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 widespread 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. Materials are developed and marketed without any linguistic or cultural diversity. It’s wrong.  It’s culturally and linguistically invalid.  Job sites also add 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 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 that is 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.

Originally published on Teacher Talk.


Also published on Medium.

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