Why is the term ‘non-native speaker’ so problematic? by Sulaiman Jenkins

I’ve had a lot of fruitful discussions with Marek Kiczkowiak and Andy Hockley as of late, and it was from our dialogue that I was encouraged to inject another perspective into this international conversation on native speakerism.

As a Black American, a ‘native speaker’ of the language, and a graduate of some of the US’s most prestigious academic institutions (Amherst/BA, NYU/MA), I have both enjoyed the privileges of native speakerism while simultaneously sharing some of the struggles of my ‘non-native’ teacher colleagues. For that, I felt it imperative that I join the discussion, helping my peers realize that they are just as talented and capable (in many instances, more so!) than anyone holding a US, British, Canadian, or any other Inner Circle passport.

I’d like to eventually talk about my personal experiences with what I term ‘perceived’ native speakerism in a later blog post. But for now, my primary concern is discussing why we urgently need a more constructive, empowering term to describe native speakers of languages other than English.

In a recent article I wrote about “a powerful plenary session …[in which] Richardson (2016) reminded us that the term, ‘non-native’ has been and continues to be offensive to many professional English language instructors…offensive….because it ‘asserts what [people] are by negating what [they] are not” (Jenkins, 2017). The use of the term “non-native” perpetuates the stereotyping of TESOL professionals and research has shown that the recycling of this term in professional circles leads some ‘non-native’ TESOL teachers to feel inadequate. She asked in the session, ‘How is it possible that it is still a legitimate term in our professional discourse in 2016?’ (Richardson 2016).

That question reminded me of a similar issue in the US about a derogatory term for Native Americans that a particular sports team continued to use even though many Native Americans had repeatedly stated it is highly offensive and petitioned to have it removed. If the people to whom the term is referring are upset and offended by it, then it reasons that it should not be acceptable to use it, right?

Furthermore, in TESOL is there any academic currency to using descriptors (i.e. ‘non-‘) that affirm an identity by confirming what it is not? In describing myself as a ‘non-Canadian’ and ‘non-Republican’ speaker of English, are these descriptions helpful, in the least, in providing meaningful information about what my capabilities in language teaching are? Even more basic than that, could one discern what my nationality is? What my political affiliation is?

The ‘non-’ identifier simply indicates that I’m not a Canadian citizen nor a Republican, but it doesn’t provide any information beyond that: and it certainly doesn’t indicate my level of core pedagogical or theoretical competencies, things that I would assume are much more important to a recruiter hiring qualified candidates.

As such, we really need to (re) consider an alternative, meaningful and constructive term that more accurately and congenially accounts for “over 80% of the teachers of English in the world” (Richardson 2016). I mean, it is 2018! The success of the Me Too movement shows us that rapid change is possible to break molds that have been in place for decades.

For decades in ELT, scholars have been calling our attention to the contentiousness of using such terms, acknowledging that they are indeed problematic (Holliday and Aboshiha 2008). Jenkins (2000) in her analysis of English as a Lingua Franca stated that referring to a ‘native speaker’ of a truly international language “cannot be acceptable or appropriate for a language that has passed into world ownership”. She also stated that “it is entirely inappropriate, indeed offensive, to label as ‘non-native speakers’ those who have learnt English as a second or foreign language” (Jenkins ibid: 9). In a study by Holliday (2005), one professional pleads for “avoid[ing] using the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native’…[for]…these terms are imprecise and misleading’ and that ‘as long as we use the ‘non’ as a descriptor, such teachers will be perceived as lacking in something essential and therefore of less value” (Holliday 2005: 160).

Consequently, in trying to delegitimize the usage of such terms, scholars have flirted with a number of alternatives (Jenkins 2000; Selvi 2011), but as Selvi mentioned, we seem to be “a long way from reaching consensus about whether to adopt any of these labels” (Selvi 2011). Though there may not be consensus about new labels, that still does not validate using the ‘native/non-native’ dichotomy as “legitimate term[s] in academic discourse” on the grounds of “the practical convenience of maintaining the distinction” (Moussu and Llurda 2008, p. 318).

I would add that we subtly endorse discriminatory practices when we continue to legitimize and perpetuate the very terms that promote this division. We must be cognizant that “every language user is in fact a native speaker of a given language (Nayar 1994), and therefore speakers cannot be divided according to whether they have a given quality (i.e., native speakers) or they do not have it (i.e., non-native speakers), based on whether English is their first language or not” (Moussu and Llurda 2008, p.317).

Thus, we need a new framework, a new construct, that accurately describes teachers whose mother tongues are languages other than English. That framework should address the following features:

  • Mother tongue of a TESOL professional, where such identification has some academic, pedagogical, or professional relevance
  • Usage and ability to manipulate the language and not simply “speaking” it (I’m not just a speaker of English, I actually teach it, write it, read it, etc.)
  • Competency and fluency in the English language (to what degree said teacher understands the language, can articulate its rules, can accurately utilize a wealth of vocabulary, etc.)

I truly believe that if we can begin with relevant descriptions, then we can more easily dispel archaic notions of ‘native’ vs ‘non-native’ speaker teachers and move closer to eradicating discrimination.

Sulaiman Jenkins earned his MA in TESOL from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education. He has been in the field of ELT, most notably in Saudi Arabia, for more than 14 years. He has also contributed to academia by way of publishing numerous articles in top peer reviewed journals. He is currently working at an engineering university in Saudi Arabia and is also a Senior Research and Activism Contributor for Turnkey Educational Group’s Research and Activism blog.



Holliday, A. 2005. The struggle to teach English as an international language. Oxford University Press.

Holliday, A., & Aboshiha, P. 2009. The Denial of Ideology in Perceptions of ‘Nonnative Speaker’ Teachers. TESOL Quarterly, 43(4), 669-689. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/27785049 (accessed February 23, 2017)

Jenkins, J. 2000. The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, S. (2017). The elephant in the room: discriminatory hiring practices in ELT. ELT Journal, 71(3), 373-376.

Moussu, L., and Llurda, E. 2008. Non-native English-speaking English language teachers: History and research. Language Teaching, 41(03), 315-348.

Nayar, P. B. (1994). Whose English is it? TESL-EJ 1.1, F-1.

Richardson, S. 2016. The haves and the have nots. IATEFL. Available at https://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2016/session/plenary-silvana-richardson (accessed February 7, 2017)

Selvi, A. 2011. The non-native speaker teacher. ELT J 2011; 65 (2): 187-189. doi: 10.1093/elt/ccq092

How to implement a successful equal opportunities policy by Matt Schaefer

I have, since 2013, worked as a program manager of Rikkyo University’s Center for English Discussion Class, a large-scale, unified-curriculum course that caters to roughly 4,700 students per year at a university in Tokyo, Japan. I am jointly responsible for curriculum design and evaluation and for hiring, training, and overseeing the professional development of 42 full-time instructors. It is a fulfilling job, in which my decisions affect the language learning of a significant number of students and I have the opportunity to interact with a diverse and committed group of teachers.

Because of the large number of instructors we require, and because each of them is on a five-year limited-term contract, we generally conduct recruitment twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. When we post a job listing for the hiring of our instructors, we include the statement:

Applicants of any nationality are welcome to apply’ and make no mention of English proficiency or ‘nativeness’.

In an ideal world, this would not be necessary. However, we want to be explicit about the fact that we are interested in seeing candidates with the appropriate teaching ability regardless of any other criteria.

We attract applications from nationalities all over the world, which makes us feel confident that we are choosing from a relatively broad range of candidates and therefore, based on the simple mathematics, ultimately selecting a higher quality of instructor than if we were to limit ourselves in any way. It seems both counter-intuitive and self-harming, not to mention ethically objectionable, to needlessly narrow your options when seeking to find the best person for a job. Our recruitment criteria focuses purely on appropriate teaching skills and awareness of relevant language learning principles, so differences in L1-speakerhood, gender, ethnicity, or any other non-teaching related factors are consciously and happily ignored.

As new teachers go through our orientation training program, the issue of “nativeness” continues to be irrelevant in the context of acquiring awareness of the unified curriculum and considering how best to help students achieve our course aims. These aims focus on mutual intelligibility among students, which means that no one variety of English is identified as a desirable model. While our instructors’ main role in the classroom is to facilitate large amounts of student-to-student interaction, they also demonstrate the type of discoursal and strategic competence that is a goal of the course. The message is that “nativeness” plays no part in determining whether or not this is possible for any individual.

At the end of each semester, our students complete a survey with space for open comments. I do not recall ever reading a comment, either positive or negative, that referenced a teacher’s nationality or L1. If a student were to begin the course with any preconceived notions about who should or should not be teaching them English, these prejudices do not seem to persist in light of their actual classroom experience.

In the staff rooms, there is just as likely to be intercultural miscommunication between, say, American and British instructors as between “native” and “non-native” instructors. It is very interesting to witness first-hand the blurring of distinctions between “dialects” and “varieties” of English in this context. While unhelpful generalizations do get made on occasion, as happens among most large multicultural groups, instructors tend to become aware that their collective idiolects contain overlapping elements of a variety of possible uses of English. Distinctions of L1 or D1 (first dialect) status, therefore, become untenable.

In short, a hiring policy that allows us to seek the best teachers for the position, regardless of a candidate’s L1, has resulted in no discernible disadvantages for our center while providing many advantages, first among them a welcome diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. Discrimination on the grounds of nationality or “native” speaker status appears self-defeating, lacking in sound principles, and damaging to the health of our industry.

Matthew Schaefer is a program manager on Rikkyo University’s Center for English Discussion Class in Tokyo, Japan. Previously, he worked as a language teacher and/or Director of Studies at various language schools in France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. His interests include assessment of ELF and professional development for teacher trainers. He is also a founding member and co-host of the TEFLology Podcast.

English as a Lingua Franca Week – don’t miss the FREE webinars and the raffle

This week Brazil’s English Language Teachers (BrELT) group is organising English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) week. Starting today, there will be two FREE (yay!) webinars a day.

You can learn more about the event by clicking here.

I’m giving a talk on Thursday at 5pm Brasilia time (UTC -3) or 9pm GMT and 10pm CEST entitled How to Create Materials and Lesson Plans for Teaching English as a Lingua Franca. 

I’m also doing a raffle giving away over $800 worth of online courses from TEFL Equity Academy which will help you tackle the ‘native speaker’ bias and promote equality by writing materials for teaching English as a Lingua Franca. The winners will be announced at the end of the webinar.

To register for the webinar and to take part in the raffle, click on the button below:

You can also sign up via email:

What can you win?

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English as a Lingua Franca (valued at $129)

Learn how to quickly create effective and engaging materials and lesson plans to teach English as a Lingua Franca.

You will get an easy, step-by-step guide that will allow you to save time and prepare engaging and relevant lesson plans which will motivate your students.

How to Teach Pronunciation: Interviews with Experts (valued at $129)

Learn how to write materials and lesson plans for teaching pronunciation from the most prominent researchers such as John Levis or David Deterding, as well as acclaimed teacher trainers and materials writers such as Nicola Meldrum or Mark Hancock.

These interviews are a goldmine of practical teaching ideas and insightful research findings that will help you rethink and reflect on how you write materials to teach pronunciation, and take your skills to a new level.

Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: Interviews with Experts (valued at $129)

Learn how to write materials for English as a Lingua Franca from the most prominent experts on English as a Lingua Franca such as Paola Vettorel, Martin Dewey or Nicos Sifakis.

These interviews are will equip you with all the tools you need to take your materials writing skills to the next level.

English Teacher’s Advanced Guide to Pronunciation Teaching (valued at $139)

Boost your confidence and follow a research-based, step-by-step approach that will allow you to successfully teach your next pronunciation class.

This course will give you the necessary knowledge and practical ideas that will help you save time when preparing your classes, teach more engaging pronunciation lessons and gain the confidence to overcome the ‘native speaker’ bias.

FREE Bonus #1 – Lifetime Updates (priceless)

Every year, following the feedback from course participants, as well as the latest developments in ELF research and teaching practice; I update the course, refreshing the content and adding new material.

That way as a course participant you will always get the latest content and new teaching ideas that will help you teach ELF more effectively.

Get these updates FOREVER for FREE now and you won’t have to pay a penny again, even if the course fee goes up!

FREE Bonus #2 – Full Offline Access to ALL courses (valued at $200)

No Internet? No problem 🙂

Enjoy the course offline – take it with you for a walk, view it in a park on your mobile, watch the lectures in a cafe while drinking a delightful cup of coffee.

…Download all the videos and watch them even when you’re offline

…Save the reading materials and read when it suits YOU best!

FREE Bonus #3 – Lifetime access (priceless)

Being and English teacher myself, I completely understand how busy your schedule can get. Offsite classes, correcting essays, marking exams, split shifts… I’ve been there!

That’s why I want you to be able to enjoy the course for as long as you want. Lifetime access gives you the flexibility to start and finish the course whenever it suits YOU best!

FREE Bonus #4 – Training Recording and Slides (valued at $78)

Come back to the recording of this training in the future so you can revisit all the points covered and take action.

Download the slides, so you can reuse the activities in your own materials and lesson plans, so you save time and are ready to teach your next class.

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Enter the Raffle Now to Win

How to tackle native speakerism by writing materials that promote English as a Lingua Franca

We all know that there’s a huge problem in ELT. Around three quarters of all jobs are for ‘native speakers’ only.

There is still also quite a widespread belief in our profession that ‘native speakers’ make better teachers.

That they’re more proficient.

Have wider vocabulary. Intuitive feeling for collocations. Intimate knowledge of the culture. The list goes on.

Whether the argument stands to scrutiny is a topic for another post. However, the problem is that these positive beliefs about ‘native speakers’, and the implicit negative ones about ‘non-native speakers’, do not only give rise to discriminatory recruitment policies.

They are also at the very core of how we’ve been teaching English.

What do I mean by this?

Well, when we teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) or English as a Second Language (ESL), we emphasise conformity with a standard ‘native speaker’ model (as an aside, this standard has often little to do with how ‘native speakers’ use language in reality, and in itself is an idealisation).

When we teach pronunciation, we often see foreign accent as negative, and the more ‘native-like’ the pronunciation, the better.

When we teach communication, ‘native speaker’ norms of communication are assumed as the default correct ones. The list goes on.

These assumptions would probably work very well if English WAS a foreign language, such as Polish.

After all, if you’re learning such a widespread and globally useful language as Polish, you’re very likely learning it exclusively in order to be able to interact with ‘native speakers’ of that language and their culture. So it makes perfect sense in this case to focus in teaching on ‘native speaker’ language and their culture.

However, the case with English is fundamentally different. It is NOT used as a foreign language, but as a global lingua franca. In fact, our students are on average much more likely to use it to communicate with other ‘non-native speakers’, rather than with ‘native speakers’.

So why would we still insist on teaching ‘native-like’ pronunciation?

Why emphasise ‘native speaker’ idioms which might not be transparent globally?

Why default to ‘native speaker’ communicative norms?

Why focus on ‘native speaker’ culture?

If we want our students to become successful user of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), and not merely as a foreign or second language, we need to better reflect the reality of the English language.

And this reality is that English has become the global lingua franca used primarily by ‘non-native speakers’.

As a result, we might need to promote not only an ELF mindset, but also an ELF skillset.

What do I mean by this?

To promote the ELF mindset, we need to first raise our students awareness of the fact that English IS a global language. It is also important to critically reflect in class and discuss issues such as native speakerism, intelligibility and accents, as well as discriminatory recruitment policies.

Second, we need to promote skills that will help our learners use English successfully in international, lingua franca contexts. A focus on communicative strategies that have been shown to facilitate communication in ELF contexts is vital. We should also emphasise intelligibility when teaching pronunciation to help our students be easily understood to the widest variety of English users possible. 

Ok, but how do we go about it? How do I adapt my course book? How can I create lesson plans that promote both the ELF mindset and the ELF skillset? 

Especially if I’m already a busy teacher with a lot going on.

With busy teachers and materials writers like yourself, I’ve developed this FREE on-line training How to Write Materials and Lesson Plans for Teaching English as a Lingua Franca. This 45-minute training will give you practical ideas for promoting both the ELF mindset and skillset in your lesson plans and materials, without having to put much additional work in.

And making this transition from EFL to ELF will not only help our profession tackle the native speakerist beliefs outlined at the beginning of this post, but also make your materials truly innovative and global.

Enrol via FB Messenger below:


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A Non-Speaking Native Teacher

I recently learned of a website with some questionable messaging about accent and native speaker models of pronunciation. The site presented itself as something of an advocacy group fighting accent discrimination, but their messaging actually reinforced some of the selfsame problems they claimed to combat, concluding that the solution to accent discrimination was accent reduction.

I briefly engaged with their Twitter account, articulating as best I could what was wrong with their approach. When I saw a few days later that TEFL Equity Advocates had gotten wind of the site, I was glad, and I commented to that effect. Marek then asked if I’d be interested in blogging on the topic. My response was this:

“While I definitely have some strong feelings on the matter, I don’t think I’m the right person to write this one.”

I wrote that reply quickly and without much forethought. After the fact, though, I reflected: That was really—like, really—uncharacteristic. Most of the time, my opinion is forthcoming, whether it’s been sought or not. Not to put too fine a point on it, but my urge to express my opinion is often compulsive, bordering on the pathological. If opinorrhea isn’t yet a word or diagnosis, it ought to be, in my entirely unsolicited and unqualified opinion.

But then so why did I shy away from sharing my opinion in this case?

I believe firmly in the power of advocacy, and the issue of equity in ELT is one that I’m passionate about, that I’ve written about before. I’m also pretty damned sure I know how to lay out for this dude precisely why his website is so frigging offensive. So what gives? Am I losing my edge? My nerve? Going soft in my old age?

I sat there in the lounge at O’Hare, awaiting my flight out after TESOL 2018, and thought back on what it could be that informed my reticence. The more I reflected, the surer I felt that I’d made a good decision. But why?

What I came to realize is that something in me, in my notion of what advocacy is and ought to be, has changed.

It’s a shift that reflects another that (I now know) has been happening in the world of activism for some time, since long before the message really got through to me: Passion for a cause doesn’t always translate to ad-vocating (speaking for) as loudly and as often as possible.

Sometimes as activists we take on the role of an advocate; others it’s better to adopt the stance of an ally, which comes with a language all its own. Sometimes being an ally does mean speaking up, but a whole lot of other times it means sitting down and shutting up. If you’re passionate enough about social justice that you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance that you already know this and the reasons for it.

I was born with nearly every privilege there is.

This has given me the confidence and voice and platform to speak my mind whenever I please, invited or un-. People with the same privilege profile as me have been doing an outsized share of the talking and writing and decision-making for most of recorded history, generally to the exclusion of other voices. Righting that imbalance will necessarily mean that those of us who take for granted our right to voice our opinions whenever we like need to not talk quite so goddamn much.

No matter how strong my opinions may be, there are others who are better positioned to speak about certain issues, in terms of their expertise, experience, and identity. If we profess to be allies, a massive part of that role is listening and learning, referring to and deferring to those other voices. The language of being an ally is still relatively new to me, so I won’t get in over my head; read more on this from people who know what they’re talking about here and here and here.

This does not, of course, mean that I never speak up.  These days, I find myself asking some questions before I speak up in a conversation that isn’t exactly “my” fight:

  • Have I been asked to speak up?
  • Am I the most qualified voice available to speak on this matter?
  • Has what I want to say already been said?
  • If I speak up, does that mean speaking over someone else?
  • If I do not speak up, will someone else?
  • How could my identity be informing my perspective on this topic?

Et cetera. This is hardly exhaustive.

I’m stubborn and vocal by nature, so I still fail my own test regularly (studies suggest that an increase in skull density is symptomatic of opinorrhea). I’m also in the early stages of understanding and accepting this concept, so I’m sure I haven’t put this in the best terms possible. I’m certainly not telling anyone else what form their activism ought to take. I just want to share a stage in the evolution of my own views. I’m sure I’ll reread this in two or three years and smack myself for some clumsy definitions and half-baked ideas. So be it.

I’m speaking up now because I haven’t heard much about the language of allies in the TEFL equity conversation, and I think maybe that should change.

Anyway, I’ll shut up for a bit now, and if you’re like me, maybe you will too.

rob shephardRob Sheppard is the founder of Ginseng, an online English school that proudly hires highly skilled teachers irrespective of L1. He is also co-chair of the Adult Education Interest Section at TESOL International.

Students prefer ‘native speakers’

Whenever I get into discussions with people in ELT about job ads for ‘native speakers’ only, one of the most common replies I get is that it’s all driven by market demand, so until we change students’ perceptions, there’s little that we can do to persuade schools to hire teachers based on merit rather than passport or mother tongue.

This argument has been repeated so often by so many that it’s become one of these ELT unquestionable ‘truths’ (such as catering to learning styles enhances learning, vocabulary is best learnt through lexical sets, etc.) which we accept as given.

So in this post I want to look at the market demand argument to see whether it stands up to scrutiny.

I will argue that students don’t necessarily prefer ‘native speakers’, but that they prefer good teachers.

Students prefer ‘native speakers’

On the face of it, this assumption is pretty solid. However, when you start looking at research evidence, you’ll see that there is little to support it.

And there has been plenty of research done on the topic all over the world. It’s not possible for me to look at all the studies in detail (this would probably take a whole book), but I’ve selected as many as was feasible for this post.

To make it easier to digest, I’ve divided the research findings into several bigger groups:

  • students appreciate ‘non-native speaker’ teachers
  • students value skills an characteristics unrelated to teacher’s L1
  • students’ find teaching effectiveness far more important than ‘nativeness’
  • students would like to be taught both by ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’
  • the preference for ‘native speakers’ (or lack thereof) is not fixed
  • the labels themselves might be part of the problem

I’ve also reviewed some of the findings in this video. Below the video is a more detailed summary.

Students Appreciate ‘non-native Speaker’ Teachers

  • Mahboob (2004), who analysed students’ essays on the topic of who is a better teacher: ‘native’ or ‘non-native’, found that ‘native speakers’ received 29 positive comments and 12 negative ones; in contrast with ‘non-native speakers’ who received 69 positive comments and only 6 negative ones
  • In a survey of 643 ESL students of ten different L1s, Moussu (2006) found that 87% thought the ‘non-native speaker’ teacher teaching them was a good teacher, while 79% would recommend having classes with a ‘non-native speaker’ to their friends
  • University students in Hong Kong reported that they enjoyed studying with ‘non-native speaker’ teachers and overall had favourable attitudes towards them (Cheung and Braine, 2007)
  • In Korea, 64.8% of students disagreed that English should only be taught by ‘native speakers’ (Chun, 2014)

This suggests that ‘non-native speakers’ should not be dismissed out of hand because many students do seem to value what these teachers can bring to the table.

students value skills and characteristics unrelated to teacher’s l1

  • Chinese students have been found to prefer teachers who were knowledgeable, patient and empathetic (Cortazzi and Jin, 1996)
  • In Thailand, Mullock (2010) reports that students valued highly teachers who were knowledgeable about the language, proficient and able to maintain good rapport
  • In my own PhD study involving students in Poland, the four characteristics that participants found to be the most important in a good English teacher were: proficiency, ability to convey knowledge effectively, ability to motivate students and having good rapport with students.

This probably means that if as a director of studies you really want to cater to your students needs and preferences, you might first survey them to find out exactly what they value highly in English teachers and then hire teachers which exhibit these traits or skills.

Students find Teaching effectiveness far more important than ‘nativeness’

  • Walkinshaw and Duong (2012), who studied 50 learners in Vietnam, asked participants to decide whether they found ‘nativeness’ or a particular teaching skill or characteristic (e.g. qualifications, friendly personality, teaching experience, etc.) to be more important. Interestingly, in ALL cases (apart from pronunciation) students valued the teaching skill or characteristic more highly than ‘nativeness’.
  • In my own unpublished PhD I asked Polish EFL learners to list 7 most important skills and characteristic of an effective English teacher. Not a single one listed ‘nativeness’. When I then surveyed students, ‘nativeness’ turned out to be the least important characteristic of an effective English teacher on a list of 10.
  • Similar results were obtained by Ali (2009), who studied EFL students in the Gulf Countries. One of the participants emphasised that:

“teachers should be selected because of their skills, qualification, and dedication, not the (…) English country they lived in” (Eiman, email interview quoted in Ali, 2009, p. 49).

Students Would like to be taught by both ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers

  • In Spain, 70.2% of university students expressed a preference for being taught by both groups (Lasagabaster and Sierra, 2005)
  • In Hungary, 82% percent preferred such a mix (Benke and Medgyes, 2005)
  • In Polish high schools, 95% would ideally like to be taught by both ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers‘ (Kula, 2011)

This suggests that hiring a mix of ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers would better reflect the preferences of the students than hiring ‘native speakers’ only.

The preference for ‘native speakers’ (or lack thereof) is not fixed

  • Pacek (2005), who analysed ESL students in the UK, showed that while at the beginning of the course over 30% were concerned that their teacher was a ‘non-native speaker’, a mere 2% expressed any concerns near the end of the course
  • The more students knew about the lingua franca nature of the English language, the more positive they were towards ‘non-native speaker’ teachers (Jin, 2005)
  • Students who had used English in English as a Lingua Franca contexts (i.e. in multilingual, international contexts where many speakers are other ‘non-natives’) were less likely to see ‘native speakers’ as the only sources of correct English or linguistic authority ( Wang and Jenkins, 2016)
  • Pressure from parents can also cause a preference for ‘native speaker’ teachers (Subtirelu, 2013)

This shows that educating students about the global spread of the English language, as well as exposing them to successful ‘non-native’ users of the language and good ‘non-native speaker’ teachers might contribute towards diminishing the preference for ‘native speakers’.

The labels themselves might be part of the problem

  • Aslan and Thompson (2016) asked ESL learners to rate different qualities (e.g. ability to motivate them) of the teachers that were currently teaching them. In order to avoid possible unconscious bias against ‘non-native speakers’, the researchers did not use the labels ‘native’ or ‘non-native’, so the students simply had to rate how good their teacher was without associating this rating with one of the labels. When results were analysed, it turned out that statistically there was no significant difference between how high (or low) the participants rated ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ teachers on the different skills and qualities. In other words, in the eyes of the students the ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ teachers were equal.
  • McKenzie (2008) highlights that only the recordings of ‘native speakers’ who participants correctly identified as ‘native speakers’ were rated highly. In other words, when students KNOW we’re listening to a ‘native speaker’, they’re more likely to respond to their pronunciation more positively than they would otherwise
  • Watson-Todd and Pojanapunya (2009), and Kramadibrata (2016) show that there is a discrepancy between the explicit and implicit attitudes students exhibit towards the two groups. In both studies they also show that non-White teachers are rated less favourably on their pronunciation and teaching skills

This suggests that a profound unconscious bias might be in play, possibly influenced by the ideology of native speakerism.

Conclusions and practical implications

The research reviewed here shows that there is little evidence to suggests that the vast majority of students prefers ‘native speakers’ regardless of everything else.

It is clear that many students appreciate ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. It is also clear that quite a few would like to be taught by both groups.

There is also little doubt that there are numerous other skills and qualities which students value more highly in English teachers. In other words, it seems to me that deep down what students want are good English teachers.

If you are a school director, I completely understand that you might be worried about hiring ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. I hope that this post might reassure you that students’ preferences are much more complex than an unequivocal preference for ‘native speakers’.

I would also suggest that asking the students who they prefer: a ‘native speaker’ or a ‘non-native’ is the wrong question to ask. What it’s likely to elicit is a response based on prejudices, myths and biases caused by native speakerism.

What is vital to do as a result is to talk to our students and discuss this issue with them. Rather than immediately succumb to pressure from students or their parents, I think it is important to first talk to them. To reassure them about the quality and professionalism of ALL your teaching staff. To strongly support the ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. To ask students to give the ‘non-native speaker’ teacher a chance.

I’ve talked to numerous school directors who do these and much more and who do not give in to parents’ or students’ demands.

And it seems to work very well for them. Their schools are doing well. The vast majority of students are happy. The students who initially complained and then continued having classes with the ‘non-native speaker’ teacher are still at the school and are happy.

So I completely understand that customer satisfaction is fundamental for a director of studies.

But if we really want to respond to our students’ preferences, we need to go much deeper than simply asking them if they want a ‘native’ or a ‘non-native’.

We need to ask the students what personal qualities they find important in an English teacher. What skills do they value highly. What are their specific learning needs and goals.

And then choose (or recruit) the teacher that best fits this profile.


Ali, S. (2009). Teaching English as an International Language (EIL) in the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) Countries: The Brown Man’s Burden. In F. Sharifian (Ed.), English as an International Language: Perspectives and Pedagogical Issues (pp. 34–57). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Aslan, E., & Thompson, A. S. (2016). Are They Really “Two Different Species”? Implicitly Elicited Student Perceptions About NESTs and NNESTs. TESOL Journal, n/a-n/a. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.268

Benke, E., & Medgyes, P. (2005). Differences in Teaching Behaviour between Native and Non-Native Speaker Teachers: As seen by the Learners. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers (pp. 195–215). New York: Springer US. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-24565-0_11

Cheung, L. Y., & Braine, G. (2007). The Attitudes of University Students towards Non-native Speakers English Teachers in Hong Kong. RELC Journal, 38(3), 257–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033688207085847

Chun, S. Y. (2014). EFL learners’ beliefs about native and non-native English-speaking teachers: perceived strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 35(6), 563–579. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2014.889141

Cortazzi, M., & Jin, L. (1996). Cultures of learning: Language classrooms in China. In H. Coleman (Ed.), Society and the language classroom. (pp. 169–203). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jin, J. (2005). Which is better in China, a local or a native English-speaking teacher? English Today, 21(03), 39–46. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266078405003081

Kramadibrata, A. (2016). The Halo surrounding native English speaker teachers in Indonesia. Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 5(2), 282. https://doi.org/10.17509/ijal.v5i2.1352

Kula, J. (2011). Postawy polskich uczniów szkoły średniej wobec nauczycieli rodzimych i nie-rodzimych użytkowników języka angielskiego. Studium przypadku. (MA). Jagiellonian University, Kraków.

Lasagabaster, D., & Sierra, J. M. (2005). What do Students Think about the Pros and Cons of Having a Native Speaker Teacher? In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers (pp. 217–241). New York: Springer US. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-24565-0_12

Mahboob, A. (2004). Native or non-native: What do the students think? In L. D. Kamhi-Stein (Ed.), Learning and Teaching from Experience. Perspectives on Nonnative English-speaking Professionals (pp. 121–148). Ann Arbor, MA: University of Michigan Press.

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. https://doi.org/10.2167/jmmd565.0

Moussu, L. M. (2006, August). Native and Nonnative English-Speaking English as a Second Language Teachers: Student Attitudes, Teacher Self-Perceptions, and Intensive English Administrator Beliefs and Practices. Purdue University, Lafayette, IN.

Mullock, B. (2010). Does a Good Language Teacher Have to Be a Native Speaker? In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST Lens: Non Native English Speakers in TESOL (pp. 87–113). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-24565-0_13

Subtirelu, N. (2013). What (do) learners want (?): a re-examination of the issue of learner preferences regarding the use of “native” speaker norms in English language teaching. Language Awareness, 22(3), 270–291. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658416.2012.713967

Walkinshaw, I., & Duong, O. T. H. (2012). Native- and Non-Native Speaking English Teachers in Vietnam: Weighing the Benefits. TESL-EJ: Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, 16(3), [no pagination]. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244014534451

Wang, Y., & Jenkins, J. (2016). “Nativeness” and Intelligibility: Impacts of Intercultural Experience Through English as a Lingua Franca on Chinese Speakers’ Language Attitudes. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 39(1), 38–58. https://doi.org/10.1515/cjal-2016-0003

Watson Todd, R., & Pojanapunya, P. (2009). Implicit attitudes towards native and non-native speaker teachers. System, 37(1), 23–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2008.08.002

A closed-minded school in an open-minded country by Laura Brass

Friday, August 25, 2017: A bad interview and a bad haircut. In that order and equally frustrating. While I can get over the latter, telling myself that hair grows back, I cannot come to terms with the former. I keep thinking that closed-up people who do whatever they please in a free democratic country like Canada are simply dangerous. And outrageous. How this soul-crushing-eye-opening experience unfolded is the story I tell here.

After I had agreed to meet for an interview for an English teaching position at 3:30 pm, the HR person in charge of scheduling called again at 8 pm (I missed her call) and left a voicemail informing me that the interview had been switched to 1 pm. I found it odd, but I called back and confirmed.

Little did I know that this would be one of the worst experiences I have had in my eight and a half years of living and working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Canada. Correction: The worst job interview EVER. Full stop.

Kerrisdale Academy (one of the many private ESL schools that have sprung like mushrooms after the rain in beautiful British Columbia, Canada), is a Chinese owned school that specializes in prepping students in fields such as English, Math, and Physics. If you are a non-native English speaking (NNES) teacher like me, BEWARE! Better yet, you might want to stay away from this school. And if you’re stubborn, curious, eager, or any of the above, and decide to go in for an interview, be prepared to deal with people discriminating against any professional (regardless of how qualified, experienced, dedicated, etc., they are) who was not born in Canada! Linguicism (i.e., discrimination due to someone’s accent).

5 minutes to 1 pm, I was there. The receptionist, who also played the role of one of the interviewers, politely told me in English that Mr. Lee was not available yet, then switched back to Chinese and continued conversing with someone. About ten minutes later, Mr. Lee showed up and asked me to wait until he washed his hands. Ok!?

Then the three of us – Mr. Lee, the receptionist-HR-interviewer lady, and I – walked down a narrow hallway to a very small classroom with a few chairs, desks, a tiny board, and … well, that was it. Oh, and the paint on the walls was peeling here and there leaving them greyish. Or was that just dirt? I couldn’t tell. A bad omen.

While I was quickly taking in the room, I had flashbacks of other schools I had interviewed for, good ones such as EC in Toronto, Ontario, which had smart boards and polite professionals, or less so like Dorset College in Vancouver, BC, which refused to turn up the heat in the winter, so we had to wear our coats in the classroom. I am getting off topic. Let’s get back to August 25, 2017.

Mr. Lee pulled a chair (for himself) while I was left to find my way in front of him and the receptionist-HR lady. We all sat and he began what soon turned out to be a clear-cut example of ignorance and discrimination. Below is a paraphrase of the dialogue that followed:

Mr. Lee: What language do you speak in Romania?

Me: {I take a deep breath} In Romania we speak Romanian, a Latin-rooted language, like Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Then I went on to tell him how helpful my first language (L1) is when I teach students whose L1 is Latin rooted. I could see that he was NOT interested.

I smiled to myself and looked at him for his next question. But there wasn’t a question per se. Instead, Mr. Lee’s tirade started, which he repeated verbatim THREE TIMES in a row.

Mr. Lee: You and me have an accent. I teach Math, you teach English. Students can complain about your accent. They don’t complain about Canadian teacher but they complain about teacher like you.

It crossed my mind that: (1) I should get my phone and record this guy (his monologue would make for some interesting research material) and (2) this was a complete waste of my time: I should simply get up and leave.

I did neither.

After patiently and politely listening to Mr. Lee ramble about my accent defining me as a rather faulty teacher, I had to say something.

Me: Are you saying that, if you hire a teacher and a student complains about their accent, you fire them?

Mr. Lee: No, but I want you to know that student may complain about your accent.

It became obvious that this conversation was a moot point.

Moving on, Mr. Lee did not care at all about me having finished my MEd in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) from the University of Calgary, Alberta (with a 4.0 GPA), as if that degree is non-existent.

The fact that I am TESL Canada and TESOL Ontario accredited and I have over a decade EFL/ESL/EAP/IELTS/TOEFL/FCE/CAE teaching experience meant squat to Mr. Lee (whose English is far from fluent – accent not included).

Mr. Lee was, however, hell-bent on my BA in English and Literature from the University of Pitesti, Romania (which he heavily underlined on my resume) as if that was the only qualification I had that mattered.

To add insult to injury, Mr. Lee did not appreciate the fact that I had fast-tracked my masters (I explained to him what that meant). To him, it meant that I did not work while completing two MEd years in one.

I was speechless.

I felt like laughing, but decided to sit through the whole interview. Besides, I wanted to see how far this would go. So, I played along. Mr. Lee did ask me if during my masters I studied speaking and pronunciation! I told him that the Interdisciplinary MEd enabled me to build sound theoretical and pedagogical knowledge in specialized areas such as ESL curriculum design and development, teaching methods, language assessment, grammar, linguistic content, task-based approaches, digital literacies, etc. I invited him to view samples of teaching materials I have designed and implemented at and read articles that I have published.

All that was background noise to him.

There were other questions, as to levels taught, availability, salary rate, etc. Although ten seconds into the interview (when Mr. Lee started his monologue about my accent and the likelihood that students would complain about it) I knew I would never accept work from an institution that treats qualified professionals as if they are simply a geographic dot on a map, I kept it professional: I finished the interview.

Once the interview was over and I left the building, I cried. Then I wiped off my tears.

As I was telling my husband about this utterly frustrating experience, I realized how important it is to share it with the rest of the world and raise a red flag about institutions like Kerrisdale Academy based in Vancouver, BC, whose employers think it is ok to treat NNES ESL instructors the way Mr. Lee treated me.

I know I should have taped the interview. I know I should have given Mr. Lee a piece of my mind. I know I should have left the room the moment the interviewer implied the first time that having an accent erases ALL my experience, qualifications, and achievements, reducing me to a NNES who, in his opinion, is not a good teacher.

I also know that I am thankful for this experience, as it reminded me of who I am: a qualified NNES ESL teacher passionate about teaching English – my L2.

A bad haircut can be easily fixed. If anything, as time goes by, it becomes a thing of the past.

A bad interview, on the other hand, is a different story. As time passes, unless we all do something about it, it will not become a thing of the past. It is not that easy to change people like Mr. Lee’s mentality. As a matter of fact, it may never change.

This is not to say that I accept such behavior. On the contrary, I am a strong advocate of equality between NES and NNES ESL teachers whose employability should be based on their qualifications and abilities as instructors, not their accent or whatever ridiculous reasons individuals like Mr. Lee, born and most likely raised outside of Canada, find appropriate to bring from their own cultural biases.

We live in Canada 2018 – a welcoming home to thousands of immigrants and refugees from across the globe, as attested by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people … You are home. Welcome home.” (Trudeau, 2015).

It comes as no surprise that “Canada’s population grew by 1.7 million people since the last census in 2011. Immigrants accounted for two-thirds of the increase” (Campion-Smith, 2017) and that the number of foreign-trained skilled immigrants – NNES ESL teachers included – is steadily growing (CIC News, 2017).

Reminder for Mr. Lee and all the Mr. Lees out there: In Canada, linguicism is u-n-a-c-c-e-p-t-a-b-l-e.

Laura Brass Pic[17541]Laura Brass has an MEd in TESL from the University of Calgary, Canada, a BA in Education from the University of Pitesti, Romania, and is TESL Canada and TESOL Ontario certified. With over 15 years local and international experience under her belt, she has taught English to diverse learners for varied purposes (e.g., EFL, ESL, EAP, CAE, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) in the public and private sectors. A language learner herself, she embraces a student-centered approach that keeps the students’ needs at the forefront and focuses on fostering autonomous L2 learners. She is interested in language and identity, multilingual acquisition, ESL curricula design, digital literacies, etc. You can view samples of her teaching materials at www.laurabrass.weebly.com. Her article, “Eleven Unexpected Lessons of Research Writing,” was recently published by the Canadian Journal for Teacher Research: http://www.teacherresearch.ca/blog/article/2017/07/30/333-eleven-unexpected-lessons-of-research-writing.


Campion- Smith, B. (2017, February 8). Immigration fuels Canada’s population growth of 1.7 million in five years: latest census. The Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/02/08/canadas-population-grew-17m-in-5-years.html

Canada: Citizenship and Immigration Canada News (2017). (2016, September). Canada Immigration Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.cicnews.com/2016/09/canada-welcomed-record-320932-new-immigrants-immigration-numbers-set-increase-098533.html

Trudeau, J. (2015, December 11). You are home: Canada’s Justin Trudeau welcomes Syrian refugees. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9_zWhkS4oQ

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. https://doi.org/10.1515/jelf-2016-0021

He, D., & Miller, L. (2011). English teacher preference: the case of China’s non-English-major students. World Englishes, 30(3), 428-443. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2011.01716.x

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. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/23.1.83

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. https://doi.org/10.2307/40264305

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. https://doi.org/10.2307/3585884

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:

ELTtoo: A movement to raise awareness and take action against harassment and bullying in ELT

TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy is proud to support ELTtoo movement, which aims to raise awareness and take action against harassment and bullying in ELT.

About ELTtoo

#ELTtoo: working to build safer work environments for everyone.

#ELTtoo is a movement of educators who want the voices of people that have been harassed, bullied and intimidated to be heard, no matter who they are or where they are.

Our mission is to work with people to raise awareness of these issues and provide support, guidance and appropriate training so that all our work environments are harassment- and bullying-free.

#ELTtoo is a call for real change in ELT for all genders worldwide.

What are we doing?

  • Raising awareness of the serious issue of abuse, harassment and bullying
  • Sharing personal stories
  • Sharing information about sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying: what it is, and actions you can take if you are a victim of abuse
  • Actively supporting the idea of a safe, fair and comfortable workplace for all
  • Working together with professional bodies and organisations to share and provide clear guidelines and support for ELT professionals

What are we being careful to NOT do?

  • If any individuals feel bad about any of their past actions and as a result of this campaign decide to re-evaluate their own code of ethics and change their future actions, that is great news. HOWEVER, we are not here to name and shame.  We want to look forward not back, to help build a better future for educators.

No more silence. No more ignoring. No more tolerance of harassment, abuse or discrimination.

An open letter to all ELT professionals

Dear fellow ELTers,

We are writing on the behalf of teachers, academic managers, teacher trainers, materials writers, researchers and other professionals who work in ELT. The recent #metoo campaign brought to light just how prevalent sexual harassment and bullying is in our profession. Many people came forward to tell what had happened and is still happening to them on a daily basis in their places of work and at public events. Your stories have been heard and we thank you for sharing them so openly and bravely.

This is how we will tackle this problem head-on.  Raising awareness and providing support through the ELTtoo platform

We want people to be held accountable for their behaviours and by doing so, make our profession a safe and equitable place for everyone.

Unfortunately, we have allowed harassment to go on too long, making excuses for the perpetrators or thinking that if we ignore it, it may just improve or go away.   We want this to change. We want to tell your stories through our voice so that we can make ELT a safer place for all.

Yours Sincerely,
Varinder Unlu, and the ever-increasing supporters of this movement from all genders.

About Varinder Unlu

Varinder Unlu has worked in ELT for 26 years in all contexts from private language schools to FE and HE, teaching students of all ages.  She has been a DOS/Academic Manager since 2002.  She is currently Academic Manager at Glion Institute of Higher Education.  She is also a teacher trainer for both Cambridge CELTA and Trinity TESOL, a materials writer and a conference speaker.   She is the coordinator of the Inclusive Practices and SENs IATEFL SIG.

5 most popular posts from 2017

I can’t quite believe it yet, but 2017 is almost over…

It’s been a great year with lots of interesting things happening on TEFL Equity Advocates. To name just two big changes, TEFL Equity Academy and TEFL Equity Job Board opened.

There have been some fascinating posts on the blog from teachers, trainers and recruiters scattered across all four corners of the world. And these amazing authors have attracted almost 70 000 visits with over 50 000 unique visitors from practically every country on the planet!!

So I wanted to thank all of you who have contributed to the site, visited it, shared and commented posts. You’re amazing!

And to round off a great year, I’ve put together a list of the 5 most popular posts from this blog from 2017 (according to my WordPress stats).

Are you ready?

Here we go 🙂

  1.  Why I wish I was a non-native speaker by James Taylor (2 580 hits)

Firstly, let me say that the title of this post is a lie. I don’t wish I was a non-native English speaker teacher (NNEST). As someone from the UK who teaches English as a foreign language, the country of my birth is a huge advantage to me. As has been well documented on this blog, I am much more likely to get a job than someone from Japan, Algeria or Brazil, no matter how qualified or experienced they are. For some students, having a native speaker teacher has a certain cachet, as in most countries it is unusual and many of them think that it means they have a better teacher as a result. So both employers and students seem to think that because I’m English, I must be a better teacher, which has got to be good for me


2. ‘Native speakers’ only ads and EU law by Marek Kiczkowiak(2 576 hits)

Over 70% of the posts advertised on the biggest search engine for TEFL job seekers, tefl.com, are exclusively for NESTs (Native Speaker English Teacher). If you’re not one, don’t bother applying. You might have a PhD and 100 years of teaching experience, but no one will even bother looking at your CV.

Common sense and gut feeling tell most of us that what we have here is a clear case of discrimination. Same as any other type of discrimination, such as based on gender, race or ethnicity. But gut feeling is only just that, and can only get you so far. Have you ever wondered, though, whether such ads were legal?


3. Non-Native speakers encouraged to apply by Rob Sheppard (2 504 hits)

Without discrimination against ‘NNESTs’, I would never be an English teacher. I’d wager I’m not the only one.

In late August of 2006, somewhere in the crowded streets of Kangbuk District in Seoul, a woman with a master’s degree in English and tired eyes walked to the post office with a padded yellow mailer under her arm. The next stop after the post office was the bank. She probably walked with some hurried annoyance at being asked to perform this task, thinking of all the other things she had to do. Inside the mailer was my passport, and at the bank she’d wire me around $600, a full reimbursement of the cost of my flight to Korea…


4. Peter Medgyes’ The Non-Native Speaker Teacher: Why publish a New Edition? by Susan Holden (1 979 hits)

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


5. Of ‘native speakers’ and other fantastic beasts by Marek Kiczkowiak (1 903 hits)

We all refer to ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ not just in English Language Teaching (ELT), Second Language Acquisition (SLA) or linguistics, but also in daily life. Consider the following sentences:

  • She’s a ‘native speaker’ of Spanish.
  • I don’t know how to say this, to be honest. Let’s ask a ‘native speaker’.
  • We can’t hire you because you’re a ‘non-native speaker’.
  • The aim of this research is to study the differences between Chinese bilingual English learners and native monolingual English speakers in expressing motion.

So the term’ native speaker’ seems very familiar to us. After all, we could argue that everyone is a ‘native speaker’ of the language they learned first. And we all have probably seen, met and had a beer with a ‘native speaker’, right?