Natives vs Non-natives: Our experience in Spain

10

The battle rages in Spain between natives and non-natives. The streets run with blood and Euros fly out of the hands of desperate parents looking for a good teacher for their precious little ones. Working and toiling together in Spain as a native and non-native pair has given us an interesting insight into how the two, completely random coincidences of where you are born, are seen and in turn respected/disrespected in Spain. A little background to the situation, for prospective teachers:

Countless times have we seen teachers refused jobs or not even given a job due to them being ‘non-native’. A case in point; myself a native Greek with a CELTA (B) with 3 years experience have been passed over for multiple positions simply because of the elephant in the room. What is driving this cult of the native is, as one director said “ The parents want their children to be taught by natives” So, the parents push the idea and of course the academies have to oblige. This makes business sense but does it give the students the best experience, in this supposed meritocracy? It is easy to sound bitter about such a matter but one cannot fault an academy for providing a service suited to what the payers want. It’s business and perhaps that is that.

However an interesting point to note is that in private classes the parents in Spain are more than happy to employ a ‘non-native’ if the price is right and they come recommended, as a good teacher to trust in your house with your kids is hard to find. So it is not all one big conspiracy against johnny foreigner, there are positions for ‘non-natives’ and don’t despair because in Spain the private market is strong for ‘non-natives’ with some business nous, and there are of course some academies more than happy to employ the right person for the right job regardless of where your choice less birth, within man-made borders happens to have been.

This gives you some background and perhaps some hope when looking to move to sunny Spain (despite at the moment of writing there being only rain). We want to help start a greater discussion about this topic wherever you may be reading this, so below we list some pros and cons, that we hae come across in Spain, for the age old topic of ‘natives’ vs ‘non-natives’ and your opinions are more than welcome.

Pronunciation, real life vocabulary and the accent

Natives speakers have the accent, they have the pronunciation, and the semantics of the language. This is a built-in system learned from early age through constant exposure, which in Spain is highly desirable for parents, as they believe that it will perhaps rub off on their children who they think will be drinking a cups of tea with their pinky finger sticking out before they know it. Having these skills however, are inherently useless unless a teacher knows how to transfer these skills to their students and also how to focus on inherent language specific problems for example, the ones that Spanish people have when it comes to the English accent and pronunciation. Furthermore, an accent is a double edged sword, it is great to have it but doesn’t a CD also have that and the Internet too. I used to live with a guy from Liverpool and even when toning down his accent I still needed a translator so now, somewhere out there, are a group of Scouse Spaniards, the benefits of which I will let you decide.

Natives on the whole have a stronger vocabulary, especially with those torrid phrasal verbs that one only comes across when living in England, but on the other hand, the system of learning vocabulary can completely elude natives, whereas a non-native has been there done that and got the T- shirt. A well prepared and clued up ‘non-native’ is more than a match for any ‘native’ in the classroom but the Spaniards love a good conversation class where a natives fluidity can really make the difference. The benefits of such a class are cause for another post.

Prestige

For better or worse the academies want that prestige. “We have a native speaker” they cry from every Spanish techo. “Come to our language school we have natives” as if they are some Zoo animal worthy of letting your child see if they pay the ticket price. Parents love it too, “oh did you hear that Maria has a native teacher for her child?” NO I did not and I don’t really care. Prestige is everything in Spain and if you live by the sword you die by the sword. If it is what they want then it is what they get, but to overlook a more experienced teacher for the sake of prestige lowers the overall teaching efficiency of your school. The key to getting a job here as a non-native is to play the system. Around the start of the academic term the schools are desperate and also in January when the teachers decide that life in blighty is better than Spain, that is when prestige goes out of the window, and they will hire non-natives and rightly so because they may just get someone to step into the breach and make a real difference in their school as in Spain doing a good job and having the students like you counts for so much more than what passport you have.

Culture

There is so much more to learning a Language than just words and grammar rules. Learning about the culture is equally as important as many students use English to access the culture (games, internet, tv) and this in turn increases their love of it and willingness to carry on learning it. With a native speaker an academy gets instant access to this and students benefit from the direct access they can get between language and culture. If you want to learn about food, customs, music, comedy and so much more, a native speaker can reminisce and instruct about theses matters first hand, and really help bring the language to life. This weighs heavily on academies in Spain and adds another string to their advertising bow when trying to attract students, or should I say parents, to their academy. Can non-natives learn all this….? Yes of course they can but if for example an English joke is intrinsically linked to the culture of the people then isn’t it just the blind leading the blind? Or what about Christmas customs, you really need to experience it first hand in England if you want to bring it to life; I am just not sure that reading about it is enough, however I remember the joy of a non-native teacher explaining to me their favourite English music and how much it meant to them that they could now understand and full enjoy it. And this enthusiasm and thirst for cultural knowledge is perhaps something natives don’t have or indeed take for granted. I can’t tell a student about my journey to understand an English song, about how overjoyed I felt when it finally clicked. It is an interesting issue and perhaps one that affects overall learning in a minimal way but it is worthy of a mention nonetheless.

Teaching of higher levels

The dreaded C1 and C2 class can be the bane of any teachers life. It is generally considered acceptable in Spain to give these higher classes to natives. Some academies may do otherwise but in my experience it has generally been like that. What I don’t understand is why I may be put in one of these classes but my fellow writing partner may not be even though she has done these classes herself and passed the exam. She in fact knows more about it than me! I am not so sure that being a native offers any inherent advantage except perhaps in practising speaking fluidity and really getting into the nitty gritty of when to use words and how to say them. But the C2 seems to me to be a purely academic exercise and if you have already got your C1 then go to England and bloody use it, really get down and dirty with the language. Perhaps these higher levels are the great leveller where natives and non-natives unite in head scratching and bafflement at the ludicrous nature of the English language. I have to study to teach these classes, you have to study to teach these classes and whatever inherent advantage I gain from being a native is immediately destroyed when I realise that I don’t know what half these words are and I need a god dam dictionary! So neither side can win this battle and at times we both lose, therefore native and non-native goes out of the window in my opinion and with these classes the term SURVIVE becomes more and more germane.

Under qualified

So, here is the scenario, I put an advert up for my teaching services at a reasonable price. I listed my qualifications and experience and the fact of course that I am native. I get a few classes from it no problem then to my horror I find that a friend of a friend who works as an assistant teacher in a school is charging more than me and has a sum total of zero qualifications/ experience. Then to top it all off said friend comes in to tell me that he now has a B2 exam class under his instruction and calmly asks ‘ is that a difficult level?’ ‘do they use a book for it?’ and other such questions that make me question all remaining faith I have in the Spanish system. At closer inspection of the website, I then find that a non-native university student, in the town, is charging twice as much as me and in her advert liberally smashes native speakers, with famous quotes from people I’ve never heard of…. that is her whole advert.

What is going on? This is where the moot divisions of who is better meet reality. Every boss is different and so many of them are hoodwinked into thinking they are getting a decent teacher because said teacher struts in and says ‘I am a native and I can teach….’ well welcome aboard I guess. I honestly feel sorry for parents too, who want to find and do the best for their kids, who end up with two bit wannabe teachers. The system here is broken and I don’t know how you can fix it.

The CELTA means diddly squat to parents and when there aren’t enough teachers you can find yourself working alongside someone in an Academy whose only qualification is an American passport. These people in turn push out Spanish native English teachers, who have to work twice as hard to get work and must feel quite appalled when walking past an English academy with a bundle of qualifications in hand, only to see a group of people at the window waving passports at them; an exaggeration but an analogy that sums up the system here quite well. It is not that natives triumph here it is that people with no qualifications to teach are given jobs, paid more than Spanish teachers and quite frankly turn the teaching of English in to one big farce. Some people need to realise that nationality may in fact have little to do with quality and that this nonsense doesn’t pass in any country where English is spoken with a shred of decency.

To conclude this divisive affair, it is fair to say that regardless of where you are from, there are good teachers and bad teachers, teachers who work hard and teachers who don’t. Who is better than whom is a debate that will rage on as long as the market favours one over the other. Don’t be discouraged from applying for a position in Spain as a ‘non-native’, be confident and fight for it. We’ve both worked alongside countless natives and non-natives all with unique strengths and weaknesses as teachers. There is much we can learn from people who were born into English and people who have studied it for most of their lives, a mix of the two in one academy can only lead to success in our most humbled opinion.

If you enjoyed our first blog post then wherever you find this start a conversation about natives vs non-natives in your country. We are interested to know the thought processes behind it in your country and we also like to read internet arguments.

21 thoughts on “Natives vs Non-natives: Our experience in Spain”

    1. There are legal requirements that MUST be respected. Therefore, first and foremost, a teacher MUST BE a qualified teacher , that is to say, a teacher whose qualifications are LEGALLY AND OFFICIALLY RECOGNISED IN THE COUNTRY WHERE THE TEACHER WANTS TO TEACH. ONCE THE QUALIFICATIONS ARE RECOGNISED, students , parents , schools have the right to decide which teacher they prefer , native , not native, Brit, American etc. IT IS A COMPLETE LACK OF RESPECT TO THE LOCALS TO TEACH WITHOUT A LOCALLY RECOGNISED QUALIFICATION! IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE MONEY TO PAY A CERTIFIED TRANSLATOR SO AS TO HAVE YOUR DEGREE APPROVED ,IT IS NOT MY PROBLEM! “TO BE OR NOT TO BE A TEACHER “is not the same as “to work AS a teacher or not to work AS a teacher”. N.B Even if it’s not illegal to teach without a degre , it is still not professional and not ethical. Working in education requires a qualification, it is not like painting or providing customer support in a call centre!

      Like

  1. Although I have not taught in Spain, I can see how language schools might use parental expectations as an excuse to discriminate against teachers who happen to be non-native English speakers. Parents, however, are not to blame. Parents are not language professionals; therefore, their ideas about language teachers should not be the primary concern of language schools when they decide whom to hire. In my view, the fault lies entirely with language schools. As opposed to parents, heads of schools and directors of studies are trained language professionals, and they should know better. Language schools are supposed to uphold professional standards, which should include a rigorous recruitment process whereby only suitably qualified applicants are hired. As qualifications alone are no guarantee of adeptness in the classroom, demonstration lessons should also be required before anyone gets hired.

    Like

  2. This approach is seen not only in Spain. The recent decision of Chinese authorities to keep qualified non-native English speaking teachers from obtaining jobs in Beijing, Shanghai and other pilot areas for the new work permit policy is another example of a decision that is based on public opinion and not on a statistical research. Read this article http://bbc.in/2k5Tgiu .

    “Native speakers of English generally are monolingual and are not very good at tuning into language variation,” Professor Jennifer Jenkins from University of Southampton says.
    The non-native speakers, it turns out, speak more purposefully and carefully, typical of someone speaking a second or third language. Native speakers, on the other hand, often talk too fast for others to follow, and use jokes, slang and references specific to their own culture. “The native English speaker… is the only one who might not feel the need to accommodate or adapt to the others,” she adds.

    “It’s the native English speakers that are having difficulty understanding and making themselves understood.”

    Non-native speakers generally use more limited vocabulary and simpler expressions, without flowery language or slang. Because of that, they understand one another at face value.

    I believe that natives and non-natives have an equal chance to become successful teachers, but the routes used by the two groups are not the same.

    Furthermore, both native and non-native teachers have equal chance to conclude that the traditional approach to teaching is inadequate because it uses conscious Passive Learning and should be substituted with subconscious Active Training of English skills.

    Like

  3. I have not taught in Spain because none of my many applications over a handful of years ever got a response. I am a native speaker of English with a U.S. passport, a TEFL certificate, publications in EFL, and over ten years of experience teaching EFL. I also have the experience of learning foreign languages, including Spanish. Thus, I find the argument in this paper difficult to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was a really interesting read. As a native speaker who doesn’t have any teaching certifications, I definitely agree that growing up speaking English doesn’t mean much when it comes to teaching it. This is probably what I struggle with most as a teaching assistant and in giving private classes. It may come naturally to me, but I don’t always know how to explain the rules to my students.

    Like

    1. thanks for the comment! i remember when i first started teaching and very quickly i had to get used to english grammar. the terminology uses etc but i admit that i am no walking grammar book. it helps to know where to look in a book for the info and in preperation having the grammar for the lesson laid out always helps but ive been left stumped countless times by random grammar questions haha

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think non-natives have an advantage over natives in terms of how grammar works and the knowledge of both languages; however, they may resort to their own language more often than not and that may be a drawback in the learning of a new language since students get used to translation from L1. Non-natives may speak more slowly and clearly as a rule, but they lack the graciousness of an accent and the cultural background of a native.

    Like

    1. interesting comment. thanks! direct translation can be a real problem sometimes also i like the term graciousness of an accent as to replicate an english accent can be quite hard and in spain working on the accent is important

      Like

  6. I must admit I was lucky enough to have the right surname and passport when I started teaching English in a language school(a year before my CELTA). The fact I’d only lived in the UK a grand total of 6 out of 24 yeas and that my non-natural English speaking mother had taught me to speak English as a kid was totally irrelevant!
    I’ve realised, only in the last few years though, that it was because my mother started learning English in the UK at the age of 7 that she was able to teach me well. Had it been for my father (the Londoner), I wouldn’t have been so articulate (well, I like to think I am!).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hello,
    Great post. Really enjoyed reading it. I was wondering if you’d be interested in having it republished on TEFL Equity Advocates. If you are, you can get in touch with me on info@teflequityadvocates.com
    One thing I did want to comment on is the culture bit. First, how do you even define what British culture is and what is comprised of? And even if this is possible, English is an official language in over fifty sovereign states, so it’s practically impossible to define what the culture in relation to the English language would be.
    I’m also very sceptical that teaching culture is what students need to master the language. I speak French, Portuguese and German, but wouldn’t say I know much about the French culture. I don’t feel a particular need to learn about it in class. As one student told me when I asked the class if they felt it was important to learn about the culture of English speaking countries when learning English, “we can just Google it”.
    I would also argue that a non-native speaker can teach students about the culture, if we assume we can define it. A lot of us have lived in English speaking countries, or have spent a considerable amount of time hanging out in the staff room and down the pub with our native speaker colleagues. And a lot of us have studied it too, possibly not only in relation to one particular country, but in a much broader sense, looking at various English speaking countries.
    Finally, what’s the use of all this cultural knowledge if most of our learners will use English in international settings where native speakers either won’t be present, or will be in a minority? I would argue that it’s much more important to teach our students intercultural communicative skills.
    Best,
    Marek

    Like

    1. Hi! I would be very interested in having it republished on that site!

      I am not sure i am in a position or have the ability to fully set out what makes and doesn’t make a culture. However you allude to it in the idea that you spend a lot of time down the pub with native speakers. It’s crude but certainly an interesting aspect of English culture. Why do we feel the need to go their of all places to socialise. A moot point and not unique amongst nations but part of our culture anyway. I could say the obvious ones. Music, humour, politics, food,history , literature and they could all in turn be vetted and dissected for value but if you truly want to live and breath the language accessing these things allows you to learn so much about the language in a practical sense and it also helps to give meaning to the things English people say. Furthermore it acts as inspiration to some. I myself am learning Greek and to sit in Athens on a narrow street with a beer, arguing politics whilst an old women singing a song in the street about Turkish oppression is truly the inspiration i need to learn and understanding what is going on and fundamentally why gives me a respect for those people and a deeper respect and understanding of their language. Everybody wins and everybody learns.

      Perhaps you don’t have to learn about it in class however and i do see the validity of your argument. My point just then was from outside of the classroom. But by using any of the things previously mentioned in a class.music etc.. Well that is helping them access the culture even if minutely.

      A case in point would be when my 7 year old students shout at me about how they want this and they want that. I tell them it is better to say I would like and in fact you are more likely to get what you want if you ask like that. They are course confused it seems overly polite to them is not a construct they would use in their language but convention (perhaps we could mark this down to culture) says we must use our unique brand on British politeness if we want to get what we want. This curious false politeness that is empty and meaningless whist being intricate and aloof. I ask you is this part of culture?

      A non native can teach it and be enthused by i; would they know the intricacies that come from growing up in it hmmm maybe but it’s useless in Spain as they wouldn’t get a look in for a job also a cathartic issue I can’t dance like a greek…. And it’s unlikely i will ever be able to do. Some things are “in the blood”.

      “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where the people come from and where they are going”

      One doesn’t have to master it but to be ignorant of a culture is to instantly fail, no matter how good your grammar is, at the language. You have memorised words and terms like a lawyer or historian and without learning about the unique cultures that go alongside these languages you have in essence learnt nothing and only closed your mind down further to the access languages can give you.To not at least reference it in class gives the language no context and to not at least try to get to grips with it can leave a sturdy language husk with an empty hollow core.

      Well that was food for thought and a micro blog in itself. Intercultural communication skills by the way seem a great idea and i also think with brexit and all our British identity has changed for ever. Perhaps an Advanced class discussion on such a topic would be cultural and interesting. I do hope you publish our blog!

      Like

      1. Thanks for your reply. Lots of interesting thoughts to chew on.
        I disagree that I’ve failed or learned nothing by not knowing much about a culture of a particular country that speaks that language. I can speak the language. I can read books, newspapers, listen to the radio, watch films. And most importantly, I can talk to the people who speak that language. I don’t think that’s a failure.
        Especially as far as English is concerned, for many people the language is a tool to get things done. A businessman or a researcher doesn’t need to know about quirky British cultural aspects, for example, to be a successful user of the language. It MIGHT be useful, but only might, if they happen to be communicating with a British only audience.
        To give you another example, my knowledge of British culture is completely useless as far as communicating in English in international settings is concerned. It doesn’t really get me anywhere, and most likely my interlocutors will ask me about Polish culture, if they do ask me about culture. What’s far more important is the ability to understand other non-English cultures and to be able to accommodate and adjust your English accordingly. In other words, knowing something about British or American culture can be useful, but with a global language like English, it would be counter productive to focus only on it.
        Also, let’s not forget that a native speaker, nor anyone else, can know a given culture in its entirety. I keep on learning new things about Poland all the time. It’s a big country and people’s customs and traditions differ quite a lot.
        Finally, even if we assume that learners need to learn about the culture, and that only a native speaker can offer this knowledge, let’s not forget that this doesn’t make them a better informant on culture. Knowing something, especially without ever learning about it, is quite different from being able to convey this knowledge effectively.
        Regarding republishing, drop me an email with the post in doc format, bionotes, headshot and a cover image 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I would say you have not failed at all (regardless of whatever my opinion means) I would in fact say that you have been accessing the culture of these languages and people in a quite effective manner. If I rely on what your students do and quote from the all knowing oracle then culture would be the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. Such synonyms include society and civilisation. Well reading and delving into all these things you mentioned certainly covers ideas and customs. And as I pointed out in my article and something that was picked out in a comment is that having all this knowledge in your head is useless unless you can get it out in an effective and efficient way. Also not knowing a culture in its entirety helps spur me on as there are words and worlds I know nothing of within the English sphere that I stumble upon and learn about and become enriched along the way. If you are a businessman and or in the business sphere that is a different kettle of fish, you have to make the language work for your purpose immediately to seal the deal perhaps it is ruthless, culture-less English, a tool of the trade that business exploits to ease themselves through the congested linguistic world.

        I will send you the info as soon as possible. Thanks again

        Like

  8. This is very well-written example of something I see so much in this field. I’m currently teaching English in South Korea and they have exact same problem. The only bigger issue here is the racism. When looking for a native English teacher they always prefer “white female Canadian/Americans”, which is really frustrating if you don’t fall into that category. They will even choose a recent grad with no qualifications over someone with years of experience purely because of their sex and skin color. Then, as you said, we become a walking advertisement! On my schools website they put pictures of all their native teachers like “look! We have 6 native English teachers! Send your kids here! I was hoping that by going to Madrid, doing the T&L program, I would get away from this but after reading this I feel I’ve lost hope! Have you heard of the phrase “teacher tourism”? I feel like Spain especially is a hotspot for people to “study abroad 2.0” and “teach” only to live in that country. It really is such a shame and unfair to all those teachers out there that have worked so hard!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well i wouldn’t lose hope. I work alongside L2 teachers and they are simply fantastic teachers. My co writer is L2 and carving out some business for herself here in Spain. You should always be judged on how well you teach not what your passport says. I’ve seen people turn my co writer down for jobs because she isn’t native then come crawling back when they couldn’t find someone willing to work that hard for what they offered. In Spain you earn respect and you prove people wrong. Non natives start at a disadvantage here but it just fuels them to try harder and to succeed. The system is inherently wrong but if that’s how it is you have to go out and beat it.

      And yes i know of teacher tourism. The city i am living in is plagued by american graduates who came over here on a special programme and now charge double non natives charge and just because they are american.. Take a lot of the jobs. These people have no experience and no qualifications nor do they care about the wasted year they are offering thier students but play the system and make money. It’s a disaster for the students and a waste of money and time for the parents.

      Like

      1. Oh I completely agree! That’s what I’m dealing with here in Korea! People tend t stay for only one or two years and they are typically recent grads and it’s their first time abroad. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as a native English teacher who has been all over the world, they make me feel embarassed for my country. I can only speak for myself, but those that go and party all night only to go to class the next day to show the students a video are the reason native teachers have a bad reputation. We arent all like that. :/ But you’re absolutely right, there are 2l teachers who would do a much better job.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s