Are ‘native speakers’ better pronunciation models for our students?

This is an important question.

Not only because the answer will determine how we teach pronunciation, but also because it lies at the very core of the ‘native speaker’ fallacy, or the belief that a ‘native speaker’ is always a better teacher, which is so rampant in our profession.

Our gut feeling might suggest that yes, of course a ‘native speaker’ is the ideal pronunciation model (and by extension a better teacher). This is for example what one teacher said in a FB discussion on this topic:

When I learned German or French, I looked for native speakers, because a huge part of language learning is understanding the accent and intonation, and only a native speaker can provide that.

Discuss! 😉

This is just one example, but this comment is by no means an isolated one. I’ve seen countless similar ones over the years.

There is quite a persistent belief, not only among students, but also language teachers, that a ‘native speaker’ speaks correct, right, natural, original (pick your adjective) pronunciation, while a ‘non-native speaker’ has a bad, incorrect, foreign, intelligible, unintelligible (pick your adjective) pronunciation. Therefore, the former clearly makes a better pronunciation model and teacher.

However, the difference between teaching/learning English and other foreign languages, such as German or French, is fundamental. After all, English has gone global. Call it a lingua franca, an international or a global language, but the fact of the matter is that ‘non-native’ users of the language outnumber ‘native’ ones by probably 5:1.

This means that your average student is much more likely to interact with a variety of speakers from different countries for whom English is not their mother tongue, than with ‘native speakers’.

How then do we as teachers help our students be clearly intelligible in these lingua franca encounters? Which pronunciation model should we teach? That is, which pronunciation model will be the most widely intelligible?

For some of us, our gut feeling might still be telling us that a standard ‘native speaker’ pronunciation model is the best choice. That it is this model that our students should strive for to be more intelligible in international settings.

However, just how accurate is our gut feeling?

The other day, completely by chance, I stumbled across this article by Smith and Rafiqzad, published in TESOL Quarterly, and entitled English for Cross-Cultural Communication: The Question of Intelligibility. The article is interesting for three reasons:

a) it’s almost forty years old, but it seems to have gone pretty much unnoticed

b) it’s the only example I know of such a large-scale study into intelligibility in international contexts

c) it can shed some light on our gut feeling about pronunciation models.

In a nutshell, the authors surveyed 1386 people from 11 countries to check their ratings of intelligibility, which they defined as the “capacity for understanding a word or words when spoken/read in the context of a sentence being spoken/read at natural speed” (p.371). The listeners came from a variety of different disciplines (the authors don’t specify which), but all of them could be described as “educated by a majority of their countrymen” (p.372).

The recordings came from speakers from the US, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, India, Hong Kong, Nepal, The Philippines and Sri Lanka, all of whom spoke an educated variety of English from their country. The speakers were asked to prepare, read and record a short speech which would be appropriate for an educated, but not specialist, audience in their home country.

Intelligibility was rated with a closed test which consisted of the transcript of the recording with words removed from it. The listeners had to complete the gaps with no regard being paid to spelling.

Which speaker do you think came out as the most and the least intelligible?

Discuss! 😉

The researchers made two predictions. The first was that the ‘native speaker’ from the US would be the most easily intelligible across the board. Second, the familiarity with the accent would also increase the intelligibility. In other words, a Malaysian speaker would be more intelligible to a Malaysian listener than a to a Sri Lankan one.

Both hypotheses turned out to be false…

Let’s start with the second assumption. Only in two cases (Korea and Japan) did the listeners find their countrymen more intelligible than all the other speakers. This is surprising as you’d expect that the more familiar you are with the accent, the easier it would be to understand it.

Even more surprisingly, the US ‘native speaker’ (who spoke with a standard General American accent) was consistently among the least intelligible speakers. In fact, on average, the listeners were only able to complete the close test with an accuracy of 55%. The ratings from the highest to lowest are as follows:  Sri Lanka 79%, India 78%, Japan 75%, Malaysia 73%, Nepal 72%, Korea 68%, Philippines 61%, United States 55%, Hong Kong 44%.

Another surprising finding is that the listeners were also very poor at identifying the ‘native speaker’. In nine out of the eleven countries, less than 40% of the listeners identified the ‘native speaker’ correctly.

Side Note: I’m giving a FREE training entitled “How to teach pronunciation with confidence as a ‘non-native speaker'”, where I will share with you all my tips and tricks that will boost your confidence a s a’non-native speaker’ and allow you to successfully teach your next pronunciation class. Register below via email:

Or FB Messenger:


So what does this mean for us in ELT?

First, I think one very important implication is that we need to reconsider the idea that a ‘native speaker’ model of pronunciation is always by definition the most intelligible, and therefore one our students should aim for. While this research was conducted in Asia, it seems clear that standard ‘native-like’ pronunciation doesn’t guarantee intelligibility in international contexts. As the authors themselves put it, “[s]ince native speaker phonology doesn’t appear to be more intelligible than non-native phonology, there seems to be no reason to insist that the performance target in the English classroom be a native speaker” (p.380).

Mind you, I am not saying that any ‘non-native speaker’ is now by default a better model. However, what I am suggesting is that an INTELLIGIBLE speaker, regardless of their accent, place of birth or first language, is a better model.

It is a shame that the researchers did not attempt to analyse the recordings to identify which pronunciation features might have contributed to or reduced intelligibility. However, there is more recent research (Deterding, 2011; Deterding & Mohamad, 2016) conducted in a similar context, focusing on speakers from South East Asia, which seems to confirm Jenkins’ (2000, 2002) Lingua Franca Core proposal. Namely, it turns out that pronunciation features such as word stress, vowel quality, voiced and voiceless , weak forms and features of connected speech are not important for intelligibility. On the other hand, consonants, vowel length, nuclear stress and consonant clusters are crucial for intelligibility.

Second, we’re often told that students prefer ‘native speaker’ teachers. Researchers have also found that students tend to rate ‘native speaker’ speech more favourably (He & Miller, 2011; McKenzie, 2008; Scales, Wennerstrom, Richard, & Wu, 2006; Scheuer, 2008). Nevertheless, it seems that at least the participants in Smith and Rafiqzad (1979) study were not able to identify the ‘native speaker’ correctly. Similar observations were made by Pacek (2005), Scales et al. (2005) and McKenzie (2008). In fact, the latter highlights that only the speakers who WERE identified as ‘native speakers’ were rated more favourably.

As various authors note, it is very likely that students idealise ‘native speakers’ and their pronunciation. So when they say that they prefer ‘native speakers’ or ‘native-like’ pronunciation, it isn’t necessarily any real ‘native speaker’ or any real ‘native speaker’ pronunciation, but rather the imagined and idealised one.

It is very likely because we’ve (or at least certain very powerful institutions) worked very hard over the years in ELT to promote, maintain and spread native speakerism (Phillipson, 1992). We’ve also worked very hard at promoting the idea that ‘native speaker’ pronunciation is more intelligible, more correct, better (pick your adjective). We’ve also entrenched this belief through the use of standard ‘native speaker’ recordings in course books. I’m certainly guilty of the latter two.

Side Note: I’m giving a FREE training entitled “How to teach pronunciation with confidence as a ‘non-native speaker'”, where I will share with you all my tips and tricks that will boost your confidence a s a’non-native speaker’ and allow you to successfully teach your next pronunciation class. Register below via email:

Or FB Messenger:

So what do we do?

It seems to me that we have two options.

We can continue promoting the belief that ‘native speaker’ pronunciation should be the ultimate and only goal all ‘non-native speakers’ (teachers and students alike) should aspire to. It shouldn’t surprise us then, however, if the vast majority of students fail to achieve this goal. It also shouldn’t surprise us if they feel bad about their own pronunciation and about having a foreign accent. Nor should it surprise us if our students continue preferring ‘native speaker’ teachers.

Option 2: we can try to move beyond the ideology of native speakerism towards a more inclusive, international, lingua franca view of the English language which would place emphasis on research findings and on intelligibility in international contexts. This shift in perspective might allow us to better help our students to be more intelligible. It might also raise our students’ confidence when speaking in English by raising their awareness of the fact that they can achieve global intelligibility without having to worry about approximating ‘native-like’ pronunciation and without having to lose their accent. Finally, it might help us further chip away at the ‘native speaker’ fallacy that’s still so widely spread and deeply rooted in ELT.

Which one do you pick?

Discuss! 😉


Deterding, D. (2011). English Language Teaching and the Lingua Franca Core in East Asia.

Deterding, D., & Mohamad, N. R. (2016). The role of vowel quality in ELF misunderstandings. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, 5.

He, D., & Miller, L. (2011). English teacher preference: the case of China’s non-English-major students. World Englishes, 30(3), 428-443.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language : new models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2002). A Sociolinguistically Based, Empirically Researched Pronunciation Syllabus for English as an International Language. Applied Linguistics, 23(1), 83-103.

McKenzie, R. M. (2008). The role of variety recognition in Japanese university students’ attitudes towards English speech varieties. Journal of Multilingual & Multicultural Development, 29(2), 139-153.

Pacek, D. (2005). “Personality Not Nationality”: Foreign Students’ Perceptions of a Non-Native Speaker Lecturer of English at a British University. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers (pp. 243-262). New York: Springer US.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scales, J., Wennerstrom, A., Richard, D., & Wu, S. H. (2006). Language Learners’ Perceptions of Accent. TESOL Quarterly, 40(4), 715-738.

Scheuer, S. (2008). Why Native Speakers Are (Still) Relevant. In K. (ed. and foreword) Dziubalska-Kołaczyk & J. (ed. and foreword) Przedlacka (Eds.), English Pronunciation Models: A Changing Scene (Vols. 1-476 pp., pp. 111-130). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.

Smith, L. E., & Rafiqzad, K. (1979). English for Cross-Cultural Communication: The Question of Intelligibility. TESOL Quarterly, 13(3), 371–380.

Side Note: I’m giving a FREE training entitled “How to teach pronunciation with confidence as a ‘non-native speaker'”, where I will share with you all my tips and tricks that will boost your confidence a s a’non-native speaker’ and allow you to successfully teach your next pronunciation class. Register below via email:

Or FB Messenger:

Native and non-native speaker teachers in Spain by Ben Greensmith

[From the editor: this post was originally published on this blog, and is republished here with the permission of the authors]

The battle rages in Spain between natives and non-natives. The streets run with blood and Euros fly out of the hands of desperate parents looking for a good teacher for their precious little ones. Working and toiling together in Spain as a native and non-native pair has given us an interesting insight into how the two, completely random coincidences of where you are born, are seen and in turn respected/disrespected in Spain. A little background to the situation, for prospective teachers:

Countless times have we seen teachers refused jobs or not even given a job due to them being ‘non-native’. A case in point; myself a native Greek with a CELTA (B) with 3 years experience have been passed over for multiple positions simply because of the elephant in the room. What is driving this cult of the native is, as one director said “The parents want their children to be taught by natives” So, the parents push the idea and of course the academies have to oblige. This makes business sense but does it give the students the best experience, in this supposed meritocracy? It is easy to sound bitter about such a matter but one cannot fault an academy for providing a service suited to what the payers want. It’s business and perhaps that is that.

However, an interesting point to note is that in private classes the parents in Spain are more than happy to employ a ‘non-native’ if the price is right and they come recommended, as a good teacher to trust in your house with your kids is hard to find. So it is not all one big conspiracy against johnny foreigner, there are positions for ‘non-natives’ and don’t despair because in Spain the private market is strong for ‘non-natives’ with some business nous, and there are of course some academies more than happy to employ the right person for the right job regardless of where your choice less birth, within man-made borders happens to have been.

This gives you some background and perhaps some hope when looking to move to sunny Spain (despite at the moment of writing there being only rain). We want to help start a greater discussion about this topic wherever you may be reading this, so below we list some pros and cons, that we hae come across in Spain, for the age old topic of ‘natives’ vs ‘non-natives’ and your opinions are more than welcome.

Pronunciation, real life vocabulary and the accent

Natives speakers have the accent, they have the pronunciation, and the semantics of the language. This is a built-in system learned from early age through constant exposure, which in Spain is highly desirable for parents, as they believe that it will perhaps rub off on their children who they think will be drinking a cups of tea with their pinky finger sticking out before they know it. Having these skills however, are inherently useless unless a teacher knows how to transfer these skills to their students and also how to focus on inherent language specific problems for example, the ones that Spanish people have when it comes to the English accent and pronunciation. Furthermore, an accent is a double edged sword, it is great to have it but doesn’t a CD also have that and the Internet too. I used to live with a guy from Liverpool and even when toning down his accent I still needed a translator so now, somewhere out there, are a group of Scouse Spaniards, the benefits of which I will let you decide.

Natives on the whole have a stronger vocabulary, especially with those torrid phrasal verbs that one only comes across when living in England, but on the other hand, the system of learning vocabulary can completely elude natives, whereas a non-native has been there done that and got the T- shirt. A well prepared and clued up ‘non-native’ is more than a match for any ‘native’ in the classroom but the Spaniards love a good conversation class where a natives fluidity can really make the difference.   The benefits of such a class are cause for another post.


For better or worse the academies want that prestige. “We have a native speaker” they cry from every Spanish techo. “Come to our language school we have natives” as if they are some Zoo animal worthy of letting your child see if they pay the ticket price. Parents love it too, “oh did you hear that Maria has a native teacher for her child?” NO I did not and I don’t really care. Prestige is everything in Spain and if you live by the sword you die by the sword. If it is what they want then it is what they get, but to overlook a more experienced teacher for the sake of prestige lowers the overall teaching efficiency of your school. The key to getting a job here as a non-native is to play the system. Around the start of the academic term the schools are desperate and also in January when the teachers decide that life in blighty is better than Spain, that is when prestige goes out of the window, and they will hire non-natives and rightly so because they may just get someone to step into the breach and make a real difference in their school as in Spain doing a good job and having the students like you counts for so much more than what passport you have.


There is so much more to learning a Language than just words and grammar rules. Learning about the culture is equally as important as many students use English to access the culture (games, internet, tv) and this in turn increases their love of it and willingness to carry on learning it. With a native speaker an academy gets instant access to this and students benefit from the direct access they can get between language and culture. If you want to learn about food, customs, music, comedy and so much more, a native speaker can reminisce and instruct about theses matters first hand, and really help bring the language to life. This weighs heavily on academies in Spain and adds another string to their advertising bow when trying to attract students, or should I say parents, to their academy. Can non-natives learn all this….? Yes of course they can but if for example an English joke is intrinsically linked to the culture of the people then isn’t it just the blind leading the blind? Or what about Christmas customs, you really need to experience it first hand in England if you want to bring it to life; I am just not sure that reading about it is enough, however I remember the joy of a non-native teacher explaining to me their favourite English music and how much it meant to them that they could now understand and full enjoy it. And this enthusiasm and thirst for cultural knowledge is perhaps something natives don’t have or indeed take for granted. I can’t tell a student about my journey to understand an English song, about how overjoyed I felt when it finally clicked. It is an interesting issue and perhaps one that affects overall learning in a minimal way but it is worthy of a mention nonetheless.

Teaching of higher levels

The dreaded C1 and C2 class can be the bane of any teachers life. It is generally considered acceptable in Spain to give these higher classes to natives. Some academies may do otherwise but in my experience it has generally been like that. What I don’t understand is why I may be put in one of these classes but my fellow writing partner may not be even though she has done these classes herself and passed the exam. She in fact knows more about it than me! I am not so sure that being a native offers any inherent advantage except perhaps in practising speaking fluidity and really getting into the nitty gritty of when to use words and how to say them. But the C2 seems to me to be a purely academic exercise and if you have already got your C1 then go to England and bloody use it, really get down and dirty with the language. Perhaps these higher levels are the great leveller where natives and non-natives unite in head scratching and bafflement at the ludicrous nature of the English language. I have to study to teach these classes, you have to study to teach these classes and whatever inherent advantage I gain from being a native is immediately destroyed when I realise that I don’t know what half these words are and I need a god dam dictionary! So neither side can win this battle and at times we both lose, therefore native and non-native goes out of the window in my opinion and with these classes the term SURVIVE becomes more and more germane.

Under qualified

So, here is the scenario, I put an advert up for my teaching services at a reasonable price. I listed my qualifications and experience and the fact of course that I am native. I get a few classes from it no problem then to my horror I find that a friend of a friend who works as an assistant teacher in a school is charging more than me and has a sum total of zero qualifications/ experience. Then to top it all off said friend comes in to tell me that he now has a B2 exam class under his instruction and calmly asks ‘ is that a difficult level?’ ‘do they use a book for it?’ and other such questions that make me question all remaining faith I have in the Spanish system. At closer inspection of the website, I then find that a non-native university student, in the town, is charging twice as much as me and in her advert liberally smashes native speakers, with famous quotes from people I’ve never heard of…. that is her whole advert.

What is going on? This is where the moot divisions of who is better meet reality. Every boss is different and so many of them are hoodwinked into thinking they are getting a decent teacher because said teacher struts in and says ‘I am a native and I can teach….’ well welcome aboard I guess. I honestly feel sorry for parents too, who want to find and do the best for their kids, who end up with two bit wannabe teachers. The system here is broken and I don’t know how you can fix it.

The CELTA means diddly squat to parents and when there aren’t enough teachers you can find yourself working alongside someone in an Academy whose only qualification is an American passport. These people in turn push out Spanish native English teachers, who have to work twice as hard to get work and must feel quite appalled when walking past an English academy with a bundle of qualifications in hand, only to see a group of people at the window waving passports at them; an exaggeration but an analogy that sums up the system here quite well. It is not that natives triumph here it is that people with no qualifications to teach are given jobs, paid more than Spanish teachers and quite frankly turn the teaching of English in to one big farce. Some people need to realise that nationality may in fact have little to do with quality and that this nonsense doesn’t pass in any country where English is spoken with a shred of decency.

To conclude this divisive affair, it is fair to say that regardless of where you are from, there are good teachers and bad teachers, teachers who work hard and teachers who don’t. Who is better than whom is a debate that will rage on as long as the market favours one over the other. Don’t be discouraged from applying for a position in Spain as a ‘non-native’, be confident and fight for it. We’ve both worked alongside countless natives and non-natives all with unique strengths and weaknesses as teachers. There is much we can learn from people who were born into English and people who have studied it for most of their lives, a mix of the two in one academy can only lead to success in our most humbled opinion.

If you enjoyed our first blog post then wherever you find this start a conversation about natives vs non-natives in your country. We are interested to know the thought processes behind it in your country and we also like to read internet arguments.

ben greensmithTeaching in Spain: An Englishman and a Greek is written by two teachers in Northern Spain. With 6 and a half years experience between them, they want to share some of their experiences on the good bits and bad bits of working/living in Spain. They offer cautionary tales, advice and talking points in an attempt to start a discussion about teaching in Spain and maybe in some way change it.

Native Speakers aren't better – so don't believe it by Elly Setterfield

[Note from the editor: this post was originally published on Elly’s blog here and is republished here with the full consent of the author]

When I started my blog The Best Ticher, I foolishly assumed that I was writing for an audience like my younger self: British (or perhaps American), relatively young (maybe one or two years out of university) who’d taken a TEFL course at least in part because it seemed like a good idea… and then who headed abroad to teach reluctant and terrified. I’ve realised however as my readership has grown that this is only a small part of my audience; there are lots of you out there who are non-native English speakers, working in your home country or trying to navigate the tricky world of visa applications  and not having ‘the right’ passport.

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher emailed me asking for advice (you can do that by the way – my email is on the ‘About’ page). As I highly doubt she’s the only one in this position, my answer evolved into this blog post. So how can a non-native speaker teacher feel more confident speaking English in the classroom?

Students want native-speaker teachers, don’t they?

The honest answer here is ‘not necessarily’. It’s become almost standard practice for language schools to advertise their native speaker teachers as a selling point, and this has a knock-on effect. Schools tell their students that they should want to learn from native-speakers, that native-speakers are better, online teachers sell themselves first and foremost as being native speakers… and so it’s hardly surprising that students have taken this on board. ‘Native English speaker’ has become just another marketing buzzword (as highlighted by the online advert I saw earlier this week: a ‘native English speaker’ advertising their services as an English teacher, written in what was, at best, intermediate level English). To some extent, yes, students want native-speaker teachers… but this is because they’ve been told to, rather than down to any kind of factual research.
Let’s not forget that in many countries, the profile of the ideal ‘English teacher’ extends to cover far more than native language. A friend of mine (white, native English speaker, South African) was asked to lie to students about her nationality and tell them that she was British. Fantastic teachers I’ve worked with who happen to not fit the ‘fair-skinned’ ideal have had their expertise as teachers questioned and been rejected by students on account of the colour of their skin. The world of TEFL (and TEFL recruitment) is unfortunately unethical and discriminatory… and it’s only slowly that this is starting to change.

All of this paints a pretty damning picture – but as mentioned, the situation is changing. In 2011, International House stated that their schools would no longer specifically recruit native-speaker teachers, and more and more jobs boards (and recruiters) are starting to reject the principle that native speaker equals more desirable teacher.

If you’re interested in some more in-depth reading (and what to see for yourself exactly what students thing, Ahmar Mahoob’s paper offers some real food for thought, including lots of direct quotes from students. You’ll see that in some cases students regard non-native speaker teachers as better than native speakers!

In my experience, students’ first priority is to learn. As long as you’re a good teacher, who cares what your native language is?

For a more detailed analysis of the ‘native speaker preference’ check out Andrew Woodbury’s excellent article.

Don’t native speakers make better teachers?

Think of a renowned scientist or academic. Are they necessarily equipped to go into a school and teach their subject? The same holds true for English teaching. Teaching encompasses a whole range of skills aside from just ‘knowing the language’ – if you’re ever in any doubt of that please watch this comedy sketch by Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington. Would any lesson you teach be more appropriately graded, better structured, and have better explanations than what these guys come up with? Then you already have proof that you’re a better English teacher than someone whose sole qualification is to be a native speaker.


Designed by @teflninja

I’ve spoken English my whole life – but had to work hard throughout my first couple of years of teaching to understand grammar in such a way that I could present it and explain it to my students. It’s all very well to be able to say ‘this is correct, and this isn’t’, but in order to teach a language you need to understand the nuts and bolts of it. Here, being a non-native speaker can actually be a huge advantage, as you’ve likely had to learn the language in a similar way to your students! As a non-native speaker of English, you’re automatically going to have a greater insight into what students are going to find challenging, what they’ll be confused by and what’s actually pretty straightforward. A native speaker will have to research all of those things – or find them out through trial and error.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some excellent non-native speaker teachers throughout my career, and one thing that’s always struck me is how inspiring they can be for their students. At my first school, our Director of Studies was a non-native speaker – who had started her English studies as a child at the very school we worked at. How encouraging is that?! As a non-native speaker, you have the ability to show your students just what they can achieve – because you practise what you preach every day.
As a final note, if you still needed some more evidence that being a native speaker makes you a better teacher, check out what my students said. From time-to-time I always like to ask my students what they think makes a good teacher (I repeated a version of this activity recently with my adult elementary class) – and whilst they have said ‘you must speak English’, no student has ever specified that a good teacher must be British, or American, or even a native-English speaker.

How can I feel more confident?

Hopefully realising that your students don’t necessarily want native-speaker teachers, and that being a native-speaker doesn’t automatically qualify you to be a better teacher is already making you feel more confident. But what can you do to give yourself an extra boost?

  • Fake it til you make it. There’s a lot to be said for acting confident, even if you don’t always feel it. Using positive body language, rehearsing what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, and even simply going into the classroom with a positive outlook can make a real difference in how confident you appear – and ultimately how confident you feel.
  • Build your confidence in the language. It should hopefully go without saying that as teachers, we should never stop learning. Consider studying for an exam (maybe IELTS or CAE/CPE), and above all, practise, practise, practise. As you grow more confident in using the language in general, it follows that you’ll grow more confident in using it in the classroom too.
  • Experiment, be yourself, and have some fun. Being able to laugh at your own mistakes helps! I asked non-native speaker friends and colleagues for advice while writing this post, and this was some of the best advice I was given. Remember that being a teacher is so much more than simply your knowledge of the language, and your students will appreciate your being yourself.

You can find some more tips on how to be a more confident teacher here.

But what if I make mistakes?

I’ll let you into a secret: I make mistakes too! From my early attempts at grading language where I realised I was missing out articles and actually saying things that were grammatically incorrect, to the sleepy coffee-free Monday morning not so long ago where I spectacularly stuffed up a grammar explanation… we all make mistakes from time to time.

If you do make a mistake, be honest about it – much of this advice also holds true here. Then take a deep breath and move on; the absolute worst thing you can do is to beat yourself up over it.

What can I do to improve my English?

First of all, think about what you’d recommend for your students! Teaching gives you a real advantage here, as it means you have a much clearer idea of what works and what doesn’t. If you’re still looking for some advice, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Practise! It probably goes without saying, but to confidently use English in the classroom, the key is practise, practise, practise. Although reading and writing in English will doubtless be helpful, I’d recommend focusing slightly more on speaking and listening, as these skills are what you’re going to be using in class on a daily basis.
  • Watch films/TV/listen to the radio or podcasts. Depending on your work context, it might be difficult to get lots of exposure to fluent spoken English. The internet is your friend! I recommend to almost all of my students that they find films or a TV series they like, and regularly watch them in English. If TV isn’t your thing, how about listening to the radio or English-language podcasts – you can even do it while you’re at the gym, on public transport, or doing the housework.
  • Use English as much as possible. Put all your electronic devices into English, write shopping lists/to-do lists in English, even switch your ‘internal monologue’ into English and talk to yourself (either in your head or out loud) – exposing yourself to the language as much as possible will make you feel far more confident in using it.
  • Teach ‘mock’ lessons. This might be a bit of a weird one, but hear me out. In teaching, some of the language we use can be quite different to what we encounter in every day life, and the only real way to practice it is by teaching. This can help you to rehearse parts of explanations or giving instructions for a task. If you don’t have a willing friend or family member that you can teach a small section of something to, I find both pets and teddy bears to be helpful substitutes (with the added advantage that they don’t answer back!).
  • Take a course. If you’ve got time and money available to you (let’s face it, no one went into EFL teaching in order to get rich), you might want to take a course. If you want to take something that’s specifically aimed at English language teachers, here are some offered by TEFL Equity Advocates, as well as this one by Future Learn. There’s also a recording of a great webinar on language development for teachers here.

How do I get a job with the ‘wrong’ passport?

As a Brit I’m all too aware that I’m not in the best position to offer advice – but I can point you in the direction of people who can.

TEFL Equity Advocates – this is an absolutely fantastic website, full of advice, articles, and resources. This site has been the source of several of the articles I’ve linked to in this post, and I wish I’d been able to link to even more of them! For your sanity I won’t, but please, if you do one thing, check out this site.

If you’re a regular user of Facebook, you might want to check out their official facebook page, or this group for non-native speaker teachers.

Although it might seem like you’re fighting a losing battle, please don’t give up – keep fighting. Hopefully one day in the not too distant future the TEFL world will become one of equal opportunity for everyone.

elly-setterfieldElly Setterfield is an English teacher, blogger and writer. She has taught in private language schools and primary schools in Russia, the Czech Republic and the UK, and is passionate about helping new teachers feel happier, less stressed and more confident in the classroom. When she’s not teaching, she enjoys cooking, running, spending time outdoors and crochet. She blogs regularly at, and tweets @thebestticher.

Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study

‘Native speakers’ are better at teaching speaking and should be given conversational and high level classes, right? They can’t tell a verb from a noun, though, so don’t ask them to teach any grammar.

‘Non-native speakers’ know the grammar better and since they know the students’ L1, they should teach lower levels, right? They’re never proficient enough, though, so don’t give them advanced groups.

Stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudices about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers such as the ones above are rife in our profession. If you join any discussion on the topic, you’re bound to see more than one.

When we talk about native speakerism, we also frequently think that it always benefits ‘native speakers’. They get better jobs. They’re paid more. They get to travel around the world. However, this is just one side of the coin.

While native-speakerism has gained much attention in recent years, the complex ways in which it influences the lives and career trajectories of individual teachers has often been overlooked. So in this newly published paper Robert Lowe from the TEFLology podcast and Marek Kiczkowiak from TEFL Equity Advocates show how things such as geography, teaching context and personal disposition can affect the influence that native-speakerism has on the careers of teachers. The paper is titled “Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study” and was published in the journal Cogent Education. In it, they take an innovative dialogic approach where the voices and personal experiences of the two authors come to the fore.

The article is open access which means anyone anywhere can access, download and share it completely for free. You can read the article here, or by copying and pasting this link to your browser:

And if you enjoyed it, please Tweet it, Facebook it, Instagram it: social-media it around. And leave us a comment here too. We’d love to hear what you think.


Lowe, R.J. & Kiczkowiak, M. (2016). Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study. Cogent Education 3 (1): 1254171. Available on-line:

English as an International Language – lesson plan by Sarah Priestley

This lesson plan can be adapted to any level from Intermediate to C2, depending on the difficulty of the audio recordings you use in the listening stage 3 and the vocabulary used in stage 4.  I did it in an 80 minute lesson with a C2 adult class.  If you’re short of time you could skip stage 2 (the discussion) or shorten the number of tasks for this part. You can download the pdf handout here

1. Warmer

Don’t tell ss the topic of the lesson yet.  Instead, ask them to note down the qualities of a good language teacher. Get them to compare with a partner and have brief group feedback.  Here’s what my C2 conversation class came up with in June 2016:


Interestingly enough, I asked my group whether knowledge of the language was a quality to consider, as I noticed that nobody had mentioned it.  They all said how they simply presumed that the teacher would have this. 

After sharing ideas tell the class that you will return to this topic later in the lesson Now move onto the next stage.

2. Discussion

I used the materials from New Cutting Edge 3rd Advanced page 10 to start a class discussion on English as an international language.  To make it more interesting I covered the numbers in the infographic and got the ss to guess which number went with which fact.  After revealing the answers the ss then did question 2A and B and then discussed question 3. (Answers for Q2 = fact ‘More English words begin with ‘t’ than any other letter – about 25%.  This is wrong.  It’s actually 16%. Fact ‘Doctors speak to simplify communication between doctors.’  This is wrong.  No such thing exists.

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3. Listening & accents

** Before the lesson I recorded 4 teachers talking about their summer holiday plans.  They were a mixture of NS and NNS teachers.  Don’t tell ss about the background of the speakers yet.  Each teacher spoke for about 1 minute [in here we could only share 3 of the 4 recordings].

In class ask the ss to listen to 4 speakers talking about their holiday plans.  The first time they listen they note down the type of holiday the speaker describes ( beach holiday, city break, activity holiday, study holiday).


Then ask the class if they notice anything about the accents or pronunciation from the recordings. Ss do question 1 below.  Then do the 2nd listening task, question 2 below.


Ask ss for feedback on question 1 and 2 before revealing the background and nationality of the speakers.

The teachers I recorded came from Northern Ireland, India and Italy and my students had great fun trying to identify their backgrounds!  I told the class that they are all my colleagues and asked them if they had ever been taught by a NNS teacher.  This led us onto the final stage, 4.    

4. The advantages of NS and NNS teachers

Remind the class of the background of the 4 speakers from the recording.  Now divide the class into small groups and ask the ss to copy the empty Venn diagram below.  Then, half of the groups think of the advantages that a NS brings to the classroom and the other half think of the advantages a NNS teacher has.  After a few minutes show the class some possible ideas and ss now add them to their Venn diagram.

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Bring the class together for whole class feedback.  Link in your warmer to the Venn diagram and ask ss to identify any common points.  Link back to discussion question 3 and ask if ss are more likely to speak/use English with native speakers or other nationalities now and in the future.  Ask them what 2 advantages of having a NNS teacher they consider most important.

This part of the lesson really made my students reconsider the advantages that NNS teachers have.  The idea that a NNS teacher could be a language learning role model was a new revelation for my class.  The fact that a NNS teacher may have a different accent but that this reflects their real life interaction in English was another learning point for my class.

Finally get feedback from your ss by asking them to complete the exit ticket below in 140 characters or less and give it to you as they leave the class.

If you’d like to see a blog post I wrote about spreading the NS NNS word with my teaching colleagues and customer service staff then click here.  If you have any ideas or comments about this blog then post them below and/or tweet them to me at @Sarah_TTrainer .

sarah priestleySarah’s teaching and teacher training career over the last 20 years has taken her to Eastern Europe, the Far East and Europe, where she currently works at the British Council.  A Cambridge CELTA and Young Learner extension tutor, she has trained both teachers working in the state sector and in ELT.  She is currently Coordinator of the Bilingual Education Consultancy Service British Council Italy and teaches adults and young learners. You can follow her on Twitter @Sarah_TTrainer

'The N factor': spreading equality in your workplace – by Sarah Priestley

After watching Silvana Richardson’s IATEFL 2016 plenary ‘ The native factor, the haves and have-nots’ this April I immediately asked myself what I could do to raise awareness of some of the issues Silvana highlighted.  Through meeting Marek on Twitter we started chatting about my ideas.  So, this post is to share with you the activities I have recently done to help my teaching colleagues and customer service staff be more aware of ‘The N factor’.  I hope I might inspire you to do something similar in your organization!1In May 2016, to get the ball rolling, I presented a slot in our monthly teacher 15 minute forum (a CPD event for teachers where teachers have 5 minutes to summarize a teaching idea, an article or an area of interest) on ‘The N factor’. 10 teachers came and for most of them it was the first time they had heard about this area of hot debate.   I highlighted some key facts and figures from Silvana Richardson’s plenary and commented on how our own staffroom was made up of both NS and NNS and that we should all be proud of who we are.  I reiterated this point by quoting Peter Medgyes, who I was lucky enough to hear speak at the EICE Valencia conference this May.


To spread the word to all teaching staff I shared my 15 minute forum slides in an email and wrote a short summary of my 15 minute slot in our weekly teacher newsletter. I also continued to talk about the topic over the next few days and weeks with anyone who would listen to me!

Afterwards, I also realized that our customer service staff might be interested in hearing what I had to say.  After all, they deal with the public every day and a frequent comment they hear is ‘Of course, I presume that all your teachers are mother-tongue speakers.’  I wondered how confident my customer service colleagues were in handling this scenario and how knowledgeable they were of the advantages that both NS and NNS teachers can bring to the classroom.

Our Director and Customer Service Manager were very keen and enthusiastic about my suggestion so in June I organized 2 briefing sessions.  Chatting with a fellow teacher Ania Krzyzosiak, we decided to prepare and run the customer service sessions together (you can download the handout here).  That way, there would be both a NS and NNS delivering the session and 2 brains and pairs of hands are always better than one!  16 colleagues attended and our 30 minute briefing generated a lot of healthy discussion and comments.  I think the Venn diagram activity, where they had to think about the qualities that NS and NNS can bring to the classroom, was particularly thought-provoking and made my non-teaching colleagues consider advantages that they had never really thought about til then.


The exit tickets we collected at the end of the 2 customer service sessions included comments such as ‘More convincing arguments for answering the basic question.’ and ‘Non-NEST teachers can teach as accurately as NEST teachers.’

IATEFL 2016 may be over but Silvana Richardson brought to the foreground very important issues and there is still plenty to be done on tackling discrimination and misconceptions in many organisations and at many levels in the ELT world.  I work for the British Council and we have a global policy of equal opportunity for recruitment.  That said, I still feel it is important to discuss ‘The N factor’ in my workplace.  I hope my small contribution will go some way to continuing this debate and that after reading this blog you might be thinking of how you, too, can spread the NSNNS word!

If you’d like to see some lesson materials for adult students connected to the NS NNS topic then click here.  If you have any ideas or comments about this blog then post them below and/or tweet them to me at @Sarah_TTrainer .

About the author

sarah priestleySarah’s teaching and teacher training career over the last 20 years has taken her to Eastern Europe, the Far East and Europe, where she currently works at the British Council.  A Cambridge CELTA and Young Learner extension tutor, she has trained both teachers working in the state sector and in ELT.  She is currently Coordinator of the Bilingual Education Consultancy Service British Council Italy and teaches adults and young learners.  You can follow her on Twitter @Sarah_TTrainer


'Becoming a successful Business English teacher in Italy' by Chiara Bruzzano

It is all quite funny if I think about it now, with a pile of Business English books to choose from on one side, a pile of email to respond to, and a pile of thoughts to put in order at some point.

I had just come back home and got called in for an interview by what sounded like a great potential employer of Business English teachers in Milan. Milan is known to be the city of business in Italy, so no wonder they’d be in dire need of qualified, competent Business English teacher, right? Little did I know that apparently, what Milan is in dire need of is native speakers of English who also coincidentally can teach Business English. And as I sat through an almost two-hour-long interview, discussing all sorts of fascinating methodological aspects of teaching with an equally fascinating, interesting teacher, I certainly did not expect it to end with a polite and incredibly disappointing “I think you’re a great teacher, but I cannot hire you because of your name and nationality. I would not be able to sell you to my clients”.

Under Creative Commons from:

Under Creative Commons from:

As I try to describe this while sounding as little bitter as possible – and yes, failing miserably – I think back to what brought me to that interview. A semester in London, three years at one of the top Interpreting and Translation Schools in Europe, a year working at Google as a language specialist, a Master’s Degree in TESOL and Translation in England, and a really exciting, however short, career in teaching: a year as a teacher of EAP and IELTS at Aston University, a summer teaching in summer schools in England, a semester teaching in a language school in Spain, and a few months of Business English and online teaching in Milan.

While I did acknowledge that I was quite inexperienced (and I still am now), I would have just loved it if the employer of the interview had rejected me because of my lack of experience. I did not and I still do not, however, accept it on the grounds of my nativeness, or lack thereof: the one single piece of information I did not think I should use (the scholarship reserved to native speakers I got at Aston University) turned out to be the decisive factor I should have probably used.

Coming back to Italy, which is the place in which I was born, raised, schooled and fed pasta (no, it’s not a stereotype, it’s the happy truth), was a turning point for me. I had already noticed a fair degree of discrimination in job ads asking for native speakers, but it got me thinking: was it right for me to pretend to be one, just because people never noticed I was not one? How would this affect me, my personality and the way in which all of this normally has repercussions on one’s teaching?

I gave a talk at TESOL Italy in Rome in November 2015, where I met a bunch of great, like-minded teachers and Marek. He made me reflect on how this type of discrimination is in fact unfair and how it should end.

I have therefore come up with two lists that might not be the best idea (if a potential of former employer of mine is reading, please scroll down to the bottom, where I plan to describe how brilliantly I am doing at the moment), but for the sake of the cause: reasons why I should be hired and reasons why I shouldn’t.

Reasons why I should be hired:

  • I am reliable
  • I am trustworthy (unless you trust me with your chocolate or something)
  • I am active and energetic in my classes
  • I am thorough in my class preparation
  • I have a background in L2 acquisition, not only teaching, which gives me a great insight into learners’ difficulties

Reasons why I shouldn’t be hired:

  • I become easily stressed
  • I have frequent headaches which can sometimes jeopardise my performance
  • I have a tendency to remember very small details and sometimes forget absolutely crucial things
  • I cannot draw and sometimes use the board in very questionable ways
  • I am incredibly clumsy, which I believe can make me look less professional, especially in a Business English environment

I suppose you will have noticed that none of these reasons are related to me not being a native speaker. I know quite a few native speakers who are incredibly skilled teachers of English. I have always respected them and asked for their advice not because of their nativeness, but because of their commitment, personality, background and creativity. By the same token, I do not appreciate a native speaker who will not put any thought into planning a class just like I do not appreciate a non-native teacher doing the same.

To conclude what would probably go on to be a sad attempt to make one of my hidden dreams come true (yes, I would have absolutely loved to be a lawyer, and a wordy one at that), let me describe what I’m doing at the moment. I have worked as a Business English Teacher in Milan for almost a year, complementing it with my interpreting, translation and online teaching work. I recently got hired by a management consulting firm who has trusted me with organising and managing all their Business English courses. I have thus gone full freelance, I have tested and grouped the students, and I will start my own courses, with my own materials and syllabus, next week (good luck messages are more than welcome).

I do not believe I have achieved a lot and I know that I still need to study and work hard to learn how to be a good teacher; I do however believe that I have achieved what I would not have thought possible had I stopped at that first “no”.


If you are reading this and you have had similar experiences, I would like to recommend a couple of things. Firstly, study, study, study: from my perspective, this is what ultimately makes the difference. Secondly, when they tell you no because “you’re not a native speaker”, don’t stop searching and don’t stop believing in yourself. Try to get as many internationally recognised qualifications as possible (CELTA, DELTA, CELTA for YL, MA TESOL, etc.). Brand yourself: Linkedin, local websites for teachers and your own website (which you can create easily and for free on Weebly or WordPress) can take you a longer way than you might think. Keep up to date, develop in your profession, take care of your students, obtain good references from your employers: just like with most other jobs, you are the asset and you can in no way let your nationality of “mother tongue” prevent you from becoming who you want to be. That is, an excellent teacher – or at least one who can’t be trusted with chocolate like me but will still put all the effort into being professional and passionate, and making the difference in the students’ lives.

chiaraChiara is an English teacher and translator based in Milan. She has taught English as a second language in England, Spain and Italy. She has a BA in Interpreting and Translation (University of Bologna) and an MA in TESOL and Translation Studies (Aston University, Birmingham). Her main interests in the TESOL field are pronunciation, comparative grammar, the teaching of listening skills and communicative language teaching applied to business contexts. She’s now the course manager and Business English teacher at a management consulting firm in Milan.

'Cheeky Postcards: Lessons learned from being a trainer on TEFL courses' by Daniel Baines

daniel bainesA teacher trainer, Daniel Baines, sheds light on the alleged advantages of native English speakers as language teachers from his experience on intensive initial teaching training courses. Daniel’s bio can be found below the article.

Intensive teaching certificate courses, or TEFL courses, flourish throughout Europe and a cross-section of a TEFL school at any given time during an intensive course shows an interesting and unique habitat.

In the classrooms: The future teachers, usually a mix of US, British and Australian citizens garnished with a bunch of Canadians and / or New Zealanders and one or two non-native English speakers. The trainees vary in their backgrounds and motivations. Many of them in their twenties, some far from it. Some undergrads, some career changers, some on their Euro trip, some serious, some not so much.

In the tutors’ office: A handful of trainers, trying to grasp the new course, making nerdy schwa jokes, discussing the possible pronunciations of “schedule” and trying to gorge their lunch before the next lesson.

This very habitat produces the native English speaking teachers that schools around the world scream and advertise for relentlessly while the non-native speaking teachers to graduate these courses are often harshly rejected like an uninvited by-product. Native or not: 4 weeks a teacher.

Prague, Czech Republic, a few courses back, week 1 of 4 on the course…

The trainers’ office is in a bit of an uproar because of cheeky Nandos. After their first day of teaching practice the trainees were exhausted and one of the Britons, Jim, gets a lot of laughs from his fellow countrymen for swearing about his inability to get “cheeky Nandos” in Prague. The trainers, two Americans and a Brit are startled. What is a cheeky Nando? What does one do with it and where is such an item purchased? Can it be bought at all? Or is it something you find within yourself rather than on a supermarket shelf? All we could tell was it had to be something desirable after a long day and Jim couldn’t get it – may this inability be extrinsic or intrinsic.  Nick, the Hungarian, laughs.  He’s spent the last 5 years living in Brixton and has been for more than a few “cheeky Nandos”, he says, on his way out into town for “a few jars”.

Under Creative Commons from:

Under Creative Commons from:

Fast forward: Week 2.  A row erupts between the trainees regarding a vocabulary activity designed to raise teacher awareness of small differences in meaning.  It’s a gap fill.  The answer is continually.  All of them (native speakers) bar three (two native speakers and a non-native) get this wrong and this is common, it happens every course, it’s the point of the activity really.  It usually ends with the tutor drawing a timeline on the board and explaining that continuous is without end and continual is repeated.  Not this time, however.  Nick comes to the rescue and casually and clearly explains the difference between them.  “How did you know that?” asks one trainee, mouth agape.  The answer was simple.  He learned it studying for his CPE exam.

Week 3: Trainees chuckle because Jack from Ohio, 54, who’s been living in the Czech Republic for over 15 years now, mispronounced Kanye West’s first name in an attempt to show that he’s as well informed as any twenty-something on the course.  Josh, a fresh from university young Englishman, tells a teaching practice group that he doesn’t actually know the prime minister of his own country.  And finally, to end the week, another row.  This time it’s about modal verb stacking.  Laura, from Louisiana argues that “I might could do that” is perfectly acceptable where she’s from.  This is met by universal derision.  She has more allies later, though, when studying the perfect aspect.  All the Americans jump to her defence to argue that when returning home to discover missing house keys, “Oh no! I lost my keys” is correct and, indeed, preferable to “Oh no! I’ve lost my keys”. Incidentally, Nick sided with the English stating that that’s what he was taught in school and heartily joined in with mockery.  He also knew the prime minister and how to pronounce Kanye, turns out he was a bit of a fan, (at least of the first three albums).

Week 4: Graduation! Happy faces. The trainees attend a so called job workshop where different language schools present themselves as potential future employers. All of them are looking for native speakers. Luckily there are loads of natives on the course.  Nick looks downhearted, and who could blame him? He moved to Prague with his Czech wife to be closer to his young daughter’s grandparents.  He took the course incredibly seriously, was loved by his students and was the only trainee that particular month to earn a distinction.  But apparently the jobs are off limits to him.

Design @teflninja

Design @teflninja

I questioned one of the school directors some time later to ask why his employment policy is so discriminatory.  It was sad to hear the same sad reasons, repeated like a mantra.  He has no problem with non-native speakers, he is one himself, but native speakers have clear advantages.  Non-native speakers are great at teaching grammar because they understand it better, but natives are better at teaching vocabulary because they understand the nuances.  Native speakers are also better at teaching conversation courses, because they know how the language is used and can talk about things related to their culture, which is interesting for the students.  Of course, let’s not forget that native speakers have better pronunciation.

In the last 5 years I have trained over 1000 teachers and when you do that, some things become very evident, namely that these arguments hold no weight.  The examples above, Nick, Jack, Laura, Josh, serve to a series of simple facts.

  1. Native speakers do not always have an extensive lexical knowledge and those who do still have blind spots. I myself had to look up the word palpable after it was used by a Brazilian trainee in class and once watched a very well educated American girl teach a class that both George VI and Prince Charles could be considered ancestors of the Queen.
  1. Not all native speakers know a lot about their homeland culture and culture is so vast, how could they know it all anyway. I’m from a small seaside town in North West England and haven’t lived there for over a decade now. We don’t have Nando’s there, the nearest is 30 miles away, and I’d struggle to tell you anything about the culture these days as I take little interest in it.
  1. There is no one native speaker pronunciation. When I look back to my first ever lesson on my training course I still get a little red-faced remembering that my pronunciation was so hard for the students to follow that I had to write “bus” on the board for them to understand. It always raises a smile watching  students squirm in teaching practice trying to decipher the Glaswegian pronunciation of “girl”.

The biggest problem with this fantastical idea of the native speaker is not that all fit the profile described by the director above, which of course isn’t true, but the belief that somehow no non-native English speakers do.  Obviously, not all non-native speaker teachers have wonderfully rich vocabularies, excellent pronunciation, deep cultural awareness and native-like grammatical control.  There are many who don’t, just like there are many native speakers who also don’t.  Trust me, I’ve seen terrible non-native speaker English teachers, but I have seen equally inept native English speaker teachers. Being a native speaker of English doesn’t make you a teacher of it. Neither does being a non-native speaker of English. What does make you a good teacher is the ability to teach what you do know and, in many cases, a good amount of patience and charisma. Where someone is born doesn’t define their abilities to teach English at all. And I believe we should finally stop asking about birth places.


One of the people who had everything it takes to make a brilliant teacher was Nick, our Hungarian trainee. So, where is he now? After the course he spent weeks sending out CVs only to get either no reply or a response saying they were looking for natives. He came in to see us asking for advice, so I suggested that he go around the schools door to door. Talk to them in person. Let them see how good his English is. Weeks later he came back, this time with a bottle of champagne for each of the tutors. It was a thank you gift. He told us how much he’d enjoyed the course, how much he’d learned, that he’d never forget it. He told us he’d only managed to get one interview and how he’d only been offered two lessons a week for one school. He told us how it had put a lot of strain on his marriage, how his wife had kicked him out because he wasn’t working, how he had to go back to Hungary to earn money again and leave his daughter behind. He also told us his bus left the following morning.  It was a thank you and leaving gift. It was heartbreaking, but all too familiar.  He worked as hard as anyone could to discover that it didn’t matter, because he wasn’t and never could be born in an English speaking country with the privilege of English as his mother tongue.  What are the qualities that make natives speakers the better option? I don’t know, but I’d certainly like to.  Answers on a postcard…

PS: apologies if you don’t get the reference, you might be a non-native speaker! Or a native speaker who didn’t grow up where/when I did. I’m sure you’re still a great teacher either way.

daniel bainesDan is a freelance teacher trainer from the North of England, based in Prague, who has been working in the EFL industry since 2004 and teacher training in some form of another for the last 7 years.  When not training the next wave of Prague’s English teachers he fills his time with teaching, course design, research and writing.  He has DELTA and a Master’s degree in TESOL and his dissertation is published and available through the British Council teach English page.  He is currently working in Nottingham where he is teaching presessional EAP to prepare overseas students to begin their post-graduate degrees in the autumn and generally hating the English weather, but loving the food.

'Native and Non-native Foreign Language Teachers: Tribute to My Teachers' by Anita Lewicka

This post was originally published on 9th January 2015 by Anita Lewicka on her blog and is republished by TEFL Equity Advocates with full permission and consent of the author. You can access the original post here.

“Only native speakers or near-native speakers” – you may often come across such a line in various advertisements promoting vacancies for language teachers. What does “being a native or near-native speaker” really mean?

If you happen to be a native speaker of a given target language, you were most probably born in a country where the target language is the official language. You are most probably this country’s passport holder. You may have been educated following this country’s national curriculum, in which the very target language (being your mother tongue) is the norm. You may have observed festivals, customs and traditions typical of the country of your birth, of your upbringing. You must have used the language on a daily basis, both at school and at home. On top of that, you must be absolutely immersed in the target language (your mother tongue), in your country’s culture and history, which enables you to easily identify with the people of your homeland, their mentalities, their virtues and vices. The aspect of bilingualism, multilingualism is indirectly concealed here but I will stop at this point.

While the definition of “a native speaker” seems fairly obvious, that of “a near-native speaker” or “a non-native speaker” appears multifold and blurred. Behind the notion of “a near-native speaker”, you may find someone, let’s call this someone Agnieszka,  whose mother tongue is completely different from the target language Agnieszka wishes to teach in the future as a foreign language teacher. Besides, you may also bump into an Agnieszka who, having acquired (or studied) the target language in a non-native environment, at some point decided (or the decision was made by her parents) to leave the country of her birth and to go and study the target language in its natural environment. The target language was gradually becoming then, willy-nilly, Agnieszka’s language of communication for her to effectively function in a new community as well as to guide her through her professional life afterwards. Some family relationships may have contributed to Agnieszka becoming a near-native speaker, when the target language, first present in the background, was subsequently (consciously and intentionally) activated.

In reference to foreign language teachers, we may also see one more group, although near-native speakers belong to the group in some experts’ opinions. The term “non-native speaker” may be perceived as politically incorrect and, therefore, “a number of alternative terms have been suggested, for example ‘proficient user’ (Palikeday 1985), ‘language expert’ (Rampton 1990), ‘English-using speech fellowship’ (Kachru 1992), and ‘multicompetent speaker’ (Cook 1999)” (Ali Fuad Selvi, 2011). It is crystal clear that within this category we meet people who have been studying the target language for some time, either at school, college, university or in a target-language country. The use of the Preset Perfect Continuous is deliberate! Non-native language teachers are simultaneous language learners. We, as non-native language teachers, are obliged to continuously boost our language skills and to get our students to boost their language skills simultaneously.

Within the categories presented above, there are prospective language teachers, foreign language teachers. Native speakers are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, in demand, especially in language schools, for individual tutorials, or in translation agencies (usually for proofreading). “Language schools (…) advertise themselves as employing only native English speakers (…) with the excuse that NESTs are better for public relations and improve business. Another explanation is their clients’ alleged needs” (Medgyes,  2001). Near-native speakers seem to be the second best. Non-native speakers are not part of the race. Fair? Well, not quite.

With other advertisements, in which non-native speakers are eventually given a chance in the teaching race, there is a fierce competition. Non-native speakers should usually double (if not triple) their efforts from the very start in order to prove they are also capable of successfully accomplishing the same tasks as native speakers. Peter Medgyes gives a series of interesting questions and activities for native and non-native teachers of languages (in reference section below). He additionally provides a clear table, though at times controversial, based on the previously conducted research entitled “Perceived Differences in Teaching Behaviour Between NESTs and Non-NESTs”. Here, displaying the teachers’ attitude to teaching the language, the author shows that native speakers tend to use a variety of materials, whereas non-native speakers stick to one single textbook. In my teaching career and my having been a lifelong multiple language learner, I would boldly say that it is quite the opposite. It is non-native language teachers who are inclined to be more resourceful, to see a point from various angles, to cater for their students’ concentration span and learning needs. Native speakers as language teachers may very often enter the classroom with no resources at all, just their open minds, which is good provided the teachers are able to hold their students’ interested, are able to extemporize, or are able to skillfully plan, etc. There are some other points in the table which you may find a bit shocking, to put it bluntly.

Looking back at my former native and non-native language teachers and lecturers, I would like to present to you some of them. I still recall my university philology studies: practical English or practical Italian native speakers. Very often their undeniable assets were their intuition about lexis and their phonetics. Their native speech apparatus, formed, drilled, re-drilled in their native surroundings, helped them as exceptional language models. They were able to practise phonetic drills, to perfect their students’ intonation patterns, to easily distinguish minimal pairs, to speedily teach tongue twisters, to demonstrate regional differences. They were able to do so, but sometimes their faces showed how bored they were, how frustrated they felt, etc. They hardly ever gave any feedback, chitchatting with their students instead. You cannot make a teacher out of a journalist overnight, as you cannot make a gardener out of a garden owner during a two-month course. John reading a newspaper in English on a London bus is not necessarily John the Teacher. Giovanni jogging near the Coliseum in Rome is not necessarily Giovanni il Professore. Both of them, before entering the classroom and wishing to become language teachers of their mother tongues, should foremost be equipped with the methodology of teaching a foreign or second language. Teaching is not just a job or a trade. Teaching is a vocation!


Grammar is a totally different issue. My native teachers or lecturers of English or Italian practical classes found it generally extremely difficult to explain grammar points to us. It appeared a real torture for them! Their explanations were often superficial: “it doesn’t flow well”; “we say it this way because we do”, etc. Only when studying in the UK or in Italy did I come across highly competent college and university native speakers. What made them so professional? They viewed a lot of grammatical intricacies through the prism of comparative linguistics. They could speak other languages, especially Latin, which enabled them to see a lot of logical language interdependencies.

It does not mean I did not have valuable native speakers in my homeland, in Poland. I did have some who were exceptional. They taught me at Teachers’ Training College in Toruń. Mary Ziemer and Timothy Eyres excel and the memories of their extraordinary attitudes to teaching keep flooding back to me. Mary was an American Peace Corps volunteer and taught me Academic Writing (among other multiple subjects and the time she devoted to her students’ needs). Her thorough preparation, clear guidelines and extensive feedback were extremely important to her college students. We were obliged to write one essay per week, which seemed painful at the very beginning but an absolutely indispensable skill in the long run. Timothy was a teacher trainer from the UK. Always interested in the world around him, with his uniquely inquiring mind and his enthusiasm about studying foreign languages, he taught me the essence of the EFL methodology. Equally competent and professional was Claudia Fornari, an Italian lawyer, a keen lecturer and a teacher of content-related translation modules with various shades of lexis and contemporary European history in the background. A real joy for me to have participated in her classes during my Italian studies!

Besides those splendid native speakers of English or Italian, I have always had a spectrum of near-native / non-native language teachers or lecturers from Poland. There was Joanna Przewięźlikowska (Ciechanowska), who taught me the EFL methodology in a laid-back,  cheerful and intelligent manner. There was Andrzej Leszczyński, whose American Literature classes were real food for thought; with his intricate questions, never-ending discussions and his apparent love for literature. However, the teaching of Professor Elżbieta Jamrozik is unrivaled for her unique logicality, resourcefulness, multifaceted parallels, and empathy. My professor of Italian linguistics, or practical Italian and of the History of the Italian Language is my real idol! I know my friends share my view and, if given a chance to do so, we might think of the Professor’s Fan Club one day. Professor Jamrozik is a versatile scholar, knowing several languages. In her explanatory notes during lectures, she very often employs spontaneous and natural examples from various languages to show to her students etymology of some words and to get them to remember the lexical items more vividly. Above all, she is full of empathy, understanding – an archetypal good teacher!

Some may say: “Yes, she may be exceptional but in many cases non-native language teachers are linguistically poor.” I would say that a good language teacher is a good language learner. Having studied some foreign languages themselves, non-native language teachers are equipped with their own learning strategies, easily adapted to their own teaching environment. Personally, I have always been more motivated to study a foreign language seeing in front of me a language model who is also a language learner. Since English is our Lingua Franca, native-English speakers tend to forget the existence of other languages. Their attempt to study a foreign language could very often be a real eye-opener for their future teaching. If they only tried!

This is, of course, my personal opinion. No offence meant! There are definitely those who are open to other cultures and languages. Good! I know that the debate concerning the dichotomy between native and non-native language teachers is omnipresent in the contemporary world where IE (International English) is in hip and hype. An ideal cooperation between a native speaker and a non-native one in the teaching process may sometimes do the trick. This article reflects my thoughts and emotions on an apparent discrimination against non-native EFL teachers in a non-native EFL environment, namely in the Netherlands. Just a personal view, with my burgeoning pessimistic attitude to the world around me here…..

One last particular request: give non-native teachers of foreign languages a chance to prove we are valuable trainers and instructors! Don’t worry and start breaking stereotypes!

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja


“The non-native speaker teacher” by Ali Fuad Selvi at: , DOA 7/01/2015

“When the Teacher Is a Non-native Speaker” by Peter Medgyes at: , DOA 7/01/2015


anita lewickaAnita has been a Polish EFL teacher for eighteen years: levels:A1-C2 and age groups: 12-18 at secondary school and 18+ at Teachers’ Training College. She’s been a CLIL teacher trainer and teacher trainees’ mentor; author of coursebooks, tests, companions and manuals for Cambridge University Press; theme- and skill-based syllabus designer; translator; Italian language teacher and corpora multilingui enthusiast. Now she’s the owner of “Friendly Lingua” company in the Netherlands. You can also find her on LinkedIn.


'Living and succeeding as a NNS freelance teacher in Berlin' by Katerina Lanickova

When I was asked to say a few words about my experience as a NNEST (Non-Native English Speaking Teacher), I was thrilled. So far I’d mostly been talking to my friends and family who are not in the ELT industry and while they’re amazing listeners it does make a difference to be able to speak directly to the readers who might be confronted with some NNEST issues themselves.

My name’s Katerina Lanickova, I was born in the Czech Republic and I’m currently living in Berlin, Germany. My main line of work is giving one-to-one and group in company English training, both general and business English. When I’m interviewed by the companies and I’m asked why I think I’m the right person for the job I tell them that (next to the usual things) my being a non-native speaker of English has made me well aware of what it takes to learn the English language and that I can empathize and help with all sorts of foreign language learning issues. After I decided to turn my non-nativeness into a strength and make it a selling strategy, I have seen that this approach actually gets the best results (see this infographic for NNEST strengths).

Of course I didn’t always have such a positive attitude to all this.

The first years of my teaching life were still relatively easy – I was teaching for a language school in the Czech town Brno and while there were native speakers working and living there of course, there weren’t too many of them and the ELT business was booming so I never felt that I had to compete with them for teaching jobs.

I had doubts of my own whether the students would be happy to have me as a teacher when some other students had native speakers. When I was asked to co-teach a B2 class with a native speaker, I did feel nervous but I decided that the best thing would be to just go ahead with it and do my best. Halfway through the semester I found out that the class preferred my teaching style much more, and this was really the push I needed to feel confident about the whole issue. Apart from this, it never really made my classes full of Czech adult learners unhappy or surprised to have a Czech teacher.

Photo: Katerina Lanickova

Photo: Katerina Lanickova

But things really changed for the worse when I moved to Berlin in 2010. This was the time when I started having my abilities questioned simply because I was a  NNEST. Having a university teaching degree and CELTA, as well as a few years’ teaching experience prior to my move, I felt like I was suddenly back at the beginning.

Without sounding too dramatic, it was virtually impossible to get a teaching position at any of the language schools here. For the first time in my life I was getting emails which specifically stated NNEST as the reason for not hiring me. One school actually wrote to me that they promised native English teachers (NESTs) in the contracts that they had with their clients (NB: this practice is illegal in the EU as you can read here).  The policy of hiring only native speakers seemed to be just one of the things that there were to accept about living and working in a new country, along with other rules and regulations that I was learning about. In retrospect, I wish I’d informed myself better about this issue because that might have given me more confidence and power.

Eventually, after more than half a year, I did get an offer. I was so overjoyed when a small language centre outside Berlin asked me to teach for them that a two-hour commute (one-way) seemed like a small price to pay. After this, things really began to improve and the more people I got to know and teach, the easier everything got.

Nowadays, I get more teaching inquiries than I can take on and I’ve certainly gained more confidence about the whole self-employed teaching lifestyle. I negotiate direct contracts with companies and individuals who’d like to improve their English and by a mixture of luck and hard work I ended up giving training in top management and even politics. I have met the most amazing teachers, both NESTs and NNESTs, and what I have learned is really that the whole issue of nativeness is irrelevant and should be non-existent really. It is not a factor that makes one teacher better than another one. I know brilliant NEST teachers as well as bad NNEST teachers, and vice versa.

The non-native “problem” I went through was completely unnecessary and based on no hard evidence whatsoever. I ask myself what it’ll take to get rid of the perceived NNEST/NEST difference in teaching quality and instead draw the attention to the more usual job selection criteria like teaching qualifications, experience, you name it. Good luck!

Design @teflninja

Design @teflninja

Kateriina Lanickova

Katerina is a teacher of business and general English courses and her specialty lies in teaching English for Tax Professionals. She has worked with learners from all walks of life and has experience with creating online-based video learning material. Katerina holds a BA degree in Teaching English, a graduate degree in American studies, CELTA and she’s currently pursuing Delta. Born in the Czech Republic she has been a resident of Berlin since 2010 and loves teaching multicultural classes. When not in class, she’s training for long-distance running events. Her website can be found here and her LinkedIn profile here.