Many professionals in the ESL world argue that the term “native-speaker” of English is offensive and inaccurate. It doesn’t gauge actual skills, and its inaccuracy is mired in colonialism to boot. So, what exactly is the problem with job postings that ask for native speakers only?
Ignoring the benefit of bilingual students
The term “native speaker” labels people by what they are not rather than highlighting the obvious additional knowledge they have.
Consider the fact that it actually makes sense to value bilingual speakers highly and supposed “non-native” speakers of English should garner higher wages, assuming their competency in English is truly fluent. In this way, non-native English teachers should be paid more, not less, than their “native” counterparts.
A teacher who is fluent in English as their L2 language could be considered a huge asset. They could be labeled as a bilingual or polyglot speaker. They could be labeled by what they have, not what they don’t have: they have the knowledge of two languages, while supposed “native speakers” might only have one.
All of this “native speakerism” is dealt with at length in this great blog post hosted on TEFL Equity Advocates, which is a resource I suggest for every teacher. Learning more about inclusivity and equity is a crucial part of being an excellent educator.
It is Lazy
Though the net result is racist or prejudiced, I actually think the motivation behind the “native speakerism” in the ESL field is primarily due to cost-cutting and laziness. It is easier to mass hire people by looking at their passports than to truly test their competency in English. Often, especially for online ESL companies, the people doing the hiring aren’t fluent English speakers themselves. So, it is difficult for them to judge a teacher’s ability. It is easier to check that they hold an English language predominant passport.
It is Inaccurate
If you need more arguments for why the term “native-speaker” of English is offensive, then consider an even simpler issue: it’s just sloppy and inaccurate.
English is not only found in America, Canada, and the United Kingdom. English is also used in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and it is used as a lingua franca in the many former territories of the British Empire, Liberia, the Philippines, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau, which were American territories. English is also the sole official language of the Commonwealth of Nations and of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). We could go on and on.
Then consider that many people are raised bilingually. Some were even raised speaking English and grew up in America, but may not have the citizenship or documents to prove that English is their native language. Other English teachers were raised in countries with a legacy of colonialism. English is one of their country’s primary languages, but foreigners may not associate English with their country.
It Ignores Colonialism
There are lots of English-speaking countries that are full of “non-native” speakers of English. How can this be, you might wonder.
Well, here is a list of some majority native English speaking countries that ESL companies might not accept as “native-speakers” though English might be the applicants primary language:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- The Bahamas
- St Kitts and Nevis
- St Lucia
- St Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
The term “Native-speaker” of English is Offensive and Hurts Pay, Too.
Many ESL companies pay teachers less if they consider them “non-native speakers”. Similarly, companies like itutorgroup will tie your hourly pay to the living wage of your country of residency, regardless of whether or not English is your native language. While a “native-speaker” with a BA typically earns $15-20 an hour, a “non-native speaker” even with a BA may earn $5 an hour. This is due to supply and demand: companies know there are many educated professionals in Eastern Europe, for example, who can speak English fluently and teach it while living in a country with an exchange rate that favors the dollar.
In this respect, I think Cambly should be really appreciated. Cambly, though it pays relatively poorly at roughly $10/hour, pays South Africans the same as an Amercan teacher living in New York City.
What do ESL companies mean by “native-speaker of English”?
Besides the fact that the term “native-speaker” of English is offensive to many, in the wider world, there is quite a lot of disagreement about what constitutes a “native speaker”. As you can imagine, “what does ‘native speaker’ mean?” is a politicized question mired in complex cultural and even socio-economic implications. If you are asking “what does it mean to be a native-speaker of English?” then the answer is deceptively self-evident: a person whose first language- the primary language used by their family, school, and peers- was English.
Some companies qualify these many applicants as native speakers and others do not. Note that even the American Dialect Society says there is no agreed-upon definition of who can be considered a native speaker of English.
Finally, to find companies that hire non-native English speakers, search through our comprehensive chart.
- Language and colonialism. Applied linguistics in the context of creole communities.
- English-speaking world
- The Effects of Colonialism on Language
- The Linguistic Colonialism of English
“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”Martin Luther King Jr.
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