TESOL Convention 2015 – ‘NEST or NNEST: does it matter in pronunciation teaching?’ by Marla Yoshida

This was by far the best session I attended. Not just because of the topic, which I’m really interested in (see the work I’ve been doing with TEFL Equity Advocates), but primarily because of the way in which it was delivered. Active. Funny. Engaging. And above all – you could see that the speaker was very passionate about the topic.

Originally, the session was to be given by Marla Yoshida, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to make it. So her colleague, Roger Dupuy gave the workshop in her place:

2015-03-27 11.30.47

The terms NEST and NNEST are used throughout as following:

  • NEST: Native English Speaking Teacher
  • NNEST: non-Native English Speaking Teacher

We started the session with some discussion where we had to answer the question posed in the title of the session. The two points that were raised by the participants were:

  • most students should focus on intelligibility rather than obtaining a native-like accent
  • some students walk in with a bias not only for a NEST, but more specifically for a blond blue-eyed NEST

So what does the research tell us about NESTs and NNESTs:

  • 80% of teachers are NNESTs
  • most teach in countries where English is not in general use
  • NESTs and NNESTs differ in their teaching style
  • each group has their strengths and weaknesses, BUT
  • both can be skillful and effective teachers

While as far as linguistics is concerned, the native speaker fallacy – i.e. the belief in inherent linguistic superiority of a native speaker – has long been dead, it is still to a great extent deeply ingrained in ELT (see this post for more information).  And what about teaching pronunciation? Does it matter whether the teacher is a native speaker? And more importantly – what skills, knowledge and qualities are needed for successful pronunciation teaching?

Some points raised in the workshop are that good pronunciation teachers should:

  • be able to produce the sound
  • be able to show how to make the sound
  • teach suprasegmentals: intonation, sentence stress, etc.

So what are the potential strengths NESTs have when teaching pronunciation? First, they might be a good pronunciation model. Also, they’ll have an intuitive feeling for the language.

However, typically a NEST will have no conscious knowledge of the phonetic system. Additionally, they might not be empathetic since they don’t really know what the student is going through. Finally, NESTs might have unrealistically high expectations. Roger summarised very nicely this section by saying that: ‘just because you have good teeth, doesn’t mean you should be allowed to be a dentist’.

What about NNESTs then? Typically, NNESTs:

  • are good learner models
  • understand learners and predict problems
  • have more conscious knowledge
  • have more realistic expectations
  • lack intuitive knowledge

So when we take all of this into consideration, Roger recommends that NNESTs:

  • make good use of their strengths
  • be a good role model
  • develop understanding of how pronunciation works
  • work on improving their pronunciation

On the other hand, if you’re a NEST, you should:

  • remember that intuition isn’t enough AND
  • back it up with solid knowledge
  • build an ability to predict problems
  • know your own pronunciation
  • learn a new language

Finally, Roger gave some recommendations for everyone who’s teaching pronunciation:

  • never stop learning
  • share your experience
  • learn from others
  • build up an arsenal of ideas

He also challenged everyone to learn how to quickly draw a cross-section of the mouth to use with learners to indicate how different sounds are made:

2015-03-27 12.17.22

Before we concluded the session, Roger shared with us Marla Yoshida’s website, which is an absolute treasure trove of ideas. I highly recommend you visit it! We watched some really motivating videos about NNESTs who managed to overcome their initial fears and worries about teaching. You can watch them here. Some advice which they gave was:

  • ‘Get out of your comfort zone. Try. Be brave.’
  • ‘Don’t wait for a miracle. Pronunciation doesn’t happen because of wishful thinking.’

I’d also suggest reading some of the Teacher Success Stories posted regularly on TEFL Equity Advocates, and perhaps writing one yourself.
So to conclude, whether you’re a NEST or a NNEST does indeed matter for teaching pronunciation. Not in the way we traditionally used to think about this, though. It matters because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, which we will need to overcome. Both NESTs and NNESTs need to work hard to be effective pronunciation teachers.

But with enough dedication and preparation, we can all do it!

4 thoughts on “TESOL Convention 2015 – ‘NEST or NNEST: does it matter in pronunciation teaching?’ by Marla Yoshida

  1. Hey Marek, I must admit I really enjoyed your post today! I’ve been struggling with this NNEST stigma for years now, particularly whith regard to pronunciation..Although I think I’ve aquired this near-native pronunciation over time, I still felt slightly discriminated over my origin…especially when applying for teaching positions in Spain. Which is funny as f.e. in the U.K there were fine with it;)

    1. Thanks. Glad you liked it. I think most NNESTs struggle with the stigma of a foreign accent at one point or another. Hope you can overcome it. Let’s not forget that we all have an accent, NESTs and NNESTs alike. Perhaps you’d like to write a post about your experience for my other blog http://www.teflequityadvocates.com? I think it’s a very interesting issue, many teaches could relate to.

      1. Some interesting points made but after reading a recent post on nnest and nest labels (Chris Smith) I’m not sure that dividing the tips into nest and nnest is so black and white. I certainly know of nests that have had to improve their pronunciation for teaching. I /fought/ it was a good idea. What do you /fink?/ Especially when they are modelling the sound explicitly. I also need to do all those other things on the nnest list. I am constantly findng things out about my own pronunciation. The dictionary, for instance, says the vowel sound in phone is the same as that in sold. Well, it wouldn’t be if you listened to me. Of course some of that is due to accent and it doesn’t usually stop students understanding me. Yesterday, I met a Spanish teacher who came for a job interview. She had a Spanish accent and perfectly ennunciated English; at no point did I think ‘You need to work on your pronunciation’.

        Maybe the tips for everyone teaching pronunciation should be broadened to include the other two lists. Leaving just the ‘Learn another language’ in the nest list. Learning French as an adult really helped me understand how difficult this language learning really is.

        On the train home from IATEFL I met a Turkish delegate and the topic of jobs advertising for ‘native speakers/ nativelike speakers’ came up. He asked a good question – ‘What is nativelike? Who judges that?’ The answer to that is probably a whole new discussion though.

        This is the Chris Smith post: http://eltcattheuniversityofsheffield.blogspot.co.uk/

        1. Thanks for your comment, Rachel. I definitely agree that the NS label is a bit of a misnomer (I’ve read Chris’ post – it’s brilliant!) and can serve to stereotype and label people into two antagonistic camps, forgetting about their individual traits and about who they really are as people and as teachers. Michael Griffin wrote an interesting post about this here: http://teflequityadvocates.com/2014/06/01/equity-without-myths-or-stereotypes-by-michael-griffin/
          I also run TEFL Equity Advocates where the NEST and NNEST issues are discussed more thoroughly than on this blog. Let me know if you’d ever want to contribute a blog post there.

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