The problem with conference speaker balance and what to do about it – by Gavin Dudeney

A few years ago I finished up a two-week training course in Rosario, Argentina and started a rather bizarre journey to Manila for a conference. Leaving Rosario by limo on a Friday morning, I travelled to Buenos Aires and then caught a flight to Madrid, one from Madrid to Helsinki, another from Helsinki to Hong Kong and a final one from Hong Kong to Manila. I then jumped in a limo, was whisked to a hotel where I showered and shaved, and went on to deliver a plenary at the conference. It was Sunday afternoon and I’d been travelling for forty-eight hours. But I was so excited – the exotic locations, the sights, the swish airport transfers. Somebody paid for all that… I was in demand… life was a whirlwind of adventure.

That same year I travelled to around 30 countries for training, consultancy and conference visits. I can’t remember much about any of them – they were all airports, hotels, conference centres, Ministry of Education offices, teacher training institutes… I do believe I had a day off in Hanoi once, and went on a trip to Halong Bay. Ah, the glamour!

I was addicted – I don’t mind admitting it now – and there are plenty of people like me in ELT.

When I was at home I wanted nothing more than to be back in the air again, flying off to an exotic location (near or far), meeting people, doing my thing. I never thought of the environment, never thought of what it might be doing to me. Never thought much, to be honest – it was just all so very exciting. Since then I’ve cut down a lot on my work travel, for a variety of reasons. Some of them I’ll share here, others are private.

Fast forward, then, to this weekend where I came across a Facebook post which started out being about job adverts for native speakers only, and morphed into a more general study of privilege and discrimination in the ELT world. We are all perhaps familiar with these discussions in the era of social media – from Silvana Richardson’s plenary to the work done on this website, we know how certain people are afforded greater opportunities than others.

But it was one particular comment which caught my eye:

I remember sharing this picture somewhere a few months ago [a picture is worth a thousand words] noting the Male – Female ratio as well as the ratio of NESTs to NNESTs…. I got the feeling that some people were less-than-happy about my sharing it…

Now, clearly, any sane person looking at this advertisement for a conference in Poland would acknowledge that the balance is all wrong – there is a bias towards male speakers, and male speakers of a particular tribe (mostly white, middle-class, ‘native’, British). How on earth did I allow myself to take part in such an event?

I found myself asking that, because the ‘some people’, and the somewhat annoying self-congratulatory nature of the smiley (“I rocked the boat there…. they must all be feeling a bit silly today, colluding in such an offensive conference”) seemed aimed more at the speakers than anyone else. I wondered why the person writing the comment hadn’t specified who the ‘some people’ were? Were we to draw the same conclusion that I had come to – that it was the ‘high-profile’ speakers that were being criticised? Well, perhaps not – maybe it wasn’t – but you can certainly see how that conclusion could be easily arrived at.

And then I had to cast my mind back to that event (it takes longer these days…). I was kindly sponsored by Cambridge for that one. I had done a session for them at a private training event in Prague and they thought it would go down well at this conference, and be suitable for the audience. They had invited me months before the conference, and I had dutifully booked and paid for trains, flights and hotels in order to be able to attend.

I had no idea who the other speakers were going to be (and, I suspect, neither did my sponsors) – I got an invitation, I like Poland, the conference was one I was interested in attending, I had a business meeting I needed to go to in Poland (which could be combined with the conference) and it all seemed like a good way of combining everything into a short, agreeable weekend of work away. And so I went.

A few weeks before I travelled, though, I saw the line-up and was a little put out by the balance. I have long argued for greater gender balance at events, and have been instrumental in organising a handful of events which have focussed on getting good local speakers rather than constantly parachuting ‘experts’ in from the UK. My company has an excellent gender balance in it, and over the years I have done my bit (as have so many others) – albeit quietly – to work against some of the major threads in this particular Facebook discussion. But – and this is important – if I pulled out, I would have been considerably out of pocket (not being able to reclaim the outlay for travel and accommodation) and I would have been considerably unpopular with the organisers and my sponsor. And, like everyone else, I have a living to make, and that living is somewhat dependent on my professionalism and dedication.

So why does this happen?

Well – if you’ve organised events you’ll know why it can happen – different people invite different people, large sponsors often insist on certain speakers (a new coursebook, teacher development publication or product to promote), conference organisers choose a topic where certain experts just seem to fit, are in demand… The local audience are also often their own worst enemy in asking for certain speakers, and so on. Conferences are complicated beasts, and with so many influences (and so much money) pulling on them, they sometimes (often?) go awry.

Looking back at that list of speakers, I can see why it happened – but let’s not assume that the speakers themselves colluded in the lack of balance, because it is extremely unlikely that most of them knew the line-up when they agreed to speak. Now, of course, you could ask why they didn’t find out once it had all been decided, and then work out if they thought  it was acceptable to speak, but that’s really not a logical and reasonable demand. People have to make money, they have to speak at events to promote things, they are under contractual agreements and more.

So where does change come from?

Well…. It needs to come from local organisers of events, who need to start discovering and nurturing local or regional talent. It also needs to come from sponsors, who might usefully do the same, and simply promote their wares in the exhibition rather than through imposing speakers on events. It also needs to come from local teachers and teacher associations – empowering, mentoring, nurturing talent. What could be more useful than someone from your own background and culture speaking to you at a conference? If you want useful stuff, stop asking for the ‘big names’, and start looking within – after all, you can always read their books. In the long run, this kind of approach can work.

Now, right up at the top of this post I said that I’ve cut out a lot of my travel, where feasible, and it’s been for a variety of reasons. One of them was that I got over the addiction to the whole process, and began to question whether what I was doing was good for me, good for my health, and even – yes – good for the people I was speaking to at events. I have my doubts about the utility of short events these days, I’m simply not convinced they serve their primary purpose. I think events are great for networking, for the communal and social aspects, but I’m no longer convinced that they really contribute to anything more than an ephemeral surge in ‘development’, and are then easily forgotten. They serve lots of other purposes, but perhaps, when all is said and done, a secondary school teacher in South Korea really doesn’t get anything long-lasting from a visit from me. I get the visit, the food, the lovely people, the sights and sounds. It’s not a good balance.

I came across this recently, and it lit a small light up in my fuddled brain:

Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustratingly wasteful as the thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significant change in practice.

Fullan, M. (1991) The new meaning of educational change. Teachers College Press

It is precisely because of this feeling that I prefer ‘training’ to conference appearances. It seems to me that a whole day with a group of people stands much more of a chance of having an impact than a thirty-minute workshop. These days I crave one- and two-week courses, and do quite a few of them each year. They’re demanding, tiring, but it’s quality time with quality people and I think it works.

I have other reasons, though. I realised that all the travel wasn’t helping with the environment, and that stared to feel bad, too. But most of all it has really been out of a sense that the gene pool of conference speakers is too small, and not nearly diverse enough. Look at the line-ups for major conferences and you’ll see the same twenty names time after time – there simply has to be more to it than that.

I put all this together and it amounted to one simple thing for me – travel less.

Over the past four or so years I’ve made it a habit to say ‘no’ to many of the invitations which come my way, often with the (not unreal) excuse that I am already busy on those dates, or have too much work on. When doing this, I have also tried to recommend one or two names who might usefully fill the gap I am creating – and I’ve tried to do that bearing in mind some of the things I’ve already mentioned here. If all of us who get lots of invitations start to do the same, then it might go some way towards promoting greater balance. I’m not saying people have to or even should do this, merely that I think it’s one way of going about things. But it is part of a bigger picture which clearly needs a lot more work.

When all is said and done, my reasons are not entirely altruistic, but they can help. That’s the best I can do, I think. I’ve volunteered for ELT organisations for seventeen years and – along with many others who perhaps aren’t overly vocal on social media – I think I’ve done (and continue to do) my bit for a better ELT world. There are lots and lots of us – women, men, ‘native’ and ‘non-natives’. Although these issues are very much in the limelight currently, it would be wrong to assume that they went uncriticised in the era before blogging and social media. We just need to step up the offensive a little – do more, together.

I still go to the odd event each year, and will continue to do so, because a few seems like a decent balance, it helps me stay up-to-date with what’s going on, it keeps my professional profile healthy and – after all – it’s my profession, it’s where I work and what I do and, crucially, often where I get work from. I just think the pie could be cut into more, smaller pieces, and those pieces could usefully be distributed  more evenly and fairly across the ELT demographic.

Gavin Dudeney[15900]Gavin is Director of Technology for The Consultants-E, working in online training and consultancy in EdTech.  Former Honorary Secretary and Chair of ElCom at IATEFL, he now serves on the International House Trust Board and on the Educational Writers Group Committee of the Society of Authors. Gavin is author of The Internet & The Language Classroom (CUP 2000, 2007) and co-author of the award-winning publications How To Teach English with Technology (Pearson 2007) and Digital Literacies (Routledge 2013).  His latest book, Going Mobile, was published by DELTA Publishing in 2014.

Non-native speakers encouraged to apply – by Rob Sheppard

Without discrimination against ‘NNESTs’ I never would be an English teacher. I’d wager I’m not the only one.

In late August of 2006, somewhere in the crowded streets of Kangbuk District in Seoul, a woman with a master’s degree in English and tired eyes walked to the post office with a padded yellow mailer under her arm. The next stop after the post office was the bank. She probably walked with some hurried annoyance at being asked to perform this task, thinking of all the other things she had to do. Inside the mailer was my passport, and at the bank she’d wire me around $600, a full reimbursement of the cost of my flight to Korea.

When I arrived in Seoul about a week later I was so absorbed in my own exhaustion, excitement, and culture shock that all I thought when I met this woman, my new supervisor, was that she didn’t seem particularly friendly. I must have been a bit dense, because it took me a full six months to become fully cognizant of the uneven lay of the land.

Our school had 20 teachers: 10 Korean and 10 ‘foreign’ (a term I initially chafed at). The Korean teachers all held masters’ degrees from English speaking countries, while the requirement for foreign teachers was simply a bachelor’s degree and ‘native English,’ (which generally meant a desirable combination of passport and complexion). For the Korean teachers this was a career, but for most of the foreigners it was a gap year. The Korean teachers worked full time (which in Korea regularly means mandatory overtime); the foreigners only 15-20 hours per week. The Korean teachers made the equivalent of around $15 per hour: the foreign teachers something like 30% more than that.

These highly qualified, talented Korean English teachers watched kids like me cycle in and out of their country like it was spring break, make our bland observations about their culture, collect our paychecks, and saunter out of the office after 3 hours of work. That they still welcomed and befriended us rather than despising us is a graciousness I’ll never fathom.

The injustice of this situation really only hit me like it did because, by the time I finally recognized it, I was already good friends with several of these Korean teachers. At the time I dealt with it in the only way I knew how, in the staging of meaningless acts of protest: wearing shorts and a punk t-shirt to work, oblivious to the fact that this was only a further exercise in privilege.

Since then I like to think I’ve grown up some. Realizing this was more than a gap year, I got an MA TESOL and eventually got good at doing this teaching thing. So far I’ve been lucky. I’ve been given a shot more than once and hired above my experience level, and privilege of various kinds has no doubt factored into those opportunities.

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of leading teams of teachers, of hiring, training, and promoting some amazing ELT professionals. That first experience with the injustice of native-speakerism has stuck with me, and I’ve done what I can to make certain it never happens on my watch, in my programs. I can say with confidence that the three best hires I’ve ever made were of non-native speakers.

There are those who say that students would rather learn from native speakers, and as a program administrator at a nonprofit, my ultimate duty is to serve a population. So I have had to give this argument careful consideration. And indeed, I have heard rooms full of students affirm that they would prefer an “American teacher.” That attitude certainly exists. But more importantly I’ve seen that bias vanish in minutes, as they fall under the spell of their incredible new teacher whose first language happens to be Chinese, or Russian, or Portuguese.

Meeting student needs doesn’t always mean catering to every misguided want. Many students hold some serious misapprehensions about what ought to happen in a classroom. It is our responsibility as educators to disabuse them of these ideas.

To me the core argument against native-speakerism is two-fold:

First of all, the notion that native speakers have a leg up on non-natives is simply unfounded. A quick metaphor explains why. If I need to understand the inner workings of my computer, who’s the better resource: Paolo who built his own computer, or rich-kid Evan whose mom just bought his ungrateful ass a new iMac?

Once that illogic has been demonstrated, the more compelling part of the argument comes in. Saying you “prefer” a native speaker doesn’t change the fact that it’s discriminatory. In my experience, if the rationale for a policy or a preference or a belief about a group of people can be traced back to the circumstances of that group of those people’s birth, that’s usually a good time to start raising eyebrows and asking questions. A whole lot of injustice arises from that kind of reasoning, and this is no exception.

Recently, I’ve started my own business, Ginseng. It’s a mission-driven online English school offering live group classes to students around the world. As we state on our homepage, we see teachers as the most valuable resource we can offer, so we want the best. We intend to pay and treat them very well. With competition out there touting native speakers left and right, I certainly had to consider whether I would be wise to do the same. Business is business, right?

But why do people learn English? Why do we teach English?

For me at least it’s in large part because of the opportunities it affords my students. I didn’t come here to found the next E.F.  So what kind of hypocrite would I be if I professed to be increasing opportunity, only to go and offer that opportunity only to those who were born into the privilege of native English?

It was this that led me to enthusiastically embrace the mission of TEFL Equity. It was also this that led me to commit 10% of our student slots to providing free classes to those who can’t afford to pay. If your values align with ours, and are interested in joining a team, I hope you’ll check out Ginseng’s job listings, complete with the TEFL Equity badge. Non-native speakers are encouraged to apply.

rob shephardRob Sheppard is senior director of adult programs at Quincy Asian Resources and the founder of Ginseng English, an online, mission-driven English school that will fully launch in late 2017. He also serves on the community advisory council at First Literacy, is a member of the Open Door Collective, and is co-chair elect of TESOL’s Adult Education Interest Section.

Of native speakers and other fantastic beasts

We all refer to ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ not just in English Language Teaching (ELT), Second Language Acquisition (SLA) or linguistics, but also in daily life. Consider the following sentences:

  • She’s a ‘native speaker’ of Spanish.
  • I don’t know how to say this, to be honest. Let’s ask a ‘native speaker’.
  • We can’t hire you because you’re a ‘non-native speaker’.
  • The aim of this research is to study the differences between Chinese bilingual English learners and native monolingual English speakers in expressing motion.

So the term’ native speaker’ seems very familiar to us. After all, we could argue that everyone is a ‘native speaker’ of the language they learned first. And we all have probably seen, met and had a beer with a ‘native speaker’, right?

Why then put inverted commas around the terms as I’m doing now? And stranger still, why say: I no longer review research that compares ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers as though the groups are real and not imagined, as Adrian Holliday recently did on Twitter.

What does Holliday mean when he says that the two groups are not real but imagined? 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).

Native speakers and language proficiency

Most of us I think would agree that a ‘native speaker’ is proficient. Perhaps not in the idealised sense as someone who lives “in a completely homogeneous speech-community, who knows its (the speech community’s) language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors” (Chomsky, 1965, p.3). However, certainly a ‘native speaker’ is proficient in their mother tongue.

But proficient how?

All sorts of people are proficient. I happen to be completely proficient (or at C2 level on the Common European Framework) in three languages. Does this make me a ‘native speaker’ of all three of them?

Possibly, at least if we are discussing the question on purely linguistic grounds. Yet, I’d never call myself one (more on this later).

So how would we characterise ‘native-like’ proficiency that ELT recruiters are so fond of now?

We can’t really talk about this subject without referring to the late prof. Alan Davies. Over the years he proposed six linguistic factors that define ‘native speaker’ proficiency:

1.      early childhood acquisition;

2.      intuition about grammar (both pertaining to dialect and standard language);

3.      capability to generate spontaneous and fluent discourse;

4.      capability to write creatively;

5.      ability to translate into their L1;

6.      and creative communicative range (Davies, 1991, 2003, 2012, 2013).

Are these six characteristics exclusive to ‘native speakers’?

In this post Geoff Jordan confidently asserts that there is a difference between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, citing studies which seem to confirm that ultimate, or ‘native-like’ attainment of a language is very rare. In addition to the ones he mentions, when Sorace (2003) compared grammaticality judgments of ‘native’ and proficient ‘non-native speakers’, she concluded that there was a fundamental difference between the two groups.

However, there are also other studies which shed serious doubts on Sorace’s findings. For example, Birdsong (1992, 2004), Bialystok (1997) and Davies (2001) also studied judgments of grammaticality and all concluded that statistically there was no significant difference in the judgments made by ‘native’ and proficient ‘non-native speakers’. In other words, both groups have very similar intuitions about the language. And it is important to add that they all focused on adult learners who were well past the critical or sensitive period (see below).

So linguistically speaking, is there a difference between the two groups? There might well be. And the word MIGHT is important here.

It is important because as Davies (1991, 2003, 2013) himself highlights, apart from the first factor, none of the others are exclusive to ‘native speakers’.

We’ve dealt with point 2 (language intuition) above. As points 3, 4 and 6 are concerned, think of people like Joseph Conrad, born and baptised in Poland as Józef Korzeniowski. Or Vladimir Nabokov. But also thousands of other ‘non-native speakers’ who are incredibly proficient in English.

While it is more common for translators and interpreters to translate into their L1, there are also those who translate into L2. Personally, I find it much easier to switch between Spanish and English (or vice versa), rather than any of these two and my L1, Polish. I’m not a professional translator or an interpreter, but your L1 does not make you one either, so I don’t see why you couldn’t learn to translate into your L2 (or L3).

This leaves us with early childhood acquisition. What is it, though, that a child acquires? Well, clearly points 2-6. But then it seems that they don’t seem to be exclusive to ‘native speakers’, which means we’re back to square one.

Geoff Jordan also quotes a review of the research that has been conducted on critical/sensitive period, which seems to suggest that it is incredibly rare for ‘non-native speakers’ to reach ‘native-like’ proficiency, as there are different cut-off points. This might well be true, although we still have the problem of defining ‘native-speaker’ proficiency (or indeed the ‘native speakers’ who took part in those studies). There are also the studies cited above on grammaticality which show that ultimate attainment is possible even for adult learners. And of course there all those ‘non-native speakers’ out there who are virtually indistinguishable from a ‘native speaker’. Finally, to quote Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson (2003, p.580) – whose 2009 paper Geoff quotes to prove there is a fundamental difference between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ – “the highly successful L2 speakers that we have characterised as having reached ‘only’ near-native proficiency are, in fact, native-like in all contexts except perhaps in the laboratory of the linguist with specific interest in second language learning mechanisms.”

So while Geoff is 100% convinced that there must be a fundamental linguistic difference between the two groups, I think we would do well to hedge this statement: there MIGHT be a difference. One reason is that while SLA researchers have placed nativeness at the centre of its enquiry (i.e. as the benchmark against which learners’ progress should be measured), they have had surprisingly little to say about who this ‘native’ (or ‘non-native’) under scrutiny actually is (Davies, 2013). As Han (2004) points out, SLA researchers – such as Sorace (2003) cited earlier – have taken the ‘native speaker’ for granted, to a large extent ignoring the individual (linguistic) differences between them.

The second reason is that while Geoff authoritatively states that there is a difference between the two groups, other researchers in the field are much more cautious. For example, in a recent publication Hulstijn (2015) observes that while past a certain age it MIGHT be difficult or unlikely for people to acquire ‘native-like’ proficiency, it is possible (see e.g. Birdsong’s studies). Furthermore, he also points out that even though some learners don’t reach full mastery (as measured by an SLA researcher in lab conditions), they can still be functionally bilingual, which brings us back to Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson’s quote from above.

Even more importantly, however, I think we need to look beyond language proficiency as the defining characteristic of a ‘native speaker’. In fact, it is quite ironic that in the opening sentence of his blog post Geoff calls Russ Mayne (Evidence-based EFL) a “cheery cherry-picker of evidence”, when he himself has cheerfully cherry-picked the evidence limiting the discussion to SLA research, completely ignoring wider sociocultural issues that are also at play. I wouldn’t be the first one to say that SLA should adopt a more socially informed approach, though. For a very extensive discussion please see Block (2003).

So I’m not saying the evidence Geoff presented is wrong. However, it is very limited. And thus questionable.

As Block (2003, p.4) says, SLA has for a long time dealt with “essentialized interlocutors, with essentialized identities, who speak essentialized language”. Who the ‘native’ or the ‘non-native speaker’ under study really is has very rarely been problematised in SLA. However, Block’s (and others’) calls for a more socioculturally oriented SLA have largely fallen on deaf ears.

The possible reason for this is exemplified really well by one of Geoff’s Tweets where he referred to what I’m planning to engage in the rest of the post as “sociolinguistic twaddle that obfuscates a simple psychological reality”. But wouldn’t the reverse hold true as well? Namely, that the psycholinguistic twaddle obfuscates a rather complicated, but also incredibly fascinating sociolinguistic reality?

I’ll let you judge for yourself. But let’s look at the evidence first, shall we?

Sociolinguistics and the ‘native speaker’

So, putting psycholinguistic differences and the issue of proficiency aside for a minute, there are two other good reasons why I would never call myself a ‘native speaker’ of English, or of any other language that isn’t Polish for that matter. And they have nothing to do with my proficiency in English, or in Polish. The first reason is because I don’t feel affiliated with the language. In other words, I don’t feel I belong in the ‘native speaker’ community (Brutt-Griffler & Samimy, 2001). Even if I did, though, would I be accepted as a ‘native speaker’?

The answer is quite likely no. So affiliating with the speech community and being proficient aren’t enough. The third factor is being accepted as a ‘native speaker’ by the speech community (Inbar-Lourie, 2005). This of course can lead to differences between the self-perceived and externally perceived linguistic identity of a speaker. For example, some people would describe themselves as a ‘native speaker’ and affiliate with the speech community, but wouldn’t be accepted as such, or vice versa.

The reasons for this can be quite varied, but many scholars have pointed out that being a ‘native speaker’ of English is frequently associated with being white and Western-looking (Kubota & Fujimoto, 2013; Romney, 2010). For example, Li and Andres, two ‘native speaker’ teachers of English of Hong Kong and Mexican descent, respectively, who were studied by Javier (2016), report having their ‘nativeness’ questioned on numerous occasions by students, recruiters and colleagues. So while in an SLA researcher’s lab they might be authoritatively proclaimed to be classic ‘native speakers’, they don’t seem to be treated as such in reality.

To illustrate this further, I’d encourage you to watch this short clip.

Another problem is that some multilingual people find it difficult to identify with one or the other group. For example, Faez (2011) studied English teachers in Canada and their feeling of linguistic self-identity. The participants identified with six different categories:

  1. bilingual;
  2. English as a first language speaker;
  3. second-generation English speaker;
  4. English-dominant;
  5. L1-dominant;
  6. English-variety speaker (Faez, 2011, p. 16).

And there is more. Piller (2002), for example, interviewed L2 users of English. A third of them reported they could successfully assume the ‘native speaker’ identity and pass off as one in front of other ‘native speakers’. A curious finding from this study was also that the participants had had their L1 identity, or their ‘nativeness’ questioned at times – corroborating Javier’s (2016) findings. As a result, Piller suggested that being a ‘native speaker’ is something one does, rather than an immutable category bestowed on the individual at birth.

As a proficient speaker of three languages (but possibly a ‘native speaker’ of just one of them), I can completely relate to Piller’s (2002) findings. For example, there are times where I can and in fact do pass for a ‘native speaker’ of Spanish (whether I am one psycholinguistically is a different kettle of fish, but I’m not planning to go to an SLA lab any time soon to find out). In addition, my proficiency in Polish seems to fluctuate a lot too. For example, after prolonged stays abroad some of my relatives or friends have told me I speak in a strange way, and I catch myself translating idioms directly from English or Spanish to Polish.

To sum up, there might be psycholinguistic differences between the two groups. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Especially as far as English is concerned, there are important questions of power, prejudice and racism. To give you an analogy, we’d probably all agree that there are certain biological and physiological differences between men and women. However, we’d also agree that there are many individuals who would find it difficult to subscribe to one or the other category, and that we cannot simply ignore the sociocultural reality when talking about these two groups. And being a ‘native speaker’ is far from so biologically or physiologically clear-cut as being a man or a woman.

What I’m trying to say is that while there MIGHT be psycholinguistic differences between ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, we can’t ignore the sociolinguistic aspects. If we do, we are simply – to steal Geoff’s phrase – cheerfully cherry-picking evidence.

Whichever position you subscribe too, though, or even if you’re sitting on the fence; there’s a very important question that remains.

What do we do with the ‘native speaker’?

Paikeday (1985a) tried killing it over forty years ago (see his article May I kill the native speaker?). Not the flesh-and-blood ‘native speaker’, you see, but the term itself as it is currently and uncritically used in linguistics and SLA. To cut a long story short, Paikeday utterly failed.

But many others followed. This time not trying to kill the ‘native speaker’, but offering more neutral and objective terms to use in SLA and ELT. For example Rampton (1990) suggested expert user. Jenkins (2000, 2007, 2015a) proposed using monolingual, bilingual and non-bilingual English speaker, while Paikeday (1985b) – having failed to kill the ‘native speaker’ – suggested proficient user. The problem with all these attempts is that they have had very little impact, and the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are still widely used.

The second option is to continue using the two terms and the acronyms NEST, NNEST, NS and NNS. This has certainly helped put the finger down on the problem of discrimination many ‘non-native speakers’ suffer from. It has also led to an establishment of what some have referred to as a NNEST movement, creation of a NNEST Interest Section by TESOL International, as well as countless articles and books on the topic (Kamhi-Stein, 2016; Selvi, 2014, 2016). However, as Kumaravadivelu (2016) points out, what the NNEST movement has utterly failed at is bringing about a more equal professional ELT field, where teachers are judged on their merits rather than a perceived belonging to one or the other group.

In addition, the continuous use of the two terms and their acronyms has led to a situation where they are accepted as well-defined, objective and value-free. Yet, who is perceived as a ‘native speaker’ is anything but an objective matter, but has everything to do with power, prejudice, ideology and even racism. As Holliday (2013, p.25) writes, the two labels are “ideological, chauvinistic and divisive”, and the quasi-mythological status the ‘native speaker’ enjoys in linguistics, SLA and ELT has very little to do with language proficiency, but everything with opinions and biases (Aboshiha, 2015) that are themselves rooted in the ideology of native speakerism (Holliday, 2005, 2015).

I’d argue – as Davies (2011) did – that both being a ‘native speaker’ and the mother tongue are fundamentally social traits, just as culture is. This ties in with Rampton’s (1990) distinction between language expertise, inheritance and affiliation. In other words, you might be a ‘native speaker’ in terms of language proficiency, however, you don’t necessarily need to have inherited the language, nor to feel affiliated with it. All the other permutations are of course also possible.

What I’m trying to say is that who is a ‘native speaker’ (and who isn’t), just like any aspect of our identity is “dynamic, dialogic, multiple, situated, and, more importantly, contextually negotiated” (Faez, 2011, p.5). It can also evolve over time (see e.g. Hansen, 2004). And there are times in ELT when it’s not you who decides whether you are or aren’t a ‘native speaker’, but the recruiter. Or the students. Or your colleagues.

As a result, I think it’s important that we recognise these complexities and stop treating ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ as if they were well-defined and objectives categories of meaning. The two groups might be different, but the difference is much more complex, nuanced, fuzzy and subjective than what Geoff presented in his post.

So I’m not that surprised after all that Adrian Holliday refuses to review research that treats ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ as though the groups are real and not imagined. Perhaps it’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps Block’s (2003) call for a more socioculturally oriented SLA will be finally heard. At the very least, when used in research, the two categories need to be problematised, and their subjective nature needs to be recognised.

Hence the inverted commas (see Holliday 2005, 2013, 2015). To remind the writer and the reader that ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are very much subjective, ideological and value-laden terms. And to distinguish the flesh and blood ‘native speaker’ (Davies, 2013) from the fantastic beast the NS has become in theoretical linguistics and SLA labs.

If you’re interested in further exploring these issues, you might enjoy the on-line course Going beyond the ‘native speaker’ model in ELT, which I run on TEFL Equity Academy. It’s a 20-hour course where we discuss the issues we touched upon in this blog post in much more detail, and look at the practical implications this discussion has for teachers, trainers and materials writers.

References:

Bialystok, E. (1997). The structure of age: in search of barriers to second language acquisition. Second Language Research, 13(2), 116–137. https://doi.org/10.1191/026765897677670241

Birdsong, D. (1992). Ultimate attainment in second language acquisition. Language, 68(4), 706–755. https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.1992.0035

Birdsong, D. (2004). Second Language Acquisition and Ultimate Attainment. In A. Davies & C. Elder (Eds.), The Handbook of Applied Linguistics (pp. 82–105). Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Block, D. (2003). The Social Turn in Second Language Acquisition . Edinburgh University Press.

Brutt-Griffler, J., & Samimy, K. K. (2001). Transcending the nativeness paradigm. World Englishes, 20(1), 99–106. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-971X.00199

Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Davies, A. (1991). The native speaker in applied linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Davies, A. (2001). What Second Language Learners Can Tell Us about the Native Speaker: Identifying and Describing Exceptions. In R. L. Cooper, E. Shohamy, & J. Walters (Eds.), New Perspectives and Issues in Educational Language Policy (pp. 91–112). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Benjamins.

Davies, A. (2003). The native speaker: myth and reality (2nd ed.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Davies, A. (2012). Native Speaker. In The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0855/abstract

Davies, A. (2013). Native Speakers and Native Users: Loss and Gain. Cambridge University Press.

Faez, F. (2011). Reconceptualizing the Native/Nonnative Speaker Dichotomy. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 10(4), 231–249.

Han, Z. (2004). To be a native speaker means not to be a nonnative speaker (Book Review). Second Language Research, 20(2), 166–187.

Hulstijn, J. H. (2015). Language proficiency in native and non-native speakers: theory and research. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Hyltenstaam, K. and N. Abrahamsson. (2003). Maturational constraints in SLA. In C. J. Doughty and M. H. Long (Eds.), The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp.539-588). Oxford: Blackwell.

Inbar-Lourie, O. (2005). Mind the Gap: Self and Perceived Native Speaker Identities of EFL Teachers. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers (pp. 265–281). New York: Springer US. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/0-387-24565-0_14

Javier, E. (2016). “Almost” native speakers: the experiences of Visible Ethnic-Minority Native English-Speaking Teachers. In F. Copland, S. Garton, & S. Mann (Eds.), LETs and NESTs: Voices, Views and Vignettes. (pp. 227–239). London: British Council.

Kamhi-Stein, L. D. (2016). The non-native English speaker teachers in TESOL movement. ELT Journal, 70(2), 180–189. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccv076

Kubota, R., & Fujimoto, D. (2013). Racialized Native Speakers: Voices of Japanese American English Language Professionals. In S. Houghton & D. J. Rivers (Eds.), Native-speakerism in Japan. Intergroup dynamics in foreign language education (pp. 196–206). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2016). The Decolonial Option in English Teaching: Can the Subaltern Act? TESOL Quarterly, 50(1), 66–85. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesq.202

Rampton, M. B. H. (1990). Displacing the “native speaker”: expertise, affiliation, and inheritance. ELT Journal, 44(2), 97–101. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/44.2.97

Romney, M. (2010). The Color of English. In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST Lens: Non Native English Speakers in TESOL (pp. 18–34). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.

Paikeday, T. M. (1985a). May I Kill the Native Speaker? TESOL Quarterly, 19(2), 390–395. https://doi.org/10.2307/3586840

Paikeday, T. M. (1985b). The Native Speaker Is Dead! An Informal Discussion of a Linguistic Myth with Noam Chomsky and Other Linguists, Philosophers, Psychologists, and Lexicographers. Toronto: Paikeday Pub. Inc.

Selvi, A. F. (2014). Myths and Misconceptions about Nonnative English Speakers in the TESOL (NNEST) Movement. TESOL Journal, 5(3), 573–611.

Selvi, A. F. (2016). Native or non-native English-speaking professionals in ELT: “That is the question!” or “Is that the question?” In F. Copland, S. Garton, & S. Mann (Eds.), LETs and NESTs: Voices, Views and Vignettes. (pp. 51–67). London: British Council.

Sorace, A. (2003). ‘Near-nativeness’. In The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition , ed. C. J. Doughty and M. H. Long. Oxford: Blackwell. 130-151.

How to get colleagues to support the NNEST cause – by Nick Michelioudakis

Why not educate people?

Three reasons: i) They know all this stuff already! Let us be clear: 98.7% of all the people who are active in the ELT world are nice, liberal people who are against all kinds of discrimination; ii) telling people the same thing again and again may well trigger reactance (Wiseman 2012 – p. 227); iii) (much more importantly): there is no guarantee at all that informing people or getting people to agree to something will have any impact on the way they behave.

But you do not have to take my word for this – here is professor Dan Ariely to drive the point home. Notice in particular the bit after 1:40. Ask yourself this question: have you ever sent a text message while driving? (I can tell you are nodding to yourself) Why was that? Was it that you were not aware of the risks?

Three different appeals

So – if propaganda does not work, what does work?

Well, consider the following study (Ferrier, Ward & Palermo 2012): The question here was which would be the most effective way to get people to support a charity (‘Save the Children’). There were three experimental conditions: the first group got all the info – they got the facts and figures about child poverty etc. (does this ring any bells? J ); the second group got an emotional appeal (smiling, happy children plus inspirational music); the third group however got nothing. Instead they were asked to design an advertising campaign for the charity.  There was also a control group. Afterwards, each group of people were asked to make a donation to the charity. Care to guess which group offered the most money? Well, the graph below speaks for itself (Ferrier 2014 – p. 38).

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Why was the third approach so effective?

Ferrier (2014 – p. 38) gives three reasons:  i) A sense of ownership: by contributing something – a slogan, an idea) people felt closer to the cause. Advertising people know this and they have used this again and again (see this campaign for instance).  ii) Cognitive dissonance: subconsciously people think ‘If I am prepared to do some work for this organization, they have to be doing something good – I wouldn’t do it otherwise’. More importantly however… iii) People felt a sense of autonomy: ‘they were invited to interact with a message on their own terms rather than it being forced on them. This circumnavigates resistance’ (ibid).

I believe that this last point is one we should take note of. Our cause is a just cause – but there is always a risk we might alienate people. Instead, what we should do is get people active. In J. Jaffes’ words, we need to shift from a ‘Tell and Sell’ to a ‘Participate and Play’ approach (ibid – p. 181).

How can we involve colleagues?

Well, we could crowdsource ideas for a start. The campaign still does not have a simple, instantly recognizable logo to act as a trigger (see Berger 2013 [Chapter 2] on the importance of triggers for virality) or a catchy slogan.

But we do not have to ‘prompt’ people in any way. We could simply ask colleagues for ideas on concrete, actionable initiatives (‘asking people to remove discriminatory language from ads’ is a good step forward; ‘awareness-raising’ does not quite cut it – it is too fuzzy). Sue Annan came up with the brilliant idea of having trainee teachers respond to discriminatory ads with e-mails to the companies who had posted them (click here to read the post). Notice the dual effect here: i) the market is beginning to get the message that ‘the times they are a-changing’ and advertising for ‘a qualified teacher – whites only please’ is not acceptable any more and  ii) much more importantly, the trainee herself is not the same person after that e-mail.

Last Words – a toxic relationship

Have you ever tried to persuade a friend of yours to leave a toxic relationship? It is hard, isn’t it? Everybody tells her (it is usually ‘her’) this is going nowhere – the guy (it is usually a guy) is selfish, controlling, abusive but how much does this help? She knows all this after all. The more people tell her, the more reactance kicks in.

Similarly, our field is still in love with native-speakerism. Not with ‘native speaker’ teachers you understand – there is nothing wrong with them – but when the time for inviting speakers comes, the old habits kick in (‘People want the big names’ – ‘We are doing what is best for the association’ etc. etc.) and the old patterns keep perpetuating themselves. In my view, there is no point in preaching to the converted; what is needed is a little nudge for our field to really move forward.

References

  • Berger, J. (2013) Contagious. London: Simon & Schuster
  • Ferrier, A. Ward, B. & Palermo J. (2012) Behaviour Change: Why Action Advertising Works Harder than Passive Advertising. Presented at Society for Consumer Psychology: Proceedings of the 2012 Annual Conference. Las Vegas, 16-18 February
  • Ferrier, A. (2014) The Advertising Effect. South Melbourne, Oxford University Press
  • Wiseman, R. (2012). Rip it up. London: Macmillan

nick michelioudakisNick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been working in the field of ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner and teacher trainer. His love of comedy has led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube. He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles which have appeared in a number of publications in various countries. He is particularly interested in student motivation and classroom management as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology, Management and Marketing.  For articles or worksheets of his, you can visit his blog at  www.michelioudakis.org 

Culture, native speakers and teaching English

‘Native speakers’ know the culture.

They can provide students with cultural insights about the English language.

And this is what students want and need to master the language.

This is an argument that comes up time and time again to justify why ‘native speakers’ are better teachers, why they are preferred by students, and why so many recruiters prefer to hire them over ‘non-native speakers’. Naturally, the argument also presupposes that ‘non-native speakers’ lack the cultural insight into the English language, and probably can never obtain it. At least not to the degree a ‘native speaker’ has.

Let’s pause for a second, though, and ask ourselves:

  • How would you define target culture, especially as far as language teaching is concerned?
  • What does culture mean in relation to the English language?
  • If our students are much more likely to use English with other ‘non-native speakers’, what’s the point of learning anything about the target culture (as you defined it above)?
  • Is learning about the target culture necessary to become fluent in a language?
  • Does knowledge about the target culture make you a more skilled user of the English language (consider its global use)?

I address some of these questions in this extract from my BBELT 2017 plenary:

Now over to you:

  • How would you answer the questions above?
  • What’s your take on culture, ‘native speakers’ and teaching/learning English (or any other foreign language for that matter)?

Really interested to hear what you think, so do get in touch in the comments section below.

If you’d like to further explore the ‘native speaker’ debate and its practical implications for teaching English, you might be interested in my on-line courses Going beyond the ‘native speaker’ model in ELT. Implications for teaching, training and materials writing, as well as Understanding the global nature of English. Practical guide for English teachers.

Why do we need to talk about ELF and native speakerism on CELTA and TrinityCert courses?

[Note from the authors: This post originally used information stating that there are no initial teaching training courses discussing English as a Lingua Franca or nativespeakerism. However, the Trinity Cert syllabus includes explicited references to ELF as of 2016. The post has been updated to reflect this. Thanks to the attentive readers for pointing this out.]

One of the biggest elephants in the room is that there is not a single initial teacher training course where discussing English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and native speakerism are part of the curriculum. Zero. Nought. Zilch. Nada.

While the TrinityCert curriculum bravely encourages trainers to raise awareness of the emergence of ELF in teaching practice and the learner profile assignment, we still believe more explicit input on both ELF and native speakerism is needed as these areas of knowledge go hand in hand. Fortyunately, we were assured that implementing focus on native speakerism on TrinityCert is something Trinity is currently working on (see comments below).

As far as CELTA is concerned, although there is some mention of varieties of English on its curriculum, and while a successful candidate should “understand the main ways that varieties of English differ from one another”; the CELTA trainers we’ve spoken to all confirmed that it’s entirely up to them whether to talk about the lingua franca/international nature of the English language, or not. To top it off, when we asked the person responsible for providing information about CELTA courses at the Cambridge stand at IATEFL 2017 exhibition whether ELF was part of the curriculum, instead of an answer we got a question: Sorry, but what is ELF?

Naturally, this discouraged us from asking ask whether there was any discussion of native speakerism on the course.

It’s a shame these topics are not a bigger part of the curriculum because when Dan Baines surveyed several hundreds of trainees, teachers, trainers and directors of studies; it turned out 97% of the trainees surveyed thought native speakerism was acceptable. 97%!

This is quite shocking, but not surprising if we’re to be honest. After all, they’re right at the beginning of their careers. And if the teacher trainers on the course don’t raise awareness of ELF or native speakerism, then how are the trainees supposed to realise they might be heading in for quite a discriminatory job hunt (especially if they’re ‘non-native speakers’).

It’s also a shame that there is room on CELTA syllabus for probably the biggest ELT myth of them all – learning styles. According to the curriculum, successful candidates “demonstrate an awareness of the different learning styles”. The learning styles myth has been debunked a zillion times (see here, for example), so it’s a pity that such a reputable teacher training qualification would choose to include it over areas such as ELF or native speakerism, which are backed by volumes of academic research.

The recent debate about the relevance of ELF at IATEFL 2017, where Peter Medgyes tried to convince the audience that ELF is of no practical interest to teachers (and in the process showed his own lack of awareness of ELF research), also proved that there is still a huge gap between research and practice in this area. A gap that I think must be bridged. What a better place to bridge this gap then TrinityCert and CELTA? Not to mention the DipTESOL or DELTA.

With all this in mind, Karin Krummenacher, Dan Baines and I conducted a study which aimed to raise TrinityCert trainees’ awareness of ELF and native speakerism. We presented the results at IATEFL 2017 conference in Glasgow, and you can watch the talk below:

So now over to you:

  • Were these two topics ever discussed during your teacher training?
  • As a teacher trainer, do you already include these topics? Why (not)?
  • Do you think they should be discussed with trainees? Why (not)?
  • How could trainers go about discussing these topics?

Looking forward to your comments.

karin krummenacherKarin Krummenacher is a Prague based teacher trainer, conference speaker and published writer. She takes an active interest in teacher development and equality in the industry. Her latest research deals with differentiation on initial teaching training courses. Karin holds Cambridge Delta.

daniel bainesDan is a teacher, director of studies, teacher educator, researcher and occasional conference speaker and blog post writer.  He is the Trinity DipTESOL coordinator at Oxford TEFL in Prague and shares pictures of his whiteboard on Twitter (@QuietBitLoudBit) for fun.

profile picMarek Kiczkowiak is the founder of TEFL Equity Advocates. He runs face-to-face and on-line courses about English as a Lingua Franca and native speakerism. He’s a frequent conference speaker and has given plenaries at international conferences. He’s currently teaching EAP at the University of Leuven, Belgium. He holds a BA in English Philology, Cambridge CELTA and DELTA, and is now working towards a PhD in TESOL at the University of York, UK. He also runs now a sporadically updated blog about ELT at TEFL Reflections and co-authors a regular podcast about teaching and learning English at The TEFL Show.

Native and non-native speaker teachers in Spain by Ben Greensmith

[From the editor: this post was originally published on this blog, and is republished here with the permission of the authors]

The battle rages in Spain between natives and non-natives. The streets run with blood and Euros fly out of the hands of desperate parents looking for a good teacher for their precious little ones. Working and toiling together in Spain as a native and non-native pair has given us an interesting insight into how the two, completely random coincidences of where you are born, are seen and in turn respected/disrespected in Spain. A little background to the situation, for prospective teachers:

Countless times have we seen teachers refused jobs or not even given a job due to them being ‘non-native’. A case in point; myself a native Greek with a CELTA (B) with 3 years experience have been passed over for multiple positions simply because of the elephant in the room. What is driving this cult of the native is, as one director said “The parents want their children to be taught by natives” So, the parents push the idea and of course the academies have to oblige. This makes business sense but does it give the students the best experience, in this supposed meritocracy? It is easy to sound bitter about such a matter but one cannot fault an academy for providing a service suited to what the payers want. It’s business and perhaps that is that.

However, an interesting point to note is that in private classes the parents in Spain are more than happy to employ a ‘non-native’ if the price is right and they come recommended, as a good teacher to trust in your house with your kids is hard to find. So it is not all one big conspiracy against johnny foreigner, there are positions for ‘non-natives’ and don’t despair because in Spain the private market is strong for ‘non-natives’ with some business nous, and there are of course some academies more than happy to employ the right person for the right job regardless of where your choice less birth, within man-made borders happens to have been.

This gives you some background and perhaps some hope when looking to move to sunny Spain (despite at the moment of writing there being only rain). We want to help start a greater discussion about this topic wherever you may be reading this, so below we list some pros and cons, that we hae come across in Spain, for the age old topic of ‘natives’ vs ‘non-natives’ and your opinions are more than welcome.

Pronunciation, real life vocabulary and the accent

Natives speakers have the accent, they have the pronunciation, and the semantics of the language. This is a built-in system learned from early age through constant exposure, which in Spain is highly desirable for parents, as they believe that it will perhaps rub off on their children who they think will be drinking a cups of tea with their pinky finger sticking out before they know it. Having these skills however, are inherently useless unless a teacher knows how to transfer these skills to their students and also how to focus on inherent language specific problems for example, the ones that Spanish people have when it comes to the English accent and pronunciation. Furthermore, an accent is a double edged sword, it is great to have it but doesn’t a CD also have that and the Internet too. I used to live with a guy from Liverpool and even when toning down his accent I still needed a translator so now, somewhere out there, are a group of Scouse Spaniards, the benefits of which I will let you decide.

Natives on the whole have a stronger vocabulary, especially with those torrid phrasal verbs that one only comes across when living in England, but on the other hand, the system of learning vocabulary can completely elude natives, whereas a non-native has been there done that and got the T- shirt. A well prepared and clued up ‘non-native’ is more than a match for any ‘native’ in the classroom but the Spaniards love a good conversation class where a natives fluidity can really make the difference.   The benefits of such a class are cause for another post.

Prestige

For better or worse the academies want that prestige. “We have a native speaker” they cry from every Spanish techo. “Come to our language school we have natives” as if they are some Zoo animal worthy of letting your child see if they pay the ticket price. Parents love it too, “oh did you hear that Maria has a native teacher for her child?” NO I did not and I don’t really care. Prestige is everything in Spain and if you live by the sword you die by the sword. If it is what they want then it is what they get, but to overlook a more experienced teacher for the sake of prestige lowers the overall teaching efficiency of your school. The key to getting a job here as a non-native is to play the system. Around the start of the academic term the schools are desperate and also in January when the teachers decide that life in blighty is better than Spain, that is when prestige goes out of the window, and they will hire non-natives and rightly so because they may just get someone to step into the breach and make a real difference in their school as in Spain doing a good job and having the students like you counts for so much more than what passport you have.

Culture

There is so much more to learning a Language than just words and grammar rules. Learning about the culture is equally as important as many students use English to access the culture (games, internet, tv) and this in turn increases their love of it and willingness to carry on learning it. With a native speaker an academy gets instant access to this and students benefit from the direct access they can get between language and culture. If you want to learn about food, customs, music, comedy and so much more, a native speaker can reminisce and instruct about theses matters first hand, and really help bring the language to life. This weighs heavily on academies in Spain and adds another string to their advertising bow when trying to attract students, or should I say parents, to their academy. Can non-natives learn all this….? Yes of course they can but if for example an English joke is intrinsically linked to the culture of the people then isn’t it just the blind leading the blind? Or what about Christmas customs, you really need to experience it first hand in England if you want to bring it to life; I am just not sure that reading about it is enough, however I remember the joy of a non-native teacher explaining to me their favourite English music and how much it meant to them that they could now understand and full enjoy it. And this enthusiasm and thirst for cultural knowledge is perhaps something natives don’t have or indeed take for granted. I can’t tell a student about my journey to understand an English song, about how overjoyed I felt when it finally clicked. It is an interesting issue and perhaps one that affects overall learning in a minimal way but it is worthy of a mention nonetheless.

Teaching of higher levels

The dreaded C1 and C2 class can be the bane of any teachers life. It is generally considered acceptable in Spain to give these higher classes to natives. Some academies may do otherwise but in my experience it has generally been like that. What I don’t understand is why I may be put in one of these classes but my fellow writing partner may not be even though she has done these classes herself and passed the exam. She in fact knows more about it than me! I am not so sure that being a native offers any inherent advantage except perhaps in practising speaking fluidity and really getting into the nitty gritty of when to use words and how to say them. But the C2 seems to me to be a purely academic exercise and if you have already got your C1 then go to England and bloody use it, really get down and dirty with the language. Perhaps these higher levels are the great leveller where natives and non-natives unite in head scratching and bafflement at the ludicrous nature of the English language. I have to study to teach these classes, you have to study to teach these classes and whatever inherent advantage I gain from being a native is immediately destroyed when I realise that I don’t know what half these words are and I need a god dam dictionary! So neither side can win this battle and at times we both lose, therefore native and non-native goes out of the window in my opinion and with these classes the term SURVIVE becomes more and more germane.

Under qualified

So, here is the scenario, I put an advert up for my teaching services at a reasonable price. I listed my qualifications and experience and the fact of course that I am native. I get a few classes from it no problem then to my horror I find that a friend of a friend who works as an assistant teacher in a school is charging more than me and has a sum total of zero qualifications/ experience. Then to top it all off said friend comes in to tell me that he now has a B2 exam class under his instruction and calmly asks ‘ is that a difficult level?’ ‘do they use a book for it?’ and other such questions that make me question all remaining faith I have in the Spanish system. At closer inspection of the website, I then find that a non-native university student, in the town, is charging twice as much as me and in her advert liberally smashes native speakers, with famous quotes from people I’ve never heard of…. that is her whole advert.

What is going on? This is where the moot divisions of who is better meet reality. Every boss is different and so many of them are hoodwinked into thinking they are getting a decent teacher because said teacher struts in and says ‘I am a native and I can teach….’ well welcome aboard I guess. I honestly feel sorry for parents too, who want to find and do the best for their kids, who end up with two bit wannabe teachers. The system here is broken and I don’t know how you can fix it.

The CELTA means diddly squat to parents and when there aren’t enough teachers you can find yourself working alongside someone in an Academy whose only qualification is an American passport. These people in turn push out Spanish native English teachers, who have to work twice as hard to get work and must feel quite appalled when walking past an English academy with a bundle of qualifications in hand, only to see a group of people at the window waving passports at them; an exaggeration but an analogy that sums up the system here quite well. It is not that natives triumph here it is that people with no qualifications to teach are given jobs, paid more than Spanish teachers and quite frankly turn the teaching of English in to one big farce. Some people need to realise that nationality may in fact have little to do with quality and that this nonsense doesn’t pass in any country where English is spoken with a shred of decency.

To conclude this divisive affair, it is fair to say that regardless of where you are from, there are good teachers and bad teachers, teachers who work hard and teachers who don’t. Who is better than whom is a debate that will rage on as long as the market favours one over the other. Don’t be discouraged from applying for a position in Spain as a ‘non-native’, be confident and fight for it. We’ve both worked alongside countless natives and non-natives all with unique strengths and weaknesses as teachers. There is much we can learn from people who were born into English and people who have studied it for most of their lives, a mix of the two in one academy can only lead to success in our most humbled opinion.

If you enjoyed our first blog post then wherever you find this start a conversation about natives vs non-natives in your country. We are interested to know the thought processes behind it in your country and we also like to read internet arguments.

ben greensmithTeaching in Spain: An Englishman and a Greek is written by two teachers in Northern Spain. With 6 and a half years experience between them, they want to share some of their experiences on the good bits and bad bits of working/living in Spain. They offer cautionary tales, advice and talking points in an attempt to start a discussion about teaching in Spain and maybe in some way change it.

IATEFL 2017 and the native speaker debate

Yes, it’s this time of year – IATEFL 2017 is almost here. Last year we had a phenomenal plenary from Silvana Richardson about the prejudice many ‘non-native speaker’ teachers suffer from in ELT, which I wrote about here. There were also several really interesting workshops and talks on the topic of ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’. So I was really looking forward to seeing what there is in store for those of us interested in equal professional opportunities for ‘non-native speakers’.

It turns out there isn’t much.

Apart from the talk I’m co-presenting with Dan Baines and Karin Krummenacher, which I’ll talk a bit more about in a moment, there is only one other talk that mentions the acronym NNEST (Non-Native Speaker Teacher) in the abstract:

Title: Sink or swim? Preparing trainees for the EFL jobs market.

Time and date: 4th April 2.35pm – 3.05pm

Speaker: Dita Phillips (British Study Centres Oxford-Teacher Training)

Abstract: The murky (sometimes shark-infested) waters of the EFL/ESOL jobs market can be a daunting prospect for newly-qualified teachers, especially non-native speakers (NNESTs). What more can trainers on pre-service courses do to help? I will discuss my survey of CELTA graduates and give practical ideas for helping trainees as they prepare to take the plunge and look for work.

There is also a talk which forms a part of a forum on teacher identity:

Title: ‘I’m not really an expert’: NEST schemes and teacher identity

Time and Date: 06th April 2-3pm

Speakers: Sue Garton (Aston University) & Fiona Copland (University of Stirling)

Abstract: In this presentation, we will examine the identities that native English-speaker teachers (NESTs) and local English teachers (LETs) construct when working  together on NEST schemes. Through an analysis of interview and observational  data, we will show that these identity constructions can affect team-teaching relationships in both positive and negative ways.

One more talk relevant to the ‘native speaker’ debate, which I had originally missed, is this one:

Title: We are. We can. We teach.

Time and date: Thursday 6 April 1645-1715

Abstract: What makes someone a good or successful teacher? Is it simply a question of whether a teacher is a native-speaker or not? Traditionally, that has been the case but recent debate suggests this way of thinking is flawed. How, then, should we define success instead? This talk aims to offer a solution: using teaching competences.

In a way perhaps, the whole debate about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers might be taking us away from what is really important, that is the ability to teach, regardless of your first language or nationality. So I’m really looking forward to the talk. Hopefully, it will provide a fresh perspective on the debate.

Finally, as Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson pointed out in this blog post, there’s also only one presentation focused on English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). This is a shame as I really hoped that after last year’s plenary, there would be a much wider choice of talks on native speakerism and ELF.

Our talk

Did you know that 50% of trainees on certificate level TEFL courses Dan Baines surveyed find job ads for ‘native speakers’ only acceptable? In other words, 50% of people taking Trinity Cert or CELTA see nothing wrong with advertising for ‘native speakers’ only.

This was what prompted us to start our research project – we wanted to raise trainees’ awareness of native speakerism and English as a Lingua Franca. To start a discussion about these issues. To get them thinking about these things.

And ultimately, to see if we could change their beliefs about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers and the English language.

To this end, we developed a series of awareness-raising tasks on Moodle which the trainees did during their 4-week TrinityCert course. We conducted a survey at the beginning of the course, and once they’ve completed the tasks, and we also interviewed them to get a more in-depth perspective on their beliefs.

What were the results?

Come to our talk to find out 🙂

Title: NESTs and NNESTs: awareness-raising and promoting equality through
teacher training

Speakers: Karin Krummenacher, Daniel Baines (Oxford TEFL Prague) & Marek
Kiczkowiak (University of Leuven)

Time and Date: 06th April 2-2.30pm

Abstract: This talk explores how trainers can raise trainees’ awareness of ELF and native speakerism on pre-service training courses through online and face-to-face
activities. It presents the effects these had on trainees’ beliefs and gives
participants an array of practical ideas and activities they can incorporate into
their own training routine. It concludes with implications for teacher training
courses in general.

You might also be interested in reading the article Karin, Dan and I published in ELTed Journal, where we outline why and how trainers should raise awareness of native speakerism. You can access the pdf here.

Dan and Karin also wrote blog posts for TEFL Equity Advocates:

  1. I am Hank, or being a NNEST in Prague – Karin Krummenacher
  2. The attitudes to discrimination in ELT job ads – the importance of teaching experience – Dan Baines
  3. Sexism, ageism, racism and native speakerism – job ads in ELT – Dan Baines
  4. Cheeky postcards: lessons learned from being a trainer on TEFL courses – Dan Baines

Hope to see you there!

PS In case you can’t make it, we’ll record the talk and put it up on TEFL Equity Advocates YouTube channel, so watch this space! Follow the channel and the blog so you don’t miss it.

Equity in ELT – who do we need to convince? by Kenneth Arnold

I fully support TEFL Equity advocates and want to fight discrimination, so I clicked on the link here about what we could do. One of the suggestions is to make a blog post about it, so here is my attempt.

Not discriminating against someone due to their place of birth seems such an obvious thing, I started wondering who we need to convince. Obviously we need to convince someone or it wouldn’t still be a problem. I have tried to narrow the situation down to four basic groups for the sake of simplification. I am speaking very generally here.

  1. Experienced teachers/Teacher Trainers: I’ll start with the category that I fall into. I’ve been involved in ESL for about 20 years now as have most of the people I work with and we have worked in a number of countries in Europe and Asia.

You only need to look around this blog or watch videos produced by all of the big names in this profession to see the support against discrimination. I personally don’t know of any teacher trainers who believe in native speakerism. This has no doubt come about through experience. Just working in this industry for any length of time will put you into contact with talented, qualified NNESTs. You can’t avoid them. And any teacher trainer will tell you there are strong and weak NNEST just like native speakers. NNESTs tend to have certain advantages, such as being about to empathize with their students. While you might occasionally find an experienced native teacher, teaching in isolation, who believes that “natives are the best”, it’s fairly clear that they have no real influence on the profession and for all intents are “flat-Earthers”.

So why are we spending time lecturing each other in conferences or by writing blogs trying to convince each other? It’s fairly clear you are preaching to the choir when it comes to convincing those who have experience in this area. I’m fully aware that anyone frequenting this blog doesn’t need any convincing.

  1. New/Pre-service teachers: A friend of mine did some research that demonstrated that new and pre-service teachers are much less likely to notice discrimination in general in our industry. This makes sense. Quite often this might come from marketing for TEFL courses (“If you can speak English, you can teach English.”) With native speakers, they are probably less likely to notice it because it is discrimination in their favour. Particularly if you are only planning on being in this profession for a short time, why not take advantage of it. And in general, more than anything, it could just be a lack of exposure/interest.

I know that for myself, as a young teacher all those years ago, I hadn’t really thought about it until I observed an experienced non-native at my school. She taught such a knowledgeable, organized lesson that I left feeling inadequate in my own teaching. Of course, it inspired me to try harder, learn more grammar and try to improve in many ways.

I see this on a monthly basis in my training courses. Native speakers are routinely convinced of non-native teachers’ effectiveness just by being around them, seeing them teach. Recently, I had a native speaker trainee, in the final week of the course, tell a Belgian trainee just how impressed with her he was, being able to do what he was doing, all in a second language. Evidence of a clear convert.

So while we can preach to new teachers about discrimination, you probably don’t need to hit them over the head with it. Just being around, working in the industry with NNESTs of ability should convince them. To be honest, new teachers are not involved in the hiring process anyway. So if they stay in the profession for any length of time and become an experienced teacher or trainer they should convert.

(Interestingly, NNESTs seem to not support each other on occasion. I remember at a conference, watching the eye-rolling of the audience of NNESTs when the next presenter with a clearly non-English sounding name was announced. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies)

  1. Language schools/Employers: It is pretty common to see Native Speaker clearly labelled among job adverts in any country it seems, quite often, almost without thought. (A local ad advertised “Real Native Speaker” as the first requirement. I wonder what prompted that the “real” be included? Of course, as a friend points out, it doesn’t specify “of English” so technically everyone is a “Native Speaker” of some language.)

In the EU, it is quite clearly against the regulations of discriminatory practice but still happens constantly. Most school owners will sheepishly shrug their shoulders and say that native speakers are what the clients demand.

Now why is this? In Prague, there is often a clear case of “Keeping up with the Jones’s”. Native speakers were once rarer therefore more prestigious to have. Students could boast, “I have an actual British teacher.” And feel better than their friends who were learning from a native Czech who had been teaching Russian up until everything changed. In the old days, teachers might be only a few units ahead of their students in the course books. Of course these days are long gone, but the hangover still remains.

While the language school owners’ answers might appear sheepish, they do strike at the heart of the matter. They are in a service industry and will do whatever the students demand. If, for some reason, students believed they were better taught by pink-haired female teachers with interesting dress sense, then you’d see hiring ads like “REAL pink haired teachers only.” In many ways, the owners are just following the market trends, like all businesses.

  1. Students: Which leaves us firmly in the lap of the students. For whatever misguided reasons, this myth is perpetuated by the clients. Theirs is the attitude which needs be changed to have any hope of ending the discrimination. As a former colleague once told me, “It all comes down to the students’ attitudes.”

And how do we change their attitudes? I’m open to ideas. Anyone? Anyone?

kenneth-arnoldKenneth Arnold has degrees in education and English and has worked in TEFL teaching and training since 1997. Originally from St. Louis, he completed his higher education with the Shenker TEFL certificate in Italy and the Cambridge DELTA. Kenneth has taught English in various countries including Malaysia, South Bohemia, Italy, Spain, and the U.S., in many academic settings. He currently works for TEFL Worldwide Prague. When not teaching or training, Kenneth enjoys history, reading, and spending time with his young daughters.

Making job specifications more specific by Alex Moore

The fact that you’ve visited this website and are reading this tells me you probably don’t need convincing that “native-speakerism” is a myth that discriminates against thousands of qualified teachers, for whom English happens not to be their native language.

I’m also going to assume you’ve read Marek’s post about “native speaker only” job adverts, and his suggested write-back campaign.

Advertising for native speakers only is considered discriminatory by TESOL International or IATEFL, and a breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Writing back is an excellent way of reminding employers of this, and showing that teachers, of whatever background, care.

You can’t say “native speakers only” any more. However, there is a one-word dodge that could, potentially allow schools to continue the hiring practice.

Imagine you are the DoS or principal of a school where students, or their families, seem to prefer native speakers. You may know that academic opinion is against them on this, but it would be too hard to change their minds. You’re also worried that, if you tried, they might take offence or feel let down, and take their business to the school down the road who will tell them what they want to hear. TEFL Equity might be an admirable principle, but it’s a principle you can’t afford to have.

So you’d like to continue employing native speakers, but know you can’t explicitly advertise for them. You ask for native-level speakers instead. That one extra word send out the right message, “non-native speakers have a chance, if their English is good enough”, but retains all the power: “We decide who is native-level, and who isn’t”. A school could, covertly, still only hire native speakers. Instead of telling non-native applicants that they’re being turned down because of the crest on their passport, they could just say “Sorry, we don’t think your English is native-level”. End of chat.

This “native-level” phrase isn’t hard to find. Looking more or less randomly on the “International jobs board” at EslCafe.com, I found schools in Turkey and Russia that listed “NATIVE LEVEL”, in capitals, in the first line of their text. Another, in Hungary, asked for “native fluency” and one in Spain had a requirements list where, tellingly, “native level of English” was listed above “TEFL or CELTA”.

I found similar results at TEFL.com. A company that runs summer schools in the UK and elsewhere in Europe asked for applicants with an “English native level of competence” (sic), and similar phrases seem to be common throughout adverts for British summer schools. A full-time job advert in Poland, the country I currently work in, shouts that it wants an “ENGLISH NATIVE LEVEL SPEAKER” in the headline, though weirdly doesn’t mention this in the “qualifications” list later.

In all these cases, I have no idea what thought process lay behind the wording of the adverts. For all I know, these schools may give NNESTs a fair hearing, and may have many on their payroll. But, if I were a non-native, seeing that advert, I might still wonder: “Is there any point in applying for this?”

Also, all of these schools are in ECHR signatory countries, so are presumably aware of their Article 14 responsibility. Would they advertise for natives only, if they were legally free to do so? I don’t know, but we’re entitled to be suspicious.

So, inspired by the aforementioned write-back campaign against “native only” adverts, here is an alternative letter, aimed at the more widespread (in Europe) “native-level” phrase:

Dear __________,

I am writing in reply to your recent job advert for English teachers, posted at [web address].

Your advert lists “native-level” command of English as a requirement for candidates.

“Native-level” is a vague phrase. It is highly open to interpretation, both on the employers’ side and the potential applicants’. Many qualified teachers, for whom English happens to be a second language, might be put off from applying by this wording – a scenario where both parties potentially lose out.

As I’m sure you know, there are many ways of formally classifying language ability. If you specify a CEFR level, IELTS grade or Cambridge Suite exam grade, applicants will know the standard they are being judged against, and have an objective way of demonstrating their proficiency.

Furthermore, non-native speakers, as English teachers, can provide an inspiring example to your students, living proof that hard work, dedication and practice pay off. Compared to native speakers, they will also know the exam systems available to their students, having passed through one or more of them themselves.

Bearing this in mind, I hope you might consider amending the above-mentioned advert, and future adverts, to include a more precise phrase than “native-level”.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

This is not about telling schools who they should and should not hire. I am proud to say the company I currently work for requires candidates to have an IELTS band 8, or demonstrate a CEFR C2 level, and employers are perfectly entitled to set such high standards. But falling back on a weasel phrase like “native-level” is as good as not setting standards at all.

alex-mooreAlex Moore currently works in Poland. Before becoming an English teacher, he worked as a journalist for a local newspaper group in his native South Wales. After qualifying, his first spell abroad was in China, from 2011 to 2016 (“a six-month career break that got seriously out of hand”). During that time he played a key role in opening two new language school campuses in Chongqing and was appointed Foreign Teacher Manager by i2. Since then, he has worked at CSL in Swansea and is now at IH Bielsko-Biala.
Fun fact: In his very first placement in China, the school sent him back to the agency after three days, complaining he “stuttered too much”. Since then, his delivery has improved, or his DoSes have become more considerate, or both.