Buy a megaphone: Non-discriminatory language is not enough by Karin Krummenacher

Do you believe in primal scream therapy? I am not going to lie to you: It had not been a great day before I set foot into the weirdly medievally furnished meeting room that would be the backdrop of scenes that made me want to scream. Feeling like King Arthur, waiting for the other parties to arrive I had no idea I was only half an hour away from considering buying a pillow just so I could scream into it to release my frustration.

Spoiler: I did not buy that pillow. I postponed my tantrum to the privacy of my own home, as decent postmodern humans do. And now I write about it on the internet. As postmodern humans do.

Back to the meeting room. The interviewers have arrived. Now listen to this:

Roberta: You come highly recommended by the person who used to teach this course. Do you have any experience teaching English to non-native speaking English teachers in Prague?

Karin: Absolutely. In fact, I specialised in this exact area for the extended assignment of my Delta. The paper I wrote is called Language Development for In-service Non-Native English teachers in the Czech Republic.

Roberta: Oh, really? Well that’s wonderful! Exactly who we are looking to hire. Say, are you from the US or the UK?

Karin: I am Swiss. As stated in my CV.

Roberta: Really? Are you sure? I cannot hear your accent. Lena, can you hear that she is not a native speaker?

Lena: No. Hm. What a pity. I think we need to discuss this real quick.

See where this is going?


I expected them to leave the room, to come back and escort me outside with a made-up shallow excuse for why they could not employ me. Far from it! They turned to each other and started discussing in Czech right in front of me, simply assuming that I, the dumb foreigner, will not understand them. They talked about how it was a shame that I am not a native.

Roberta (turns back to me): Would you like to teach German?

Karin: I am not a German teacher.

Roberta: That is ok. You are a native.

Karin: I am not. My native language is Swiss-German and I am neither qualified nor able or interested to teach any language but English.

Lena: Are you sure you did not go to university in an English speaking country? That could count.

Karin: I am quite certain I did not.

They continued to talk in Czech. The most humiliating, degrading experience of my professional life, I think. That’s when the pillow thought started to take shape. Eventually they turned back around to me.

Karin: No, je to škoda, že jsem velmi kvalifikovaná, ale narodila jsem se na špatném místě.

Baffled looks. They realise I understood their entire conversation.

Lena: Unfortunately, we cannot offer you to teach the course. We need a native speaker. It is nothing against you, really. It is “psychological”. The participants want to know their teacher is a native speaker.

Karin: You realise you have told me that the other applicants are less qualified and that I am the perfect fit. You understand this is discrimination and against EU law, right?

Roberta: No, it is just psychologically. For the participants. We have lots of non-native teachers for low levels. Maybe we could find some A1 or A2 classes you could teach…

Luckily, I am much better off now than the last time I had this conversation. I have a wonderful full-time job as a teacher trainer that I love, I do not need the money, I was just interested in the work as it is an area of expertise of mine. And, as opposed to last time this happened to me, I know my rights. I know Roberta and Lena are wrong, they are mossbacked, they are unprogressive, they are a plague to our industry. And they are smiling at me.

What this made me realise is how easy it is to forget how backward things still are, what the reality of EFL hiring still is, once you surround yourself with intelligent forward-thinking people.

Since my last post for this blog I have done a lot of research, given workshops, published articles, talked at conferences, presented at IATEFL, worked with great minds on the issue of native speakerism. I discussed the topic with the elite of the industry. And it is easy to forget that that is not the majority of the industry. Sitting in that room, being disrespected and discriminated against by two smug language school owners, making the most offensive claims there are, was a good strong reality check.

Do not get me wrong: Not for a second was I ever under the impression we had won our battle. But I had seriously thought that there was much more awareness now than half a decade ago. That people would at least be ashamed when sitting face to face with a person they are discriminating. At least in Europe.

They are not.

can't believe i still have to protest this shit[17491]

Now, to be completely honest with you, I am not a very good activist. I am too impatient and too lazy and do not enjoy repeating myself like a parrot to people who do not want to listen. I am so tired of this. And I have other research to do, other fights to fight, other thoughts to think. I am fed up. I did not even choose to be so passionate about this issue. In fact, the violation of my very own rights has got old a while ago. I am just not very good at this whole thing. Luckily though, I am good at being angry. I might even be the best at being angry. You would not believe my stamina, my passion, the fuel anger is to my actions.

In the words of Miley Cyrus: We can’t stop and we won’t stop.

I will not buy a pillow. But a megaphone. I will be louder, fight harder and ruffle more feathers.

As a very concrete action, I have decided that I will not accept empty talk any longer and be more critical of alleged changes.

I often get job advertisements from language schools in order to share them with my network of English teachers and recently certified teachers. Many of them ask for native speakers. I used to email them back, explaining that would be discrimination, etc. Asking them to change the wording. They usually would and I would then share the ad.

This week I received another request to share a job opening. Stating “native speakers only” on three occasions within the ad. I was about to write back and realised that same school had already received the nice “could you please change the wording”-email over five times. Clearly, they had not changed a single thing and definitely not their hiring practices but were just paying me lip service to get their ad out there.

I wrote to the school that I do not support hiring processes that promote discrimination in any form and that, should they be ready to revise their practice and focus on applicants’ qualifications and experience rather than their places of birth, they could contact me again in the future with concrete evidence thereof. Until then: Find your natives yourself.

Avoiding discriminatory terminology is a great start and a step in the right direction. But it does not end with terminology.

What needs to follow is deeds and a revision of beliefs that lead to discrimination in the first place. It is some sort of evidence of our work when discriminatory language becomes a no-go for language schools but it does not change that they have a pile of native CVs they actually consider and a pile of non-native CVs which then land in the bin.

Honestly, that the word native is now replaced by native-like competency or native-level speaker, to make ads non-discriminatory, shows that there is no profound change yet, just a strategy around it. Our claims need to get bigger. We can not be happy with the bones the industry throws us. We need genuine change.

Buy a megaphone and pack a lunch. This whole thing is going to take a while.


karin krummenacherKarin is a Prague based teacher trainer, international conference speaker, and published writer. She takes an active interest in teacher development and equality in the industry. Her latest research deals with differentiation on initial teaching training courses. Karin does not sound like a native English speaker but like the proficient non-native speaker she is and thinks that is very much the way it should be. Give her a shout at

How to raise awareness of native speakerism on TrinityCert and CELTA courses – by Sue Annan

[Note from the editor: This post was originally published on Sue Annan’s blog here, and is reproduced on TEFL Equity with Sue’s permission. You can read more about Sue below the blog post]

I have been interested in native speakerism and felt sure that part of the problem was the fact that training courses did not offer a great deal of support for Non Native teachers post course. This is, of course, not the only problem needing to be addressed.

In my own little corner of the world I wanted to create change,  if possible, and I consider myself extremely lucky to work for Trinity College, London , who allow a degree of flexibility when  each  centre designs their course.

I started from a position of strength; my school is more than happy to employ anyone with the right qualifications, regardless of nationality. We also often find non-native trainees on our bi-annual certTESOL courses, and do our very best to help them find work afterwards- in fact, often they stay around for a while and work for us, giving them more experience when they do strike out later on their own.

This time in my programme I made room for the changes I wanted to initiate.

On day 1 we finished with a session called Different Englishes in the Classroom, which included a look at ELF. This was to open the trainees’ eyes to the variety of standard and non-standard language which they would be exposed to, and to develop a tolerance for linguistic variety. Language doesn’t remain static in a box, and there is little need for grammar/ phonology police who believe in their own variety at all costs ( I have come across trainees who think like this).

In a session in week 2, looking at Exploiting Authentic Material, I included the teacher as a resource. We discussed roles of teachers and the benefits of having a native/ non-native teacher in a classroom. Agreement was reached that many clients were brainwashed by companies into believing the NEST was the better option, but in reality, there was  no difference if both were qualified to teach.

By week 3 we had started to receive job offers online from a mix of sources. This often happens and in the past I shared them on a job wall without a great deal of thought. This time I analysed the language and was unhappy with the findings. Of the offers available, only 2 had no restriction according to nationality, passport, age or experience.

At the start of the fourth and final week, I set up a job forum. We discussed sensitivity to local conditions, the present roles of NEST / NNEST teachers and other information to help guide them in the world of work after the course. At this point I divided them into groups and gave them the job applications to read. They quickly found the same conditions that I had, so I asked them how they felt. The group had bonded extremely well, and, protective of Madgalena their resident Pole,  were incensed on her behalf. I also had two older ladies on the course who would also be disadvantaged by the criteria stated.

I asked them to draft replies to the emails we had received. They were very clear in their distaste for such advertisements and explained that they believed the companies were wrong to stipulate these conditions, in some cases acting illegally.

Interestingly, they had a couple of replies. One company offered to remove the offending paragraph from their literature, and the other company said that they would henceforth accept each application on merit. Others were not interested in replying, and one company suggested that we keep them in mind in the future, should WE change our mind!

As an experiment, this worked extremely well. It was easy to shoehorn the topic into other sessions, and to create an opportunity for discussion at all times. Having Magda there was an excellent way for the trainees to really think about the issues, and she was their go-to person for help with their own language awareness questions.

I would be happy to suggest that the idea of incorporating such activities into a CertTESOL or a CELTA should be given consideration. It didn’t disrupt my course at all- in fact I feel that it added value. After all, we promise that our qualification will open the world for our participants- not just for some of them!



[from the editor: if you’re interested in similar training ideas, check out this section of the blog, as well as this article by Karin Krummenacher, Dan Baines and Marek Kiczkowiak]




sue annanSue is a teacher and teacher trainer working for a private language school in the largest of the Channel Islands. As well as being an Eltchat moderator, she is a member of Iatefl BEsig’s online team and is passionate about online learning. She believes that we should all make a difference, no matter how small, to ensure equal treatment for all teachers, with the objective of developing professional standards.

Why do we need to talk about ELF and native speakerism on CELTA and TrinityCert courses?

[Note from the authors: This post originally used information stating that there are no initial teaching training courses discussing English as a Lingua Franca or nativespeakerism. However, the Trinity Cert syllabus includes explicited references to ELF as of 2016. The post has been updated to reflect this. Thanks to the attentive readers for pointing this out.]

One of the biggest elephants in the room is that there is not a single initial teacher training course where discussing English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and native speakerism are part of the curriculum. Zero. Nought. Zilch. Nada.

While the TrinityCert curriculum bravely encourages trainers to raise awareness of the emergence of ELF in teaching practice and the learner profile assignment, we still believe more explicit input on both ELF and native speakerism is needed as these areas of knowledge go hand in hand. Fortyunately, we were assured that implementing focus on native speakerism on TrinityCert is something Trinity is currently working on (see comments below).

As far as CELTA is concerned, although there is some mention of varieties of English on its curriculum, and while a successful candidate should “understand the main ways that varieties of English differ from one another”; the CELTA trainers we’ve spoken to all confirmed that it’s entirely up to them whether to talk about the lingua franca/international nature of the English language, or not. To top it off, when we asked the person responsible for providing information about CELTA courses at the Cambridge stand at IATEFL 2017 exhibition whether ELF was part of the curriculum, instead of an answer we got a question: Sorry, but what is ELF?

Naturally, this discouraged us from asking ask whether there was any discussion of native speakerism on the course.

It’s a shame these topics are not a bigger part of the curriculum because when Dan Baines surveyed several hundreds of trainees, teachers, trainers and directors of studies; it turned out 97% of the trainees surveyed thought native speakerism was acceptable. 97%!

This is quite shocking, but not surprising if we’re to be honest. After all, they’re right at the beginning of their careers. And if the teacher trainers on the course don’t raise awareness of ELF or native speakerism, then how are the trainees supposed to realise they might be heading in for quite a discriminatory job hunt (especially if they’re ‘non-native speakers’).

It’s also a shame that there is room on CELTA syllabus for probably the biggest ELT myth of them all – learning styles. According to the curriculum, successful candidates “demonstrate an awareness of the different learning styles”. The learning styles myth has been debunked a zillion times (see here, for example), so it’s a pity that such a reputable teacher training qualification would choose to include it over areas such as ELF or native speakerism, which are backed by volumes of academic research.

The recent debate about the relevance of ELF at IATEFL 2017, where Peter Medgyes tried to convince the audience that ELF is of no practical interest to teachers (and in the process showed his own lack of awareness of ELF research), also proved that there is still a huge gap between research and practice in this area. A gap that I think must be bridged. What a better place to bridge this gap then TrinityCert and CELTA? Not to mention the DipTESOL or DELTA.

With all this in mind, Karin Krummenacher, Dan Baines and I conducted a study which aimed to raise TrinityCert trainees’ awareness of ELF and native speakerism. We presented the results at IATEFL 2017 conference in Glasgow, and you can watch the talk below:

So now over to you:

  • Were these two topics ever discussed during your teacher training?
  • As a teacher trainer, do you already include these topics? Why (not)?
  • Do you think they should be discussed with trainees? Why (not)?
  • How could trainers go about discussing these topics?

Looking forward to your comments.

karin krummenacherKarin Krummenacher is a Prague based teacher trainer, conference speaker and published writer. She takes an active interest in teacher development and equality in the industry. Her latest research deals with differentiation on initial teaching training courses. Karin holds Cambridge Delta.

daniel bainesDan is a teacher, director of studies, teacher educator, researcher and occasional conference speaker and blog post writer.  He is the Trinity DipTESOL coordinator at Oxford TEFL in Prague and shares pictures of his whiteboard on Twitter (@QuietBitLoudBit) for fun.

profile picMarek Kiczkowiak is the founder of TEFL Equity Advocates. He runs face-to-face and on-line courses about English as a Lingua Franca and native speakerism. He’s a frequent conference speaker and has given plenaries at international conferences. He’s currently teaching EAP at the University of Leuven, Belgium. He holds a BA in English Philology, Cambridge CELTA and DELTA, and is now working towards a PhD in TESOL at the University of York, UK. He also runs now a sporadically updated blog about ELT at TEFL Reflections and co-authors a regular podcast about teaching and learning English at The TEFL Show.

'Tackling native speakerism in ELT' – recording of the IATEFL 2016 panel discussion

Finally, we got around to publishing the recording of the panel discussion on native speakerism that me, Burcu Akyol, Josh Round and Christopher Graham did at IATEFL 2016. In it we addressed the problem of native speakerism in ELT; that is:

a prejudice, stereotyping and/or discrimination, typically by or against foreign language teachers, on the basis of either being or not being perceived and categorized as a native speaker of a particular language. […] Its endorsement positions individuals from certain language groups as being innately superior to individuals of other language groups (Haughton and Rivers 2013, p.14).

We addressed the issue from three perspectives, that of a ‘non-native speaker’ (Burcu), a recruiter (Josh), and a teacher trainer (Christopher). Each of the speakers offered practical ideas how the prejudice against ‘non-native speakers’ can be overcome. There was also a 30 minute Q&A session.

For your convenience, the recording was divided into six shorter sections:

  1. Introduction.
  2. ‘Non-native speaker’ perspective.
  3. Recruitment perspective.
  4. Teacher training perspective.
  5. Q&A session.
  6. Conclusion.

For each, both an audio recording and a video with the slides are available. You can access the audio playlist on Soundcloud here. The video playlist is on YouTube here. You can also read the transcript of the whole panel discussion here. The audio was recorded and edited by Mike Harrison (thanks a lot Mike!). You can visit his website here. The transcript was done by Karina Roberts (thanks a lot Karina!).

1. Introduction – marek kiczkowiak



2. Non-native speaker perspective – Burcu Akyol



3. Recruitment perspective – josh round



4. Teacher training perspective – Christopher graham


5. Q&A session



6. Conclusion – Marek Kiczkowiak



'I am just me' – lesson plan by Zhenya Polosatova and Michael Griffin

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

We’ll start off with some comments from the authors, followed by the lesson plan itself. If you decide to use it, have any comments or suggestions, please let us know in the comments section. We’d really appreciate your feedback.

Mike Griffin:

The lesson comes from a mentor-training course conducted with Korean public school English teachers in which participants received input and practice helping other teachers with their professional development. One core aspect of the course is observation and feedback. This is partially done through  is micro-teaching where participants run a lesson for their peers and then receive feedback in a post-observation feedback session from those who participated as observers during the lesson. This particular lesson was used as an example reading lesson and a chance to model the procedure. There was no  real requirement to touch on NNEST issues or anything related to participant confidence or comfort but it just seemed like a nice chance to address these issues. The idea was to use material that would be personally relevant to the participants and get them to think about issues of confidence and community. Other trainers could conceivably use the material and lesson anytime there is a chance to do a sample/demo lesson  to focus on the fears related to using English in and out of the training course. Such a lesson is probably best suited to the first few days of the course when participants might be a their most worried that they are the only one with this type of concern.

Zhenya Polosatova:

Mike, I really like how you described the context/background for the lesson. Something to add is that perhaps using the lesson in the NNS/’EFL’ context (especially at the beginning of the course) opens and encourages the discussion about how the teachers’ perception of their own English helps or hinders their coming perception of and learning on the course. Perhaps especially relevant to the Asian countries, and especially so if the trainer is an ‘outsider’ from the culture/country. It is hard to generalize thought, because the lesson was created specifically for South Korea.

Another possible reason for working with these texts is to model how the choice of text might impact the learners. As Mike mentioned, the teachers were designing a language lesson for each other, taking into consideration the background and interests of the peers, and taking the text was an attempt to do the same as trainers.

Credit: taken by Tana Ebaugh in Daegu, South Korea

Credit: taken by Tana Ebaugh in Daegu, South Korea

Lesson Plan


Teacher (candidates) will be able to demonstrate understanding of the three semi-fiction texts about the teachers’ feelings on a training course by filling out the grid; they will also be expressing their opinions and guesses about the background of the teachers and advice that can possibly help them survive the course and gain confidence in general. In this discussion they will be able to use at least 2 of the expressions/collocations from the texts.


Talk to each other in pairs and answer these questions:

  • You are all English teachers. Have you ever taken any training courses (other than this one) in Korea? Abroad?
  • When was the last time you took a TT course? Where was it?
  • Where were the other teachers / trainees from?
  • How did you feel the night before the course began? And after it started? Mark ‘yourself’ on the line

🙁 ———————————————————————————————- 🙂

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  • Do you think the other teachers on that course had the same feelings?

Reading 1

(T notes: only text A for everyone, see below, handout folded – 2-3 mins)

TASK: Read through the text and see if the text confirms your opinion about the feelings teachers usually have at the beginning of a course.

Text A

The training course just started and I think I’m the oldest in the group! Everyone will expect me to be full of knowledge and insight because of my many years of experience but I am just a regular teacher. Yes, I have been teaching for a long time but that doesn’t mean that I am a good teacher. It doesn’t really mean anything except that I have been teaching for a long time. I’m very worried because I think I don’t fit in here with all these excellent younger teachers. They are so smart and sharp. Was I ever that young and full of energy? I don’t think so. I am just me, a regular teacher. They were trained in all these new ways and know all this new stuff and are so good at speaking English. This is going to be a long and difficult course. I am worried everyone will expect too much from me and then will see I am just a regular teacher. How embarrassing! Now everyone will know exactly how I compare to these younger and better teachers. I am not looking forward to this at all.

Reading 2

(T notes: only text A for everyone, 5 mins)

TASK: Read your text and put ‘X’ in the corresponding column in the grid.


(T notes: go through the grid and demonstrate on the board, remind that we only focus on column A for now; peer checking – checking all together, by naming the correct answers and finding evidence in the text)

(T notes: optional question, if time allows: Where do you think the teacher comes from? Have you ever met a teacher who had the same feelings?)

Jig-Saw reading

(T notes: 10 mins for both tasks and peer sharing; Divide Ss into B+B and C+C pairs; explain that for the following 5-7 minutes they are going to read different texts and work separately from the other group, same tasks as above – fill in the grid, peer checking).

Text B

I don’t think I belong here. The teacher training course has just started but I don’t think I can really enjoy it. I’m already stressed out. I’m worried I don’t fit in here. I know I worry too much sometimes but everyone else is so smart, talented, enthusiastic and experienced but I am just me. I don’t think I have anything to offer the group and I am worried I will always be stealing ideas from these great teachers without adding anything for the whole course. I’m sure I’m the worst trainee here. I’m not good at English and what’s worse I am not so good at teaching either. I always make so many mistakes in English and in teaching. I know I have a lot to learn and I am lucky to be with such a great group but I feel out-of-place with all these great people around me. I wonder how I can survive this course.

Text C

The good news is I can speak English pretty well. Everything else is the bad news. I think am in the wrong place. My teacher training course has just started and I am very impressed by my group members. Some have been teaching for many years and some have brilliant ideas about teaching and most of them have lots of knowledge and experience. I am just me and I don’t have any of that. I only have what I read in university classes but I don’t really know what I am doing in my class at school. Here, we are expected to talk about teaching and share and reflect on our experiences. I’m worried that my experience is not long enough or valuable enough. I feel like I have nothing to offer the group. I don’t think anyone wants to hear about my silly problems and big failures from school. What can I do? I don’t know how I can survive this course.

Reading 3, Language work

(T notes: 3-5 mins)

TASK: You have now read about all the three teachers (between A and B) Look through the texts again and find expressions the teachers are using to describe themselves on a course, and their peers. Choose those expressions or collocations that you might find useful in your own language use.


  • What do all the three teachers have in common?
  • Where do you think they come from? Why do you think so?
  • Could they all be in the same training group on the same course? Why, or why not?
  • Where do you think the author comes from?
  • What relationship does the author have with the teachers in the texts? (a colleague? a peer trainee on that course? a trainer? a friend who is not a teacher? another idea?)
  • Is there anything you would like to ask the author about?
  • What do you think the title for the three texts would be? Can it be one title? Why, or why not?
  • If you had a chance to talk to the teacher(s) in the text, what would you say to them? What advice could you give? (both professionally and personally)
  • Would you like to talk to the teachers? Have you ever met teachers like them in your life? How do you feel after reading what they shared?
(T notes: all the three texts were originally published on Michael Griffin’s blog here).

Answers – reading 2

grid answers

answers – reading 3

answers lg

Authors’ bio notes:

ZhenyaPolosatovaPic [3665352]Zhenya Polosatova is dividing her time between teacher- and trainer training and curriculum design/development. Over the last 15 years she has also worked as an EFL teacher to children and adults, educational consultant, and an academic manager/director. Zhenya’s area of interest and passion is applying reflective practice in teacher education and continuous professional development for teachers. She blogs here and is a co-founding member of PTEC, or Pioneer Training and Education Consortium offering a range of services from curriculum development to teacher training. PTEC website can be found here.

Michael Griffin-0013-Edit_FB [3522994]Michael Griffin has been involved with English teaching for 15 years. He has worked as a teacher, teacher trainer, trainer-trainer, curriculum developer, substitute teacher, assistant director, and mentor. Intercultural awareness, world Englishes, curriculum development and reflective practice are some of his main interests. You can find his blog here.


'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.

'From teacher recruiter to teacher trainer – some thoughts from the front line' by Christopher Graham

ChChristopher Grahamristopher Graham is an ELT teacher trainer and consultant. Based in London he works globally. You can read his blog here.



For fifteen years now I’ve been working as teacher trainer and ELT consultant – much of my time spent with NNESTs. For some years before that however, I made my living as a teacher recruiter – sending EFL teachers and senior staff to posts in schools and universities all over the world.  Did I see many jobs that discouraged NNESTs from applying?  You bet I did! The mantra “…. applicants need to be native speakers of English …” was all too common.  It’s still common, but my sense is that things are somewhat better now but with plenty of work still to be done. In Europe the EU legal framework has helped a bit, but a glance at online ads will show the law is often flouted and I suspect prosecutions are rare.  Sadly ELT is full of discrimination. Gender, age, sexuality and race. You name it, I’ve seen it.  I once remember being told by a school principal that a candidate “doesn’t look like an EFL teacher”. I have to say I have no idea what an EFL teacher looks like, but what do I know?

What I hope to do in this piece is explore why there is still a native/non-native issue and look at some ideas for progressing the move towards equality. It seems to me that there are four ‘players’ involved in all this; the policy makers and those that make hiring decisions, the teachers, the students and the teacher trainers, consultants and conference speakers.

My assumption about those policy makers that decide who (or what type of who) will be recruited is that in most cases they would not recognise what they are doing as discrimination. I also assume that they do not do it out of malice of any kind. I think there are three motives at work.  One might be the ‘accent issue’ – the idea that students will somehow be given an ‘incorrect’ model of English.  And I’ve heard so many variations on that one over the years – Scottish, Texan and South African accents in particular seem to be frowned upon as well as NNESTs. The second motive I think is simply orthodoxy and inertia – “that’s what we’ve always done – we’ve never really thought about it.”   The third motive is student expectation – the argument that students want a native speaker to teach them, and I think that’s the most common.

So let’s think about positive action number one.  All of us who work on the consultancy side of ELT or speak at conferences and thus have access to policy makers and managers should seek out opportunities to lobby them, to reference the NNEST issue in our workshops and plenaries and generally make the case cogently and concisely. Change is possible and from the top down seems one way to drive it.

The issue about student expectation is an interesting one and the one where policy makers and managers are most likely to resist.  I just wonder how many institutions have ever actually asked their student body about this issue or have they just stuck (out of fear?) with the strapline “our teachers are native speakers” as if that was all the students needed to know.  I expect because of a history of being taught only by native speakers and being fed all the mythology that surrounds it, there is often some resistance from students to NNESTs. Students are not of course experts in language teaching so again we need to encourage institutions to engage with their student bodies and make the case. If they are prepared to. My personal experience of this is that students are very amenable to the idea if it is explained to them – in particular they respond well to the thought that a NNEST may have studied English at degree level for four or five years before they start teaching. One way of getting the message to students other than through the institutions is via local press, the internet and social media. There must be lots of us who support TEFL Equity Advocates globally able to get local coverage that makes the case for NNESTs in lay terms that non specialists can appreciate. So positive action number two – let’s get the message out to the learners.

Positive action number three involves the NNESTs themselves.  In my CPD work I travel a great deal and run workshops largely with NNESTs. It is not uncommon to hear or see online that a ‘native speaker’ is coming to run a seminar.  Whoopee!  He must be good then! OK I fully accept that my sessions may be rather dull and that the most interesting thing about me is where I am from, but I hope my point stands. I make an effort in many of my sessions to take a proactive stance about NNESTs and pre-empt some of the anxieties that are often felt. I try to combine support and confidence building with a call to action. A call for NNESTs to teach loud and proud and to wipe away any self-doubt. So my third positive action is this. Those of us that blog, work in CPD, or speak at conferences need to boost the self–esteem of NNESTs. They are not part of our community, they are a majority in our community and their voices need to be heard. The campaign can also be led by the many high-profile NNESTs – regular teachers need to have some champions and to see that our community can be led by all and not just by the NESTs.

Some people reading this might wonder if I in my recruiting days would discriminate against NNSETs. The reality is that most recruiters want to hire NNESTs, after all what they want is more teachers to find jobs for. Their motives may be economic rather than philosophical but the results are positive. It is the employers that call the shots. That’s why the Tefl Equity Advocates hall of fame is so important.  But to answer my own question, have I argued with clients and resisted requests to hire only NESTs? Yes I have. Have I lost the arguments and agreed to do what the client wants? Yes I have, as long as it was within the law at the time. As in so much of life, money talks. A poor defence perhaps, but an honest one.

For me it is the same as friends who ask why I do CPD work in countries with appalling human rights records. I do genuinely feel that ELT can be a force for good and for change. I really hope it can.

But we do need to get our own house in order.

Talk to the expert: Interview with Ken Lackman

Photo under Creative Commons from. changes mine:

Photo under Creative Commons from. changes mine:

This time TEFL Equity Advocates talked to Ken Lackman, a freelance teacher trainer and a former Director of Studies at EF Toronto. For more interviews and articles from ELT experts, visit the Talk to The Expert section.

  1. Why do you think so many language schools decide to recruit only native speakers despite the fact that in many countries (e.g. the EU member states) it is illegal to do so?

I think that the people who run language schools often feel that their students would prefer to learn from native speakers. In short, they feel that a school staffed mostly by native speakers would be more marketable. This is perfectly understandable. If you had a school that claimed to teach something, you’d want to staff the school with teachers who were experts in that something. The question for language schools and their students is whether being a native speaker makes you an expert in that language and whether being a so-called “expert” speaker translates into being an expert teacher.

  1. How important is ‘nativeness’ – or lack thereof – for being a good or a bad teacher?

This is a huge question. The answer depends on what determines good and bad teaching. If, for example, proficiency with teaching a grammar-based syllabus was considered good teaching, then a non-native speaker might have a distinct advantage, having learned the grammar relatively recently and probably more comprehensively. If teaching were more lexically based, then a native speaker might have an advantage. However, I believe the teaching of languages should be based on teaching learning strategies. I think Michael Lewis was right when he claimed that languages were learned, not taught. I think what language teachers should be doing is teaching students to process language they are exposed to as a means of understanding and acquiring language. With a strategic approach, knowledge of strategies to process language is far more important than knowledge of the language itself. This is the approach that I try to use and I find, even as a fairly well-educated native speaker, that I learn new things about the language every day. I learn along with my students.

  1. What in your opinion is necessary to become a successful teacher?

When I was in a supervisory position, I used to tell the teachers I was working with that they only needed to do two things to be successful; have fun and leave students with the feeling that they’d learned something. Since nobody really knows exactly how languages are learned and it’s virtually impossible to know exactly what language students might have actually acquired in a lesson, the most important thing is that the students FEEL like they learned something. And if they really enjoyed the class, then that means there should be no reason for those students to complain about their lessons. That should mean continued employment for their teacher. But, more specifically, I think being the best teacher you can be means constantly learning about what might be the best way to teach, experimenting with ways of implementing those ideas in the classroom, and, more cynically, walking a line between that way of teaching and how your school or book expects you to teach.

  1. What implications should this have on hiring policies, i.e. if you were responsible for hiring new teachers for the school, how would you go about it?

As I suggested in the answer to the last question, I’d be looking for someone who was methodologically flexible. I believe that teaching should be about adapting to the learner, whether it’s their needs and interests or recent theories on how their language brain functions. And this is where nNESTs may have a distinct advantage as it would be much easier for them to be able to understand their learners and to have an idea about what they need and how they learn best.

  1. What can EFLers do to promote equality between NESTs and nNESTs?

Every teacher has their strengths and weaknesses. NESTs and nNESTs may have strengths and weaknesses based on their language experience. While a NEST may have more extensive lexical knowledge, for example, a nNEST may have a better understanding of English grammar and the way students learn. Unless we have, as many schools do, a very narrow definition of what teaching is about, what NESTs and nNESTs bring to the teaching table should be considered equally valuable. But we need to have that teaching table. That needs to come from the top. Schools need to encourage (and probably pay for) professional development and the kind of collegiality that would have NESTs and nNESTs learning from each other.

  1. What message would you give to aspiring teachers who have faced or heard about the issue of discrimination in TEFL?

Your value as a teacher is not based on the language you speak but the language you teach. Go to workshops and conferences, either in person or online. Read books, magazines and blogs and talk to other teachers. Nobody really fully understands how languages are learned, so nobody really fully knows how languages should be taught. Find out as much as you can about teaching and keep experimenting in the classroom. That’s what will make you a great teacher; not the language you speak but the language your students learn.

ken lackmanKen Lackman spent seven years in Prague teaching and developing materials for The Caledonian School. He left there in 2002 to do the DELTA course in Wroclaw before returning to Toronto in 2003. After spending five years as Director of Studies at EF Toronto, he left to pursue a career as a freelance teacher trainer and writer. He has had several articles published in English Teaching Professional and is a frequent presenter at conferences in Canada as well as the IATEFL conference in the UK.

Talk to the expert – Steve Oakes

Photo under Creative Commons from:

Photo under Creative Commons from: Changes mine

Steve Oakes is an experienced teacher, teacher trainer and trainer trainer who has worked in numerous countries around the world including the UK, the US and Japan as well as various parts of Central Europe.  He has been the Head of Teacher Training at International House, Budapest since 1997. Steve is also a co-author of Speakout, a general adult course from Pearson.

In the interview we use the following acronyms:

  • NS – Native Speaker
  • NNS – non-Native Speaker
  • NEST – Native English Speaker Teacher
  • nNEST – non-Native English Speaker Teacher
  • TT – Teacher Trainer
  • TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • L1 – first language (mother tongue)

1. From the point of view of an experienced Teacher Trainer, how important is ‘nativeness’ – or lack thereof – for being a good or a bad teacher?

I have never observed any correlation between ‘nativeness’ and the effectiveness of a teacher, and I’m astonished at the persistence of the myth that a native English speaker might be a ‘better’ teacher. When I talk to someone who thinks so and tell them my view, they’re astonished. There’s clearly a massive gap in perceptions, understanding, and experience.

2. What characteristics, then, are in your opinion and experience necessary to become a successful teacher?

What is a ‘good’ teacher? From the point of view of an employer and a DOS, a ‘good’ teacher is one who gets results, specifically

  • Overall good feedback from students
  • High return rates
  • Students who move up from level to level because they really are ready to do so (not because the level system moves them along by default)
  • In exam prep classes, high pass rates.

A good teacher is dynamic in the sense of not being stuck in a routine but seeking new ways to help students learn effectively. A good teacher constantly tries to gain a better understanding of the language learning process and how it relates to their own practice. A good teacher is a great colleague—supportive and open to support when needed.

I’d add that a good teacher isn’t necessarily the ‘popular’ teacher. Some teachers are well-liked by students because of their personality, because they interact with their students a lot in a social context; I think there’s a place for that sort of persona in a teaching staff, but I wouldn’t want my whole staff to aspire to be like that. Many great teachers are rather quietly effectively, achieving results without the flash that one might identify with the ‘popular’ teacher.

3. If there is no correlation between being a successful teacher and being a NS, why do some recruiters and schools still insist on hiring NESTs?

The main reason that schools advertise for NS teachers is commercial—the market perception tends to be that a NS teacher is better, or more ‘attractive’, whatever the word is. I’ve talked to school directors who state overtly (or vet job applications according to nationality, covertly) and they are quite open about this—that the best way they can distinguish themselves from the competition is to have NESTs, or more NESTs than the other schools. So they see it as a matter of survival, and while I don’t agree with it, I can understand it.

4. It’s interesting that most recruiters are so convinced about this since there is really very little (apart from anecdotal) evidence for students’ preference for NESTs. Having said that, though, do you think that this market demand for NESTs in Hungary could have been caused by bad previous experience with nNESTs?

The observation I’ll make concerns Hungary specifically but may be true of other countries particularly in the region [I think it is true of Poland – M.K.]. I’ll also preface this by saying that this observation is my perspective, i.e. I welcome any contrasting or dissenting perspectives.

Around the time that I came to Hungary, in the early 1990s, the thousands of Russian teachers who were no longer needed to teach Russian were being ‘retrained’ to teach English. That meant learning English to a level where they were competent enough to teach it; in some cases it involved learning a different approach to teaching language than what they’d been practicing up to that point. So, while there were Hungarians teaching English who had an advanced level in the language, the impression was that a large number who didn’t. I don’t think this helped the ‘market’s’ perception of nNESTs, and it took some time before the proportion of English teachers who had an advanced competence in English became prominent in the ‘market’.

So, in the years since then, I’ve seen a veritable explosion in the number of Hungarians teaching English whose competence in the language, as well as their teaching skills (thanks to the growth of effective training here) has meant the NEST vs. nNEST question has lost its relevance. Whereas previously the number of nNESTs on our CELTA and DELTA courses was relatively small, many of our courses are now dominated by Hungarians and other nNESTs. And institutions that formerly showed a strong preference for hiring NESTs-only (and Brits only), such as the British Council, now employ nNESTs in significant numbers simply because they are highly effective, motivating teachers. Yes, many private language schools still try to play the NEST card to attract students, but the momentum against this has become hard to resist.

5. Could it be argued then that by giving equal opportunities to nNESTs and employing the best teachers (regardless of their L1), schools could gain a competitive advantage and reshape the market demand?

Absolutely, though I don’t think it would happen in the blink of an eye—market perceptions are on one hand vulnerable to manipulation but also deeply entrenched. If the local perception is that NESTs are better, and if enough schools are promoting their services on that basis, a school that decides to follow the policy of ‘Not just NESTs, just GREAT teachers’ (there’s a tagline in the making there) will need to show results before the market is convinced. Luckily, THAT shouldn’t be a problem, because the fact is that good teachers (of whatever background) will always get better results than teachers who are classified in any other way (e.g. by nationality).

6. Taking all this into account, if you were responsible for hiring new teachers for the school, how would you go about it?

I have been responsible for hiring new teachers in the past, as acting DOS of IH Budapest during a period when we had no ‘full’ DOS. At the time, while about half of the teaching staff were NESTs, the other half was made up of 5 different nationalities, and this made for a truly rich teaching staff (a real international house). My attitude and ‘line’ was that we don’t employ native speaker teachers, we employ good teachers. I wasn’t under particular pressure (from management) to show preference for NESTs, though at the time IH Budapest still played the NEST card in its marketing.

7. In the Teacher Training community, are there many successful Teacher Trainers who are nNESTs? Why (not)?

There are lots of successful teacher trainers who are nNESTs, and at IH Budapest about half of our TT staff are, and I would consider all the TTs here to be at the top of the profession in terms of the sort of training they currently do (I suppose I’m wondering what it means to be a successful teacher training—e.g. does one need to be a big draw at international conferences to be ‘successful’?).

The question though makes me think of one that’s come up a lot in recent years among my coursebook writing colleagues—How many non-native English speaking coursebook writers can you think of, and how many of the major coursebook titles have been (co-)authored by NNSs? If a major coursebook had a recognisably NNS name among its authors, would it sell less well? This is the subject of a whole other conversation, but to me the implication is that the publishers are dealing with the same market perceptions that language schools are, and this affects hiring policy.

8. What message would you give to aspiring teachers who have faced or heard about the issue of discrimination in TEFL?

First of all, I think that aspiring teachers of all nationalities (including NESTs) should be well-informed and be engaged in discussion about discrimination in TEFL. Many novice NESTs (and no doubt some veteran NESTs) assume they are ‘better’, and they need to confront both the roots of this perception and its consequences/ramifications.

On the other hand, all nNESTs should in any case join and use nNEST support groups for just that, support. Having said that, I would emphasise that it’s vital not to develop a victim mentality about the whole thing. Walking around with a black cloud hanging over one’s head will not only help perpetuate the problem but make one a less employable. If successful teachers have one thing in common, it’s positive energy, positive presence.