Native English–Speaking Teachers and Trainers Still Idealized

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.

About Deena Boraie

Deena Boraie
Deena Boraie is the dean of the School of Continuing Education at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and president of TESOL International Association. She is a language testing expert and teaches research methods in the MA/PhD Applied Linguistics Program at Cairo University.
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9 Responses to Native English–Speaking Teachers and Trainers Still Idealized

  1. I think that as soon as the non native speaker is really good and spent a significant time in English speaking country, there is not much of a difference. Sadly, most of the people I asked about non native spaker teachers had different opinion on this one.

  2. Thank you for your post.
    As a non-native speaker, I’ve experienced the discrimination you describe on many occasions. Despite high qualifications (CELTA and DELTA, IELTS examiner, CPA with an “A”), I am still frequently questioned about my nationality in job interviews. And I’m really bothered by ads which specifically request native-speakers only.
    I definitely agree with you that it’s the Academic Staff themselves, especially the DoS, who should do more to educate the clients and try to eradicate this prejudice. Fortunately, more and more often, large and respected language schools, such as IH and BC, openly advocate equal rights for both native and non-native teachers.
    Currently, together with one of the tutors from my DELTA course, we’re working on a research project concerning the perception of native and non-native teachers by both the students and the academic staff, and are hoping to present it on two EFL conferences in April. Soon we will be starting data collection using on-line questionnaires, and we’d actually need volunteers in different countries and regions to help deliver and administer them. Would you be willing to help or know anyone in Egypt who would?


  3. Brock Brady Brock Brady says:

    Go get them Deena! I appreciate your stand on this

  4. This is a great issue you have addressed within the TESOL industry. Many of the students I train are based in Australia, and are native English speakers so I don’t have a ton of experience with non-native English speakers or working as a TESOL trainer in another country, as you do. But this is an issue, that should not matter as the requirements to pass the qualification are the same for both natives and non-natives.

  5. Dear Deena,

    I’m so glad that you are addressing this issue! I have studied several languages, and I’ve had both native and non-native speakers of all the languages as teachers. I haven’t seen any correlation at all between whether or not someone is a native speaker and the quality of teaching. I’ve had excellent teachers who weren’t native speakers, and I’ve had native speakers who weren’t good teachers at all. (Fortunately I’ve also had excellent teachers who were native speakers.) As a profession we should do what we can to dispel the “myth of the native speaker.”

    There is a related phenomenon. At least in the United States, some people seem to believe that anyone who can speak a language is automatically able to teach it. For this reason, native speakers of English may not be accorded much respect here. We professionals know that teaching English is very hard work and requires special preparation and qualifications — regardless of one’s language background.


  6. Deena Boraie Deena Boraie says:

    Dear Adi,

    Thank you for your comment and I really agree with you. I think the solution is to train NNESTS and then give them a chance to improve. In my university, we have our own 60-hour training course called Fundamentals of English Language Teaching. We accept anyone who wants to teach with no prior experience but we get them to sit for an English proficiency test and they must score at the end of B2 / early C1 level on the CEFR scale. We hire those who do well in the course to teach with us.

    I believe that educating the market takes time and the best way to do it is to start with a couple of excellent Indonesian teachers that you train. Once your students have a great learning experience with NNESTs, then this will spread by word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth is really powerful and in time your market share will definitely increase as long as you have well trained NNESTs. I don’t think that materials on nativeness or non-nativeness will convince the market. You must demonstrate the fact the Indonesian teachers can and will be excellent and satisfy your clients.

    I know this is a challenge for you but it is effort and an investment well spent. I wish you all the best and hope that your institute is highly successful.

  7. Dear Dr. Boraei,
    Thank you for addressing the issue of discrimination against Nonnative English Speaking Teachers. As a teacher of English in Spain, I’ve experienced firsthand the need to prove that my nationality does not diminish my capability to teach English, or use it in any way.

    Spanish academies (Spanish-owned) still believe that having a native teacher helps sell their courses, and many native English speakers teach and travel around Spain thanks to these academies with minimal knowledge of what to do in a classroom. It seems that such clichés have an influence on how some Spanish teachers of English perceive themselves; I was surprised when a capable highly organized Spanish colleague teaching English for Specific Purposes requested that a native teacher would take over one of her courses next year because the students’ level is getting to be ‘very high’. I was troubled by the request because I felt it reflected on all of the nonnative teachers in that department, but said nothing. Then again I was dumb-struck when my British colleague whom I had literally selected to share my ideas with for a grant proposal started reviewing my grammar (which did not need reviewing) instead of contributing with ideas as equal members of a community of practice would! It became clear that day that my British colleague thought that her grammatical competence could be superior to mine. This is ongoing.

    The term ‘Discrimination’ suggests some will not pass the gatekeeper, but the dimension beyond the gate once happily crossed is a space shared by many nationalities where some native teachers of English feel the urge to remind their non-native counterparts through subtle, and sometimes not-too-subtle, practices that they are somehow less even if the latter have more. This is closer to ‘bullying’ which I hope will be outgrown as bilingualism matures, but then has it not matured enough already? And has English not spread out enough already? Is it possible that EFL practitioners still do not value variations other than ‘Colonial’ English?

    • Deena Boraie Deena Boraie says:

      Dear Nashwa,

      Thank you very much for your comment and I completely agree with you. Yes, I think there are still some EFL practitioners who are strongly influenced by the colonial legacy and in some cases they may not be even aware of it. I believe that all of us NNESTs who outnumber NESTs should be more vocal and explicit about any kind of discrimination we experience or observe. I am not saying that we start a revolution but we should express our opinion and concerns firmly and diplomatically. For example, did you share your feelings and comments about the behavior of your British colleague to get him / her understand and appreciate what happened. In any case, we do have a long way to go.

  8. Adi Liem says:

    Dear Deena Boraie,

    I am the owner of an English language center here in Makassar, Indonesia. For many years we were a franchised English center until 2010 when we started our own brand, Fluo Institute. And since we were a franchised school, we had to follow certain operational and strategic guidelines, one of which was to employ native English-speaking teachers (NESTs).

    But now since we are on our own, I want to employ more non-native English teachers (NNESTs) because I have seen in the past great local English teachers who could teach better than the NESTs we hired. In order to do that, I think we must also “educate” the market here in Makassar since they all assume that NESTs are FAR better than the NNESTs. In a way, they indeed are, since it is quite hard to find a good NNEST, but I believe if we train them and give them a chance they will improve.

    My question is this. How should I “educate” the market while currently I don’t have nor could I find a good NNEST? Can you suggest me or direct me to more materials on the issue of “nativeness” vs “non-nativeness” so that we can use that as a part of our “educating movement”?

    By the way, we thought of hiring other nationalities that actually speaks good English, like the Filipinos. But, the expatriate labor regulations got in the way. Even the regulations only acknowledge “nativeness” if we hire teachers from 5 countries: USA, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. That means they wouldn’t give us the work permit if we hire English teachers NOT from those countries.

    Thank you.
    Adi Liem

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