote about the relative advantages and disadvantages, problems and insights, of both groups. This became a successful book, used widely on teacher training courses in many countries.

However, as with so many other aspects of teaching and methodology, interest in the topic went up and down over the years. Coinciding with changes in publishing companies, both the first (Macmillan) 1994 edition and the later (Hueber) 1999 one, went out of print.

In the last few years, as the importance of both pre- and in-service training has begun to be increasingly recognised, together with the relevance of its various forms to different kinds of learning/teaching environment (primary, secondary, adults), the debate about who was the ‘best’ kind of teacher of English began to be heard again.  Twenty years later, it seemed there was a need to look again at relative strengths and weaknesses, problems and perceived advantages – and to both go over the original ground again, while also adding questions, thoughts and observations relating to present-day and future teaching situations and contexts.

As well as the ‘classroom and training’ aspects of the debate, it has seemed increasingly important to discuss the topic from the viewpoint  of employment. It has become illegal, at least in European countries, to discriminate against employing people on the basis of nationality. However, perhaps it is not as simple as that: how about the ongoing battle to convince parents, company training managers and other decision makers that the key consideration is relevant training and qualifications? This is far from simple, and will take time and can, perhaps, be best helped by encouraging honest and open debate.

As a result of these shifts in focus, and the huge amounts of interest raised by the TEFL Equity website and activities, plus the reaction to Silvana Richardson’s 2016 IATEFL plenary,  Péter Medgyes (a non-NEST) and I (a NEST) felt it was time to open up the debate again, discussing the relative problems facing both groups of English teachers, while encouraging people to think about these in relation to their own specific contexts, personal abilities and priorities.

We thus decided to republish the book, adding a lot of new material, designed to build up the self-confidence of both groups by suggesting ways in which all teachers can assess and develop their individual strengths, presented visually in a way that will get the topic discussed critically from a variety of angles – with the underlying message that ‘we need both – but all teachers must be properly trained’.

Below is a short video with Péter’s description of this:


The book is available in both print and digital formats (with a special discount on the latter until the end of August). The print version is available from English Language Booksho. The digital edition is available here.

And we hope, of course, to hear your own thoughts and ideas about the topic and to be involved in the ongoing discussion on the TEFL Equity website.

susan holdenAfter originally training as a teacher of drama and English in UK schools (primary and secondary) Susan Holden has had a variety of experiences as a teacher, teacher trainer, writer and publisher in a number of countries, principally in Europe and Latin America. As editor of Modern English Teacher for 15 years, she came into contact with a wide range of teachers and teaching contexts. Appropriate training and sensitivity to cultural and educational contexts are, for her, of paramount importance. Based in Scotland, she now runs a small publishing and project management company, Swan Communication. For any further information about the books, you can contact Susan via email.

#ELT chat summary on whether, or rather how leading ELT organisations should support non-Native English Speaking Teachers' rights

The topic for the #ELT chat on March 18th was whether leading ELT organisations should support NNESTs (Non-Native English Speaking Teachers) and stop discrimination against them. Unfortunately, I feel this topic was not really addressed by the participants and the discussion focused mostly on the market demand for NS (Native English Speakers) and the various strengths and weaknesses each group typically has. You can read the full transcript here. To me, the question of whether leading ELT organisations should get involved is a rhetorical one. Of course they should. The question is how they could do this and why most don’t. In this article I’ll summarise the main points raised in the discussion and end with suggestions for how ELT organisations could indeed get involved to speak out for an industry that treats both NS and NNS (Non-Native English Speakers) equally.

Some background

For those of you less familiar with the issue, according to research NNS outnumber NS by about 5:1 (Crystal, 2013). Yet, numerous studies (e.g. Selvi, 2010; Kiczkowiak, 2015) have shown that about 70% of all ELT jobs advertised on-line are for NS only. In fact, as in the example below, some recruiters treat being a NS as a qualification. Any degrees in ‘nativeness’ anyone?

Underline mine. Retrieved 04.05.2015 from http://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/jobpage.html?jobId=68407&countryId=106

Underline mine. Retrieved 04.05.2015 from http://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/jobpage.html?jobId=68407&countryId=106

In some places it’s even worse. No qualifications or degrees required. “Anyone who shows a genuine interest” will be considered. As long as they are a NS. This reminded me of Ruecker and Ives’ (2014) findings which showed that ELT job ads tend to emphasise benefits (e.g. travel, exotic countries, good lifestyle, etc.) rather than experience, qualifications, or professionalism.

Underline mine. Retrieved on May 4th from: http://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/jobpage.html?jobId=68693&countryId=190

Underline mine. Retrieved on May 4th from: http://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/jobpage.html?jobId=68693&countryId=190

And by NS the recruiter doesn’t mean being completely proficient, e.g. IELTS 9. They mean somebody who was accidentally born in and has a passport from not any English-speaking country, but usually from the 9 “inner circle” ones, as Kachru (1982) put it. As a result, any potential native speakers from the remaining 51 sovereign states that also have English as one of their official languages are also excluded. A clear contravention of EU legislation and an example, some would argue, of race-based hiring policies (see Michael Griffin’s post about how it’s done in Korea).

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

The market demand

But NS is what students want, isn’t it. And ELT as any other business has to respond to the market demand, otherwise the customers will go somewhere else. This argument has become so deeply ingrained and is so often quoted that we hardly ever pause to question its validity.

Design @teflninja

Design @teflninja

Of course, there are students who prefer to be taught by NS. How many, though? Are they the majority? And would they always prefer any NEST over any NNEST? I honestly doubt it. Some might be initially prejudiced against NNESTs, because of negative previous experience. Others might think that only a NEST can teach them ‘real’ English, ‘correct’ pronunciation or give cultural insights. But many might have simply been duped by the ELT advertising machine, which has done its best over the years to convince their clients that their beliefs about NEST = BEST are well-founded. Can’t or rather shouldn’t the very same ELT advertising machine now do its best to educate their customers out of this misconception? Because we mustn’t forget that neither EFL students nor their parents are informed clients. They come to us, because they seek expert’s advice on how to best learn English. And we’re not afraid to give it to them and question numerous other misconceptions about learning languages they might have. Why aren’t we prepared to question their belief that only a NS can be a good English teacher? Imagine a patient coming to the doctor and requesting a certain type of treatment. The doctor knows that this treatment is a placebo, and that in fact there are numerous other more advanced treatments available on the market. Yet, the doctor feels obliged to respond to the customer’s demand for fear the patient might choose a different specialist next time. Sounds familiar? I find it morally questionable at least that we’re prepared to deceive our students into thinking that NESTs = BEST and to afraid to question this belief. And pathetic that the ELT industry agrees to shape its employment policies based on demands of those who know least about learning languages, while those who know most (click on the hyperlinks for opinions of teacher trainers, linguists and ELT professionals) have been saying for decades: that being a NS has nothing to do with being a good teacher. We’re deluding ourselves and lying to our students.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

NS or NNS: who’s worth more:

This is a question posed by the great Peter Medgyes (1992), which has since attracted a lot of attention and – more recently – criticism. It was also discussed during the chat. There is no doubt that a stereotypical NNS has numerous strengths. For a brief overview you can read James Taylor’s post or watch Eszter Hajdics’ presentation. And I don’t think anyone would question that a stereotypical NS also has numerous virtues. However, I agree with Selvi (2014) and Michael Griffin that Medgyes’ question misses the point. By dividing teachers into two antagonistic and dichotomous camps, it plays into the numerous existing stereotypes and creates new ones. There are countries were a NS will typically get conversation classes. Because this is supposedly what they’re only good at. And a NNS will typically get low levels, because this is supposedly where their teaching strengths are. I really suggest we rethink this approach and talk about the qualities of good teachers instead. As David Crystal put it in this interview:  “It is metalinguistic knowledge, combined with fluency, that ultimately produces the most efficient language teachers. Fluency alone is not enough.” Nor being a NS.

Design @teflninja

Design @teflninja

It should anger you as a NS that your biggest asset is your passport, because this puts into serious doubt your professionalism, dedication and years of study to become the great teacher you are now. Have you ever realised that you might have been hired although there were better suited candidates who just happened to have been born in a non-English speaking country? While the terms NS and NNS might accurately describe the situation of other languages, they have become misnomers when it comes to English, a language which has gone global and is no longer owned by the British, the US, the Australians, the Irish, or any other nation. It’s become the property of the whole world, and we should do our best to embrace this change and reflect it in the classroom. And while the terms NS and NNS might be good approximations for the layman, they should really have no place in the professional EFL discourse. Especially, we should object to them being used in job advertisements and to evaluate prospective teachers. For as Peter Lahiff succinctly put it in this article, they are “unsound recruitment criteria”. And perhaps more importantly, because such ads contravene EU legislation.

Why should we get involved?

Because for decades the ELT community acquiesced to the marginalisation of their colleagues and now your colleagues need your help. Because the current state of affairs doesn’t reflect the incredible multiculturality and diversity of the English language. Because we are professionals who have studied hard to become teachers and the hiring policies don’t reflect this. And because we care about our students and want them to have the best possible teachers, chosen based on merit, qualifications and experience, not the content of their passport.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

How can the leading ELT organisations get involved?

As I said at the start and have argued throughout, to me it is not a question of whether, but how. If you’re an individual interested in getting involved, see this link for some suggestions. If you’re a TA (Teaching Association), the first step you might want to take is to conduct a survey among your members to establish what they think about the issues described above. Next, issue a public statement against discrimination, such as this one first issued by TESOL International over two decades ago (for more anti-discrimination statements click here). If you have a job listings section on your website, filter out job ads which require the candidate to be a NS and contact the recruiters to rewrite their ad (hats off for TESOL International, TESOL France, MELTA and IATEFL for taking the lead here). If you consider these steps to be too political, controversial or beyond the remit of your TA, you could include webinars and workshops on the topic in your PD agenda and ensure that a balance between NS and NNS speakers is maintained. If you’re a publisher, consider giving opportunities for writing materials to aspiring NNS writers. There will no doubt be a growing need for NNS recordings and models as more and more students interact in English primarily with other NNS. By giving voice to the ever-growing diversity of English, your books might be at the cutting edge. The issues of what it means to be a good English teacher, respective strengths and weaknesses of NESTs and NNESTs could also make for very interesting discussion materials. If you’re a leading language school chain, adopt equal hiring policies to ensure you hire the best possible teachers out there. Do not allow your affiliate schools to post ads such as the one below. While they might be able to shape their recruitment strategy, it is in the best interest of everyone that it abides by the law:

Retrieved on 06th May from: http://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/jobpage.html?jobId=68595&countryId=171

Retrieved on 06th May from: http://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/jobpage.html?jobId=68595&countryId=171

[I have contacted Lucy Horsefield, Chief Operating Officer at IH World about this, and her response can be found below the article] Can’t “We only employ the best of the best” slogan be an equally good, if not a better marketing strategy than “We only employ NS”? This might put you at the forefront of change and steer you clear of contravening EU anti-discrimination laws. It will also ensure you actually hire the best possible candidate. And if you’re already committed to equal employment opportunities (e.g. the British Council), consider taking steps to spread equity beyond your organisation to the wider ELT community. This could be done through workshops and webinars, for example. Finally, if you’re an accrediting body, ensure that NNESTs and NESTs are indeed treated equally in a given school. Consider adopting a set of equality rules the school has to follow in order to become accredited. And encourage a frank and open dialogue with teachers about their working conditions.

Final thoughts

I might have painted a rather bleak picture of the current state of ELT. However, as I wrote in this post, I am convinced that change is indeed possible and that each and every one of us can be an agent of this change (see James Taylor’s post for more concrete ideas how to get involved). Let’s work together for an ELT industry that gives equal opportunities to everyone, regardless of the colour of their skin, gender, sexual orientation, age or mother tongue. Tweet about this to @TEFLequity with #TEA hashtag and join the campaign on FB/teflequityadvocates If you’d like to further support the campaign, please add this badge with a link to teflequityadvocates.com on your blog or site. You can visit #ELTchat website here and follow them on Twitter and FB. References:

  • Crystal, D. (2012). English as a global language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kachru, B. B. (1982). The Other Tongue. English Across Cultures. Urbana, Ill. University of Illinois Press
  • Kiczkowiak, M. (2015) NEST only. IATEFL Voices 243.
  • Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46, 340–349.
  • Ruecker, T., & Ives, L. (2014). White Native English Speakers Needed: The Rhetorical Construction of Privilege in Online Teacher Recruitment Spaces. TESOL Quarterly. doi: 10.1002/tesq.195
  • Selvi, A. F. (2010). All teachers are equal, but some teachers are more equal than others: Trend analysis of job advertisements in English language teaching.WATESOL NNEST Caucus Annual Review, 1, 156-181.

Lucy Horsefield, Chief Operating Officer at IH World in response to my email concerning the ad from IH Katowice:

“Thank you for drawing our attention to this. The school concerned has been contacted and the advert will be changed.

We have been educating our affiliates on a regular basis about this and taking action to raise awareness. At our DOS conference in 2014 we had Prof. Péter Medgyes as our plenary speaker and indeed we discussed this very topic at our Directors’ Conference last week.

However, staff change in schools and I think on this occasion someone was been tasked with recruitment without being made aware of this issue. With this in mind we will contact all our schools again to bring the matter to their attention again. International House World Organisation strongly supports the employment of teachers based on their language proficiency, regardless of their nationality.

A person working at one of the IH schools has told me that all Directors of Studies at all IH schools have received an email from Lucy Horsefield reminding them that IH World is against using the term native speaker in the ads, believes teachers should be hired on merit and skills and that schools using discriminatory language in job ads might face legal action.

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: https://flic.kr/p/7J5PTA

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/7J5PTA

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: https://flic.kr/p/BEDc6 – 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 www.tefl.com, www.onestopenglish.com, or www.tefl.net 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 www.tefl.net – 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 www.tefl.net 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.

Equity without myths or stereotypes by Michael Griffin

On 20th May James Taylor published a post on this blog entitled: Why I wish I was a non-native speaker of English, which caused quite a stir and a very enthusiastic response. I really encourage you to read both James’ post and the comments below it, before (or after) reading this post by Michael Griffin.

In a nutshell, James exposed the problem of discrimination against NNESTs in TEFL and showed that it is based on illogical prejudices:

“As someone from the UK who teaches English as a foreign language, the country of my birth is a huge advantage to me. As has been well documented on this blog, I am much more likely to get a job than someone from Japan, Algeria or Brazil, no matter how qualified or experienced they are. For some students, having a native speaker teacher has a certain cachet, as in most countries it is unusual and many of them think that it means they have a better teacher as a result. So both employers and students seem to think that because I’m English, I must be a better teacher, which has got to be good for me.”

In the post he argued that NNESTs are not worse teachers than NESTs, but that they actually have many strengths which the latter could never have, e.g. NNESTs can better advise students on language learning strategies. As many of us, James hopes these strengths are finally acknowledged by all recruiters and students, so that both NESTs and NNESTs are given equal opportunities of employment:

“I would rather be judged by my ability, experience and qualifications equally against anyone else who wishes to apply for the same job. It’s not to my advantage, but that’s the world I want to live in.”

While Michael Griffin shares James’ opinion that native speakers are unjustly favoured within TEFL, and that we need to start treating all teachers equally, he proposes a different approach to fight against the discrimination, which hopes to deal away with some prevalent myths and stereotypes.

Michael Griffin: “As a fan of this blog I was thrilled and honored when Marek Kiczkowiak asked me if I might be interested in contributing something here. I was even more honored and pleased when I saw one of the first pieces on the blog was an interview with Peter Medgyes which is well worth reading. Back in 2012 I wrote about some of my thoughts on what Medgyes listed as advantages of “NNEST” Teachers.

In this current post I’d like to share a more concise and maybe even more balanced view of my thoughts on the advantages Medgyes listed. I do this with full respect for Dr. Medgyes and full knowledge that his list comes from a long time ago and was a useful addition to the conversations of that time.  I am also aware what I am saying is not exactly groundbreaking and has been covered by others in much greater depth and with greater lucidity.

My excitement about writing a guest post on this blog turned into a bit of trepidation when I saw the excellent post from James Taylor last week because my post (which incidentally I wrote before seeing his) might seem to go against many of the points in his, especially at first glance. Something we surely agree on is that native speakers are often unjustly advantaged in the field and this is something that needs to change.

The final caveats before I truly start is to say I am not sure how helpful it is to continue talking in these binary terms nor I am sure exactly what terms like native speaker and non-native speaker really mean, but I will use them here for the purpose of discussion.

In “The Non-native Teacher” Medgyes shares some advantages of non-native teachers over native speaking teachers. They are as follows:

a) Only non-NESTS can serve as imitable models of the successful learner of English…

b) Non-NESTS can teach learning strategies more effectively…

c) Non-NESTS can provide learners with more information about the English language…

d) Non-NESTs are more able to anticipate language difficulties…

e) Non-NESTS can be more empathetic to the needs and problems of their learners…

f) Only non-NESTS can benefit from sharing the learners’ mother tongue…

One key theme that emerged from the discussion on my aforementioned blog post was that Dr. Medgyes’s list might be more applicable to monolingual native speakers without training. If that is the case then perhaps the list is a bit more palatable and understandable for me.

The original list doesn’t seem to allow for native speakers who have learned another language, let alone the students’ L1, which seems both confusing and problematic. Surely an L1 user of English can be a nice model for her (as an example) Czech speaking students if she uses Czech to a high level. In this case, she is admittedly not an imitable model of a successful learner of English but is perhaps a good (and imitable) model of a language learner. The teacher I just described would, of course, also benefit from the ability to use the students’ mother tongue, albeit not as a mother tongue. By simply believing native speakers are capable of learning other languages and even the students’ L1 I think  we have called points F and A into question.

Anticipating language difficulties, as in point D, is not something only NNESTs can do, is it? I can see how knowing the students’ L1 could be helpful here but I don’t think it is the only factor. What about training? What about thorough planning? What about experience and reflecting on experience? What about a knowledge of language and second language acquisition? What about knowing our students and having strategies and techniques to know them and their abilities? I think these are key factors in teachers anticipating language difficulties and more important than the simple fact of the teacher’s L1. On a personal level I’d like to think that all those hours I spent in pain with About Language were not in vain. I’d like think that this experience and knowledge can be and has been helpful for my students.

Point E reads, ”Non-NESTS can be more empathetic to the needs and problems of their learners.” Sure they can be. So can men. And women. And physics teachers. And math teachers. And teachers born on Tuesdays. Or left-handed teachers. Or not. I don’t think this category makes much sense and I don’t think NNESTs have a monopoly on empathy. Could we agree that this comes down to more individual and personal factors?

Just like empathy, I don’t think NNESTs inherently have a greater ability to teach learning strategies or information about the English language. Nor do I think NESTS do. There are variations about the degree of knowledge in these areas that vary widely and wildly and are not necessarily based on the teacher’s L1. I have personally met many native speakers armed with a thorough knowledge of learning strategies and way for effectively highlighting and teaching these. I have met NNESTs with very limited knowledge in these areas. I have also met NNESTs who were convinced their way of learning English was the only way and I have watched as they forcibly and to my mind unsuccessfully pushed these ways on students. I am not indicting all NNESTS for this, because that would be silly. It is just something I have seen. I have met NNESTS with wide knowledge of learning strategies. I have also met NNESTS with an incredibly deep knowledge on the English language and NESTS without. And vice versa. And all points between.

I don’t mean to disregard or disrespect the work that English teachers around the world (the vast majority of them NNESTs) do and I surely don’t want to ignore the efforts many have made to become successful users of English. From my view, the idea that native speakers are automatically better teachers is equally as wrong as the idea they are automatically worse in the areas listed above. Likewise, I don’t think NESTS are inherently better or worse at teaching speaking or listening nor do I think NNESTS are inherently better or worse at teaching grammar or learning strategies. I don’t think anyone is a better or worse teacher based only on their mother tongue. I hope I provided at least some food for thought here without sounding like someone who is whining and defending the reputations of a group that probably doesn’t need much defending. I thank you very much for reading and I thank Marek for offering me the chance to share some thoughts here. I am looking forward to continuing the discussion in the comments.”

Michael Griffin, currently working in the Graduate School of International Studies at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, has been in the ELT field for nearly 15 years. In that time he has held a wide variety of positions and titles including cover instructor, curriculum designer, teacher-trainer, trainer-trainer, general layabout, English camp instructor, and Assistant Director. He is actively involved in #KELTchat and is an #iTDi mentor. You can read his blog here and is @michaelegriffin on Twitter.

Interview with Peter Medgyes

So here it is – the interview with Peter Medgyes, as promised in the previous post, where I briefly introduced him and his work.

I’m really thrilled that Peter agreed to be interviewed for our blog, and I’d like to once again thank him for it here. Hopefully, we’ll get more opportunities in the future to talk to him and other advocates of equity in TEFL.

Once you’ve read the interview, we’d love to hear from you. What do you think about the answers? Do you (dis)agree with any? How would you have answered the questions? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

1.TEFL Equity Advocates: Thanks a lot for agreeing to be interviewed, Peter. We’d like to start off our discussion by talking about the problem of discriminatory job ads. It seems that the majority of EFL posts advertised are for NESTs (Native English Speaker Teachers) only. Many language schools prefer hiring NESTs (despite the fact that in the EU it is illegal to do so) because of the supposed ‘market demand’, i.e. students want to have classes with native speakers. Do you think this market demand is real? If so, what caused it in the first place? If not, why do so many schools continue to advertise for native speakers only?

Peter Medgyes: Marek, you lead in with „many language schools”. The question is how many – the majority? Anyway, which countries are we talking about? Poland,  Brazil, Sri Lanka? Mind you, I’m aware that in a lot of countries posts are advertised for native speakers only. „Non-NESTs need not apply,” they say. There may be two reasons behind this policy. One is that NESTs are a scarcity article. Let me take my own country to explain what I mean. In Hungary most language schools employ just a couple of NESTs, if any at all. There may well be a market demand for more, but most language schools can’t afford to pay NEST salaries which are a lot higher than what local teachers get. Why? Because buying a wombat for the Budapest zoo costs more than snaring a fox – wombats have to be imported from Australia, foxes are indigenous. All I’m getting at is that unfair treatment is not necessarily a real issue and the situation worldwide is far more diverse and complicated than it appears to be. Our present knowledge is only skin-deep.

2. What can we do to change these perceptions? Could you indicate what, in your opinion, various stakeholders (NNESTs, NESTs and a language schools/recruiters) should each do to fight discrimination? If possible, you might also tell us why, in your opinion, NESTs or recruiters should care….. after all, it might be said they’re benefiting from the status quo.

Thanks for this question because this leads on to the second reason why schools tend to be so… how shall I put it… native-prone. They assume that someone who was „born” to be a native speaker of English should be more capable than another person who happened to be „born” into a different language community. Now this reasoning is obviously wrong! Today there’s ample empirical evidence that non-NESTs are not shoddy articles compared to NESTs. We know all too well that both groups have their strengths and weaknesses, and neither is better than the other.
OK, but how can we change this erroneous perception? To begin with, we all know that prejudices are notoriously difficult to change. What fills me with cautious optimism is that our main clients, the language learners, don’t necessarily share this prejudice. Many of them see quite clearly that both groups of teachers have their pros and cons and therefore learners are better off if they can have a taste of both this and that.

3. This brings me to the article you presented this year at IH DoS conference this January, which can be found in the Articles and Posts page. Your second set of hypotheses assumes that nNESTs know the students’ L1, i.e. they’re a teacher in their home country. What happens if a nNEST teaches abroad (in a third country where they don’t know the language of their sts)? Do they lose half of the ‘advantages’ that you outline?  What does that mean for the nNESTs who want to experience the same benefits their NEST colleagues have and enjoy-i.e. opportunities to travel etc.?

Non-NESTs obviously lose some of the advantages they had when they lived and taught in their home country. The biggest loss is that they can’t make use of the native language they shared with their students. But not all their assets are lost. Let me tell you a story from my own life. Many years ago, I was a Fulbright researcher at an American university. Short of enough American teachers, the department chair asked me to teach a group of South-East Asian students whose English-language competence was rather poor. I asked the professor in surprise how a non-NEST like me could teach language skills. Shrugging his shoulders, he said that I needn’t tell the group that I was a non-NEST if I didn’t want to. No way, I thought to myself. I’m not going to lie and give up my identity. So the first thing I told them was that I was a non-NEST, just like them. At first they were visibly disappointed but they gradually got used to the idea and we got along extremely well. When at the end of the course I asked them for feedback, they said that I succeeded in boosting their self-confidence. How come, I asked. Because if you could learn English so well, they said, then there’s hope for us too. The moral of the story is that a non-NEST can be a good learner model – abroad as well as in their home country.
By the way, isn’t it great that there are more and more non-NESTs teaching beyond their national borders? I have scores of Hungarian colleagues who have taken up a permanent or provisional job in some corners of the world. This is certainly a very welcome sign of globalisation.

4. I think it’s fantastic. Hopefully, we’re witnessing a fundamental change taking place right in front of our eyes. Coming back to your research, over the years you have argued that there is a fundamental difference between nNESTs and NESTs, but with no value judgement attached. Would you agree though that while the division exists, many people might continue perceiving the difference as that of superiority and inferiority? Do you think there is no need for a more inclusive approach, one in which the recruiters and students will view and judge teachers based primarily on their teaching skills and language abilities, and not on their ‘nativeness’ or lack thereof?

An inclusive approach is an absolute must, but it can come from nowhere else but the learners who consciously or less consciously experience that a combination of NESTs and non-NESTs is the best solution. What’s more, if the learner demands both types of animals, the school principal will go out of their way to supply them. But obviously this process is a very slow one.

5. Have you any thoughts on what is happening in your home country of Hungary right now? We refer to the fact that it will soon be possible for foreigners (natives) to teach in adult education with the CELTA- but Hungarians will need to have a teaching degree.

In Hungary you must have a university or college degree with teaching qualifications if you want to teach in public education. However, if you are seeking a job in a private language school, you’re not legally obliged to have any of those – even backpackers may be employed if the school principal is stupid enough to do so.

An interview with Peter Medgyes – a teaser

I’m delighted to tell you that Peter Medgyes has agreed to give us an interview! Yey! 🙂

It should be ready quite soon, but before we publish it, I thought it might be a good idea to briefly introduce him and his work here to those who are perhaps less familiar with it.

Peter Medgyes was the first to speak out for the rights of NNESTs in the TEFL industry when over two decades ago he published an article: “Native or non-native: who’s worth more?” in the ELT Journal (click here for the abstract), and then two years later a full-length book: “The non-native teacher”. Both pieces created an enormous stir in the TEFL community. The skeleton was out of the cupboard and he wasn’t going back! As Peter Medgyes wrote himself: “While writing those two pieces, I had the gut feeling that I was going to open a can of worms. However, not in my wildest dream did I imagine that there were going to be so many worms in that can.” (Medgyes 2014 at IH DoS conference)

Since then, he’s been tirelessly advocating equal employment rights for NNESTs, and has written numerous articles and presented at countless conferences. You can find a full list of his publications on his blog.

In his works he has emphasised the strengths NNESTs have, which had until then been largely overlooked and ignored:

  1. “provide a better learner model;
  2. teach language-learning strategies more effectively;
  3. supply more information about the English language;
  4. better anticipate and prevent language difficulties;
  5. be more sensitive to their students;
  6. benefit from their ability to use the students’ mother tongue” (Medgyes: When the teacher is a non-native speaker)

Despite the fact that this approach has been recently criticised by some scholars (see for example A.F. Selvi: “Myths and misconceptions about the non-native English speakers in TESOL movement”) for aggravating the division between the two groups, as well as for continuing to assert NESTs linguistic superiority, Medgyes’ work has played a key role in the equity movement, by openly and publicly addressing the problem of discrimination and giving NNESTs a great sense of value, confidence and pride in their own teaching abilities.

In Medgyes’ own words “before the non-NESTs’ self-awakening process began […], native speakers were in a position of unchallenged authority”, and “many [NNESTs] developed a more or less serious form of inferiority complex. […] NESTs and their accomplices considered themselves not only the sole repository of the English language but also the gatekeepers of ’proper’ ELT methodology. […] Regretfully, we accepted NEST superiority unconditionally, giving preference to import products over home-grown goods.” (Medgyes 2014 at IH DoS conference)

While the problem of discrimination is still a persistent and a widespread one, we have moved a long way towards a more equal treatment of NNESTs, and thanks to the movement Peter started two decades ago, many NNESTs have ceased to feel inferior, developing a sense of pride in who they are and how well they can teach.

As NNESTs we now believe in ourselves and in our teaching abilities, and we see ourselves as equal to NESTs. We are no longer scared to fight for our rights either. Personally, I think this is the greatest legacy Medgyes’ work has left us.

Finally, I must say I’m both flattered and incredibly excited at the prospect of interviewing Peter Medgyes for our blog. If you’re looking forward to it as much as I am, please follow the blog, so you don’t miss the post!