‘Native speaker only’ ads illegal in the EU

Those who’ve been following my posts regularly, might have noticed that I’ve quite strongly voiced my discontent, outrage and frustration at TEFL job ads which demand the applicants to be native speakers. If you’re not one, don’t bother applying. You might have a PhD in English Studies and 100 years of teaching experience, but no one will even glance at your CV. Your un-English sounding name and your passport make you unfit for the job, I’m afraid. I described the problem and discussed its negative effects on the industry in a previous post which you can read here.I’ve also recently set up another blog, TEFL Equity Advocates, devoted to fighting unequal hiring and employment policies in the TEFL industry. I invite you to visit it, subscribe and help us fight for equality.

In a nutshell, the practice of hiring only NESTs (Native Speaker English Teacher) is so widespread and deeply entrenched within the industry that most of don’t even notice it. And if we do, we might just shrug our shoulders either in despair or indifference. But inaction is the worst form of action!

Whenever I go on tefl.com and look at countries like Spain, Italy, Korea, Japan, where almost 100% of all job ads are for NESTs only, I am filled with rage. And an urge to act!

Below I reblog my post from TEFL Equity Advocates blog, which you can access here.Common sense and gut feeling tell most of us that such ads are 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?

I have. And I went where most people in doubt go to (no, not the psychologist or a psychic): I googled it! To narrow my scope, I focused on the European Union. Very quickly google told me that the law had the same gut feeling as I did.
Here are some of the things I found:
  • Article 21 of EU basic rights reads as follows (highlighted by me):

1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

2. Within the scope of application of the Treaties and without prejudice to any of their specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

This just confirms what we all know. Discrimination against race and nationality is illegal in the EU. My gut feeling was telling me that non-native speakers were being discriminated against on the basis of their language, birth and ethnic origin.
Let’s delve deeper and see what gems EU law holds for us in store.
  • German MEP Jo Leinen asked the European Commission whether the words “native speaker” could be used in a job advertisement. On 23 May 2003 the EC ruled the following:

In its answer to Question E-0941 the commission states that the term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law. The Commission also states its intention of continuing to use its powers to fight against any discrimination caused by a requirement for native speaker knowledge in job advertisements.

If that was not enough to convince you, continue reading.

  • A Commission Communication of 11 December 2002 on ‘Free movement of workers – achieving the full benefits and potential’ (COM (2002) 694 final) when asked about language requirements for particular jobs stated that:

the language requirement must be reasonable and necessary for the job in question and must not be used to exclude workers, so that advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother tongue’ are not acceptable.

More on recruitment rights here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/guidance-for-employers-pre-october-10/areas-of-responsibility/recruitment-and-job-advertisements/

All this means that employers are only allowed to ask for native-like competence in a given language, which on CEFR is C2, but not for a mother tongue.

In the UK and in the Netherlands some language schools have been taken to court for refusing to employ NNESTs (Non-native Speaker English Teacher). And guess what? They all lost!

What does this mean for you as an aspiring NNEST?

That it’s high time you got angry and acted. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Don’t be discouraged if you see a NEST only ad. Stand up for your rights and make your voice heard. The law is on your side so use it.

Not to say that you have to take somebody to court right away, but politely informing the language school they are breaking the law might just do the trick. I’ve done so on numerous occasions. More often than not, schools are quite eager to listen to persuasive arguments and are willing to change their ads and recruitment policies.

Also visit TEFL Equity Advocates blog and help us fight together against the discrimination.

What if I’m a NEST? Why would I bother doing anything?

Because your help is vital. Your school might not only be choosing teachers based on nationality, rather than their qualifications and experience, but also breaking the law. You might be doing them a big favour by informing them about it. If you’ve always felt that native speakers only ads were unfair, that teachers should be valued on the basis of their qualifications, then it’s your chance to do something about it by joining the movement. Find out more about how you can get involved here.

Footnote: I’ve only described the law in the EU and I’m not sure what it’s like outside the community. However, this is where you can come in. Investigate what the law says about it in your country. Consult an anti-discrimination organisation. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Let’s be pro-active!

45 thoughts on “‘Native speaker only’ ads illegal in the EU

  1. I agree with all this but if you find yourself in this situation and you take the job advertiser to Court or report it, are they going to hire you afterwards? How do you proceed? I am actually completing a BA in English Language Teaching and I am a Spanish national. It really gets to my nerves to see how English native speakers are just recruited to teach even if they have never studied how to teach. It really gets to my nerves how many institutions recruit native speakers regardless of their education and you don't even stand a chance.

    1. the correct phrase is ‘gets on my nerves’ and perhaps this is why people like the OP and others should really think twice before trying to insist that you are at least equal to that of a native speaker.

    2. It’s true,
      I think a first language English speaker, even without qualifications or teaching experience can still offer something to learners, that is if those students already have reached a good standard.
      The problem is that they are used instead, to actually teach, to all levels, and for all aspects of the curriculum. It should be a partnership between providers, using the things that each of them can bring to the party.
      Discrimination is wrong that’s why it’s illegal, yet it happens every day in EU countries. If attitudes change then the discrimination will reduce and that will be better for everyone. Complaining about discrimination is recognising and drawing attention to the problem, the vital first step in changing things for the better for all.

  2. Native speakers often times complete a TEFL course of a duration of 2 weeks and off they go. I haven spent 3 years studying how to teach, not to mind studying the language since I was 8 and a native speaker who may be a plumber has a better chance to get recruited than I am

  3. Native Speakers often complete, not “Native Speakers often time complete.”
    I haven't spent, not “I haven spent.” A haven is a harbour, an area of safety.

  4. I'm a native speaker with 13 years teaching experience and several teaching qualifications that have taken me years to get. I do understand the point about non-native teachers sometimes having 2 week TEFLs but I think that the situation is changing. The TEFL world is becoming more competitive and many native teachers have a lot of qualifications now and are dedicated to the profession. I will say though, that although non-native teachers can be good for low levels, I have met very few who are capable of teaching high levels. Despite masters etc in teaching English, most of these non-native teachers exhibit similar problems to our students. I have seen worksheets with the idioms all incorrectly used, students work that was correct marked wrong and via versa, model letters that quite frankly are wrong. I know that non-native teachers produce incorrect work too, but I would say that if a native and non-native teacher were both well-qualified I know who I would choose.

  5. I'm sorry, but your post shows the issues when employing non-native teachers. 'Often times' is incorrect. It's not 'not to mind', it's 'not to mention'. It's not 'recruited', it's 'hired'. It's not 'I am', it's 'I do'. I've spent the day writing levels on pieces of writing, and this is a B1.1, taking into account some of the errors are typos. The 'duration' part sounds unnatural too. I wouldn't need to employ the plumber either as these days there are a lot of qualified native teachers looking for work. Competing with a native speaker is not an easy thing to do. Very few non-native teachers ever make that grade.

  6. No, it's not. It's perfectly fine to say that a teacher not only needs the qualifications and teaching skills, but needs the language level. If a non-native teacher has the language level, that's fine. I'm just saying that most non-native teachers don't. I've seen in Asian countries numerous cases when non-native white teachers been employed over native white teachers because they look 'right' for the job. That is racism. I've also sat in the next classroom hearing through the wall, the horribly incorrect things they were teaching the students.

  7. I replied to your comment on FB, but will do so hear so the others can follow our discussion. There I wrote: “A very valid concern Laura Gutiérrez. You have to ask yourself first: do I really want to be working at a school that values birth certificates over qualifications? My answer to this is no. Secondly, I've emailed many schools in the past to inform them they were breaking the law, or simply that they were discriminating me. In most cases, the recruiters were quite surprised, especially at my boldness, and were prepared to talk the matter over. No language school needs even the faintest possibility of being taken to court. Creates very bad PR. Don't be threatening in your email, but be bold, firm and confident. And polite. You have nothing to lose really, because you weren't going to get the job in the first place, anyway. So if you do in the end, it's a bonus. And you'll have had your little share in fighting the discrimination.”
    As a final thought, I'd say: Indignate! And act on your anger. Use it to change the status quo.
    Soon I'll write about what you can do when you're faced with a discriminatory ad, so please stay tuned. And keep me posted about your job hunt. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

  8. All very good comments. Competing with a native speaker is a very difficult thing indeed. But it's a bit harsh to say that this was B1 level. It's far above that.
    I don't argue that we should employ NNESTs simply because they're NNESTs and have been discriminated. I think it would be a very fair requirement to ask all NNESTs for a proof of their language proficiency, e.g. CPE, IELTS 9, as we should ask NESTs for valid teaching qualifications (as knowing the language is not one).
    A valid question to ask here is what is a minimum level of proficiency for a language teacher. What do you think?
    BTW, oftentimes is correct: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oftentimes

    1. Should it not be “discriminated against”. There are always errors in spoken English and also for any writing that we don’t check, before pressing the button. If a high percentage of non native teachers are poor in English then that doesn’t justify discrimination against 100% of non native teacher. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
      As to a minimal level of competence in English, as a requirement for teachers, it depends on the learners and what they are being taught. Also it depends on which language is being used to deliver the lesson and explanations. B2 (CEFR) is fine in most cases.
      You can teach English in English, English in the students’ first language, students’ second language or teach English in some other means, say with gestures and pointing and body language. Often the route used, comes from tradition, fashion or self interest.
      I have noticed that good teachers are successful at improving the level of their pupils independent of their own weaknesses. They demonstrate what they can demonstrate well and they find other examples to support learners in areas where they are weak. If a teacher has weak pronunciation then they can be honest with the class and say my pronunciation is not the best, here listen to this. Let’s practice that. I man in a wheelchair could teach you how to run.

  9. Some very good examples. Thank you for your comment.
    I think employers have every right to turn down NNESTs based on low level in English. The problem starts when they don't even glance at the CV. Very often you might have CPE or IELTS 9, but still stand a snowball's chance in hell of being even invited for an interview.
    And as you rightly point out, NESTs make mistakes too. But quite often if they make one, we tend to think: oh, it's just a slip. However, when a NNEST makes a mistake, we're unlikely to be so understanding.

  10. Very good point. Couldn't agree more.
    As I said above, it's fair to ask a NNEST for a proof of their language level and demand C1 or C2. The problem is, I might be repeating myself here, that most recruiters don't bother, and simply turn down all NNESTs, regardless of their language proficiency.
    There's a lot of racism in TEFL in Asia. What they often mean when they say 'native speaker' is a white male preferably from the UK, Ireland, or the US. There's a good post about it here: http://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/tentative-thoughts-and-more-on-race-in-hiring-practices-in-korea/

  11. In depends on the job and location. I wouldn't argue that a C1 or below Polish person could teach kids with that level in Poland. I would say that teachers who teach in UK language schools should ideally have a level that is indisguishable from that of a native teacher. I shouldn't be able to tell they are not native until they tell me. C1 isn't high enough for these schools and even what is considered C2 level often falls short. These teachers can teach the lower levels reasonably well although I would like them to be an adequate pronunciation model too (often they aren't). I've worked with non-native teachers in London (some who had qualifications supposedly showing a C2 level) who didn't have the English ability. I think my Polish boss was often blinded by qualifications and forgot they needed the English too. We were teaching a lot of C1/C2 students and so we really needed teachers who were truely native level. There are visa regulations for places like Korea that limit English teaching visas to certain nationalities, but if you were a white non-native teacher with a visa then the job was pretty much yours regardless of English level. Or at least that was the case 10 years ago.

    1. In my old school they took the Latin teachers away in a van for a course and they came back computer science teachers and I have no doubt there was no problem, they could teach anything. I also know a teacher of English whose level of pronunciation is relatively weak but being a great teacher the pupils improve, pass their exams and reach levels in pronunciation above that of this teacher. If you want to coach NBA do you need to be able to dunk from the free throw line?

  12. Thanks for your comment.
    In my opinion you can't really ask for more than IELTS 9 or an 'A' in CPE from a teacher. Because there is no more or beyond, at least as far as the CEFR goes. We might argue whether it's enough or not, but until a higher qualification or a degree in 'nativeness' has been put in place, we should accept that C2 level is native-like.
    Similarly, I've met many NESTs who would dread their CPE prep class because the questions students asked were devilishly difficult.
    I still think we should judge all teachers equally, that is by qualifications, experience, teaching skills, etc.
    In terms of an adequate pronunciation or language model, is a native speaker one? Which native speaker? Glasgow accent has as much to do with general American accent, as does a Polish and a Japanese one. We all have an accent, whether we like it or not. And I'm really yet to meet a student who would actually acquire their teacher's pronunciation.
    Finally, most communication in English goes on between non-native speakers. Whether we like it or not, the English don't own English any more. Neither do the Irish, the Americans or any other native speakers.
    What do you think?

    1. Hold on, I’m from Glasgow, a Glasgow based standard Scottish accent, ( not the local in-house, rhyming slang and pronunciation) is very close to the pronunciation of a standard USA based English dialect. They are both rhotic for example. To be honest though your overall thesis is correct as my pronunciation of sounds is very different not from a US based dialect, but from the standard English based English known as RP. If a learner has to learn a new sound or is mispronouncing a sound ( usually due to first language interference) then I provide a standard English English, (modern RP) pronunciation, local Scottish and a standard US pronunciation. The learner can choose to adopt RP ( hopefully modern) or some other dialect of their choosing.

  13. Thanks for your comment. It is archaic, but I'm wondering if this holds true for all varieties of English. And aren't you allowed to make a mistake every now and then? I mean, you're not going to claim that native speaker's language is always perfect.
    I'm an IELTS examiner as well. And 9 in IELTS is an incredible achievement. I can't see why such a teacher (with sufficient experience) couldn't teach a C2 class. After all, they've got the insiders knowledge (i.e. they've reached that level) apart from the language skills.
    I've taught numerous C2 levels and CPE preps and I don't think I did a worse job than native speakers. Teaching such a high level can be intimidating for both NESTs and NNESTs (I know many NESTs who just didn't want to teach C2 because it was too challenging).
    As a final thought: you've hinted at the notion that a native speaker's language will always be superior, i.e. the Chomsky's ideal speaker-listener. This idea was abandoned by linguists over 20 years ago, so it's interesting that it persists so strongly within the TEFL community.
    What do you think?

    1. It’s not interesting it’s sad. I have met non native teachers whose English is frankly off the charts. You are so right. It’s easy to find fault and we are all human. What matters is what do the pupils think, are they learning, are they encouraged, what does the teacher do well, is the teacher willing to learn.

  14. This was debated in a workshop at IATEFL in Harrogate, the consensus was that many native speakers would be unlikely to pass CAE or get above a 7.5 IELTS on the first attempt. In fact as an exam course lead, I often encounter teachers, and I tend to select polyglots with exam experience of their own. Who describe the tasks they are teaching challenging, or ‘well-nigh impossible’ as one recently observed.
    Yes you need very good command of English to get the top marks in any of the exams, but even then it’s unlikely without the right sort of education and a little exam training.
    It would be fair to insist all teachers prove their competence in the language, but in my experience, admittedly anecdotally, this would probably remove more NESTs than nNESTs from the staff room. 12 odd years ago it would probably have stopped me from changing professions.
    Initial indications from our research into this is that most higher level students see ‘native like’ proficiency as a real possibility, but only about half actually want to ‘pass for a native’.

  15. Thanks for your comment.
    I didn't know the topic was discussed at IATEFL, but I'm really glad to know it was. I couldn't agree more with what you say. I would be absolutely for introducing language competency tests both for NESTs and NNESTs as a rule. Being a native speaker gives you no sacred linguistic status (especially that it's almost impossible to decide on who a native speaker is), and the old Chomskean idea of an ideal speaker listener was discredited and abandoned a long time ago. Such tests could only increase the quality of the language input in the classroom and ensure high standards, and students' satisfaction.
    It's interesting that students see proficiency as a real possibility, but don't really want to pass off as a native, yet many will still insist on being taught by NESTs. And recruiters will have us believe that it is what students want and need. It's quite puzzling.
    I wonder, though, how we get this debate out of purely academic/teacher talk and persuade all these language schools which discriminate NNESTs to change their policies. Have you got any ideas?

    1. I believe there can be more than one ecucational role and for each of those duties differing proficiencies are needed. Teachers have to be able to teach and any test should allude to that. Teacher of English need to be able to communicate English to their learners Either via a learner first language or English or via gesture. ( In my book in that order of preference)
      Language assistants, who ideally would support the teacher on the language side and provide strong models to pupils as to how natural English is spoken, and also what examiners believe they should have a high level of English. Both Teaching and language assistant/consultant roles, they should be open to anyone.

  16. “Native speaker only” is one of the biggest form of discrimination I have encountered. Not only it is widespread but it is commonly accepted under the idea that “we want a teacher with no accent” as if there is no differences between American English and British English, let's not even talk about regional accents inside the countries.
    I have met students in Japan who couldn't understand a single word of what their native teacher was saying, the man is from New-York and has a very heavy accent. They had no problems however to understand non-native speakers with clear pronunciation.
    I bet Chinese people would scream racism at an ad “Need one Mandarin teacher, Singaporean or Taiwanese only” for some reasons (e.g. academic exchange program with these two countries)

    1. If the students don’t understand the teacher’s accent and the teacher doesn’t provide a secondary parallel learning route then it’s all a waste of time.
      It is normal in English for a new dialect or accent not to be initially understandable full stop.
      The person involved then teaches their accent giving a second route: some sort of comparison, then everyone moves on.
      A teacher who doesn’t do this is not a teacher. Teachers must test pupil understanding and adapt if learners don’t comprehend.

  17. In my own experience, the industry in Britain is very open. I've worked for 7 different language schools, private and public sector, and always met teachers who are not native speakers- no problem.

    However I must point out that some students discriminate between NESTs and NNESTs.
    We had students who insisted on native speakers. I'm not saying it's right.

  18. Some very valid points. Thanks for your comments.
    It's true that very often NNESTs are better language model than untrained NESTs. It's not to say that some accents are better than others (although for some reason the non-native accents, or non-standard native accent seem to be looked down upon), but if the goal of our students is to be intelligible, fluent, correct and communicative, clearly we should provide a teacher who offers such a model. And there are good reasons to presume that on average a fully proficient NNEST can tick all these boxes.
    I also find it bizarre when schools say: we need a NEST so that our students acquire the accent. Which accent? Acquire? I'm yet to meet a student who would pick up their teachers accent (whether native or non-native) and be able to imitate it.
    And how helpful would it be to speak with such a heavy native accent that most of your interlocutors would fail to understand you?

  19. Thanks for your comment, John D.
    The UK is indeed a different kettle of fish, and I wish the rest of the world (or at least the EU) followed its steps. It's virtually impossible to find native-only ads there. Perhaps due to the fact that at least 2 schools were sued for discrimination and lost. Perhaps because employers there are smarter and know that your nationality has nothing to do with your teaching skills.
    Why do you think some students insist on classes with NESTs? Do you think they're a majority? What should the DoS do in such a situation, i.e. follow the market demand?

  20. Anonymous truly has a narcissistic attitude. Thank God you had the privileged to study and achieve what you have achieve. Others did not have the opportunity and I think this is now the time for the less privileged to now show what they are worth and prove that not all times does studies make us a good choice. Sometimes you have the people with all the qualifications yet they can't deal with children or people. Then you get the born natural and flourishes in the job given. Stop being so arrogant and say thank you for your knowledge and maybe you can put that to good use and teach others what you deem as damn brilliant!!!

  21. I have always opposed this 'native speakers only' obsession that seems to be going on in a lot of countries, Spain being one of them. I have always thought that being a native speaker of a language doesn't mean that you know how to teach it to other people, neither does it mean that you have a good command of its grammar/vocabulary. In fact, I remember a native speaker of English who would point out mistakes that weren't actually mistakes. “He is the older of the two”. According to him, this sentence was not correct. A lot of language schools in Spain hire native speakers of English just for the sake of being native speakers of English. A lot of them can't teach. However, neither the employers nor the employees are to blame for this. Why? Because it's what costumers want and demand. It really is a catch-22 situation. I disagree with this because if being a native speaker of a language was all it took to be able to teach it, that would make each and every single person in the world a teacher of their own language.

    That being said, I'm not going to lie: most of the times I understand the prejudice against non-native speakers of English. I've heard a lot of Spanish teachers of English say things like “I have to explain you a thing”, “We were on the table waiting for our dinner”, “I want to know how do you do this”, “I have never been in Australia”, “I have to mount an Ikea furniture”, “We are five people in my family”, “The news are good”… (literal translations from Spanish to English). I'm not saying there are not exceptions. There are, but it's not like you're spoilt for choice when it comes to them. I am a non-native speaker of English and I'm qualified to teach it. It took me years to get my qualifications. However, I've spent the last three looking for work and failing to find it. Why? Because I'm not a native speaker. Do I go ballistic when I'm told I can't teach because I'm Spanish? I do. Do I understand them? I do. Well, sometimes. Do I agree with it? No, because a lot of times they hire non-natives like me who don't even hold a teaching qualification. A lot of them don't pass muster (IMHO). Do I think this “native speakers only” thing is a form of discrimination? Yes. It's a lose-lose situation, I think.

    1. Spain is a bit crazy about English and native speakers and now it’s just become a quick filter.
      (2 Job ads (shepherd wanted, needs good level of English) ( bank robber for armed gang, needed B2 English required) Only one of these ads is fake.)

      There is massive unemployment in Spain and an equally massive commitment to teach English. Many good teachers want to teach but if they get B2 they are given more points towards getting a job, no matter the subject taught.
      Then they become chemistry teachers (they want to teach chemistry and beat 1000 other would be chemistry teachers to get the job). Here’s the rub, the post they manage to find is in a bilingual school so they have to teach chemistry to fellow Spaniards in English. Is their pronunciation a good model of English maybe, maybe not.
      They are trying to teach chemistry in English not teach English using chemistry, as the exam is a chemistry exam not an English exam.

  22. Hi Myself,
    Thanks for commenting.
    I do understand your frustration and am really sad you haven't been able to find a job yet. Have you tried the BC or the IH? Have you tried outside Spain?
    Yes, I think bad experiences with NNESTs are one of the reasons students want to have classes with NESTs. However, there's a lot of research which shows that students value other characteristics much more highly, e.g. motivating, supportive, etc.
    I'm also a bit more optimistic about the future. I think if we unite and campaign together, we are bound to win. If a hundred years ago somebody said that African Americans would have equal rights as white Americans, nobody would have probably believed you. You would have also been deemed crazy if you said that women should be able to vote, let alone that they are completely equal to men.
    I invite you to take a look at TEFL Equity Advocates blog. It's a start to a campaign for equity in TEFL/TESOL, and it's been gathering momentum: teflequityadvocates.com

  23. Flipping burgers at McDonald wouldn’t care if you’re a native speaker or not. Conducting and assessing English exams IN ENGLISH (wink, wink IELTS mafia), possibly examining native speakers, should be done by people whose first language is English with at least Masters in Linguistics. Those cases go way beyond the technical aspect of speaking the language. How many times, regardless of your language level, you were among native speakers and had trouble understanding everything 100%?

  24. I just got rejected in a job advertised for native English only, helloprint in valencia, customer service, I have been leaving in Ireland for 21 years, worked in IBM, team leader for Microsoft in sitel etc, extra for vikings.
    This is total discrimination and I need help to denounce this. I have the experience and the language but the wrong birth certificate

  25. Woops typo in the previous comment, keyboard autocorrect, living in Ireland I meant, I still think I’m fluent and that was discrimination as your post claims

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s