The Native Speaker Myth in Turkey: 40,000 Native English Speaker Teachers needed for 2012

NNEST Sign by Gilles de Brock (La Tourette)

First things first is a good way to begin this story. Therefore, I begin with a short extract. After that, some background information on the function of English in Turkey will be given. Finally, a reflection of mine will end this post.

“The Ministry of Education will bring in 40,000 native English-speaking teachers to work with teachers in English language classes across Turkey starting from the next academic year (2012) as part of a project aiming to improve the education of foreign languages in the country. The project was launched due to the criticism that foreign languages are not taught well in the country. It will run for five years at an estimated cost of TL 1.5 billion. The project aims to be the foundation of the nation’s foreign language teaching policy.

Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu said Turkish students cannot speak English properly despite their foreign language classes, a reality that has led the ministry to initiate this project. She said the native English-speaking teachers will be of great help for students to practice English.

Next, how important is English for Turkey? More importantly, is English really worth 1.5 Billion Turkish dollars? Apparently, Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu is convinced that it is. Nonetheless, what function does English fill in Turkey?

Dogancay-Aktuna (1998, p.37) draws attention to two main functions of English in Turkey:

“In Turkey English carries the instrumental function of being the most studied foreign language and the most popular medium of education after Turkish. On an interpersonal level, it is used as a link language for international business and for
tourism while also providing a code that symbolizes modernization and elitism to the educated middle classes and those in the upper strata of the socioeconomic ladder.”

My reflection is a brief one. Judging by the example Turkey gives us, the myth of the native English speaker is alive and well. Above, we are told the Turkish teachers have failed to teach students to speak properly. 40,000 native English speakers, for five years, are the solution to the problem. Forgive me for being cynical, a naysayer, and openly critical of the proposed solution. It won’t work because it seeks to provide a simple answer (native speaker teachers) to a complicated problem (students can’t speak English).

What steps would be more likely to provide the desired result? I contend that a three-point plan would be sufficient:

1. Upgrade the teaching skills of the current teachers through Continuous Professional Development.
2. Set clear goals and monitor outcomes.
3. For teachers who can’t meet the expected outcomes, seek employment elsewhere.


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 Human Rights For NNEST ELT Teachers, Reflections and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Native Speaker Myth in Turkey: 40,000 Native English Speaker Teachers needed for 2012

  1. Ty Kendall says:

    First of all I want to apologise for the essay like length of this response.
    I have taught in Istanbul and have some experience of Turkey and Turkish students so I’d like to think this gives me some insight.
    And yes, I am English, but I don’t want anyone to think I have a NEST superiority complex (I don’t).

    I can attest to the fact that the overall level of English in Turkey is not good.(generalising here, sorry). And I know this is a concern of the Turkish government. My experience was that even after 10+ years of English study going through the Turkish education system, too many students still have an underdeveloped command of English. The usual archetype being the student who has a perfect grasp of English grammar, but can’t string a sentence together orally.

    Generally, reading, writing, listening and grammar seem to be adequately taught. Yet there is a clear problem with speaking….

    Now I’m not suggesting NESTs are automatically better at teaching speaking, but the problem in Turkey seems to be a lack of conversation opportunities/classes. I think it’s fair to say that NNESTs have gained a reputation for having a better understanding of grammar than NESTs, but speaking still remains more strongly associated with native speakers. Thats before you factor in considerations of accent. (In Turkey I noticed a definite demand for American accents/and an almost borderline revulsion for British ones – so not all NESTs have it easy).

    Now here’s my defence of the demand for NESTs…..

    We, as educators know that LINGUISTICALLY and PEDAGOGICALLY, there is no evidence to suggest that NNESTs are in anyway inferior to NESTs. On the contrary, the dichotomy is actually a complementary one. Each having their own strengths and weaknesses.

    However, no matter how flawed the premise, you cannot eradicate the demand for NESTs. It may just be a case of student preference, and in our increasingly corporate environment, the student as customer, therefore what the customer wants the customer gets. I confess that in my own language learning I sought out native speakers of (in my case) Hebrew. Simply because I prefer a native speaker model as a student of that language. I don’t doubt that there may be a non-native Hebrew speaking teacher out there who can teach me the language equally well, if not better, but this is not my preference.

    Secondly, language learning isn’t always strictly about language skills and systems. Culture and Identity are so interwoven and are often part of the reason a person learns the language. I think many students see a NNEST as lacking the cultural and ethnic resources as well as linguistic considerations. Even amongst NESTs this can be further delineated. As already mentioned, the preference for American English in Turkey therefore entails a preference for American teachers, despite the fact that even as an English guy, I am well versed in most aspects of American popular culture/cultural references yet still I have had some students express their dissatisfaction to my face that I wasn’t American.

    Its a rubbish analogy but even when given sound theory and academic facts, you can’t expect people to abandon their beliefs about NESTs being somehow “better”. People nowadays know all too well the medical facts about smoking, but refuse to quit nonetheless.

    In summary, it is indeed a murky subject, because in its defence I do feel somewhat like I am playing devils advocate.(even though it is my preference in my own language learning) I agree with you that the Turkish government is expecting too much from this “solution”. I do believe they are on the right track though, not so much that 40,000 NESTs will solve the problems they have with their foreign language education, but an increased foreign presence and access to English speakers may help in itself. In my opinion, Turkey is still quite insular and inward looking. I lived in Istanbul, a major metropolitan hub, and still was glared at like a Martian, something you might expect in rural Kurdistan, but not the country’s second city. I think increased contact with English speakers, less dogmatic focus on grammar and maybe some updating of communicative methods might be more in the right direction.


    • Hello Ty,

      Thank you most kindly for your eloquent defence of the Native Speaker.

      I am also, like you, a native speaker teacher of English as a Foreign Language. In that sense, we have more in common than a casual reader might infer after reading my post and your response.

      Your defence of the opposite view, in this case, is useful in giving readers a balanced view of the issue. Rather than be swayed by my rhetoric, they can examine the issue from a different viewpoint.

      In the final analysis, one’s belief will likely be influenced most by how it touches their own individual circumstances. Again, the value of our combined contributions is the expression of a more balanced picture on the Native Speaker / Non-Native Speaker dichotomy.

      I can not close without acknowledging that I agree with you when you say (I paraphrase)that NNESTs and NESTs complement each other. Each has strengths and weaknesses, talents, gifts, skills, abilities and knowledge to share with the other. It is not so much who they are that matters, but their collaboration that enriches the practice of the other.

      The beneficiary, ultimately, of their willingness to share with each other, is the learner. This is, as it should be.

      Again, Ty, thank you most kindly for your well-informed response.

      Best regards,


  2. Oh my – this was headline news in a newspaper when I arrived in Istanbul for the ISTEK2011 conference in April this year…. and I was able to read it because the newspaper was in English !
    The ISTEK conf, as anyone will tell you, was one of the most super fabulous EFL conferences, with more than 1000 Turkish speaking English teachers attending, and an amazing number of normally keynote speakers who were giving workshops in parallel.
    Of course, none of this made it into the newspapers, so I was left with a feeling Here we go again – governements and the media between them just don’t seem to get anything right !


    • Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you for your response. Though I did not attend the ISTEK conference (I live in Chile) I knew of it through the members of my PLN. Yes, I agree with you. At the risk of being hyperbolic, I’ll say it was indeed fantastic.

      Any ELT conference on the planet that is able to draw over 1000 attendees is phenomenal, regardless of the circumstances. Though size and numbers do not equate to quality by themselves, the positive attitude towards self-improvement displayed by the Turkish teachers is commendable and speaks well of them as professionals.

      However, I’m not surprised that you report that it did not draw more media attention. Good news doesn’t sell newspapers, or increase TV ratings (sponsors). Media attention for good news is hard to come by these days!

      Again, thank you kindly for your generous response.

      Best regards,


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