(Non–)Nativity scenes

This article was published by the TESOL NNEST Newsletter and you can read it here: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolnnest/issues/2014-03-11/6.html
For your convenience I post the full article below:

December is still a long way away. Yet I have already been haunted by nativity scenes. Not that I have anything against Christmas, let alone Christianity. It is just that I never thought I would have to admire one nativity (or “nativeness”?) scene after another when reading advertisements for English teachers.

To put the enormity of the problem into perspective, over 50% of jobs advertised in the European Union (excluding the United Kingdom, where schools know that a birth certificate should not be confused with a teaching qualification) on tefl.com, the biggest search engine for job-seeking English teachers, are native speakers only. If you are still not convinced that we are talking discrimination here, then ask yourself this simple question: How would you feel if over 50% of the ads you looked at listed as a qualification: all applicants must be WHITE MALES?

And Holland, where I am currently based, is on an infamous par with the rest of the EU. All top-notch language schools. All flaunting teaching excellence. Yet all stress that only native speaker teachers (NESTs) need apply. What is shocking is their cheek and absolute lack of logic. To quote one recruiter, whom I informed that he had illegally turned down my application for a teaching position as I was not a native speaker of English: “This is not discrimination against a particular nationality in any way. We require our French teachers to be native speakers of French, whatever their nationality, and our Spanish teachers to be native speakers of Spanish, again whatever their nationality, just as we expect our Polish teachers to be native speakers of Polish, etc.”

How about leaving the birth certificate in the drawer and focusing on the qualifications and language abilities of your teachers for a change?

But what does this mean for a student in a language school? Well, it might mean your teachers have been selected because they happen to be native speakers. Not necessarily because they are very good teachers. And that you have been deprived of a fair number of possibly highly qualified and motivated English language teachers, who were unfortunate enough not to have been born in an English-speaking country. Mind you, nobody even glanced at their CVs or bothered to interview them, let alone check their level of English (or the language they teach) and their qualifications.

Ha!, I hear you exclaim, surely those non-native speakers do not speak the language anywhere near native level. Surely native speakers have a broader vocabulary, the feel for the language, the correct pronunciation. Do they? Which native speakers? Which correct pronunciation?

English is spoken as an official language in 60 sovereign states. To give three of the lesser known, but by no means less important examples: Gambia, Lesotho, and Palau. There are, then, hundreds of dialects and accents, some of which are virtually unintelligible even to a native speaker (for Britain, check http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/recordings/index.shtml).

However, since the 1960s, the idea of native speakers as the ultimate, omniscient, and infallible source of linguistic intuition about their L1 has percolated into mainstream TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), becoming the status quo and propagating the view of a no-nnative speaker “as a defective communicator, limited by an underdeveloped communicative competence” (Firth & Wagner, 1997, p. 285). Yet most linguists have long since moved on, largely abandoning the idea.

For example, Paikeday (1985) dubs the native speaker “a figment of linguist’s imagination” (p. 12). Still deeply ingrained in the TEFL imagination, I would say. Davies (1991) refers to the native speaker as “a fine myth.” He recognises that although the native speaker might still be essential as a benchmark or a model, the term “is useless as a measure.” But as Moussu and Llurda (2008) point out, despite the fact that from a linguistic perspective the view of the non-native speaker as a deficient communicator—as opposed to the infallible language competence of a native speaker—is linguistically nonsensical, it is still socially present and deeply ingrained in TEFL recruitment policies.

On a more down-to-earth level, people who speak English as the second or third language outnumber native speakers by about three to one (Crystal, 2012). Whether you like it or not, the English do not own English any more (Widdowson, 1994). Neither do the Scots, the Irish, the Americans, nor any other native speakers.

Let’s face it—it has gone global. Why not embrace rather than evade this? And if you doubt the notion that one can learn a language to a native level, then why bother learning at all? Why bother taking Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or IELTS? Perhaps Cambridge ESOL should put a footnote disclaimer for the candidates: You might pass CPE, but you ain’t never getting to no native level no way!

Even in times when language teaching was almost non-existent, or simply very backwards by our standards, people did master languages. For one, Joseph Conrad, born, bred, and baptised in Poland as Józef Korzeniowski, managed to outshine and outwrite most of his English contemporaries, showing the English the beauty of English.

But whatever your opinion on the above might be, ask yourself whether it really matters for a teacher to be highly and omnisciently proficient in a language. Does it make them a good teacher? I would like to suggest it does not. I agree with Seidlhofer (1999) and Selvi (in review) that we should not deem somebody a great teacher solely based on his or her language proficiency as it is now done in the case of native speakers. Language proficiency might be a necessary characteristic of a good teacher, but never the sufficient or ultimate one. Successful teaching is so much more!

A typical job advert: qualifications—must be a native speaker. If you have not realised yet, it’s an oxymoron. I have looked, but I am yet to find a degree in “nativity” or “nativeness” (might need to check with a native which is right). Please do let me know if you have more luck.

Let’s be blunt. This most sought-after qualification is bestowed on a few (~359 million) lucky ones at birth. And the rest (~6,700 million)? Boats against the current, ceaselessly toiling over grammar and pronunciation, unaware of the vacuity of our efforts – at least as far as teaching prospects go.

Yet I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day language teachers will not be judged by the colour of their skin.

Nor by their gender.

Or their nationality.

I have a dream that one day they will be judged by the content of their CVs.

There is the green light, the orgiastic future. And unlike Gatsby’s, it is attainable. Article 21 of the basic rights charter of the European Union prohibits any discrimination based on nationality and/or ethnicity. Indeed, a European Commission Communication from 12 November 2002 (COM (2002) 694 final), states that “advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother tongue’ are not acceptable.” On 23 May 2003, in answer to a question from German MEP Jo Leinen, the European Commission stated: “The term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law.”

There are also law precedents in most countries. In the United Kingdom two different language schools were sued on two separate occasions for advertising native-only positions, and both of them lost. In Holland, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights has twice declared (e.g., opinion 2007–135, Dutch description: http://www.mensenrechten.nl) that “the selection criteria of a native speaker is not proportionate” as it “leads to indirect discrimination on the base of nationality and race.”

Why, then, is this discrimination so widespread and prevalent? Language schools often hide behind the demand of the local market. It is true that many students expect their teachers to be native speakers. But what do they really mean by it? Mullock’s study (2010) concludes that students valued teachers who were highly proficient in the language and who had excellent pedagogical skills. Other research (e.g., Kelch & Santana-Williamson, 2002; Liang, 2002) shows that learners emphasised the importance of clear pronunciation. All these characteristics have nothing to do with the teacher’s mother tongue and are by no means innate to native or non-native speakers. Unsurprisingly, then, Lipovsky and Mahboob (2010) and Benke and Medgyes (2005), among others, found that language students do not have a clear preference for NESTs or NNESTs (non-native English speaking teachers), but rather appreciate both.

Actually, it can be very motivating for a student to have teachers who have managed to learn the language to a native level themselves. It sets a positive example. It also gives you as a teacher a practical insight into the language-learning process, which many native speakers might lack. You know and understand what students are going through. After all, you’ve been there yourself.

However, I would not like to get into the debate about what NEST and NNESTs are better or worse at. I completely agree with Selvi (in press) that this can only further propagate the dichotomy and that the question Medgyes (1992) posed (“Who’s worth more, the native or the non-native?”) misses the point. The short answer is: neither! They are both equal. After all, they’re both human, aren’t they? What makes the difference (on a professional level) are the qualifications and the experience.

So this obsession with “nativeness,” as any superstition, is largely a result of hearsay, fuelled by lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to change on the part of those recruiters, students, parents, and NESTs who prefer to turn a blind eye and ignore the issue.

That said, the bulk of the blame is on the shoulders of non-native language teachers—and I’m not talking just English here. So if you’re reading it, then yes, I’m talking to you!

Stand up.

Speak out.

Show some personal dignity for goodness sake!

Indignaos, profes!

  • Benke, E., & Medgyes, P. (2005). Differences in teaching behaviour between native and nonnative speaker teachers: As seen by the learners. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-native language teachers: Perceptions, challenges, and contributions to the profession (pp. 195–216). New York, NY: Springer.
  • Crystal, D. (2012). English as a global language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  • Davies, A. (1991). The native speaker in applied linguistics. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Firth, A., & Wagner, J. (1997). On discourse, communication, and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. Modern Language Journal, 81, 285–300.
  • Kelch, K., & Santana-Williamson, E. (2002). ESL students’ attitudes toward native- and nonnative-speaking instructors’ accents. CATESOL Journal, 14(1), 57–72.
  • Liang, K. Y. (2002). English as a second language (ESL) students’ attitudes toward non-native English speaking teachers’ (NNESTs’) accentedness (Unpublished master’s thesis). California State University, Los Angeles.
  • Lipovsky, C., & Mahboob, A. (2010). Appraisal of native and non-native English speaking teachers. In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST lens: Non native English speakers in TESOL (pp. 154–179). Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars.
  • Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46, 340–349.
  • Moussu, L., & Llurda, E. (2008). Non-native English-speaking English language teachers: History and research. Language Teaching, 41, 315–348.
  • Mullock, B. (2010). Does a good language teacher have to be a native speaker? In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST lens: Non native English speakers in TESOL (pp. 87–113). Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars.
  • Paikeday, T. (1985). The native speaker is dead! Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Paikeday.
  • Seidlhofer, B. (1999). Double standards: Teacher education in the expanding circle. World Englishes, 18(2), 233–245.
  • Selvi, A. F. (in review). Myths and misconceptions about the non-native English speakers in TESOL (NNEST) movement. TESOL Journal.
  • Widdowson, H. (1994). The ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 377–389.

I’m also involved in research about the perceptions of NESTs and NNESTs among students and recruiters. If you’d like to contribute by spreading the questionnaires in your teaching community or ffilling them in yourself (they only take about 10mins each), I’d really appreciate it. Below are the links:
Questionnaire for recruiters (anyone in your school who is or has been responsible for interviewing and contracting new teachers): https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DXFRPXY
Questionnaire for students: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RXRPK8B
You might find these posts interesting:

41 thoughts on “(Non–)Nativity scenes

  1. Its not only restricted to language teacher, in fact. You are a science or math teacher, u have to b a native speaker or a uk or us degree. A teacher with 16 17 years of experience in reputed institution on a high designation is denied access to even registration because he lacks a uk or us degree or is not born in those provinces.
    Its sad but true, that qualifications of such teachers are not even checked, they come, they enjoy and even leave without a notice period, without thinking about the kids they handle and are responsible of where as a teacher from heart is even denied entry to ta school because of his non nativity… wish things change fast!!!

  2. Unfortunately it is still happening in many countries. I am peruvian but working in venezuela, I want to come back to my country and teach English there but when I look at the ads looking for teachers of English and most of them say: Native English teacher or Certified English teachers from USA, Ireland, Australia, England only, I wonder if what I studied is useless. i hope this will change in a near future and my dream come true, just teach English without being excluded because of my nationality.

  3. Some great insight. Agreed to every bit of the article. As an NNEST I had such a difficult time finding a job in China. I really wish rest of the world and primarily employers of language schools could see the notion through your specs. *Too wishful*, I guess.

  4. The institution I work for was recently requested to provide a writing course in English for a public institution.

    When presented with the possible teachers (one native speaker of English, and three non-native speakers, but specialists with PhDs in English Applied Linguistics), the person who requested the course said “send the native speaker” (although this was the least qualified of all four options).

    Eventually, because of administrative issues, the course had to be given 50% by the native speaker, and 50% by one of the non-native speakers.

    After the first edition of the course, the public institution requested the same course to be provided again; only one thing was different in the assignment: “Please do NOT send the native speaker.”

    I think it's time people realise “being a native speaker” does not always guarantee a good outcome, especially at advanced levels, where the skills required of the teacher are extremely specialised and the result of years of study and training.

  5. Thank you for your comment!
    I wish things would change faster as well. There's a lot each of us can do to bring this change about. That's why the article.
    I also believe that large and respected educational institutions should be more outspoken about the problem and try to clamp down on schools who notoriously reject applications from NNESTs.

  6. I also hope that one day such ads will not appear and that the whole debate will have become a thing of the past which people will look at with curiosity.
    The only thing I can suggest to you is to be firm, determined and sure of your own abilities and rights as a teacher and a human being. Stand up and speak out against the discrimination. Don't be bullied into thinking that as a NNEST you're not a good teacher.
    Thanks for your comment.

  7. Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.
    I also hope more and more recruiters will start to change their attitude. This will definitely take time, but we should be outspoken about the problem. If you can, spread the message in China. Each and every one of us can do their little bit to bring about a big change.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. It illustrates one of the points I was trying to make in the article: students do not care about their teacher's nationality, but rather about their skills and knowledge.

  9. Thank you for this article. It's true we need to “stand up and speak out” and shouldn't let market demands influence our “teaching self-esteem” (speaking from personal experience after my TEFL job quest in SPAIN!!!)

  10. Thanks for this post! It's a great lit review of some of the important literature on the issue of NNESTs. I have to disagree partially with your last statement; you say that “the bulk of the blame is on the shoulders of non–native language teachers.” I would add that NESTs also have the responsibility to address discrimination when they see it (and benefit from it!). Discrimination against qualified NNESTs in order to benefit relatively unqualified NESTs hurts everyone in our field, teachers and students.

  11. Thank you for your comment, Julia.
    I said that the bulk of the blame is on our shoulders, because I've always felt that it's much easier to blame the others, or institutions, or government policies, etc. As a NNEST you have a responsibility to speak out for your rights. Nobody else will do it, although perhaps they should. We can bring about the change as long as we are determined, confident and unafraid to stand up and speak out for our rights. Too many NNESTs have become bullied into thinking that the status quo is actually right and just. Too many bury their heads in the sand, accepting the fact that they'll never be able to get certain jobs.
    But, as I also say in the post, I do think that NESTs, especially those in recruitment or managerial positions, should do much more about it. For example, the BC should be much more outspoken about the problem. After all, they set the standards. They accredit schools. And although they've managed to more or less stamp the discrimination out within their own network, they have the power to put pressure on the whole TEFL community to eradicate the problem.
    Having said that, the change must start at the bottom, with the ones being discriminated against speaking out. All equality movements started like this.
    What do you think? Looking forward to your comments.

  12. Oh don't get me wrong, I got a job straight away – 4h of extracurricular classes (if you can call that a job), the rest was just 1-2-1 classes. And here I am, 5 years later teaching at the same “concertado” school, but this year 12h a week, that's an improvement, isn't it? What I'm trying to say is that it's a mental quest, as Spain is full of miserable, precarious jobs like that, and it's very difficult to progress. But I have to say that a lot has changed for me after doing CELTA course (even got the interview with British Council, unfortunately lost to someone with DELTA 🙂 great experience anyway!) – I see the light in the tunnel now. But I don't want to work here, mind you. I'm fed up with Spanish clear preference for native speakers, that's just ignorance. Plus, you're paid peanuts.

  13. Marek, thanks for the article, it's really gripping and well-written! My compliments on your hard work. As your foreign colleague I'm glad to know that you have achieved your ambition and are now teaching abroad!
    I'm Belarussian, and I've been into this topic for quite a while. As someone who has been teaching around Europe, can you give some advice? Are there countries in the EU where you think is easier to find a job for a NNEST?

  14. Thank you for your comment, Victoria. I'm glad you've enjoyed the article, and I hope you'll find it helpful in your search for a job as a NNEST.
    I'd say your main problem in the EU will be the fact that your not an EU resident. Most schools unfortunately will not be willing to issue you a work permit as the bureaucracy of it all and the costs are staggering (not to say that it's a good excuse).
    If you still want to try, however, I'd go for the UK as it's by far the most NNEST-friendly country. Other than that, avoid France, Spain and Italy. They're the worst. Apply to renowned language institutions, such as IH and the BC – they (at least officially) do not discriminate. In both institutions you'll find a very supportive environment where your qualifications and experience are valued (rather than your nationality).
    Outside Europe target IH and the BC too. They offer good working conditions and usually very high teaching and professional development standards (although since they're franchises this can differ from school to school).
    Finally, if you're met with a refusal based on being a NNEST, don't be afraid to challenge the recruiter. I've done it many times myself. don't be bullied into thinking that your worse than a NEST. In the EU you can also quote the regulations which I mention in the article as a further backing.
    You can also join a group on FB which helps NNESTs (Budapest NNEST)
    Good luck in your endeavours.
    PS: What's the situation like in Belarus? Do you think you could spread the article and the word in your teaching network? This can help fight the prejudice.

  15. I'm glad you're feeling hopeful 🙂
    CELTA definitely is the key. It opens many doors.
    Spain is probably the country with most discrimination against NNESTs. The Spanish have an obsession for native-speakers (by which they usually mean white Brits). However, there are plenty of exceptions, especially within the International House and BC networks. There you're much more likely to find a very supportive teaching environment where qualifications count, not your nationality. Plenty of opportunity to move up the ladder as well if you show commitment. And you earn a bit more than just peanuts 🙂
    I can understand your frustration. It's quite sad actually.
    Where are you originally from? Where are you planning to go teaching then?

  16. Yes, I agree that they do love their white Brits! Marek, I'm Polish and it's me who contacted you on LinkedIn. Well, I know for a fact how much teachers in IH Madrid are paid (and I'm talking DELTA certified teacher trainers), and it's not a lot. However, I'm not sure whether it's a good place to share this kind of info, correct me if I'm wrong. Let me just tell you that it's less than I was making teaching lunch hour class of 7 year-olds at my “concertado” school. But I guess I was super lucky and of course it finished quickly and I've been affected by constant cuts since then…. When it comes to moving, honestly, I'd go anywhere… We've been looking into Scandinavia recently, namely Finland. I know it's kind of hard, but I'm quite enthusiastic about it. Any advice? I'd appreciate it!

  17. I guess language schools in general don't pay much (at least in comparison to other jobs). Probably the best paid positions are in South East Asia and the Middle East.
    It's difficult to advice. All depends what you're looking for (e.g. learn a new language, earn more money, bask in the sun). I've worked in several countries and each has its pros and cons. Costa Rica is great if you're looking for a safe adventure on the other side of the world. IH San Sebastian pays quite well and the city is really beautiful (the vibe's not very Spanish, though). IH Budapest has some extraordinary teachers and a fantastic work environment. The city is also really cool. The UK doesn't discriminate and pays quite well. And in the Netherlands life is very easy and everything's super well organised. I've got many friends who've worked in Vietnam and around and they really recommend it.
    Personally, I'd never choose Finland because it's way too cold and dark in the winter. Anyway, if you need contacts, let me know – I might be able to help.

  18. Thank you for your advice! I'd definitely like to try. Unfortunately, Belarus is still isolated from the rest of the world, so generally we don't have ESL teachers from abroad, be they native or non-native speakers. However, I will still spread your article. I'm extremely worried about not being a EU resident. But I am eager to try anyway. I have already joined the group on FB, the group is a great idea, thanks a lot to the creator! By the way, is there any post of yours which tells about your first experience of teaching abroad? It would be really interesting to read!

  19. Thanks for your comment.
    I think as a non-EU resident you might have real problems finding a job because of visa restriction. 99% of the posts will require you to have a visa. It might be a safer bet to head out of Europe. I've got many friends who've worked in South-east Asia and they really recommend it. I really enjoyed working in Latin America too.
    The first post I wrote for the blog is about the places I've worked in, so it mentions my first teaching experience briefly. You can read it here: http://teflreflections.blogspot.nl/2013/10/to-teach-or-not-to-teach-that-is-easy.html
    And there's another one in which I talk about my early days as a freelancer: http://teflreflections.blogspot.nl/2013/10/setting-your-teaching-free.html
    Do you think a post with advice on how to find a teaching position abroad would be helpful for the readers here?

  20. Hi Victoria, Marek – I just wanted to say that I also think it would be a quite interesting read so I'm looking forward to it! And if you take suggestions – I would be delighted to read about different possibilities of professional/personal development. What courses / degrees /certificates / post graduate studies are recommended as far as teaching skills are concerned. Any particular countries better than the others? Well, it's just an idea, issue of great importance to me anyway.

  21. Marek, I am absolutely sure it will, and I suppose Ana and I will be your first readers! 🙂 I've been thinking about South Asia and I'm pretty sure it would be a great alternative. Looking forward to your post!

  22. Hi there!

    I'm glad to have finally made it here though I must say the non-nest thing has been in and out of the blogosphere for a few years now 🙂 Apparently, I'm a success story (being Polish and having taught both in Turkey and Spain) but damn it, it's been hard at times…
    Your blog and Katalin's Budapest Non-Nest FB group has inspired me to work on a blog post called 'The dirty side of TEFL' which is going to be primarily about the nasty stuff we have to deal with. I guess some things just need to be said out loud.

    Btw – I might be working with a friend of yours – does Joanna from Zdunska Wola (if I'm not mistaken) ring a bell? 😉

  23. Thanks for your comment. Have you actually been able to read the article? I had to take it down because of TESOL Newsletter, where it's coming out soon, publication rules, so if you want a copy, let me know. Could email it to you.
    The discussion has indeed been on for quite some time, but I feel not enough's being done. That's why the FB group and this post. And a talk I'm giving with a friend at a conference in Brussels. If it goes well, we'll try to get the talk accepted on other conferences, and spread the word. The link is here, in case it interests you: http://www.beltabelgium.com/belta-day-2014-meet-the-speakers-marek-kiczkowiak-chris-holmes/
    We're actually doing some research into students' and recruiters' perceptions of NNESTs and NESTs. Would you like to get involved and distribute a few questionnaires in your school?
    Glad you've been successful as a NNEST. It's always good to hear success stories. And you're in a good country now to spread the message against discrimination. What is it like in your school?
    I'm looking forward to your post. Let me know when it's finished. The title is very provocative.
    Joanna from Zdunska Wola does make quite a few bells ring. Pozdrów ją! 🙂

  24. Three of us here and still speaking English 🙂 Marek, I might be able to help with research – sound quite interesting! Let me know what kinds of schools/institutions interest you

  25. Hi Marek!

    Thank you very much for this post. I'm a non-native English teacher, so I have experienced this type of discrimination first-hand. It is very frustrating to know that my application gets discarded not because of my lack of experience or for some other reasons, but purely for the fact that my name doesn't sound English and my country of birth is not an English-speaking country. I find it very unfair that a lot of language schools discard the CV even before a non-native English teacher can open his/her mouth to speak in English and demonstrate how good or accent-free his/her English is. I was invited to an interview once. All went well until at the very end the interviewer said that I don't „sound native” and thus she can't hire me as the clients of the school wouldn't accept a non-native teacher.

    But what is the point of having a perfect British or American accent? Most adults learn English to communicate with people form all over the world, not only with Americans or Brits. That usually also includes people from Africa, Asia, India, Russia etc. These people will have an accent, however slight it may be. Fortunately or unfortunately English doesn't “belong” to the British, Americans and a few other nations. It truly is a world language and that means everybody speaks. And speaks it ever so slightly differently.

    As for children, there is a small chance that with a lot of persistence they can acquire a flawless accent. Let's say a London accent. Lovely, but what's the point? To fool people into thinking you're British? I guess it could be a goal for some over-ambitious parents, but for the rest of the world? Why?

    And then there's of course the difference between British and American English. Should I teach my students to say “football” and discourage them to use “soccer” or vice versa? Should I correct “color” to “colour”? I might be wrong, but in my opinion, most people want to learn international English, not regional English.

    Wouldn't it seem a bit ridiculous if I went to a language school and requested to learn Neapolitan with a Neapolitan native teacher instead of Italian? If you were to learn Italian then surely you'd want to use it everywhere in Italy, not only in Naples? So, should my main goal in learning English really be to speak with a London accent and only understand people who speak with the London accent? (I actually think that learners of English should be exposed to as many accents as possible.)

    I really think that pronunciation is the only real advantage a native English teacher has. In my opinion a good English teacher, native and non-native knows his/her field continues studying and researching English and teaching methods throughout his/her career. And you don't need to be native to read a grammar book or listen to the BBC (as a matter of fact this is what I encourage my students to do).

    I now have a job in a language school in Rome. There are quite a few other non-native teachers there as well and you know what? Not once have I heard the students complain about their teachers's non-nativeness.

    Sorry about the extremely long comment! Keep up the good work

  26. Hi Greta,
    Thanks for your response. It's really thought-provoking and you brought up some very important points.
    1. I agree with you. I can't see why having a perfect native speaker accent would make you a better teacher for several reasons:
    a) such a thing doesn't exist – we all have an accent
    b) for communicative purposes in English as a lingua franca it can actually be an obstacle – as you say, most people want to be communicative! And somebody with a thick Glasgow accent will be much less so than a non-native with a clear but strong e.g. Italian accent
    c) it's not really a fair goal we can set for our students – is it achievable? and as you say – what's the point?
    d) I'm yet to meet a student who'd take off their teacher's accent – I've seen sts taught by NESTs and NNESTs who would end up having a thick L1 accent anyway. Only a very VERY tiny proportion might actually acquire something resembling e.g. the standard British accent 9again if such a thing exists). For example, I did, but with the help of NNESTs at uni (there were no NESTs teaching pron)
    2. I disagree that NEST pronunciation is an advantage for all the above reasons
    3. Continuing CPD is the key – a very important point you mention.
    4. I'm glad they haven't! Most of them probably wouldn't even realise your not a NEST unless you told them. It I think proves that the 'market demand' for NESTs is to a large extent an invention of recruiters and language schools.
    Would you like to use the ideas from your response to write up a blog post? I've recently set up a new blog together with other like-minded teachers and we're looking for contributors. You can find the blog here: http://teflequityadvocates.blogspot.com/ Contact me either through the blog or by email: marek_kiczkowiak@hotmail.com
    Thanks again for your comment!

  27. Dear Marek,
    As an American-born project manager (and CELTA-certified English trainer) for a corporate language school in Vienna, I have been following your posts about this issue for a while – waiting for a good opportunity to weigh in here. All I can add to the discussion is that at our company, we stress the importance of hiring trainers according to their CVs – and not their nationalities. Since I have been in the company, we have hired several NNESTs with a great level of success. Having said that, we sometimes interview NNESTs whose English is quite heavily accented. I have to admit that I can't send a trainer with heavily.accented English into a class of corporate clients. They just won't buy it.

    Another hindrance is the (admittedly completely subjective and somewhat unfair) prejudice that MANY of our clients have about insisting on only NESTs for their courses. In these cases, we have no choice but to comply with the clients' wishes.

    I hear you, Marek, believe me, when I meet numerous NESTs who apply for teaching here (many of them also with CELTA or TEFL backgrounds), who obviously have NO CLUE about rules of grammar or usage. Short certification courses do NOT give total linguistic qualifications – Any of us who have done them are aware of that. That is why we screen trainers strictly here. NESTs who are “Entertainers” don't cut it with us either. Our motto here has always been, “Being a native speaker is NOT enough”.

    I just hope you can appreciate the difficulties we in the industry have due to “high-mantenance” clients. As the person in my firm who is the designated representative for issues of diversity, I often advise clients as to ALL of the advantages that a NNEST can also bring to training. It simply doesn't always help.

    I would be interested in your questionnaire for recruiters.

    Wishing you all the best in your campaign!


  28. Hi Maura,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I'm really glad to hear that you've not only been treating prospective NESTs and NNESTs equally, but also educating your clients.
    I can definitely see your point. If the client insists on a NEST and refuses to take the course with anyone else, there's little you can do apart from what you've already been doing, that is advising your clients on what actually makes a good teacher. I would be interested to know why some of your clients are so keen to have classes with NESTs. I have some ideas, but I was wondering what you think:
    1. they've had bad experience with NNESTs
    2. when they say native speaker they mean somebody who's completely proficient in a language, which theoretically doesn't exclude NNESTs
    3. they have a very specific (extra)linguistic needs, e.g. I want to speak like a Scot
    My guess would be that 1 is quite probable. If 2 is also the case, I wonder how would the students react if they had classes with a NNEST who can pass off for a NS without letting them in on their nationality. My gut feeling is that a) they wouldn't notice they're dealing with a NNEST (students are notoriously bad at recognising accents unless it's their L1 accent) b) they'll actually become more positive towards NNESTs in the future (research shows that students really appreciate having both NESTs and NNESTs as teachers, and the more they are exposed to the latter, the less likely they are to be prejudiced). I've never actually met a student who's had such specific language or cultural needs that a NNEST would not be able to help them.
    What do you think?
    I've started a new blog which is solely devoted to NEST and NNEST issues. You can find the links to the questionnaires for recruiters and students here: http://teflequityadvocates.blogspot.nl/p/research.html
    Do you think you could distribute the student one as well in your school?


  29. Thanks, Marek!

    I just realized that you had written a reply!

    There are, indeed, 2 points of contention about clients accepting NNESTS. Your number 1 is indeed one of them. Some clients have indeed had bad experiences with NNESTS (but not from OUR firm, of course!) Having said that, I have had to remove NESTs from projects for incompetency more than once (YES! – SHOCK, right? 😉 )

    There is often another requirement that clients insist on – Many DEMAND a “British speaker” and some (but few in Austria) would rather have an American…Either of these demands is, linguistically, equally as ludicrous as demanding a NEST – (or even worse, I think sometimes….especially since I am SO multi-lingual, that I can teach British OR American English – ;-)) When you consider this kind of illogical demand, you can perhaps begin to understand that it is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of satisfying our customers.

    One last point that I stress with my colleagues here when we are recruiting:
    I find the most highly-trained and qualified/experienced NEST utterly dubious if I find out that they, themselves, have never tried to learn a foreign language…and we have met many. I find it particularly worrying if the person has lived here in Vienna for years, wants to teach English, but has never developed any real proficiency in German.

    You are 100% right about the fact that only someone who has struggled to learn a foreign language can make the real connection to teaching a foreign language – especially to adults, as is our business. (…and I'm taking no prisoners on this issue…)

    I will now look into distributing your student questionnaire here…

    Best wishes,

  30. Hi Maura,
    Thanks for your reply. I was looking forward to what your comment.
    Actually, it's not terribly shocking that you've had to remove NESTs for incompetency.
    What do you do when a student demands a Brit (or an American)? I wonder about the context, i.e. do the students work for an American company and therefore need to interact with Americans?
    I find such NESTs very dubious too. Especially, as you said, if they have already lived in the country for quite some time. A bit arrogant not to even give learning a language a shot, isn't it?
    I think learning a new language as a teacher broadens your horizons, and as you said, makes you more aware of the problems your students might be having. This was mentioned in a brilliant post James Taylor wrote recently for the TEFL Equity Advocates blog. Highly recommended: http://teflequityadvocates.blogspot.com/2014/05/why-i-wish-i-was-non-native-english.html
    Thanks for taking part in the survey. Keep in touch.


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