Have you looked for an English teaching job recently? If you're a Native English Speaker Teacher (NEST) then you'll have seen an abundance of teaching opportunities out there. But for a non-native English Speaker Teacher (NNEST), it's a different story.
Up to 70 per cent of all jobs advertised on tefl.com
– the biggest job search engine for English teachers – are for NESTs (yes, I have counted). And in some countries such as Korea it's even worse – almost all recruiters will reject any application
that doesn't say English native speaker on it.
If you start questioning these practices, you are likely to hear one or all of the following excuses:
1. Students prefer NESTs
2. Students need NESTs to learn 'good' English
3. Students need NESTs to understand 'the culture'
4. NESTs are better for public relations
While it is beyond the scope of this short article to fully debunk all the above, I would like to briefly outline here why these arguments are flawed.
The first argument gets repeated like a mantra and has become so deeply ingrained that few attempt to question its validity. Yet, I have never seen a single study that would give it even the slightest backing. On the other hand, I have seen many which confirm that students value traits
which have nothing to do with 'nativeness', such as being respectful, a good communicator, helpful, well prepared, organised, clear-voiced, and hard working. Other studies
show that students do not have a clear preference for either group. It seems then that it is the recruiters, not the students, who want native speakers.
On the second point, I believe it's a myth
that only NESTs can provide a good language model. What I find troubling is that many in the profession assume language proficiency to be tantamount to being a good teacher, trivialising many other important factors such as experience, qualifications and personality. While proficiency might be a necessity – and schools should ensure that both the prospective native and non–native teachers can provide a clear and intelligible language model – proficiency by itself should not be treated as the deciding factor that makes or breaks a teacher. Successful teaching is so much more! As David Crystal put it in an interview for TEFL Equity Advocates
: 'All sorts of people are fluent, but only a tiny proportion of them are sufficiently aware of the structure of the language that they know how to teach it.' So if recruiters care about students' progress, I suggest taking an objective and balanced view when hiring teachers, and rejecting the notion that nativeness is equal to teaching ability.
As for the third argument, most people will agree that language and culture are inextricably connected. But does a 'native English speaker culture' exist? I dare say it doesn't. After all, English is an official language in more than 60 sovereign states. English is not owned by the English or the Americans, even if it's convenient to think so. But as Hugh Dellar notes
, even if we look at one country in particular, 'there is very clearly no such thing as "British culture" in any monolithic sense'. As native speakers, we should have the humility to acknowledge that 'no native speakers have experience, or understand all aspects of the culture to which they belong' (David Crystal
4: Finally, the almighty and 'untouchable' market demand. Show me the evidence, I say. Until then, I maintain that a much better marketing strategy is to hire the best teachers, chosen carefully based on qualifications, experience and demonstrable language proficiency, rather than on their mother tongue. We are not slaves of the market. We can influence and shape it. As Henry Ford once said: 'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have told me: faster horses'.
Perhaps most significant of all, being a NNEST might actually give you certain advantages as a teacher. For example, you can better anticipate students' problems, serve as a successful learning model or understand how the learners feel. Actually, in a recent post James Taylor went as far as wishing he were a non–native speaker
However, I feel that the question Peter Medgyes asks is his article
: 'Native or non–native: who's worth more?' misses the point slightly. As Michael Griffin has shown
, the answer is neither
. Both groups can make equally good or bad teachers. It's all down to the factors I've been talking about here: personal traits, qualifications, experience and demonstrable language proficiency. Your mother tongue, place of birth, sexual orientation, height, gender or skin colour are all equally irrelevant.
So why does this obsession with 'nativeness' refuse to go away? Because for years the English language teaching (ELT) industry told students that only NESTs could teach them 'good' English, that NESTs were the panacea for all their language ills. But let's be blunt and have the courage to acknowledge that the industry encouraged a falsehood which many of us chose to turn a blind eye to while others assumed they could do nothing. I feel this needs to change.
The good news is that positive changes are already taking place. TESOL France has issued a public letter condemning the discrimination of NNESTs. Some of the most renowned ELT professionals such as Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury, as well as organisations such as the British Council Teaching English team have already expressed their strong support for the TEFL Equity Advocates
campaign I started, which fights for equal professional opportunities for native and non–native teachers.
And you can help bring about the change too in numerous ways that were outlined here. So stand up, speak out and join the movement.
TEFL Equity Advocates on British Council blog | teflequityadvocates
Discrimination in ELT | Minh ELT
Does it matter if your teacher is "native"? | Speak English today!..
Name*Pramod Kumar Sah
Thanks for commenting.
I definitely agree that we should avoid using the 'n' words in professional contexts, such as job ads. While in a casual conversation they are useful terms, I think they're just to vague and imprecise to be used in job advertisments. 'What does it mean to be a native speaker?' is not such an easy question to answer. On top of that, as things currently stand, the term native is clearly used to discriminate teachers.
A very good question. I wonder if somebody from BC (I don't work there) could comment on that. Perhaps you could email the BC in Colombia to find out?
What does it mean to speak with a 'natural' accent? When it comes to pronunciation we can be very biased. For example, many learners would consider the RP accent to be very desirable despite the fact that onlly a tiny proportion of native speakers actually use it. On the other hand, some other accents (e.g. Indian) would be considered probably as less prestigious (or even incorrect) even though there are millions of native speakers who speak with it.
As far as mistakes are concerned, I think schools should make sure that their non-native teachers speak English to a very high standard. Having said that, I think that we tend to scrutinise non-native speaker's language much more closely than we do with native speakers. If a non-native makes a mistake, we put it down to their lack of proficiency. However, when a native makes a mistake, we dismiss it as a slip. There is a bit of hypocrisy there in my opinion.
What do you think?
I can see your point. Perhaps all things being equal it might be more desirable to choose a native speaker. However, it might depend on the specific requirements of the job in question.
Having said that, the sad truth is that things are not equal for NNESTs. It is madness to hire less qualified native speakers, but this is what happens all the time. NNESTs are turned down just for being NNESTs.
Name Geoff Jordan
Name*Jav ier Vanegas
We can confirm that we do have non-native speakers of English on our Colombia teaching team. Thanks for your concern.
So in order to employ nnest teacher you have to offer some activity to your student like chat with native speaker in other school in English country
Thank you for yet another insightful comment.
It is an issue we have been discussing on TEFL Equity Advocates quite a lot. I am really not sure what the answer to the problem you raise is. I do think, though, that while the change needs to come from the bottom, the big players in EFL will need to get actively involved if permanent move towards equity is to be achieved. We need more initiatives like the one by TESOL France which issued a public statement condemning and banning native-speaker only job ads from their recruitment network.
Regarding ELF, I think a lot still needs to be done in terms of gathering data about it. Currently, I don't think there is one, teachable ELF model. Having said that, as teachers we can and should move in our every day practice away from an exclusive focus on the British or American English (unless our students need it for specific purposes, e.g. immigration). I believe that there should be more emphasis on intelligibility, being communicative, and language that is and can be understood in a multi-lingual setting.
My tip for NNESTs would be – ignore the posts and apply regardless! You can be as employable as a lot of native teachers.
Remain confident, believe in yourself and Bob's your uncle – you'll get the job you want!
Native TEACHERS and I have to emphasize – Teachers, will always hold an upper hand in this game. I agree that we need to weed out those who ruin it for the rest of us, but this is language acquisition and learning first hand from experienced natives will always be in demand.
Thanks for taking the trouble to comment.
Regarding your first point, the example you give is a case of the teacher having specialised knowledge, which in this case is accent (could be business, medical English, or anything else that the school has demand for from their students). Therefore, the recruiter should specify this in the ad, i.e. We are looking for a teacher who can teach Spanish Spanish. Notice that I'm not saying: We need a native speaker, or a native speaker of Spanish from Spain. The latter would be a clear case of discrimination based on the country of origin. What I do object to, then, is the view that a non-native speaker could not do the job, i.e. teach Spanish Spanish accent. This should be objectively verified based on an interview.
I'm glad you managed to get a contract. I definitely agree that persistence is the key. It's paid off more than once for me too. However, it entirely misses the point of the debate. I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry in despair at the recruiter's sheer lack of logic. If they're willing to employ proficient non-native speakers, why discriminate them and advertise for native speakers only?
Thanks again for commenting.
Thanks for your lengthy and thoughtful comment.
1. There are many people who might be bilingual. However, some mightn't have the passport from an English speaking country. Does this make them less linguistically qualified to do the job? Some might have a passport from a particular country, but can't really speak the language that well (a Brazilian mate of mine just recently got an Italian passport, because his grandfather was from there, but he is only maybe B2 in the language). Being (or not) a native speaker is a very slipper issue. Why don't we judge teachers by their language abilities, not by their passports?
2. You say 'Most of us have real experience in the corporate and in the business'. This might be true. And it might not. Where I currently work there are very few teachers who have such experience. Similarly, many non-natives might have business experience. Or they might not. The point is, we can't assume any of that a priori. It's like saying: All Italians know how to make pasta. It just spreads unhelpful stereotypes. You go on to say: ' in fact the vast majority of natives can't provide this sort of context, but if you find the right one, they're worth their weight in gold'. Of, course they are. As any other teacher with specialist knowledge in a field that is in demand. Why not start selecting the candidates based on the contents of their CVs, rather than generalisations and stereotypes?
3. You wrote: 'Another problem – the grammar method. Poland's teachers rely on it heavily'. This might be true. However, this doesn't mean that all Polish teachers do, let alone that all NNESTs do. On the other hand, many NESTs rely on the communicative method, which they take to mean: let's chat about… However, not all. The point is: both statements are unfair and unhelpful generalisations.
4. As for your next point, this is what happens, i.e. many NEST with inferior qualifications are favoured for jobs, because they are native speakers. Is teaching only about knowing the language?
5. Regarding culture, I totally agree with you. What I object to, though, is using the cultural argument as an alleged advantage of a native speaker. The context when really specialised cultural awareness that a non-native could not provide is very limited (as you pointed out). In 6 years of teaching all levels, GE, Business, exam prep in various countries, I've never been in such a situation. I think we must also point out that a non-native speaker could also acquire such specific knowledge. Perhaps it is not so common, but definitely not unimaginable. Finally, as a native speaker of Polish who has lived abroad for the last 6 years, I've noticed more and more that I know much less about Polish culture than I did a couple of years ago. And is there something called Polish (or British) culture that all Poles (or Brits) would universally agree on?
6. It might be in demand. However, I don't think a native teacher holds the upper hand. I'd say it's pretty arrogant to say this. I'd really appreciate if you could provide any proof of the assumption that students learn quicker and better English (whatever that means) with native speakers than with non-native speakers. Until then, I'll remain sceptical.
Any chance you could share the results of the research? It could make a very interesting article. You can contact me through the Contact section on teflequityadvocates.com
The British Council all over the world needs to learn to listen to people´s opinions…but they don´t !!! Big changes need many people to stick together and make themselves heard !!!
As in any other job, besides teaching, taking on a new worker is a risk but there are so many ways to find out if the applicant is good enough for the post… showing a passport is certainly not a guarantee. None-the-less I insist on having a qualified teacher with good pronunciation of the language !
Mine is a good example… I was born in Argentina of English parents an Scotish grandparents and I do have a British passport. I live and teach in Peru. I am fully bilingual and I have 3 professional degrees in education in English and in Spanish. While I worked in British schools I never got a British contract because I was "local staff" who were paid lower wages than those who came from Britain and I know I did an excellent job otherwise I would have been fired. There was nothing I could do to change the rule of those rulers with a warped mind !!! I resigned after 15 years and now I am my own boss so things have changed !!!
Things should change for more teachers who are able to speak English properly and know how to teach it whatever passport they hold !!!
Thanks for going into the trouble of commenting. You made some really valid points there. It'd be very interesting to hear more about your experiences. If you would like to write a guest post for TEFL Equity Advocates, please get in touch through the Contact section on http://www.teflequityadvocates.com
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