Talk to the Expert: interview with Dale Coulter

dale coulterDale Coulter has taught in a variety of teaching contexts for the past five years including general English, younger learners and Business English. He now specialises in corporate language training and is the Human Resources Manager for All on Board in Berlin.


  • NEST – native English speaking teacher
  • NNEST – non-native English speaking teacher
  • TEA – TEFL Equity Advocates


  • TEA: Is there a big demand for native speakers among the students?

I don’t think there is a shadow of a doubt that there is a demand for good quality teachers. A lot of people though on top of that still want the contact with a target culture they want to emulate, which could be one reason why the idea of having a “native speaker” is still appealing to some learners. This is one of the big issues I think we still need to deal with. Depending on the company, learners may be required to do a lot of their business with native speakers, especially with Americans and Brits. Some, on the other hand, may never come into contact with these nationalities. On top of that, some learners have more experience of doing business internationally and may be acutely more aware that the English they need to learn is not that of a native speaker, but to communicate effectively. Which group do you think cares more if their teacher is a native speaker?

The other big question on my mind is how much the small language schools can really do on the client’s side. Here in Germany the market is incredibly competitive and prices are driven incredibly low.  If a school’s revenue is dependent on a big client and that big client says “hey, we want native speakers, otherwise we’ll just go somewhere else”, it puts the language school owner in a pretty uncomfortable position. I’m not for a moment defending anyone’s decision to choose to discriminate, but put yourself in the shoes of the DOS and think about how comfortable you would be with the consequences of standing up to a big client. Does this influence them to only employ native speaker teachers? Perhaps. How does that explain larger schools doing it? I think there’s only so much mileage in this argument and in my experience it would be unlikely for a client to give you such an ultimatum.

  • TEA: Why do some students prefer NESTs? Is it because of plain prejudice, negative experience with NNESTs, low quality of local teachers, lack of positive experience with NNESTs?

The only time I have received negative feedback about a NNEST was that the student had concerns that the teacher’s style of teaching might be similar to the negative experience she had growing up in the education system in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. To give you more background on the context, the learner and the teacher were both from the same country. This is an example though and may not represent the norm.

Another reason could be that it’s the marketing line we’ve sold them since the dawn of the language school’s existence. It’s been THE ONLY unique selling point (USP) for some language schools and for many it’s been a successful business model.  The effect is that there’s bound to be some drip down to students in the end.

  • TEA: Do we as ELT professionals have any moral obligation to act against the prejudice against NNESTs? If so, what could the recruiters or academic directors do?

Everyone has a moral obligation to act against the prejudice that surrounds them. When you work in an industry affected by that prejudice, your words and your actions are your weapons against that. If you’re a NEST, you can ask a potential employer how many NNESTs work at the school during your job interview. If your students comment that it’s great to have a native speaker, you can ask them why. You can take simple small steps towards combatting prejudice.

Quite frankly, a recruiter or academic director worth their salt should at least watch a teacher teach in a classroom before hiring them, NEST or NNEST. A simple ‘quality assurance’ check with a demonstration lesson will tell your applicant can teach or not – not their mother tongue. Not hiring someone based on their mother tongue without even watching him or her teach strikes me as pretty sloppy, to be honest – to look at it from purely a talent acquisition perspective.

  • TEA: Does hiring NNESTs put you at a competitive disadvantage against schools who hire only NESTs?

I could think of 1000 ways your school can be put at a disadvantage against other schools. Many of them trivial and many of them more trivial than hiring a NNEST.

But I guess you were probably hoping for something a little less like a politician’s response. OK, for example, to send a NNEST to a group of learners with conservative views of what a language teacher is may not result in the best chemistry or experience. Not for the teacher. Not for the learners. Imagine it’s one class with a small client. The client then finds a new language provider that will give them what they want. Yes, then I could say the decision could put you at competitive disadvantage. That said, if you’ve ever been in a decision-making position for course organisation, you’ll know that any number of factors could have motivated your client to look elsewhere – the teacher may not have been a good fit for so many reasons. At the end of the day, it’s about finding the right match for your client

  • TEA: Have students ever complained about being taught by a NNEST? If yes, how many times?

We have never received any critical comments about NNEST at all. Over the last 12 years, we have had about 10 NNEST teaching a variety of different languages in lots of different contexts in-company and I can’t stress enough that NNEST have ranked among some of our best trainers. Their feedback is always positive and the areas most commented reflect the high standard of teaching and competence in their work. What’s more, learners with NNEST teachers often note in their feedback how much progress they make. Both we and our clients have high standards regarding the quality of teaching.



For more interviews with recruiters, teacher trainers and scholars visit Talk to the Expert section.

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