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Which words do you want to carry with you [400093]

NS and NNS labels: a false dichotomy?

Two days after Silvana Richardson’s brilliant plenary: The Native factor (read more about it here), there was an equally fascinating Q&A session. However, since it was impossible to address all the questions posed by the audience then and there, Silvana and I decided we would continue the discussion on this blog. We gathered all the questions and divided them into four groups according to the emerging topics:

  1. NS and NNS labels: a false dichotomy?
  2. NS and NNS identity: issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority
  3. Language proficiency: is there a minimum level for a teacher?
  4. What can we do to advance equality in ELT? How can I get involved

This is the first post with questions on the topic of NS and NNS labels. We’d like to invite you to answer the questions below in the comments section. We’ll then gather the answers and post a follow-up article also including our comments.

Which words do you want to carry with you [400093]
Design @tekhnologicblog
  1. Who is a native English speaker anyway?
  2. Are non-native English speakers shooting themselves in the foot by calling themselves non-native?
  3. Is the native vs non-native a false dichotomy?
  4. What terms can we use instead of native and non-native, or NEST and NNEST?
  5. How about monolingual and multilingual English teachers?

For the next three weeks we will post the remaining three topics, one every week. So if you’re interested in continuing the discussion, stay tuned. Follow the blog on Twitter, FB or via email so you don’t miss any of the discussion.

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laurasoracco
Guest

3. On terms to use: those that we feel identify us not from our “deficiency” but from what we can do. I like multilingual.

James
Guest
James

It’s a fair point that the term NNS implies a deficiency, but the labels of NS and NNS do not define the same qualities as the terms ‘monolingual’ and ‘multilingual’. What’s necessary in this case are labels which define the degree of a teacher’s language proficiency, because in my view that’s what the terms NS and NNS imply.

martinerant
Guest

1. Who is a native English speaker anyway? This is a question that I want to think about a little more before responding (I may wait and see what others have to say). 2. Are non-native English speakers shooting themselves in the foot by calling themselves non-native? Only if they’re not thinking about whether there might be better alternatives – which is exactly what happens on TEA! 3. Is the native vs non-native a false dichotomy? There’s only one correct answer to this question – yes. 4. (and 5) What terms can we use instead of native and non-native, or… Read more »

assuittwtgroup
Guest

I think Native speakers who learn and KNOW the original of any language.Therefore,there are lots of foregners or Second English language Speaker are fluency in speaking like nativespeakers but I think not like the orignal who speaks languaguage from birth.

nicroseper
Guest

Yes, of course it’s a false dichotomy but it’s also a business driven reality that causes inequality. So it’s one we have to live with and fight against. Finding new labels is not going to resolve the issues of people being discriminated against. It just allows the discrimination to be hidden behind new labels. My first language is English but I speak three more languages as well so I am therefore multilingual. The idea that all ‘native speakers ‘ are monolingual is a bit daft. The definition of a native speaker is sometimes determined by governments for visa purposes. I… Read more »

Joe
Guest
Joe

1. Who is a native English speaker anyway? It’s obviously difficult to define, but personally, I’d say you’re a native speaker of whatever your strongest language is (that might be more than one in some cases). 2. Are non-native English speakers shooting themselves in the foot by calling themselves non-native? Probably. But it’s more employers that make the distinction rather than teachers. 3. Is the native vs non-native a false dichotomy? To some extent. One of the issues I had with Sylvana’s talk was that she seemed to have assumptions about the skills of NESTs and NNSETs. There was an… Read more »

James
Guest
James

Strong argument – I agree with all the points you have made.

James
Guest
James

In response to Questions 3 and 5, if the native vs non-native categories pose a false dichotomy, it is also possible that the labels of monolingual and multilingual do so too. Looking at the dictionary definitions, the difference between NS and NNS definitely isn’t clear-cut, as a NNS could have spoken their L2 since they were a baby, for example with a kindergarten or nursery teacher. native speaker someone who has ​spoken a ​particular ​language since they were a ​baby, ​rather than having ​learned it as a ​child or ​adult non-native speaker someone who has ​learned a ​particular ​language as… Read more »

Andrea Milanović
Guest

Who is a native English speaker anyway? Officially: “A person who has spoken the language in question from earliest childhood” (thanks Oxford dictionary) For students: “someone who says ‘America/UK’ when you ask them where they’re from.” I actually don’t think changing the definition will solve any problems. Instead I think we should focus on understanding the problems with these definitions until they become obsolete. I’m bilingual but right now I feel far more comfortable teaching English than I would my “native” language. I moved away 3 years ago and even before that I used English more often than my native.… Read more »

Dita Phillips
Guest
Dita Phillips

The more I think about it the more I dislike the terms mono and multilingual. As mentioned above these are not only merely side stepping the real issue but, in fact, creating a dichotomy of their own. Why stigmatize yet another group? All English teachers are lingual, but some are more lingual than others? The need for labels seems to come from the need to ensure sufficient language proficiency. That’s why any new labels should cover this area. Suggestions like competent or fluent user of English seem to be heading in that direction. There is another issue though. There seems… Read more »

steve hirschhorn
Guest

One day we’ll arrive at a point when such a differentiation won’t be needed but until then, what about L1 or L2 English Language teacher?

tekhnologic
Guest

This post has been fascinating to follow. I don’t think I have much to add, but I find myself wondering why we aren’t talking about proficiency more. I have never been confident enough to say that I am bilingual. Some people are more critical of their own abilities than others. So, Whilst I wouldn’t be happy to describe myself as monolingual, neither would I describe myself as multilingual. I would be happy to say I know bits and pieces of other languages, but I know them all to varying degrees of proficiency. If I was to pursue a job which… Read more »

peter
Guest
peter

I speak some Italian (B2+). Someone who was socialised in Italy and/or acquired the language during their formative years would be a native speaker. Why on earth should I feel in any way offended if someone called me a non-native speaker of Italian? Or, for that matter, if I was told that my pronunciation wasn’t sufficiently authentic to pass as an Italian? I for one want an Italian teacher whom I can rely on to provide an authentic language model at beyond C2 level proficiency. It would be exceedingly rare for someone who had learnt Italian as L2 to have… Read more »

peter
Guest
peter

Well, like everyone else, you are entitled to your views, as long as you don’t insist that others share them. Being a “good teacher” and being a native speaker are not mutually excusive categories. I do take exception to your telling me my goal should not be sounding like a native speaker. I WANT to sound like a native speaker, or as close as I can get. That is MY goal.

Bárbara Hernandes
Guest

Why would anyone want to sound like a native speaker when they’ll never be considered one anyway? You might try to emulate and copy native’s accent and all, but there’s always gonna be something about you that gives away the fact that you’re not a native speaker in that language. I don’t understand people’s obsession with sounding like a native speaker.

nicroseper
Guest

I think you’ve made a good point, and I think this is an important aspect of the dichotomy. There is too often an assumption that ‘native like’ is the ultimate goal. Now, I don’t think it’s up to us to decide what our learners’ goals should be but I do believe that we need to challenge those assumptions and educate learners to set targets and goals that are valid and realistic. I haven’t found it difficult to get that message across generally. Once students understand and believe in this new goal, they often feel more motivated and successful as they… Read more »

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[…] NS and NNS labels: a false dichotomy? – read the questions, the comments, and join the discussion here. […]

Dave Richerlly
Guest

Food for thought NS has been studied, however, no simple or clear definition is forthcoming. Research also reveals an additional societal aspect, as gender, ethnicity and mother tongue are also part of the Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) context. At all levels there has been a certain level of discrimination towards NNESTs; universities across the UK and abroad offer TESOL courses to NNSs and NNESTs knowing that they may be discriminated against in the job market. Just as qualification does not necessarily equate to competence, neither does being a NS; NESTs and NNESTs can instead strengthen their… Read more »

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[…] another current and off we went in our flabby, by now somewhat tattered boat, off to the waters of what terminology might take the place of native speaker: native-like, near-native and so on. Levels of language were […]

trackback

[…] NS and NNS labels: a false dichotomy? – read the questions, the comments, and join the discussion here. […]

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