'The strengths of Non-Native English Speaking Teachers' an infographic by Adam Simpson

This infographic presents the strengths most Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) have. It has been prepared by Adam Simpson (see Adam’s bio at the bottom of the page) with invaluable help from Michael Griffin (see his post “Equity without myths or stereotypes” here), Eszter Hajdics (her talk on NNEST strengths can be viewed here), Chio Rojas and Peter Lahiff, who all contributed ideas.

With this infographic we’re not arguing that NNESTs are better teachers than Native English Speaking Teachers (NESTs), or that they should be hired indiscriminately. However, they are certainly not worse and should therefore be given the same employment opportunities in ELT as NESTs are.

Consequently, we want to highlight the strengths NNESTs have which can make them a valuable addition to any ELT staff room and institution. This is especially important since “native speaker fallacy” (Phillipson, 1992), or the belief that NS are inherently better suited for teaching English, is still prevalent in our profession, with over 70% of all advertised ELT jobs being for NS only (see e.g. Mahboob&Golden, 2013; Reucker&Ives, 2014; Selvi, 2010).

NNESTs strengths overlapping those in the infographic have been recognised by many researchers (e.g. Medgyes, 1992, 1994, 2001; Reves&Medgyes, 1994; Arva&Medgyes, 2000;Llurda, 2005; Cheung&Braine, 2007). Also, students are very much aware of them and appreciate NNESTs for their teaching skills rather than based on negative stereotypes (e.g. Lasagabaster&Sierra, 2002, 2005; Mahboob, 2004; Pacek, 2005; Benke&Medgyes, 2005; Lipovsky&Mahboob, 2010)

To sum up, there is no doubt that NESTs can be good English teachers and that they have many strengths. However, so do NNESTs, and we hope that ELT hiring practices will soon start to reflect the fact that the mother tongue neither makes nor breaks an English teacher. Because the ideal situation, the best of both worlds, for any language school, as well as for the students, is to have both NESTs and NNESTs.

NNEST strengths

References:

  • Arva, V., & Medgyes, P. (2000). Native and non-native teachers in the classroom. System, 28, 355–372.
  • Cheung, Y. L. and G. Braine (2007). The attitudes of university students towards nonnative speakers English teachers in Hong Kong. RELC Journal 38, 3: 257–277.
  • Lasagabaster, D. and J. M. Sierra (2002) University students’ perceptions of native and non-native speaker teachers of English. Language Awareness 11, 132-142.
  • Lasagabaster, D. and J. M. Sierra (2005) What do students think about the pros and cons of having a native speaker teacher? In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-native language teachers. Perceptions, challenges, and contributions to the profession (217-241). New York: Springer.
  • Lipovsky, C. and A. Mahboob (2010) Appraisal of Native and Non-native English Speaking Teachers. In Mahboob (ed.), 154-179.
  • Llurda, E. (2005b). Non-native TESOL students as seen by practicum supervisors. In Llurda (ed.), Non-native language teachers. Perceptions, challenges, and contributions to the profession 131–154.
  • 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. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
  • Mahboob, A., & Golden, R. (2013). Looking for native speakers of English: Discrimination in English language teaching job advertisements. Voices in Asia Journal, 1(1), 72–81.
  • Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340-349.
  • Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native teacher. London: Macmillan.
  • Medgyes, P. (2001). When the teacher is a non-native speaker. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
  • Pacek, D. (2005). ‘Personality not nationality’: Foreign students’ perceptions of a nonnative speaker lecturer of English at a British university. In Llurda (ed.), Non-native language teachers. Perceptions, challenges, and contributions to the profession. 243–262.
  • Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford University Press.
  • Reucker, T. and L. Ives. 2014. White Native English Speakers Needed: The Rhetorical Construction of Privilege in Online Teacher Recruitment Spaces. TESOL Quaterly,
  • Reves, T. and P. Medgyes (1994). The non-native English speaking EFL/ESL teacher’s self image: An international survey. System, 22 (3), 353–357.
  • Selvi, A. F. (2010). All teachers are equal, but some teachers are more equal than others: Trend analysis of job advertisements in English language teaching. WATESOL NNEST Caucus Annual Review, 1, 155–181.

adam simpson

Adam has been living and teaching in Turkey for more than a decade, all of that time spent in the tertiary education sector in universities in Istanbul. His interests include descriptive rather than prescriptive curriculum design, developing flexibility in lesson planning and the considered integration of technology in the language classroom. He regularly talks at conferences and is talks about his life as a teacher on his blog ‘Teach them English’. You can get in touch with him here.

0 thoughts on “'The strengths of Non-Native English Speaking Teachers' an infographic by Adam Simpson

  1. damo04 says:

    I completely agree with most of this but I’m afraid I have to take issue with the ‘only a 4 week CELTA’ part. I could tell you numerous cases of trainees I’ve had who’ve told me they got more from the CELTA than they did from a three-year EFL degree or similar. I couldn’t tell you one case of the contrary.

    Surely quality is better than quantity? And surely teaching ability is more important than knowledge? Just as it’s more important than where you’re from?

    • alex says:

      Dear damo04, as you surely know and understand, a 4-week CELTA course is not meant to teach and analyse grammar, phonetics and vocabulary. A 3-year EFL degree is. It’s quite a difference.

      I’ve done both: a 4-year degree (no, not enough to become a teacher, for sure) and a 4-week CELTA course (very important, but not surely filling contingent gaps in language analysis knowledge).

      Nonetheless, some of my course mates were very experienced NN teachers who needed the CELTA just because schools were requiring “that paper”, but who were already able to master the class (i.e. they easily got the A-grade).
      Others, instead, were N teachers, with little or no knowledge of how their own language worked. They learnt a lot, of course, about teaching, and so did I; but they still would need a gap-filling course on language.

      On the other hand, teachers like me holding a degree and little experience would surely need a good deal of tuition, BUT not as much on language: we could match sound and symbol, tense and sentence, understand and foresee students’ issues, etc etc. For some of those things, you can learn them at an intensive language course, in case; others, though, will take longer study time.
      That is what a 3-year degree has likely done in advance.

      That is why I think that N or NN speakers who have done a 3-year university course plus a 4-week CELTA course will still know more than N or NN speakers who have only done the latter.

    • marekkiczkowiak says:

      Hi,
      Sorry for not replying earlier.
      Yes, quality is definitely better than quantity. It might be true that in many cases you can get more from a 4-week course than a 3 year degree. However, I wouldn’t generalise here. I learned next to nothing from CELTA in terms of teaching methods, or language awareness, etc (I’d finished first year BA in English Philology by then). I did benefit a lot from the practical part, though. I think this is where its strength is. It offers you a great practical toolkit, which many university degrees in TESOL don’t. However, I don’t think that this is enough.
      I’m also not sure teaching ability is more important than knowledge. They go hand in hand. As does proficiency in the language or experience.
      CELTA is primarily focused on training people to imitate a certain way of teaching, which is supposedly universally applicable, i.e. pair work, low TT, inductive, communicative, you know the lot. There’s very little critical thinking involved.
      Don’t get me wrong. CELTA has its definite strengths. However, there’s plenty of room for improvement 🙂

  2. Nik Peachey says:

    I don’t really like this term ‘non-native’, as I feel that by nature it implies that these teachers lack something. I prefer the term bilingual as these teachers infact have additional knowledge rather than less knowledge and this additional knowledge of the students own language can be a huge benefit.

    • marekkiczkowiak says:

      I agree. The NS has clear positive connotations, and a NNS negative ones. Bilingual is a good term, I think Jenkins suggested something similar. Others have proposed terms like ‘proficient speaker’, ‘competent user’, ‘expert user’, mono/bi/multilingual English speaker, etc. The problem is that none of the labels have stuck, and researchers still use the labels NS and NNS. Usually, every paper on the issue starts with: We acknowledge the shortcomings and criticisms of NS and NNS dichotomy, but this paper with nevertheless use these terms for want of better ones.
      I think at times NS and NNS are helpful aproximations. Especially in non-professional discussions. They have also helped to pinpoint the problem and area of inquiry, which in the last two decades has produced lots of good research on NNESTs and NESTs. They are very misleading, though. And impossible to define (Alan Davis devoted a whole book to the definition of a NS, and didn’t really get anywhere concrete).
      It might make a good post for this blog, Nik, if you’re up for writing one. Something along the lines while NS and NNS labels are inadequate, why they shouldn’t be used in ELT professional discourse, etc.

  3. Kane says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the term ‘bilingual’. Doesn’t that suggest that your English is on par with your mother tongue? Although this may very well be the case for you, I’m in no doubt that this is not the case for the majority of non-native English speaking teachers. I have worked as an EFL teacher for more than 5 years in numerous countries, and didn’t complete my CELTA until 3 years after becoming an EFL teacher. (a strange way of doing it, I know) but there were at least 10 very competent and experienced NNESTs , however, none of them were even close to perfect in spoken or written English. I am not denying that they brought other strengths and qualities which were greatly appreciated by all NESTs. If I was in the students’ position however, and they had made themselves out to be bilingual, I’d walk away feeling a little bit disappointed.

    • Lina says:

      /I’m not sure I agree with the term ‘bilingual’. Doesn’t that suggest that your English is on par with your mother tongue?

      Actually, not necessarily. According to one of the official classifications of bilingualism, there’re 4 types of bilinguals:
      1) born bilinguals,
      2) early bilinguals (those who started learning L2 when they were children, roughly 5 y.o. or less),
      3) teenage bilinguals (those who started learning L2 when they were teenagers),
      4) and adult bilinguals (those who started learning L2 when they were adults).
      So it depends on what you mean by ‘bilingual’ since technically it simply means ‘someone who can speak two languages’ (presumably that they’re fluent in L2). Hence the teachers you were talking about were right calling themselves bilingual. However, they’re not born bilinguals and they learnt L2 rather than acquired it as born bilinguals do.

  4. Lina says:

    Hi Adam and thank you for your inspiring infographics!
    It is indeed true that most of the nNESTs do possess these qualities you are talking about. And it comes with no surprise for me that one of my colleagues who is the most popular among students is Japanese. They’re simply fascinated with the fact that a Japanese person (students are also Japanese) managed to learn English that well. They ask him tons of questions and want to speak English as fluently as he does. And they try twice harder not to disappoint him.

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