The TESOL President’s Blog
In spite of all the advances that have occurred within our profession, backed by research which has shown that trained nonnative English–speaking teachers (NNESTs) can in fact be better than native English–speaking teachers (NESTs) because they themselves had to learn the language, society as a whole in many parts of the world still clings to the belief that native speakers of English are better teachers and trainers. This is particularly true in my country, Egypt. TESOL International itself has issued a couple of statements that condemn discriminatory practices against NNESTS, most recently its “Position Statement Against Discrimination of Nonnative Speakers of English in the Field of TESOL.” It seems to me that we are just talking to and among ourselves and we still have a long, long way to go in getting people to change their thinking and understand that this native speaker ideal is a fallacy.
Several months ago, an Egyptian colleague of mine who works as a marketing manager for a renowned publisher, sent me an e-mail asking me for the following, and I quote: “I would appreciate your help suggesting us names of native teacher trainers based in Cairo to work in and outside Egypt on free lance basis.” I was really upset by this e-mail and I responded thanking him for the request and telling him that we do not have any native teacher trainers and that we only have wonderful, high quality, trained, and certified Egyptian teacher trainers including myself.
I went on to add the following: “In fact, although I am not a native teacher trainer myself, I am considered a professional educator at the international level and in spite of the fact that I am not a native speaker, I have been elected as president of TESOL.” Needless to say, he was extremely apologetic and both e-mailed and called me to convey this and to emphasize that it was not him or his organization but in fact it was their clients in the Arab Gulf region that stipulate and insist on “nativeness” as a requirement when recruiting English language teachers or teacher trainers. My response was that it is his responsibility and that of his organization to educate people they are dealing with and not to condone and uphold such discriminatory practices.
We must spread this message and communicate to people within our communities to make them understand that such thinking is a legacy of British colonialism, and we must move on and away from this. I also made the point that we all learn English as a means of communication with the world and our purpose cannot and should not be to aspire to become native speakers of English since we are already native speakers of our own L1. It does not make sense to want to be imitation native speakers; we should aim for becoming bilinguals—fully competent in English. At the end of my long and passionate lecture, he was totally convinced and promised me he will do his best to spread the message.
Personally, I continue to fight this battle in my context, convincing colleagues, students and all those I meet in my daily life that NNESTs should not be discriminated against and that we should aspire to be competent, and not native, speakers of English. I believe if we all contribute to the discussion to change the way people think and convey the same or similar messages wherever we are, one day we will overcome. After all, the number of NNESTs in the world outnumber NESTs by far, and we will prevail.