The native versus non-native teacher dichotomy – Challenging Mental Models

1 05 2016

I saw a post recently on Facebook advertising a position for a native speaking teacher in a Brazilian language program. The post appeared on the page of a closed group for English teachers in Brazil. The reaction to the post was immediate. People wanted to know why the program was only hiring native speakers and questioned this practice. The person in search of this native teacher justified the restriction saying that it was for advanced groups, that the program already had non-native teachers, and that this specific job ad was to fill the slots for native teachers. Soon after, a group participant joined the discussion defending the practice of hiring a native teacher because, after all, given the same experience and qualifications, of course a native teacher is better than a non-native one. Needless to say, a long discussion ensued, with many people reacting against the job ad. I requested that the Facebook group administrators adopt the practice of many teacher associations, such as TESOL, which will not post ads for jobs that are exclusive to native teachers. And so they did.

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Advocating in favor of equal opportunities for native and non-native-English-speaking teachers

20 02 2015

I’m a non-native English-speaking teacher (NNEST) who has been teaching EFL for 28 years. I have never experienced discrimination as a teacher, and the institution I work for does not discriminate against NNESTs. Quite the contrary –  we select NNESTs over NESTs  when the former have teaching experience and academic qualifications and the latter don’t.

However, there are a few English programs in the city that advertise that they only have native-speaking teachers, as if this were an advantage in itself. This contributes to the misleading social construct that a native speaker is always a better teacher.

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You can only be cool if you’re a native-English-speaking teacher

22 05 2012

Absolutely appalled by the Open English commercial on Sony Entertainment Television, I was about to blog about it when I read Henrick Oprea’s post, which translates the commercial to our colleagues outside Brazil and states most of my views regarding the derogatory image of NNESTs. Not wanting to repeat what my colleague has written, I have just a few other comments to add to Henrick’s reflections and bring to light some of the contributions from this month’s and past guest interviews for the NNEST Blog, whose editorial team I’m honored to be part of.

First of all, the non-native teacher is chubby, ugly, looks unhappy, and makes a fool of herself imitating a chicken; the native one is blond, beautiful, friendly, cool, and, of course, from California! Canagarajah (1999) blames periphery academic institutions for popularizing and legitimatizing the native speaker fallacy. This commercial is a perfect example, trying to instill in its viewers the belief that NESTs are cool; NNESTs are not. You learn better from a NEST, even remotely, than from personal, face-to-face contact with a NNEST.  On top of that, the NNEST learned English in Argentina, suggesting that our neighbors down south are “even more incompetent” English teachers than we are here in Brazil. I wonder what the wonderful Argentinean teachers who do such a superb job have to say about this! Perhaps the underlying intention was to “Latinize” the Brazilian teacher even further by adding and Argentinean connection to her teaching profile, as opposed to the Caucasian native speaker in California.

While some believe that the NEST and NNEST paradigm has become irrelevant, such commercials demonstrate otherwise. In the May interview for the NNEST Blog, Nugrahenny Zacharias describes how a course on World Englishes raised her awareness of the NEST and NNEST paradigm and allowed her to deconstruct her original belief and reconstruct a more empowering view of the NNEST:

I underwent a deconstruction process of my previous belief and slowly instilled and reconstructed my belief of the value that NNESTs can bring to the profession and English language teaching and learning. (…) Prior to knowing EIL concepts, I always sat in the backseat and allowed NESTs lead the way. My role was just to follow and emulate the way they drove the ‘ELT’ car without really being given the chance to be in the driver’s seat. The WE course has given me the realization and courage to take the driver’s seat and contribute to the direction and purpose of learning English.

Nuria Villalobos Ulate also confirms the fallacy in her research described in the April interview  for the blog.  In her November 2009 interview, Ryuko Kubota expands the NEST and NNEST discussion to suggest racial issues underlying it:

On a practical level, we need to encourage nonnative teachers to develop their linguistic and pedagogical skills. At the same time, we must address larger social issues, including different forms of racism, which perpetuates the racial, cultural, and linguistic hierarchy of power and prevents students from having valuable opportunities to learn about diverse views and human experiences. In this sense, nonnative teachers need to play an activist role.

Following Kubota’s suggestion, I invite all my colleagues, native and nonnative alike, to play an activist role and protest against the commercial!!!


Canagarajah, S. (1999). Interrogating the “Native speaker fallacy”: Non-linguistic roots, non-pedagogical results. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 77-92). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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