Challenging native-speakerism: a podcast with Marek Kiczkowiak

Native-speakerism in ELT

The Pearson English podcast is a platform for English language teaching experts from around the world. Listen in as they share their expertise, discuss teaching trends and explore new ideas in ELT, as well as the wider educational environment. 

In this episode, our panel interviews Marek Kiczkowiak, who shares his thoughts on ‘native-speakerism’ – the discrimination faced by non-native teachers of English –  and how we can all work to overcome this issue.

Marek runs TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy where he helps English teachers tackle native-speakerism and teaches English for global communication. Marek has been working in ELT for over 10 years. He’s got a BA in English Philology, a CELTA, DELTA, and a PhD in TESOL, so he’s well placed to offer some insights into the issue of native speakerism in the world of English teaching. 

What is native-speakerism? 

This refers to the belief that native speaking teachers (those who are from countries where English is a first language) are somehow inherently better at teaching English than non-native speakers. This belief is widespread and leads to routine discrimination against ELT professionals who don’t speak English as their first language. 

Marek explains that employers, students and society at large often display a marked preference for a perceived native teacher, as opposed to a non-native teacher, regardless of qualifications, experience or teaching ability. That being said, “native” teachers often suffer from a related prejudice if they are not perceived as a native English speaker because of their ethnicity, skin colour, name or accent. 

There’s a body of research which shows that being a native speaker is frequently associated with being white and having a standard English accent. And the main effect of this prejudice is the barrier that it creates for perceived non-native teachers of English when it comes to recruitment policies. 

The four levels of change to tackle native-speakerism

Based on environmental activist Will Grant’s four levels of action, Marek has developed his own framework to tackle native-speakerism. 

Level 1: Individual level

At this level, it is about personal actions and ideas. Marek suggests leaving a quick comment under the job adverts that advertise for “native speakers” on social media or sending a quick email to point out that companies shouldn’t advertise this way. If enough people do this, schools will take notice. 

Here you can download two email templates you could use

Another change you can make on a personal, professional level is representing a diverse range of accents in your classroom, to try to erode students’ preference for a narrow selection of accents. Exposing your students to a wide variety of accents is more realistic, and will be more helpful for their own comprehension in the real world where there are a variety of non-native and native accents in English. When teaching pronunciation, you could shift your focus away from getting students to emulate narrow native accents and focus instead on achieving a high level of intelligibility

Level 2: People close to you 

These could be friends, family or – most appropriately in the case of native-speakerism – your teaching colleagues. Talk to your fellow teachers about the issue, and share your own tactics to overcome it – for example using a range of accents in your classroom. If you can persuade just one teacher to follow your lead, that can make a difference. 

Level 3: Institutions 

Changing the policies of institutions in the ELT world would have an enormous impact on native-speakism. Publishers, language schools and accreditation bodies all have opportunities to effect change. For example, an accreditation body should take hiring policies into account when they are accrediting individual language schools. Marek suggests that it’s also important for accreditation bodies to look at how non-native teachers are treated in language schools. Do they have the same opportunities to teach higher levels? Are they paid the same as other teachers? 

Level 4: Policymakers and government

It’s still important, but it’s much slower and more difficult to advocate for change when it comes to creating legal and societal change at the level of law and government. But if we look at the history of different social movements, if enough people get together and make their voices heard, politicians and policy-makers will take notice and make changes. 

Further resources

For more insights into Marek’s experiences of native-speakerism, and suggestions of how to combat this discrimination, listen to the full episode – available on our website, SoundCloud, Spotify or Apple Podcasts

If you’d like to learn more about this issue, have a look at the TEFL Equity Advocates website, where there are lots of articles and blogs about the phenomena of native-speakerism and teaching English as a lingua franca. Marek is also on Linkedin and Facebook, where you can join the TEFL Equity Advocates group to connect with other teachers working to eradicate native-speakerism within the English teaching community.

You may also be interested in this article: How to support learners with dyslexia: a podcast with Martin Bloomfield. 

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