Native and Non-Native Speaker Teachers an #ELTchat Summary 30/05/2018

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Native and Non-Native Speaker Teachers an #ELTchat Summary 30/05/2018

This summary is posted rather late, possibly because it was in a new format which we tried to figure what to do with – but eventually we thought about it and decided why not post as is. After all, #ELTchat is responsive to its member requests and comments on what topic of ELT to cover, why not attempt new summary formats!!!  The comments on the topic of native vs non-native speaker teachers come from trainees following a course taught our good colleague Csilla Jaray-Benn, ( @CsillaBenn ) who introduced them to our online community by suggesting the topic and involving them all in the proceedings, from chatting to commenting in writing! 




The #ELTchat on 30th May was a beautiful example how the weekly organised ELTchats can bring together new faces from around the world and create a dynamic professional learning community or network (PLN) for one hour around a pre-selected topic of common interest. The organisation of this particular chat goes back to the ETAS (English Teachers Association Switzerland) conference in January 2018 where Marisa Constantinides @Marisa_C kindly accepted my request to involve a group of trainee teachers, who are completing a teacher training course at Université Grenoble Alpes in France, in one of the chats.


As @Marisa_C said in her introduction on the #ELTchat website, despite the fact that “we have held #ELTchats on some aspects of this topic in the past, it’s always a hot topic given the demand for teachers and the many non-native well qualified ELT teachers who feel discriminated upon for many of the jobs. And it has been a while since we talked about this topic!!”


We have chosen to discuss this topic again and bring up new facets of this very complex issue due to its relevance in the French context where the teacher trainees work. Over ten teachers from our group, located in various parts of France joined the discussion moderated by Marisa Constantinides @Marisa_C based in Athens and Sue Annan @SueAnnan on the Jersey Island. For most of these teachers it was the first time of using Twitter and being involved in an online discussion. They have written the summary below collaboratively and after getting a taste of the lively and welcoming #ELTchat community, they might join other discussions in the future.


Thank you @Marisa_C and @SueAnnan!


(Csilla Jaray-Benn, @CsillaBenn)




Please find hereafter the summary of the twitter chat hosted by the ELT group #eltchat on May 30th. This group of English Language Teachers holds an online discussion every Wednesday on a topic they have selected. On May 30th, the topic was about Native and Non-Native Speaker Teachers. Those teachers from all around the world kindly accepted to welcome our group of trainee teachers #DU18chat .


(Stéphanie ASTIER)

Hi! I’m dina  @grebaux. This is the first time I’ve taken part in an #ELTchat and the first time I’ve ever written a collaborative summary.


Csilla Jaray-Benn @CsillaBenn, teacher trainer at Grenoble University  and Marisa Constantinides @Marisa_C in Athens hosted the @ELTchat on May 30th. The topic was suggested by Csilla Jaray-Benn @Csilla Benn who wanted to introduce her trainee teachers to Twitter and hash tagged discussions. @Marisa_C stated that the topic  has been of high interest recently and a lot has been written about it. She raised the question: “ What does each side bring to the ELT classroom?” @CsillaBenn asked “What difference can you see between native and non-native teachers?” @SueAnnan, a native speaker of English, stated that she did not feel any better equipped to train than Marisa, a non-native . She added that “ It really shouldn’t need to be an issue in today’s world.”


(Dina Forouzin, @grebaux)


On the 30th of May we had an hour chat on twitter, with several people, mainly English teachers in Europe.


In this chat we mentioned the fact the NNS and the NS teachers were differently equipped : one side would be better at explaining grammar, the other side at pronunciation… But someone mentioned to be careful with generalities… which I find very true… Some NNS have no skills at explaining grammar, and you can have NS with a very very strong accent quite hard to understand… What I didn’t get an answer for, and I’m still very curious with is : why are we (all over the world) so convinced a NS teacher is a better teacher ?  and as Dina asked, how can we change this ? May be by changing our own thoughts first… but then; how can we change our students/employers/society point of view ? :/


(Claire, @381Clarita)




It also seems that the discussion was about the fact that Native Teachers are perceived as a better seller “product” for private companies and used as a marketing tool (which is a shame) until we are able to prove “teaching is not question of passport but depends on qualification, knowledge, experience and understanding students and their needs” (dixit Csilla). We also discussed the fact that the interest of teaching a language is to open students’ mind to diversity which is a  wealth (different backgrounds, accents, approaches) and we shouldn’t limit the teacher to a single model. Unfortunately, as the debate is still going on, the feeling of discrimination is still alive.


(Pascale, @Pascalune12)


It seems we have all been faced with the NEST v NNEST question during our teaching careers. I have been penalised for being a NEST, and some of my colleagues on the DU have been penalised for being a NNEST.


There is not a perfect solution, but we all agree that being a good, motivated teacher is the most important. During our chat this evening it was suggested that NEST and NNEST teachers could share or divide roles, which seems logical, but the risk is that the tasks given to the NEST would be the least “serious” ones.  Others difficulties for the NEST is discipline (younger students tend not respect the foreign teacher), and the inability to guide our students efficiently through the French education system. We agreed that the main issue for the NNEST is teaching pronunciation, prosody and culture, supplemented with real-life stories and hands-on knowledge.


(Maria, @RacchioMaria)



I wasn’t aware of this issue here in France even if my work placement tutor agreed to work with me and not with another NNEST student from the DU.

I think open-minded people aren’t concerned about this issue and understand that they will learn different things with different teachers.

Both NEST and NNEST can make equally good or bad teachers. In fact, it depends on personal traits, qualification, experience and demonstrated language proficiency.

But the good news is that changes are about to occur and I’m sure that in a few years time everyone will agree to having NEST and NNEST. Furthermore, they will benefit from both.



(Sabine, @Slhotel1)


Discrimination against NNESTs is alive and well in Private sector schools in France, at least in the Grenoble area. I’ve seen employers turn down candidates who did not come from an anglophone country. I became an English teacher by default (pigeonholed by the French national employment agency, go figure!) and I must say it helped to have known some French before starting because whether students believe it or not, they need a reference point from which to start learning. NESTs may have pronunciation, knowledge of their home country and its customs as an advantage over NNESTs, but it doesn’t mean that the latter won’t ever be able to offer the same. More often than not, native speakers who teach their language without prior training, are unable to explain grammar and pronunciation rules (we’re not that hung up on rules anyway), however, their clients are obsessed with it. From time to time, you’d get the odd request to have a teacher who spoke Hinglish or Chinglish, but they are very few and far between.


(Amelia, @trinigyul29)


Here’s Dina picking up the threads of the discussion: The French National Education is rather archaic! Have you ever had a look at the school textbooks?! And the methodology is rather rigid. Probably only  French people can survive in the state schools! Private Language Schools are aware of the shortcomings of the French system, and they tend to hire NESTs. They believe that NESTs are better language teachers. This can lead to a lot of discrimination. Non-NESTs cannot find jobs easily. For people like me who are neither French (I do have a French passport but I don’t consider myself French), nor a native speaker of English, finding a job as an English teacher can be a Herculean task! Many private Language Schools don’t hire non-NESTs. Even if you’re lucky enough to get a job at a private language school, you’ll have to teach lower level students. Upper Intermediate and Advanced students only want NESTs. It’s true that NESTs can be better models for teaching pronunciation, but native speakers don’t have the same accent. What do we mean by native speaker of English any way? American, British, Irish, Australian, South African, or New Zealander?!  I used to have an Irish colleague whose accent was so strong that nobody understood him. He had to teach in French to make himself understood!

All in all, teachers should be great motivators. Having a good knowledge of the target language is not enough. Even having a degree in education and teaching is not enough. A good teacher is someone who can motivate his/her students by understanding the students’ needs. A good teacher is passionate and enthusiastic… Nativeness should not be  the main criterion.


(Dina Forouzin, @grebaux)


Language is innate for a native speaker. To me, it has its pros & cons. For instance, if you are a NEST who want to do listen & repeat exercises the great advantage is that you can use your own voice in your recordings. Thus, your learners will benefit from your genuine English accent & prosody and have a model. However, I think what needs to be pointed at is the discrepancy between a language & culture teacher vs a Native Speaker. For instance, I can speak French very good because French is both my mother tongue and France is the country I have lived in for more than 23 years now.  However, am I nonetheless able to teach French -culture and language? As we have seen throughout this DU, to be a good a teacher, we need pedagogy, didactics, psychology and experience can also be a plus one. When it comes to teaching a language and a culture, to me, what should be considered, is not your “nativeness” in this language, but your capabilities to transmit your knowledge. What is the point if you know many things, but you cannot transmit your knowledge? To transmit your knowledge, you need to be aware of your learners’ difficulties or needs and have the methods to transmit knowledge and explain the rules of a language. Being a native speaker does not mean you can do all these things. At some point we should make a distinction between a teacher- someone who knows how to transmit knowledge and a native speaker -the man or woman in the street but whose English is his/her mother tongue and culture.


(Lara, @Sidgard73)


In my opinion co-teaching is a very interesting approach that could mend the great Native vs Non Native divide. Co-teaching was first defined in 2003 by Friend and Cook as “two or more professionals jointly delivering substantive instruction to a diverse, blended group of students in a single, physical space”. Applied to languages, co-teaching would allow 2 teachers in a class, one putting the stress on pronunciation and the other dealing with the acquisition of lexical and grammatical structures. All would be for the best in the best of all possible worlds, but the ultimate obstacle is probably going to be the financial cost.

On the other hand, there is also discrimination in France towards Native speakers!
If a person born in an English-speaking country wants to teach his native language in a French state school, and even if he/she is holder of a Celta certificate or a Delta diploma, he/she will have to sit for the teaching exam, Capes, to be allowed to teach English.
Recently I had an internship in a big French secondary state school. The teachers I observed were all NN; they were good teachers and their pronunciation was fine. But I never saw a language teaching assistant in their classrooms (this would have allowed co-teaching!). The school policy regarding language assistants was the following: ‘Students are here to study and pass exams, not to chit-chat with language assistants’. Well, what a short-view policy!

(Marie-Hélène, @aBeeOnThePeony)




Previous #ELTchats


NEW: Native and Non-Native Teacher Perspectives discussion platform:


Péter Medgyes. (2017) The Non-Native Teacher. Callander: Swan Communication


Silvana Richardson. (2016) The ‘native factor’, the haves and the have-nots

…and why we still need to talk about this in 2016. IATEFL Conference 2016 Birmingham


TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy