I’ve just read this article about discrimination in the ELT industry which really
ruffled my feathers got me thinking. I strongly recommend that you read it before you read what follows here. This post of mine is a little nasty (to my taste) but I just can’t help it. I may be biased, though. Or I may have read it all wrong. You judge for yourself….
The article examines whether or not discrimination in the ELT industry is justified and the author, Kevin Lee, offers some advice on how non-native English speakers can get jobs as EFL teachers.
The main problem I have with this piece of writing is that it examines whether or not such discrimination is justified based on the assertion of one person – the author – and provides advice on how non-native English speakers can get jobs as EFL teachers by suggesting a few somewhat absurd tips, such as:
- Become a citizen of an English-speaking country.
- Lie about where you were born.
- Make sure that your command of English is excellent and on a par with that of any native speaker.
The above advice appears a little tongue-in-the-cheek-ish and I wouldn’t have a problem with that. On the other hand, tips such as Develop a network of contacts look like sound arguments to me. I’m confused.
At the end of the first paragraph, the author asks: “Does this discrimination really exist though?” The word ‘though’ in the question already implies doubt but we already know that this discrimination does exist – beyond doubt (see http://teflequityadvocates.com/).
Then the author poses a question which really makes me sit up and take notice: “Is this sort of discrimination justified”? And we immediately get the answer:
“Unfortunately, discrimination against non-native speakers in the EFL industry is sometimes justified. Some non-native speakers have been known to ask some questions about English grammar where the answer is very obvious. Not only that, but the grammar that they use to ask those questions is sometimes also incorrect.”
Then the author provides some juicy examples of the worst grammar sins committed by non-native speakers. When wading through the list, I can think of tons of examples of ‘mistakes’ made by native speakers. But he don’t seem to care, innit? What is more, he also mentions creoles as examples of really bad English and asks a somewhat loaded question:
“With such glaringly obvious flaws in their English, is it any wonder that non-native speakers are having such an incredibly hard time finding jobs as EFL teachers in foreign schools?”
To add fuel to the fire, he asks:
“Would you want such people teaching English at your school? If you were a parent, how would you feel if you knew that your child was getting their “quality foreign English education” from teachers with such a poor command of the English language? If I were the owner of a language school, I would be extremely reluctant to hire non-native English speakers as teachers because I am well aware of the brand of English that they use.”
Then, to make things appear a little more optimistic, he goes on to argue that some non-native speakers are absolutely entitled to be regarded as native speakers because they grow up speaking impeccable English and so they speak English as their first language. He gives an example of some Chen, who, to cut a long story short, is now in great demand and is able to find a new job easily at the end of each teaching contract. Moreover, and this seems to be the highlight, Chen is not viewed as a Chinese person by his students:
“His fluency in English and his ability to speak with a British accent puts him on a par with any other British or American teacher that they have had. One of his students even told him to his face, “You are not Chinese!”.
Wow! If that’s what we are seeking in our professional lives, then yes, it’s a big achievement.
So, how can non-native English speakers get an EFL teaching position abroad?
According to the author, the short answer is that non-native English speaker should not be teaching EFL at all. I admit I had to read this sentence twice before I could go on reading the rest of the article.
“If you learnt English in a non-English speaking country, the chances are that you will have picked up many bad linguistic habits which should not be passed on to learners.”
What really strikes me is how often the author uses the word ‘grammar’ when referring to native speakers.
“Foreign students may not speak English well but they have spent years learning the rules of English grammar in school so if your grammar is weak, you will get found out!”
“What is important is that the teachers who get hired have a sound grasp of English grammar, spelling and punctuation and have clear pronunciation with a neutral accent.”
Grammar? Really? What about collocations and idiomatic language?
However, it’s not only non-native speakers who, according to Kevin Lee, are somewhat incompetent, but it’s also the local staff:
“The problem […..] is that the local staff at foreign schools often can barely speak English that well themselves. They would hardly be in a position to assess a candidate’s fluency in the English language …”
The author concludes that if you wish to teach EFL, you must have a native-level fluency in English because, after all, you cannot teach what you yourself do not know.
And that’s that!