I’ve just been on Dave’s ESL Cafe. Not because I want to work 60 hours a week in a ropey kindergarten, but to see how companies are wording their recruitment ads these days. And amongst others, I found:
______ is recruiting female full time native-speaker teachers of English (Saudi Arabia);
We are currently looking for a full-time native English speaking teacher (Thailand); and
A small independent school in ______ is looking for experienced NATIVE English teachers (Japan – the caps are theirs).
So it seems that, yes, in spite of brilliant recent work from TEFL Equity Advocates and others, teachers are still being sought on the basis of their mother tongue instead of their qualifications. I want to say categorically that I think this is wrong. Utterly wrong. I’ve learned foreign languages from native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) and it’s been an insignificant factor in their competence. The former are quicker on collocations, perhaps, while the latter tend to have better grammatical awareness – but really, these are just stereotypes that cancel each other out. I want a teacher who knows what they’re doing and doesn’t stress me out. That’s it.
|Click for bigger cartoon (credit http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com/)|
But the debate is taking an interesting turn. Last month, Laura Soracco wrote a popular post about doing away with the NS/NNS dichotomy altogether, which was picked up this week in a heated (OK, gas mark 2) Twitter exchange between Russ Mayne and others. Russ tweeted:
NS and NNS may be ‘flawed terms’ but that’s no reason to stop using them.
…and to be honest, my first reaction was oh Russ come on. So were several other people’s, apparently. Then I thought a bit more and realised we’re in danger of conflating two separate conversations.
For recruitment purposes, it’s pretty clear we should stop using the NS and NNS labels. They’re vague, they’re used to discriminate, and the non- prefix can’t help but imply deviation from the 'normal' or the desirable. Laura suggests proficient English language speaker, bilingual or multilingual as preferable terms to NNS, which any sensible person would surely struggle to disagree with.
However. For real life purposes, you know what? I’m not a proficient English language speaker. (Hang on, wait for the rest.) I’m a native speaker. I’m a native bloody speaker, like a Dane speaks Danish or a Turk speaks Turkish. I can emit sounds in several other languages, but I'm far from bi- or multilingual. English is the language of my dreams, my crap jokes, my blazing rows, my memories, my 3am confessions. For better or worse, it's the lens through which I see the world. Does that make me a superior teacher? Emphatically, no. But English is a massive, integral part of my identity that also happens to be the international language. Do I recognise all the unfair advantages conferred on me because I grew up speaking it? Absolutely. But I can’t truly be sorry about something as random as the circumference of my head, nor can I adopt, without hypocrisy, any made-up word that obscures or downplays what I am. I am English; hear me roar!
The real point, I suppose, is that we should have each others’ backs. It's not a zero sum game in which one group must be quashed for the other to rise (see also: feminism). At work it matters not one iota whether we were, as kids, read bedtime stories or histoires or 物語, and it’s all of our responsibility to challenge prejudice against bilingual English teachers in job adverts, from colleagues and students, or in the wider world. But by the same token, when we’re out of school we should respect each others’ right to define our own language use, however we see fit – and however flawed the terms may be.