Native Speaker Privilege and Unprofessionalism within the ESL Industry by Kevin Hodgson 

These days, there is a lot of talk about privilege, particularly white male privilege, in English language media.  It is argued that people who fit these racial and gender profiles receive institutional benefits because they “…resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions” (Kendall, 2002, p. 1).  However, others have argued that the term is problematic because the issue of inequity is much more dynamic or overlapping and ignores other important variables such as social and economic class.  A quick perusal of the comments section on any online article dealing with the topic will immediately reveal just how strongly opinionated people are on either side of the debate; it has only helped to create even more divisiveness in societies that are already ideologically separated by an ever growing political schism of conservatism vs. liberalism. 

Seen from a global perspective, however, one wonders why no mention is even given to another form of privilege in the English speaking media, one that affects over 7 billion people worldwide: native speakerism.  According to Peggy McIntosh (1998), white males believe that their privileges are “conditions of daily experience” universally available to all, but they are in reality, however, “unearned power conferred systematically”. Now, couldn’t the same statement be made about people who are born in countries where English is the native language, or more specifically, in Kachru’s ‘inner circle nations such as Britain, Canada or the United States of America?  Whether it is in competition for a career job with a successful international corporation or simply traveling overseas for pleasure, native English speakers, regardless of race or gender, always have an advantage, and, therefore, have privilege over those who are not.

There are many countries in the world, like Japan for example, where people who wish to attend a University must study English for 12 years and then pass an English language exam before they can even take their first course, and then, if they decide to have a professional career such as an engineer when they graduate, they must have a higher level of reading proficiency than the average native English speaker in order to keep up to date with the most current literature in their field. Similarly, in many other countries, like those in the Arabian Gulf, the situation is even more daunting because the person hoping to go to University not only has to pass an English Language entrance exam but also must study almost all faculty subjects in English.  If these non-native speakers then hope to compete for a career position with a successful, international corporation, they may have to compete with a native English speaker for whom a high level proficiency in a subsequent language was most likely an option rather than an obligation (while native speaking university students can focus on mastering their individual subject matter, non-native speakers must also master a foreign language, often one that is linguistically antithetical to her or his own, in addition to their major or study their major in a subsequent language).  Language acquisition requires an enormous investment of time, effort and finance, and the luxury of not having to make that investment is certainly a privilege that most people in the world have not been granted.

Even the simple and enjoyable act of traveling has numerous taken-for-granted privileges for native speakers. For as long as they are traveling to a popular tourist destination, the average native English speaker will not have to utter a single syllable in the local language in order to have their needs met, whereas most non-native speakers are going to have to learn some basic “survival” English in order to get past customs, make accommodation reservations, and, yes, even eat, a linguistic conundrum that very few native speaking travelers have had to experience. Personally, when I travel overseas, I always try to learn some local vocabulary and expressions prior to my trip.  I do this not only because I am an applied linguist and interested in languages but also because I am aware of my native speakerist privilege and try to show a little respect, something very few of my fellow native speakers seem to do.  This has become evident by the reactions of surprise I have received from locals when I simply ask them a one sentence question in their language before blabbing away in English: “Excuse me, do you speak English?”  It really doesn’t take much effort to learn one sentence, but you’d be surprised how many of my fellow native speaking colleagues even bother to do that much when they travel abroad.

Speaking of my colleagues, if native English speakers enjoy numerous privileges studying, working and traveling in international contexts, then Native speaking English language instructors enjoy extraordinary special privileges, particularly with attaining employment; it has been well documented that many, if not a majority of, employers of English language instructors adopt discriminatory hiring practices against non-native speakers (Mahboob & Golden, 2013).  What is not documented, however, but is plainly obvious to anyone who works in this field, is that a very large percentage of these native English speakers are also mono-lingual.  In my own personal experience, I have been working in this field for almost 17 years in 3 different countries, and I can state without hesitation that, generally speaking, mono-lingualism and mono-culturalism are the norm for the majority of native speakers I have worked with or met. This is very disturbing precisely because it shows how much the applied linguistics profession is affected by, and consequently condones and encourages, native-speakerist privilege.   After all, ESL is concerned with not only teaching English, but teaching it as a subsequent language, and, therefore, the personal experience of having acquired one should be a logical pre-requisite to teach; how many other professions would allow people to do a job without any personal and practical experience?  Moreover, having subsequent language proficiency only enhances a language’s instructor’s credentials because it increases their ability to meet their students’ affective and pedagogical needs. Instructors with subsequent language acquisition, particularly in their students’ mother tongue in EFL contexts, are more qualified to conduct contrastive analysis, adopt teaching practices that are context sensitive, and, most importantly, empathize with their students and act as a model of a successful language learner, thereby enhancing student motivation while simultaneously reducing accusations of adhering to ethnocentric pedagogical practices (Hodgson, 2008).

Personally, I would very much like to expose the depth of native-speakerist beliefs within this profession by conducting research on monolingual native speakers with regard to this topic.  However, inaction is less a result of my own lethargy but rather acknowledgement that any such attempt would be futile; it would be extremely difficult to get such people even to participate in such a study, and, if there were willing participants, it would be even harder to get them to do so honestly.  I believe I can assert this claim with confidence because of my experience with my native speaking colleagues over the years, especially when they have discovered my strong feelings against native-speakerism. 

Although the personal anecdotes from throughout my career are numerous, I will share only a few that I feel are the most revealing. Once when I was in an interview for a managerial position and my research interests became the topic of discussion, I was asked by one of the interviewers if my research findings would affect my hiring practices.  After replying in the affirmative, the interviewer then asked me how I felt about hiring all Indian instructors because they were willing to work for so much less.  I understand the point that the interviewer was trying to make, but to me it was irrelevant, and I responded that qualifications should be the main requirement and instructors should receive the same remuneration regardless of their passport or place of birth.  Nothing more about the matter was said and the interview switched to another line of query (for the reader’s interest, I did not get the job; however, I am honest and willing to admit that I may have had other shortcomings that resulted in the final decision).

Another time, after I had one of my manuscripts published, I was confronted by a mono-lingual native speaking colleague who disagreed strongly with my findings and related opinions.  The article in question dealt with the negative psycho-linguistic affect of adopting native speaker models of linguistic competence in English language teaching (Hodgson, 2014).  During the lengthy and uncomfortable conversation, it became evident that this colleague had read only the conclusion (even though teaching research skills at a tertiary institution was part of this person’s professional responsibilities!).  Whatever I said to this person simply feel on deaf ears and I was told very tersely that I was wrong and that only native English speakers are the most qualified to teach the English language.  Realizing it was impossible even to debate the matter with my interlocutor, I ended the discussion by suggesting that my colleague conduct research and then submit findings to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.  Although this confrontation with this person was a very unpleasant experience, it remains an even bitter memory because this person was well known for prioritizing personal financial gain over professional responsibilities by leaving campus during official working hours for supplementary IELTS work.

I mention these two examples because I believe they illustrate the crux of the matter; the affirmation of native-speakerist beliefs, and the corresponding privileges that accompany them, continues to provide unquestioned legitimacy for the financial security of mono-lingual, native speaking instructors in general and the relaxed, professionally inactive ones in particular; so long as both the general public and employers, students and teachers, all buy into the native-speaker fallacy, then the status quo will remain unquestioned, and, consequently, the main qualification of, and justification for, the native-speaking instructor’s professional and financial position will be his or her ‘nativeness’.  However, so long as this continues, we cannot justifiably consider applied linguistics a profession; without a universally accepted system of employment based solely on merit and ability, our profession can only be classified as an unethical industry in which the consumers have been convinced by unscrupulous advertising to buy a lesser quality product at an overpriced cost. 

If the main method to combat white privilege is through reflection and acknowledgement of the privilege and then its abolition (Kendall, 2002), then perhaps this tactic could be applied to native speaker privilege as well. For this to happen, however, it will require acknowledgement among native English speakers about their privilege (which, in turn, will require them to cease viewing division through their domestic lenses (at least temporarily) and see their shared privilege in international contexts), and resistance among non-native learners to support institutions financially that support the prolongation of such privileges.  The issue of native-speakerism has been discussed for decades now, and too many native speaker instructors have unjustly benefited from it while too many non-native learners and teachers have been unethically disadvantaged by it.  It is time to put theory into practice and make applied linguistics the respectful profession it deserves to be.

kevinKevin Hodgson has been teaching English at both the secondary and tertiary levels in Canada, Japan and the U.A.E for 15 years.  He holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics from Brock University, Canada, and his current research interests are in the fields of native-speakerism and psycho-linguistics..


  • Hodgson, K. (2008). Unloading the native speaking EFL instructor’s burden: The correlation between knowledge of students’ language and culture and the ability to meet their affective and pedagogical needs. Retrieved from here 
  • Hodgson, K. (2014). Mismatch: Globalization and Native Speaker Models of Linguistic Competence, RELC Journal.45 (2), 113-134.
  • Kendall, F. (2002). Understanding White Privilege. Retrieved from here. 
  • Mahboob & Golden, (2013). Looking for Native Speakers of English Discrimination in English Language Teaching Job Advertisements, Voices in Asia Journal, 1 (1), 72-81. 
  • McIntosh, P. (1988). White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through  Work in Women’s Studies.  Retrieved from here.


Recording of my Innovate ELT 2016 plenary

This is the video recording of my 10 minute plenary at Innovate ELT 2016 in Barcelona. Some parts of the original did not record properly, unfortunately, so I had to rerecord them at home. Still, I hope you enjoy it and I would love to hear your comments. Below the video, you can read the transcript of the plenary.

If you’re interested in getting involved in TEFL Equity Advocates campaign, take a look at this page for ideas on how you can help.

Plenary transcript

How many of you in the audience are NNS?

And how many are NS?

And how many of you are English teachers?

This is precisely the point I’d like to make today. We’re all English teachers. And if we want to empower ourselves, it can only be done together. As English teachers.

So I have a very simple dream. A dream that one day we’ll all simply be seen as English teachers. That this artificial divide that seems to separate us, will disappear. Become irrelevant.

So my dream is very simple indeed. It’s a dream that soon we will be valued based on what we do best: teach English; and not based on an accident of birth. Because we are all English teachers. And what defines us is our professionalism. Our ability to teach a language that we all love.

So when I look around today, what I see is English teachers. Not NS and NNS. Simply English teachers. I want you to take a good look around you too. We’re a diverse group. We speak different languages. Come from different countries. But there’s one important thing that unites us: we’re all English teachers.

Can you see that?

We’re all English teachers.

And together we’re stronger. Together we have the power to change ELT. To bring professionalism back into our industry.

And change is possible. It is actually taking place right now. This conference is a sign of change. The topics discussed here are a sign of change. And I, you, we, as English teachers, we can become the driving force of change in ELT.

The story I want to tell you will hopefully show you that change in ELT is possible. No matter how insurmountable the obstacles seem. And all of you there have the power to change things.

There was a time when I didn’t think of myself as a NNS. I thought of myself as an English teacher. Call it naivete or innocence. That time is unfortunately gone. It was a happy time when you thought of yourself as an English teacher. But it all changed back in 2011.

I was teaching in IH San Sebastian. The IH transfer list came out and I applied for work at IH Lisbon. What I didn’t know back then was that I was a NNS. And NNS weren’t welcome in IH Lisbon. I received an email that said my CV wouldn’t be considered and I should try another IH school.

I was furious. My CV won’t be considered because I’m Polish?! This was utter nonsense. I was a qualified and experienced teacher who was proficient in English. What else do you want? Well, clearly, they weren’t that interested in qualifications or experience or proficiency. They simply wanted a native speaker.

I was furious. But thanks to an English colleague, rather than smash the computer screen, sulk, or even worse: give up; I vented my anger into an article. Mind you, I’d never written an article in my life. But I couldn’t just sit silently. I had to speak out. IH Lisbon wasn’t going to get away with it. I wanted to go after them.

I entitled the article ‘Nativity scenes’. I sent it off to several newspapers and magazines, and EL Gazette replied saying they’d publish it. Of course with changes. And there were a lot of them. Remember I didn’t have a clue about writing articles. I was just a young English teacher from Poland venting his fury.

The article must have created a bit of an impact, though, because the CEO of IH World wrote an official reply which was published below the article. And in the reply she promised IH would change their hiring policies. Which as far as I know they did. At least officially.

What does this story show you? That if you’re a young English teacher from Poland venting his fury into an article, even a giant like IH will not be safe.

But jokes aside, what I think it shows is that you also have the power to change things in ELT. We all do. As English teachers, we are ELT.

But change also takes time. It takes a lot of determination. It takes commitment. It takes grit. With IH it might have been a stroke of luck. To really change ELT, it will take time.

But it is possible.

Two years ago I started TEFL Equity Advocates campaigning for equal professional opportunities for NS and NNS teachers in ELT. The basic premise was and still is that we’re all English teachers. And we should be valued for that, for our teaching skills. Not for the language we unwittingly picked up as kids. And the stereotypes, the prejudices, they make us all weaker. They divide us when we should be united.

And equal employment and professional opportunities should be important to all of us. Because the current ELT recruitment model disregards professionalism. It disregards us as English teachers. It is based on a false assumption that the mother tongue of the teacher should be the most important criteria.

Since I started TEFL Equity, one of the most frequent challenges I’ve faced is people saying that things will never change. That I’m fighting a lost cause. There’s a certain defeatism among many ELTers. But remember, we, as English teachers, are ELT. And we have the power to change it. To shape its future.

So the most beautiful moments since starting TEFL Equity have been to hear from teachers:

Thanks, now I know I’m not on my own.

You’ve given me the tools and the courage to fight for my rights.

I used to accept this discrimination as a given, but now I know I shouldn’t, and I won’t.

This is what I call empowerment. And a call to action. If we want change, we need to act. We need to make it happen

So if the issue of inequality between NS and NNS in ELT concerns you, do something about it. Write an article. Talk to your DoS. Propose or give a workshop in your school on the topic. Give a conference talk. Or a webinar. Talk to your local teaching association. When you see a job ad that’s discriminatory, comment on it. Write to the employer.

And last by not least, talk to your students. Discuss this issue with them. As I’ll try to show later today in my session with the learners, it’s a great topic for debate. And as teachers we have the obligation to educate our students. To empower them.

English has changed. It doesn’t belong to the English any more. Nor does it belong to the US, the Irish or the Australians. It belongs to all of us, all those who teach it. Who study it. Who use it. It is an international language. A beautifully diverse one.

Let’s embrace this diversity. Let’s speak out for greater equality in ELT. For greater professionalism. For empowerment.

Let’s speak out for us, English teachers.

We are all english teachers

'English with an accent' a reading lesson by Anes Mohamed

This is the third lesson plan to appear on TEA aimed at raising awareness of different issues surrounding native speakerism in ELT. This time designed for EFL/ESL students. Pop back to the Activities and Lesson Plans section every now and again as it will be regularly updated with lesson plans both for ESL/EFL classes and for teacher training . If you’d like to submit a lesson plan, please get in touch here. Always looking for new contributors 🙂

If you decide to use the materials, have any comments or suggestions, please let us know what you think in the comments section. We’d really appreciate your feedback.

About the materials:

This lesson plan was adapted from Module 2 of a 4-level English textbook developed by Anes Mohamed, whose bio can be found at the bottom of the page, and published back in 2012. The textbook was inspired by the problem-posing approach formulated by Paulo Freire. You can download the full Module in pdf here. The materials are suitable for students between Intermediate and Advanced levels.

Lesson Plan

Please note that this lesson plan follows naturally from the listening lesson ‘English with an accent’, which was also developed by Anes, and published earlier on this website here. While you can still use this reading lesson on its own, you might want to look at the listening lesson first to see how this plan expands on some of the themes discussed there.

page 1

page 2

page 3

About the author

anes mohamedAnes Mohamed holds a PhD as well as an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. He has been engaged in teaching English since 2002 in different countries. He is currently an assistant professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan. Apart from research publications, He has developed and published a 4-level English Textbook. He comes at language teaching from critical perspectives. He can be reached via email here. You can also connect with Anes Mohamed on Linkedin here. His first post on TEA ‘Non-academic edge’ discussed the problem of racial discrimination in ELT, while the second was a listening lesson plan ‘English with an accent’.

You have the power to change the status quo

It’s been ages since I last wrote a post for TEA blog, which in a way is great, because it means that there have been more and more post from guest bloggers. The PhD that I’ve recently started is also taking up most of what I used to call ‘free time’, but now is more commonly dubbed ‘PhD time’. However, a recent experience I’ve had prompted me to write this article.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

One of the most common myths (apart from my no. 2 favourite – most students prefer NESTs, but that will have to wait for another post) I’ve heard from people on social media or on the blog here in the last year and a half of TEA existence is that we can’t change the discriminatory status quo our profession is locked in. 75% of all ELT job ads are for NESTs only, that’s the way it is, and there’s nothing I, you, we, or anyone else can do about this. End of story. Stop moaning.

Let me start the rebuttal with this quote:

“racism, as well as native speakerism, only survive if they are constantly reinforced through daily discourses that make them seem natural”. (Ruecker & Ives, 2014, p. 407)

There is no doubt in my mind that because native speakerism, i.e. the belief that a NS embodies the ideals of the English language, ELT methodology, and is thus a better teacher (see Holliday, 2006, for an extensive definition and discussion), has managed over several decades to infiltrate nearly all aspects of ELT, it has started to be viewed as an integral part of our profession. Part of the status quo. Omnipresent, yet invisible. Lurking in the background. But above all, disguised as common sense, completely natural and justifiable.

‘Dominant ideologies maintain their hegemonic positions not because they belong only to people in authority but rather because they are pervasive in much larger discourse formations located in a vast array of communicative practices’
(Shuck, 2006, p. 274)

To give just one example, many countries have strict visa restriction whereby only citizens of 7 countries are classified as NES: the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Such visa restrictions legitimize native speakerism and racism, giving the public and the ELT community an impression that discrimination is legal and thus acceptable. They also legitimize the false belief that English is primarily spoken in those 7 Inner Circle countries. That it is their English that NNES students and teachers should imitate. Mind you, there are over 50 countries where English is the official language, and the country with most English speakers in the world is not the US, but India. While on the other hand, only about 5% of South Africa’s population are NES.

Coming back to the notion that we are powerless against the forces of native speakerism that drive our profession, I’d like to remind you that only fifty years ago segregation was still legal in the US. And a century ago the idea that a woman should have the right to vote was laughed at by most people in the West. Fortunately, things do change. Not of their own accord, though. Nor because those who hold power decide to benevolently rid us of discrimination – of which more often than not they reap the benefits. Discriminatory practices change, because of collective and collaborative actions of individuals like you and me. For as Ruecker (2011) points out:

the inequality surrounding native and nonnative speaker, like the inequality surrounding racial categories, is not a deterministic facet of our existence but rather a discursively constructed practice (p. 413).

A couple of days ago I ended up on Spainwise site, which is an online jobs board for English teachers in Spain. The first few job ads that I looked clearly said that only NES need apply. I drafted a very quick email and sent it to the contact address given on the website. Here’s what I wrote:

I have noticed that many job ads that you publish on your website are for NS only. I wanted to inform you that such language in recruitment is illegal within the EU. On 23 May 2003 the EC ruled the following:

“In its answer to Question E-0941 the commission states that the term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law. The Commission also states its intention of continuing to use its powers to fight against any discrimination caused by a requirement for native speaker knowledge in job advertisements.”

Apart from the legal aspect, such ads also bar numerous highly qualified and experienced NNS professionals from applying for the job, putting into question the value of professionalism in ELT. As far as the market demand is concerned, there is absolutely no evidence in literature to suggest that the majority of students prefer any NS to any NNS regardless of everything else, e.g. qualifications. To the contrary, most studies show that students tend to evaluate their teachers based on how they perform in class, rather than on preconceived notions and stereotypes.

I also wanted to inform you that several teaching associations and online job boards, such as TESOL France, IATEFL World and TESOL International, have already taken steps to ensure the ads on their website are not discriminatory and that they comply with EU law.

I am looking forward to hearing back from you.

Believe it or not, a few hours later I got a reply, and a very positive one too. In short, Aidan O’Toole from Spainwise explained that the registered recruiters can post ads on the website, and that it is difficult to monitor all of them. However, he also said:

I have reviewed all the opportunities currently being advertised and removed any which specify ‘native speaker’ as a requirement. I have also placed the following text at the top of the page so I will be notified of any further infringements by the site’s advertisers:

“All posts advertised on this page must be open to native and non-native teachers of English. If you see an advertisement which requires that the applicants be native speakers, please inform the webmaster ( and the advertisement will be removed.”

I have e-mailed all the schools which are entitled to advertise on the site and informed them of their obligation to advertise positions for both native and non-native teachers. I have also the following message posted on both the Facebook page and Twitter:

“All posts advertised on Spainwise are open to native and non-native teachers of English. If you see an advertisement which requires that the applicants be native speakers, please inform us ( and the advertisement will be removed.” (Aidan O’Toole, personal correspondence)

It’s an important step forward, I think, and it only goes to show that it is possible to change the status quo. It is possible to change how recruiters advertise and hire teachers. While they might still covertly discriminate against NNES, what Spainwise did does send an important message to language schools: hiring teachers based on their mother tongue is neither legal nor acceptable. And we’ll have none of it.

If more [teachers] were to respond to specific schools articulating their qualifications but specifically stating that they will not support an institution that perpetuates such prejudice, they could send a message that these institutions may begin to listen to. In […] engaging in activist partnerships, and involving both NNESTs and NESTs in this project of change, there are great possibilities for more equitable hiring practices in the future. (Ruecker & Ives, 2014, p. 21).

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

I’ve sent similar emails many times. It’s true that sometimes you might not get a reply. But you would be surprised how often you actually do, and that most of the time it is quite a positive one. And there are more and more organisations and schools that have already decided to oppose discrimination in recruitment. The full list can be found in the Hall of Fame here. Some have also agreed to be interviewed, leaving a powerful message of support for more equality in ELT recruitment:

  • TESOL International – read their anti-discrimination statement and watch the interview with Rosa Aronson, the Executive director
  • TESOL France – read the interview with Bethany Cagnol, the former president here.
  • IATEFL – watch the interview with Marjorie Rosenberg, the current President.
  • MELTA – read the interview with Helen Strong, the current Chair.

I’m also convinced that:

NESs and NNESs need to work together to dismantle the hierarchy that permeates the ELT profession. [For] while there may be immediate loss for teachers and institutions from inner-circle countries that profit on maintaining their NES authority, there is much more to be gained in the long-term through raising the professionalism of ELT by highlighting the value of disciplinary knowledge and professional training over NES status. (Ruecker, 2011, p. 417)

What I’d like to encourage you to do is next time you see an ad that is for NES only, or in any other way discriminatory, email the recruiter (feel free to copy my email to save time!). Then comment below giving the name, city and country of the school you emailed, and what the response was. You can also highlight that if the school in question decides to revise their future recruitment policies to give equal opportunities to both NES and NNES, it will be placed in the Hall of Fame here.

Change is possible. And you can bring it about. So indignez-vous!



'Native speakerism as a form of racism' by Kirill Degtyarenko

This article was originally published on 24th November 2014 @ low-throughput blog here.

Racism, as well as native speakerism, only survive if they are constantly reinforced through daily discourses that make them seem natural, increasing their power through making them invisible and less likely to be challenged. Todd Ruecker

Six, no, wait, seven months after my CELTA course, the euphoria has all but evaporated. The reason? Job hunt.

According to the CELTA website, the certificate will “open the door to exciting teaching opportunities all over the world”. What it fails to mention is that even if the door is open, you have to be a native English speaker to go through it.

When you browse through jobs at, you quickly notice that most positions on offer require not just EFL teachers but native English-speaking teachers (NESTs), also known as “native English teachers”. For entry-level positions in Europe, say Spain, the essential requirements are neither experience nor qualification but English “nativeness” and EU citizenship. (In plain English: British and Irish only need to apply.) Worse still, being a “native” is considered… a qualification [1].

Why? After all, there is no such thing as a native violin player, Java programmer, or surgeon. There is no question that violin, programming or surgery can be taught by the professionals in these respective areas. What is so special about language teaching? Neither the mere fact of having been born or grown up in an English-speaking country is a guarantee of proficiency in English, nor even having English as a mother tongue. I know people born in Ireland whose first language is Irish. I know much more people who lived all their lives in England and whose command of both written and spoken English is absolutely dismal. But here you are. Some advertisers go as far as to claim that it is against the law to hire non-native English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) in their school. Uh-oh.  You also would be right to suspect that it is actually against the law to discriminate on the basis of one’s place of birth [2, 3].

I think at least one of the factors to blame is a proliferation of language “academies” (sorry but most of them don’t deserve the title of “academy” without quotes) whose main claim to existence is “profesorado nativo” [4]. They are (rightly) worrying that being “diluted” by NNESTs will rid them of that singular advantage. Mind you, they also excel at blame-shifting. One recruiter, bless him, confessed to me that he himself was OK with my candidature — he wouldn’t tell that I was not a native, um, American English speaker until I told him otherwise — but it is the parents  of the students who demand native English teachers. Yeah right .

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

There are other reasons behind the “nativeness” requirements though. A few days ago I came across the analysis by Todd Ruecker and Lindsey Ives whose findings “confirm the connection between White privilege and native speaker privilege” [5]. They suggest that

commercialization of the ELT <English language teaching> profession allows for stereotyping of and discrimination against individuals based on age and marginalizes NNESTs despite relevant qualifications, thus denigrating the level of professionalism in the field. In addition, by commercializing the ELT profession in this way, recruitment websites rhetorically reproduce power relations at the intersections of race and language background in a few different ways. First, they delimit who qualifies as a native speaker through the use of repeated images of White teachers and text demanding that teachers produce passports from a list of predominantly White, inner-circle countries . Second, they reinforce the White native speaker norm by positioning the target cultures as exoticized Others in opposition to whom the White, Western teacher is defined. Finally, they extend the possessive investment in Whiteness beyond U.S. borders by articulating the cash value that comes with White native speaker status in the ELT industry.

Apart from that, by perpetuating the myth of native speaker superiority, the ELT industry sends a signal to the EFL learners that they will never be able to have as good a command of English as “natives”. That must be demotivating, to say the least.

I have been contemplating writing a post on this topic for a while. I would procrastinate even longer if not for an email I got three weeks ago:

Many thanks for applying for the position of Freelance Medical Editor with Longdom Publishing <yes that’s their real name>. I am sorry to say that we are only hiring native English speakers for this position, and will therefore not be able to consider your application.

Normally, I never answer these emails, rather press “delete” and move on. But that day I couldn’t help it. In this particular case the requirement of “nativeness” it is even less defensible than for an EFL teacher (nobody was going to hear my accent anyway). It took me about three minutes to write and send a response.

Many thanks for your fast response. You may be interested to know that it is illegal under EU law to discriminate against non-Native English speakers, which is exactly what your company does.

There has been no reply so far. It matters not. From now on, I will treat similar emails like this, it costs me nothing and makes me feel good.

  1. Rebuffet-Broadus, C. Qualification required: Native English speaker, 2 March 2014.
  2. Kiczkowiak, M. (Non-)Nativity Scenes, March 2014.
  3. Kiczkowiak, M. ‘Native speakers only’ ads and EU law, 1 April 2014.
  4. Vidales, R. (2014) La ‘burbuja lingüística’ dispara el fraude en las academias de idiomas. El País, 12 June 2014.
  5. Ruecker, T. and Ives, L. White native English speakers needed: the rhetorical construction of privilege in online teacher recruitment spaces. TESOL Quarterly, 25 September 2014.

kirillBorn, raised and educated in USSR, Kirill obtained his Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1992. He lived in Russia, Italy, England, Spain and Finland. He dedicated 20 years of his life to science and spent two years trying to earn his living as a dance fitness instructor before deciding that what Spain really needs is another EFL teacher. In 2014, he completed CELTA training. After a wonderful if underpaid academic year of teaching English in the north of Spain, he is back to full-time job hunt. He is the author of several blogs including sólo algunas palabras and Listen, Learn, Read.

'Not That Prestigious' by Marc Jones

Sit comfortably, the recording will start, relax. You have the premium service, provided to you by the dulcet tones of a North American man or a South Eastern Englishman. This recording will last approximately one minute thirty seconds and will be paced at approximately two and a half words per second, slower than standard speech but not discernibly so for you, the learner. You can decode the words, possibly even get taught egonnaf by the teacher which you hear in the recording. The preparatory language course for your trip abroad is going well, you are full of confidence and you are ready to use English and talk to people you meet.

What happens next is unexpected: the locals are gabbling away at breakneck speed and when they do slow down they mangle the vowels, strangle the consonants and wrangle the clustered sounds into manifestations so illogical you might as well have answered in your first language.

We have all had students with this kind of experience yet how many of us have access to materials for the classroom with the kind of accents that our students are likely to encounter when they use their English? In this era of English as a Lingua Franca, the so-called prestige accents and dialects are still the main feature in classroom listening materials. The question is, why? There are so many cultural questions being raised about the whitewashing of Hollywood and othering of different races and nationalities through tokenism or comedy. There are not many textbooks in Asia that focus primarily on understanding other Asians speak English yet this is the main community that many of my Japanese students of English come into contact with. The number of my students coming into contact with Americans, Australians or British outside the language classroom is lower than contact with Vietnamese, Thais or Indians yet the presence of speakers from these locales is negligible. Add to this the fact that contact with people from inner-circle countries is not limited to those from London, New York, Sydney or Auckland and the problem widens further still.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

So, apart from balling our fists and complaining, what can be done? Well, at a personal level we can choose not to use the listening exercises from assigned books in our lessons and instead use alternative, more realistic sources such as . If the listening presents a language point you could simply search using Google with the following: “example language you want using quote marks”

This will then give you items from with said language in their transcripts. Another option is to search for audio and podcasts from the target communities but this is time-consuming and may be fruitless.

This is where TEFL Equity really comes in because only by being respectful and providing recognition of one another’s strengths can we come together to assist one another wherever we are. So, as teachers and just as ordinary people, we could come together and talk to one another. The internet is most people’s de facto living room: could we meet there, chat there and record what we talk about and use this for our learners?

Anybody interested in doing so should get in contact with me here.

marcMarc Jones is a teacher and studying for a Trinity DipTESOL and soon MA Applied Linguistics & TESOL. He is interested in L2 listening, SLA and Japanese. He blogs at and

'Passport control' by Divya Madhavan

Author’s note: I have written this assuming the reader has some familiarity with the notion of critical pedagogy, and thus bypass some necessary definitions on what it is, how it is expressed and what it means for a classroom. If you wish to read more about this, there are three posts on it on my blog; Cultural Capital, The Hidden Curriculum and The Banking Model which might be useful.)

I was recently invited to contribute to the Braz TESOL newsletter on the subject of Critical Pedagogy. I felt a moment’s hesitation at the idea of doing this – should I write about Critical Pedagogy to a readership who live and breathe Paolo Freire’s culture and environment so much more closely than I do? Will my translated understanding of Pedagogy of the Oppressed stand up to those who hold the original Brazilian Portuguese version dear?

And then I thought, of course I should. And of course it will. I didn’t hesitate for too long though because I think it’s precisely the universal nature of these ideas that allow them to transcend and blur barriers. And any conversation on the human condition should be stripped of such barriers.

As English language teachers, we are in the business of managing barriers. The world of English language teaching, learning, assessing and policy-making host environments propelled by power and access. Today, few people learn English for the intellectual stimulation and personal growth of learning another language. People learn English because it’s English, the passport to an internationally-validated identity.


In this opinion piece, I’d like to address our role in managing these ebbs and flows of power in English language learning environments, through the specific notion of critical pedagogy and through the measured rejection of sterile lesson content that leaves the social dynamics of language learning aside. I’d like to work with Freire’s contrast between critical thinking and naïve thinking, where the latter perceives history as “a stratification of the acquisitions and experiences of the past” (1970:73). I’ll argue that history is not a chronological account of what happened before us, history is the story within each of us, and this includes languages – because history is described by language and it is empowered through language.

Passports and frontiers

The spread of the English language has its roots in colonization. It should be possible to talk about this without the hyperbole or hysteria of linguistic imperialism. The English language spread through colonies and empires and resulted in generations of people like me, who aren’t native speakers on paper but don’t speak or write in any other language to this level of ‘nativism’. I have never identified with the discourse around the domination of English over other languages. I reject the idea that we continue to somehow be colonised through language because I write in English and, in so doing, I contribute to the growth of the English language. So unless I start writing in French or Arabic and contribute another body of linguistic knowledge, I will remain in the dual position of coloniser and colonised, and this won’t get me very far at all.

Towards Passport Control

But despite my self-proclaimed native speaker status in English, I am subject to passport control, ranging from race to accent to cultural knowledge, in a host of environments. I don’t perceive this as discriminatory, nor am I accusing anyone in particular. I am just interested in how to manage this in a classroom. How do I represent the English language as someone with little affiliation to any particular English-speaking culture? I am Indian, I grew up in Malaysia, I left for the UK in my late teens, I lived in Austria in my early career and have been a French citizen for longer than any other citizenship I’ve held. I wear my resulting hybrid accent with pride. And I never know what to do when I’m supposed to teach ‘culture’ as part of a language syllabus.

To think critically on the status of the English language is to recognise its historical footprint around us and within us and to articulate a clear position on how this footprint is embodied in our social environments. The historical footprint I carry in me is rooted in post-colonial South East Asia, in a certain reverence for the English language and the old palm oil estates the Britishers left my family to manage. It lies in my grandmother who had very little schooling but an impeccable knowledge of English grammar and discourse and the ability to entertain visiting English expatriates comme il faut. It is this unnamed outside force of ‘English’ culture which we were independent of, yet thoroughly enamoured by. It was a big part of my childhood. Yet, it didn’t make moving to Britain one day any less of a culture shock, nor did give me the confidence of a robust cultural identity as an English teacher, because I’ve never felt authoritative about my relationship to the English language. It did, however, create in me the every day magic of adaptation, which so many of us who actively question our cultural identities have.

What does it mean to teach English?

In the first five minutes of my first teaching job, I was introduced to a classroom full of Austrian teenagers as having “a perfect British accent”. As I launched into the reading of a textbook paragraph out loud, I found myself disturbed by such a curious introduction but soon realised the need for validating my presence in the classroom, as the new language assistant. I now manage the language assistants at my university and part of my role is to give them workshops on pedagogy, classroom management and adapting scientific materials for language classes. In working with them I realise again and again, how difficult it is to establish and manage authority when it comes to language teaching, because of how inseparable it is to culture. And some cultures are, and perhaps always will be, more powerful than others.

A few years ago when I used to examine for Cambridge ESOL. A colleague one day said to me “don’t you find working for Cambridge better than working for other exam boards? It always sounds so much more important when you say ‘I examine for Cambridge’”. The comment stuck with me because obviously neither of us had ever set foot in the grounds of Cambridge University, nor could we boast any academic affiliation to the institution. We were ESOL language examiners who had viewed a series on training videos to learn the trade and then did an online test to validate our ability to judge test takers according to the required standards. Yet we were perceived with a standard that far exceeded our bounds of validity.

What does it mean to teach English? To me, it is partly to reframe the scope of validity, and consequently to shape beliefs on what is English is and what English will be, in the world we’re all so actively building today. It is to contemporise the validity of the language, within our local environment and in celebration of the local environment. Celebrations which are long overdue in many parts of the world, where ethnicity still persists as a criteria for language teaching.

To think critically on the status of the English language in our sphere of teaching, would be to address the set of beliefs regarding English in the part of the world we are teaching it in, and claiming a voice and demanding agency in how this is represented. It would be to address our relationship to what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. Dialogue is one of the most fundamental themes of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and with the discussion on dialogue, comes anti dialogue, which Freire couches within “the necessity for conquest” (119). There is no argument to win when it comes to shaping our English speaking cultures of the future.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

Dialogue and anti-dialogue in the pedagogical space

Reframing right and wrong with a stronger understanding on complex, local environments is an act of bravery. I say this because it is an act of claiming authority by making decisions that combine information and intuition. Critical pedagogy isn’t only concerned with the reversal of oppressor-oppressed dynamics, it isn’t just about the empty-vessel students with knowledge-pouring teachers, it is about dialogue and praxis: bridging the gap between the thinkers and the doers, of reflection and action. “One cannot speak of an actor, nor simply of actors, but rather actors in intercommunication” (110). History surges through society constantly, demanding listening and understanding. Anti-dialogue is when we miss these surges, sterilising cultural identity.

One example of this reframing might be in how we correct pronunciation, and how we set the standard for ‘good’ English. I believe that a worldwide standard of English pronunciation is not what will be, and the harder we cling to RP or Standard American as a yardstick for our students, the slower our work towards fluid and fluent English will be. Another example is in the culture we show in our classrooms. A Greek friend said to me just last week that his son hates learning English because English class is all about Big Ben and The Queen. Another example yet is seizing opportunities to remove PARSNIP paralysis, to take the reins and talk about real life in the classroom, to make the students the syllabus. Good classroom content is a context-specific issue, not an international standard. Praxis isn’t a two stage process of reflection followed by action though, “a critical analysis of reality may, however, reveal that a particular form of action is impossible or inappropriate at the present time. Those who through reflection perceive the infeasibility or inappropriateness of one or another form of action (which should accordingly be postponed or substituted) cannot thereby be accused of inaction. Critical reflection is also action” (109).

Teaching and consciousness

Good pedagogy is this union of intuition and information. I say information and not knowledge because of the real-time sense it carries. Good pedagogy is, in other words, elastic. It changes with the times, it bends and stretches to accommodate that which surrounds it. The original shape it returns to after stretching in necessary ways is not the clear track of an externally determined syllabus. It is the internal, organic and ever-growing aspects of teacher development, teacher intuition, teacher consciousness. When we teach, we seize. Teaching is a project towards understanding whole environments, where problems are interpreted with depth and solutions are found in journeys of dialogue. It doesn’t just raise awareness, it becomes awareness. Conscientização.


Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin: London. (Translation: Myra Bergman Ramos)

divyaDivya Madhavan is a Lecturer in Language and Education at Ecole Centrale Paris. Her areas of interest include, Critical Pedagogy and Action Research. She is the Website Editor for the IATEFL Teacher Development SIG. Divya has just completed an MEd in Education Research, and has an MA in Language Education.

'Drive for Quality Education of English in Japan' by Nicky Sekino


Hello. My name is Nicky Sekino. I think you notice that my name consists of an English first name and a Japanese last name. You may think that I am from an English-speaking country with a Japanese ancestry. The fact is I am not from an English-speaking country but from Japan and with no foreign ancestry. If I may add this, my native language is Japanese. Do you want to know why a Japanese person has an English name? Well, here is the story of what has happened when I was young.

Nicky is actually a nickname, not a real name. My real name is Shinichi, but I use the English name for a reason. Someone gave the name to me when I was in the United States.

During the summer I lived in the country to study English, my school decided to stop its lunch service to shock all students. We had to find restaurants somewhere. My choice was a cafeteria of the University of Houston, which turned out to be a nice choice.

The cafeteria had a huge dining hall and a huge kitchen separated by a long counter table. There were food samples at the entrance. You choose one and ordered it to the kitchen staff. The kitchen staff cooked it and gave it to you. You placed the food and a drink on a tray and went to a cashier who rang up the price. You paid to the cashier, found an empty table, sat, and ate.

My cashier turned out to be a beautiful woman. She was also friendly and wanted to know my name. I said, “Shinichi.” She had a hard time pronouncing it because it could have been her first time to hear Japanese names. The next day I went to the same cafeteria, of course, to meet her again. She said, “You have a nickname.” I said, “What is it?” She said, “Nicky.”

Now, you know why I go by Nicky.

Names are a personal choice, but to educational institutes instructors’ names are more than a personal choice.

An old employer of mine once advertised a program with my name as Nicky to give the false impression that the class was taught by a native speaker of English. They apparently thought an instructor with an English name would attract more clients. The company knew the educational quality would be the same no matter the instructor is Nicky or Shinichi because they are the same person. Why did they decide to advertise the course using my English name then? Was it because of their blind faith in native speakers of English? If so, how about learners? Aren’t they also victims of the same idea? My answers are “yes” to the two questions.

Let me finish the story with three points. The first one is discrimination against non-native speakers of English. The second one is the game played in the English education world when it pursues more business success than educational success. The third one is the need for higher quality of English education.

pulling strings

To address the same three issues, I have established a private association and named it Drive for Quality Education of English or DQEE. DQEE is still new and had its second meeting in March 2015, when we discussed several issues concerning English language teaching in Japan.

Regarding the topic of discrimination against non-native speakers of English, the members’ opinions varied. The most neutral one came from a Japanese teacher of English who runs her own programs. Here is her account:

I run my own English programs and occasionally help other corporations. Some years ago, a company wanted to know if I would teach their children’s class. I said yes and sent in my resume, which clearly stated my Japanese nationality. I was concerned about the fact that I am Japanese because I knew the school wanted a native speaker of English, which was to meet the demand of parents who would send their children. The school interviewed me and invited some parents to witness the interview. Their decision was to hire  me and they offered the same conditions they offered to the previous teacher who was a native speaker of English. So, I have a neutral opinion on the issue of discrimination.

A big contrast to her account was the experience of another teacher who is also a non-native speaker of English. Here is his account.

I have applied to many universities and conversation schools for a   teaching position. Most of them have not replied to me but a few of them have replied to me with an invitation for an interview. During the interviews, I have answered all questions honestly and truthfully yet no employers have offered me a job. I have been thinking about the reason and I could only think that I was a threat to some teachers. I am not boasting by saying this, but I have a 30 plus years of teaching experience, which is longer than my interviewers’. If they think I knew more about English education than they did, they could have been afraid of me.

I do not know if they have rejected me because I am Japanese. It would rather be careless and possibly damaging for the school’s reputation to say, “We do not hire you because you are Japanese.” However, there is an exception to this rule. A Tokyo school has sent me an email letter by saying, “We do not hire Japanese persons.”

A DQEE member reported on a case when Japanese students refused to learn English with teachers from the Caribbean islands, based on their skin color and despite the fact that their mother tongue was English, which is a clear case of racial discrimination. According to Thio, prejudice is a feeling and discrimination is an act (1985). So, if someone is unhappy to see English teachers from the Caribbean islands, it is a case of prejudice. If someone refuses to learn English with teachers from the Caribbean islands it is a case of racial discrimination.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

Another DQEE member was walking in the premise of a Tokyo’s busy train station. An Asian looking man was talking to practically everybody who passed him by. His voice could not be heard because of the distance between the two men. As the DQEE member walked near him, he said, “Do you speak English?” The DQEE member said, “Yes, I do.” Relieved by this response, the man told his story. It turned out he was a teacher of English from an Asian country who had lost all teaching contracts.

He then begged for money for lunch. The DQEE member did not give him money but asked him if he wanted the telephone number of his company, so he could get a job and work again. He wanted money but not the telephone number and did not explain the reason.

When the DQEE member returned to his office, he told this story to his colleagues. His colleagues said he did the right thing and said, “If he was a native speaker of English, all he would have to do is to sit in Tokyo’s coffee shop and wait. People would have come up to him asking him to teach English.” This shows that to a large extent the Japanese are sometimes prejudicial and discriminatory towards non-native English speakers.

One DQEE member, who is a native speaker of English, thinks many Japanese students want non-challenging classes and do not want challenging ones. He also thinks local school authorities are supportive of this psychology. This is why he is “careful about doing a serious class and commenting on unnatural English expressions he heard used in his colleagues’ English classes.” His colleagues are Japanese and they do not seem to be happy to hear his comments. He thinks local governments treat native speakers of English as if they are an amusing addition to the classroom and would not listen to what they think.

Board but not Bored

In conclusion, non-native speakers are, on the whole, discriminated against in Japan. Whether the reason for this is the blind faith in native speakers of English, is a topic for further inquiry. However, if the Japanese respect people who speak English, they should also respect fellow Japanese who have acquired English to a very high level. Yet, in reality, it is the other way round. If someone refuses to take a class taught by a Japanese person simply because the teacher is a Japanese person, it is a case of racial discrimination and DQEE will address it.

nicky sekinoNicky Sekino is an experienced teacher of English. He started teaching the language in the 1980’s and during his 30 plus years of teaching experience he has taught more than 1,800 students. He realizes that many of his students suffer from some self-blame that their English skills are not enough. Therefore he wants to teach English well but also wants to support students who have lost their confidence in the language. He thinks he is lucky to be able to establish a quick rapport with his students and to be able to win students’ trust through his honesty when teaching English. He started Drive for Quality Education of English, or DQEE, whose website can be found here.


  • Thio, A. (1986). Sociology: an introduction. New York: Harper & Row, Publications.

'Re-imagining the non-native speaker' by Sherrie Lee

photo myMarek Kiczkowiak: I’m delighted to share with you here the post ‘Re-imagining the non-native speaker’, originally published in 2011 by Sherrie Lee on her blog here. Sherrie emailed me this post a couple of weeks back, asking if I’d feature it in Articles and Posts section on the website, which I was of course more than happy to do. Sherrie also kindly agreed for it to be reposted on the blog here, and I hope you enjoy the post as much as I did. You can find out more about Sherrie from the bio note below this post. Happy reading!

Re-imagining the non-native speaker

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Advertisements for English teachers often stress native speakers (NSs) in their hiring requirements, thus denying those labeled as non-native speakers (NNSs) jobs even if they are qualified teachers (Reis, 2011, p. 140), as well as reinforcing discrimination against NNSs in their profession. As noted by Rubdy, the NS is privileged “not only in decisions concerning the norms for determining the most appropriate models for teaching the language, but also in recruiting teachers.” In fact, the dichotomy between NS and NNS is “often essentialised by non-native speakers themselves, thus actively contributing to the adoption of such beliefs and their own disenfranchisement” (Rubdy, 2009, 158 – 159). This paper examines the debate about whether the NS is superior to NNS, highlights the global context of the English language, and addresses the challenges for the non-native English-speaking teacher (NNEST). In addition, this paper argues that the NS/NNS dichotomy is flawed for three reasons: i) every language user is a speaker of his or her own unique language; ii) the use of English has expanded well beyond the countries where English originated from; and iii) the NS/NNS dichotomy does not reflect the sociolinguistic complexities of language learning. Instead of viewing NS and NNS as a dichotomy, a continuum should be used to reflect the varying types and degree of proficiency of any English speaker.

Who is the Ideal English Teacher?

 The NS is assumed to be “inherently [a] better language teacher than [a] NNS” (Reis, 2011, p. 140) because the NS comes from a country (e.g. United States and United Kingdom) where English originated from and the accompanying culture dominates in. Apart from the notion that “speakerhood relates to birth within a particular country” (Holliday, 2008, p. 121), the acceptance of the NS as an English teacher is tied up with ethnicity and race. For example, an ethnic Chinese who was born in the United States would not necessarily be considered an ideal English teacher because he or she “doesn’t look right”, never mind that “the birth criterion for being a ‘native speaker’ is fulfilled” (Holliday, 2008, p. 121).

The arguments against the NS as the ideal teacher include distinguishing language proficiency from teaching ability, as well as citing the advantages of having NNS as teachers. For example, the TESOL association, in their position statement (2006), states that “[t]eaching skills, teaching experience, and professional preparation should be given as much weight as language proficiency. … All educators should be evaluated within the same criteria” (in Reis, 201, p. 140). In addition, Moussu & Llurda highlight various advantages of the NNEST. For example, the NNEST, who learned English as a second language (L2) can “empathize very well with their students’ learning difficulties” better than the native English-speaking teacher (NEST) who learned it as a first language (L1). Also NNESTs can be “greatly admired by their students because they are successful role models and often very motivated” (2008, p. 322).

Who is a Native Speaker anyway?

While the above arguments work with the NS and NNS labels, another set of arguments question the very label and identity of the NS, showing how inappropriate and false the dichotomy between the NS and NNS is. According to Moussu and Llurda (2008), “three arguments have been used to attack the legitimacy of the dichotomy:” i) everyone is a native speaker of his or her own unique language; ii) English has become an indigenized language in many countries outside the circle of BANA (British, Australasian, North American) countries; and iii) the NS/NNS dichotomy does not reflect the complexities of language learning in the local context. (p. 317).

The first argument that every language user is in fact a native speaker of a given language means that “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” (Nayar, 1994, in Moussu & Llurda, 2008, p. 316). This dichotomy, Nayar argues, shows the “unfairness of Anglo-centrism, through which English is taken as the only language in the world that deserves attention.” While some view this dichotomy as linguistic elitism, others consider it linguistic imperialism. The exclusivity of the English language is further questioned in terms of the concept of the ownership of English.

Who Owns the English Language?

The central point of the second argument is that English has become an indigenized language in many of the countries where English is not the native tongue but is an official language (what Kachru categorized as the Outer Circle countries) and therefore “speakers of English in such countries cannot be dismissed as non-native speakers of English just because they do not speak a centre variety of the language” (Moussu & Llurda, 2008, p. 317). Furthermore, as English spreads to the Emerging Circle countries where it is used as a foreign language or lingua franca (or contact language), “learners may be producing forms characteristic of their own variety of English, which reflect the sociolinguistic reality of their English use … far better than either British or American norms are able to” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 168). In fact, the number of so-called non-native speakers “vastly outnumber” native speakers (p. 158) such that the idea of the BANA countries ‘owning’ English becomes untenable, thereby weakening the dichotomy between NS and NNS.

What do the Labels Really Mean?

The third argument against the NS/NNS dichotomy is that it lacks contextualization, “on the grounds that it disregards the interdependence between language teaching and the local context where it takes place” (Moussu & Llurda, 2008, p. 317). Evidence from case studies show how individuals who could not easily self-identify as either NS or NNS. In Menard-Warwick’s (2008) case studies , for example, two “intercultural teachers” show how the NS/NNS dichotomy fails to take into consideration their particular circumstances and context. One teacher, ‘Ruby’, is an adult ESL teacher in the United States who was born in Brazil to an American father and an English mother who were both bilingual in English and Portuguese. Her language proficiency in English was not consistent during her childhood but she eventually regained a native-like proficiency in English by the time she finished high school in the United States. Another teacher, ‘Paloma’, is a university-level Chilean EFL teacher who was born in a Spanish-speaking family in Chile and acquired English initially through academic study as a Chilean university and developed ‘near-native’ proficiency after 20 years in the United States. In both examples, both teachers have had deep contact with the so-called native source of English, the United States, and possess the linguistic and cultural competencies of the NS despite not being born in and having grown up in the United States.

Using a Continuum, Not Labels

The three arguments which challenge the NS/NNS dichotomy compels us to use alternative paradigms in addressing the legitimacy, proficiency and relevance of the English that any user possesses, and by extension, compels us to reconsider the divide between the NEST and the NNEST. Since English no longer operates in a monolingual and monocultural environment, the teaching and learning of English must accommodate the personal linguistic biographies and contexts of the teacher and learner. Hence there is no justification for the ideal English teacher to be the fair-skinned expert from an originating country of the language. Furthermore, the labels ‘native speaker’ and ‘non-native speaker’ perpetuate too simplistic a divide which remains largely unexamined and unquestioned by the majority of those who use it.

Instead of using NS/NNS labels, a continuum can be used to account for “all possible cases between the two extreme options, each corresponding to the two idealized notions of what traditionally was considered a native speaker and a non-native speaker” (Moussu & Llurda, 2008, p. 318). I would further suggest that this continuum introduce objective yardsticks such as technical competence (e.g. reading and writing skills), communicative competence (e.g. giving and receiving instructions), and intercultural awareness (e.g. a person asking “How are you?” may not be expecting a detailed explanation of your current state of affairs).


In light of the above discussion, I propose that all English teachers, regardless of country of origin, accent, race, cultural background, be given a new name: culturally competent English language teachers (CCELTs). Following from the proposed continuum, the CCELT can be evaluated against more neutral terms of reference which relate to the real challenges that face TESOL students: to be linguistically and communicatively competent in a global context of English used as first, second and contact languages. In addition, the ideal CCELT possesses multicultural pedagogical skills, as well as multicultural interpersonal awareness and skills. Examples of such multicultural skills include addressing the different learning styles of students of different ethnic backgrounds, and being sensitive to body language and its intended signals when interacting with a diverse group of students.

In nurturing ideal CCELTs, all teachers should look at one another as belonging to a “cooperative learning community and consider their development holistically” (Matsuda 1997, in Moussu & Llurda, 2008, p. 323). TESOL teacher preparation programs and hiring organizations should aim at developing CCELTs who are comfortable and confident in managing competencies regardless of perceived ‘differences’ and ‘otherness’.


Despite the realities of discrimination against NNESTs, the changing nature of the contexts of use of the English language will require all stakeholders re-examine their previously held convictions of NS/NNS labeling in order to prepare English learners for the real world of English, as well as make the English teaching landscape a more equitable playing field for all teachers, thus making the TESOL profession a true profession. Those labeled as NNESTs, in particular, must themselves embrace their unique identity in shaping the English language teaching and learning landscape by demonstrating high levels of competence in language, culture, communication and pedagogy.

Personally, as a Chinese Singaporean with demonstrated competence in the English language, ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ English cultures, cross-cultural communication skills and pedagogical delivery, I am determined to succeed as a TESOL professional by continually demonstrating not just competence, but also how relevant my English language biography is to my teaching context.

This paper was written for a course in the MAT-TESOL at USC in July 2011.


  • Holliday, A. (2008). Standards of English and politics of inclusion. Language Teaching, 41:1, pp. 119 – 130. Cambridge University Press.
  • Jenkins, J. (2006). Current Perspectives on Teaching World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), pp. 157 – 181.
  • Menard-Warwick, J. (2008). The cultural and intercultural identities of transnational English teachers: Two case studies from the Americas. TESOL Quarterly, 42(4), pp. 617 – 640.
  • Moussu, L. and Llurda, E. (2008). Non-native English-speaking English language teachers: History and research. Language Teaching, 41:3, pp. 315 – 348. Cambridge University Press.
  • Reis, D.S. (2011). Non-native English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) and professional legitimacy: a sociocultural theoretical perspective on identity transformation. International Journal of Society and Language 208, pp. 139 – 160.
  • Rubdy, R. (2009). Reclaiming the local in teaching EIL. Language and Intercultural Communication, 9(2), pp. 156 – 174.

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Sherrie Lee is a lecturer at a polytechnic in Singapore. She teaches Academic English & Business Communications and has a Master of Arts in Teaching (TESOL) from the University of Southern California. Her research interests include learner identity, multiliteracies and educational technology. You can find her blogging here. She tweets regularly @orangecanton.

Screening out the chaff? by Nick Michelioudakis

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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