The Death Of “Native Speakerism”

I just finished speaking in Brazil on the topic of a level playing field for all English language teachers – regardless of their passport, their L1, their color or accent.  A look both into the wide spread and institutional “neo-racism” (as Adrian Holiday calls it) prevalent across English language teaching and how we might cleanse ourselves of it.

See my slides below and I’ll post the recording of my talk as soon as I get my hands on it.  However, here is the basic argument I made.

  1. ELT is a messy place.  

In the profession you’ll find a widespread use of the very misleading and culturally dominating term “native speaker”. Speak like a “native speaker”.  Sound like a “native speaker”.  We only hire “native speakers”.   You’ll also hear the equally misleading and even disparaging and discriminatory term “non-native speaker” or “non-native speaking teacher”.   Why “non” and the defining of a group based on a negative? A litote (as so well pointed out by Silvana Richardson in her IATEFL plenary of a few years back)?

In ELT we have publishers and language schools promoting the native speaker as the norm and the standard. It’s wrong.  It’s culturally and linguistically invalid.  Job sites also aid to the discrimination – allowing employers to advertise for “native speaking teachers” or teachers only holding “X” or “Y” passport. It’s wrong, even illegal.

2. ELT needs to clean itself up. 

How?  We need clear and transparent values and teaching standards throughout the industry. Standards of Practice that we adhere to.  TEFL Int. has started but their standards are too detailed, too too much. Cambridge’s “framework” doesn’t cut the mustard. I prefer we all abide by these standards:

  • 1. TEACHERS ARE COMMITTED TO STUDENTS AND THEIR LEARNING.
  • 2. TEACHERS KNOW THE SUBJECTS THEY TEACH AND HOW TO TEACH THOSE SUBJECTS TO STUDENTS.
  • 3. TEACHERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANAGING AND MONITORING STUDENT LEARNING.
  • 4. TEACHERS THINK SYSTEMATICALLY ABOUT THEIR PRACTICE AND LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE.
  • 5. TEACHERS ARE MEMBERS OF LEARNING COMMUNITIES.

– National Board For Professional Teaching Standards

Nowhere do you see as a standard – “Teachers must speak English like a person from X, Y, Z country”. Or teachers must carry X, Y, Z passport. Let’s judge teachers by these standards and not anything else.

      3.  ELT needs a qualification for the language of teaching. 

The traditional standardized tests and scores (IELTS, TESOL, TOEIC etc …) do not indicate well if a teacher can teach English in English.  A certification is needed geared towards teaching all the language needed to teach a class in English. This would go a long way toward cleaning up ELT and creating a level playing field for all teachers.

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ddeubel

Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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2 Responses

  1. Pablo Mac says:

    This is often not what learners want, unfortunately.

  2. David Deubelbeiss says:

    Pablo. This is a common view but I’d suggest it is a preconception. Not based on really digging into the attitudes of learners or their beliefs. I’ll be writing more about these non research aligned beliefs in the coming weeks here. Research suggests (but you’ll find it differs regarding the culture, the teaching environment) that students value both types of teachers (though we should throw out this division and construct.). Students don’t WANT native speakers – this is something the business of language teaching has promoted as a marketing point. Research shows students for the most part just assume the teacher is good as assigned by the institution. And that’s where the change has to start, changing institutional practices. Other preconceptions that are false are many of the common differences between what we label native speaker and non native teachers. We over generalize and you can’t just lump strengths and weaknesses into neat piles under these two headings – Ex. Non native teachers teach students errors. *** Duh. We don’t acquire or learn errors from input. Research shows this 100% and it should be common knowledge by all in our field – yet you still have teachers suggesting the non-native speaking teachers “teach errors”.

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