In this article, originally published in IATEFL Voices. Issue 202 May – June 2008 and republished here with full consent of the author, Adrian Tennant asks if NS (Native Speaker) teachers are, in fact, as fit for purpose as we believe. Adrian’s bio note can be found below the article.
At last year’s IATEFL Conference in Aberdeen, two unrelated events got me thinking about an issue which, in spite of the changing role and face of English in the world, has not yet been resolved: the role and status of native speakers as teachers of English. The first was a chance meeting with a young Korean teacher during one of the evening social events and the second was a workshop that focused on initial teacher training courses.
The meeting with the Korean teacher was one of those unplanned things that can actually be extremely productive and thought-provoking. I was at one of the evening events and we were asked to turn to someone nearby and just start talking to them. Behind me there was a small group of first-time conference attendees, I turned round and we began to talk.
Fairly soon, we got onto the subject of where people worked. At this stage, the conversation took an unexpected turn: one of the Koreans started talking about his frustration with his work context. I was intrigued and decided to try and find out as much as I could. It turned out that his institution was employing a number of unqualified native speakers (NS) to teach (mostly ‘conversation’ classes) and that these ‘teachers’ were being paid twice as much as the local (Korean) teachers who had had 5 years’ training!
The second event was a workshop led by a native speaker that focused on ‘Initial teacher training courses’. Within five minutes it became clear that the courses being referred to were courses such as CELTA and Trinity which are often taken by ‘native speakers’ as a way into the TEFL ‘profession’. It also became apparent that the presenter was unaware that some of his audience were non-native speakers (NNS) and that their courses often lasted up to five years. (I sat at the back and cringed for much of the session).
These two experiences started me thinking about the training undertaken by people entering the ELT profession, the disparity and inequality between the training of many NS teachers and many NNS teachers and the often unequal status and pay.
Unfortunately, there still seems to be the feeling that ‘nativeness’ and the type of passport held etc., is a prerequisite for many positions around the world. But how can a teacher who has taken a four-week course be better (and worth more in terms of pay) than one who has studied for five years? How can someone whose classroom experience might amount to six hours over a fairly short period of time be considered better than someone who has spent six months or more in a school, teaching day in and day out? And, worse still, how can someone with absolutely no training be paid more than someone who has spent years studying both language and methodology?
Surely the questions that need to be asked are ‘How competent is the person?’ not ‘What’s your nationality?’ As ‘professionals’ we have a responsibility to make employers and students aware that where you come from (and the accent you speak with) are not the most important things. Far more important is the question of how good you are as a teacher, and training must be a factor in this!
Another issue we need to consider is whether a course that is only four weeks long can ever be considered appropriate. Of course, length does not guarantee quality, but on the other hand, we have to be realistic about how much can be taught and learnt in a month. In a way, it is not the fault of the course providers, but more the fault of the employers (and to some extent the students) who seem to give more weight to the nationality of the teachers they employ than to their training and resulting competence in the classroom.
In fact, the arrogance shown within the ELT world by many NS and towards NNS is quite breathtaking! Looking at the state school sector in the UK, English-speaking teachers who teach French or German are certainly not paid less than French or German NS teachers at the same school. In actual fact, unless the French or German nationals have a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or accredited equivalent, they are paid less. So, why is it that in ELT someone with no qualification, or after an extremely short course, is deemed a better teacher (or at least given a higher financial reward) than someone who has spent five years studying to be a teacher, but happens to have been born outside an English-speaking country?
Adrian has been involved in ELT for over twenty-five years and now divides his time between writing, running teacher training courses, giving talks & workshops at conferences around the world and working as an ELT consultant. He has worked in many countries and contexts including in Cambodia, Indonesia, China, DR Congo, Senegal, Serbia, Turkey, Spain, Saudi Arabia, India and Sri Lanka.
As a writer he has worked on a wide range of courses for many different publishers from Grammar Books, Primary and Secondary materials and Adult course and also regularly contributes to Onestopenglish.com writing everything from methodology articles to podcast materials.
He has been a member of IATEFL for many years and was on the Trustee Board as Membership Chair from 2007 until 2011. He is currently on the Scholarship Working Party. For many years he had a regular column in Voices the IATEFL newsletter where he examined a wide range of issues in the ELT world.
In his free time he likes reading (travel books and crime novels), hiking, swimming and cooking, but usually not at the same time!