My learning ecosystem falls within the English as a Second Language (ESL) education domain. We cater to tertiary education-level students in the Middle East, where Arabic is the lingua franca. Since English is the international language of business, a sector in which the Arabs steadily affirm their presence, it is the language of instruction at universities. However, most Arabs are not avid English speakers even though it is taught in schools upwards of intermediate level.
Since 2017, I have worked alongside teachers from First World countries such as the United States, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. I have also shared platforms with English teachers from Third World countries in Southeast Asia, and others surrounding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Within a few months of my deployment, it became disturbingly apparent that expatriates from First World countries, regarded as “native-speakers,” enjoy privilege over their “non-native” counterparts, who often find it harder to gain the confidence of employers and students. In addition, non-native teachers experience further discrimination based on their skin colour and accents – since they do not fit the profile of what is deemed a Western native-speaker, their capability to do the job is also questioned.
‘Native-speakerism’ is a term coined by Holliday (2005, 2006) by which he referred to the belief that the ideals of English Language Teaching (ELT) methodology and practice originate in Western culture, which in turn is embodied by a ‘native-speaker’ of English, who is deemed the ideal teacher – Kiczkowiak (2017). Most teachers who do not fit the profile of a ‘native -peaker’ experience this type of systemic racism. Systemic racism theory of oppression is defined as a complex array of antiblack practices, the unjustly gained political-economic power of whites, the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes created to maintain and rationalise white privilege and power – Feagin (2006).
My learning ecosystem is undoubtedly negatively affected by Native-speakerism. Native-speakerism makes it difficult for non-native English-speaking teachers to find ESL roles, and if they do land positions, are often stereotyped and undermined. Students are often subjected to native English-speakers placed mainly because of their ethnicity and nationality, some of whom are under-qualified and inexperienced opportunists, exploiting the loophole. Such appointments lead to arrays of complications that trickle-down students’ learning experiences. This eventually reduces the morale of hardworking native and non-native English-speaking teachers, leading to a lack of enthusiasm and lowered productivity. Recruitment agencies and education institutions (locals) will not readily admit to Native-speakerism, but their socially constructed ideology rears its ugly head in HR and workplace practices.
The leadership structure at the institution is well aware about the impact Native-speakerism has on staff politics. However, the perceptions locals have of Westerners are more deeply rooted. Fortunately, the country is currently going through a stage of rapid economic development coupled with significant societal change. Women and locals (including men) are now being given preference for managerial roles in public and private ESL settings. Most importantly, these appointments are part of a nationalization policy and are made regardless of the complexion or accent of the candidate. As a result, the leadership at the institutions are becoming less concerned with recruiting teachers with specific nationalities but instead prioritize retaining dedicated foreign teachers prepared to collaborate with locals in management. Nevertheless, most ESL posts at tertiary institutions and private international schools are filled by expatriates, and Native-speakerism still looms.
According to Holliday (2005), The undoing of Native-speakerism requires a type of thinking that promotes new relationships. This resonates with me as the more time I spend with ESL students, the better we get to understand what influences our perceptions and behaviour. Holliday (2005) maintains that Native-speakerism needs to be addressed at the level of the prejudices embedded in everyday practice. That dominant professional discourse must be put aside if the meanings and realities of students and colleagues from outside the English-speaking West are to be understood.
Over the years, I’ve engaged Native-speakerism in the ESL environment, especially the false perception that looking or sounding a certain way portrays a good English teacher. Building a good rapport with those within the immediate learning ecosystem is always a good place to start – people’s false perceptions are usually a by-product of misinformation or miseducation. Another way to discredit Native-speakerism is to excel at the task at hand – ensure adequate pedagogical, technological, and content knowledge to provide students with the best possible learning experiences. Thirdly, one must embrace 21st-century education discourse and transformation by being a good communicator, collaborator, critical-thinker, and creator to bridge gaps between teachers from different socio-cultural and regional backgrounds.
By unfailingly exhibiting the qualities of a passionate teacher who puts best practice above all else, the accolades and reputation constructed over time will soon outweigh fallacies that nationality, ethnicity, or accents determine a language educator’s value.
To elicit responses from my peers, I’ve drafted the following questions:
Do you think that we’re sometimes faced with Native-speakerism in South African learning environments? Consider a native Afrikaans or native African language-speaker who is qualified to teach English but has a thick non-native English accent. How would this teacher be received by a group of English Home Language students who have been raised in English-speaking households and taught English by ‘native-speakers’ all their lives? What problems do you think the non-native English-speaking teacher would encounter and how could they be dealt with?
Do you agree that Native-speakerism is deeply rooted? If so, what influences people’s perceptions of native English-speaking vs non-native English-language practitioners? Can you suggest ways in which this paradigm can be shifted?
Feagin, J. R. (2006). Systemic racism: A theory of oppression. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Holliday, A. 2006. Native Speakerism. Oxford University Press. ELT Journal Volume 60/4
Kiczkowiak, Marek. “1 Confronting Native Speakerism in the ELT Classroom: Practical Awareness-Raising Activities.” The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, vol. 6, no. 1, May 2017, pp. 5+. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A519403980/AONE?u=anon~de60b9ec&sid=googleScholar&xid=54086785. Accessed 30 Jan. 2022.
“Racism in English Language Teaching is widespread.” TEFL Equity Advocates, 11 October 2020, https://teflequityadvocates.com/2020/10/11/racism-in-english-language-teaching-is-widespread/. Accessed 28 January 2022.
This resource explicitly defines Native-speakerism in the ESL domain. Native-speakerism is perpetuated by a number of historical and social factors and through its maintenance creates various complications for hardworking non-native English teachers. The author is the founder of TEFL Equity Advocates, a platform that focuses on transformation through helping English teachers tackle Native-speakerism through education.
To articulate how it feels occupying all of these spaces, often at the same time, is beyond difficult. There are
- feelings of anger because of marginalization (employment opportunities vanishing simply because of my appearance)
- feelings of guilt from “remorseful entitlement” (despite being disadvantaged at times due to color, I have an advantage due to native speakerism, and this is something I’ve expressed as being unfair with my ‘non-native’ colleagues)
- and feelings of tremendous hope and opportunity (that I have a platform to speak out against what I feel is not correct and provide a mouthpiece for a significant segment of the ELT community largely unheard from).
The second artefact has been sourced from the TEFL Equity Advocates website. It shares an account of an ESL teacher’s experience with Native-speakerism in the Middle East. The author exposes Native-speakerism to be a form of racial prejudice not only experience by teachers from non-native English-speaking countries, but in fact too by native-speakers of colour.
May 2020 – Volume 24, Number 1
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Little is known about recruiters’ attitudes to hiring ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, or the factors which might influence their potential preference for the former group. Of the four studies conducted thus far, three were carried out in the US or the UK, and are over a decade old (Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob et al., 2004; Moussu, 2006). The fourth, conducted in Poland, had a small sample size of five recruiters (Kiczkowiak, 2019). Consequently, the present study aimed to investigate this issue further providing more up-to-date data and extending the scope to EFL contexts.
The first of 3 peer reviewed articles – reveals findings contrary to the views expressed in my Op-Ed. The findings indicate that ethnicity, nationality and native English speaker status are becoming less important hiring criteria for recruiters. Being a more recent study, this could be justifiable as many of the hiring countries are experiencing waves of rapid economic and social change. Social media culture could also have a role as it’s no longer easy for hiring companies to get away with malpractice and remain in the shadows.
Discrimination In ESL Hiring Practices
Go to any Facebook group for ESL teachers and you are likely to find a story or two of teachers who have experienced racial discrimination. This has happened to teachers working both online as well as offline and in all countries throughout the world that are popular with ESL teachers. Racial discrimination occurs for many different reasons ranging from ignorance to maliciousness and is never something to be taken lightly.
This article delves into discrimination that ESL teachers face based on race, accent and nationality, among others. Furthermore, the article brings to light where discrimination most often occurs and speaks on transformation in ESL.
Native speakerism is just one of many types of racial discrimination experienced by ESL teachers. This source shares an African American ESL teacher’s account of dealing with bizarre acts of racial profiling and discrimination in China. The presenter reflects on being turned down in interviews because of her skin colour, told she isn’t “American enough”, being made a spectacle in Chinese society to having her privacy and personal space violated.
Even when learning English and teaching a specific variety, such as American English, it’s important to acknowledge the many, many dialects that are spoken here, including Black English, each with their own unique characteristics.
The article, Reflecting on Racism and Its Effects on English Language Teaching and Learning, comments on racism in the language education domain and explains complications faced in the United States (a native English-speaking country). The author encourages having tough conversations about racism as a transformation mechanism.
The idea that there is a correct way to use language is called linguistic prescriptivism (as opposed to linguistic descriptivism, which is the study of how people use language). Prescriptivism can be useful for teaching a language, standardizing the jargon and style of a particular industry or academic field, or reforming outdated language conventions. However, a historical perspective of prescriptive grammar reveals that many of our ideas of “good” grammar are often arbitrary based on ideas of linguistic purity and an elitist obsession with Latin”.
“Linguistic prescriptivism is not only a mark of class, ability, and educational privilege, but is also, particularly in the United States, entangled with racist, xenophobic, and White supremacist attitudes.
Black English and “Proper’ English: The impact of language-based racism discusses Linguistic prescriptivism, a form of language-based discrimination practiced among the English societies. In the United States, certain dialects of the English language are spoken by particular groups. These dialects are influenced by cultural and geographical heritage. Linguistic prescriptivism is similar to Native speakerism in that it discriminates against speakers who fail to conform to Standard American English grammatical structure and as a result, are regarded as less intelligent.
The following peer-reviewed articles and resources have been selected for a more in-depth analysis of Native Speakerism, Systemic Racism as a pivotal theory and Critical Race Theory as a key social rights movement.
The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching. Edited by John I. Liontas.
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc
“We have to remember that although systemic racism appears invisible, its effects are clear to see,” Persad said. “When we look at the results across racial lines, we start to see a pattern. We start to question the validity of exclusively blaming the person, and we look deeper into what the system is doing to certain populations of people. Through the acknowledgment of its existence and taking action (with the oppressed communities), we can be the force that dismantles and breaks through these racist systems.”
Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.