Are ‘native speakers’ better pronunciation models for our students?

This is an important question.

Not only because the answer will determine how we teach pronunciation, but also because it lies at the very core of the ‘native speaker’ fallacy, or the belief that a ‘native speaker’ is always a better teacher, which is so rampant in our profession.

Our gut feeling might suggest that yes, of course a ‘native speaker’ is the ideal pronunciation model (and by extension a better teacher). This is for example what one teacher said in a FB discussion on this topic:

When I learned German or French, I looked for native speakers, because a huge part of language learning is understanding the accent and intonation, and only a native speaker can provide that.

Discuss! 😉

This is just one example, but this comment is by no means an isolated one. I’ve seen countless similar ones over the years.

There is quite a persistent belief, not only among students, but also language teachers, that a ‘native speaker’ speaks correct, right, natural, original (pick your adjective) pronunciation, while a ‘non-native speaker’ has a bad, incorrect, foreign, intelligible, unintelligible (pick your adjective) pronunciation. Therefore, the former clearly makes a better pronunciation model and teacher.

However, the difference between teaching/learning English and other foreign languages, such as German or French, is fundamental. After all, English has gone global. Call it a lingua franca, an international or a global language, but the fact of the matter is that ‘non-native’ users of the language outnumber ‘native’ ones by probably 5:1.

This means that your average student is much more likely to interact with a variety of speakers from different countries for whom English is not their mother tongue, than with ‘native speakers’.

How then do we as teachers help our students be clearly intelligible in these lingua franca encounters? Which pronunciation model should we teach? That is, which pronunciation model will be the most widely intelligible?

For some of us, our gut feeling might still be telling us that a standard ‘native speaker’ pronunciation model is the best choice. That it is this model that our students should strive for to be more intelligible in international settings.

However, just how accurate is our gut feeling?

The other day, completely by chance, I stumbled across this article by Smith and Rafiqzad, published in TESOL Quarterly, and entitled English for Cross-Cultural Communication: The Question of Intelligibility. The article is interesting for three reasons:

a) it’s almost forty years old, but it seems to have gone pretty much unnoticed

b) it’s the only example I know of such a large-scale study into intelligibility in international contexts

c) it can shed some light on our gut feeling about pronunciation models.

In a nutshell, the authors surveyed 1386 people from 11 countries to check their ratings of intelligibility, which they defined as the “capacity for understanding a word or words when spoken/read in the context of a sentence being spoken/read at natural speed” (p.371). The listeners came from a variety of different disciplines (the authors don’t specify which), but all of them could be described as “educated by a majority of their countrymen” (p.372).

The recordings came from speakers from the US, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, India, Hong Kong, Nepal, The Philippines and Sri Lanka, all of whom spoke an educated variety of English from their country. The speakers were asked to prepare, read and record a short speech which would be appropriate for an educated, but not specialist, audience in their home country.

Intelligibility was rated with a closed test which consisted of the transcript of the recording with words removed from it. The listeners had to complete the gaps with no regard being paid to spelling.

Which speaker do you think came out as the most and the least intelligible?

Discuss! 😉

The researchers made two predictions. The first was that the ‘native speaker’ from the US would be the most easily intelligible across the board. Second, the familiarity with the accent would also increase the intelligibility. In other words, a Malaysian speaker would be more intelligible to a Malaysian listener than a to a Sri Lankan one.

Both hypotheses turned out to be false…

Let’s start with the second assumption. Only in two cases (Korea and Japan) did the listeners find their countrymen more intelligible than all the other speakers. This is surprising as you’d expect that the more familiar you are with the accent, the easier it would be to understand it.

Even more surprisingly, the US ‘native speaker’ (who spoke with a standard General American accent) was consistently among the least intelligible speakers. In fact, on average, the listeners were only able to complete the close test with an accuracy of 55%. The ratings from the highest to lowest are as follows:  Sri Lanka 79%, India 78%, Japan 75%, Malaysia 73%, Nepal 72%, Korea 68%, Philippines 61%, United States 55%, Hong Kong 44%.

Another surprising finding is that the listeners were also very poor at identifying the ‘native speaker’. In nine out of the eleven countries, less than 40% of the listeners identified the ‘native speaker’ correctly.

Side Note: I’m giving a FREE webinar entitled “How to teach pronunciation with confidence as a ‘non-native speaker'”, where I will share with you all my tips and tricks that will boost your confidence a s a’non-native speaker’ and allow you to successfully teach your next pronunciation class. You can read more about the webinar and register for it here.

So what does this mean for us in ELT?

First, I think one very important implication is that we need to reconsider the idea that a ‘native speaker’ model of pronunciation is always by definition the most intelligible, and therefore one our students should aim for. While this research was conducted in Asia, it seems clear that standard ‘native-like’ pronunciation doesn’t guarantee intelligibility in international contexts. As the authors themselves put it, “[s]ince native speaker phonology doesn’t appear to be more intelligible than non-native phonology, there seems to be no reason to insist that the performance target in the English classroom be a native speaker” (p.380).

Mind you, I am not saying that any ‘non-native speaker’ is now by default a better model. However, what I am suggesting is that an INTELLIGIBLE speaker, regardless of their accent, place of birth or first language, is a better model.

It is a shame that the researchers did not attempt to analyse the recordings to identify which pronunciation features might have contributed to or reduced intelligibility. However, there is more recent research (Deterding, 2011; Deterding & Mohamad, 2016) conducted in a similar context, focusing on speakers from South East Asia, which seems to confirm Jenkins’ (2000, 2002) Lingua Franca Core proposal. Namely, it turns out that pronunciation features such as word stress, vowel quality, voiced and voiceless <th>, weak forms and features of connected speech are not important for intelligibility. On the other hand, consonants, vowel length, nuclear stress and consonant clusters are crucial for intelligibility.

Second, we’re often told that students prefer ‘native speaker’ teachers. Researchers have also found that students tend to rate ‘native speaker’ speech more favourably (He & Miller, 2011; McKenzie, 2008; Scales, Wennerstrom, Richard, & Wu, 2006; Scheuer, 2008). Nevertheless, it seems that at least the participants in Smith and Rafiqzad (1979) study were not able to identify the ‘native speaker’ correctly. Similar observations were made by Pacek (2005), Scales et al. (2005) and McKenzie (2008). In fact, the latter highlights that only the speakers who WERE identified as ‘native speakers’ were rated more favourably.

As various authors note, it is very likely that students idealise ‘native speakers’ and their pronunciation. So when they say that they prefer ‘native speakers’ or ‘native-like’ pronunciation, it isn’t necessarily any real ‘native speaker’ or any real ‘native speaker’ pronunciation, but rather the imagined and idealised one.

It is very likely because we’ve (or at least certain very powerful institutions) worked very hard over the years in ELT to promote, maintain and spread native speakerism (Phillipson, 1992). We’ve also worked very hard at promoting the idea that ‘native speaker’ pronunciation is more intelligible, more correct, better (pick your adjective). We’ve also entrenched this belief through the use of standard ‘native speaker’ recordings in course books. I’m certainly guilty of the latter two.

Side Note: I’m giving a FREE webinar entitled “How to teach pronunciation with confidence as a ‘non-native speaker'”, where I will share with you all my tips and tricks that will boost your confidence a s a’non-native speaker’ and allow you to successfully teach your next pronunciation class. You can read more about the webinar and register for it here.

So what do we do?

It seems to me that we have two options.

We can continue promoting the belief that ‘native speaker’ pronunciation should be the ultimate and only goal all ‘non-native speakers’ (teachers and students alike) should aspire to. It shouldn’t surprise us then, however, if the vast majority of students fail to achieve this goal. It also shouldn’t surprise us if they feel bad about their own pronunciation and about having a foreign accent. Nor should it surprise us if our students continue preferring ‘native speaker’ teachers.

Option 2: we can try to move beyond the ideology of native speakerism towards a more inclusive, international, lingua franca view of the English language which would place emphasis on research findings and on intelligibility in international contexts. This shift in perspective might allow us to better help our students to be more intelligible. It might also raise our students’ confidence when speaking in English by raising their awareness of the fact that they can achieve global intelligibility without having to worry about approximating ‘native-like’ pronunciation and without having to lose their accent. Finally, it might help us further chip away at the ‘native speaker’ fallacy that’s still so widely spread and deeply rooted in ELT.

Which one do you pick?

Discuss! 😉


Deterding, D. (2011). English Language Teaching and the Lingua Franca Core in East Asia.

Deterding, D., & Mohamad, N. R. (2016). The role of vowel quality in ELF misunderstandings. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, 5.

He, D., & Miller, L. (2011). English teacher preference: the case of China’s non-English-major students. World Englishes, 30(3), 428-443.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language : new models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2002). A Sociolinguistically Based, Empirically Researched Pronunciation Syllabus for English as an International Language. Applied Linguistics, 23(1), 83-103.

McKenzie, R. M. (2008). The role of variety recognition in Japanese university students’ attitudes towards English speech varieties. Journal of Multilingual & Multicultural Development, 29(2), 139-153.

Pacek, D. (2005). “Personality Not Nationality”: Foreign Students’ Perceptions of a Non-Native Speaker Lecturer of English at a British University. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers (pp. 243-262). New York: Springer US.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scales, J., Wennerstrom, A., Richard, D., & Wu, S. H. (2006). Language Learners’ Perceptions of Accent. TESOL Quarterly, 40(4), 715-738.

Scheuer, S. (2008). Why Native Speakers Are (Still) Relevant. In K. (ed. and foreword) Dziubalska-Kołaczyk & J. (ed. and foreword) Przedlacka (Eds.), English Pronunciation Models: A Changing Scene (Vols. 1-476 pp., pp. 111-130). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.

Smith, L. E., & Rafiqzad, K. (1979). English for Cross-Cultural Communication: The Question of Intelligibility. TESOL Quarterly, 13(3), 371–380.

Blame the idea, not the language by Luke Gaffney

[Note from the editor: this article was submitted as a response to Wiktor Kostrzewski’s post also published on this blog and which you can read here].

The Brexit debacle and Trump’s victory have no bearing on whether British or American English are optimal models of English language use. It’s a mistake to confuse the politics of the situations with the linguistic aspects. A politician espousing a nationalist ideology is one thing, the language they use is quite another.

If we establish the rule that using a language for distasteful political discourse precludes it from being the optimal model of that language we can rule out:  Castellano Spanish, Italian and French. These are examples I found after only ten minutes googling for recent events. If we were to continue and to extend our search period even further back, we could probably rule out most languages.

If we are to continue with this hypothetical rule, what do we do when we encounter the language being used for political discourse that we consider “good”? How do we apply the rule when we encounter exceptions such as Mary Fisher’s speech on AIDS to the Republican National Convention?” How about Tony Benn’s speech against war in Iraq? Do the good ideas conveyed in a language balance out the bad? Or do we only react when language is used in a way we don’t like?

The point was raised that after 2016 80% of all native speakers of English will be citizens of countries where their language was used – on a long-term, wide-ranging, nationwide, sometimes global level – to disastrous ends. I fail to see the bearing this point has on this discussion. After 2016 100% of all native speakers of English will also be citizens of countries where their language was used as a means of communicating love, beauty, information, and a myriad of other concepts. Language is used. That’s the sole reason for the existence of languages, to convey ideas. Sometimes those ideas will be ideas we like, sometimes they won’t. Language doesn’t mould the idea; the idea moulds the way the language is used. If we dislike what people are saying it isn’t sufficient to simply challenge the language they use; we must challenge the idea behind that language as well.

It was also claimed in the original article that native speakers of English do not consciously learn or study their language and neither do they grow up having to experiment or question the message. With regards to the first point, English Language is part of the curriculum and a subject option throughout higher education in the UK and I’d imagine the situation is the same throughout the countries where native speakers reside.  To say that no native speaker studies their own language is a gross assumption. As for the second point; where do I begin? There’s such a breadth of evidence against the idea. I’ll start with some of my personal favourites: Hemingway and his unadorned style, Chandler and his elevation of pulp literature to an art form, Kerouac and his “spontaneous prose or Plath and her confessional poetry? All of them are good examples of writers experimenting with their language. I find it ironic that the author of the original article claims that native speakers do not experiment with their own language then later quotes William Burroughs, one of the finest Beat poets.  As for questioning the message, what am I doing right now? What do billions of people do every day? If people didn’t question the message we wouldn’t have had revolutions or shifts in what is accepted as the social norm, changes that came about through questioning the idea behind the language.

The original article really was one of two halves and it falls to me to challenge some of the ideas in the second half. In point five of the article the author claims that “everyday English” or “English as it’s spoken” is no longer the best option as throughout the recent American presidential elections and the Brexit campaign native speakers failed to fact check the claims, see through the rhetoric or demand evidence. Apparently, the only ones capable of this are multi-lingual speakers. I’m taken aback that this is put forward as a serious argument. It falls at every step. By inference the author is claiming that native speakers are mono-lingual. I’ll have to bear that in mind next time I speak with my girlfriend in Spanish. Apparently only multi-lingual speakers, which we can assume here means none-native speakers, can fact check rhetoric of challenge false claims. I guess that’s right, I mean I never once saw during the Brexit campaign people fact checking the numbers or ridiculing the rhetoric. As for the author’s claim that “English as it’s spoken” is no longer the best option I feel that yet again he is confusing politics and linguistics. As I have stated earlier, we need to challenge the idea behind the language, not the entire language itself. Again, if we were to demonise languages and native speakers for political outcomes then soon we would be left with very few languages that we consider “the optimal model”.

With regards to point six of the original argument I feel that the author has confused the notions of tasteful and distasteful, and correct and incorrect language. “None-native speakers make poor English teachers” is correct as a sentence but the idea is distasteful and false. “None-natives is well better teaching” is incorrect as a sentence but the idea is tasteful and true. To say that native speakers can no longer identify the correct use of English language due to a political result is a rather ridiculous argument. If I was to respond in kind then I would say the author cannot claim native prerogative to tell me that “pies spacerować szybki” is an incorrect sentence in Polish as he, as a Polish person, regardless of his political beliefs, elected a right wing, nationalist government. It’s a preposterous absolutism.

In point eight of the argument I feel the author has truly missed the mark. The number of languages you know doesn’t determine your political beliefs. It’s base vanity to assume that just because you speak more than one language you are a better person than someone who only speaks one. To say that Brexit and Trump being elected happened only because the people of the US and UK speak one language is naivety. What about voter backlash against the establishment? What people voting due to their economic situation? I’m from an area of England that has lost most its jobs due to globalisation and a lack of intervention by the government. I’m sure that affected the way people voted rather than knowledge or lack of HTML and Morse code.

The author also fails to account for the differences within English within native speakers. I use English differently when I’m speaking with my friends in a pub in Middlesbrough to the way I use it when I’m speaking to my students. I used English differently when I was speaking to my colleagues in the Navy then when I spoke to civilian friends. I use English differently when I am speaking to people about gaming then when I am speaking during a job interview. Each of these different social groups, social situations have rules and norms of language use and often their own jargon. The English I used whilst in the Navy even has its own dictionary. For all the variations on English I have someone from Australia or Ireland or Scotland will have a dozen more. Which bring me to point number nine. British and American English are just variations of the same language. There is no fundamental difference in the grammar or the building blocks of the language, there’s just a difference in the vocabulary. I don’t understand what the author dislikes about these variations. Is it the vocabulary? If so, what about Australian or South African English, are they acceptable? Is it the grammar structure? If so, does the author want us to completely rewrite the rules of English grammar? Or is it just the fact that these languages can be used for an end that the author (nor I for that matter) agree with? If so, what’s the solution? Should we create linguistic rules that prevent doublespeak and in doing so impose a form of censorship?

In the author’s tenth point we finally see something we can agree on. I agree that English teachers should be hired for their ability. Native speaker or none-native speaker shouldn’t come into it. If you have a passion for teaching the English language, if you appreciate its quirks and its oddities and if you can impart this passion and knowledge to the students you’re hired. What’s incendiary however is to imply that native speakers can’t do this if they are mono-lingual.  To say that native speakers cannot be treated seriously due to political events in their home country is as ludicrous as saying none-native speakers make poorer teachers.

lukeLuke Gaffney – 28 year old English teacher living and working in Spain. A fan of cooking, photography, The Boro, travelling, gaming, rugby and comics.


After 2016 trust native speakers less – by Wiktor Kostrzewski

[note from the editor: please note that the views expressed in this post are controversial. As the author of the post stated in the comments section, TEFL Equity initiative does not subscribe to all the author’s views, and the message (as well as its intentions) was the author’s and the author’s alone. You can read a rebuttal of this post posted shortly after this article on TEFL Equity blog here]

1. British English can no longer serve as an optimal, reasonable model of English language use. Not after the Brexit campaign, fuelled by lies, racism, culminating in deaths of a British MP and a Polish migrant. The Leave campaigns used British English to make false promises, mis-represent facts (to the point of possibly risking criminal litigation), and divide British people – and they won. The Remain campaign failed to engage on any level beyond fear – and it lost.

2. American English can no longer serve as an optimal, reasonable model of English language use. Not after Trump. His presidential campaign “took relentless aim at institutions and ideals”, presented a pessimistic, polarising vision of America, steered clear of facts, policies or rational arguments – and it won. The Clinton campaign failed to engage people whose momentum was felt in the Democratic Party with Sanders still in the running – and it lost.

3. It used to be enough for an English teacher to be a native speaker, to be fortunate enough to have been born and raised with British or American English. In the current transition phase, with all else (qualifications, proficiency tests) being equal, native speakers are still given the benefit of the doubt due to their “idiomatic” control of the language (officially) or due to the “demands of the student market”. After 2016, over 80% of all native speakers of English will be citizens of countries where their language was used – on a long-term, wide-ranging, nationwide, sometimes global level – to disastrous ends.

4. British and American English native speakers did not consciously, formally learn their languages. They did not grow up having to analyse, question, experiment with the medium – or the message. They were not expected to look closely at what their languages are built of – how they function – what they do to people. This has long been evident in every English language school, where multi-lingual teachers have been known to excel at teaching what they had critically, consciously, diligently learned. Native speakers held on – perhaps rightly so – to their own capacity for “everyday speech” – to their ability to produce and model the language “as it’s really spoken”.

5. This “everyday speech” is no longer sufficient. English “as it’s spoken” is no longer the best option. Not after 2016 and native speakers’ overall, repeated, global failure to do what multi-lingual speakers have trained so hard to do: see through the medium, follow-up, fact-check, demand evidence, think critically. Not after the “word on the street” and the “locker room banter” was used to mislead, pivot, obscure and demean – and still win.

6. Native speaker English will not suffice in the future, simply because English will not belong to native speakers any more. Today’s Englishes morph, mutate, thrive or die – quite independently of stale, pale, and male ideas about “good” or “bad” language. This would have happened even without the 2016 debacles. But after this year, the native speaker “authority” is eroded even further – linguistically, socio-politically and economically. Simply put, no British or American person teaching English after 2016 can claim “native” prerogative to decide which language use is “good” or “bad”. Not a Leaver / Republican, who has yet to see the long-term fall-out from their vote. Not a Remainer / Democrat, whose efforts to stop the destructive propaganda on their doorsteps were just proven inadequate. And definitely not the abstainers.

7. Some time ago, I spent 30 minutes staring at an email sent to me by mistake. It was probably a note made during a selection process for the English teaching job I applied for. The email simply said: “Unsuccessful? Non-native. Odd use of language.” I got the official rejection email after thirty minutes. None of the real reasons were mentioned. And by now, none of them matter to me.

8. I know the email got two things right. I am non-native and my use of language is odd. If William Burroughs’ theory of “language as a virus” is to be entertained for a moment – then I have been able to host a mutation of English in my head whilst simultaneously making space for Polish, German, French, Portuguese, Chinese, HTML, Python, XML, proofreading mark-up, slam poetry, haiku, maths, Morse code, emoji…I have never been a carrier of just one language virus. I have never allowed just one language to take over, to settle in, to infuse all thought. Many people have – and in 2016, their countries started to pay the price. My “odd use of language” keeps me sane, creative, and successful. That’s the only thing the email sender got wrong – and it wasn’t just them.

9. You see, I believe that “odd use of language” is what is now needed – it’s what our students (and ourselves) will rely on. From sending people to Mars to sending more girls to schools, from stopping global warming to starting a local book club – every single brave project on earth has just got more difficult, more important, and more complex. Native speaker language has been good at reflecting “the way things are”. Odd use of language – the non-native, multi-lingual capacity to think, speak, act in more than one linguistic dimension – will be the new norm, and the medium through which the new norm will be negotiated and brought about. After Brexit and Trump, British and American Englishes are no longer the norm to aspire to.

10. Should you still hire native speaker teachers? This is no longer a criterion that will ensure success – ask any Celta / Delta trainer. The first prerequisite for a successful teacher should be good awareness of language. Hire and demand people who can use language oddly and appreciate its odd uses; people who know enough about speech, writing, texts and listening to teach today’s language students to think for themselves. If they also happen to be native speakers – great. But after 2016, the traditional native speaker excuses can no longer be treated seriously. Do not trust British or American native speakers to show up in your classrooms just because of their birth certificate. You saw how that worked out. Take Control and Make Schools Great Again.

[note from the editor: please note that the views expressed in this post are controversial. As the author of the post stated in the comments section, TEFL Equity initiative does not subscribe to all the author’s views, and the message (as well as its intentions) was the author’s and the author’s alone. You can read a rebuttal of this post posted shortly after this article on TEFL Equity blog here]

Author’s bio note:

wikthorWiktor Kostrzewski – in past lives, an ELT teacher and DoS, a translator and translator trainer. Currently an editor for an ELT publisher and blogger/schemer on . After work: cycling, sailing, short stories and slam poetry.

Going beyond the native speaker model in ELT – on-line course for teachers, trainers and materials writers

Recently TEFL Equity Advocates has launched on-line courses which tackle a variety of issues concerning ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, their roles in ELT, and the lack of professional equality between them. You can check out all the courses here.

Going beyond the native speaker model in ELT

It’s become sort of an article of faith that all research in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) should compare language learners with ‘native speakers’. Similarly, in English Language Teaching (ELT) the ‘native speaker’ is often said to be the ideal teacher and the ideal model of language. However, just what does it mean to say that someone is a ‘native speaker’? And “when we say:

  • you’ll have to ask a native speaker, or
  • don’t ask me, I’m not a native speaker,

what is it we are appealing to? What is it that human native speakers know? What sort of knowledge does the native speaker have?” (Davies, 2012, p.1).

We also need to ask ourselves if and why the ‘native speaker’ should be the ideal model of language. And who gets to decide? If not the ‘native speaker’ model, then which one do we teach instead? What are the alternatives?

We’ll tackle all this and more during the course. Watch this short introduction to find out more about the course.

What’s included in the course?

  • 10 hours of online instruction,
  • 5 hours of guided self-study,
  • 2 sections,
  • 11 lectures,
  • 3 videos featuring ELT experts,
  • 7 video presentations,
  • 7 articles by ELT and SLA experts;
  • guidance and help from your tutor.

What will I get out of the course?

By the end of the course you will have a better understanding of where the idealised notion of the ‘native speaker’ comes from. You will have also questioned whether or not ‘native speaker’ language should be seen as the only appropriate model in ELT. You will also have looked at course book materials with a more critical eye and learnt how to adapt the materials to promote a more international view of English. Finally, if you’re currently teaching or teacher training, you will have also got a chance to try out some of the ideas from the course in practice, and to reflect on the outcomes.

So by the end of the course you will have not only learnt more about the latest developments in ELT, but also got an array of new teaching ideas and activities you can use in your daily teaching, materials writing or teacher training.

How do I sign up?

It’s very simple. Just click here to be redirected to the course page where you can read more about it, take a look at the curriculum, preview two lectures and sign up.

If you have questions, comment below or get in touch.

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.


Designed by @tekhnologic

  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.

Proficiency: is there a minimum level for a language teacher?

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?
  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 second post with questions on the topic of language proficiency. 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.

  • How do we define proficiency and how do we measure it?
  • What is a minimum proficiency level for a teacher? Why?
  • Should NS also take proficiency tests? Why (not)?
  • Should there be a difference between hiring a NNEST with a strong L1 accent and one with a neutral accent?
  • How important is being bi or multilingual for an English teacher?
  • For the next two weeks we will post the remaining two topics, one every week. 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 from last week 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.

    You might also be interested in these three podcasts recorded by the TEFL Show which focus on some similar themes:

    'English with an accent' a reading lesson by Anes Mohamed

    This is the third lesson plan to appear on TEA aimed at raising awareness of different issues surrounding native speakerism in ELT. This time designed for EFL/ESL students. Pop back to the Activities and Lesson Plans section every now and again as it will be regularly updated with lesson plans both for ESL/EFL classes and for teacher training . If you’d like to submit a lesson plan, please get in touch here. Always looking for new contributors 🙂

    If you decide to use the materials, have any comments or suggestions, please let us know what you think in the comments section. We’d really appreciate your feedback.

    About the materials:

    This lesson plan was adapted from Module 2 of a 4-level English textbook developed by Anes Mohamed, whose bio can be found at the bottom of the page, and published back in 2012. The textbook was inspired by the problem-posing approach formulated by Paulo Freire. You can download the full Module in pdf here. The materials are suitable for students between Intermediate and Advanced levels.

    Lesson Plan

    Please note that this lesson plan follows naturally from the listening lesson ‘English with an accent’, which was also developed by Anes, and published earlier on this website here. While you can still use this reading lesson on its own, you might want to look at the listening lesson first to see how this plan expands on some of the themes discussed there.

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    About the author

    anes mohamedAnes Mohamed holds a PhD as well as an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. He has been engaged in teaching English since 2002 in different countries. He is currently an assistant professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan. Apart from research publications, He has developed and published a 4-level English Textbook. He comes at language teaching from critical perspectives. He can be reached via email here. You can also connect with Anes Mohamed on Linkedin here. His first post on TEA ‘Non-academic edge’ discussed the problem of racial discrimination in ELT, while the second was a listening lesson plan ‘English with an accent’.

    English as a Lingua Franca – interview with Jennifer Jenkins

    jennifer jenkinsIn this post from the Talk to the Expert series, TEA had the pleasure to talk to prof. Jennifer Jenkins about English as a Lingua Franca and its influence on ELT and the status of non-native English speaking teachers. Prof. Jenkins is one of the most prominent figures in ELF scholarship, and has published numerous books and articles on the topic. You can find her full biography below the interview.

    You can read other interviews with renown ELT experts, linguists and recruiters in the Talk to the Expert section here. If you’d like to be interviewed for the blog, or would like to contribute an article, please get in touch here.

    TEA: How would you define English as a Lingua Franca?

    Jennifer Jenkins: Until fairly recently I’ve defined ELF as a contact language used by people who don’t share a first (and often any other) language. More recently, I’ve reconceptualised ELF, bringing its multilingual essence to the fore, called it English as a Multilingua Franca, and defined it as “multilingual communication in which English is available as a contact language of choice, but is not necessarily chosen” (see Jenkins J. 2015, ‘Repositioning English and multilingualism in English as a Lingua Franca’, available here)

    Some people think of ELF as a variety of English, along the same lines as Nigerian, Australian or Hong Kong English are varieties. Is this the right way of thinking about ELF?

    No, this is completely wrong. In the earliest days of ELF research, before we had sufficient empirical evidence, we did believe that it would be possible to describe the English use of speakers from the non-mother tongue and non-postcolonial English-speaking countries in similar ways to the latter. However, it soon became clear that a ‘varieties’ approach was inappropriate for the use of English that transcends national boundaries, and ELF researchers moved on to exploring how English is used in this way. Mauranen’s notion of ‘similects’ (see Mauranen A. 2012, Exploring ELF, Cambridge University Press) is particularly helpful in this respect. According to this notion, speakers from the same first language background have a certain amount in common in their English because of their shared first language. But how their English develops depends entirely on who they communicate in English with, and the majority of their interlocutors will be speakers of other languages than their own. Hence, the English of one first language speaker of, say, Korean, may be very different from that of another first language speaker of Korean simply because they communicate with different constellations of other first language speakers. And thus, we can’t talk of ‘Korean English’.

    McKay (2002, p.1) claims that “the teaching and learning of an international language must be based on an entirely different set of assumptions than the teaching and learning of any other second or foreign language”. Do you agree? If so, what are the practical implications of ELF scholarship for English teachers? In other words, how do we teach ELF?

    It’s too early to talk about an ‘ELF pedagogy’ (though see the various publications of Martin Dewey on this subject). At the moment, we still need much more empirical information about how ELF used in a wide range of contexts and among speakers of a wide range of different first languages. But McKay is certainly right, in my view, that an ELF pedagogy will need to be very different from traditional foreign language pedagogy. For example, it will need to focus far more on diversity across speakers and on accommodation skills (adjusting your language to make it more relevant for your particular interlocutors at that moment, including avoiding local idiomatic language), and will also involve the use of languages other English, and so will advantage multilingual ELF users, whereas in the past it has been native English speakers (often monolingual) who have been considered the most advantaged in ELF communication.

    Some scholars have criticised EFL/ESL course books for being dominated by American and British English models and language norms. Do you see any room for a course book that features more example of World Englishes and ELF users?

    I’m not qualified to talk about World Englishes, as this is a very different field from that of ELF (see my answer to the first question). But I do agree that there is plenty of room for course books that focus on particular World Englishes varieties and that American and British norms are becoming increasingly irrelevant globally, given that their speakers are in such a small minority of the world’s English users. When it comes to ELF, I do believe there is room – lots of room – for course books that promote the kinds of intercultural learning and awareness that will facilitate ELF communication. But it’s probably too a bit early for these books to be written. And of course until the international testing boards bring themselves into the 21st Century, it will be difficult for teachers to follow some kind of ELF syllabus, as their learners will then fail the outdated ‘international’ tests they’re often required to take, e.g. for university entry.

    How can ELF scholarship contribute to our rethinking of the current situation where NS of English from the Inner Circle are seen as ‘owners’ of the language and its only correct models?

    I think this is already happening. When people first hear about the notion of ELF, they’re often rather sceptical. But once they’re read some of the research and got used to this major paradigm shift, they tend then to change their minds completely. Native English speakers begin to become more aware of the ideological issues involved in the spread of English. Meanwhile non-native English speakers begin to appreciate their often substantial linguistic skills (far greater than those of monolingual native English speakers – though this isn’t to say that all native English speakers are monolingual), and to realise that the way a North American or British person speaks English isn’t particularly relevant to them unless they will mainly be engaging in English with such people.

    Do you think ELF and NNEST scholarship should feature more prominently and be discussed during teacher training courses such as CELTA or DELTA? Why (not)?

    Yes, definitely. ELF is already mentioned on these teacher training courses (Dewey has written about this). However, it doesn’t yet feature prominently enough, and it tends to be described inaccurately (e.g. as a ‘variety’ of English, which it isn’t), and/or in contradictory ways. Until pre-service teachers develop a good understanding of ELF, they won’t be in a position to prepare their learners for the vast majority of communication in English in which they’re likely to be involved in their future lives.

    In a recent article, Kumaravdivelu (2014, p.17) wrote that “seldom in the annals of an academic discipline have so many people toiled so hard, for so long, and achieved so little in their avowed attempt at disrupting the insidious structure of inequality in their chosen profession”. What do you think still needs to be done in order to bring about greater equality between NS and NNS in ELT?

    This is a very big question. But in my view, if ELF was more widely accepted, non-native English speakers would gain substantially in status – and the opposite for native English speakers. As I said in my first book on ELF:

    “It will be interesting in years to come to see whether the term ‘native’ undergoes another change in connotation. In the days of empire, the natives were the indigenous populations and the term itself implied uncivilized, primitive, barbaric, even cannibalistic. With the spread of English around the globe, ‘native’ – in relation to English – has assumed newer, positive connotations. ‘Native speakers’ of English are assumed to be advanced (technologically), civilized, and educated. But as native speakers lose their linguistic advantage, with English being spoken as an international language [i.e. ELF] no less – and often a good deal more – effectively by non-native speakers, and as bilingualism and multilingualism become the accepted world norm, and monolingualism the exception, perhaps the word ‘native’ will return to its pejorative usage. Only this time the opposite group will be on the receiving end.” (Jenkins, J. 2000. The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford University Press, p. 229). Fifteen years later, I think this is happening.

    Thanks again for agreeing to do this interview.

    jennifer jenkinsJennifer Jenkins holds the Chair of Global Englishes at the University of Southampton where she is also founding director of the Centre for Global Englishes. She has been conducting empirical research into English as a Lingua Franca for over 25 years, and has published extensively on the subject, including three monographs: The Phonology of English as an International Language (OUP 2000), English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity (OUP 2007), and English as a Lingua Franca in the International University (Rutledge 2014). She is also the author of a university course book, Global Englishes, Routledge (2015, 3rd ed.).

    'Not That Prestigious' by Marc Jones

    Sit comfortably, the recording will start, relax. You have the premium service, provided to you by the dulcet tones of a North American man or a South Eastern Englishman. This recording will last approximately one minute thirty seconds and will be paced at approximately two and a half words per second, slower than standard speech but not discernibly so for you, the learner. You can decode the words, possibly even get taught egonnaf by the teacher which you hear in the recording. The preparatory language course for your trip abroad is going well, you are full of confidence and you are ready to use English and talk to people you meet.

    What happens next is unexpected: the locals are gabbling away at breakneck speed and when they do slow down they mangle the vowels, strangle the consonants and wrangle the clustered sounds into manifestations so illogical you might as well have answered in your first language.

    We have all had students with this kind of experience yet how many of us have access to materials for the classroom with the kind of accents that our students are likely to encounter when they use their English? In this era of English as a Lingua Franca, the so-called prestige accents and dialects are still the main feature in classroom listening materials. The question is, why? There are so many cultural questions being raised about the whitewashing of Hollywood and othering of different races and nationalities through tokenism or comedy. There are not many textbooks in Asia that focus primarily on understanding other Asians speak English yet this is the main community that many of my Japanese students of English come into contact with. The number of my students coming into contact with Americans, Australians or British outside the language classroom is lower than contact with Vietnamese, Thais or Indians yet the presence of speakers from these locales is negligible. Add to this the fact that contact with people from inner-circle countries is not limited to those from London, New York, Sydney or Auckland and the problem widens further still.

    Design: @Teflninja

    Design: @Teflninja

    So, apart from balling our fists and complaining, what can be done? Well, at a personal level we can choose not to use the listening exercises from assigned books in our lessons and instead use alternative, more realistic sources such as . If the listening presents a language point you could simply search using Google with the following: “example language you want using quote marks”

    This will then give you items from with said language in their transcripts. Another option is to search for audio and podcasts from the target communities but this is time-consuming and may be fruitless.

    This is where TEFL Equity really comes in because only by being respectful and providing recognition of one another’s strengths can we come together to assist one another wherever we are. So, as teachers and just as ordinary people, we could come together and talk to one another. The internet is most people’s de facto living room: could we meet there, chat there and record what we talk about and use this for our learners?

    Anybody interested in doing so should get in contact with me here.

    marcMarc Jones is a teacher and studying for a Trinity DipTESOL and soon MA Applied Linguistics & TESOL. He is interested in L2 listening, SLA and Japanese. He blogs at and

    'Cheeky Postcards: Lessons learned from being a trainer on TEFL courses' by Daniel Baines

    daniel bainesA teacher trainer, Daniel Baines, sheds light on the alleged advantages of native English speakers as language teachers from his experience on intensive initial teaching training courses. Daniel’s bio can be found below the article.

    Intensive teaching certificate courses, or TEFL courses, flourish throughout Europe and a cross-section of a TEFL school at any given time during an intensive course shows an interesting and unique habitat.

    In the classrooms: The future teachers, usually a mix of US, British and Australian citizens garnished with a bunch of Canadians and / or New Zealanders and one or two non-native English speakers. The trainees vary in their backgrounds and motivations. Many of them in their twenties, some far from it. Some undergrads, some career changers, some on their Euro trip, some serious, some not so much.

    In the tutors’ office: A handful of trainers, trying to grasp the new course, making nerdy schwa jokes, discussing the possible pronunciations of “schedule” and trying to gorge their lunch before the next lesson.

    This very habitat produces the native English speaking teachers that schools around the world scream and advertise for relentlessly while the non-native speaking teachers to graduate these courses are often harshly rejected like an uninvited by-product. Native or not: 4 weeks a teacher.

    Prague, Czech Republic, a few courses back, week 1 of 4 on the course…

    The trainers’ office is in a bit of an uproar because of cheeky Nandos. After their first day of teaching practice the trainees were exhausted and one of the Britons, Jim, gets a lot of laughs from his fellow countrymen for swearing about his inability to get “cheeky Nandos” in Prague. The trainers, two Americans and a Brit are startled. What is a cheeky Nando? What does one do with it and where is such an item purchased? Can it be bought at all? Or is it something you find within yourself rather than on a supermarket shelf? All we could tell was it had to be something desirable after a long day and Jim couldn’t get it – may this inability be extrinsic or intrinsic.  Nick, the Hungarian, laughs.  He’s spent the last 5 years living in Brixton and has been for more than a few “cheeky Nandos”, he says, on his way out into town for “a few jars”.

    Under Creative Commons from:

    Under Creative Commons from:

    Fast forward: Week 2.  A row erupts between the trainees regarding a vocabulary activity designed to raise teacher awareness of small differences in meaning.  It’s a gap fill.  The answer is continually.  All of them (native speakers) bar three (two native speakers and a non-native) get this wrong and this is common, it happens every course, it’s the point of the activity really.  It usually ends with the tutor drawing a timeline on the board and explaining that continuous is without end and continual is repeated.  Not this time, however.  Nick comes to the rescue and casually and clearly explains the difference between them.  “How did you know that?” asks one trainee, mouth agape.  The answer was simple.  He learned it studying for his CPE exam.

    Week 3: Trainees chuckle because Jack from Ohio, 54, who’s been living in the Czech Republic for over 15 years now, mispronounced Kanye West’s first name in an attempt to show that he’s as well informed as any twenty-something on the course.  Josh, a fresh from university young Englishman, tells a teaching practice group that he doesn’t actually know the prime minister of his own country.  And finally, to end the week, another row.  This time it’s about modal verb stacking.  Laura, from Louisiana argues that “I might could do that” is perfectly acceptable where she’s from.  This is met by universal derision.  She has more allies later, though, when studying the perfect aspect.  All the Americans jump to her defence to argue that when returning home to discover missing house keys, “Oh no! I lost my keys” is correct and, indeed, preferable to “Oh no! I’ve lost my keys”. Incidentally, Nick sided with the English stating that that’s what he was taught in school and heartily joined in with mockery.  He also knew the prime minister and how to pronounce Kanye, turns out he was a bit of a fan, (at least of the first three albums).

    Week 4: Graduation! Happy faces. The trainees attend a so called job workshop where different language schools present themselves as potential future employers. All of them are looking for native speakers. Luckily there are loads of natives on the course.  Nick looks downhearted, and who could blame him? He moved to Prague with his Czech wife to be closer to his young daughter’s grandparents.  He took the course incredibly seriously, was loved by his students and was the only trainee that particular month to earn a distinction.  But apparently the jobs are off limits to him.

    Design @teflninja

    Design @teflninja

    I questioned one of the school directors some time later to ask why his employment policy is so discriminatory.  It was sad to hear the same sad reasons, repeated like a mantra.  He has no problem with non-native speakers, he is one himself, but native speakers have clear advantages.  Non-native speakers are great at teaching grammar because they understand it better, but natives are better at teaching vocabulary because they understand the nuances.  Native speakers are also better at teaching conversation courses, because they know how the language is used and can talk about things related to their culture, which is interesting for the students.  Of course, let’s not forget that native speakers have better pronunciation.

    In the last 5 years I have trained over 1000 teachers and when you do that, some things become very evident, namely that these arguments hold no weight.  The examples above, Nick, Jack, Laura, Josh, serve to a series of simple facts.

    1. Native speakers do not always have an extensive lexical knowledge and those who do still have blind spots. I myself had to look up the word palpable after it was used by a Brazilian trainee in class and once watched a very well educated American girl teach a class that both George VI and Prince Charles could be considered ancestors of the Queen.
    1. Not all native speakers know a lot about their homeland culture and culture is so vast, how could they know it all anyway. I’m from a small seaside town in North West England and haven’t lived there for over a decade now. We don’t have Nando’s there, the nearest is 30 miles away, and I’d struggle to tell you anything about the culture these days as I take little interest in it.
    1. There is no one native speaker pronunciation. When I look back to my first ever lesson on my training course I still get a little red-faced remembering that my pronunciation was so hard for the students to follow that I had to write “bus” on the board for them to understand. It always raises a smile watching  students squirm in teaching practice trying to decipher the Glaswegian pronunciation of “girl”.

    The biggest problem with this fantastical idea of the native speaker is not that all fit the profile described by the director above, which of course isn’t true, but the belief that somehow no non-native English speakers do.  Obviously, not all non-native speaker teachers have wonderfully rich vocabularies, excellent pronunciation, deep cultural awareness and native-like grammatical control.  There are many who don’t, just like there are many native speakers who also don’t.  Trust me, I’ve seen terrible non-native speaker English teachers, but I have seen equally inept native English speaker teachers. Being a native speaker of English doesn’t make you a teacher of it. Neither does being a non-native speaker of English. What does make you a good teacher is the ability to teach what you do know and, in many cases, a good amount of patience and charisma. Where someone is born doesn’t define their abilities to teach English at all. And I believe we should finally stop asking about birth places.


    One of the people who had everything it takes to make a brilliant teacher was Nick, our Hungarian trainee. So, where is he now? After the course he spent weeks sending out CVs only to get either no reply or a response saying they were looking for natives. He came in to see us asking for advice, so I suggested that he go around the schools door to door. Talk to them in person. Let them see how good his English is. Weeks later he came back, this time with a bottle of champagne for each of the tutors. It was a thank you gift. He told us how much he’d enjoyed the course, how much he’d learned, that he’d never forget it. He told us he’d only managed to get one interview and how he’d only been offered two lessons a week for one school. He told us how it had put a lot of strain on his marriage, how his wife had kicked him out because he wasn’t working, how he had to go back to Hungary to earn money again and leave his daughter behind. He also told us his bus left the following morning.  It was a thank you and leaving gift. It was heartbreaking, but all too familiar.  He worked as hard as anyone could to discover that it didn’t matter, because he wasn’t and never could be born in an English speaking country with the privilege of English as his mother tongue.  What are the qualities that make natives speakers the better option? I don’t know, but I’d certainly like to.  Answers on a postcard…

    PS: apologies if you don’t get the reference, you might be a non-native speaker! Or a native speaker who didn’t grow up where/when I did. I’m sure you’re still a great teacher either way.

    daniel bainesDan is a freelance teacher trainer from the North of England, based in Prague, who has been working in the EFL industry since 2004 and teacher training in some form of another for the last 7 years.  When not training the next wave of Prague’s English teachers he fills his time with teaching, course design, research and writing.  He has DELTA and a Master’s degree in TESOL and his dissertation is published and available through the British Council teach English page.  He is currently working in Nottingham where he is teaching presessional EAP to prepare overseas students to begin their post-graduate degrees in the autumn and generally hating the English weather, but loving the food.