Still a long way to go…


After receiving a very blunt email from an academy in Portugal asking ‘are you a native speaker?’ to which my response was ‘no’… followed by their kind hearted response of        ‘we only hire native speakers’. I thought to myself, just another day really in the TEFL industry, but after looking over the advertisement I was astonished to find that it said ‘native level speakers’ not ‘native speakers only’ and naturally I thought ‘What the hell is that?’

Many adverts now post ‘native level speakers’ and some give clarification of C2 requirements etc etc and I honestly thought, despite being in this industry for too long, that perhaps things were changing maybe there was some hope for the people not ‘fortunate’ enough to have been born in an English speaking country; we could get our C2 and set out into the TEFL world … I was wrong. While many websites and Facebook groups change their policies to reflect the diversity of their market, the academies, especially in Spain and Portugal, appear to be paying lip service to this by seemingly changing their requirements, when in actual fact, the first thing they do is email you and tell you they want native speakers only. (Idiomas Watson!)

Again… WHAT THE HELL IS NATIVE LEVEL? After reading a fascinating article on TEFL equity advocates I came to the conclusion that I really don’t know what native speaker is let alone what native level is. Linguistically, if you have reached proficiency level you are for all intents and purposes a native speaker, perhaps sociolinguistically you may not feel it or even associate with the culture but to put it simply; if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck… it’s a duck. This made me even more certain that this is just lip service from academies, because I can guarantee that they don’t know either, what makes a native speaker or even native level, they just want to see a passport and get their advert up.

In my mind if you have reached the ‘level of a native’ (C2) you are one, or is it that you can’t be because you didn’t acquire the language as a child, and therefore, only know exactly why you say what you say to a grammatical tee, and have done countless tests to prove it. What awful traits for a teacher to have.

If you have worked hard enough to attain a C2, and therefore know more about English than the average native and certainly more than the young Americans who come to Spain as assistant teachers and also teach in academies, would that not make me native enough to teach? Am I on their level yet? Well for most, apparently, the answer is ridiculously… no. I am just not marketable and the people who pay the price are the students.

It boils down to money, there are no principles in the hierarchies of the TEFL industry there is only money, there is no interest for academies and schools to hire ‘non- natives’ they’ll make more money if they don’t. Artifacts of an old generation, infecting the new with their discrimination, sacrificing the best teaching, for their students, in the pursuit of an arrogant dream.

When I confronted the person mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, their reply was straight from the book:

‘Our business will fail if we don’t hire natives, as students will leave to other schools’

If the only thing stopping your business from failing is marketing that you have ‘native speakers’ then shame on you. Why can’t you have a school that markets itself as successful, with quality teachers? Perhaps I am missing something and being ignorant but then again ignorance seems to be prevailing at the moment.

Either way, we can sit here and talk about the achievement of banning the words ‘native speaker’ on many job sites and talk about how smart we are because we write academic pieces, quoting lots of important people, which debunk the very essence of nativism, but are clearly not received or read by the academies, who will not budge, regardless of fancy words and subsequent bans on words, or (big breath) we can do something else about it.

What we need is more action: blacklists, reviews of academies, blog posts calling these employers out and challenging them wherever you see their ‘native only’ posts or ‘sorry you didn’t get the job’ email despite advertising for native level. Tell them it is against EU law and stand up and be counted, remember that the evidence supports us, as so eloquently summarised by many supporters, in so many articles, and remember the value you have as a teacher, and never allow yourself to be defined by your passport.

I must admit that a solution to nativism doesn’t seem in sight but one day someone is going to sue an academy and win. Maybe when the pockets of these people have been hit hard they will finally realise that the marketing ploy, they have used for so long, is discriminatory, unjustifiable and the cancer of the TEFL industry. Rant over!


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!

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