We Are All Born Free & Equal: Unless You Are A Non-Native English Speaking Teacher (NNEST)

TESOL NNEST Interest Section

Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Where does this come from? Patience, dear reader. I shall reveal this to you shortly, but bear with me for now, please. OK? (Great)

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 23.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

OK, thanks for your patience. Firstly, I can tell you that it does not come from the USA Bill of Rights, it’s not the Constitution, it’s not the Magna Carta. What it is is something much larger, global in its scope. It is the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Adopted on December 10, 1948
by the General Assembly of the United Nations (without dissent)

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I contend that the Native Speaker Myth is not only unethical, but also unlawful. It clearly is a violation of Article 1, Article 2, and Article 23. The Native Speaker Myth causes discrimination based on nativeness. It leads employers to hire Native English Speaking Teachers in preference to Non-Native English Speaking Teachers.

That is, if a non-native speaker is lucky enough to even be considered for the job. It is a common practice, world-wide, from New York to Tokyo, from Syria to Shanghai, from Korea to Kalamazoo, to advertise specifically and solely for Native English Speaking Teachers. But what if you are a qualified, trained, educated, and experienced Non-Native English Speaking Teacher? Forget about it.

You were not lucky enough to speak English as your first language. You are a loser, undesirable, unwanted, worthless. Only the native speaker matters in such cases. Does this happen in Chile? Yes, it does. Does it happen in Syria? Korea? Japan? Russia? France? Germany? Africa? The answer is affirmative. Yes, yes, and yes. Again and again, we must be clear: this is a global problem that negatively affects the ELT profession worldwide.

Now, I’m no lawyer. I have no legal training whatsoever. Yet it seems quite obvious that Article 1, Article 2, and Article 23 is being violated every single day, somewhere in the world.

Why haven’t we appealed to the UN to enforce the law? Are English Language Teachers unworthy of proper international law enforcement? I don’t think so. What is more likely is that we don’t think anything will be done. We think we are alone, weak, powerless, poor, destitute in spirit and mind. We don’t matter to anyone. No one cares about us.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said, “A man can’t walk on your back unless it is bent”. ELT teachers, our Non-Native, colleagues that is, have had their backs bent for the past 25 years. Metaphorically speaking, our collective passivity and complicity has been collosal in its negative impacts on our health and welfare.

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The time has come for a change. It has been a long time coming, but make no mistake, the day has come. It is our time. We are the chosen ones. Destiny has chosen us to be the ones who write a new chapter in the pages of the ELT history books.

The new chapter will be one of equity, equality, fairness and justice for all in the ELT profession. There will come the day when we are all equal, native and non-native, each sharing and enjoying the fruits of their righteous labor. This is achieved by your competence in the English language, and not by the language you learned to speak first.

Can you see that beautiful day my friend(s)? It is a wonderful vision of freedom from mental slavery and intellectual exploitation. No more second class teachers. We are all great teachers, with talents and gifts and skills to share with our students.

So, what do we have to do? The next time you see an advertisement for a Native Speaker, apply for the job, my Non-Native Speaker colleague. When you are denied your opportunity, as you will be, then contact your friendly global education organization, the TESOL – Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. They have an organised Special Interest Group, the Non-Native English Speaking Teachers SIG.

Oh, where and how can you contact them to help you?

Here is their contact information:

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.
This entry was posted in Education, EFL, Human Rights For NNEST ELT Teachers, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to We Are All Born Free & Equal: Unless You Are A Non-Native English Speaking Teacher (NNEST)

  1. Well done, Thomas! What a cracking post – I think it might be one of the most important written this year.



    • Karenne, I appreciate very much your generous comments. Thank you for stopping by to read it, and also for sharing it with your friends, colleagues, and readers. Let’s keep the discussion going!

      Best regards,


  2. Chris Lawson says:

    Hola Thomas

    Have a look at the excellent book by Peter Medgyes…which is called “The non-native teacher”.

    Awful term isn’t it? Reminds me of “Non-White” in apartheid days.

    Greetings from Romania



    • Thanks Chris, for stopping by and sharing your suggestion for an excellent book, Peter Medgyes, “The Non-Native Teacher”. I’d like to share 6 positive aspects of being a Non-Native English Speaking Teacher, according to Medgyes (1994:51): NNEST can

      1. Provide a good learner model for imitation
      2. Teach language learning strategies more effectively
      3. Supply learners with more information about the English language
      4. Anticipate and prevent language difficulties better
      5. Be more empathetic to the needs and problems of learners
      6. Make use of the learners mother tongue

      Medgyes extracted these 6 positive aspects after surveying over 200 teachers from 10 countries.

      Again, Chris, thank you kindly for your excellent recommended reading. I also highly recommend it.

      Best regards,


  3. David says:


    I commend you for raising the issue. It has a lot there to ponder. I know I’m guilty in my own way – perpetuating the system. I’d lecture Korean teachers but to be honest, it WAS cause I was white, an authority, a given.

    but what is it called when we discriminate against ourselves?

    My other half is a wonderful teacher of children. Patient and joyful. but she also got discriminated against. Same after school class. Co teacher is white , 23 and no training as a teacher. She has her education degree. He gets 50,000 / 40 min lesson. She got 1.8 mil a month, which works out to about 100 hours – so about 18,000. And she did all the prep and paperwork.

    Yes, got to think about this. I know in Korea, many Korean teachers (still relatively well paid when not after school) always had this unspoken, almost on the surface, resentment against NESTs. And for the reasons you outline.

    I think that technology and the internet will soon enough erode the market for untrained teachers. We are seeing that. And once the “myth” wears and countries realize that they can get native like input for free online – the price/allure will drop and we might see a more leveled playing field based on equal pay for equal work and experience….

    Yes, I’d like to hear what others say. Even myself as a professor, found it somewhat hysterical that I was making 4.5mil a month in Korea (+ a lot of extras) for 10 hours of teaching and there were many non tenured professors, same as me, making chump change and lecturing long hours. Only difference? I was white and spoke English. (another way of saying I had a golden spoon up my you know what)….


    • David, thank you for sharing your story with me, and all the readers of this blog. Your experience with this issue is particularly insightful. Equal pay for equal work is a well-known concept to all people the world over. In our ELT profession, pay discrimination is widely practiced. On a global level, it is pervasive, taking place in every country on Earth today. And despite the fact that international law strictly forbids it. A law that no one is willing to enforce, is no law at all, one might think. Yet history teaches us that this is not true. When laws exist, such as the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, but are not enforced, then it is our duty to raise our voices, individually, and collectively, to demand that the laws be enforced. Then change happens.

      David, thank you so much for sharing this. I know your story is not the only story of employment discrimination, pay discrimination, which has its root the Native Speaker Myth. I urge others to share their stories, so we can become aware that we are not alone, that what happened to you or to your colleague has been happening every day to our non-native colleagues for the past 25 years. Together, we can unite and make change happen. Share your stories please!

      Best regards,
      Thomas Baker


  4. Reply received from Patricia Rose Love ·Lecturer for English for Academic Purposes programmes at Guangdong Hua-Fu International Foundation Year Center

    on my LinkedIn account http://cl.linkedin.com/pub/thomas-baker-chile/4/382/964

    Dear Thomas,

    I wish not to disrespect your values, but do care to remind you (privately) that the world owes none of us anything, and that our rights are NOT to have” but to be able ‘to pursue’.

    I am not qualified to perform brain surgery, and I know very little about ballet. My natural talents have given me a singing voice and when I audition, I often get the solo while others lose out.

    I get the solo because I’m better at it; no one can tell me that he is equal in that particular skill. Each is unique, but we won’t all meet the same opportunities.

    Each of us is born free to pursue what we take on. I would not be a wise choice as a lawyer because, having finished most of law school, I discovered I did not have the talent for filling those shoes.

    Teaching English is not a right; it is a skill, and employers have a right to choose whomever they want to fill their slots. On the other hand, I would never work for an employer who exercises racism and, in fact, have turned down one job in The Philippines, where the emplyer made a racist remark. And I told him off right well, if you don’t mind my saying so.

    Blessed be.



  5. Baker, this is one of the most important series of blogposts of the year regarding ELT!
    We have to spread it out and have other bloggers join the action.

    Having taught for 10 years in Brazil I understand very well the issue in its practice. And for many years I thought I was helpless in fighting against it, and even when I was relatively “on top”, that is, as a DoS with my last school, I feel now I could’ve done much more in this regard.

    Since I still have some strong relationship with the owners of the school and they have recently asked me to help them with offshore recruitment, I will emphasize the importance of equal opportunities in my conversations with them and start a campaign to raise students/clients’ awareness of the issue as well. I think it is fundamental that we involve our students/clients in this debate, as the end-consumer of our work their demands have high stakes in our decisions, and we cannot deny that schools are nowadays companies and that education is a commodity, by that I mean that ‘it’s all about the money’, unfortunately. And if I say ‘unfortunately’ it means I have to do something about it.

    Moreover, I don’t know if you came across this post I wrote http://authenticteaching.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/twitter-talking-time/

    but there, on the second half, I show ‘job ads’ with International House and British Council worldwide. And highlight the discrepancy between hiring practices among these intitutions.

    I will draft another article to post on my blog to support this cause and I would also like to offer that space, my blog, for you to have your say there if you would like. It would be an honor to have you as a guest writer.

    Best wishes


    • Willy, Thank you kindly for your valuable contribution. Your words no doubt resonate well with the readers of this blog. In my case, you particularly echo the sentiment that I had initially, the feeling of being alone, without power, not liking things, but with no other recourse but to accept the status quo. Things have been the way they are ever since Chomsky proposed the native speaker as the ideal speaker of English. Yet, as you demonstrate, there is a great deal that we can do to change this, each one of us, individually, and of course, by being united. Lastly, Willy, thanks for offering me access to your blog, and to your readership. It is an honor for me to accept.

      Best regards,


  6. Sudharsan SN says:

    I completely concur with this. I faced this problem when I was in Canada looking for employment in the Middle East as well as East Asia, where the advertised requirement is a native speaker from US, Canada, UK, Australia and NZ whereas some times the fine print even read Caucasian. I was left with no option except to start my own English teaching company for corporate clients.

    I am from South India and I have learned English my whole life for 27 years – the first alphabets I learned, medium of instruction from K-12, four university degrees including an MA in Linguistics and a TESOL Teaching Diploma and all I get at the end of it is that I am not from one of these countries. I am either a native speaker or a NNS without an accent, I speak in West Coast Canadian, if that is “native” enough. There is nothing in my speech patterns that would let anyone even guess that I was speaking to my parents in Tamil but using English in every other sphere of my life, meaning that I am in no way handicapped to teach English or impart NS speech patterns to my students.

    Maybe universities could make it clear that NNSs cannot get jobs and stop enrolling in those courses because as much as I cherish my TESOL degree, I wonder why I cannot be considered for normal employment just like any other person. This is clearly not racist from the university/North American perspective, but it is from the perspective of the employers.

    I sent out 123 applications (yes, I even counted) and got a call from one scam company in Dubai. I am wondering if my name should have been John Doe; all my fellow classmates are placed everywhere in the world. I had to come back to India to teach English to corporates and as much as I like it, I should admit I was forced with this only option.


  7. Ken Beare says:

    Thank you for stating the case for non-native teachers so clearly. I’ve always found the practice ridiculous and offensive myself. Luckily, I’ve worked in a few places where we did have non-native (admittedly only a few) English teachers as well.

    I posted Native Speakers Only Need Apply on EnglishCafe a while back to try to generate some conversation. EnglishCafe has a number of non-native English teachers, and while it’s just getting off the ground I think there is a lot of potential for non-native English teachers who wish to tutor online. More importnatly, I feel that the needs of English learners will also be served by having non-native English teachers working alongside native English teachers. Of course, having to write having to write about this in terms of native / non-native is in itself highly offensive.

    Ken Beare
    guide to English at About.com


  8. Kenneth Katz says:

    Dear Thomas:

    It would be interesting to see some research on the Korea/Japan topic. It would be a worthy PhD project for someone who wanted to contribute tangible and usable research to the field.

    A related issue is how poorly the US has met the demand for EFL teachers. This will necessarily lead to other nations in the hemisphere developing their own solutions. During the past 50 years, I think the US has squandered a golden opportunity to impact the region.

    When one looks at the US tax revenues spent on academic advising in Chile, for example, we come up short. One State Department adviser for Santiago is paltry.

    Whereas the US may not provide the expertise any time soon, Latin America will provide its own solution to the demand for English. Thus, your point is truly valid and probably inevitable. Non-native teaching will become the rule and not the exception; that is, if it is not already the rule in the case of Chile. I think the Chilean faculties using benchmarking (TOEFL, for example) are on the cutting edge.

    All the best,


  9. Thanks for this fantastic post. On the one hand it’s great to see that other raised the problem of discrimination before, but on the other it’s a bit sad that things have changed so little in 4 years. I actually wrote a very similar post in which I discuss EU law under which even advertising for a mother tongue is illegal, which of course doesn’t stop schools from doing it. You can find the post here: http://teflequityadvocates.blogspot.com/2014/04/native-speakers-only-ads-and-eu-law.html
    Recently, together with a group of like-minded teachers, we have decided to set up a blog where we are going to publish articles and materials related to hiring policies, NNEST and NEST issues and discrimination.You can find it here: http://teflequityadvocates.blogspot.nl/
    We would like this blog to be a place for discussion, exchange of ideas and above all a source of inspiration and motivation that change is possible. We also want to keep it as open to contributions as possible, so I was wondering whether you would be willing to contribute a post (or a few).
    I think this one in its original form as published here would be very interesting for our readers (especially that it links to one of the previous posts). But if you have time, we’d love to publish something new from you. Of course, we’d link it to your blog, directing even more readers to it.
    You can contact me either via the blog or email: marek_kiczkowiak@hotmail.com
    Looking forward to your reply.


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