TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy – looking back, moving forward

You might have noticed that TEFL Equity Advocates also has an Academy now, where you can take a variety of on-line training courses, which focus on offering ELT professionals practical solutions to the ‘native speaker’ bias that is still so widespread in our industry.

This is a bit of a change and you might be wondering how these courses fit with the rest of the work TEFL Equity Advocates has been doing. So in this post I wanted to tell you more about why I decided to set up the Academy, how I believe it builds on and connects with TEFL Equity advocacy work, as well as how it might help tackle native speakerism.

When I first started TEFL Equity Advocates back in 2014, I had no clue where it might take me. I’d also never imagined that it would gain so much momentum, so quickly.

What started as a simple blog post, where I could vent my frustration at the discriminatory nature of ELT recruitment policies, grew into a website.

What started as a pastime taking up a few hours of my time each month, grew into an almost full-time (unpaid) job.

It’s been a great journey so far. And I think TEFL Equity Advocates has helped to shake the ELT community out of its apathy – or perhaps resignation? – at the discriminatory status quo. It’s also managed to spark a lively debate at the same time as growing a community of dedicated ELT professionals who actively try to tackle native speakerism.

I’ve met some fantastic people along the way who have really helped shape TEFL Equity Advocates by offering advice, submitting blog posts, giving webinars, sharing posts on social media and supporting the project in a myriad of other ways. You know who you are, and I’m forever in debt to you.

But in the last few months, I’ve started to realise that the project has grown so big that it’s basically turned into a full-time job, becoming difficult for one person to manage on top of a (real) full-time job. Just replying to all the comments, FB messages and emails takes up a few hours a week. Not that I’m complaining, though! Love your messages, so please continue writing! 😊

Apart from the huge time investment, there are also of course the costs of running a self-hosted WordPress site, having a dedicated email address, an email automation provider, an app for automating social media posts, a job board… The list goes on.

Growing the advocacy work further requires time, funds and people who can dedicate themselves full-time to working on TEFL Equity Advocates.

More time wasn’t likely to happen, unless I quit my full-time teaching job, which I really enjoy, and which helps pay the bills. So that wasn’t a viable option.

In order to raise funds to continue the work of TEFL Equity Advocates, there were two choices.  First, I could set it up as a charity. This would need to be supported entirely with donations and rely on the generosity of people with no guarantee that it can be supported in this way.

This would also involve devoting even more time to the project, which I didn’t have. It would potentially involve putting together a team of dedicated people who would be willing to work on the project mostly for free.

It would also mean extra admin and paper work needed to set up and run a charity. And admin and paper work are two things I hate with a passion.

But if you’re going to spend a lot of your free time on something, you’d better be passionate about it. You can’t just like it. You’ve got to love it.

So while I hate admin work with a passion, I also love teaching with a passion.

That’s when it struck me.

Why not continue doing what I love doing most, that is teaching and educating, and see if I can tackle native speakerism from a more practical angle, while at the same time earning enough to cover the costs of running TEFL Equity Advocates?

This is how TEFL Equity Academy was born.

You see, I’ve also been working on my PhD on native speakerism for the last two years. During the process I’ve realised that the ‘native speaker’ bias goes far beyond recruitment policies in ELT.

It’s also deeply present in our ideas about the English language and how it should best be taught.

Just to give you one example, we all know that there are about four to five times as many ‘non-native’ users of English than there are ‘native’ ones. We also know from over two decades of research that certain features of pronunciation typical of ‘native speaker’ speech, such as word-stress or vowel quality are not important for intelligibility in international contexts. What’s more, many features of connected speech (e.g. reduced vowels, assimilation) can actually reduce intelligibility.

Yet, we still spend quite a lot of time on word stress, vowel quality or connected speech.

Why?

Because deep down many of us still feel that the more ‘native-like’ the pronunciation of our students, the better.

Of course, realising that the ‘native speaker’ bias also affects our teaching practices is one thing.

But being able to change your teaching practice accordingly is something else. Something which takes time and which can’t really be achieved through a blog post or a single webinar.

That’s where I see an opportunity for TEFL Equity Academy to play a crucial role.

It aims to offer ELT professionals practical solutions to native speakerism. It aims to extend TEFL Equity Advocates work and further promote equality not just in the workplace, but also in the classroom.

It also helps fund the website, the job board and any future TEFL Equity Advocates projects.

At the same time, it also allows me to combine two things I’m really passionate about: advocacy and teaching.

As a result of all this, I’ve decided to make two small changes on TEFL Equity Advocates. And since you’re a regular follower of the blog, I thought I’d give you a heads up about them, so you know exactly what’s happening.

First, the name on the top of this website (and of the FB page) will now be TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy. The second change concerns the blog. I used to keep a dedicated blog on TEFL Equity Academy site which focused more on practical teaching tips and issues related to the courses, such as English as a Lingua Franca or teaching pronunciation. Finding it physically impossible to keep up both the Advocates and Academy blogs, I’ve decided to merge the two into a single blog on this site. You can then expect a mix of more advocacy and more teaching oriented posts here. However, the Advocates and Academy posts will be put into separate categories, so you can clearly see which is which.

Hope you enjoy and find TEFL Equity Academy courses useful. 😊

And if you have any questions or comments about the Academy or the recent changes, let me know. Would love to hear what you think!

Cover photo by pine watt on Unsplash.

A NNES in a NES World by Laura Brass

Everyone reaches a point in their life when they ask themselves who they are, whether they are at a major crossroad professionally, emotionally, spiritually, or find themselves reeling from a dramatic event that became their wake-up call. To me, this moment came a few years after I had immigrated to Canada, when my husband and I decided that it was time we went back home to Vancouver. To my surprise, once back in Vancouver, I came to the realization that home was no longer home. Time for me to push the pause button and look at how far I have come since I first set foot in Canada and ask myself who I have become.

Standard English, World Englishes, and My Languages

Sounding different in English seemed to point to my otherness, so when I came across Kachru’s (1986) model of English circles, I thought it was as good a starting point in my quest for who I am as any. He distinguishes between countries and languages that belong to the:

  • (a) inner circle (e.g., the UK, the US, Canada, Australia) where English is the first language (L1);
  • (b) outer circle (e.g., Singapore, India, Philippines, Kenya, etc.) where English is an official language;
  • and (c) expanding circle (e.g., Brazil, China, Japan, Turkey, etc.) where English is taught as a subject in school.

When I was living in Europe, I taught English as a foreign language (EFL); in Canada, I teach English as a second language (ESL). Same subject, different names.

Standard English is represented by fixed grammar rules and formal written norms used mainly for institutional purposes (e.g., exams, business meetings, etc.), whereas non-standard or spoken English is characterized by a more flexible lexis used for communication purposes. The latter allows for varieties of the same language, which are oftentimes frowned upon because they break with the standard language. Shunning these Englishes from the standard English community does not make them vanish from thousands of worldwide second language (L2) speakers’ active vocabulary. While the need for the written form to keep its constancy to avoid linguistic chaos is understandable, the spoken form should be allowed more freedom (Brass, 2016).

Another point worth noting is the separate Englishes within L1 countries. There are definitive and obvious differences within the English language when one crosses the US or Canada. For instance, “Don’t bleve nutting ya ‘ears and only ‘alf ya sees” is a Newfoundland saying for “Don’t believe everything you hear” or “If I had my Druthers” is a southern American saying for “If I had my way.” Even single words can be a part of the regular dialect in some areas and non-existent in others. How often do you think that Manhattanites use reckon in their daily conversations? L1 countries have many different Englishes very much based on geography, socioeconomics, race, and religion.

My languages, apart from my mother tongue, can be summed up as the good, the bad, and the ugly: English, French, and Latin. I started learning French one year before taking up English. Does it mean that French is my second language and English is my third?

I preferred English, so soon I became more proficient in it than I was in French. Does this make English my second language, pushing French third?

For over a decade now I have thought in English, communicated in English, and written in English 95 % of the time. Does this mean that English has become my first language?Can a mere five percent make such a huge difference?

A friend of mine was born in England, moved to Belgium when he was just a few months old, grew up in Canada from age three to fourteen, then lived in Israel for five years, relocated back to Belgium, and now has returned to Canada. Which one is his first language: French, Flemish, Hebrew, or English? He is fluent in all four.

Having learned my L2s in a dual program relying on the audio-lingual and grammar-translation methods, code-switching played a major role in my second language acquisition (SLA). Whenever I was lost for words in L2, L1 would come to the rescue and vice versa. To this day, I constantly switch from one language to another, although I think more in English these days because I speak it at home and at work. Culturally, I feel more Romanian than Canadian, which is a deeper aspect of my personality and frame of mind.

What does that say about me, linguistically, sociologically, and psychologically? That there are two distinct languages which make up two distinct identities? That there is a split of identities or, on the contrary, a blend of multiple identities?

On Being an Immigrant in Canada

An immigrant myself, originally from Romania, I am a non-native English speaker (NNES); I made Canada my home in 2008. After having my education, work experience, language proficiency, age, funds, and adaptability assessed by a points system, I was deemed eligible for the express entry pool under the Federal Skilled Worker program (Government of Canada, 2017). Six months after submitting my application, I received the letter in the mail: I had been given the green light to live and work in Canada – to become a Canadian.

Exhilarated by the prospect of starting anew, little did I know back then what being an immigrant entailed. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1995), immigrant refers to “someone who comes from abroad to live permanently in another country” (p. 712). A landed immigrant or permanent resident can work and study, but they cannot vote or get a Canadian passport; it is a temporary status until they become citizens. Ng and Estable (1987) point out that the term, which initially encompassed all foreign-born individuals, is now used with a different connotation: “The common-sense use of ‘immigrant women’ generally refers to women of colour, women from Third World Countries, women who do not speak English well, and women who occupy lower positions in the occupational hierarchy” (p. 29). From experience, I can attest to the fact that in everyday conversation, immigrant highlights the difference between NNESs and their native (NES) counterparts.

As far as language is concerned, the concept of non-nativeness negates rather than asserts the speaker, which brings us to the paradox of “highly educated immigrants who drive taxicabs and pizza delivery vans, bewildered at the new reality of life in Canada that falls short of its promises” (Cervatiuc, 2009, p. 255). The author attributes this situation to the lack of English proficiency; based on my personal experience, I tend to disagree. In fact, English proficiency is one of the mandatory criteria to be eligible to immigrate as a skilled worker (e.g., General IELTS examination). Once skilled worker immigrants land in Canada, they realize that due to their foreign credentials they will not be able to perform the jobs that they are qualified for. A paradox and a conundrum.

At the other end of the spectrum, the country allows non-skilled NNESs who buy considerable property to get status and yet they live on social services, which speaks to a different kind of non-nativeness. In a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver, British Columbia, where the real estate industry has been booming, allowing lots of foreigners to enter the country via buying property, new identities are being shaped and with them closed-up communities of people who do not speak English at all.

There seems to have been a shift from language to financial benefits reserved for a particular category of foreign non-Canadian investors who take full advantage of the perks Canada has to offer. Is a new fast-growing NNES category already heavily influencing the labor market? Are educational credentials becoming obsolete in major Canadian centers? Is English losing ground in Canada or is it just another language-money-power game?

On Shaping Identity as a NNES ESL Teacher in a NES World

In an attempt to figure out who I am now, I decided to take a closer look at how language and identity work for or against NNES English as a Second Language (ESL) professionals. I browsed through the extant literature that explores immigrants’ (successful) stories. A trend, a leitmotif, seems to transcend: Everyone has a story that follows a similar pattern. Whether people leave their home countries because they have to (as is the case with thousands of recent Syrian refugees fleeing to Canada and all over the world) or because they want to, hoping to make a better future for themselves and their families (as is my case), immigrants leave the familiar behind embarking on a journey into the unknown and self-discovery.

Unlike Canada, where people of various ethnicities live in close vicinity, in my home country, former communist Romania, people from other countries were kept at bay, hence everyone looked the same or at least everyone I knew. Growing up, I never thought of otherness and never questioned nor doubted my identity. Having lived in Canada for eight and a half years, the apparently innocuous question, “Where are you from?” to this day takes me by surprise.

My initial answer, “I am from Romania,” is accompanied by different explanations that start with but as if I have to explain my reasons for being here, which makes me feel guilty for not being a NES. The impostor syndrome (Cuddy, 2015). The sin of being born outside the inner circle (i.e., an English-speaking country) weighs heavy on the NNESs’ shoulders. I have learned first-hand that the stigma of being a NNES in a NES country does not vanish in time.

In Canada, the constant need to ask, “Where are you from?” is a phenomenon that has turned a simple ice breaker into an ice maker. According to Ramos (2003) and Selasi (2014), it speaks to relations of power (or lack of it). Many were the cases when my answer to “Where are you from?” generated the following, “Oh, Budapest is the capital city, isn’t it?” No, it isn’t.

Not knowing where to place someone’s country of origin on a mental map can make the person being asked feel powerless. I wholeheartedly embrace Selasi’s (2014) suggestion to ask, “Where are you a local?” instead, which shifts focus on where life occurs, not where it started. “I’m Canadian but my parents come from Romania” sounds as if I am trying to explain myself and why I am here; “I’m a local of Vancouver and Targoviste” relies on personal experiences that no one can take away or deny.

Selasi (2014) goes on to explain that, because countries appear (e.g., Timor-Leste) and disappear (e.g., Czechoslovakia), they cannot define our identity, but experiences can: “All experience is local and all identity is experience.” (Selasi, 2014).

A revelation. I was born in Romania, briefly studied in the UK and worked in the US, and I am currently residing in Canada. I do not live in Romania, the UK, or the US anymore, but I remember the experiences that I had while there; they have shaped me into who I am. While some aspects of my identity are presently dormant, others have become more prevalent these days. I constantly forge a new identity from the already existing multi-layers. Fifty shades of Laura.

Identity is a complex and complicated matter. It is my unique barcode or fingerprint. I have changed over time and so has my identity. To quote Bruce Lee (c. 1966), “When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.”

A few years after immigrating to Canada and going back home to visit family, I saw everything different; it all seemed changed: “We can never go back to a place and find it exactly where we left it, something somewhere will always have changed, most of all, ourselves” (Selasi, 2014). I found myself mixing Romanian with English words within the same sentence. Romanglish if you will. At times, I felt lost in translation and caught up in between two completely different worlds and languages, which echoes Norton and Toohey’s (2011) argument that identity is a site of struggle.

As far as my newly acquired Canadianness is concerned, I am drawn to it and distanced from it at the same time. This ambivalent sense of self has resulted from good and bad language experiences that I’ve had over the past decade.

In identifying with Vancouver, I don’t want to cut away from my past, leaving behind part of my identity to embrace a new one. My grandmother used to say that no matter how far one travels, they carry their sorrows and joys with them.

While I admit that there must have been a void that made me think relocating could fill, it is important to stay in touch with my roots. The desire to know and understand myself is fueled by the need to come to terms with my Romanian heritage and my current Canadian existence. In trying to answer Khayatt’s (2001) question, “Who is entitled to determine who we are?” (p. 79), I have come to realize that I want the freedom to be both a Canadian and a Romanian.

Final Thoughts

Little did I know when I packed my life, said goodbye to family and friends, and bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver, British Columbia, that being a NNES ESL immigrant female teacher in Canada was no easy feat. Looking back, it seems both brave and foolish, but if I were to do it all over again, I would not hesitate.

I have learned through trial and error to add rather than discard the newly formed layers of my Canadian identity and not feel stuck between two cultures and languages (Gardner, 2012). Now I see what Greene (1998) means when he urges us to recreate ourselves and our image rather than allow others to define us: I am more than a nationality.

I am a local of two distinct worlds, a by-product of my own experiences, a citizen of the world born in Romania, adopted by Canada, a passport holder of the European Union, a member of the Commonwealth, and a language chameleon.

References:

Brass, L. (2016). Same person: Different languages, different identities? (Unpublished paper). Vancouver, British Columbia: University of Calgary.

Canada: Who can apply: Federal skilled workers (2017, July 14). Government of Canada.  Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/apply-who.asp?_ga=2.119077322.273954601.1502841759-1696982595.1500423967.

Cervatiuc, A. (2009). Identity, good language learning, and adult immigrants in Canada. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 8(4), 254-271. doi:10.1080/15348450903130439.

Cuddy, A. (2015). Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. New York: Little, Brown, & Company.

Kachru, B., B. (1986). The alchemy of English: The spread, functions, and models of non-native Englishes. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Khayatt, D. (2001). Revealing moments: The voice of the one who lives with labels. In James, C. E., & Shadd, A. (Eds.), Talking about identity: Encounters in race, ethnicity, and language. (pp. 68- 83). Toronto, Canada: Between the Lines.

Lee, B. (2013, July 12). Be like water. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APx2yFA0-B4&t=6s.

Ng, R., & Estable, A. (1987). Immigrant women in the labour force: An overview of present knowledge and research gaps. Resources for Feminist Research16(1), 29-33.

Norton, B., & Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social change. Language Teaching, 44(4), 412-446. doi.org/10.1017/s0261444811000309. 

Patel, H. (2013, June). Who am I? Think again. [Video file]. Retrieved from      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPhHHtn8On8.

Rundell, M., Fox, C., Gillard, P., Jackson, T., O’Shea, S., & Nichols, W. (Eds.) (1995). Longman dictionary of contemporary English. Essex, England: Longman Group Ltd.

Selasi, T. (2014, October). Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local. [Video file]. Retrieved from  http://www.ted.com/talks/taiye_selasi_don_t_ask_where_i_m_from_ask_where_i_m_a_local#t-5969.7

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.

Equal opportunities job ads only

Have you ever..

…felt like all the ELT jobs out there are for ‘native speakers’ only?

…spent hours polishing your CV and sending rock-solid applications just to be turned down yet again because they only hire ‘native speakers’?

…been on the verge of giving up on your dreams of finally getting the ELT job you deserve, because you’re constantly told that we won’t hire ‘non-native speakers’?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, I’ve got very good news for you. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Since I started TEFL Equity Advocates, I’ve received emails and questions from countless ‘non-native speakers’ who are struggling to get a job.

Like you, they might have all the right qualifications and experience. Like you, they might be great professionals, passionate about what they do.

But still, the jobs just aren’t coming. And more than half of all the ads are for ‘native speakers’ only, anyway.

Just check out this little gem below that I saw on tefl.com some time ago. I’ve underlined a few of the most shocking bits.

But apart from messages from ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, I’ve also received countless messages from ‘native speaker’ teachers who are also frustrated with the current recruitment model. Many now comment on social media when job ads for ‘native speakers’ only appear.

I’ve also received messages from recruiters asking whether I would share their job ad on TEFL Equity Advocates. Some, like Rob Sheppard have even founded schools which pride themselves on giving equal opportunities to all teachers, regardless of their mother tongue (you can read more about Rob’s school in this article).

All this prompted me last week to start an equal opportunities job board on TEFL Equity Advocates.

I’m really excited at this chance to further promote equal employment opportunities for ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers in ELT and I hope that YOU become part of the movement too and help promote equality and professionalism in our industry.

So if you’re an employer and would like to advertise a vacancy, you can click here.

If you’re a teacher looking for a job, you can browse through the vacancies and apply here. And you can also sign up to receive the latest job ads there.

Admittedly, since the job board is only one week old, there aren’t that many vacancies there yet. So that’s why I’d like to ask you a big favour…

…help me spread the word about the job board by hitting one of the share buttons below. 

Let’s speak out for equality and professionalism in ELT.

And let’s do it together!

Per Aspera ad Astra by Lina Gordyshevskaya

I did not really plan to be an English teacher. As most things in my life, it happened by accident rather than according to some plan.

I was fresh out of the university (Edinburgh) holding an MA in Scandinavian Studies, and I had no idea what to do with my life. There was an offer from a university in Sweden for a master’s programme in the same field, but I had been postponing making a decision whether I should accept it or not. I did not want to study for two more years and write another thesis, you see.

Finally, I made up my mind: I would go to Japan and continue learning Japanese, my recent hobby. Meanwhile, I would teach English since I had already been doing it for some time but voluntarily, and enjoyed it. The future finally seemed bright, and I could not think of any potential problems to face. How naïve I was…

To equip myself with some methodological knowledge and to raise my employability, I took a TEFL course in my hometown in Russia. In Japan, I started with a kid entertainer job (chatting to kids in English while they were waiting in the queue for the activity), which I did not like and escaped as soon as I felt I just could not take it anymore.

Finding a teaching job was tough: most schools seemed so cool with their websites filled with pictures of people in business suits laughing together; I was simply afraid, I did not feel qualified enough. And Kobe itself just did not have many opportunities.

I managed to become a substitute teacher at some small eikaiwa teaching a couple of days per month (if I was lucky). In April, I started a second job, with guaranteed hours. I was promised to get 15-16 hours, and I was really happy. However, I only got 6. When I asked why, I was told that many parents were not satisfied with me being new and young, so they signed their kids up for other teachers’ classes. Nothing was said of my non-nativeness – yet.

While teaching those 6 hours a week, I realised that teaching young learners was not really my thing. It was ok, but it did not inspire me. I decided to take a break – and CELTA. It blew my mind. Literally. It gave me that self-confidence I lacked before. I moved to Kanto and started looking for a job that would be suitable for my post-CELTA teaching experience. It appeared that the problem was not finding a suitable job but me being suitable for teaching English.

‘Native English speaker’.

‘Must hold a passport from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand’.

‘Seeking for a native English instructor’.

‘Only preferable candidates will be contacted after our initial screening’. I was not preferable. I did not have the ‘right’ passport.

I could not understand why.

Why does having a Russian passport supposedly make me worse teacher than any native teacher?

Why does being born in a non-English-speaking country make me less employable?

Why does having a degree from a university in the UK and two teaching qualifications mean nothing if English is my second language (by the way, I have been learning it since I was 4)?

I felt humiliated. I felt desperate. I cried on my husband’s shoulder asking him all these questions interrupted with sobs after every other word. He tried his best to support me, and eventually, after getting a headache and blocked nose, I would tell to myself ‘OK, I’ll try once again and take it easy’.

I tried to apply for universities as well since they hire non-natives but lacked teaching experience at the university level and did not hold a relevant degree, and did not have publications.

Finally, I got an offer from a big chain eikaiwa, the only one among many that hired non-natives quite actively. And yet, almost all non-natives I met there were on part-time contracts while 90% of full-time-contract instructors were from the countries where English is the first language. Despite anything, I was grateful to be there. I was grateful to them for hiring me, a non-native teacher. Only now, I think how twisted it is to be grateful for something that is (should be!) natural.

I did not give up on getting a university job. The thing is that I wanted to teach groups of young adults using a communicative approach, and it was hardly possible in the eikaiwa. I also did not like being constantly reminded that we are selling a product. I do not sell a product. I teach. T-E-A-C-H. So I tried and tried again and again.

And I got it.

I was lucky, I guess. It was the only university that required neither specific teaching experience (just general would do) nor publications. I had to prove during model teaching that I was able to teach communicative lessons, and I did.

When I got a job offer, my heart froze and then started beating crazily. I could not believe my own eyes. I could not breathe. I was ecstatic. I did it. I won this battle.

I know I will face discrimination in the ELT field again – we simply cannot change things just in the blink of an eye. However, next time I will choose not to feel humiliated but proud of who I am.

Teaching is a profession, and, as in any other profession, skills matter more than nationality. I have met amazing and inspiring teachers from all over the world, and it is not their nativeness – or non-nativeness – that makes them amazing and inspiring. It is their passion for teaching and developing as professionals. I think these two should be the minimum requirements instead of that one you can find in every single teaching job ad.

linaLina graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies in 2015. She obtained TEFL in 2015 and CELTA in 2016. This August, she was invited to teach demonstration lessons for a CELTA course in St Petersburg. Lina has taught YL, teenagers, and adults of various levels both in groups and privately. Currently, she teaches EAP (discussion) at a university in Japan and loves her job. She blogs regularly for https://eltbylinablog.wordpress.com/.

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?

IMG_1166

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.

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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.

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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 karin.krummenacher@gmail.com

Do you trust your students when they smile in class? by Nicky Sekino

Your job may not be secure when your class is going well. Maybe, your students are making progress. Maybe, there are laughers in the class. Maybe, you have a higher academic degree. But all that will be of little value if you are a non-native speaker of English – at least in my case.

It was a company in Tokyo that dismissed me from an English education program for its employees. According to my employer, an educational institute, the company in Tokyo said, “It was about time to replace him with a new instructor, who is a native speaker of English.” I am certainly a non-native speaker of English. My mother tongue is Japanese. My employer, however, did little to protest this discriminatory dismissal. I am now of the impression that the commercial maxim of, “The customer is always right,” has worked.

My employer knows I have an M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Teachers College Columbia University. I am, maybe, the longest-working teacher in the institute’s payroll.

The news devastated me because my class had been going well. When the course started a year ago, my students spoke less than survival English. If I said, “Who is he?” my students would say, “Yes.” When the students’ English comprehension was virtually zero, the progress of the class was very slow. I consulted with my employer and it suggested for a bilingual class. I asked my students if they wanted me to talk to them in Japanese when I give instructions and do the rest of the class in English. To my surprise, they said, “No.” They wanted me to do the class in English only: a nice surprise.

Something strange happened. The company in Tokyo complained about the “English-only” policy. Being surprised, I asked my students if they changed their mind. They said, “No.” They managed to hint, in a broken fashion, a fabricating act in the part of their employer.

So, I decided to do the class in English and speak very slowly. It was, however, painful to say, “Doo youu uundeerstaand?” One year later, I did not have to speak at a ridiculously slow speed.

My students were engineers. They wanted to study technical English, too. I happily accepted this wish. I asked them if they would prepare short speeches with some technical contents. I said this because I knew they wrote English reasonably well. My students said, “Yes.” Afterward, they prepared short speeches and presented them in each class. In fact, their speeches were good after some error correction.

The course came to an end in a year.  I asked my students if they wanted to continue the study. They said, “Yes,” – with a smile. I went home with a smile.

The following day, the company in Tokyo contacted my employer to say that it would renew the contract with one new condition. The condition was to replace “the instructor with someone else who is a native speaker of English.” My employer accepted the request.

Afterthoughts

This experience of mine with the company in Tokyo is not new. It is another case of many more incidents with similar developments, which reminds me that I live in the Japanese world of English education.

I no longer blame people openly for discrimination. If I did, it would just stun them because many people have no idea about racial discrimination – especially from the view of someone who is on the receiving end. They would think I am insane who is complaining about something that does not exist. As the readers may have suspected, the company in Tokyo did not know they had committed racial discrimination.

Besides racial discrimination, the Japanese world of English education has some other issues to tackle. Motivation is one. Many people think students will learn English more if the class is fun. This idea is generally true, but it is not so simple with business people who believe in the native speaker fallacy that native speakers of English would make better teachers.

I sometimes forget that Japanese is an implicit language. English, on the other hand, is a descriptive language. So, for instance, “Yes,” means “Yes,” in English. However, “Yes,” means “Yes,” or “Maybe yes,” or, “Yes, I have heard you,” in Japanese. It was maybe my naiveté to believe in my students when they requested for a monolingual class. Maybe they were saying, “Yes” to please me but, in fact, they were thinking, “No.” I do not know. A friendly warning for the readers is to be aware of the dichotomy of the Japanese language. Students are speaking English but they are possibly following a communication logic that is outside of the English language.


About the author:

nicky sekinoMr. Nicky Sekino is an experienced teacher of English. He began teaching at American universities and Japanese vocational schools in the 1980’s. Since then, he has continued teaching and the number of his past students has exceeded 2000. His current teaching context is the business world and his students are business people. He has an MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Teachers College Columbia University.

The Beauty and Horror of Explaining Mixed Conditionals (Among Other Grammar Points) by Madeline Castillo

One of the most misused grammar forms is the mixed conditionals, and this is not really much of a surprise. The use of one verb tense in a sentence is already difficult, so imagine having to put together two verb tenses in one sentence — it’s almost a nightmare!

For most ESL teachers, myself included, a mixed conditional sentence is a classroom conundrum. I have seen how it transforms into a total horror show as you try to explain not only how the sentence is constructed, but also what it means. I have watched as my students’ faces scrunch up in confusion when I mention how these situations or conditions (mostly imaginary) affect results (either in the past or the present). I have looked for signs of me second-guessing myself as doubt sets in.

The last bit, perhaps, is the worst. More than the form or function of any grammar point, the biggest challenge for a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher is the fact that any explanation you give can easily be trumped by a ‘native speaker’ teacher’s “That’s just how it is.” Even though some tend to have a less structured ESL background, ‘native speakers’ are usually preferred to non-native English speakers. In the ESL industry, there are many instances when one’s value as a teacher is primarily determined by ethnicity, and not knowledge, experience or skill. The privilege of having been born in a ‘native English-speaking’ country has long been a standard and not having the ‘right’ nationality, a stigma. As a result, gifted and proficient teachers are sidelined for less experienced and less effective ‘native’ individuals.

However, ‘non-native speaker’ teachers know mixed conditionals well, not just because we studied them in school or because we teach them in class. We know this lesson topic well because we have learned to live with a few conditional questions ourselves: Would I be more credible if I had been born and raised by parents whose primary language was English? If that company I applied for saw me as a native English speaker, would I have gotten that teaching job? Had I been born in the US or the UK, would I be a better English teacher?

Almost a year ago, I joined Learntalk, an ESL startup, and was tasked to create a written grammar exam for our teachers. As it is a way for us to check our overall proficiency is as a company, everyone had to take the test. Most were pretty happy with the results – save for my boss. Born and raised in the UK, he thought that he’d be one of the few who’d ace the test. When he got the results, they were pretty mediocre, with some of our teachers scoring higher than he did! What’s remarkable is that we are all Filipino ESL teachers: all ‘non-native’, different backgrounds, same passion. That incident was one of the many instances that prove that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a ‘native English speaker’ or not. Knowledge has never been just skin deep, and never will be.

I’ve been teaching English for more than six years now, and mixed conditionals are still a pain to teach. Students still get confused occasionally and at times I still doubt my own understanding. However, there is comfort in knowing that my grasp of conditionals and English grammar is just as good as my understanding and acceptance of my own self as a teacher.

madelineMadeline Castillo is an ESL teacher, lifestyle writer and dancer from the Philippines. She has been teaching English to both children and adults for more than six years now. In 2016, she joined Learntalk, an EdTech startup that harnesses technology to give students a fully immersive language learning experience without the need to travel and live in a distant country, while at the same time providing all the grammatical rigor of a classroom setting. The company operates in three segments, providing language training to individuals, corporates and education institutions around the world.

How to get colleagues to support the NNEST cause – by Nick Michelioudakis

Why not educate people?

Three reasons: i) They know all this stuff already! Let us be clear: 98.7% of all the people who are active in the ELT world are nice, liberal people who are against all kinds of discrimination; ii) telling people the same thing again and again may well trigger reactance (Wiseman 2012 – p. 227); iii) (much more importantly): there is no guarantee at all that informing people or getting people to agree to something will have any impact on the way they behave.

But you do not have to take my word for this – here is professor Dan Ariely to drive the point home. Notice in particular the bit after 1:40. Ask yourself this question: have you ever sent a text message while driving? (I can tell you are nodding to yourself) Why was that? Was it that you were not aware of the risks?

Three different appeals

So – if propaganda does not work, what does work?

Well, consider the following study (Ferrier, Ward & Palermo 2012): The question here was which would be the most effective way to get people to support a charity (‘Save the Children’). There were three experimental conditions: the first group got all the info – they got the facts and figures about child poverty etc. (does this ring any bells? J ); the second group got an emotional appeal (smiling, happy children plus inspirational music); the third group however got nothing. Instead they were asked to design an advertising campaign for the charity.  There was also a control group. Afterwards, each group of people were asked to make a donation to the charity. Care to guess which group offered the most money? Well, the graph below speaks for itself (Ferrier 2014 – p. 38).

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Why was the third approach so effective?

Ferrier (2014 – p. 38) gives three reasons:  i) A sense of ownership: by contributing something – a slogan, an idea) people felt closer to the cause. Advertising people know this and they have used this again and again (see this campaign for instance).  ii) Cognitive dissonance: subconsciously people think ‘If I am prepared to do some work for this organization, they have to be doing something good – I wouldn’t do it otherwise’. More importantly however… iii) People felt a sense of autonomy: ‘they were invited to interact with a message on their own terms rather than it being forced on them. This circumnavigates resistance’ (ibid).

I believe that this last point is one we should take note of. Our cause is a just cause – but there is always a risk we might alienate people. Instead, what we should do is get people active. In J. Jaffes’ words, we need to shift from a ‘Tell and Sell’ to a ‘Participate and Play’ approach (ibid – p. 181).

How can we involve colleagues?

Well, we could crowdsource ideas for a start. The campaign still does not have a simple, instantly recognizable logo to act as a trigger (see Berger 2013 [Chapter 2] on the importance of triggers for virality) or a catchy slogan.

But we do not have to ‘prompt’ people in any way. We could simply ask colleagues for ideas on concrete, actionable initiatives (‘asking people to remove discriminatory language from ads’ is a good step forward; ‘awareness-raising’ does not quite cut it – it is too fuzzy). Sue Annan came up with the brilliant idea of having trainee teachers respond to discriminatory ads with e-mails to the companies who had posted them (click here to read the post). Notice the dual effect here: i) the market is beginning to get the message that ‘the times they are a-changing’ and advertising for ‘a qualified teacher – whites only please’ is not acceptable any more and  ii) much more importantly, the trainee herself is not the same person after that e-mail.

Last Words – a toxic relationship

Have you ever tried to persuade a friend of yours to leave a toxic relationship? It is hard, isn’t it? Everybody tells her (it is usually ‘her’) this is going nowhere – the guy (it is usually a guy) is selfish, controlling, abusive but how much does this help? She knows all this after all. The more people tell her, the more reactance kicks in.

Similarly, our field is still in love with native-speakerism. Not with ‘native speaker’ teachers you understand – there is nothing wrong with them – but when the time for inviting speakers comes, the old habits kick in (‘People want the big names’ – ‘We are doing what is best for the association’ etc. etc.) and the old patterns keep perpetuating themselves. In my view, there is no point in preaching to the converted; what is needed is a little nudge for our field to really move forward.

References

  • Berger, J. (2013) Contagious. London: Simon & Schuster
  • Ferrier, A. Ward, B. & Palermo J. (2012) Behaviour Change: Why Action Advertising Works Harder than Passive Advertising. Presented at Society for Consumer Psychology: Proceedings of the 2012 Annual Conference. Las Vegas, 16-18 February
  • Ferrier, A. (2014) The Advertising Effect. South Melbourne, Oxford University Press
  • Wiseman, R. (2012). Rip it up. London: Macmillan

nick michelioudakisNick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been working in the field of ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner and teacher trainer. His love of comedy has led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube. He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles which have appeared in a number of publications in various countries. He is particularly interested in student motivation and classroom management as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology, Management and Marketing.  For articles or worksheets of his, you can visit his blog at  www.michelioudakis.org 

Brazilian English is beautiful by BrELT

The following video has been produced by BrELT (Brazil’s English Language Teachers), a Facebook community that fosters collaborative professional development among Brazil’s ELT professionals. The message is clear: “We are here. We are Brazilian. Deal with it.”

“Who are you talking to, though?” you may wonder.

Other Brazilians, believe it or not. Sadly, we needed to reaffirm our pride in being who we are not to the world, but to our fellow citizens.

Recently, a highly qualified Brazilian English teacher with a successful YouTube channel has been abused by a countryman saying she shouldn’t be recording because she’s from Brazil. Another famous Brazilian YouTuber said learning from native speakers is more cost-effective. In several other YouTube channels, Brazilians have mocked household names because of their accents in English.

What’s being revealed by the comfortable anonymity of internet comments is only the tip of the iceberg. Native-speakerism runs deep in this country, as it finds a fruitful field in our infamous shame of being Brazilian.

Representing almost 12,000 teachers, most of whom from Brazil, BrELT could not leave it at that and embarked on the Brazilian YouTubers’ campaign #AccentPride. Join us! No matter where you are from, record a video reaffirming your pride in your accent or showing your support to non-native English language teachers worldwide.

We are many. It’s time we made our voices (and accents) heard.

BrELT is a Facebook community for ELT professionals in Brazil and for those who wish to connect with us. You are welcome to join us at BrELT – Brazil’s English Language Teachers . For more information about our initiatives, which include online events, blog posts and the Brazilian counterpart to ELTChat, please check our blog here.

The people in the video are volunteer moderators in the community:

Bruno Andrade, one of the founders of BrELT, has a B.A. in English from UFRJ, the TKT and the CPE and is now working towards his Master’s in Applied Linguistics. In the industry for 15 years, he’s worked in online education and as a school coordinator in Rio de Janeiro.

Eduardo de Freitas is a teacher trainer for PBF Guarulhos. He holds the CAE, the TKT, and the CELTA and has been a teacher for seven years.

Ilá Coimbra is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and Cambridge Examiner based in São Paulo. In the field for 17 years, she has a B.A. in Languages from USP, the CPE, the CELTA and the ICELT.

Natalia Guerreiro works as an Aviation English teacher trainer and examiner in Sao Jose dos Campos. In ELT since the year 2000, she holds a B.A. in English from UFRJ, the TKT, the CELTA, the CPE, and an M.A. in Language Testing from Unimelb.

Priscila Mateini, based in Niteroi, holds a B.A. in Languages from UFF, a postgraduate degree in Linguistic Science (UPF), the TKT and the ECPE, as well a UDL Specialist course certificate from Harvard. With over 8 years of experience (4 years focusing on Special Education), she is now working towards her Master’s and helping schools adapt to children with Special Needs.

Ricardo Barros is a CELTA tutor and freelance teacher based in Jundiaí, who has been working in ELT since 2003. He holds a B.A. in History from Unicamp, the CPE, the CELTA, and the DELTA.

T. Veigga, who has being in the industry for 14 years, is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials designer who lives in Rio de Janeiro. He holds a B.A. in English from UFRJ and a post-graduate degree in Media Education (PUC-Rio).

How the native speaker myth affects us all by Christina Lorimer

I was 22 years old when it occurred to me there was a problem.

By that time, I had a strong teacher identity and was actually quite adept at teaching. Growing up with parents who were public school teachers meant I didn’t spend 4 or even 8 hours a day at school but rather 10 or even sometimes 12. My childhood took place in a music classroom. My chores weren’t doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom but erasing the chalkboard, alphabetizing the songbooks, and organizing the chairs. My playmates were the stapler, the hole punch, the markers and the highlighters, and my babysitters were my mom’s students waiting in line to audition for a solo in the upcoming concert. I learned how to do fractions and percentages by adding up scores on music theory tests and how to give feedback by addressing student questions about their final grades after class. I was nine years old.

Around this time, my dad pursued his dream of becoming a biology teacher. His eyes lit up when he talked to students about the natural world, just like they did when he read me Bernstein Bears before bed, and he started doing science experiments and testing out his lesson plans at home. I died of embarrassment when my friends told me how he jumped up on tables and made up silly science songs in class, but I also intimately came to understand the concept of multiple identities, having to behave differently when my parents were “mom” and “dad” than when they were “teacher” or, later, when my dad was “principal”.

At twelve, I started doing choreography for my mom’s choir groups and regularly taught hundreds of high school students how to dance. Still today, whenever I feel unprepared for a class or nervous about teaching a new subject, I think back on my 12-year old self, standing on a platform in front of 200 high school boys, successfully teaching them how to jazz square and do a roll off. As a teenage female teacher, I had to develop thick skin and learn how to stay cool and collected in the classroom, even when I felt hurt or confused by student side comments.

So, as you can see, my teacher identity and skills developed early on.

Throughout my undergrad, I studied art and foreign languages. I also taught academic English for a year, doing one-on-one test preparation sessions at my university’s Learning Assistance Center. But I didn’t consider myself a trained English teacher and had never even heard of TESOL, ELT, EFL or any of the other million acronyms in our field. I certainly wasn’t familiar with expressions like “native speaker myth” or terms like NEST and NNEST. Even though I had been teaching most of my life, I was new to the field of English teaching. And although I felt very connected to my teacher identity, I hadn’t explored what it meant to be an English teacher.

After I graduated, I applied to a non-profit to be a volunteer English teacher at a rural elementary school in Costa Rica. Our group had a two-week training before arriving in our small communities to teach English for a year. The stakes were high. We were being sent to these particular schools because they were either too small or too poor to receive an English teacher from the government. When (or in many cases, if) students start high school in Costa Rica, they are expected to have at least a low-intermediate English level upon entry. So, if these children aren’t exposed to the language in elementary school and don’t build a strong English foundation, there is a high chance they flunk out of high school early on. The first day of training, I learned that out of 25 volunteers I was the most experienced and qualified English teacher. Something felt off about this.

And this was the first time I detected NEST issues and English teaching tourism.

It felt problematic that among a group of twenty soon-to-be English language teachers, I was the most experienced and qualified. I had only been an English tutor for a year. It felt problematic that a volunteer openly stated she decided to teach English in Costa Rica in order to learn Spanish and that another guy told me the program was his ticket into previously inaccessible surf spots on the coast. And while I understood my primary role was teaching English, I had to admit that I was there for other reasons too, like improving my Spanish and having a cultural experience. Something didn’t feel right, but I also wasn’t sure it was wrong. Americans teaching English abroad is so common and normalized that I didn’t dig deeper into those feelings.

But they came up again in my MA TESOL program. Although NEST/NNEST issues weren’t, unfortunately, an explicit part of our TESOL coursework, in a program where over half the students were new NNESTs, I became well-versed in the terminology. In my first graduate grammar course, the girl behind me was a whiz at syntax trees, and the girl in front of me asked really good questions I would’ve never thought of. These two tutored me throughout the semester and became my closest friends in the program. They were from Germany and Russia, respectively, and together we discovered NEST/NNEST issues. We would be at conferences (yes, TESOL conferences), and people would say to them, “I can’t believe you grew up in Germany, your English accent is so good!” (She has lived in the U.S. since she was 14.) Or, as soon as they would learn my other friend grew up in Russia, they would suddenly detect an accent. “Oh yes, I didn’t hear it before, but of course, yes, you do sound a little Russian.” Like magic, after three days of interacting with her and watching her present research, suddenly, she’s Russian. Suddenly, she’s labeled as “non-native”. And then the icing on the cake: “You don’t even look like a non-native speaker!”

Those feelings got stronger when I completed a Fulbright in Brazil.

Stories began to circulate among the Fulbright fellows about Brazilians constantly questioning their “native-ness” and consequently their right to be a Fulbright English teaching fellow. My closest friends in our group were a Puerto Rican guy, a black woman from the South, and an Ecuadorian-raised girl from Kentucky. The whole year, they felt they had to defend their native-ness because they also spoke Spanish or weren’t born in the States or didn’t “look like a native speaker”.

Those feelings got even stronger when I began to look for work in Brazil. Waiting for interviews with language schools and even multinational publishers, I felt defeated every time I sat down next to another candidate with little to no experience. But hey, they were native speakers too, so we were being considered for the same job. When I opened up my schedule for private students, they never once asked about my experience but rather only cared about where I was from, as if being born in a specific place qualified me to teach. The reality hit me that all my training and education may have been in vain. I thought back to my parents and the saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I wondered if they ever felt this way.

I’ve seen students pay three times the market price for private lessons with unqualified native teachers and then believe they were “stupid” or “unable to learn languages” when they didn’t improve. This is not OK and this why we need to take teaching seriously. Teaching has been my life. It’s been my parents and grandparents lives. It’s my sister’s life.

I’ve spent the last ten years surrounded by intelligent and patient NNEST peers and colleagues. Together, we’ve shared stories and unpacked the many ways native speakerism is yet another form of discrimination. We’ve brainstormed alternatives to “non-native”, feeling that a “non-” label and deficient model is part of the problem, and created professional development modules about how to educate students, teachers, and administrators about NNEST issues.

The native speaker myth results in the deprofessionalization of our field. But in much worse-case scenarios, it results in illegal hiring practices, fuels discrimination, and cheats students out of the opportunity to work with truly exceptional teachers. And these are issues that affect all of us.

christina-lorimer-4258_hi-res11254Christina Lorimer is a teacher trainer, materials writer, and certified language coach with an M.A. in TESOL and 13 years in the field. After teaching in the U.S., Costa Rica, and Brazil, she founded Step Stone Languages, an English for Specific Purposes school for autonomous learners focused on providing real-life materials that increase student motivation and decrease teacher burnout. She is also an author and editor of teacher guides for National Geographic Cengage Learning. In her free time, she loves hiking to waterfalls and playing with her one-year old niece.