When I decided to become a teacher of English, I never thought that the fact that I was not a native English speaker would have any sort of relevance in my profession.

You see, I am Argentinian, and all my teachers of English have been Argentinian too. I attended public primary and secondary schools and learnt English in a private language school. During the first 20 years of my life my only actual conversations with a native speaker were the oral interactions for the Cambridge International Exams, FCE and CPE at that time. I never thought I needed a ‘native English speaker’ in order to learn.

And so, I became a teacher and had no problem finding a job in a private language school first and then in a secondary school. My first encounter with the ‘native English speaker teacher’ prejudice came when I applied for a job at a bilingual school and was turned down on the grounds of not being a native English speaker, nor having attended or worked in a bilingual school before. I was heartbroken, I knew I was qualified for the job!

Since then, the NEST-NNEST debate has become a worldwide issue, with teachers and administrators all over the world taking sides and trying to untangle the different aspects posed by the terms. Along these lines, the traditional higher status of a teacher, just for being a native speaker, has been prevalent in many institutions and organisations, thus bringing about discrimination of ‘non-native English speaker teachers’ with better qualifications.

And with the current understanding that English is an international language, that most speakers of English nowadays are non-native and that there are multiple accents being spoken all over the world, it seems only natural to stop making a distinction between these two types. In any case, I would argue that a ‘non-native English speaker teacher’ has better potential to be a better teacher.

This teacher:

  • has learnt the language and knows what it is like. Knows the areas of difficulty and can relate to the experience of learning a second or foreign language.
  • knows the first language (assuming they are from the same country or spoken language as their students), and in a monolingual class, can take advantage of this knowledge to pinpoint interferences and use the first language to compare and simplify the learning process, where necessary.
  • again in a monolingual context, shares the culture with students, which is an immense advantage.

However, a ‘non-native English speaker teacher’ needs to have an intelligible pronunciation and a solid language awareness knowledge. These are things that can be achieved through practice and study. An additional aspect that should be worked on is cultural awareness, though this tends to be confused with learning all about the UK and the US, instead of adopting a broader look into other English-speaking cultures.

We could have a look at it from the ‘native English speaker teacher’ perspective, but since I am not one of them, I’d rather stop here and invite others to comment.

On the topic of NESTs, you may want to read Marek Kiczkowiak ‘s article “Native English-speaking teachers: always the right choice?”

https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/native-english-speaking-teachers-always-right-choice

Comments

This debate has led some to propose discrimination against native teachers, which is how Marek Kiczkowiak often writes. As native teacher in Hungary I see a situation where, as in many countries, in many schools I can work as a lektor (lector) and not as a full time teacher. I am permitted only to be full teacher in the state sector with a Hungarian Teaching qualification. Outside the state sector I am permitted to teach as a native teacher, but non-native teachers without a Hungarian qualification may not teach at all in the country. Behind this is market forces and a desire to maintain standards. Before the rule changes we did have non native teachers but customers simply did not want them. There is nothing in theory to stop Marek teaching in Poland or Vicky in Argentina.

I don't understand why, when you are unhappy about this type of prejudice, you then illustrate your point with your own prejudice against native English teachers. Do you think native English teachers are not equally able to experience learning another language? And yes, I'm as annoyed as you about the prejudice I've experienced, but from the other direction. Bizarrely, non-native teachers were the preference, even though the students were learning English to work in a call centre, which was set up to take calls from native speakers. Which brings me to my point - if there is a difference (which I doubt), I think it mainly depends on the learners' goals - whether they are learning English as a lingua franca or for communicating with native speakers. Ultimately, if you're a good teacher, I can't see that there should be a difference.

Well, if you have a look at the ELT market in Asia, you'll find out that most of the hired "native speakers" have no degree in teaching or education and never learnt any foreign language themselves - they neither can teach properly, nor they know how the learning process occurs. Moreover, if the school hires both NEST and NNEST, the latter has a wayy lower salary, which is also discrimination, isn't it?

I am really sorry if it came across like this. I have no prejudice whatsoever against native speaker teachers. There are good and bad teachers, both NESTs and NNESTs. I am, however baffled by some administrators' belief that a NEST who did a four-month CELTA course is somehow a better teacher than a NNEST who did a four-year HE degree in Argentina.

Vicky makes a few great points here and I completely agree with her. As a NNEST myself I often face prejudice coming from an employer (language schools, companies, etc.) and not so often from my students. For them I am an example of a successful English language learner. When they look at me they start to believe that learning a language is possible and one day they can reach the same level.
My students care about my attitude, my experience, my readiness to help them rather than the language(s) I speak as my L1. And that's the way it should be. I wrote a whole blog post on the same topic recently. https://learn2teachblog.blogspot.com/2019/01/native-or-non-native-why-do...
I am really happy that other people are raising the same question because despite English becoming more of a lingua franca and more people learning and using it as their L2 or L3, we still keep coming back to this question of 'nativeness'.

Thanks for adding to the discussion, it definitely seems like a lot of people share these opinions - thanks for sharing your own blogpost on the topic too.

Best wishes,
Cath
TE Team

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