FECEI issues a statement against native speakerism

In February this year I had the pleasure to attend FECEI’s (The National Federation of Private Language Schools in Spain) annual conference in Madrid.

For a while I’ve been really amazed with all the great work FECEI has been doing to promote equal opportunities in ELT, especially as far as ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ are concerned. And it was fantastic that they took on this topic right at the very start of the conference, which unconventionally opened with a panel discussion, rather than a plenary, on the topic of what makes an effective English teacher. This I think was a great and very much needed departure from the constant comparisons between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ that to my mind often miss the point, mostly because they focus on something that has nothing to do with being a good or a bad teacher.

It was also great that almost half of the audience were school directors as these are the people who can actually promote equal opportunities and help us tackle native speakerism. I do hope that at least some of them were convinced by the arguments the panelists presented.

You can see some of the highlights from the conference in this video.

But the absolute highlight of the conference for me personally was to find out that at the board meeting preceding the conference, FECEI members decided to approve a public statement against discriminatory recruitment policies in ELT. You can find out more about it here. This is the full statement:

In compliance with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, FECEI (the National Federation of Private Language Schools in Spain) stands in opposition to discrimination against teachers on the basis of their nationality in terms of hiring, promotion, recruitment for jobs, or employment conditions.

With respect to the common, long-standing notion, unsupported by research, that a certain ethnicity, accent, or national background gives a person an advantage as a language teacher, FECEI firmly believes that all teachers should be evaluated and valued solely on the basis of their teaching competence, teaching experience, formal education and linguistic expertise. Therefore, FECEI does not condone job announcements that specify “native” as a requirement.

This is a fantastic step forward! Hats off to everyone at FECEI who contributed to do this and made this important statement a reality.

Has your local teaching association issued a similar statement? Could you encourage them to do so?

Let us know in the comments section.


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14 thoughts on “FECEI issues a statement against native speakerism”

  1. Good to see this. It echoes the statements by both TESOL France and TESOL Spain – as quoted on the final page of Peter Medgyes ‘The Non-Native Teacher’ (Swan Communication 2017).

    I have also found a lot of interest in the topic – most of it thoughtful – at the various discussions/debates I have been doing at conference in the last 18 months in Europe and Latin America.

    My own feeling is that this discussion has to extend to parents (especially those enrolling young children in language institutes) and to employers. And the focus should be on ‘what makes a good teacher?’ and ‘what makes a good teacher for these particular learners in this particular context?’.

    I also think we have to acknowledge that there is often a lot of instinctive prejudice and misinformed assumptions, and the more discussion there is, the more chance there is of wearing these down. There are also a number of cultural assumptions just making it even more complex!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Susan
      I completely agree that the more discussion, the better. And it should definitely extend to parents and students. Schools have a big role to play there educating the market.
      Talking to recruiters is also important. That’s why it was great to see so many at FECEI conference. It was the perfect event to address this issue

  2. Great news! One of my best French teachers was Hungarian, so I’ve always been puzzled by the prejudice, and I’ve been even more puzzled since I started training teachers in a program that works with both native and non-native speakers of English.

    In Canada’s settlement language community, we frankly can’t afford to turn away qualified teachers who are non-native speakers, and we find them to be a great asset to settlement communities in adult and K-12 schools because they understand the settlement experience in ways that most Canadian-born teachers cannot. This doesn’t mean there are no prejudices, but in most ESL programs, reality keeps them in check (and when it does not, human rights legislation helps.)

    The situation is less clear in private for-profit schools in Canada that market themselves overseas.

    The code of ethics of our national professional body TESL Canada states that “ESL practitioners commit to teach, research, and behave in a manner that respects the rights and privileges of individuals without the prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, physical characteristics ancestry, or place of origin,” and this is taken to preclude native speakerism as long as the teacher has demonstrated English skills of at least 7.0 in the academic IELTS which is required for national certification. However, not all private language schools belong to the national watchdog on practices in private institutions, Languages Canada, and Languages Canada itself does not require teaching staff in member agencies to have TESL Canada certification or provincial accreditation, just TESL training that is demonstrably equivalent. Human rights complaints can be lodged if a position is re-posted after a qualified and well-refereed non-native speaker has been rejected for it, but documentation is a challenge and the process isn’t quick.

    1. Thanks for your comment Shannon!

      Good to see that Canadian ELT has some clear regulations supporting equality and preventing native speakerism. It’s a pity more countries don’t have it, so it’s helpful when associations such as FECEI step in.

      I guess another issue is how to enforce the regulations. For example, the EU has clearly declared that advertising for ‘native speakers’ is unacceptable under community rules, but such ads are still plentiful, even in Brussels out of all places…

  3. Mauricio Buitrago

    Hello Marek.

    Here in my country, Colombia, we are far from getting something you described in your post. Even though Colombian teachers have good job opprtunities here, many schools, universities and most of language institutes prioritize hiring NESTs regardless their teaching qualifications instead of a professional Colombian EFL teacher. It can even be worse, they hire NNESTs from European and Asian countries just because they don’t “look” Colombian.

    Directors and principals don’t know/care much about this issue, and they simply choose carpenters, musicians, economists and backpackers as English arguing that customers/students find them potentailly more effective for the learning process.

    The Colombian government brings “foreign language assistants” (being a foreigner seems to be the only requirement) to support Colombian teachers in public schools. They grt full free accomodation and monthly wage that allows them to keep travelling around the country while in the schools they basically perform as entertainers instead of teachers. Unfortunately” very few of them take the role seriously enough.

    I am the director of B.Ed in TEFL in Colombia, and I’m not against hiring NESTs in our English programs, they are more than welcome as long as they have the right qualifications and experience to aasume the serious responsibility that implies being a teacher.

    As you see the panorama is not quite positive yet, but I am one of those who supports the hard work and commitment of professional NNESTs, and that is why I found all of your posts very enriching.

    All the best.

    Mauricio.

    1. Hi, Mauricio. What skills would you say a Columbian NNEST needs to be able to be called a professional teacher?

    2. Hi Mauricio! Thanks for the comment 🙂

      What you describe is rather depressing. There is unfortunately quite a lot of research evidence showing similar discriminatory and often racist hiring policies in other countries (e.g. Japan, Mexico).

      I’m also slightly concerned about the foreign language assistant schemes as you describe it here and as it’s present in other countries (e.g. Japan). The basic idea seems to be that ANY foreign teacher, preferably a ‘native speaker’, will be better than a local. Also, rather than support local teachers and help them develop professionally to increase their quality, the government decides to depend on foreign aid. Of course, this only further perpetuates the ideology of native speakerism whereby those perceived as ‘native speakers’ are a priori considered superior.

      Where in Colombia are you based?

  4. A good move in general, but what might the negative effects be on language providers? And will clients be forced to accept such a move?

    1. I guess they’ll need to adapt. As with other anti-discrimination movements and policies, some companies might be opposed to it because they see it as harmful to their for profit interests. However, this doesn’t mean they should be allowed or encouraged to continue having discriminatory recruitment policies.

      Similarly with the general public. Some people still think that men are superior to women. Or that white people are superior to other races. Prejudices and ideologies take a very long time to die. But overall, I think more and more clients will start to realise that being a ‘native speaker’ doesn’t make you a priori a better teacher. Of course, a big role in this change in mindset should be played by schools and their advertising policies. Many of the school directors in Spain I spoke to at FECEI conference told me they have completely changed their marketing strategy eliminating any reference to ‘native’ (or ‘non-native for that matter) teachers, focusing instead on quality, experience, skills, qualifications, the international make-up of their staff, etc. And they seem to be doing very well financially too.

  5. Did they also agree to fight the supposed nativespeakerism of providing native speaker models to students? If so, what do they plan to replace it by?

  6. It would be lovely if China could do the same across the board, but sadly in my province (Guangdong), to get a working Z visa and then a work permit, you must have a passport from one of a small handful of countries considered to be ‘native’ English countries. It does include the obvious ones, and South Africa, but not India or Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana or any other country in which English is a national language (along with others). It is sad, because any 21 year old graduate with a BA in anything and a TEFL (even an online one) can get a reasonably well-paid job teaching in a training centre or kindergarten. It is irrelevant whether the NNEST has an MA in TESOL and loads of relevant experience (like my friend, who is an awesome teacher with nearly 2 decades of varied English teaching experience), you just cannot get the work permit if your passport has the wrong country on the cover.

    1. It is shocking, really. And sad that schools are duping their clients into thinking that any ‘native speaker’, regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof, is better than any local or foreign ‘non-native’ teacher. It’s madness.

      I guess what needs to happen is ELT professionals in China speaking out against it en masse. Also, local teaching organisations can try to pass similar statements as the one by FECEI

      1. It’s not the tutorial centres etc. that perpetuate this bias: it’s parents. They demand native English teachers and won’t pay for otherwise excellent, often superior teachers. The tutorial centres hire native English teachers in order to survive, not because they are prejudiced against non-native teachers. It’s not shocking or madness: it’s economic reality. They’re not duping their clients. Tutorial businesses are not crusaders for equality. They can’t tell parents how to think. If they try, the parents will take their kids elsewhere. A tutorial centre will fail if it doesn’t meet with parents demands. Only the centres with native teachers survive. It’s a self-perpetuating system that leaves native speakers at a huge advantage, but there is little that can be done from within the tutorial system, except by a slow process of changing people’s perception of non-native teachers.
        Here at Jolly Kingdom, we have many non-native English teachers, but they do have a higher bar to jump to convince parents that their children will get as good a lesson in their class as they’d get from a native English teacher.

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