Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

Blog > Professional Development > The language barrier

The language barrier

Do you know your NESTs from your NNESTs? If not, don’t worry too much. The distinction between Native and Non-Native English Speaking Teachers is becoming increasingly obsolete.

The assumption that native speakers are better teachers of their own language has been challenged by a growing body of academic research. This indicates that professional qualities, such as the ability to respond positively to feedback, are far more valid determinants of teacher effectiveness than mother tongue.

Despite this, non-native English speaking teachers face widespread discrimination from English language schools around the world. According to the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Equity Advocates campaign, up to 70% of TEFL jobs advertised are for native English speakers only, regardless of qualifications or experience. The reason for this bias is predominantly commercial. Surveys in both Hong Kong and Thailand, for example, found that students believe native speakers to be superior teachers of English. Language schools employ and market native English speakers to attract students.

To what extent is this an issue for international schools? Unlike TEFL jobs, many international school English vacancies require an English degree, but do not specify native speaker as a requirement. This suggests that international schools may focus more on academic qualifications than mother tongue. However, anecdotal evidence from international school online discussion boards suggests that bias towards native English speakers is rife within the international school community.

Cris Barabas, Head of English at Desheng School in China, is a non-native English speaker with a BA in Linguistics and Literature, and an MA in Applied Linguistics. He provides an example of why it is important not to confuse speaking English with teaching English: “As one of my research interests is discourse analysis, I believe that I am more capable and qualified in teaching [International Baccalaureate Diploma English Language and Literature] compared to a native speaker who does not have a background in linguistics.”

The number of international schools is increasing dramatically, and the British Council forecasts that the number of English speakers globally will reach 2 billion by 2020. As such, using only native speakers to teach English is untenable.

As an international school community, we celebrate our commitment to diversity and international mindedness. We should also be prepared to welcome more non-native English speaking teachers to English classrooms around the world.

Author: Leila Holmyard
Leila is an education consultant and freelance education writer based in Frankfurt, Germany.

Similar stories

Adapting to technology by Goodwin

Adapting to technology

How do we make the most out of social media and online resources? More...

Hull School in Switzerland
Six reasons to choose the International GCSE / IAL path over IB

An exclusive from a Swiss Principal into why International GCSE / IAL is the best curriculum to offer a student. More...

Of course, we had to take a selfie.
Beyond graduation

How a quick coffee changed the way I feel about my IB students stepping into the big wide world. More...

Time for change
Thinking of resigning as a teacher

Some of the reasons why I am considering alternative careers to teaching. More...

Most read

Teaching learners with dyslexia: small changes which make a big difference

In this article we speak to dyslexia awareness specialist Martin Bloomfield who shares his advice for how to make your lessons more dyslexia-friendly. More...

Reducing the stigma of SEN and Mental Health

In multicultural environments with a wide range of beliefs, how can we reduce the stigma of mental health and SEN to hel… More...

The importance of English language skills in international teaching

English language skills are important for all subjects in international teaching. More...

IB DP Maths - Are we ready for the next 7 years?

Missed Ibrahim Wazir's session at the IB conference in Vienna? Here's the summary to help you to get ahead of the upcomi… More...

Reconsidering Maths as a Creative Discipline

Josh Lury, lead author for Power Maths, suggests how certain tactics deepen creativity when tackling maths problems. More...

This website is powered by
ToucanTech