Are there advantages to being a Non-Native-English Speaking Teacher?

NNEST Sign by Gilles de Brock (La Tourette)

NNEST stands for, “Nonnative English Speaking Teachers”. The native speaker / non-native speaker debate is still alive within the ELT profession. Furthermore, it makes no pretense of going to what would by now be a timely death. But that’s not going to happen, at least not in my lifetime. Long after I’ve taken my last breath, this issue will live on, and on, and on.

Why do I say this? Quite frankly, in my opinion, because it’s the kind of topic that lends itself perfectly to debate. There appears to be no one definitive answer to any question that is raised regarding the issue. Thus, we refuse to let it die, because it has not been properly resolved with a singular “truth”. It’s ambiguous, which provides resilience and permanent resuscitation to the issue.

Do I have any examples of what I mean? Certainly. Here are some example questions using the NEST VS NNEST dichotomy:

1. Who is the better teacher, the native speaker or the non-native speaker?

2. Are there advantages to being a NNEST?

3. Who knows grammar better, the NEST or the NNEST?

4. Is it better for Young Learners to have a NEST or a NNEST?

5. Is it better for advanced learners to have a NEST or a NNEST?

6. Which teacher is more valuable to a language institute?

7. Which teacher is more valuable to a public school?

8. Who is a native speaker (by definition)?

9. Should the monolingual NEST be required to learn a second language?

These questions could go on and on ad infinitum. It can be said that we have all the ingredients of a perfect debate. Regardless of what your perspective is, and your supporting evidence, facts, ideology, etc., there will always be another way of looking at the NEST /NNEST question. It is simply a topic destined for immortality.

The topic’s importance is underscored by the following quote from Peter Medgyes, “”I still know of language schools which are reluctant to employ non-native speaking teachers of English. If you were the principal of a language school, would you also give priority to natives?”

However you answer that question, someone will be discontent. If you are a NNEST, an affirmative answer means you have been discriminated against. Instead of basing a hiring decision on your ability, or merits, something entirely out of your control is used to deny you an economic opportunity. For this very reason, the TESOL NNEST Special Interest Groups (NNEST SIG) was formed.

TESOL NNEST Special Interest Group

If you are a parent of a young child and want a NEST for your child, you will be disappointed if the children in the other course have a NEST, but your child doesn’t have one. And after all, since you’re paying, why should you have to accept a NNEST?

If you are a NEST, you will be disappointed when you apply for a job in the formal education school system. You will find that your 1 month TESOL /TEFL / CELTA course is not a proper educational credential. If hired, you will be a low-paid assistant. The fact that the NNEST teachers at your school all have 5 or 6 years of formal education in pedagogy makes them more valuable in that setting.

If you are a language school owner you will be frustrated when the NEST leaves after 3 to 6 months, going back to their home country. Of course, this leaves you with a course without a teacher. And the students want a NEST, but the only replacement you have available is a NNEST.

Or imagine the following situation: You are a student and have traveled from your home country to improve your English in an English-speaking country (England, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.). You walk into your classroom on the first day, waiting to meet your teacher. A broadly smiling, young Korean-looking man, about 30 years old, walks in and says (in perfect English), “Good morning. My name is Jason Lee. I will be your teacher for this course.” Would you feel “cheated” somehow? Most students, I suspect, would probably ask for a replacement teacher or their money back.

Here, the obvious question to ask is: What can be done to bring all of the various stakeholders involved (teachers, parents, students, owners, etc) to a mutual understanding that is healthy, non-discriminatory, equitable, and beneficial? The answer to that question does not involve rocket science. It is more likely to involve debunking myths surrounding this issue, educating the public, establishing and enforcing fair employment laws and practices.

Now, this is easily said, but hard to do. To be honest, it is a titanic task. Well, when tasks are titanic, then what needs to be done is to break the task down to smaller tasks. Most importantly, let’s start at the beginning.

In my view, public discussion is the beginning. Public discussion and education, in some cases re-education, plays a vital role in the solution to this problem. A positive step in this direction is #ELTChat, which recently discussed this question through the use of Twitter. The full Chat transcript is available for viewing here:

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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2 Responses to Are there advantages to being a Non-Native-English Speaking Teacher?

  1. ClarkCrediti says:

    I agree with most of your points, but a few need to be discussed further, I will hold a small discussion with my buddies and maybe I will look for you some opinion soon.

    – Henry


  2. Pingback: Why Blog? No One Actually Reads Blogs Anymore, Do They? 2010 In Review | Profesorbaker's Weblog

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