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NS and NNS identity: issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority.

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? – read the questions, the comments, and join the discussion here.
  2. Proficiency: is there a minimum level for a language teacher? – read the questions, the comments (99 and still counting), and join the discussion here.
  3. NS and NNS identity: issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority.
  4. What can we do to advance equality in ELT? How can I get involved.

This is the third post with questions on the topic of identity, issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority. 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.

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  1. The NNEST voice is an incredibly powerful source of quality exposure for learners in low-resource environments. How can we encourage NNESTs to value it?
  2. How can we cope as NNESTs when stakeholders want students to learn native speaker accents?
  3. How to overcome self-esteem and self-confidence problems many NNESTs face?
  4. What about NNESTs teaching away from their home countries? Where do they fit in the NEST and NNEST debate? What is their status?

Next week we will post the remaining topic on what you can do to support equal professional and employment opportunities for NS and NNS in ELT. 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. You can also read the questions, comments, and get involved in the discussion on NS and NNS labels: a false dichotomy here, and on Proficiency: is there a minimum level for a language teacher? here.

And if you’re interested in reading up a bit on NS and NNS issues, native speakerism or English as a Lingua Franca, check out the Reading List section with links to academic publications that are freely available on the internet. If you prefer to watch something, check out Videos section for a selection of talks and interviews.

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Elizabeth Bekes
Guest
Elizabeth Bekes

“The NNEST voice is an incredibly powerful source of quality exposure for learners in low-resource environments. How can we encourage NNESTs to value it?” “Quality exposure” only exists when there is quality input (language and methodology) coming from the teacher. However, even in low-resource environments it might be possible to access some authentic input (Englishes and Lingua Franca) through TV programmes, the Internet and expat volunteers (I’ve been using all expansively in Ecuador). “How can we cope as NNESTs when stakeholders want students to learn native speaker accents?” This might be a burning issue for highly proficient, pedagogically super-trained NNESTs… Read more »

nickbilbrough
Guest

Hi Elizabeth, It was me who wrote question number one in Silvana’s follow up session. I didn’t get any answers to it on the day so I’m very pleased to see it’s been included here. When I wrote this…“The NNEST voice is an incredibly powerful source of quality exposure for learners in low-resource environments. How can we encourage NNESTs to value it?” I was thinking about contexts around the world where learners don’t actually hear much if any English outside of class. There are still plenty of places where this is the case, where the teacher talking English might be… Read more »

interested in the discussion
Guest
interested in the discussion

Hi, I think this is a very interesting discussion and I agree that the terminology of native and non native might not be helpful and while a change in terminology could indicate a change in approach, there are some basic issues that need addressing, I would be interested in hearing your comments. The discussion seems to be polarised between the skills of the different groups of teachers, are native better than non natives? for example. Or in explaining why NNESTs can supply everything required for learners. While not disputing this, I would like to ask Is there anything a native… Read more »

Elizabeth Bekes
Guest
Elizabeth Bekes

Hi, one answer to your question “What if the customers request native speakers?” is to have a team of teachers with a mix of NSs and NNSs in it going as far as actual team-teaching in pairs. Obviously, this would imply both of them playing to their strengths without a conspicuous difference in their language / methodology / classroom management skills.

interested in the discussion
Guest
interested in the discussion

Thanks for the comment. Yes having a team of teachers would be one solution,although it follows that logically it would require on occaison advertising or recruiting specifically native speaking teachers. How would people feel about this? If the student requested a native teacher are you saying we should convince them that a ‘tag team’ would be better? Did you say what you thought a native could add, that a non native couldn’t? Sorry for the questions, but when people are using the terminology of ‘discrimination’ I think we should clarify are there situtaions in which you think it would be… Read more »

Elizabeth Bekes
Guest
Elizabeth Bekes

You are the only one who can judge the context in which you work, but all things being equal, you would need to weigh up the full range of skills of an applicant, not just their being NSs or NNSs. Even when students request native speakers to teach them, they may not want to be taught by them all the time (especially in intensive courses), so there might be a chance to introduce NNESTs in the teaching process mindful of the fact that, realistically, the given student is a lot more likely to use English for communication with people who… Read more »

interested in the discussion
Guest
interested in the discussion

I agree with many of the points you make, and taking all these things into account, do you think it is acceptable to advertise for a native English teacher to add to the range of skills available in a school? Or is this discrimination?

Elizabeth Bekes
Guest
Elizabeth Bekes

I would welcome the native speaker teacher’s contribution not just because of what she can offer to the students, but for the opportunity of experience-sharing with my exclusively NNEST colleagues, too (my context). As an HR person, I wouldn’t shy away from taking such a decision, but in some countries it is against the law to specify such an attribute, in others institutions have voluntarily decided to become “equal opportunity employers” in this regard.

Cat Cloudy (@cat71cloud)
Guest

I’m glad you asked question four, because this is a special status not often included in the whole NEST/NNEST discussion. It is often said that one of the advantage of NNESTs is that they know their students’ L1 and/or their culture. They’re multilingual and multicultural and can use these qualities to enhance their lessons. What about teachers whose first language is neither English nor the local language? Do they lose that advantage, resulting in an automatic sinking of their ‘good teacher’ score? I think this demonstrates the dangers of trying to measure teacher effectiveness based on the qualities one has… Read more »

Elizabeth Bekes
Guest
Elizabeth Bekes

“What about teachers whose first language is neither English nor the local language? Do they lose that advantage, resulting in an automatic sinking of their ‘good teacher’ score?” I should hope not, but I can only describe my own experience. My mother tongue is Hungarian. I am now teaching English to Spanish speaking university students in Ecuador. I taught English to Greek students in Crete and Amharic speakers in Ethiopia. I gave English lessons to the indigenous Achuar in the Amazonian jungle (with Spanish being the intermediary language) and would like to teach English in Turkey to Syrian refugees and… Read more »

Cat Cloudy (@cat71cloud)
Guest

Ωραία. 🙂 It’s wonderful that you get to learn the local language wherever you go. You say that it would be impossible to relate to your students difficulties without knowing their first language. Do you mean on an emotional level? I think it certainly helps, in terms of specific issues, but in general if one has ever learned a foreign language, any one, it still helps with relating.

Elizabeth Bekes
Guest
Elizabeth Bekes

Efharisto para poli 🙂

Indeed, but many NESTs do just that (learn their students’ first language in monolingual contexts), so this approach is not a specificity of NNESTs, it’s more of an attitude. The fun my students are having when I mispronounce a Spanish word! Or, when I ask them: “Is ‘corazón’ (heart) feminine or masculine? Does it take ‘el’ or ‘la’?”, and a male student responds, blushing “It depends, Teacher…” 🙂

“would be impossible” – read: hard – and I was thinking mainly of language difficulties rather than the emotional aspect

interested in the discussion
Guest
interested in the discussion

I agree with the idea of looking at teachers as individuals, not as representataives of a group, but it is impossible to look at a teacher’s skills and experience without looking at their linguistic background. My problem with the idea of equality between NESTs and NNESTs is that it is abstract and moralising. I appreciate that Elizabeth is responding to comments, but she is doing her best to avoid clear answers. Every teacher brings a skillset informed by their training and experience and school Managers have to assess that in relation to the current requirement of thier schools. That requirement… Read more »

Cat Cloudy (@cat71cloud)
Guest

I agree partly with what you’re saying. You say it’s not discrimination to consider someone’s linguistic background, because it’s directly relevant to their teaching. It may not be discrimination, but it seems verging on prejudice to me. Someone’s linguistic present (how proficient they are) is more important than their linguistic background, and this can be easily ascertained at the interview. Qualifications can also attest to it. Why make assumptions based on where someone was born? To be fair, to assume that a non-native’s grasp of grammar is better than a native’s is also not ideal, and not professional in my… Read more »

Joe
Guest
Joe

It’s discriminatory to advertise for native speakers, but it’s not discriminatory to advertise for (for example) a 9.0 on the IELTS score. The law perfectly allows for employers to choose candidates based on linguistic proficiency, it just doesn’t allow them to disqualify candidates based on nothing but their country of origin. I think that’s fair enough.

Cat Cloudy (@cat71cloud)
Guest

It would certainly be legal to advertise for 9.0 on the IELTS. Few already do, a couple of places I applied to asked me for it. The question is, do they ask it of native speakers, too? Would all native speakers get 9.0 on the IELTS? Is it perfection we’re aiming for? I don’t see any companies advertising for a 4.0 GPA, for example. Or even an A on the CELTA (although some view it as a ‘desirable’ qualification)

interested in the discussion
Guest
interested in the discussion

Hi I agree with you that job allocation should be based on a discussion with the applicant. But the reality is most TEFL NEST teachers qualify with a CELta at best, or a TEFL qualification gained online in a matter of weeks, whereas all NNESTs I have ever come across have at least a degree in English and usually a degree in pedagogy so most NNESTs are are far more qualified than most NESTs, now this is obviously not in every case. But no one in this thread is defending the idea that advertising for a NEST is discriminating against… Read more »

Joe
Guest
Joe

What exactly does a degree in English infer though? I’d suggest that it varies wildly depending on the country you study in. I’ve had students in my elementary classes who had been studying English at university, for example, and students who have graduated who I’d put at B1 level at best. And at the other end of the scale, a friend of mine who studied his English degree in Hungary had to read Ulysses. Although that was an English literature degree, so would that make him “more qualified” to teach English, given than it isn’t specifically about linguistics? And where… Read more »

interested in the discussion
Guest
interested in the discussion

Hi Joe, I agree it can vary wildly.

In your earlier comment you said it was against the law to advertise for a native speaker, so that kind of closes the discussion for me. Out of curiosity, is that across the EC or in slelected countries?

nicroseper
Guest

Self-confidence and self-esteem are indeed major issues to be overcome. If you’ve worked hard to do everything you needed to be regarded as equal (proficiency, qualifications, experience etc.) only to find out you’re still thought of that way, you have to have a lot of both to keep going. I have used very general terms here because many women still face this type of discrimination in a number of professions. Luckily, I don’t think ours is one of them. I wonder though how many NNS teachers really believe in their equality. In the research field of teacher cognition, especially related… Read more »

Cat Cloudy (@cat71cloud)
Guest

You are absolutely right, we are a product of our education system and/or the society we have grown up in. Even if we wholeheartedly support the NNEST movement, there still may be a question at the back of our minds: Am I good enough? I’ve heard this from colleagues, and I certainly feel this way. This is reinforced when accent issues are mentioned at interviews, or even by students. It takes a lot of inner strength to overcome it.

interested in the discussion
Guest
interested in the discussion

There are so many generalisations that keep being repeated and taken as fact in this discussion it is hard to get to grips with it. Employers do not necessarily think natives are ‘better’ or have ‘better’ accents, but employing natives is an important part of the range of experiences and skills necessary for a school. There is no one ‘English’ or native accent, regional accents in the UK are amazingly different and very few people speak with RP or ‘BBC English’. Teachers are not equal- they should be treated equally. No one has the ‘right’ to a teaching job, you… Read more »

nicroseper
Guest

The things you are calling generalisations are perhaps a part of the discussion that has gone on before you joined it, or in response to some of the points made in Silvana’s plenary and especially to a body of academic research that underlies and supports much of what is being discussed here. Not tropes but previously established points of reference.

peter
Guest
peter

Thanks, finally a sane voice in this debate. Personally, what I find especially annoying in all this is the rhetoric of victimhood coupled with pop psychology (“self-image”, “self-confidence”, etc.).

interested in the discussion
Guest
interested in the discussion

Hi Marek, Thanks for your post , I agree with a lot of what you said. Generalisations may not be the right word, maybe ‘assertions’ fits better, it may be true that there is research showing that the opinions of recruiters are as claimed, i don’t know, I haven’t seen it. But if it does, then we can say most, e.g. most recruiters view NESTs as preferable. But it is important that it is not all. . “Employers do not necessarily think natives are ‘better’ or have ‘better’ accents, but employing natives is an important part of the range of… Read more »

Joe
Guest
Joe

The same question would apply to someone advertising for NEST only. Why exactly do you need a NNEST? I can only think of reasons that would be based on assumptions (i.e. they understand the students’ culture better, they’re better at grammar, native teachers don’t speak the local language). It’s perfectly acceptable to advertise for a bilingual teacher, but advertising specifically for a non-native teacher is just as discriminatory as advertising specifically for a native teacher.

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[…] NS and NNS identity: issues of self-confidence, language ownership and authority. – read the questions, the comments, and join the discussion here. […]

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[…] 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…  […]

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