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Eight Reasons Why We Still Need to Talk About Native Speakerism

From time to time, I still ask myself why bother?

TEFL Equity campaign has been going for five years now, and sometimes you do start doubting yourself whether there’s any need to continue. But when I see comments like the one below, which was left below one of my blog posts recently, I forget about any doubts I might have had.

Sometimes you need wake up calls like this one, because it can be easy to forget how bad the situation can still really be. While we’ve definitely made some progress in the last few years, there’s still a very long way to go. 

That’s why in this extract from a plenary I gave at BBELT conference in Mexico, I want to share with you some of the main reasons why I think it’s still vital to talk about native speakerism.

I’ve also put them down for you in writing below, if you prefer to read rather than watch the video 🙂

  1. Approximately three quarters of all job ads around the world are for ‘native speakers’ only. This means that as a ‘non-native speaker’ , regardless of your experience or qualifications, your application will be rejected on the spot. And it means that if you’re a ‘native speaker’ , you’ve been given (and perhaps taken) an unfair advantage over a ‘non-native speaker’ which you might not even have been aware of. Wouldn’t you prefer to be given a job because you’re a great teacher, rather than because you’re a ‘native speaker’?
  2. Having your CV turned down as a ‘non-native speaker’ , despite being more experienced or highly qualified than a ‘native speaker’ , can be quite humiliating. I’ve met many ‘non-native speaker’ teachers who after years of trying, have simply given up and lost all their self-confidence. They started to believe they actually were inferior and unfit for the job. We can’t let this happen!
  3. Discrimination against ‘non-native speaker’ teachers has been the skeleton in the TEFL’s cupboard for decades. Schools have sold courses by marketing ‘native speakers’ as the only way to learn a language, marginalising and relegating ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. Equally, many ‘native speakers’ of colour have been marginalised as they do not fit the perceived image of a white and Western-looking ‘native speaker’, which so much TEFL advertising still unfortunately relies on. And although things have been changing for the better, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. That’s why we also need teaching associations to acknowledge the problem and issue public statements against discrimination (hats off to TESOl International, TESOL France, TESOL Spain or FECEI, which have already done so).
  4. For years students have been told that only ‘native speakers’ can teach them ‘correct’ English. But let’s have the courage to acknowledge the fact that we’ve been lying to them all along (read my post about it here). Both ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ can be equally good teachers, and our students can benefit from being taught by the two groups.
  5. After all, we all care about our students, don’t we? We all want them to learn, improve, and have a great time in class, don’t we? Yet, we allow the industry to discriminate some of our colleagues, who could make fantastic teachers. Why do we let recruiters choose teachers based on their nationality rather than teaching skills? 
  6. Many ‘non-native speaker’ teachers do not realise that there are numerous colleagues who strongly support their cause. They do not know who they can ask for help. And so they often accept their inferior status in the industry. I feel this needs to change. ‘Non-native speakers’ should know that we support their rights, and that they’re not alone. 
  7. Many ‘native speaker’ teachers would also like to work in an environment that promotes equity of all teachers. I have many ‘native speaker’ friends who have already expressed great support for this campaign, and even written posts for the blog. So I hope that we can all campaign here together for a slightly more equal world which will benefit us all. 
  8. Finally, inaction is the worst form of action. On any given day numerous colleagues of ours are discriminated, their CVs end up in bins without being even glanced at. We have a moral responsibility to speak out for their rights and to defend them.

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Shannon Storey
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Shannon Storey

Speaking as an Anglophone Canadian, to my ear most of the people in England “can not say “r”s” (sic). Being so hung up on details of accent is pointless, when mere dialectical differences between native speakers of the language are substantial. I find some Korean speakers of English much easier to understand than some Australian speakers of English, and would be able to say the same of some Cockney speakers of English if I hadn’t spent a working holiday summer in London long ago! I can also report that some of my own past students don’t have perfect accents or… Read more »

Natalie Taubert
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Natalie Taubert

OMG, some people are just dumba**es. But to be fair and very very objective – both nnests and nests must have a very high level of command of English to be able to teach it. But it could be much harder for nnests though. In my opinion, any nnest should spend at least a year in the English speaking country of their choice to have a much better understanding of the language and different registers. I would definitely be very suspicious, if my language instructor wouldn’t have had any real life experiences of the language they want to teach me.… Read more »

Jagatha V L Narasimharao
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Jagatha V L Narasimharao

the discrimination is unjust
some non-native English teachers are on par with native Enlish teachers

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