It goes without saying that the EFL (or ESL) industry is dogged
by discrimination and prejudice against nonnative-English-speaking
teachers (NNESTs), or as Medgyes (2001) elegantly put it, an
“unprofessional favoritism,” which often leads to discriminatory hiring
policies. This is confirmed by several studies (e.g. Moussu, 2006 and Clark & Paran, 2007) and can be easily observed by visiting tefl.com – one of the most popular services for English job seeking teachers. On average, over 70% of all job
ads advertised there are for native-English-speaking teachers (NESTs)
only—yes, I did actually count them. This figure is even worse in some countries, e.g. Italy, South Korea, Spain, where it is almost impossible for a NNEST to be invited to an interview, let alone getting a job. For example, on Griffin’s
(2014) blog, which focuses on English language teaching and teacher
development, you can read his blog post about the
appalling inequality suffered in Korea not only by NNESTs, but also by
those NESTs who do not fit the profile
Such favouritism toward NESTs has been prevalent for decades,
leading in turn to a situation where NNESTs have and are often a priori
judged as not only linguistically, but also instructionally inferior to
their NEST counterparts (Maum, 2003), despite the fact that some
scholars suggested the abandonment of the notion of inherent superiority
of the native speaker model a long time ago (e.g., Paikeday, 1985;
Davies, 1991). Many qualified and experienced
NNESTs are treated with clear disregard for their abilities. As Albano
“I was a bush-league teacher because NEST had conversation, vocabulary lessons whereas I had just to “press play” on a recorder. I had to give my students listening exercise worksheets and just press play and stop. I even had the keys of the exercises!”
Fortunately, the tide has been changing. It turns out that in
many countries, hiring or advertising for a particular mother tongue is
illegal. As I wrote in a
previous article for the NNEST Newsletter: “a European
Commission Communication from 11.12.2002 (COM (2002) 694 final) states
that “advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother
tongue’ are not acceptable.” (Kiczkowiak, 2014). Some important teaching organisations such as TESOL (2006) and The Association of British Columbia Teachers of English as an Additional Language (2014) have also decided to issue anti–discrimination statements condemning hiring practices based on mother tongue. Finally, many renowned ELT professionals have also decided to
speak out against the discrimination of NNESTs. For example, Harmer
wrote, “I wholeheartedly support the aims of [TEFL Equity Advocates] –
the ending of discrimination against more than 96% of the teachers of
English in the world. Or maybe 98%…..or more…”
So why does the problem persist?
Many recruiters quote the indestructible market demand. Still, I
have yet to see a single study which would show that students have a
clear preference for NESTs. On the other hand, there is abundant
research (e.g., Benke & Medgyes, 2005; Lipovsky &
Mahboob, 2010) which proves that students appreciate the qualities of
both groups and have no clear preference for either. More specifically,
Kelch and Santana-Willamson (2002) highlight that students put emphasis
on clear and intelligible pronunciation. Mullock’s (2010) results
highlighted pedagogical skills and language proficiency.
So if you are a recruiter and you are reading these words, I
suggest asking your students about their preferences rather than jumping
into unfounded and prejudiced conclusions.
If there is a “market demand,” I think it has been
artificially—albeit perhaps not willingly—created by the industry
itself. For years, the industry presented and advertised NESTs to
students as the only and the ultimate panacea for all their language
ills. Students had few opportunities to have classes with qualified and
proficient NNESTs; having such classes, as Cheung (2002) and Moussu
(2006) showed, makes students much more positive towards NNESTs.
Clearly, being a NEST became tantamount to success and good
Consequently, I feel we all need to pluck up the courage to say
we have misled our learners. Both NESTs and NNESTs can be equally good
With this in mind, in April this year I started a campaign to
advocate equal professional rights for NESTs and NNESTs by setting up a
website, TEFL Equity
Advocates, and a Facebook
page. Some of the main objectives of the campaign are
sensitising the public to the problem of discrimination of NNESTs,
encouraging recruiters to adopt a more egalitarian hiring model,
encouraging the key players in the industry to get involved, and giving
hope and support to all NNESTs and NESTs who have suffered
While NNESTs (and indeed some NESTs) are still at a clear
disadvantage when it comes to looking for a job (Clark & Paran,
2007), as pointed out above, there is a feeling within the industry that
a more egalitarian hiring model should be adopted. This feeling was
very well expressed by Taylor (2014):
"I have no desire to live in a world where nationality, size,
race, sexuality and gender are the yardsticks by which our employability
is measured. I would rather be judged by my ability, experience and
qualifications equally against anyone else who wishes to apply for the
I hope that TEFL Equity Advocates can encourage other NESTs,
recruiters, and teaching associations to speak out for equity within the
industry, and to support their NNEST colleagues.
So yes, I feel there is hope and that the future will be a more
equal one. And I am convinced that all of us have the responsibility to
speak out against the discrimination.
As a student—please judge your teachers by how well they teach
you and how much you have learnt with them, not by their nationality. Be
wary of schools who sell their courses by flaunting having only NESTs.
Trust schools who value high qualifications of their teachers,
regardless of where those teachers are from.
As a recruiter—please don’t let prejudice and stereotype take
over your hiring policy. Rather than choosing the best candidate, you might actually be doing a disfavour to your business in by willingly depriving yourself of a vast number of qualified, experienced, motivated and proficient NNESTs.
As a NEST—please let your NNEST colleagues know you’re on their
side. Support a more egalitarian teaching community where we are all
judged by our teaching skills, not by prejudice.
And as a NNEST—please don’t let anyone bully you into thinking
you’re inferior. As Taylor (2014) beautifully put it:
"The tide is turning, slowly, but it’s turning. In the future
you will have more rights and be more respected by an industry in which
you are the backbone. And this is the point that needs to be remembered -
they are many, many more of you than there are of me. You have the
power, so use it. I just wish more of you realised that."
Join the TEFL Equity Advocates campaign. Stand up and speak out for our teachers’ rights.
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.
Cheung, Y. L. (2002). The attitude of university students in
Hong Kong towards native and nonnative teachers of English. Unpublished
master’s thesis, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Clark, E., & Paran, A. (2007). The employability of
non‐native‐speaker teachers of EFL: A UK survey. System,
Davies, A. (1991). The native speaker in applied
linguistics. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh UP.
Griffin, M. (2014). Tentative thoughts and more on race in
hiring practices in Korea. Retrieved from eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/tentative-thoughts-and-more-on-race-in-hiring-practices-in-korea/
Kelch, K., & Santana-Williamson, E. (2002). ESL
students' attitudes toward native- and nonnative-speaking instructors'
accents. CATESOL Journal, 14(1), 57–72.
Kiczkowiak, M. (2014). Non-Nativity Scenes. Retrieved from: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolnnest/issues/2014-03-11/6.html
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, England: Cambridge Scholars
Maum, R. (2003). A comparison of native-and
nonnative-English-speaking teachers' beliefs about teaching English as a
second language to adult English language learners.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Louisville.
Medgyes, P. (2001). When the teacher is a non‐native speaker.
In M. Celce‐Murcia (Ed.),Teaching English as a second or
foreign language (pp. 429–442). Boston, MA: Heinle &
Moussu, L. (2006). Native and non-native English speaking
English as a second language teachers: Student attitudes, teacher self
perceptions, and intensive English program administrator beliefs and
practices. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Purdue University.
Retrieved from Dissertations and Theses database (AAT
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, England:
Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Paikeday, T. (1985). The native speaker is dead! Toronto, Canada: Paikeday.
Taylor, J. (2014). Why I wish I was a non-native English
speaker. Retrieved from: http://teflequityadvocates.com/2014/05/20/why-i-wish-i-was-a-non-native-english-speaker-by-james-taylor/
TESOL International Association. (2006). Position statement
against discrimination of nonnative speakers of English in the field of
TESOL. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.tesol.org/s_tesol/bin.asp?CID=32&DID=5889&DOC=FILE.PDF.
Albano, L. (2014). nNEST: Bush league teachers? I don’t think so. http://teflequityadvocates.com/2014/05/26/nnest-bush-league-teachers-i-dont-think-so/
The Association of British Columbia Teachers of English as an Additional
Language (2014). BC TEAL position statement against
discrimination on the grounds of nationality, ethnicity or linguistic
heritage. Retrieved from: https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/May-2014-Position-Statements.pdf
Since doing the CELTA in 2007 and then graduating
with a BA in English philology, Marek has taught English in six
different countries and is currently based in Wageningen, Holland, where
he has set up his own language business: Polish Your Languages.