Stand up and be counted – by Adam Beale

I recently started to apply to other academies here in Madrid. Several had been recommended by friends and colleagues and so I decided to send off my CV. I had an interview at one for a senior position, but no luck. I persevered and tried for another of the schools on my recommended list. Within a couple of hours of emailing them I received this response;

Hi there Adam,

Thanks for your email and interest in our schools. We are now holding interviews for the coming academic year 2016/17 between now and early September. Please get back to us and let us know which dates and times are good for you to attend an interview here in Madrid.

Our minimum requirements are that applicants be native speakers, hold a European passport (or have working papers for Spain),  have a degree, the CELTA (or equivalent diploma) and a minimum of one year’s prior teaching experience to work in one of our six schools here in Madrid.

This is exactly as it appeared to me and the ‘native speakers’ part was already in bold type. But why was it in bold type? Why was it necessary to stress this particular requirement and not any of the others? More to the point, why don’t they realise this is discriminatory practice?

I could have just not responded. I could have ignored it and replied with a time and a date for an interview. I could have pointed it out to my colleagues that this particular school was discriminating against teachers because they weren’t natives and to stay away. I could have done a lot of things, but instead I did what I knew was the right thing. I called them out and wrote back, telling them that they were wrong to ask for ‘native speakers’ only and I would not be continuing my application. My response is below;

Thank you for your quick reply to my recent email about potential teacher vacancies at your school.

Unfortunately, I will not be taking my application any further. 

In your reply to my email you stated that one of the school requirements was for the applicant to be a ‘native speaker’. I was saddened to see an established school such as yourself being discriminatory towards non-native English speaking teachers (NNESTs). 

In my six years as a teacher I have worked with many NNESTs and I can safely say that they are some of the best teachers I have had the fortune to work alongside. Not only do they hold the same qualifications as a NEST, but they often have a better grasp of the English language and a more intimate depth of its grammar. This is mostly due to them having been through the struggle of becoming proficient in the English language, which as I’m sure you are aware, is no mean feat.

Therefore, I find it difficult to understand why you would deny your students the chance of being taught by NNESTs. Why would you not want the students to have a role model who can show them that it is possible to reach proficiency in a language? Why wouldn’t you want to employ teachers that know the inner workings of English grammar and who have personal experience of successfully learning these structures? Why would you want to contribute to needless reinforcement of the view held by many students that the only way to learn a language is by having a native speaker as a teacher?  

I wish you the best of luck with your recruitment for the coming academic year and I hope that you reassess your requirements for teachers.

Kind regards,

Adam 

Some of you may have seen this on twitter. It got an awful lot of attention, which I was not expecting but immensely grateful for. My purpose for tweeting it was simply to draw attention to the fact that this happens rather than to get lots of retweets and likes. Nevertheless, the amount of attention somewhat validated my action. The stream of messages I received made me realise that this is something more people should be doing. It’s not a matter of naming and shaming but bringing this unfair practice to light. We should be confronting schools and academies that do this and we should engage in constructive conversations that aim to get them to change the way they advertise and employ teachers.

My email received a reply;

Hi Adam,

You are quite right in that non-native Teachers often make excellent Teachers. We have had experience of that in the past. However, we are somewhat pressured by the demand of the market here in Spain for “Native” teachers of English. It appears to be a strong requirement of theirs. Having said that, our school does believe in equality of opportunity and we never do close the door on non-native teachers but take everything into consideration and often do interview non-native candidates.

I wish you the best for the future.

I could have almost predicted this reply, the pressure in demand, a strong requirement from students etc. I understand that primarily (and sadly) academies and schools are businesses but this does not mean morals and good practice go out of the window. I could not let it lie, so I responded;

 Thanks again for responding and I hope you understand that this is nothing personal and clearly it’s an industry wide problem. However, I feel that to combat this problem, it is schools like yours that need to do it.

Firstly, we need to ask ourselves where this demand comes from. Secondly, when this demand appears as a requirement do we try to counter it with effective arguments in favour of NNESTs? Finally, you say that “we never close the door on non-native teachers but take everything into consideration” yet if I were a non native speaker and I received your previous email about how being a native was “a minimum requirement”, I would immediately feel as though the door was already closed.

I have no right to tell you how to run your business, but I feel that I have the right as someone who works in this profession, to ask you to reconsider your minimum requirements in order to buck the current trend in the ELT profession and promote inclusivity in ELT.

Kind regards,

Adam

I’m yet to receive a reply but I really hope that my actions might have caused them to stop and think. Wishful thinking, I know but I would implore anyone who finds themselves in the same situation to stand up and fight back.

Adobe Spark

adam bealeMy name is Adam Beale. I have been teaching in ELT for 6 years. I currently reside in Madrid and I am happy to call it home. I completed my Trinity cert in 2010 and promptly moved to Santander, Spain to begin my teaching career. Since then, I have spoken at several conferences about Dogme, learner diaries and projects with YLs as well as starting my own blog, where I write about my experiences as a teacher. I completed my DELTA this year and I am looking to make a move into teacher training.

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “Stand up and be counted – by Adam Beale

  1. Elizabeth Bekes says:

    Good for you, Adam! I am so pleased you insisted. If you ever want to come and work in Ecuador (paid or volunteering), let me know! You will find a lot of eager NNESTs there including my good self, Elizabeth Bekes

  2. Ralph Doe says:

    I sympathize with the feelings of this person however I have the dubious pleasure of working with a non-native speaker and she, an Italian lady, definitely still has problems grasping some pronunciation and grammar points.

    • bealer81 says:

      Hi Ralph,

      Thanks for commenting. Have you pointed out to your Italian friend the problems she is having and tried to help her with them? She would probably appreciate it as long as it is delivered in the right way. Let me know how it goes.

      All the best,

      Adam

      • Elizabeth Bekes says:

        Ralph, there are non-native speakers and there are non-native speakers. Highly proficient, bi/multi-lingual NNESTs can bring an enormous amount of knowledge and experience to the table. Pronunciation (so long as it does not get in the way of comprehension) is not such an important issue any more in our globalised world. It is the lady’s duty to improve (as any professional would want to do) and perhaps you can even help her? Becoming her mentor might change your perspective from “dubious” to “very great”…:-)

  3. Zhenya says:

    Hi Adam

    Thank you for the inspiration: this post, and your e-mails, are wonderful examples (even models!) how NNST ‘issue’ can and needs to be addressed. So often, we are just quiet! 🙂
    Zhenya

    • bealer81 says:

      You are more than welcome, Zhenya. I am happy to fight the good fight wherever and whenever.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Adam

  4. Elizabeth Bekes says:

    Ralph, there are non-native speakers and there are non-native speakers. Highly proficient, bi/multi-lingual NNESTs can bring an enormous amount of knowledge and experience to the table. Pronunciation (so long as it does not get in the way of comprehension) is not such an important issue any more in our globalised world. It is the lady’s duty to improve (as any professional would want to do) and perhaps you can even help her? Becoming her mentor might change your perspective from “dubious” to “very great”… 🙂

  5. Sue Annan says:

    I’ve just had a similar conversation with my class of advanced adults. Most of them, unfortunately, would have agreed that their priority was to have a native speaker teacher. We discussed it for a long time, and finally they agreed that a NNest could have even better language skills- but they were really hung up on the accent thing.

    • marekkiczkowiak says:

      But I think it’s really important to discuss it. We bring up all sorts of issues up for debate with students, so why not this one too. A few might be convinced. A few might not, but at least we’ve raised some awareness.
      Regarding the accent issue, there’s a recent study from TESOL Quarterly which shows that there was no difference in terms of pron improvement between the group taught by a NS and that taught by a NNS: https://1drv.ms/b/s!AkfcA1d4u3qwgupsqO5IoUozZeW-MQ Not surprising if you think about it. Very few sts will ever be able to pass off for a NS in terms of pron.

    • molly says:

      the truth is you CANNOT teach an accent! everyone has his/her own and the person will speak his/her own way anyway, especially when English is their second language.

  6. bealer81 says:

    Whenever my students tell me they want to have a native like accent, I sit them down and explain as nicely as possible that spending 3 hrs a week with me is nowhere near enough time to acquire a native like accent. They would need to spend a minimum of 6 months in a English speaking country to achieve that.

    • Natália Guerreiro says:

      That’s another myth, I believe. You can spend a lifetime abroad and not acquire a native-like accent, or acquire it in your home country.

      Now why they’d want a native-like accent is a whole different question…

  7. Ryan (Peru) says:

    Adam, if the client requests a native speaker for a particular role, then it is not discriminatory for an institution to only consider a NS for that role. It’s simply meeting the demands of the business. No one is denying that a NNS can be a fantastic teacher, and it’s not to be taken personal. In your email thread, they explained this to you- you predicted it because you already knew the answer.

    As an owner of an institute in Peru, I have more than 100 teachers on my books, around 50-50 NS vs NNS, but some opportunities simply cannot be given to a NNS if the client will not accept them. And if I challenged every client that asks for a NS, and pushed a NNS, I simply would not have a business. In that sense, there would be no opportunities for me to give anyone. Now, I do know that that would not be good for the TEFL profession.

    As you know, one of the common problems with language acquisition is pronunciation, and one of the best resources is the teacher. Unless the NNS speaks as good as the native, this can and does in some cases cause negative transfer, causing a development of negative pronunciation habits. This can of course present a risk of the learner having communication issues. I agree that perfect pronunciation is not necessary to communicate and be understood, and often not possible for many learners anyway. However, if one wishes to perfect their pronunciation, who are we to deny them the best opportunity to achieve this. As a professional, I would be doing a disservice to my clients if I did not prescribe the best available course of action and resources. The most common issue that I continually hear feedback about, is when a learner travels to an English speaking country but finds it very difficult and stressful to find they don’t understand the natives well. There can be many reasons for this, (varying accents etc) however it is said that this can also be due to a lack of exposure to the native language. Of course, there are many resources to ensure a learner has this exposure, but as previously mentioned, the best resource is the teacher- and without this view, we are not giving teachers the credit and respect they deserve. It is also apparent in many cases that NNS speak to each other in a NN way, not the same as a NS always would (obviously not all cases). As testament to this, from a personal experience, when I hear non native Spanish speakers talk in Spanish I tend to understand them more easily than I do a native speaker (I’m a native English speaker), why is this? It’s because as in many cases, a NNS uses their acquired language slightly differently than a NS. The goal for all of us, as teachers, is to promote the best possible practices and give the best available service to our students. Unfortunately, sometimes the best resource is a native speaker. If a non native speaker has truly perfect pronunciation then they are as good as a native in my opinion, however, we know that this is not always the case. Adam, if we have 2 teachers; 1 NS and 1 NNS with exactly the same qualifications, experience and understanding of language acquisition, but the NNS does not have perfect pronunciation, which one is the best for the job? Pronunciation is a skill, the person with the best skills should be hired. If the situation was reversed and they were both applying for a job as a teacher of the NNS’s native language (as in the example above), then I would expect the best person for the job to be reversed. One cannot ignore the fact that a teacher with native pronunciation abilities can be the best option for the development of our clients. This is not discrimination, it’s hiring someone based on their skills.

    I don’t mean to offend and I hope you understand my argument. I find it slightly unjust for you to call out ‘discrimination’ when one ‘could’ view it as promoting a better service within our TEFL profession. I’d like to point out that some of the most professional and excellent teachers I have worked with are NNSs, and I will continue to hire and pay NNSs for opportunities that are available to them.

    In conclusion, sometimes, a native teacher is better for some roles, because of their skill set. This also the reason that clients have this demand, not just because institutions are ‘pushing’ that natives are better. If NNSs are (as many mention) ‘as good or better’ at TEFL, then we simply would not be debating this. It’s not discrimination, it’s a reality in most cases.

    • Joe P says:

      Ryan, I want to address a couple of points you make. Firstly, the point that because the client requests it, it’s therefore not discrimination. That’s simply not true, and all we need to do to prove that is to create an analogy where a client demands to be taught by a white teacher (as has happened in schools I’ve worked in). I assume you would recognize that as discrimination, and the reason is that someone’s race has no affect on their ability as a teacher. Something doesn’t cease to be discrimination just because the customer wants it. So in order to support the claim that native/non-native is a valid category to judge a teacher, you have to demonstrate that it has a significant effect, in and of itself, on their abilities as a teacher. And personally, I’m not convinced you have done that.

      The pronunciation issue is an interesting one, because your definition of good pronunciation is “like a native speaker,” which in itself is a problem. People have the accent of where they come from. That applies to native-speakers and non-native speakers, and it wasn’t long ago that most native-speaker accents were considered “incorrect” or “impure” forms of correct English. If someone’s pronunciation is causing them difficulty in communication (native or non-native), then that says something about their level of English, and that’s a legitimate reason to prefer someone else for the job. However, if their pronunciation (like most of my colleagues) is perfectly understandable, just with a non-standard, non-native accent, then you really have no legitimate reason to prefer a native speaker in my view.

      As for the affect of the pronunciation of the teachers on the students, I’m afraid you’d have to demonstrate that. Can you point to any evidence to show that students’ pronunciation develops quicker or to a higher level under NS teachers than fluent NNS teachers? I’ve been teaching for a while, and I’ve not managed to get a student to sound like me yet.

      And finally, the issue of exposing students to different accents. Well any teacher, with the exception of Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam, can only expose the students to one accent. Once we’ve used that up, all teachers are in the same position of relying on course books and bringing authentic materials into the classroom to expose students to more varieties of English. And increasingly, these accents have got to be international, because a large amount (most in my case) of our students’ communication is with other non-native speakers.

  8. Joe P says:

    Also Adam, did you not tell them that it was against EU law? I’d guess that schools would be a bit more careful after finding that out.

    • Ryan (Peru) says:

      Hi Joe. Well, if you look at my original post I made it clear that “it is not discriminatory for an institution”. Regarding your first point which has been confused with a racial and skin colour issue with constant, irrelevant references to ‘whites’. Please stick to the issue for the basis of strong debate and rebuttals. We are talking about the discrimination between NNS and NS, not skin colour. Now, Whether or not one feels it is discrimination on the part of the clients to request NS only is the real question but, Adam refers to institutes being the main part of the problem and enforcing the discrimination. My point was, that although discrimination could be seen as present from the client, it is not down to the institute to argue or decide whether a reason for a client requesting a NS is valid or justified. If someone asks me “I would like a native speaker because I want to develop a native like accent and have the exposure to the native language to prepare me for my experience there’ – I do not see this as discrimination but common sense of the benefits. As I previously mentioned, if a NNS can produce the same level of accent as native then they are equally skilled. Now, by your logic it is always 100% discrimination if someone asks for native speaker. That is a sweeping statement, and just because you do not agree with the reasoning someone may prefer a native speaker, does not make them discriminatory, it is naive and narrow minded to think this, in my opinion. One doesn’t need to validate (as you requested) whether a NS is more proficient in the native language pronunciation, perhaps cultural understanding of the target destination along with other benefits (e.g someone plans to study in South Africa, having a NS from SA would present obvious benefits – do you disagree?). So, let’s talk objectively, there are clear benefits that a NS can present, it is both non-sensical and righteous to suggest otherwise. You are basically saying that a vast majority (in my experience) of institutes are in fact discriminatory, yet many have been operating for decades and have sterling reviews and reputations. Furthermore, it is apparent that this view is not coming from the people who are the most important, the learners. Show me some viewpoints from the learners perspective, maybe then you can better understand the many reasons they prefer a NS, and why it is unfair they are automatically assumed to be discriminating as you claim. The whole argument in my opinion is futile because it doesn’t hold real evidence as discrimination in the majority, this is why the market has been run this way for such a long time and always will (Sorry to break it to you that discrimination is only really there if you want to spin in that way). Another example on this point, if I want to learn to speak Castellano because i’m moving to Peru, i want to listen to a native speaker teach me so I can learn to identify the sounds, speeds and natural language used by their people, and also to understand their idioms and culture better than say, a teacher from Spain. When I move there, I want to sound more like them and identify more as a native speaker so that I receive less potential discrimination for not being native. So Joe, is that a valid reason or am I simply discriminating?

      Point 2 – pronunciation. I will be clearer, although again it seems like common sense to me. Just because English is more used as a LF than anything else, doesn’t mean everyone is using it this way, or shouldn’t be able to strive for native like speaking accents – regardless of their reason, which is not your business to judge. Now, please understand this carefully, it is very simple. Although every country has different accents within it’s ‘native language’, everyone that is part of that ‘native language’ identifies the different accents as still being part of that language. When I refer to not sounding native, I refer to a person not sounding like any of the accents within a ‘native language’. So, your argument of different accents is irrelevant, and again skirting the real issue to support your unfounded claims. Put simply, if someone wants learn to speak with better pronunciation closer to the target language, it doesn’t matter what accent, as long as it is an accent of the target language. With this in mind, in the majority of cases, a person native of the target language will identify the accent more easily than one that is not – do you not agree? My point here is strongly drawn from people who have had classes for extended periods of time from a NNS and after travelling to a place to communicate only with NS, they struggled tremendously to understand and be understood, and this is why people request to have a NS in many cases. This is the evidence that you seek (the actual market that demands for NS!! You are ignoring it and simply jumping on the discrimination wagon, and naively thinking there is no good reason for it!), and if it were not true, it simply wouldn’t be that way. People are asking for NS for a reason, not because of a stigma that has been created to simply discriminate- which is a severely flawed and naive view!

      Based on what I have mentioned before and on the common sense fact that if a teachers pronunciation is closer to a native language/accent of a particular country or region, than another teacher’s is – then the chances of the learner achieving their goals of replicating such accent will be greater. We don’t need evidence to know that Joe. If a learner is going to work in Canada for example and specifically asks for improvement in pronunciation and understanding of a Canadian accent, to help him/her better communicate then exposure to a teacher that possesses this accent will be superior to someone who does not – for obvious reasons and basic principles of learning, to which i advise you do your own research if you still don’t understand.

      Your last point about exposure to a variety of English accents, you answered yourself, a good teacher will use materials regularly that give this exposure (audios), that is why the majority of respected books and complete courses involve recordings of NATIVE SPEAKERS!! Wow, that must mean the majority of experts and authors are also discriminating right? Why wouldn’t they use non-native recordings as the majority of audios within books and courses, if the majority of English is used as a lingua franka by NNS? – can you answer that? Based on your claims, this too would be discrimination, because you argue that there is no founded evidence that exposing learners to a NS of the target language, is beneficial over that of a NNS.

      So, in conclusion, we can’t subjectively speculate why a client may prefer or request a NS, nor can we judge them to say their reasoning is not founded or justified, and simply label them as acting discriminatory. This is a naive view, and although there will of course be instances where discrimination may happen, I feel the majority or reasons and points made in the initial post fails to cover the true perspective of the learners and ignorance to situations where the use of a NS would clearly show benefit. It’s all well and good to stand up against discrimination and act all ethical, when it’s partly being invented to some extent! Let’s agree that in some situations a NS may be beneficial over a NNS, and in some situations, reversed. When i start to see learners speaking out and people address the real reasons for their choices in NS (not speculations), then we can debate the true extent of the said ‘discrimination’. If what you claim is true then surely you wouldn’t see this market trend (in the EU) if it was in fact against an EU law? Oh, maybe your subjective views simply don’t fit with what real discrimination is, and there are no laws being violated, sounds more likely..

      • Shanshan says:

        Hi, Ryan. I think the logic behind your points is interesting.

        Point 1 NNST are not discriminated against because the labor division(e.g., pronunciation should be taught by NST particularly. ) comes from the market demand. And if I am not mistaken about political economy, market itself is amoral. That’s why we need public institutions to introduce morality into the market. If you want to know more about this market and ethics issue, here is a good passage for you to read: Markets are Amoral. Whether their Rules are Moral or Immoral is Up to Us. https://nextgenpolicy.org/blog/markets-are-amoral-whether-their-rules-are-moral-or-immoral-is-up-to-us/
        So what you call “client demand” for NST cannot justify your business decisions or the whole industry practices. You say customers call for NSTs, and they do so for “a good reason”. Again, this utilitarian “good” has nothing to do with moral “good”. And in many cases, the former “good” even runs against the latter one. Remember in the moment of our conversation, there are millions of women who are treated not as independent and equal individuals but as personal belongings to the men. Of course, men in those countries have very good reasons to do so. But does it mean such social practice is right? Well, we all know the answer.

        Point 2 NS are better models of language proficiency because most prestigious courses use recordings of NATIVE SPEAKERS. You say,
        ” the majority of respected books and complete courses involve recordings of NATIVE
        SPEAKERS!! Wow, that must mean the majority of experts and authors are also
        discriminating right? Why wouldn’t they use non-native recordings as the majority of audios
        within books and courses, if the majority of English is used as a lingua franka by NNS? – can
        you answer that? ”
        I think you have raised a good question why majority of coursebooks center on the language materials of native speakers. To this I’d like to give you the following answer: it is exactly another manifestation of NS CENTRISM and we should fight against it. The fact is ” the majority of experts and authors” from whom you seek support, could be wrong. Here comes your second logic problem. Truth cannot be equal to reality. Regardless of how many people embrace an idea and how big their voice is, the idea can be wrong.

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