The best plenary ever
Silvana Richardson spoke articulately and memorably about a huge issue in our field: discrimination against non-native speakers and the primacy of the native speaker. It was easily the best plenary I have seen at IATEFL, and I urge you to watch it yourself. Go on, I’ll wait.
OK, now that you’ve seen it (you have, haven’t you?), here are my thoughts. And if you haven’t seen it, read Lizzie Pinard’s summary of the plenary as it was happening. Then go and watch it to get the full effect. Have I told you you should watch this?
As Silvana said, why are we referring to over 80% of the teachers in our profession as a ‘non’? This implies that they are in some way inadequate or lacking, and leads to the continuation of the native speaker myth.
The words we say construct reality.
If we don’t think about what we are saying, and the impact of the words we are using, we are propagating the myth that ‘native speaker’ is better. This logic is faulty:
And in what way could this ever be considered correct?
The native speaker is the best model.
I am not a native speaker.
Therefore I am not the best model.
The native speaker is the ideal teacher.
I am not a native speaker.
Therefore I am not an ideal teacher.
What students really need is good teachers, and there are good and bad teachers from every language background, whether monolingual or multilingual. The language you are born speaking does not determine your ability to teach. They are two entirely different skill sets. As somebody said on Twitter:
We should not forget the ‘teaching’ part of ‘English teaching’. Linguistic competence should not be the only factor.
I agree completely that implying that native speakers are in someone superior, regardless of the teaching qualifications they possess, devalues our entire profession, and the hard work those of us who care about our jobs put into it. It is also damaging to the identities of those who suffer because of prejudices towards non-native speakers. The Johns of this world should not be allowed to teach without having to go out and get qualified:
And yes, I am fully aware that I may seem something of a hypocrite, as I started as a backpacking volunteer (though I knew I wanted to do the CELTA – which many might argue is not enough). I have friends who have used the luck of their native speaker identity to get jobs, although I am not aware of them having advertised themselves as such and I don’t know if they knew that this would have been a hell of a lot harder for somebody who was not born in one of the ‘inner circle’ three/four/six English-speaking countries.
Silvana included a lot of research findings in her plenary, the upshot of which is that there is inconclusive evidence as to whether students prefer ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ teachers. In fact, some students prefer non-natives, and some want a mixture of both. Very few seem to want natives only. (See Lizzie’s post or slides 31-42 of Silvana’s presentation (downloadable at the bottom of the page) for the full information about the findings) Slides 43 and 44 show the research referring to the perceived advantages and disadvantages of each type of teacher, although I would say that these are only at first, and many of these skills can be learnt through training. Having said that, I can never know what it is like to learn English as a second language, despite being an experienced language learner.
Ultimately, the ‘native speaker myth’ is just that, a myth. There is no research anywhere which conclusively proves that an L2 only classroom is better, or that students all prefer to be taught by ‘native speakers’, whatever they are.
WE MUST STOP THIS DISCRIMINATION
What can we do?
[Copied from Lizzie Pinard’s summary]
“We need to find out more about this issue, become more aware. Write about equality for NESTS and NNEST.
Teachers: Join an advocacy campaign and show support. Write a statement supporting this campaign. Promote advocacy initiatives on social media. Start a discussion in your workplace to raise awareness. Do research, more is needed.
Teacher educators: review programmes in terms of the scope. What is the ultimate goal of these programmes? To develop well-rounded critical professionals or churning out skilled technicists who can produce monolingualism for export? Consider the content and methodology – is there critical exploration? Are they sufficiently inclusive? Sensitive to glocalisation? Using the students’ own language? What about bilingual identities? The elephant in the room is teacher’s own language proficiency – how can we help teachers develop this? [See the information about Damian William’s workshop below]
Workplace: Do you have an Equal Ops policy? Do you implement it? Are you proud of it? Do you challenge students’ expectations? Do you recruit based on merit?
Teachers associations: Issue a statement against the discrimination of NNESTs. TESOL France writes to employers who write native speakerist ads to discourage them from that. Create alignment maps of professional qualifications of teachers of EFL at regional, national and international levels. Encourage members not to apply for positions where advertisement is discriminatory.”
The plenary has already generated a lot of follow-up in the week since it happened. Here are a few examples:
- Lizzie Pinard’s post about her ‘status’ as a native speaker
- Hada Litim asking ‘Who’s going to lead equity?’
- Mercedes Viola summarising related videos and tweets
- Hugh Dellar on CELTA, the native speaker bias and possible paths forward
- Isabela Villas Boas referred to Silvana’s plenary in a post about challenging mental models
- Andy Hockley’s post on the haves and the have-nots
- Anna Searle being interview by Nik Peachey on the British Council’s attempts to extend their reach beyond the major cities and their attitudes to recruiting native and non-native speakers
- TEFL Equity Advocates: ‘The native factor’ What’s next after Silvana Richardson’s IATEFL 2016 plenary
The future is in bilingual and plurilingual identities, not monolingual, whatever that ‘mono’ is. Silvana quoted Lo Bianco:
There are two disadvantages in global language arrangements: one of them is not knowing English; and the other is knowing only English.
I have already heard some people who would previously have referred to themselves as ‘non-natives’ change this to ‘bilingual’ 🙂
The future is in being proud of our identities, whatever they are, and never having to fake or hide them to get a job.
— Jim Scrivener (@jimscriv) April 14, 2016
Here’s Silvana talking before the plenary about the main issues covered:
Thank you so much to Silvana Richardson for bringing this issue out into the spotlight. There were many of us with tears in our eyes at the end of this plenary, including me, and it got a well-deserved standing ovation. I hope that this is the beginning of the end, and that we will soon all be able to say ‘I’m an English teacher.’ without anyone asking us where we were born.
(Addendum: Later posts which have arisen directly from Silvana’s plenary are:
- NEST privilege by Jennie Wright)
Other sessions directly related to this dichotomy
Unfortunately I missed some other sessions which added to the debate, but thankfully Lizzie Pinard has reported on them. I recommend checking out her summaries:
- Tackling Native Speakerism (panel discussion with Marek Kiczkowiak, Burcu Akyol, Christopher Graham, Josh Round)
Quote from Burcu Aykol: “It’s not about being NS or NNS, it’s about being qualified. Both have strengths and weaknesses, things found easier and more difficult. We need to free ourselves from our prejudices and stereotypes, leave aside prejudices to really talk about education.”
- I’m a non-native English speaker teacher – hear me roar! (Dita Phillips)
Dita is originally from the Czech Republic, and now works as a teacher and CELTA trainer in Oxford in the UK. This is her story.
- The Q&A follow up to Silvana’s plenary
A quote from the audience: “It’s not dispensing with the idea of NS-NNS, it’s actually being equal and that equality to be placed on the basis of qualification and competence which includes language competence. But language competence doesn’t mean native modelling.”
Marek Kiczkowiak is one of the founders of TEFL Equity Advocates. I’ve shared one of their posts before, but for some reason had never put their badge onto my blog. This has now been remedied.
In this interview Marek and Burcu talk about some of the issues surrounding non-native teachers in ELT, and about the founding of TEFL Equity Advocates:
And finally, a couple of relevant tweet from Jack Richards’ talk:
Richards: Many language teachers aren’t native speakers-but how much English do you need/what kind? General/specialised proficiency? #IATEFL
— Cambridge ELT (@CambridgeUPELT) April 15, 2016
— Cambridge ELT (@CambridgeUPELT) April 15, 2016
The LDT Toolkit (Damian Williams)
One of the areas mentioned by Silvana and others as still holding some teachers back is their own language proficiency. Damian presented tips for help teachers to develop their English proficiency, and pointed out that there are very few books out there for this area, and it seems to be valued much lesson than developing other skills which are more directly related to teaching, like use of technology. For many teachers who have learnt English, their main use of it now is in the classroom, and they get little exposure to it with anyone other than their students.
He gave activities to incorporate raising linguistic awareness into methodology courses through guided discovery, and ways to highlight methodology within language courses aimed at teachers. Lizzie Pinard has a list of all of the activities in her summary of the session.
This is something I would like to develop at IH Bydgoszcz. It was an idea in the back of my head before, but now I would like to make it a priority and try to work out if we can offer something like this at the school next year.
The world’s language: using authentic non-native input in the classroom (Lewis Lansford)
Lewis is one of the authors of the new National Geographic Keynote series (of which I have contributed to the workbooks!) One of the things I particularly like about this series is that right the way from B1 up to C2 level, no distinction is made between L1 and L2 English speakers. The focus is on what they have to say, not which language they grew up speaking.
In his presentation, Lewis showed us clips from three TED talks:
- Diébédo Francis Kéré – How to build with clay … and community
- May El-Khalil – Making peace is a marathon
- Hetain Patel – Who am I? Think again (one of my all-time favourite talks!)
The videos he shared include different stress patterns, ‘mistakes’ with grammar, and people who have ‘missed’ the target of native-like speech, but as he said, that is not the target they were aiming for. They are all successful communicators. Their accents are features, not hindrances, and they do not need to aim to lose them.
He spoke a little about English as Lingua Franca, and some of the features of this type of English. If you’d like to find out more, including ways of working with ELF in the classroom and other examples on L2 user models of English, I’d highly recommend the ELFpron blog.
Lewis highlighted the need to use international models of English to prepare our learners for the real world by training them in listening to authentic English from many different speakers. Unless they move to an English-speaking country, they are much much more likely to mostly speak to other L2 users than to L1 English users. They therefore need to hear other accents in the classroom to increase their awareness of cultural and linguistic differences in the way people use English, depending on their language background.
You can also read Robin Walker’s summary of the talk.
Can you hear me? Teacher perceptions of listening skills (Patricia Reynolds)
The fact that we need more exposure to different accents was echoed in a presentation by Dr. Patricia Reynolds. She showed us surprising findings from a research project she did which showed that many L2 users of English working as ESL teachers in the United States found it very difficult to assess the speaking proficiency of anyone from a different language background to their own. When she contacted the providers of a particular US English proficiency test, they said that anybody who had done the training could administer the test to the same standard, but this is not what she found in her research.
Non-natives score other non-natives’ spoken output more harshly than natives do.
This highlighted the fact that they (and, in fact, all of us!) need more exposure to a wide range of different accents in English before we can be expected to assess proficiency. This begs the question of how valid exam results are, and whether, for example, somebody who is unfamiliar with Arabic accents in English might grade more harshly than somebody who is used to them. It is also a question of increasing the confidence of her trainees so that they feel able to assess students from any language background fairly.
How many of you had coursework in your teacher training where you were required to listen to speakers with other accents?
This takes me back to my classroom at IH Newcastle, where I often had to ‘translate’ Arabic English to Spanish English to Chinese English etc, as students could not understand those from other L1 backgrounds, especially at lower levels.
It is an area which requires further investigation and awareness raising, particularly among the providers of standardised tests.
I really hope it won’t be long before the native/non-native issue is not an issue any more, but I know it will require work from everyone. If anybody would like to share their stories or write a blog post about their thoughts on this issue, I would be very happy to host them. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me through the comments.