In 2011 Marek Kiczkowiak was turned down for a teaching post because he wasn’t deemed a “native speaker”; not because of his level of spoken and written English or lack of teaching skills and experience but because of his lack of perceived “nativeness”. Rather than accept this situation (which was clearly one that affected many more people than just him) Kiczkowski embarked on a campaign within the ELT community to highlight the injustices faced by Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (or as he nicely puts it “perceived Non-Native English Speaking Teachers” because someone might be deemed so simply because of the colour of their skin or accent). He popped up on various ELT blogs raising these issues and then set up the highly succesful and popular TEFL Equity Advocates (later morphing into the TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy).
The whole issue of NEST/Non-NEST teachers predates the intervention of Kiczkowiak (most notably through the work of Peter Medgyes) but what marked out Kiczkowiak’s approach was not to talk about the advantages/disadvantages or different experiences of Non-NESTs (as opposed to NESTs) but to directly challenge discrimanatory employment practices. In doing so Kiczkowiak was directly or indirectly challenging what Phillipson terms foundational aspects of the global ELT industry:
Of pedagogical significance has been the way monolingualism, native speakerism, the early start, and related fallacies were foundational for global TESOL and still persist. Sending under‐qualified native speakers (NESTs) to Asian countries, or monolingual advisers on educational projects, is indefensible.
Not surprisingly the campaign quickly drew many high profile supporters and Kiczkowiak was invited to ELT conferences to talk about these issues. We say “not surprisingly” because clearly there is a tension between presenting yourself as a profession (as many ELT practioners do) and believing that the mere posession of “nativeness” somehow qualifies you as an effective teacher of English as a foreign language. That said, however, tparts of the industry continue to advertise for “native speakers” (without clearly defining what one is let alone their importance) and many adverts for English courses still contain references to “qualified native English teachers”.
Not only does TEFL Equity Advocates provide free downloads on tips for fighting “native-speakerism” but Kiczkowiak has also branched out into larger discussions about the variety of Englishes available and the transtion from EFL (English as a foreign language) to ELF (English as a Lingua-Franca) challenging both the ownership of English and the way it should be taught. He has co-authored, along with Robert J Lowe, Teaching as a Ligua Franca: The Journey from EFL to ELF where he explores these ideas in greater depth and provides practical teaching ideas.
In short, Marek Kiczkowiak is a rather remarkable individual who not only exposes the injustices at the heart of TEFL but offers concrete proposals for challenging them. He is to be greatly applauded for his intelligence, courage and energy.
Beyond the limits of the NEST/Non-NEST debate
Marek Kiczkowiak clearly argues that it’s time to ditch the whole debate around the advantages/disadvantages of NESTs/Non-NESTs (indirectly criticising Medgyes), because it is couched in terms of the relative strengths of two imaginary groups (attributing qualities to both groups based on birth and location rather training and experience). To quote him at length:
Numerous studies show, for example, that being perceived as a ‘native speaker’ in ELT is associated with being white and Western-looking. As a result, not all of those who might think of themselves as ‘native speakers’ will be perceived as such. And this unfortunately leads to bizarre and shocking situation when someone born, bred and educated in, say, the US is turned down for a job because they don’t fit the image of a white Western-looking ‘native speaker’.
So while defining a ‘native speaker’ is very problematic, assuming that all those perceived as ‘native speakers’ are endowed with a particular quality and teach in a particular way is frankly bonkers. As I argued in this paper with Robert Lowe (much more academically and much less angrily), the supposed advantages and disadvantages of those perceived as ‘native speakers’ and ‘non-native speakers’ are NOT connected to the person’s first language, but to their training and expertise.
In other words, it should be no surprise that many of those perceived as ‘non-native speakers’ have high language awareness. After all, they spent years studying the language themselves. And then likely did a 3 or 5 year degree in English philology or something similar.
However, it doesn’t mean that all (or even most) of those perceived as ‘non-native speakers’ have high language awareness. Nor that those perceived as ‘native speakers’ cannot have it.
Marek Kiczkowiak further explains the continuation of these beliefs:
The worst part about this ‘who is worth more’ debate is that it just further perpetuates the ideology of native speakerism. If you want to know more about the ideology, watch this video. But in a nutshell, native speakerism is the ideology that positions those perceived as ‘native speakers’ as linguistically, culturally and pedagogically superior.
Similarly to other ideologies, native speakerism is not spread in a vacuum. It is spread, maintained, justified and made to seem perfectly normal through powerful discourses or beliefs, which are then enshrined in social practices, or things we do.
So to give you an example, the discourse that positions those perceived as ‘native speakers’ and those perceived as ‘non-native speakers’ as fundamentally different, each with a set of immutable strengths and weaknesses, further supports the ideology of native speakerism. This discourse uses stereotypes about the two groups to put them in certain categories and position some as superior.
However, if, as said before, native speakerism undermines the claims of professionalism many ELT practitioners make, then how could such beliefs be ideological (rooted in material interests)? Surely they would just be outdated superstitions about teaching. We can see little reason why most experienced teachers would prioritise “native-speakerism” over experience and training if this put them on a similar level to all the millions and millions of “native English speakers” around the world. Indeed many perceived NESTs who support TEFL Equity and the excellent work of Marek Kiczkowiak believe just this, that “native-speakerism” is just misguided and short-sighted bigotry rather than grounded in material interests. If we are to challenge such ideas surely we must be clear as to why they exist/persist (superstition or ideology) if we are to effectively challenge them. This is not to conclude that teachers can’t hold quite contradictory views, they clearly do, but to suggest that if such “misguided views” ideas exist/persist there must be powerful forces/interests behind them from which they find nourishment.
It is here where we depart a little from Kiczkowiak (maybe) and continue to find interest and inspiration in the work of Megdyes (admittedly nowhere does Kiczkowiak explicitly challenge Megdeyes and TEFL Equity even runs a piece on a re-issue of Megdyes book on the subject). We find great interest here because Medgyes is talking primarily from the perspective of state schoolteachers and not the experience of perceived Non-NESTs inside the world of TEFL adventurism. Medgyes was part of an intiative to improve English language teaching inside Hungary (after the fall of the soviet bloc). Much of this initiative was led by outside actors like the British Council in collaboration with the Hungarian state. No doubt many of these being what Phillipson describes as “monolingual language advisers”. There were in fact two groups (not two imaginary groups), one developing teaching materials and practices inside a Non-NEST world and another claiming expertise over the target language and methodology (the latter group clearly invested with more power). Medgyes became a conduit between the two worlds, attending ELT conferences and writing papers and books largely for this second group which at some point Medgyes may have imagined the first group would, like him, join.
However, as Jeremy Harmer pointed out in a set of perky comments on the NEST/Non-NEST debate in 2009:
see the thing about NESTs etc is that u can talk about it as much as you want (you = one in RP, OK?) but the fact is that the vast majority of ELT in the world is done by non-NESTs (95%+ I’d guess, so the question is a bit academic (in the other sense). It is true that NESTs who shouldn’t really be anywhere near a classroom get jobs above much more qualified non-NESTs (and that’s not something to feel good about). But most of the good EL teaching in the world is done by Non-NESTs anyway.
And this is something very important to consider, the current debate about NESTs/Non-NESTs is largely (though not solely) restricted to the world of TEFL adventurism, where English is (at least in the first years of a TEFL teacher’s career) conducted in a country from which the teacher does not originate. It is precisely here where there is an emphasis on “native English teachers”. However, for us the very limitation of this debate to this small percentage of English Teaching worldwide is testimony to the powerful hegemony of a small private tertiary sector backed up by powerful institutions of state-sponsored marketting (think the British Council), teacher training institutes, examination boards, “high status” universities and publishers. This is why every year the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language are happy to debate the NEST/Non-NEST issue at their annual conference in the UK surrounding by such organisations. It doesn’t matter that less than a third of attendees are actual teachers or that it is far from International, the point is for the Anglo-sphere to exercise hegemony over ELT.
Moreover, if you are a language school offering English classes in Italy for example, how do you demarcate yourself from the classes students are already receiving or received within the state sector if not by offering a different “superior” methodology and a “cultural” experience not available within the state sector. We wonder how many readers will have heard colleagues in such academies, or maybe even themselves, question the local education system or the quality of the state school English teachers without really having a deep knowledge of what goes on and the challenges such teachers face.
Clearly we understand that more experienced TEFL teachers and those that migrate into EAP and ESOL will be keen to challenge some of the foundational aspects of TEFL adventurism, like the four week training course and native speakerism, but they may carry some of those same prejudices ( the superiority of CELTA methodology/ that there really exist Non-NESTs and NESTs as two easily identifiable groups) even if in a diluted form.
What we indeed have, when we look at the bigger picture, is a contradictory set of contested practices. While it is true so-called Non-NESTs are openly discriminated against in TEFL, in Europe at least, the vast number of Non-NEST teachers employed in the state sector will enjoy better pay and conditions (especially when pensions and other benefits are taken into account) than their colleagues (NEST and Non-Nest) in the tertiary sector. Moreover, in other better paid sections of ELT, like EAP and ESOL, again Non-NESTs are likely to experience considerably less open discrimination (the result of greater “professionalisation”).
That said Anglo-phone Universities and Journals continue to dominate Second Language Acquisition theory and research (not just for English) and most international English coursebooks are written by perceived Native Speakers (coursebooks used in the state system, however, are a contested space and local publishers may promote the work of practioners embedded in that local state system). And despite English being more important as a lingua-franca than any other form of particular English, the Anglo-sphere continues to exercise hegemony over ELT, and does so in the interests of promoting their own national interests (cultural products, coursebooks, employment emportunities for graduates, overseas student enrollment and local branches of Anglo-sphere universities etc over national competitors)
In no way do we want to distract from the excellent work of TEFL Equity Advocates and we urge all readers to expose and challenge “native-speakerism¨ where they see it. We also want to applaud Marek Kiczkowiak for wanting to shift the debate from not only employment practices but also to who owns English and what type of Englishes we should be teaching. However, we are also encouraging readers to challenge why the 5% should be lording it over the 95% (if Jeremy Harmer’s statistics are correct), this is a clear case of the tail wagging the dog. In challenging this we get to the foundational roots of TEFL and can begin to envisage an alternative which is not based on marketting the Anglo-sphere or perpetuating inequality.