5 things I have learnt from the Native vs Non-Native debate so far.


I posted a blog several months ago about this interesting topic. I hadn’t read anything about it beforehand or been asked to write by someone championing the cause, I had simply seen it in Spain, everywhere I looked, and felt that it was not right. Why should my partner, who is a far better teacher than me, not get a job but I should because of my nationality? It baffled me, after all, ‘teachers are made not born’, but apparently I had serendipitously been born in the right place and been afforded unworthy privilege as a result.

I have been following this topic for several months now, since I published my article, and although just a small time, in the grand 60 years of discrimination that has taken place, I have in fact learnt several things about the topic and I feel I should share them:

1.Why is this even a thing?

People insist on flying in the face of expert opinion. In the modern era we are tired of experts with all their research and intricate knowledge of the subject. We must only listen to people with vendettas against non natives because, this one time, they saw a bad non native teacher or, in other words, people who enjoy a good generalisation.

It is quite simple really, this whole debate should not even exist, it makes no sense and detracts from the ‘choosing the best teacher for the job/being an effective language teaching’ mantra we should abide by. The point is best expressed in this video by TEFL Equity Advocates.

2.We have a hero… The mysterious cult of the native speaker and deeply entrenched views with little substance.

I have also learnt that the cult of the native is strong and have seen countless people splutter and falter whilst trying to put their finger on why exactly natives are better (they aren’t). Perhaps through my naivety I did not realise just how entrenched these views were across Europe and especially in Spain. People are upset and people are offended, as if I have walked into their classroom and said in front of all their students that because they are native they are privileged and don’t deserve the job. People, natives, are taking this as a personal attack on them, when all I have been trying to say is that equality and a fair process should be in place for all.

This point is epitomised by my favourite character in this saga, a gentleman I come across more than I would like, the myth, the legend that is ‘BULLSHIT man’. Wherever there is a discussion about this topic, natives need not fear, as BULLSHIT man is there to give his constructive opinion by reciting his holy mantra of BULLSHIT to everything he sees/hears and reads. I respect his dedication but I’m not sure I fully understand his argument.

3.’There is nothing we can do; it’s what paying students want’

Time and time again I hear this. However, if academies and schools have pushed the perception that natives are superior and so mercilessly abused this with slogans and marketing campaigns, then they are the people to stop it (this will fall on deaf ears, I know, we can’t be damaging profits for the sake of equality now).

The best academies I have worked at, all hired natives and non- natives a like. Not once did they bend to a students whim about some institutional falsehood. They hired the best person for the job and gave the student the best service possible! I never saw a student walk away because they weren’t given a native teacher. Instead I saw students over come their prejudice and realise the multiple benefits of having a teacher who has been in their shoes and passed their exams.

This thirst for natives has lead to a further lowering of language standards in Spain as many vacancies are not being filled by good teachers but by natives, a lot of whom are, of course, more than able teachers (at times myself included), but when I am working alongside auxiliaries or people who I know for a fact have been given a job due to their nationality I despair. Business owners can put their heads in the sand on this one, but we all know it is happening.  However, I must clarify that a significant proportion of the blame for this ‘lowering’ of standards has to lie at the foot of the state school system:  I have worked in state schools in Spain where English teachers have purposefully avoided conversation with me, so as not to show the fact that their levels are low, in addition, I have helped several teachers pass their B2 all the while they have been inflicting their colossal errors on their own students, which I desperately try to excise from them, in my meagre 2hrs a week contact time. Put simply, standards for everyone need to be raised and from there we can pick the best teacher for the job.

I know in Spain, where I have met a lot of resistance, that change won’t happen. I am resigned to the fact there will either be no change at all or it will take someone being sued and to lose their business before people change.

(discrimination on language/ ethnicity is not allowed under EU law, Padua University petitioned , fines for breaching this can be quite hefty)

4.Race is an actual issue in our EFL community

I was horrified to learn that there are places in our field of work that discriminate based on race. The problem in these countries hasn’t even reached native vs non native they are still stuck on the antiquated farce that skin pigment matters.  Albeit in places far from my comfort zone in northern Spain and it seems to be mainly something that has appeared in Asia (and probably more places). It is indefensible and wrong, as we can all agree, and we must take a stand to stop it. Obviously I can’t tell you what to do but for goodness sake don’t accept these jobs and don’t encourage these people. However, I am glad to have learnt about this so that it can be brought to your attention and hopefully, this egregious topic will become a welcome adversary in our fight for equality and in turn disappear into the nethers of time where it should never rear its head again.

5. Ad Hominem and a divided community

Pettiness on the internet knows no bounds, we all know this, but the level of it amongst our teaching community is outstanding. I mean we should really applaud ourselves on how well we can apply our creative minds to brining others down, I am impressed, but I fail to see how it advances your argument, criticising a persons’ spelling mistake or a misplaced semicolon, I have misplaced several in this article, deal with it.

Furthermore ‘ad hominem’ attacks are the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. You didn’t use a hyphen; you must be the worst teacher and I feel sorry for your students. The greatest of all, out of the ones I have seen, being the questioning of a man’s ellipsis use (and how he must be the worst teacher ever) only for the accuser to call it ellipses (ellipsis plural) and have oval shapes of unwarranted hatred, claiming he was wrong, thrown at him by people who have no idea what they are talking about but feel like they do perhaps because they are native, or can’t use google. These people detract from perfectly valid opinions on this important discussion and should be seen as no better than trolls (most of them are).

To conclude this riveting foray, I can safely say, that since walking into this house on fire, I have seen the best and the worst of our community. I’ve seen champions and villains, trolls and their well-met adversaries and kings raising their defences ever higher, as they feel that their kingdoms are under threat from the reforming masses, here to stop them using their competitive ‘we have native speakers’ edge.

I have read bigoted articles saying non natives shouldn’t teach at all, due to the amount of charlatans out there, without regard for native teacher tourism or certain native only programmes that affect countries like Spain massively. I have read articles saying that non natives are better teachers full stop, without refrain, in some tit for tat pettiness that only makes me more embarrassed, than I already am, to be part of what I once thought, was an enlightened and welcoming community of like-minded, driven teachers. That, my friends, is what I’ve learnt so far.



Author: Teaching in Spain

Two teachers who like to write about travelling, and you guessed it, teaching. One of us is from England and one of us from Greece. If you like what we write then subscribe and enjoy!

One thought on “5 things I have learnt from the Native vs Non-Native debate so far.”

  1. Thanks for posting this. As I said, elsewhere, ignoring the problem won’t solve it, and I’d encourage anyone comcerned about the mistreatment of NNESTs to express their views in a considered and rational manner.
    At the moment the defence of NNESTs is still very much in the negative argument stage, meaning their right to equal opportunities employment is being defended, which is fine in itself, but things will need to move forward at some point.
    When things do move forward, it will be a question of whether we hold every guilty person and organisation to account, or focus on the system/industry as a whole and leave the small, backpacker, cash-in-hand schools to be drowned out.

    Liked by 1 person

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