Published 13th January 2017
Before we start, take a minute and think about your answers to these questions:
If you were learning English, what first language would you want your teacher to speak?
Can a non-native speaker teach English as well as a native speaker?
Hopefully by thinking about these questions you will have uncovered your view on the Native English Speaker Teacher (NEST) and the Non-Native English Speaker Teacher (NNEST) debate. This has been a debate for many years in the EFL field and if you haven’t heard of it, here it is in a nutshell.
First of all, there seems to be an ingrained belief that a native speaker teacher is a better option than a non-native. Why? Presumably because they have the advantage of speaking English as a first language. However, as we all know, being able to speak the language does not necessarily mean that you are able to teach the language. What’s more, having to learn English as a second or foreign language means that you understand the process your learners are undertaking and you are able to empathise and offer advice from a personal perspective.
This point of view also neglects to appreciate the education and training that many non-native teachers go through in order to become teachers. Not only have they had to become proficient in the language but they have also had to undergo teacher training – often more thoroughly than a native speaker teacher.
How have these ideas affected the word of TEFL?
NNESTs have borne the brunt of the situation. There is a clear bias in employers in employing NESTs. Many job ads openly advertise Native speakers preferred or US, UK citizens preferred, though this is thankfully changing.
This bias is not only evident in employers, though. Some parents and students hold this belief, too, so if you are a NEST you may find yourself favoured over a NNEST for no particular reason.
Why do we care?
Well, because it’s one of those things that shouldn’t be the way it is. While you may not be able to do anything to change the current situation, if you are a NEST bear these thoughts in mind when dealing with other teachers at your school. Just because they are NNESTs does not mean they are any less qualified or any less talented than you at their job.
And if you are a NNEST, don’t let the job ads get you down. There is no reason why you can’t find a job in TEFL and any TEFL employer worth their salt will appreciate you, your qualifications and your experience. The tide is turning in EFL and soon this will hopefully not be an issue anymore.