A closed-minded school in an open-minded country by Laura Brass

Friday, August 25, 2017: A bad interview and a bad haircut. In that order and equally frustrating. While I can get over the latter, telling myself that hair grows back, I cannot come to terms with the former. I keep thinking that closed-up people who do whatever they please in a free democratic country like Canada are simply dangerous. And outrageous. How this soul-crushing-eye-opening experience unfolded is the story I tell here.

After I had agreed to meet for an interview for an English teaching position at 3:30 pm, the HR person in charge of scheduling called again at 8 pm (I missed her call) and left a voicemail informing me that the interview had been switched to 1 pm. I found it odd, but I called back and confirmed.

Little did I know that this would be one of the worst experiences I have had in my eight and a half years of living and working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Canada. Correction: The worst job interview EVER. Full stop.

Kerrisdale Academy (one of the many private ESL schools that have sprung like mushrooms after the rain in beautiful British Columbia, Canada), is a Chinese owned school that specializes in prepping students in fields such as English, Math, and Physics. If you are a non-native English speaking (NNES) teacher like me, BEWARE! Better yet, you might want to stay away from this school. And if you’re stubborn, curious, eager, or any of the above, and decide to go in for an interview, be prepared to deal with people discriminating against any professional (regardless of how qualified, experienced, dedicated, etc., they are) who was not born in Canada! Linguicism (i.e., discrimination due to someone’s accent).

5 minutes to 1 pm, I was there. The receptionist, who also played the role of one of the interviewers, politely told me in English that Mr. Lee was not available yet, then switched back to Chinese and continued conversing with someone. About ten minutes later, Mr. Lee showed up and asked me to wait until he washed his hands. Ok!?

Then the three of us – Mr. Lee, the receptionist-HR-interviewer lady, and I – walked down a narrow hallway to a very small classroom with a few chairs, desks, a tiny board, and … well, that was it. Oh, and the paint on the walls was peeling here and there leaving them greyish. Or was that just dirt? I couldn’t tell. A bad omen.

While I was quickly taking in the room, I had flashbacks of other schools I had interviewed for, good ones such as EC in Toronto, Ontario, which had smart boards and polite professionals, or less so like Dorset College in Vancouver, BC, which refused to turn up the heat in the winter, so we had to wear our coats in the classroom. I am getting off topic. Let’s get back to August 25, 2017.

Mr. Lee pulled a chair (for himself) while I was left to find my way in front of him and the receptionist-HR lady. We all sat and he began what soon turned out to be a clear-cut example of ignorance and discrimination. Below is a paraphrase of the dialogue that followed:

Mr. Lee: What language do you speak in Romania?

Me: {I take a deep breath} In Romania we speak Romanian, a Latin-rooted language, like Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Then I went on to tell him how helpful my first language (L1) is when I teach students whose L1 is Latin rooted. I could see that he was NOT interested.

I smiled to myself and looked at him for his next question. But there wasn’t a question per se. Instead, Mr. Lee’s tirade started, which he repeated verbatim THREE TIMES in a row.

Mr. Lee: You and me have an accent. I teach Math, you teach English. Students can complain about your accent. They don’t complain about Canadian teacher but they complain about teacher like you.

It crossed my mind that: (1) I should get my phone and record this guy (his monologue would make for some interesting research material) and (2) this was a complete waste of my time: I should simply get up and leave.

I did neither.

After patiently and politely listening to Mr. Lee ramble about my accent defining me as a rather faulty teacher, I had to say something.

Me: Are you saying that, if you hire a teacher and a student complains about their accent, you fire them?

Mr. Lee: No, but I want you to know that student may complain about your accent.

It became obvious that this conversation was a moot point.

Moving on, Mr. Lee did not care at all about me having finished my MEd in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) from the University of Calgary, Alberta (with a 4.0 GPA), as if that degree is non-existent.

The fact that I am TESL Canada and TESOL Ontario accredited and I have over a decade EFL/ESL/EAP/IELTS/TOEFL/FCE/CAE teaching experience meant squat to Mr. Lee (whose English is far from fluent – accent not included).

Mr. Lee was, however, hell-bent on my BA in English and Literature from the University of Pitesti, Romania (which he heavily underlined on my resume) as if that was the only qualification I had that mattered.

To add insult to injury, Mr. Lee did not appreciate the fact that I had fast-tracked my masters (I explained to him what that meant). To him, it meant that I did not work while completing two MEd years in one.

I was speechless.

I felt like laughing, but decided to sit through the whole interview. Besides, I wanted to see how far this would go. So, I played along. Mr. Lee did ask me if during my masters I studied speaking and pronunciation! I told him that the Interdisciplinary MEd enabled me to build sound theoretical and pedagogical knowledge in specialized areas such as ESL curriculum design and development, teaching methods, language assessment, grammar, linguistic content, task-based approaches, digital literacies, etc. I invited him to view samples of teaching materials I have designed and implemented at and read articles that I have published.

All that was background noise to him.

There were other questions, as to levels taught, availability, salary rate, etc. Although ten seconds into the interview (when Mr. Lee started his monologue about my accent and the likelihood that students would complain about it) I knew I would never accept work from an institution that treats qualified professionals as if they are simply a geographic dot on a map, I kept it professional: I finished the interview.

Once the interview was over and I left the building, I cried. Then I wiped off my tears.

As I was telling my husband about this utterly frustrating experience, I realized how important it is to share it with the rest of the world and raise a red flag about institutions like Kerrisdale Academy based in Vancouver, BC, whose employers think it is ok to treat NNES ESL instructors the way Mr. Lee treated me.

I know I should have taped the interview. I know I should have given Mr. Lee a piece of my mind. I know I should have left the room the moment the interviewer implied the first time that having an accent erases ALL my experience, qualifications, and achievements, reducing me to a NNES who, in his opinion, is not a good teacher.

I also know that I am thankful for this experience, as it reminded me of who I am: a qualified NNES ESL teacher passionate about teaching English – my L2.

A bad haircut can be easily fixed. If anything, as time goes by, it becomes a thing of the past.

A bad interview, on the other hand, is a different story. As time passes, unless we all do something about it, it will not become a thing of the past. It is not that easy to change people like Mr. Lee’s mentality. As a matter of fact, it may never change.

This is not to say that I accept such behavior. On the contrary, I am a strong advocate of equality between NES and NNES ESL teachers whose employability should be based on their qualifications and abilities as instructors, not their accent or whatever ridiculous reasons individuals like Mr. Lee, born and most likely raised outside of Canada, find appropriate to bring from their own cultural biases.

We live in Canada 2018 – a welcoming home to thousands of immigrants and refugees from across the globe, as attested by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people … You are home. Welcome home.” (Trudeau, 2015).

It comes as no surprise that “Canada’s population grew by 1.7 million people since the last census in 2011. Immigrants accounted for two-thirds of the increase” (Campion-Smith, 2017) and that the number of foreign-trained skilled immigrants – NNES ESL teachers included – is steadily growing (CIC News, 2017).

Reminder for Mr. Lee and all the Mr. Lees out there: In Canada, linguicism is u-n-a-c-c-e-p-t-a-b-l-e.

Laura Brass Pic[17541]Laura Brass has an MEd in TESL from the University of Calgary, Canada, a BA in Education from the University of Pitesti, Romania, and is TESL Canada and TESOL Ontario certified. With over 15 years local and international experience under her belt, she has taught English to diverse learners for varied purposes (e.g., EFL, ESL, EAP, CAE, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) in the public and private sectors. A language learner herself, she embraces a student-centered approach that keeps the students’ needs at the forefront and focuses on fostering autonomous L2 learners. She is interested in language and identity, multilingual acquisition, ESL curricula design, digital literacies, etc. You can view samples of her teaching materials at www.laurabrass.weebly.com. Her article, “Eleven Unexpected Lessons of Research Writing,” was recently published by the Canadian Journal for Teacher Research: http://www.teacherresearch.ca/blog/article/2017/07/30/333-eleven-unexpected-lessons-of-research-writing.


Campion- Smith, B. (2017, February 8). Immigration fuels Canada’s population growth of 1.7 million in five years: latest census. The Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/02/08/canadas-population-grew-17m-in-5-years.html

Canada: Citizenship and Immigration Canada News (2017). (2016, September). Canada Immigration Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.cicnews.com/2016/09/canada-welcomed-record-320932-new-immigrants-immigration-numbers-set-increase-098533.html

Trudeau, J. (2015, December 11). You are home: Canada’s Justin Trudeau welcomes Syrian refugees. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9_zWhkS4oQ

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. https://doi.org/10.1515/jelf-2016-0021

He, D., & Miller, L. (2011). English teacher preference: the case of China’s non-English-major students. World Englishes, 30(3), 428-443. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2011.01716.x

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. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/23.1.83

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. https://doi.org/10.2307/40264305

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. https://doi.org/10.2307/3585884

5 most popular posts from 2017

I can’t quite believe it yet, but 2017 is almost over…

It’s been a great year with lots of interesting things happening on TEFL Equity Advocates. To name just two big changes, TEFL Equity Academy and TEFL Equity Job Board opened.

There have been some fascinating posts on the blog from teachers, trainers and recruiters scattered across all four corners of the world. And these amazing authors have attracted almost 70 000 visits with over 50 000 unique visitors from practically every country on the planet!!

So I wanted to thank all of you who have contributed to the site, visited it, shared and commented posts. You’re amazing!

And to round off a great year, I’ve put together a list of the 5 most popular posts from this blog from 2017 (according to my WordPress stats).

Are you ready?

Here we go 🙂

  1.  Why I wish I was a non-native speaker by James Taylor (2 580 hits)

Firstly, let me say that the title of this post is a lie. I don’t wish I was a non-native English speaker teacher (NNEST). As someone from the UK who teaches English as a foreign language, the country of my birth is a huge advantage to me. As has been well documented on this blog, I am much more likely to get a job than someone from Japan, Algeria or Brazil, no matter how qualified or experienced they are. For some students, having a native speaker teacher has a certain cachet, as in most countries it is unusual and many of them think that it means they have a better teacher as a result. So both employers and students seem to think that because I’m English, I must be a better teacher, which has got to be good for me


2. ‘Native speakers’ only ads and EU law by Marek Kiczkowiak(2 576 hits)

Over 70% of the posts advertised on the biggest search engine for TEFL job seekers, tefl.com, are exclusively for NESTs (Native Speaker English Teacher). If you’re not one, don’t bother applying. You might have a PhD and 100 years of teaching experience, but no one will even bother looking at your CV.

Common sense and gut feeling tell most of us that what we have here is a clear case of discrimination. Same as any other type of discrimination, such as based on gender, race or ethnicity. But gut feeling is only just that, and can only get you so far. Have you ever wondered, though, whether such ads were legal?


3. Non-Native speakers encouraged to apply by Rob Sheppard (2 504 hits)

Without discrimination against ‘NNESTs’, I would never 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…


4. Peter Medgyes’ The Non-Native Speaker Teacher: Why publish a New Edition? by Susan Holden (1 979 hits)

More than 20 years ago, in the early 1990s, there was a lot of discussion about the position of teachers of English who were either native or non-native speakers of the language. In The Non-native Teacher Péter Medgyes, a Hungarian, wrote about the relative advantages and disadvantages, problems and insights, of both groups. This became a successful book, used widely on teacher training courses in many countries.


5. Of ‘native speakers’ and other fantastic beasts by Marek Kiczkowiak (1 903 hits)

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?


TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy – looking back, moving forward

You might have noticed that TEFL Equity Advocates also has an Academy now, where you can take a variety of on-line training courses, which focus on offering ELT professionals practical solutions to the ‘native speaker’ bias that is still so widespread in our industry.

This is a bit of a change and you might be wondering how these courses fit with the rest of the work TEFL Equity Advocates has been doing. So in this post I wanted to tell you more about why I decided to set up the Academy, how I believe it builds on and connects with TEFL Equity advocacy work, as well as how it might help tackle native speakerism.

When I first started TEFL Equity Advocates back in 2014, I had no clue where it might take me. I’d also never imagined that it would gain so much momentum, so quickly.

What started as a simple blog post, where I could vent my frustration at the discriminatory nature of ELT recruitment policies, grew into a website.

What started as a pastime taking up a few hours of my time each month, grew into an almost full-time (unpaid) job.

It’s been a great journey so far. And I think TEFL Equity Advocates has helped to shake the ELT community out of its apathy – or perhaps resignation? – at the discriminatory status quo. It’s also managed to spark a lively debate at the same time as growing a community of dedicated ELT professionals who actively try to tackle native speakerism.

I’ve met some fantastic people along the way who have really helped shape TEFL Equity Advocates by offering advice, submitting blog posts, giving webinars, sharing posts on social media and supporting the project in a myriad of other ways. You know who you are, and I’m forever in debt to you.

But in the last few months, I’ve started to realise that the project has grown so big that it’s basically turned into a full-time job, becoming difficult for one person to manage on top of a (real) full-time job. Just replying to all the comments, FB messages and emails takes up a few hours a week. Not that I’m complaining, though! Love your messages, so please continue writing! 😊

Apart from the huge time investment, there are also of course the costs of running a self-hosted WordPress site, having a dedicated email address, an email automation provider, an app for automating social media posts, a job board… The list goes on.

Growing the advocacy work further requires time, funds and people who can dedicate themselves full-time to working on TEFL Equity Advocates.

More time wasn’t likely to happen, unless I quit my full-time teaching job, which I really enjoy, and which helps pay the bills. So that wasn’t a viable option.

In order to raise funds to continue the work of TEFL Equity Advocates, there were two choices.  First, I could set it up as a charity. This would need to be supported entirely with donations and rely on the generosity of people with no guarantee that it can be supported in this way.

This would also involve devoting even more time to the project, which I didn’t have. It would potentially involve putting together a team of dedicated people who would be willing to work on the project mostly for free.

It would also mean extra admin and paper work needed to set up and run a charity. And admin and paper work are two things I hate with a passion.

But if you’re going to spend a lot of your free time on something, you’d better be passionate about it. You can’t just like it. You’ve got to love it.

So while I hate admin work with a passion, I also love teaching with a passion.

That’s when it struck me.

Why not continue doing what I love doing most, that is teaching and educating, and see if I can tackle native speakerism from a more practical angle, while at the same time earning enough to cover the costs of running TEFL Equity Advocates?

This is how TEFL Equity Academy was born.

You see, I’ve also been working on my PhD on native speakerism for the last two years. During the process I’ve realised that the ‘native speaker’ bias goes far beyond recruitment policies in ELT.

It’s also deeply present in our ideas about the English language and how it should best be taught.

Just to give you one example, we all know that there are about four to five times as many ‘non-native’ users of English than there are ‘native’ ones. We also know from over two decades of research that certain features of pronunciation typical of ‘native speaker’ speech, such as word-stress or vowel quality are not important for intelligibility in international contexts. What’s more, many features of connected speech (e.g. reduced vowels, assimilation) can actually reduce intelligibility.

Yet, we still spend quite a lot of time on word stress, vowel quality or connected speech.


Because deep down many of us still feel that the more ‘native-like’ the pronunciation of our students, the better.

Of course, realising that the ‘native speaker’ bias also affects our teaching practices is one thing.

But being able to change your teaching practice accordingly is something else. Something which takes time and which can’t really be achieved through a blog post or a single webinar.

That’s where I see an opportunity for TEFL Equity Academy to play a crucial role.

It aims to offer ELT professionals practical solutions to native speakerism. It aims to extend TEFL Equity Advocates work and further promote equality not just in the workplace, but also in the classroom.

It also helps fund the website, the job board and any future TEFL Equity Advocates projects.

At the same time, it also allows me to combine two things I’m really passionate about: advocacy and teaching.

As a result of all this, I’ve decided to make two small changes on TEFL Equity Advocates. And since you’re a regular follower of the blog, I thought I’d give you a heads up about them, so you know exactly what’s happening.

First, the name on the top of this website (and of the FB page) will now be TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy. The second change concerns the blog. I used to keep a dedicated blog on TEFL Equity Academy site which focused more on practical teaching tips and issues related to the courses, such as English as a Lingua Franca or teaching pronunciation. Finding it physically impossible to keep up both the Advocates and Academy blogs, I’ve decided to merge the two into a single blog on this site. You can then expect a mix of more advocacy and more teaching oriented posts here. However, the Advocates and Academy posts will be put into separate categories, so you can clearly see which is which.

Hope you enjoy and find TEFL Equity Academy courses useful. 😊

And if you have any questions or comments about the Academy or the recent changes, let me know. Would love to hear what you think!

Cover photo by pine watt on Unsplash.

A NNES in a NES World by Laura Brass

Everyone reaches a point in their life when they ask themselves who they are, whether they are at a major crossroad professionally, emotionally, spiritually, or find themselves reeling from a dramatic event that became their wake-up call. To me, this moment came a few years after I had immigrated to Canada, when my husband and I decided that it was time we went back home to Vancouver. To my surprise, once back in Vancouver, I came to the realization that home was no longer home. Time for me to push the pause button and look at how far I have come since I first set foot in Canada and ask myself who I have become.

Standard English, World Englishes, and My Languages

Sounding different in English seemed to point to my otherness, so when I came across Kachru’s (1986) model of English circles, I thought it was as good a starting point in my quest for who I am as any. He distinguishes between countries and languages that belong to the:

  • (a) inner circle (e.g., the UK, the US, Canada, Australia) where English is the first language (L1);
  • (b) outer circle (e.g., Singapore, India, Philippines, Kenya, etc.) where English is an official language;
  • and (c) expanding circle (e.g., Brazil, China, Japan, Turkey, etc.) where English is taught as a subject in school.

When I was living in Europe, I taught English as a foreign language (EFL); in Canada, I teach English as a second language (ESL). Same subject, different names.

Standard English is represented by fixed grammar rules and formal written norms used mainly for institutional purposes (e.g., exams, business meetings, etc.), whereas non-standard or spoken English is characterized by a more flexible lexis used for communication purposes. The latter allows for varieties of the same language, which are oftentimes frowned upon because they break with the standard language. Shunning these Englishes from the standard English community does not make them vanish from thousands of worldwide second language (L2) speakers’ active vocabulary. While the need for the written form to keep its constancy to avoid linguistic chaos is understandable, the spoken form should be allowed more freedom (Brass, 2016).

Another point worth noting is the separate Englishes within L1 countries. There are definitive and obvious differences within the English language when one crosses the US or Canada. For instance, “Don’t bleve nutting ya ‘ears and only ‘alf ya sees” is a Newfoundland saying for “Don’t believe everything you hear” or “If I had my Druthers” is a southern American saying for “If I had my way.” Even single words can be a part of the regular dialect in some areas and non-existent in others. How often do you think that Manhattanites use reckon in their daily conversations? L1 countries have many different Englishes very much based on geography, socioeconomics, race, and religion.

My languages, apart from my mother tongue, can be summed up as the good, the bad, and the ugly: English, French, and Latin. I started learning French one year before taking up English. Does it mean that French is my second language and English is my third?

I preferred English, so soon I became more proficient in it than I was in French. Does this make English my second language, pushing French third?

For over a decade now I have thought in English, communicated in English, and written in English 95 % of the time. Does this mean that English has become my first language?Can a mere five percent make such a huge difference?

A friend of mine was born in England, moved to Belgium when he was just a few months old, grew up in Canada from age three to fourteen, then lived in Israel for five years, relocated back to Belgium, and now has returned to Canada. Which one is his first language: French, Flemish, Hebrew, or English? He is fluent in all four.

Having learned my L2s in a dual program relying on the audio-lingual and grammar-translation methods, code-switching played a major role in my second language acquisition (SLA). Whenever I was lost for words in L2, L1 would come to the rescue and vice versa. To this day, I constantly switch from one language to another, although I think more in English these days because I speak it at home and at work. Culturally, I feel more Romanian than Canadian, which is a deeper aspect of my personality and frame of mind.

What does that say about me, linguistically, sociologically, and psychologically? That there are two distinct languages which make up two distinct identities? That there is a split of identities or, on the contrary, a blend of multiple identities?

On Being an Immigrant in Canada

An immigrant myself, originally from Romania, I am a non-native English speaker (NNES); I made Canada my home in 2008. After having my education, work experience, language proficiency, age, funds, and adaptability assessed by a points system, I was deemed eligible for the express entry pool under the Federal Skilled Worker program (Government of Canada, 2017). Six months after submitting my application, I received the letter in the mail: I had been given the green light to live and work in Canada – to become a Canadian.

Exhilarated by the prospect of starting anew, little did I know back then what being an immigrant entailed. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1995), immigrant refers to “someone who comes from abroad to live permanently in another country” (p. 712). A landed immigrant or permanent resident can work and study, but they cannot vote or get a Canadian passport; it is a temporary status until they become citizens. Ng and Estable (1987) point out that the term, which initially encompassed all foreign-born individuals, is now used with a different connotation: “The common-sense use of ‘immigrant women’ generally refers to women of colour, women from Third World Countries, women who do not speak English well, and women who occupy lower positions in the occupational hierarchy” (p. 29). From experience, I can attest to the fact that in everyday conversation, immigrant highlights the difference between NNESs and their native (NES) counterparts.

As far as language is concerned, the concept of non-nativeness negates rather than asserts the speaker, which brings us to the paradox of “highly educated immigrants who drive taxicabs and pizza delivery vans, bewildered at the new reality of life in Canada that falls short of its promises” (Cervatiuc, 2009, p. 255). The author attributes this situation to the lack of English proficiency; based on my personal experience, I tend to disagree. In fact, English proficiency is one of the mandatory criteria to be eligible to immigrate as a skilled worker (e.g., General IELTS examination). Once skilled worker immigrants land in Canada, they realize that due to their foreign credentials they will not be able to perform the jobs that they are qualified for. A paradox and a conundrum.

At the other end of the spectrum, the country allows non-skilled NNESs who buy considerable property to get status and yet they live on social services, which speaks to a different kind of non-nativeness. In a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver, British Columbia, where the real estate industry has been booming, allowing lots of foreigners to enter the country via buying property, new identities are being shaped and with them closed-up communities of people who do not speak English at all.

There seems to have been a shift from language to financial benefits reserved for a particular category of foreign non-Canadian investors who take full advantage of the perks Canada has to offer. Is a new fast-growing NNES category already heavily influencing the labor market? Are educational credentials becoming obsolete in major Canadian centers? Is English losing ground in Canada or is it just another language-money-power game?

On Shaping Identity as a NNES ESL Teacher in a NES World

In an attempt to figure out who I am now, I decided to take a closer look at how language and identity work for or against NNES English as a Second Language (ESL) professionals. I browsed through the extant literature that explores immigrants’ (successful) stories. A trend, a leitmotif, seems to transcend: Everyone has a story that follows a similar pattern. Whether people leave their home countries because they have to (as is the case with thousands of recent Syrian refugees fleeing to Canada and all over the world) or because they want to, hoping to make a better future for themselves and their families (as is my case), immigrants leave the familiar behind embarking on a journey into the unknown and self-discovery.

Unlike Canada, where people of various ethnicities live in close vicinity, in my home country, former communist Romania, people from other countries were kept at bay, hence everyone looked the same or at least everyone I knew. Growing up, I never thought of otherness and never questioned nor doubted my identity. Having lived in Canada for eight and a half years, the apparently innocuous question, “Where are you from?” to this day takes me by surprise.

My initial answer, “I am from Romania,” is accompanied by different explanations that start with but as if I have to explain my reasons for being here, which makes me feel guilty for not being a NES. The impostor syndrome (Cuddy, 2015). The sin of being born outside the inner circle (i.e., an English-speaking country) weighs heavy on the NNESs’ shoulders. I have learned first-hand that the stigma of being a NNES in a NES country does not vanish in time.

In Canada, the constant need to ask, “Where are you from?” is a phenomenon that has turned a simple ice breaker into an ice maker. According to Ramos (2003) and Selasi (2014), it speaks to relations of power (or lack of it). Many were the cases when my answer to “Where are you from?” generated the following, “Oh, Budapest is the capital city, isn’t it?” No, it isn’t.

Not knowing where to place someone’s country of origin on a mental map can make the person being asked feel powerless. I wholeheartedly embrace Selasi’s (2014) suggestion to ask, “Where are you a local?” instead, which shifts focus on where life occurs, not where it started. “I’m Canadian but my parents come from Romania” sounds as if I am trying to explain myself and why I am here; “I’m a local of Vancouver and Targoviste” relies on personal experiences that no one can take away or deny.

Selasi (2014) goes on to explain that, because countries appear (e.g., Timor-Leste) and disappear (e.g., Czechoslovakia), they cannot define our identity, but experiences can: “All experience is local and all identity is experience.” (Selasi, 2014).

A revelation. I was born in Romania, briefly studied in the UK and worked in the US, and I am currently residing in Canada. I do not live in Romania, the UK, or the US anymore, but I remember the experiences that I had while there; they have shaped me into who I am. While some aspects of my identity are presently dormant, others have become more prevalent these days. I constantly forge a new identity from the already existing multi-layers. Fifty shades of Laura.

Identity is a complex and complicated matter. It is my unique barcode or fingerprint. I have changed over time and so has my identity. To quote Bruce Lee (c. 1966), “When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.”

A few years after immigrating to Canada and going back home to visit family, I saw everything different; it all seemed changed: “We can never go back to a place and find it exactly where we left it, something somewhere will always have changed, most of all, ourselves” (Selasi, 2014). I found myself mixing Romanian with English words within the same sentence. Romanglish if you will. At times, I felt lost in translation and caught up in between two completely different worlds and languages, which echoes Norton and Toohey’s (2011) argument that identity is a site of struggle.

As far as my newly acquired Canadianness is concerned, I am drawn to it and distanced from it at the same time. This ambivalent sense of self has resulted from good and bad language experiences that I’ve had over the past decade.

In identifying with Vancouver, I don’t want to cut away from my past, leaving behind part of my identity to embrace a new one. My grandmother used to say that no matter how far one travels, they carry their sorrows and joys with them.

While I admit that there must have been a void that made me think relocating could fill, it is important to stay in touch with my roots. The desire to know and understand myself is fueled by the need to come to terms with my Romanian heritage and my current Canadian existence. In trying to answer Khayatt’s (2001) question, “Who is entitled to determine who we are?” (p. 79), I have come to realize that I want the freedom to be both a Canadian and a Romanian.

Final Thoughts

Little did I know when I packed my life, said goodbye to family and friends, and bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver, British Columbia, that being a NNES ESL immigrant female teacher in Canada was no easy feat. Looking back, it seems both brave and foolish, but if I were to do it all over again, I would not hesitate.

I have learned through trial and error to add rather than discard the newly formed layers of my Canadian identity and not feel stuck between two cultures and languages (Gardner, 2012). Now I see what Greene (1998) means when he urges us to recreate ourselves and our image rather than allow others to define us: I am more than a nationality.

I am a local of two distinct worlds, a by-product of my own experiences, a citizen of the world born in Romania, adopted by Canada, a passport holder of the European Union, a member of the Commonwealth, and a language chameleon.


Brass, L. (2016). Same person: Different languages, different identities? (Unpublished paper). Vancouver, British Columbia: University of Calgary.

Canada: Who can apply: Federal skilled workers (2017, July 14). Government of Canada.  Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/apply-who.asp?_ga=2.119077322.273954601.1502841759-1696982595.1500423967.

Cervatiuc, A. (2009). Identity, good language learning, and adult immigrants in Canada. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 8(4), 254-271. doi:10.1080/15348450903130439.

Cuddy, A. (2015). Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. New York: Little, Brown, & Company.

Kachru, B., B. (1986). The alchemy of English: The spread, functions, and models of non-native Englishes. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Khayatt, D. (2001). Revealing moments: The voice of the one who lives with labels. In James, C. E., & Shadd, A. (Eds.), Talking about identity: Encounters in race, ethnicity, and language. (pp. 68- 83). Toronto, Canada: Between the Lines.

Lee, B. (2013, July 12). Be like water. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APx2yFA0-B4&t=6s.

Ng, R., & Estable, A. (1987). Immigrant women in the labour force: An overview of present knowledge and research gaps. Resources for Feminist Research16(1), 29-33.

Norton, B., & Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social change. Language Teaching, 44(4), 412-446. doi.org/10.1017/s0261444811000309. 

Patel, H. (2013, June). Who am I? Think again. [Video file]. Retrieved from      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPhHHtn8On8.

Rundell, M., Fox, C., Gillard, P., Jackson, T., O’Shea, S., & Nichols, W. (Eds.) (1995). Longman dictionary of contemporary English. Essex, England: Longman Group Ltd.

Selasi, T. (2014, October). Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local. [Video file]. Retrieved from  http://www.ted.com/talks/taiye_selasi_don_t_ask_where_i_m_from_ask_where_i_m_a_local#t-5969.7

Laura Brass Pic[17541]Laura Brass has an MEd in TESL from the University of Calgary, Canada, a BA in Education from the University of Pitesti, Romania, and is TESL Canada and TESOL Ontario certified. With over 15 years local and international experience under her belt, she has taught English to diverse learners for varied purposes (e.g., EFL, ESL, EAP, CAE, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) in the public and private sectors. A language learner herself, she embraces a student-centered approach that keeps the students’ needs at the forefront and focuses on fostering autonomous L2 learners. She is interested in language and identity, multilingual acquisition, ESL curricula design, digital literacies, etc. You can view samples of her teaching materials at www.laurabrass.weebly.com. Her article, “Eleven Unexpected Lessons of Research Writing,” was recently published by the Canadian Journal for Teacher Research: http://www.teacherresearch.ca/blog/article/2017/07/30/333-eleven-unexpected-lessons-of-research-writing.

Equal opportunities job ads only

Have you ever..

…felt like all the ELT jobs out there are for ‘native speakers’ only?

…spent hours polishing your CV and sending rock-solid applications just to be turned down yet again because they only hire ‘native speakers’?

…been on the verge of giving up on your dreams of finally getting the ELT job you deserve, because you’re constantly told that we won’t hire ‘non-native speakers’?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, I’ve got very good news for you. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Since I started TEFL Equity Advocates, I’ve received emails and questions from countless ‘non-native speakers’ who are struggling to get a job.

Like you, they might have all the right qualifications and experience. Like you, they might be great professionals, passionate about what they do.

But still, the jobs just aren’t coming. And more than half of all the ads are for ‘native speakers’ only, anyway.

Just check out this little gem below that I saw on tefl.com some time ago. I’ve underlined a few of the most shocking bits.

But apart from messages from ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, I’ve also received countless messages from ‘native speaker’ teachers who are also frustrated with the current recruitment model. Many now comment on social media when job ads for ‘native speakers’ only appear.

I’ve also received messages from recruiters asking whether I would share their job ad on TEFL Equity Advocates. Some, like Rob Sheppard have even founded schools which pride themselves on giving equal opportunities to all teachers, regardless of their mother tongue (you can read more about Rob’s school in this article).

All this prompted me last week to start an equal opportunities job board on TEFL Equity Advocates.

I’m really excited at this chance to further promote equal employment opportunities for ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers in ELT and I hope that YOU become part of the movement too and help promote equality and professionalism in our industry.

So if you’re an employer and would like to advertise a vacancy, you can click here.

If you’re a teacher looking for a job, you can browse through the vacancies and apply here. And you can also sign up to receive the latest job ads there.

Admittedly, since the job board is only one week old, there aren’t that many vacancies there yet. So that’s why I’d like to ask you a big favour…

…help me spread the word about the job board by hitting one of the share buttons below. 

Let’s speak out for equality and professionalism in ELT.

And let’s do it together!

On H2O, Bella and the courage to be yourself by Katarzyna Komorek

I just can’t get rid of that thought recently that the native vs non-native speaker teacher dilemma is oddly similar to the one concerning drinking water (be forgiving please, as I’m zero-waste lifestyle obsessed at the moment).

Why? Because we reached for bottled water (natives) thinking that it’s better for us than tap (non natives). Whilst it takes just a little bit of research to learn that it is not always the case. It even appears that the two kinds may and often do present the same proprieties. The tests show another funny analogy: sometimes tap is better, sometimes the bottled one is. So how did we come to believe this? Well, the answer is simple: because some strongly determined guys had great marketing skills. That’s all it is, as for water. As for native vs non-native speaker teacher dilemma it is obviously a little bit more complicated…

The “mono” myth

Have you heard of that 4 year-old Russian girl named Bella who speaks seven languages “without a prominent accent“?

Her parents “hired native tutors for each new language” and because they wanted her “to speak English like a native speaker, the mother spoke with Bella in English and Russian from birth, alternating every other day”. The parents also “organize small educational excursions with native speakers”.

But also: “The budding linguist practices English with her mother, and is tutored by native speakers for other languages”.  So there it is NNESTs: good news! Bella managed to learn English from her Russian mom! Hurrah!

Not that much hope for me though…

You see, I am a French language teacher. And, to some people’s surprise, “French” doesn’t appear on any of my official documents. Apparently, that would make my choice of profession more credible. So in order to get some recognition, I need to be passed through tests just like tap water. Now, the results may improve the image some people have of me. But no matter what I do, (un)fortunately I can’t change my own label.

But let’s get back to the Russian toddler. As soon as I heard of her I started reading because coming from a perfectly monolingual environment I can’t help being fascinated by these stories of bi and multilingual children. And the thing that stroke me was the fact that the reoccurring term in all the articles was “native”.

But wait a second! Has she even had time to become native to her mother tongue?

I believe some linguists and child development specialists would argue. But it didn’t end there.

The commentators would notice her perfect accent was particularly noticeable when she spoke French! Apparently, the French is richer (?) in accent than any other language (???), therefore the results are better when it is taught by natives. So there we are using native speakers to teach this girl who is as a result multilingual. It is even kind of funny, don’t you think?

But what are we really hoping to achieve? Maximize her chances of getting the most out of a language by using “perfect” models (that we know don’t exist elsewhere but in our heads)? Turn her into a native speaker of all of these languages? Give her a linguistic and identity schizophrenia?

I hope not.

We just want to teach her many languages at a time and that is great. And whether Bella’s a prodigy or not she also illustrates the language learning rule that the more you know the easier it is to learn even more.

But why can’t we brag we’ve done that with the help of non native speaker teachers? And will Bella be able to become a recognized language teacher in her adult life? Or does her credibility and empowerment finish on being a student?

What is the most awkward in Bella’s story for me is that the parents somehow unconsciously seem to contribute to perpetuate the message: the way to success leads through native speakers. But she still learned English from her Russian mom, didn’t she? 

The “multi” reality

Ok, I’m writing all this because I happen to be a French teacher without a French passport. Neither Belgian, Canadian, Congolese or Algerian. But what French language has got to do with Algeria? Well, yes, colonialism, sadly. Fortunately, though, it was reappropriated as a communication tool and is widely used as a lingua franca there. So could you imagine having a French teacher with an African accent?

I’ve thought a lot throughout my teaching experience about the role of the “nativeness”concept and the controversy it arouses. Some of them might be specific to the language I happen to teach. But others are common to all languages.

Just like the following question: how did it happen that we started to attach so much importance to a concept that we can’t really properly define?

The native speaker understood as a universal, ideal and original model just doesn’t exist, we know it by now. Chomsky accidentally contributed to this myth because for some reason someone understood his words literally.

It seems that the former empires saw no inconvenience because this is how they were still able to assure their cultural influence in territories where they were losing political power. The industry followed, scenting higher rates for classes with the luxury authentic, one and only “native speaker”. One could say some kind of inverted colonial import phenomenon started to happen. We used to get coffee from Guatemala. Now we send “native speakers” there.

The little Russian girl might be specially gifted but we also know we’re all born with this kind of a linguistic tabula rasa onto which our parents, our environment, school, friends etc. engrave our language patterns and habits, accents… So from scratch it is possible to engrave literally anything, from Switzertuch to Inuit and every single “native speaker” of it will be different and will also master to different extent different language skills.

And yet we are stuck on being impressed by the toddlers accent! And specifically the French one. But what if her French had an African melody? And if the small girl spoke with a Russian accent would she still be all over the news? Would she be admired with the same awe? Or would she be considered comical?

I think the right question to ask should be: would that change anything in her intelligibility and communication skills? Or would it only influence our perception of her as a language user or even a person? 

The hypocrisy of the market

By the beginning of June 2017 three major websites advertising French teaching jobs around the globe put up 159 ads, only 4 of which did mention a precise language level required for the position (twice C1 and once C2) and one of them actually referred to English, important for daily life communication in the given country of expatriation. Other than that, only “native speaker” or having French as a “mother tongue” is the language level requirement term that is used all across the globe from France to Japan. But it goes even further sometimes: one school in India does “positive discrimination” prioritizing Canadians because of Quebec year and interestingly enough, to enroll in a “bilingual” internship in New Zealand one must be a “native French speaker” but only “good level” of English is required, while the candidate is expected to teach both of the mentioned languages.

I am personally fond of “maitrise parfaite”, “maitrise totale” or “niveau d’excellence” (excellence level) terms. Now, please do tell me: do you have a diploma for this? I imagine it as a big glittery piece of sophisticated document saying “Congratulations X, you master Y language totally/perfectly”. Or “You achieved excellence level”. What now? “Game over”? Has anyone thought for a minute if this is even possible? Can anyone master  a language “totally”? It is certainly necessary for language schools to require their potential candidates be familiar with the certifications and exam grids that the language they will be teaching falls into, but it would be also fair to show them that the authors of the ads can apply these grids as well. 

The neglected reality

Just like English in all its forms, there is great variety in the French spoken around the world. Take Africa alone – the half of the French speaking population of the planet originates from there (OIF numbers) and by 2050 85% of Francophones will live in Africa. Quebec, Belgium, Haiti, Switzerland – each of them have got their own variety of French. In France itself, there are regions where the “r” is rolled in a way that a Polish speaker could totally blend in. But still, there are some varieties of the same language that are glamour and others that are considered not sexy. I believe if we dig into this subject, we will get to questions that are old as the planet. Power, politics, imperialism, dominant vs dominated dichotomy…  the reality only gets more complex.

But still, the market craves the “norm”. The ideal(istic?) language product polished and shiny as if we snatched it straight from a showcase in Paris Galleries Lafayette and yet we want to fit it in our mouth and for it to become ours, become us. Whom do we want to cheat? It would be deadly boring if everyone spoke with the same accent, don’t you think ? Instead of faking till you make it just embrace diversity and dare to be yourself.

There are 900 000 French language teachers around the globe according to OIF But how many of them are native speakers? I never excelled in maths and however approximate, the calculations can be quickly done if there are 76 millions of “native speakers” of French (Ethnologue, 2015) and 125 million (OIF, 2014) people are learning French around the world. Considering that not all native speakers left their countries with the mission of teaching their mother tongue to foreigners, who is teaching the language of Molière out there? Taking these numbers into account, are we doing any good to our students by closing our eyes to the “native speaker” idolization?

In French teaching industry, if “non nativeness” is debated it is rather in a context of insecurity of the non natives, their insufficient language competence and avoidance strategies they use in order to get by and make peace with their identity and credibility questioning. It is  high time to bring the real debate into light.

OMG! My French teacher is Polish

Let me come back to me not having an Algerian passport.

I’ve been teaching for more less six years now in different cultural and educational environments. I’ve never encountered any problem, at least up-front, from my students, would it be complaining about my passport, my identity or my mother tongue. I don’t consider it something I should be hiding away from them, nor something to be particularly proud of. I am what I am in large part by accidents of the universe. What I do find important and try to pass on to my students is that a language is first of all means of communication. It does not belong to anyone, it is there, for historical and political reasons, confined to borders of a country. If you want to use it, you learn it and you do so from active language users. And if you are discriminatory about the version of it you want to learn it will only make you poorer. Because all its different versions, colors, accents, twists is what make the language richer.

I do not even want to go into the debate about native and non native speaker teachers being worse or better teachers. Is anybody born a teacher? You learn anything in life by experience. And you’re definitely never done learning. So, I’d say don’t waste your time on choosing between a native and or a non native teacher! I agree totally with Silvana Richardson on this one:  choose a teacher who learns instead!

This is also because being a teacher is so much more than just being a successful speaker of a language, we all know it. I believe natives vs non natives dilemma should be included in curricula and explored in teacher training courses. There has been enough research so far to back it up, why not give it finally the space it deserves?

Recently I’ve been participating in a MOOC about inter-comprehension between roman languages. And I believe this is the route to follow. I think in the future we won’t be learning languages but inter-comprehension of languages from the same family. We would all do ourselves a favor if we stopped pretending right now there’s one language or one version of a language that has to be imposed as it is superior for some reasons. In general I am all for “less is more” but knowledge is certainly a field where this golden rule doesn’t apply. It’s rather the opposite: the more you know, the better! So investigate on that tap water right now!

About Katarzyna Komorek:

katarzyna komorekI’m just another freelance French teacher and aspiring activity leader interested in intercultural issues. I’m based between France and Poland and over my six years of experience I’ve taught French as a foreign language in The Netherlands, Iraqi Kurdistan, Honduras, Nepal and Russia. I have never experienced complaints in regard to my “non nativeness”, just the contrary: I believe a non native speaker teacher can really embody an example of their students’ success in language learning, inspire and motivate them by being a living proof of the fact that yes! it is actually possible to learn this thing, including the subjonctif !

But once an employer asked me if I would mind if my name was changed to “Catherine”.  “Your accent is good enough! The students won’t be able to tell.” – he argued and explained how much better for the school’s image it would be to just label me a “native speaker”… At that time I lacked the courage to be myself. And that just didn’t feel right.


DERVIN, Fred & BADRINATHAN Vasumathi. (2011). L’enseignant non natif : identités et légitimité dans l’enseignement-apprentissage des langues étrangères, E.M.E. & InterCommunications sprl, Bruxelles – Fernelmont.

VILLARD Laurence avec BALLIER Nicolas. (2008). Langues dominantes, langues dominées. Univesrité de Rouen et du Havre

Per Aspera ad Astra by Lina Gordyshevskaya

I did not really plan to be an English teacher. As most things in my life, it happened by accident rather than according to some plan.

I was fresh out of the university (Edinburgh) holding an MA in Scandinavian Studies, and I had no idea what to do with my life. There was an offer from a university in Sweden for a master’s programme in the same field, but I had been postponing making a decision whether I should accept it or not. I did not want to study for two more years and write another thesis, you see.

Finally, I made up my mind: I would go to Japan and continue learning Japanese, my recent hobby. Meanwhile, I would teach English since I had already been doing it for some time but voluntarily, and enjoyed it. The future finally seemed bright, and I could not think of any potential problems to face. How naïve I was…

To equip myself with some methodological knowledge and to raise my employability, I took a TEFL course in my hometown in Russia. In Japan, I started with a kid entertainer job (chatting to kids in English while they were waiting in the queue for the activity), which I did not like and escaped as soon as I felt I just could not take it anymore.

Finding a teaching job was tough: most schools seemed so cool with their websites filled with pictures of people in business suits laughing together; I was simply afraid, I did not feel qualified enough. And Kobe itself just did not have many opportunities.

I managed to become a substitute teacher at some small eikaiwa teaching a couple of days per month (if I was lucky). In April, I started a second job, with guaranteed hours. I was promised to get 15-16 hours, and I was really happy. However, I only got 6. When I asked why, I was told that many parents were not satisfied with me being new and young, so they signed their kids up for other teachers’ classes. Nothing was said of my non-nativeness – yet.

While teaching those 6 hours a week, I realised that teaching young learners was not really my thing. It was ok, but it did not inspire me. I decided to take a break – and CELTA. It blew my mind. Literally. It gave me that self-confidence I lacked before. I moved to Kanto and started looking for a job that would be suitable for my post-CELTA teaching experience. It appeared that the problem was not finding a suitable job but me being suitable for teaching English.

‘Native English speaker’.

‘Must hold a passport from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand’.

‘Seeking for a native English instructor’.

‘Only preferable candidates will be contacted after our initial screening’. I was not preferable. I did not have the ‘right’ passport.

I could not understand why.

Why does having a Russian passport supposedly make me worse teacher than any native teacher?

Why does being born in a non-English-speaking country make me less employable?

Why does having a degree from a university in the UK and two teaching qualifications mean nothing if English is my second language (by the way, I have been learning it since I was 4)?

I felt humiliated. I felt desperate. I cried on my husband’s shoulder asking him all these questions interrupted with sobs after every other word. He tried his best to support me, and eventually, after getting a headache and blocked nose, I would tell to myself ‘OK, I’ll try once again and take it easy’.

I tried to apply for universities as well since they hire non-natives but lacked teaching experience at the university level and did not hold a relevant degree, and did not have publications.

Finally, I got an offer from a big chain eikaiwa, the only one among many that hired non-natives quite actively. And yet, almost all non-natives I met there were on part-time contracts while 90% of full-time-contract instructors were from the countries where English is the first language. Despite anything, I was grateful to be there. I was grateful to them for hiring me, a non-native teacher. Only now, I think how twisted it is to be grateful for something that is (should be!) natural.

I did not give up on getting a university job. The thing is that I wanted to teach groups of young adults using a communicative approach, and it was hardly possible in the eikaiwa. I also did not like being constantly reminded that we are selling a product. I do not sell a product. I teach. T-E-A-C-H. So I tried and tried again and again.

And I got it.

I was lucky, I guess. It was the only university that required neither specific teaching experience (just general would do) nor publications. I had to prove during model teaching that I was able to teach communicative lessons, and I did.

When I got a job offer, my heart froze and then started beating crazily. I could not believe my own eyes. I could not breathe. I was ecstatic. I did it. I won this battle.

I know I will face discrimination in the ELT field again – we simply cannot change things just in the blink of an eye. However, next time I will choose not to feel humiliated but proud of who I am.

Teaching is a profession, and, as in any other profession, skills matter more than nationality. I have met amazing and inspiring teachers from all over the world, and it is not their nativeness – or non-nativeness – that makes them amazing and inspiring. It is their passion for teaching and developing as professionals. I think these two should be the minimum requirements instead of that one you can find in every single teaching job ad.

linaLina graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies in 2015. She obtained TEFL in 2015 and CELTA in 2016. This August, she was invited to teach demonstration lessons for a CELTA course in St Petersburg. Lina has taught YL, teenagers, and adults of various levels both in groups and privately. Currently, she teaches EAP (discussion) at a university in Japan and loves her job. She blogs regularly for https://eltbylinablog.wordpress.com/.

Buy a megaphone: Non-discriminatory language is not enough by Karin Krummenacher

Do you believe in primal scream therapy? I am not going to lie to you: It had not been a great day before I set foot into the weirdly medievally furnished meeting room that would be the backdrop of scenes that made me want to scream. Feeling like King Arthur, waiting for the other parties to arrive I had no idea I was only half an hour away from considering buying a pillow just so I could scream into it to release my frustration.

Spoiler: I did not buy that pillow. I postponed my tantrum to the privacy of my own home, as decent postmodern humans do. And now I write about it on the internet. As postmodern humans do.

Back to the meeting room. The interviewers have arrived. Now listen to this:

Roberta: You come highly recommended by the person who used to teach this course. Do you have any experience teaching English to non-native speaking English teachers in Prague?

Karin: Absolutely. In fact, I specialised in this exact area for the extended assignment of my Delta. The paper I wrote is called Language Development for In-service Non-Native English teachers in the Czech Republic.

Roberta: Oh, really? Well that’s wonderful! Exactly who we are looking to hire. Say, are you from the US or the UK?

Karin: I am Swiss. As stated in my CV.

Roberta: Really? Are you sure? I cannot hear your accent. Lena, can you hear that she is not a native speaker?

Lena: No. Hm. What a pity. I think we need to discuss this real quick.

See where this is going?


I expected them to leave the room, to come back and escort me outside with a made-up shallow excuse for why they could not employ me. Far from it! They turned to each other and started discussing in Czech right in front of me, simply assuming that I, the dumb foreigner, will not understand them. They talked about how it was a shame that I am not a native.

Roberta (turns back to me): Would you like to teach German?

Karin: I am not a German teacher.

Roberta: That is ok. You are a native.

Karin: I am not. My native language is Swiss-German and I am neither qualified nor able or interested to teach any language but English.

Lena: Are you sure you did not go to university in an English speaking country? That could count.

Karin: I am quite certain I did not.

They continued to talk in Czech. The most humiliating, degrading experience of my professional life, I think. That’s when the pillow thought started to take shape. Eventually they turned back around to me.

Karin: No, je to škoda, že jsem velmi kvalifikovaná, ale narodila jsem se na špatném místě.

Baffled looks. They realise I understood their entire conversation.

Lena: Unfortunately, we cannot offer you to teach the course. We need a native speaker. It is nothing against you, really. It is “psychological”. The participants want to know their teacher is a native speaker.

Karin: You realise you have told me that the other applicants are less qualified and that I am the perfect fit. You understand this is discrimination and against EU law, right?

Roberta: No, it is just psychologically. For the participants. We have lots of non-native teachers for low levels. Maybe we could find some A1 or A2 classes you could teach…

Luckily, I am much better off now than the last time I had this conversation. I have a wonderful full-time job as a teacher trainer that I love, I do not need the money, I was just interested in the work as it is an area of expertise of mine. And, as opposed to last time this happened to me, I know my rights. I know Roberta and Lena are wrong, they are mossbacked, they are unprogressive, they are a plague to our industry. And they are smiling at me.

What this made me realise is how easy it is to forget how backward things still are, what the reality of EFL hiring still is, once you surround yourself with intelligent forward-thinking people.

Since my last post for this blog I have done a lot of research, given workshops, published articles, talked at conferences, presented at IATEFL, worked with great minds on the issue of native speakerism. I discussed the topic with the elite of the industry. And it is easy to forget that that is not the majority of the industry. Sitting in that room, being disrespected and discriminated against by two smug language school owners, making the most offensive claims there are, was a good strong reality check.

Do not get me wrong: Not for a second was I ever under the impression we had won our battle. But I had seriously thought that there was much more awareness now than half a decade ago. That people would at least be ashamed when sitting face to face with a person they are discriminating. At least in Europe.

They are not.

can't believe i still have to protest this shit[17491]

Now, to be completely honest with you, I am not a very good activist. I am too impatient and too lazy and do not enjoy repeating myself like a parrot to people who do not want to listen. I am so tired of this. And I have other research to do, other fights to fight, other thoughts to think. I am fed up. I did not even choose to be so passionate about this issue. In fact, the violation of my very own rights has got old a while ago. I am just not very good at this whole thing. Luckily though, I am good at being angry. I might even be the best at being angry. You would not believe my stamina, my passion, the fuel anger is to my actions.

In the words of Miley Cyrus: We can’t stop and we won’t stop.

I will not buy a pillow. But a megaphone. I will be louder, fight harder and ruffle more feathers.

As a very concrete action, I have decided that I will not accept empty talk any longer and be more critical of alleged changes.

I often get job advertisements from language schools in order to share them with my network of English teachers and recently certified teachers. Many of them ask for native speakers. I used to email them back, explaining that would be discrimination, etc. Asking them to change the wording. They usually would and I would then share the ad.

This week I received another request to share a job opening. Stating “native speakers only” on three occasions within the ad. I was about to write back and realised that same school had already received the nice “could you please change the wording”-email over five times. Clearly, they had not changed a single thing and definitely not their hiring practices but were just paying me lip service to get their ad out there.

I wrote to the school that I do not support hiring processes that promote discrimination in any form and that, should they be ready to revise their practice and focus on applicants’ qualifications and experience rather than their places of birth, they could contact me again in the future with concrete evidence thereof. Until then: Find your natives yourself.

Avoiding discriminatory terminology is a great start and a step in the right direction. But it does not end with terminology.

What needs to follow is deeds and a revision of beliefs that lead to discrimination in the first place. It is some sort of evidence of our work when discriminatory language becomes a no-go for language schools but it does not change that they have a pile of native CVs they actually consider and a pile of non-native CVs which then land in the bin.

Honestly, that the word native is now replaced by native-like competency or native-level speaker, to make ads non-discriminatory, shows that there is no profound change yet, just a strategy around it. Our claims need to get bigger. We can not be happy with the bones the industry throws us. We need genuine change.

Buy a megaphone and pack a lunch. This whole thing is going to take a while.


karin krummenacherKarin is a Prague based teacher trainer, international 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 does not sound like a native English speaker but like the proficient non-native speaker she is and thinks that is very much the way it should be. Give her a shout at karin.krummenacher@gmail.com

ELT Vacancies Open For All – by Martin Sketchley

In my English teaching career, I have furthered my interest the recruitment and employment of English language teachers. I am currently responsible for the recruitment and employment of young learner teachers and have employed teachers from UK, USA as well as from Europe. Our school has zero tolerance against the discrimination of English teachers and we attempt to lead by example. We have employed teachers from Poland and Italy, and they are not seen any different in our school. This was great development where I had to work against deep-rooted discrimination in South Korea against native and non-native English speakers, as well as between the recruitment of English teachers from either America, Canada or the United Kingdom.

In a recent blog post on my website, I uncovered an advertisement by a language school in China seeking a professional with one catch: “no Asian face”.

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I was flabbergasted that recruiter would authorise such an advertisement with the requirement that those who are considered ‘Asian’ (whatever that means) should not apply for this position. One has to wonder whether there are still organisations in the world which need to learn that such discrimination in any language can be detrimental to both recruiters as well as the school seeking the teacher. This is the reason why I have developed a recruitment area on my website: to ensure that all English teachers, irrespective of their ethnicity or their country of origin, have equal opportunities.

Before a job post is accepted on my website, I personally review the post and then amend anything if required before it is agreed. However, from the limited success so far, I have not had to amend much and I was very surprised that a recent job post contained the clause: “English native speakers or Candidates from Europe, Latin America with clean accent.

Although it is not ideal to maintain teachers of English only have a ‘clean accent’ or to only focus on particular regions of the world, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Ideally, the advert would focus on all teachers of English around the world irrespective of nationality or ethnicity. However, this is a small success as Chinese recruiters are finally noticing that professional English teachers can be sourced from countries besides those that officially have English as their first language.

Furthermore, the many potential candidates that have registered on my website are speakers whose first language is not English. This is incredibly rewarding for me as I would really like to see more ‘non-native teachers’, some of whom I have had the pleasure of working with, have the same opportunities as native English teachers and if my website advocates equal opportunities in English language teaching, so much the better.

As Marek has mentioned in a previous blog post, non-native English teachers are just as suitable for employment opportunities as native English teachers and with 70% of online advertisements seeking for native English teachers, it tacitly disregards all suitable non-native English teachers for the post.

In fact, I received wonderful feedback (see screenshot below) about one particular job advertisement on my website from a person called Andy Barbeiro who said it was “the best job advert for an ELT position I have ever seen! Transparent, detailed and non-discriminatory (mother-tongue never mentioned once!) The proof that these kinds of job posts are so rare is in Hussein F. Allam ‘s previous comment. It’s clear from the post that all qualified teachers can apply. If I was still teaching, I’d jump at this opportunity.

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I’m so pleased to see that my hard-work is now being recognised and that it is gaining popularity among teachers no matter their nationality.

I do hope that teachers irrespective of their ethnicity or their nationality register and apply for employment opportunities as well as employers post teaching opportunities for applicants no matter their physical location on my website. It would be a great achievement to assist in the battle against negative stereotypes for non-native English teachers and ensure that the entire ELT profession is more highly respected by all: employers and recruiters.

martin sketchleyMartin Sketchley has been an English language teacher for over eleven years now, with teaching experience in South Korea, Romania as well as the UK. He is Young Learner Co-ordinator at LTC Eastbourne and teaches students from around the world. He is responsible for curriculum development, teacher training as well as organising formal and informal observations for teaching staff. Martin also is an Assistant Examiner for Cambridge ESOL Examinations and marks writing for the Cambridge exams (PET, FCE, etc.). He holds an MA in English Language Teaching from the University of Sussex, a Diploma, Trinity Young Learners Extension Certificate (TYLEC) as well as a CELTA. Finally, Martin runs a website (ELT Experiences) which focuses on teaching, lesson observations and recruitment and he also uploads videos to his YouTube Channel.