March 2020

Nicholas Rhea, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

This article investigates student perceptions of native-English-speaking (NES) and nonnative-English-speaking (NNES) English instructors in the EFL setting. In the teaching English as a second language field, the ideal still exists that instructors need be native English speakers from a select group of countries (the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada). This is evidenced by a survey of 60 job postings from four websites (,,, and in which 38% of jobs required applicants to be a native speaker. and had no posts requiring native speakers whereas and had a very high number of posts that required it. Further investigation in this area is necessary but it shows that there are still a number of posts that exhibit signs of the native speaker ideal.

The native speaker ideal also exists in the ESL setting and can, in part, be attributed to reverse linguistic stereotyping (RLS). RLS is when the “attributions of a speaker’s group membership cue distorted perceptions of that speaker’s language style or proficiency” (Kang & Rubin, 2009, p. 442). RLS then, is when a certain attribute of the speaker, such as gender or ethnicity, negatively influences student performance. In a study designed to measure RLS in the ESL setting, Kang and Rueben (2009) found that students did exhibit some signs of RLS and rated an NNES instructor lower than an NES instructor for social attractiveness and superiority. The current study uses a similar matched-guise technique as Kang and Rubin (2009) to address the gap in research of student attitudes toward their language instructors and the proclivity toward RLS in the EFL setting. The central questions of this study are as follows:

  1. Do students perform better on a listening exercise they perceive to be with an NES instructor as compared to a perceived NNES instructor?
  2. Do students rate NES instructors as more qualified than NNES instructors?

Setting and Participants

The study took place in an EFL setting at an English-medium university in Afghanistan. The participants were Afghan, were between the ages of 18 and 22, and were enrolled in a foundation-year program at the university. Students who were placed in the foundations program had paber-based TOEFL scores between 450–500 and needed to successfully complete the program to be admitted to the university. The study included 18 male participants and 16 female participants. All participants volunteered to take part in the study, which was conducted outside of class time. No extra credit or other incentives were offered to participants.


The study used a matched-guise technique, a method of assessing attitude that has participants listen to multiple recordings that they think are done by two different people when it is the same person doing both recordings. For the first round, participants listened to a 1 minute 30 second lecture about a blizzard,1 completed a cloze test, and rated the instructor. While the listening was being played, a picture of a White male from North America, was projected, and participants were informed this was the instructor they were listening to. The survey included the categories of social attractiveness and superiority as well as comprehensibility and instructor competence. Social attractiveness reflects social and aesthetic appeal, and superiority is a broad category that includes elements of education and status (Zahn & Hopper, 1985). These categories are both part of the speech evaluation instrument and were chosen because they had “been used in dozens of studies on language attitude” (Kang & Rubin, 2009, p. 446). The subcategories of each category are shown in Table 1. Instructor ability, which did not include any subcategories, was also rated. All ratings were on a 7-point scale and were explained to participants before the study began.

Table 1. Category Descriptions

Social Attractiveness

Foreign/North American accent


Did not motivate/motivate



Inexperience/experienced unqualified/qualified





Easy to understand/hard to understand


Little effort to understand/lots of effort to understand

Simple to comprehend/difficult to comprehend

Instructor Competence


Grammatical accuracy

Vocabulary accuracy

Speed of speech

Overall ability

For the second round, participants listened to a distractor audio of about 1 minute 30 seconds and completed a cloze test. The distractor listening was played without the picture of an instructor (hence the instructor survey was not completed), was on a different topic (a comparison of paper books to e-books), and was in a standard British accent. For the third and final round, the same audio as in the first listening was played, students completed the same cloze test, and filled out the same instructor rating survey. For this round, a picture of a male Afghan instructor was projected and participants were told this was the instructor who was speaking. Both instructors wore similar clothes and stood in front of a blank wall to avoid bias based on professional appearance. As a final part of the study, participants selected their preferred instructor type: NES, NNES, or no preference.


For this study, the subcategories were combined and means were calculated for the larger categories (Social Attractiveness, Superiority, Comprehensibility, Instructor Ability, Instructor Competence, and the cloze test). A paired sample t-test was used to analyze the results.

No statistically significant difference was found between the first and second listening for the instructor rating for any of the categories (Table 2). For the cloze test, participants showed improvement on the second listening (Table 2). This was anticipated because the listening was the same both times. It is interesting to note that in all the categories except instructor competence, the Afghan instructor was rated slightly higher. Superiority and comprehensibility had the biggest difference with an NES mean rating of 5.43 and an NNES mean rating of 5.73 for superiority and an NES mean rating of 5.13 and an NNES mean rating of 5.45 for comprehensibility. The increase in comprehensibility may be related to the repetition of content, but the reason for increase in superiority could be due to a number of other factors, such as appearance or social norms. Both require further investigation.

Table 2. Student Rating of Native-English-Speaking and Nonnative-English-Speaking Instructors


NES rating 



NNES rating 


Sig. (2-tailed)

Social attractiveness


















Instructor competence






Instructor ability






Cloze test






*P<0.05, n = 34

NES = native-English-speaking, NNES = nonnative-English-speaking

It is important to note that when participants were explicitly asked whether they preferred an NES or an NNES instructor, 89% responded in favor of an NES instructor with the rest indicating no preference. These results indicate that the native-speaker ideal does exist in this population, and further investigation of this result would be necessary to draw any further conclusions.


Though this study offers a template to do action research about RLS, there are some limitations to this study that should be kept in mind when interpreting these results.

  1. Students heard the same listening twice. Participants noticed this, which possibly affected the results of both the cloze test and the instructor rating. If this study were replicated, it is recommended to use a different topic for each listening.
  2. The distractor listening did not include a projected picture of an instructor and thus students were not given the rating survey for the distractor listening. In any future iterations of the study, a picture would be projected for the distractor listening and participants would complete the instructor rating survey.
  3. Students, even on an anonymous survey, might not speak ill of a professor to another person of power (the investigator). In Afghan culture, teachers are highly respected, and participants may have felt uncomfortable giving a professor a negative rating.


In this setting, a university with faculty from all over the world, students did not exhibit any signs of performing lower on the cloze test because of the instructor’s national origin nor did they rate the NNES instructor as less qualified. This is potentially a good sign, because students may not see their professors as less capable based on where they are from. Though it is not possible to extrapolate the results of this study to other settings, for this university, students did not exhibit signs of RLS, and their performance in English language classes is not directly tied to the whether their instructor is an Afghan male or a White North American male. This information could be a useful tool when hiring potential instructors because it illustrates that the best person for the job might not necessarily be based on their first language or nationality. More studies of this nature can help to move the TESOL field away from the NES instructor ideal to be more inclusive of NNES instructors. It can also be used to inform institutions of possible subconscious bias so that it can be addressed with students and faculty.

Areas for Future Study

There are a multitude of combinations that still need to be studied outside of the White North American male to Afghan male paradigm, such as ethnicity, gender, and NES speaker status. The study outlined in this paper could be useful for institutions to learn about students’ biases toward instructors based on their first language and to dispel the notion that an NES instructor is always the best instructor. A more thorough investigation of cultural norms regarding professors and their status could add important understanding to the survey results. This could be accomplished through a focus group and individual interviews.


Dave’s esl café. (2016). International jobs board. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from

Higher ed jobs. (2020). English as a second language. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from

Kang, O., & Rubin, D. L. (2009). Reverse linguistic stereotyping: Measuring the effect of listener expectations on speech evaluation. Journal of Language & Social Psychology, 28, 441–456.

Teaching house. (n.d.). English teaching jobs – TEFL jobs database. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from

TESOL international association. (2017). TESOL career center. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from

Zahn, C. J., & Hopper, R. (1985). Measuring language attitudes: The speech evaluation instrument. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 4, 113–124.

Nicholas Rhea holds and MA TESL from Northern Arizona University and has taught in Chile, China, and Afghanistan. He currently teaches refugee and immigrant high school students in Nashville, Tennessee.