You are probably familiar with the widespread preference for ‘native speakers’ in ELT job ads, especially as far as the private sector is concerned. However, this is just one manifestation of the ideology of native speakerism visible in our profession. And if we are serious about tackling it, we also need to look beyond the discrimination in job recruitment to identify other discourses and practices that support the ideology.
In a nutshell, native speakerism (similarly to other ideologies, such as sexism or racism) is spread, supported and normalised by seemingly common sense beliefs. For example:
- ‘native speakers’ are better teachers
- ‘native speakers’ are better models of the language for our students to imitate
- students will learn better pronunciation from ‘native speakers’
- students should be taught about the ‘native speaker’ culture in order to be successful users of the language.
Note that I use inverted commas in here to indicate that we are talking about those perceived as ‘native speakers’ since in ELT being a ‘native speaker’ is often a subjective and ideological category. This means that certain groups that do not fit the perceived image of a ‘native speaker’ might not be granted the same privileges (see for example this post about racial discrimination in ELT).
One way to address native speakerism then is to deal with some of the beliefs that support it. While it’s very important to do this in teacher education and training programs, it is also vital to address these beliefs in class with our students, especially since the discrimination in recruitment is in part at least driven by the market demand from students for ‘native speakers’.
To help you do just that, I’m sharing here a paper I wrote for The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL: “Confronting Native Speakerism in the ELT Classroom: Practical Awareness-Raising Activities”. You can download it for free below:
What are you going to learn from the article?
- what the ideology of native speakerism is
- three main discourses that help support native speakerism
- how to discuss native speakerism with students in the classroom
- five awareness-raising activities you can use with your students.
More specifically, you will get five activities which you can immediately use with your students to raise their awareness of native speakerism:
- Activity 1: Who is a ‘native speaker’?
- Activity 2: Strengths and weaknesses of ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers
- Activity 3: My ideal English teacher
- Activity 4: My beliefs about teaching and learning English
- Activity 5: Choosing a language school
To give you a better idea of what kind of activities I’m talking about, let me share with you Activity 1: Who is a ‘native speaker’?
Activity 1: Who is a ‘native speaker’?
Rationale: As discussed in 2.1, numerous scholars have criticised the simplicity of the binary division into ‘native speaker’ and ‘non-native speaker’ (Holliday, 2005; Jenkins, 2015; Paikeday, 1985; Rampton, 1990). It has also been shown that the two labels are subjective, ideological and value-laden (Aboshiha, 2015; Holliday, 2013, 2015), and that being a ‘native speaker’ is at times associated with being white and Western-looking (Amin, 2004; Kubota & Fujimoto, 2013). Students tend to have an idealised and less diverse view of the native speaker (Reis, 2011).
Activity: Complete this statement using your own words. Then, compare your answer with your partner. Were your answers similar? Why (not)?: A ‘native speaker’ is somebody who…
How far do you agree with the following statements? (1 – completely disagree; 2 – disagree, 3 – agree; 4 – completely agree):
- A ‘native speaker’ is somebody who was born only in the UK, the US, Ireland or Australia.
- A ‘native speaker’ did their tertiary education in English.
- A person who has IELTS 9 or CPE is a ‘native speaker’.
- A ‘native speaker’ speaks English perfectly and never makes mistakes.
- All ‘native speakers’ are white.
- There are no ‘native speaker’ in Kenya or India.
- Only the English spoken by a ‘native speaker’ is the real and correct English.
- A person born to English-speaking parents who has lived abroad most of their life is not a ‘native speaker’.
Compare your answers with other students and try to justify your choices. Which statements do you most disagree about? Why?
Read the following statement. Discuss with your partner. Do you agree? Why (not)?
Some scholars have suggested that the labels ‘native speaker’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are artificial and have little relevance in the modern world where most people are at least bilingual. These labels have also been reported to create an antagonistic view of the English-speaking community, contributing to the view that ‘non-native speaker’ are worse English teachers.
Sounds like something you might want to use with your students?
You can download this and four more activities by clicking on the button below.
Kiczkowiak, M. (2017). Confronting native speakerism in an ELT classroom: practical awareness-raising activities. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 6(1).