'Becoming a successful Business English teacher in Italy' by Chiara Bruzzano

It is all quite funny if I think about it now, with a pile of Business English books to choose from on one side, a pile of email to respond to, and a pile of thoughts to put in order at some point.

I had just come back home and got called in for an interview by what sounded like a great potential employer of Business English teachers in Milan. Milan is known to be the city of business in Italy, so no wonder they’d be in dire need of qualified, competent Business English teacher, right?

Little did I know that apparently, what Milan is in dire need of is native speakers of English who also coincidentally can teach Business English. And as I sat through an almost two-hour-long interview, discussing all sorts of fascinating methodological aspects of teaching with an equally fascinating, interesting teacher, I certainly did not expect it to end with a polite and incredibly disappointing “I think you’re a great teacher, but I cannot hire you because of your name and nationality. I would not be able to sell you to my clients”.

As I try to describe this while sounding as little bitter as possible – and yes, failing miserably – I think back to what brought me to that interview. A semester in London, three years at one of the top Interpreting and Translation Schools in Europe, a year working at Google as a language specialist, a Master’s Degree in TESOL and Translation in England, and a really exciting, however short, career in teaching: a year as a teacher of EAP and IELTS at Aston University, a summer teaching in summer schools in England, a semester teaching in a language school in Spain, and a few months of Business English and online teaching in Milan.

While I did acknowledge that I was quite inexperienced (and I still am now), I would have just loved it if the employer of the interview had rejected me because of my lack of experience. I did not and I still do not, however, accept it on the grounds of my nativeness, or lack thereof: the one single piece of information I did not think I should use (the scholarship reserved to native speakers I got at Aston University) turned out to be the decisive factor I should have probably used.

Coming back to Italy, which is the place in which I was born, raised, schooled and fed pasta (no, it’s not a stereotype, it’s the happy truth), was a turning point for me. I had already noticed a fair degree of discrimination in job ads asking for native speakers, but it got me thinking: was it right for me to pretend to be one, just because people never noticed I was not one? How would this affect me, my personality and the way in which all of this normally has repercussions on one’s teaching?

I gave a talk at TESOL Italy in Rome in November 2015, where I met a bunch of great, like-minded teachers and Marek. He made me reflect on how this type of discrimination is in fact unfair and how it should end.

I have therefore come up with two lists that might not be the best idea (if a potential of former employer of mine is reading, please scroll down to the bottom, where I plan to describe how brilliantly I am doing at the moment), but for the sake of the cause: reasons why I should be hired and reasons why I shouldn’t.

Reasons why I should be hired:

  • I am reliable
  • I am trustworthy (unless you trust me with your chocolate or something)
  • I am active and energetic in my classes
  • I am thorough in my class preparation
  • I have a background in L2 acquisition, not only teaching, which gives me a great insight into learners’ difficulties

Reasons why I shouldn’t be hired:

  • I become easily stressed
  • I have frequent headaches which can sometimes jeopardise my performance
  • I have a tendency to remember very small details and sometimes forget absolutely crucial things
  • I cannot draw and sometimes use the board in very questionable ways
  • I am incredibly clumsy, which I believe can make me look less professional, especially in a Business English environment

I suppose you will have noticed that none of these reasons are related to me not being a native speaker. I know quite a few native speakers who are incredibly skilled teachers of English. I have always respected them and asked for their advice not because of their nativeness, but because of their commitment, personality, background and creativity. By the same token, I do not appreciate a native speaker who will not put any thought into planning a class just like I do not appreciate a non-native teacher doing the same.

To conclude what would probably go on to be a sad attempt to make one of my hidden dreams come true (yes, I would have absolutely loved to be a lawyer, and a wordy one at that), let me describe what I’m doing at the moment. I have worked as a Business English Teacher in Milan for almost a year, complementing it with my interpreting, translation and online teaching work. I recently got hired by a management consulting firm who has trusted me with organising and managing all their Business English courses. I have thus gone full freelance, I have tested and grouped the students, and I will start my own courses, with my own materials and syllabus, next week (good luck messages are more than welcome).

I do not believe I have achieved a lot and I know that I still need to study and work hard to learn how to be a good teacher; I do however believe that I have achieved what I would not have thought possible had I stopped at that first “no”.

If you are reading this and you have had similar experiences, I would like to recommend a couple of things. Firstly, study, study, study: from my perspective, this is what ultimately makes the difference.

Secondly, when they tell you no because “you’re not a native speaker”, don’t stop searching and don’t stop believing in yourself. Try to get as many internationally recognised qualifications as possible (CELTA, DELTA, CELTA for YL, MA TESOL, etc.). Watch this video to learn how to boost your confidence.

Brand yourself: Linkedin, local websites for teachers and your own website (which you can create easily and for free on Weebly or WordPress) can take you a longer way than you might think. To learn how to market yourself as a non-native speaker, check out this article written by a marketing expert Bryn Bonino.

Keep up to date, develop in your profession, take care of your students, obtain good references from your employers: just like with most other jobs, you are the asset and you can in no way let your nationality of “mother tongue” prevent you from becoming who you want to be. 

That is, an excellent teacher – or at least one who can’t be trusted with chocolate like me but will still put all the effort into being professional and passionate, and making the difference in the students’ lives.

If you want to learn how to get TEFL jobs as a non-native speaker, check out this e-book:

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Chiara is an English teacher and translator based in Milan. She has taught English as a second language in England, Spain and Italy. She has a BA in Interpreting and Translation (University of Bologna) and an MA in TESOL and Translation Studies (Aston University, Birmingham). Her main interests in the TESOL field are pronunciation, comparative grammar, the teaching of listening skills and communicative language teaching applied to business contexts. She’s now the course manager and Business English teacher at a management consulting firm in Milan.

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4 years ago

Hi Chiara, your persistence is admirable and congratulations on your current position.

My real name being Giuseppe Modafferi would of hindered me from a successful teaching career in Rome for the last four years, so I used Joe Moda which is also my stage name.

I recently moved to Milan to teach business English and am currently looking for opportunities. If you can advise me? I would appreciate it .


Joe Moda

4 years ago

What CAN we do then?
All the best to us!

4 years ago
Reply to  Gabriela

Good question, Gaby. What I wrote in the article still stands, plus Marek has some great advice on this topic here: https://teflequityadvocates.com/get-involved/what-can-i-do/

Hope it helps! 🙂

3 years ago

Hi Chiara,

I stumbled on your blog while looking up some info about how to move to Rome and teach there. I’m working in Madrid now and I’m doing really well being self-employed. I’m playing with the thought of moving to Rome. Do you think I could make a good income there?



2 years ago

I am not a native speaker but I want to master Business English. Thank you for the inspiration ❤

John Paul Hodge
John Paul Hodge
1 year ago

Sorry to hear about your problems. As a native speaker with a CELTA qualification and limited teaching experience, I must say that your lucid and eloquent writings here clearly prove that you know what you’re doing.
My advice: Don’t fight the system. Don’t confront a wall; just go around it.
Change your name legally and get the key institutions that issued your qualifications to reissue your documents.
Sometimes being too honest is counterproductive.
Probably most practical way to solve it.
My 2 cents.


[…] It is all quite funny if I think about it now, with a pile of Business English books to choose from on one side, a pile of email to respond to, and a pile of thoughts to put in order at some point. I had just come back home and got called in for an…  […]

4 years ago

Chiara, I was amazed by your excellent writing skill and how you have put your insights into words. It is sad that some English teachers with this much good English skills are discriminated over their national backgrounds. Believe me, it often happens even to the people who have been UK citizens for more than 20 years and obtain qualifications in teaching English and have native-level English. I have also experienced that being a native speaker doesn’t always guarantee that the person will have excellent language skills. So, keep teaching!

Richard Willmsen
4 years ago

You sound like an excellent teacher and obviously have the qualifications and experience to prove it. That school who turned you down obviously missed out through their own stupid fault.

4 years ago

Hi Richard, that’s nice of you and thanks! I think the more I go on with the job, the more I learn how biased that whole experience was. I don’t even think it’s their own fault per se, it’s mostly “the market”, as they put it.

4 years ago

I’m a native teacher with a funny name. I’m also a “would have been a wordy lawyer in another life”.
My advice to you?
Italy is still in the EU….
… so sue the #@%ggers!
It’s the most delicious CPD money you’ll ever earn!
Now where did that Toblerone get to? I could have sworn there was one on my desk a moment ago.

4 years ago
Reply to  teacherdonny

Donny, that was genuinely funny! 😀

Do you know what’s even funnier? I’m moving back to Brexitland in a few months! I suppose I should bring some Toblerone just in case…

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