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We have been having a bit of a lively discussion on the ELT Professionals around the World - LinkIn group.  About why schools around the world are fascinated with "native speakers". 

 

Anil puts the question like this:

 

Why is it that employers always have a preference for the native speakers? Are they better teachers or do the employers simply fall for their accent?

 

What's your take? Why the continued fascination and hiring when students can now get a lot of "input", authentic video etc... online and on TV?

 

Cecilia's blog also has a great post about this.... worth reading slowly. (she's a NNEST in Brazil).

Tags: fluency, hiring, jobs, native_speakers, nest, nnest, teaching

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Parents often prefer a certain accent, instead of teaching ability. Where this argument falls down is that any good English teacher  - no matter where they are from - can minimize a strong accent if they have one - to teach more effectively. After that, good teaching skills will do the job. Beyond that, native speakers who end up teaching abroad represent a fairly narrow demongraphic, which so this only reinforces stereotypes of what a native speaker is. If it were me, the person has to have good skill.

If you are talking about English, what do you mean by native speaker?  It is someone from North America, Australia, the UK, the Carribean, etc.  Even within the United States there are variations in pronunciation.  A person from the deep south will speak much differently than a person from the northeast.  Most of our teachers are non-native speakers and our students are doing very well.  There is also an awful lot of stuff on the internet that can help with pronunciation and we use Rosetta from 1st grade up.  That program has helped immensely.

Grace,

 

Good point, exactly the point, IMHO - what is a native speaker? There is a wide birth and so many differences. But at bottom, the argument is one of equal pay for equal work. read Prof. Baker's blog postwhich was prompted by the above linkedIn discussion - I give a good example there of what I'm talking about (qualified Korean teacher made  18,000 won / hour and did all the work/prep. native speaker in the same classroom as her - 50,000 won/hour. )

 

Dogpile - true about parents and the supply side. But don't you think we should try to educate parents more about the discrimination that goes on. Also about the "myth" of a native speaker. That with the internet students can still get good native speaker input without paying a premium or having overt discrimination in the workplace. Shouldn't we educate them, the consumer? Or are there hidden agendas and interests at stake?

I just was looking at a job ad. Noticed - like so many ads, "Native Speaker" in the description. Can it be any more overt discrimation and why can sites get away with this. Here's the ad .

 

The Department of English Language Education at Pusan National University(PNU) is seeking an excellent candidate for a full time Professor. The Department has about 120 undergraduate students, 80 graduate students, 10 professors and 2 native English instructors. PNU is one of the most reputable universities in South Korea with a student enrollment of over 35,000 (http://english.pusan.ac.kr/).

1. Qualifications:


- Doctorate in TESOL, ESL or English Language Education is required.
- Teaching experience in English education theories at college level
for more than five years is preferred.
- Knowledge of teaching advanced academic writing, reading, listening
and speaking methodology is preferred.
- Only native English speakers are encouraged to apply.

3. Starting Date: Sept. 1, 2011

4. Job Title: Tenure-track/Assistant/Associate Professor

In korea they(pepople/parents) prefer native speakers not because of accent but for publicity purpose.

They want to attract parents and to show people that a certain school or private institute

has (expat/foreigner/caucasian male/female) native speakers/teachers. It's just a publicity stunt.  

Some schools or institutes prefer native speakers because non native or Korean teachers

may lose their positions. Welcome to the Korean bureaucracy. It's not the perfect answer but

I hope it helps. IT'S NOT YOU........ JUST REMEMBER THAT!!!!

 

WHY ARE TEACHERS PAID DIFFEENTLY?  IT DEPENDS WHERE YOU ARE WORKING.

 IT'S DIFFERENT FROM ONE PROVINCE FROM ANOTHER.

 

I COULD GO ON BUT I WON'T.....

 

JUST BE YOURSELF AND DO WHAT YOU CAN. NOT EVERYONE IS AGAINST YOU.

 

Most of the people prefer native speaker teachers for their second language learning. Non-native teachers of English like me will not as effective as native teachers. Initially students can have some difficulties  in understandig their native speaker teachers but in the course of the time they will most probably get accustomed to understand him/her. Students can pronounce words better with the help of their native teacher as they will imitate him. In lessons students have to speak English since their teacher will not understand students' speech. That would be nice to improve their foreign language...

I agree, Orthan. Some languages are very similar, and thereby compatible, in the speech production muscles that are developed as we are learning to speak our first language as children, and some are not very compatible.

 

One example that comes to mind of compatible muscle development is between English and Romanian. The Romanians I have spoken with in English have such lovely, easily understandable accents! It is prettier than an American English speaker. And Romanian is the only language I have heard and thought, Hey, I might be able to do that!

 

An example of not so compatible muscle development (sorry, I know there must be a better, more professional phrase for this) is between Vietnamese and English- awful, both ways!!

 

Sometimes its easier initially for a beginning second language student to understand another non-native speaker, because the non-native speaker speaks more slowly. But once the student gets over that first hurdle of utter confusion, she is going to want to learn from someone who can speak the language most accurately and fluently, and that is far more likely to be the case with a native speaker.

 

Of course, there are always exceptions, people with a gift for learning languages that can develop oral fluency no matter what the language. But with a native speaker, you are almost guaranteed oral fluency. Worth an extra dollar or two, whatever new language you are trying to learn.

Ellen,

 

I agree , a native speaker CAN model fluency better but at what cost? Can't the students / don't the students get lots of authentic input through CDs, tv, the internet now? And what is the cost? It keeps the price of local, well trained teachers, down. They suffer and aren't compensated as a result.

 

I agree, there will always be a role for a native speaking teacher but I don't think it should be allowed to specifically advertise for one. For many reasons related to discrimination. What of the person who speaks well, has been and lived in an English speaking country but who will suffer from this very standard practice of advertising for a "native speaker only". That's my beef and if we care about our profession, we shouldn't keep our heads in the sand.... 

This is a very controversial topic... Let me comment it from a student's point of view, because I have been one for many years (and met many different teachers:-). Don't stone me please, it is only my opinion.

 

Important is what a student expects from the language/the subject. Many just long to pass easily, some need only a segment of the language (for their job, for fun with the computer games, reading manuals or books, to understand music...) reasons vary. Many don't give a damn at all.

 

But there are also people, who really want to know the language in its complexity. Maybe they want to go further and study it, maybe they just want to reveal a new dimension, new culture for themselves through the language.

 

Me, I really like English. And I have always preferred native speaking teacher whether it was Scottish or Aussie or....

 

Now why. No CD, no internet can supply the experience with a living environment or a person (and it was already mentioned somewhere here). You can watch the news from your country everyday, speak with your people via Skype every evening, but does it mean your thirst is quenched by all this big "via"? Not for me.

 

IMO, NET represents the foreign culture I want to puzzle out, taste. That person brings different behviour, different approach. I was always watching carefuly what he or she was doing irrelevant how good they were as teachers. I was fascinated.

 

The best way how to acquire a language is to go to that country, but it is not attainable for everybody. Could you then take it ill of somebody when they want to get in touch with "at least" a foreign teacher? The native teacher becomes a substitute or better a mediator with that distant world.

 

I would compare the roles of the two groups of teachers to: practicing x doing.

 

I also wanted to note - I had a teacher who spent years in England, studied there (university/teaching), lived there for years, got married with a British and I can still hear the difference although she is fluent.

 

I am not sure there is any discrimination when they want to hire a native... ? The problem could be the money, but for example Korea absorbes so many English teachers because a) it decided to do so (thinks it is the best way for its studens) b) they offer generous conditions. Would so many NET go there otherwise?? Nobody is surprised when imported wine is more expensive then maybe more delicious inland wine; unfortunately the same rules govern for people. It is the market, which has no social feeling.

 

I can imagine how the NNET can feel:-( But I am not sure there is any easy solution to it, because the groups interact (students, NNET, NET).

Hi George! I have been thinking about this, and then there you are, making my commenting easier : ).

 

First, of course it is wrong to discriminate in hiring against a non-native speaker simply because they did not learn English as their first language. What's important is if the teacher is orally fluent in the language they are going to teach. When I speak of oral fluency, I mean can they converse freely and be easily understood by a native speaker? It's always difficult and unfair when someone is judged by "the package" and not the skill.

 

I think we are heavily influenced by our life experiences we bring to this discussion. For me, I have lived for 30 years with someone who continually has suffered social and financial (employment) discrimination because of his pronunciation woes. So expertise in pronunciation would be the first thing I would look for in an English teacher.The easiest way to insure this is for the teacher to be a native speaker.

 

If my loved one was a non-native speaker who had spent years studying and practicing English with the goal of becoming an EFL teacher, I would be having quite a different response! How dare you discriminate against my loved one. She is fully qualified to teach English. She has an accent, but it does not interfere with her ability to communicate and be understood. And I think this is the morally defensible ground. Add in the fact that she has probably been much more highly trained to teach than the NET, and that she has the added skill of being truly bi-lingual, which many NETs are not, and it is offensive to put right in the ad, non-native speakers needn't apply.

 

And then the other point that George makes- that the student has the right to his preferences too. For myself, I would want to learn Spanish from a teacher from Mexico. That dialect of Spanish is what would be most useful to me in my life (living and teaching in the Pacific NW, where most of the Spanish speakers are from Mexico), and I also like the softness of the sounds. It is a dialect that is easily understandable by other native Spanish speakers, and yet, to my ears, is prettier.

 

But there is an important distinction between my personal preferences and institutional hiring practices. Because we are dealing with people, not things, personal preferences should not be allowed to dicate institutional hiring decisions. Like any form of discrimination, it will damage the profession as a whole, as you so eloquently stated, David! Translated into common American dialect, let's get our heads out of our asses! (Sorry, couldn't help it :D )

 

Then there is the whole issue of teacher availability, and discrimination against some native speakers because of race and class. Spanish speakers in the US, South African teachers in Asia, you get the idea.

 

I think strong anti-discrimination employment laws would offer some protection/ solution to the problem NNET and native English teachers from countries other than Canada, England, Australia and the US face in the hiring process.

 

Fluency, patience, and being proficient in proven educational practices are so much more crucial in a language teacher than where he or she is from.

 

BUT... non-native teachers must take accurate pronunciation much more seriously, and work on themselves until they attain it. They, as the professionals, need to work with those computer pronunciation programs until they nail it, and not pass off that responsibility onto their students. When pronunciation standards get loose, effective communication falls apart, and the educational system along with it. As Chuck told me many years ago, if I was to drop in on an English class in Vietnam, I probably wouldn't even recognize what was being spoken as my own language! And that is a terrible disservice to students, especially if their futures are going to be dependent on spoken English in any way.

I'm not saying it's good - I'm just saying it is. Once students experience a good teacher then the parents usually follow suit. The system in Korea - where I teach - doesn't really have a way to assess teaching skill, which would allow anyone with teaching ability to get a job. As it stands now, it's done by country of birth.

Just one small point - perhaps off topic - I never think of students as consumers - I think of them as people. Education has become very much commodified here in Korea and the result is parents spending everything on mediocre instruction - because they think education is a product they can buy.

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