May 2020 – Volume 24, Number 1
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Little is known about recruiters’ attitudes to hiring ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’, or the factors which might influence their potential preference for the former group. Of the four studies conducted thus far, three were carried out in the US or the UK, and are over a decade old (Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob et al., 2004; Moussu, 2006). The fourth, conducted in Poland, had a small sample size of five recruiters (Kiczkowiak, 2019). Consequently, the present study aimed to investigate this issue further providing more up-to-date data and extending the scope to EFL contexts. Mixed methods were used: an on-line questionnaire completed by one hundred fifty recruiters, followed by semi-structured interviews with twenty-one recruiters. The results showed that while teaching experience, qualifications, and performance in the interview were important for over 90 per cent of respondents, almost half still considered the ‘native speaker’ criterion as important. This may be due to concerns about the proficiency of ‘non-native speakers’ and the reaction from clients. Nevertheless, high satisfaction with ‘non-native speaker’ teachers was also observed, and the data provided important advice for recruiters on how to successfully implement an equal opportunities policy.
Native speakerism can be understood as an ideology based on the belief that those perceived as ‘native speakers’ are linguistically, culturally, and pedagogically superior to those perceived as ‘non-native speakers’ (Holliday, 2006, 2018). This ideology permeates numerous aspects of the English Language Teaching (ELT) profession. For example, it can affect the professional trajectories of teachers (Lowe & Kiczkowiak, 2016), lead to racism (Javier, 2016; Kubota & Fujimoto, 2013), or affect which cultural and linguistic models are deemed desirable or appropriate to present in coursebooks (Kiczkowiak & Lowe, 2019).
Over the years numerous researchers have also documented the effect native speakerism has on ELT hiring policies in various regions across the world. For example, out of 77 job ads surveyed by Mahboob and Golden (2013) on the popular on-line job board ESL Jobs World, half (38) required the candidate to be of particular nationality, while over three-quarters (61) asked for ‘native speakers’. When Kiczkowiak (2015) surveyed job ads within the European Union on tefl.com, one of the biggest on-line ELT job boards, he found that exactly three quarters required the candidate to be a ‘native speaker,’ even though such a requirement is against EU regulations. Similar results were obtained by other researchers (Ruecker & Ives, 2015; Selvi, 2010).
Nevertheless, only four studies have investigated recruiters’ attitudes towards hiring ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers (Clark & Paran, 2007; Kiczkowiak, 2019; Mahboob et al., 2004; Moussu, 2006). Three of these studies were conducted in an ESL context either in the US or the UK, and are over a decade old (Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob et al., 2004; Moussu, 2006). The remaining study was conducted in an EFL context in Poland, but used a very small sample of five recruiters (Kiczkowiak, 2019). Moreover, as Clark and Paran (2007, p. 424) noted in the conclusion to their study, previous research does not explain why recruiters might prefer hiring ‘native speaker’ teachers, “nor does it generate specific recommendations to counter negative attitudes towards NNES.” Consequently, this study aimed to fill this research gap by gathering more international data beyond an exclusively ESL context in the US and the UK. In addition, this study also attempted to analyse the reasons for recruiters’ hiring policies and provide practical suggestions as to how more positive attitudes towards ‘non-native speakers’ could be promoted within language schools.
Review of the Related Literature
Native Speakerism in ELT
Not all ‘native speakers’ might be perceived as such. Indeed, the literature indicates that within ELT being a ‘native speaker’ is frequently associated with white and Western-looking individuals (Kubota & Fujimoto, 2013). For example, Javier (2016) shows how Li, a Canadian of Hong Kong descent, and Andres, an American of Mexican descent, have their ‘native speaker’ identities questioned by students and parents, who expect a ‘native speaker’ to be white and Western-looking. This leads to racially-based hiring policies whereby non-Western-looking ‘native speakers’ are discriminated against (Ruecker & Ives, 2015). Thus, as suggested by Holliday (2018), and in order to indicate their often subjective and ideological nature in ELT discourse, the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are used in inverted commas.
Moreover, it is important to remember that ideologies such as sexism, racism or native speakerism are spread, maintained, and normalised by a set of powerful, widespread, but seemingly common sense discourses or beliefs (Eagleton, 2007). These beliefs are then further enshrined in social practices, thus perpetuating the ideology (Van Dijk, 1998). However, what is deemed a racist or sexist belief or social practice might vary from country to country.
Since it is not possible to discuss all these native-speakerist beliefs and practices (for a comprehensive overview see Holliday, 2005; Kiczkowiak & Lowe, 2019), this paper focuses on those that are most pertinent to ELT recruitment. Thus, first the belief that ‘native speakers’ are ideal language models and teachers is discussed. This is followed by an overview of literature concerning students’ preferences for being taught by ‘native speakers’. The literature review ends by outlining the discriminatory ELT recruitment policies.
‘Native speakers’ as ideal language models and teachers
In ELT, those perceived as ‘native speakers’ have been reified as being ideal language models and ideal teachers. Higher proficiency, intuitive feel for the language, intimate knowledge of the target culture, and correct pronunciation are frequently listed as their strengths of (Butler, 2004; Chun, 2014; Medgyes, 1992; Rao, 2010). What is implicitly suggested by these studies is that all those perceived as ‘native speakers’, regardless of their pedagogical training, have these qualities. This creates regimes of truth (Selvi, 2014) and perpetuates the ideology (Holliday, 2018). However, the very definition of a ‘native speaker’ is problematic, and despite several book-length attempts (Davies, 2003, 2013), the concept is difficult to pin down. The global spread of English and the fact that it is an official language in over fifty sovereign states complicates matters even further (Crystal, 2003).
In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that being a ‘native speaker’ per se correlates with being a better language model or a better teacher. For example, when intelligibility of ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ is compared and evaluated by listeners from a variety of different countries, ‘native speakers’ can in fact be the least intelligible (Kirkpatrick et al., 2008; Smith & Rafiqzad, 1979). In the classroom, when other variables such as teacher’s experience, skills, qualifications, or time spent with students are controlled, ‘native speakers’ do not perform better than ‘non-native speakers’ (Levis et al., 2016). Indeed, although a great deal of research has been devoted to identifying the characteristics of effective English teachers, no study indicates that the teacher’s mother tongue plays any role (Lamb & Wedell, 2013; Muijs & Reynolds, 2001; Richards, 2010).
Nevertheless, the linguistic and pedagogical superiority of those perceived to be ‘native speakers’ can influence recruiters’ hiring decisions. For example, the ‘native speaker’ is often used as a proficiency benchmark in job ads; thus, terms such as ‘native-like,’ ‘near-native’ or ‘native level’ proficiency in the language are common place (Rivers, 2016). Moreover, recruiters also find ‘native-like’ fluency an important hiring criterion (Moussu, 2006). Such use of ‘native speakers’ as a proficiency benchmark further perpetuates native speakerism by reinforcing the idea that the proficiency of a ‘native speaker’ is “safely ensconced in a lofty position of unassailable authority and absolute infallibility” (Rajagopalan, 2005, p. 285).
‘Native Speakers’ are preferred by students
Another widespread discourse that perpetuates native speakerism is the belief that students prefer ‘native speaker’ teachers. Since many ELT programs, especially in the private sector, are run by for-profit institutions, client satisfaction clearly becomes an important issue (Hewson, 2018). As a result, students’ preferences for ‘native speakers’ are often cited as the reason for not hiring ‘non-native speakers’ (Braine, 1999). Interestingly, however, there is little evidence to support this. For example, Moussu (2006), who studied 643 participants from ten L1 backgrounds in US universities, found that 87 per cent of students taking classes with a ‘non-native speaker’ agreed that they were a good teacher, while 79 per cent would recommend having classes with a ‘non-native speaker’ to a friend. In addition, Walkinshaw and Duong (2012) showed that students valued experience, qualifications, friendly personality, enthusiasm, ability to make classes interesting, and understanding students’ cultures more highly than ‘nativeness.’ Similar findings were also obtained by Kiczkowiak (2019). Finally, ‘non-native speakers’ are also frequently praised by students for their teaching skills (Kelch & Santana-Williamson, 2002; Mahboob, 2004; Pacek, 2005).
Consequently, as one of the participants in Chun’s (2014) study highlighted, ‘native speaker’ teachers should not be employed solely based on their L1, but the same high standards which already apply to hiring local English teachers should also apply to ‘native speakers.’ Nevertheless, research clearly shows that ‘nativeness’ is often the most important hiring criterion; this leads to a widespread practice of recruiting ‘native speakers’ from the Inner Circle, that is from the UK, the US, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia (Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob & Golden, 2013).
Native Speakerism in ELT Recruitment
A substantial body of research has emerged showing that ELT employers prefer to hire ‘native speakers’. In a recent study of job ads for Japanese universities, over two-thirds were found to specify the candidate be a ‘native speaker’ (Rivers, 2016). An even higher ratio was observed in the Middle East, where 88 per cent of job ads were in some way discriminatory, the main forms of discrimination being ‘native speaker’ status and nationality (Mahboob & Golden, 2013). In addition, Ruecker and Ives (2015) analysed the language in ELT job ads on 59 websites and confirmed what Selvi (2010) and Mahboob and Golden (2013) had found: namely, that the ‘native speaker’ requirement appeared explicitly or implicitly on the majority (81%) of the sites. Finally, when attitudes of recruiters themselves were investigated, being a ‘native speaker’ was reported to be an important hiring criterion (Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob et al., 2004).
In some countries, this bias is further extended to those ‘native speakers’ who might not fit the perceived white and Western-looking image or those who do not come from an Inner Circle country. For example, the overwhelming majority (90%) of foreign English teachers in Japan employed through the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) were from an Inner Circle country, with exactly half from the US (Geluso, 2013). A similar ratio can be observed in some Japanese universities. Rivers (2013) described a case of a particular English centre in an international university in Japan, where out of 63 teaching posts between 2010 and 2011, 37 were occupied by UK or US citizens, 20 more by other Inner Circle nationals, while only six were occupied by Japanese nationals, and one by a Jamaican teacher.
Even though previous studies on recruiters do indicate that they consider experience and qualifications to be important criteria (Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob et al., 2004; Moussu, 2006), this is not necessarily evident in job ads. Ruecker and Ives (2015)analysed job ads on 59 ELT websites and found that only 14 per cent listed experience as a necessary requirement. Lengeling and Pablo (2012), who investigated 39 ELT recruitment documents, observed that being a ‘native speaker,’ rather than having qualifications or experience, was the most consistent requirement. This leads to a situation where ‘native speakers’ with no relevant English teaching qualifications or experience are hired (Hewson, 2018; Pablo, 2015).
As observed previously, little is still known about recruiters’ attitudes towards hiring ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers,’ or their reasons for not hiring ‘non-native speakers.’ This is particularly true outside of the UK and the US. Bearing this in mind, this study aimed to answer the following questions:
- What criteria do ELT recruiters find important when hiring new teachers and relative to these, what importance do recruiters attach to the candidate being a ‘native speaker’?
- What relationship is there between the ratio of employed ‘non-native speaker’ teachers and the importance attached to the ‘native speaker’ criterion?
- What factors influence the importance placed on the ‘native speaker’ criterion?
- What recommendations for other recruiters do those who hire ‘non-native speakers’ have to counter any potential student concerns or negative attitudes?
In order to achieve this, a mixed-methods approach was used. An explanatory sequential approach was adopted, as defined by Creswell (2015), whereby an on-line quantitative questionnaire was followed by semi-structured interviews. The latter were utilised with the aim of providing “a more complete understanding of the research problem” (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011, p. 8).
As far as the quantitative strand is concerned, one hundred fifty recruiters took part in the survey. The term recruiter is used here to refer to those either fully or partially responsible for the hiring process of new teachers, such as school directors or assistant directors of studies, but not HR personnel. Some of the studied recruiters were only partially responsible for hiring as the ultimate decision whether to recruit a given candidate might, for example, sometimes lie with the school owner or managing director.
All participants were informed about the main aims of the study and signed a consent form voluntarily agreeing to take part. Survey respondents were recruited using snowball sampling. The link to the survey was shared on social media and via email with several recruiters who the author knew and with three teaching associations (TESOL Spain, TESOL France and LONDOSA), who all then shared it with their professional networks and with recruiters they knew.
The survey respondents were working in forty different countries at the time of the study. Table 1 shows the number and percentage of total respondents from the ten countries with the most respondents.
Table 1. Ten Countries with the Most Respondents
Over half (52%) of the respondents worked in three countries: Spain, France and the UK, with Spain accounting for one third (33%) of all respondents. The remaining forty countries not listed in the table had one or two respondents each and included countries such as Australia, South Korea, Mexico, Qatar, and Peru.
As can be seen in Figure 1, most respondents (67%) worked in a language school. However, it should be pointed out here that over 60 per cent of these worked in an independent language school that was neither part of the International House nor British Council chains. Over a tenth were employed at a university or at another institution, such as a Grand École, a public school, or a recruitment agency.
Figure 1. The Type of Institution Respondents Worked in
Of the abovementioned institutions the respondents worked for, almost half (48%) had over five hundred students, a fifth (19%) between three and five hundred students, a quarter (24%) between one and three hundred, and under a tenth (9%) had fewer than a hundred students. These responses can be seen in Figure 2.
Figure 2. The Number of Students at the Institutions the Respondents Worked in
Finally, as far as the number of teachers employed at these institutions is concerned, Figure 3 shows that a third employed either more than thirty teachers (31%) or fewer than ten (33%).
Figure 3. Number of Teachers Employed at the Institutions the Recruiters Worked in
As far as the qualitative strand is concerned, seventy-six (51%) recruiters expressed their interest in participating in the interview at the end of the survey and provided their contact details. Nevertheless, only twenty-one (14%) responded to follow-up emails and eventually took part. They were also informed about the purpose of the study and signed a consent form. At the time they were working in eight different countries (Spain, the UK, France, Italy, Malaysia, Burma, Chile, and Brazil). No further background data were collected on these participants.
Research Tools and Procedures
First, an on-line questionnaire based on that used by Clark and Paran (2007), which in turn had been based on Mahboob et al’s (2004), was utilised to gather quantitative data. It should be noted here that Clark and Paran modified Mahboob et al.’s 6-point Likert scale to a 5-point one. They argued that Mahboob et al.’s original scale was problematic as it “implied that respondents had to rank, not rate, the criteria” (Clark & Paran, 2007, p. 413). They also observed that the lack of descriptors might have increased the subjectivity of the responses. Hence, this study followed Clark and Paran’s changes and used a 5-point Likert scale with descriptors.
Nevertheless, Clark and Paran’s questionnaire was modified in several important ways. Bearing in mind that the focus of the research was not exclusively the UK, institutions such as FE (Further Education), which are specific to the UK, were excluded. The difference in the number of students and teachers between the summer and the rest of the year was also deleted as such seasonality is again typical of the UK ELT market, but less common in other countries. In order to shorten the survey, questions thirteen and fourteen used by Clark and Paran were not used.
In addition, four questions were added. The first two concerned the recruiters’ satisfaction with the previously employed ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers; this could have been based on subjective feeling or more objective performance evaluations that had been used at that institution. The third added question aimed to identify the main concerns that recruiters have when hiring ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, while the fourth sought to elicit the advice the respondents would give to other recruiters who might consider hiring ‘non-native’ teachers but are worried this might negatively affect their business.
Second, semi-structured interviews were conducted to gather qualitative data. The main themes from the questionnaire were followed, but the interviewer and interviewee maintained a degree of freedom to explore other themes that emerged during the conversation. Each interview lasted between fifteen and twenty minutes and was conducted and recorded on-line.
Data Analysis Techniques
Descriptive statistics — including percentages, means, and medians — were used to analyse the quantitative data. Spearman correlation test was utilised to measure the relationship between the hiring criteria and the ratio of ‘non-native speakers’ employed at the schools, while the t-test for unequal variance was used to calculate the statistical significance of the results.
The qualitative data, on the other hand, were first transcribed, and then content analysis was applied to analyse it. Three levels of coding (open, analytic, and thematic) were employed. The two data sets were then compared and analysed together using what Creswell and Plano Clark (2011) refer to as connected mixed methods data analysis.
Results and Discussion
All hiring criteria
Table 2 shows the mean, standard deviation, and mode for recruiters’ responses based on a 5-point Likert scale, where 1 was not important at all, 2 relatively unimportant, 3 somewhat important, 4 important, and 5 very important.
Table 2. Mean Rating, Standard Deviation and Mode for Each Hiring Criterion
|Native English Speaker Status||2.46||1.294||1|
|Performance in the Interview||4.19||0.687||4|
|Eligibility for Work Visa Permit||4.42||0.961||5|
The results indicate that ethnicity, nationality, and native English speaker status were the least important hiring criteria for recruiters, with the mean lower than 2.5 and mode of 1. On the other hand, teaching experience, performance in the interview, teaching qualifications, eligibility for work visa permit, and language proficiency (which all had the mean greater than 4 and the mode of 4 or 5) were all important recruitment criteria. These results correspond to those obtained by Clark and Paran (2007), who found teaching experience, performance in the interview, teaching qualifications, and eligibility for work visa to be important for recruiters (mean above 4, mode 5). They are also comparable to Mahboob et al.’s (2004), who found teaching experience and educational experience to be important (mean above 4 and mode 5, on a 6-point Likert scale).
Table 3 provides a more detailed overview of participant responses. Nine out of ten recruiters thought that performance in the interview (99%), language proficiency (98%), eligibility for work visa permit (96%), teaching qualifications (94%), and teaching experience (93%) were either somewhat important, important, or very important, which seems to confirm the findings of the previous studies. Nevertheless, it is worth noting an important discrepancy with Moussu’s (2006) study, where only a fifth (19%) considered proficiency to be an important hiring criterion. This difference might be due to the fact that in the current study a more neutral term (language proficiency) was used, as opposed to ‘native’ quality English level as used by Moussu.
Table 3. Number and Percentage of Responses for Each Hiring Criterion
|Criterion||Not important at all||Relatively unimportant||Somewhat important||Important||Very important|
|Native English Speaker Status||46||31||36||24||35||23||19||13||14||9|
|Performance in the Interview||0||0||2||1||18||12||80||53||50||33|
|Eligibility for Work Visa Permit||5||3||3||2||12||8||34||23||96||64|
On the other hand, with regards to the criteria that were the least important, 86 per cent considered ethnicity, 72 per cent nationality, and 55 per cent native English speaker status to be either not important at all or relatively unimportant. This is in contrast to Clark and Paran’s (2007) results, where 88 per cent of respondents viewed ‘native speaker’ status as either somewhat important, important, or very important, and Mahboob et al.’s (2004), where 73 per cent of the respondents attached some degree of importance to the ‘native speaker’ status. This would indicate that since these studies were conducted, the attitude of recruiters towards ‘non-native speakers’ has become more positive.
However, three-quarters (73%) of respondents considered accent to be either a somewhat, an important, or a very important criterion, thus confirming Clark and Paran’s and Mahboob et al.’s findings. Bearing in mind the fact that a ‘correct’ accent is frequently associated with a ‘native speaker,’ this might suggest that those ‘non-native speakers’ who do not speak with what is perceived as a ‘native’ accent might be at a disadvantage. In addition, while the mean of 2.46 and a mode of 1 found in the current study could suggest that ‘native speaker’ status does not play such an important role in the recruitment process, the standard deviation (1.294) suggests that there was some disagreement among the respondents. In fact, almost half (45%) of respondents thought that being a ‘native speaker’ was either a somewhat, an important, or a very important hiring criterion. This all suggests that while some reduction in importance attached to the ‘native speaker’ status can be noted among recruiters in comparison to the previous studies, practically half still view it as important.
Nevertheless, the qualitative data seem to contradict this showing that the interviewees do not consider ‘native speaker’ status as important:
When we’re filtering the CVs, we don’t even look at the nationality or the first language. These are not the important things. The decision to invite them in for the interview to continue the process is based on their experience or qualification [R6].
This discrepancy might be explained by two factors. First, the social desirability bias (Edwards, 1957) might have led to the interviewees providing the researcher with the information they expect he or she wants to hear. Second, since recruiters volunteered to participate in interviews following the survey and were not purposefully or randomly sampled, those who did take part might have held favourable views about ‘non-native speakers.’
The ratio of employed ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’
Bearing this in mind, it is now interesting to consider whether the recruiters surveyed in this study actually hire ‘non-native speakers.’ As can be seen in Table 4, most schools hired both groups of teachers, with one tenth not having ‘native speakers’ (9%) and a further tenth not having ‘non-native speakers’ (13%) among their staff.
Table 4. Ratio of ‘Native’ and ‘Non-Native Speaker’ Teachers in the Schools
|Ratio||‘Native speakers’||‘Non-Native speakers’|
|Less than 10%||16||11||19||13|
|10% – 25%||16||11||26||17|
|25% – 50%||21||14||25||17|
|50% – 75%||27||18||31||21|
|More than 75%||37||25||19||13|
Of the schools that hired ‘native speakers,’ eighty-three (61%) had a staffroom composed of 50 per cent or more ‘native speakers.’ This ratio was lower, however, for ‘non-native speaker’ teachers with only sixty-one (46%) schools, out of a total of one hundred thirty-one that hired ‘non-native’ teachers, having staffrooms with 50 per cent or more ‘non-native speaker’ teachers.
Nevertheless, these results are still very encouraging when compared with previous studies. For example, more than two-thirds (68.9%) of the UK institutions surveyed by Clark and Paran (2007) did not employ ‘non-native speaker’ teachers at all. Likewise, in the US, Mahboob et al. (2004) reported that out of a total of 1425 teachers employed by the recruiters they surveyed, only 7.85 per cent were ‘non-native speakers.’ In fact, over half (57.6%) of the institutions in that study hired only ‘native speakers.’ A similarly low percentage (18%) of ‘non-native speaker’ teachers was noted by Moussu (2006).
While it is undeniable that there are considerable differences both within and between the UK and the US as far as ELT policies are concerned, it could be argued that students’ expectations to be taught by ‘native speakers’ might be higher in those Inner Circle countries than in the Expanding Circle. This might lead to recruiters hiring fewer ‘non-native speakers,’ thus explaining the discrepancy between the results of this and previous studies. Nevertheless, when data from this research for the UK only were analysed, only one school, out of fourteen in the sample, did not employ any ‘non-native speakers.’
The relative openness to ‘non-native speaker’ teachers in the UK as compared to other markets is also confirmed by the interviewees:
In the UK, it’s completely my own experience, it’s completely different [from Thailand]. Obviously, there are laws about who you can and can’t discriminate against for one, but generally speaking, I’ve worked in four different schools now, and all four of them have had no, um, I’d say made no difference about nationality or race [R1].
I found that working in the UK there is less pressure in recruiting native teachers than there is [in Asia] [R3].
Consequently, compared to previous studies (Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob et al., 2004), it seems that in the last fifteen years recruiters have started to adopt more egalitarian hiring policies and employ ‘non-native speakers’ more often, a trend which is also evident in Kiczkowiak’s (2019) data. This explanation is further supported by qualitative data:
At our school we have, 95% of our teachers are ‘non-native speakers’ [R6].
We have 10 teachers, one head of studies that teaches as well, so 11 teachers, me and two receptionists. And the only person that is a ‘native speaker’ is me [R20]
Satisfaction with ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers hired previously
It is clear from Figures 4 and 5 that recruiters were satisfied both with the ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers they had previously hired. Nevertheless, the satisfaction was significantly (p=0.0004) higher with ‘non-native speaker’ group, with almost eight in ten (79%) respondents being either satisfied or very satisfied. This figure was only 67 per cent as far as ‘native speakers’ are concerned. While it could be argued that the higher satisfaction with ‘non-native speaker’ teachers might explain why a considerable number of recruiters do hire them, no such correlation was found.
Figure 4. Satisfaction With ‘Non-Native Speaker’ Teachers Hired Previously
Figure 5. Satisfaction With ‘Native Speaker’ Teachers Hired Previously
Unfortunately, since none of the aforementioned four studies (Clark & Paran, 2007; Kiczkowiak, 2019; Mahboob et al., 2004; Moussu, 2006) asked recruiters about their satisfaction with previously hired ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, it is not possible to compare these findings. Nevertheless, when qualitative data were analysed, the high satisfaction with ‘non-native speaker’ teachers is evident:
She [a ‘non-native speaker’] has proven herself a million times over. That she’s kind of teacher we need. She’s dynamic. Her classes are up and moving and chatting, but also, it’s rigorous learning. She puts a lot of effort into creating extra materials, she differentiates, she’s doing exactly the job I expect [R10].
We’ve come to realize sometimes ‘non-native speakers’ can teach better than ‘native speakers’ because ‘non-native speakers’ actually had a specific training to teach English as a foreign language, whereas ‘native speakers’ just applied because they’re ‘native speakers,’ but they don’t have a particular training [R15].
Interestingly, some interviewees cast doubt on the professionalism of some ‘native speakers’ they have encountered:
A person who wrote to me asking to be hired, and they send me a CV which just shows that they have a degree in something and nothing else, right. They don’t have any kind of certification or qualification or even any background in linguistics or language or teaching [R6].
We receive a lot of CVs of ‘native speakers,’ but then what’s curious is most of them aren’t in the education field, you know. We have received recently one CV from a guy who used to be a bricklayer in the UK, but then here when he came to Brazil, then he thought, okay why not teach English, but he had no knowledge or qualifications [R14].
Similarly, in China, 87% of the studied ‘native speaker’ university lecturers were found to have no or limited ELT experience (Rao, 2010). This lack of pedagogical preparation is often noted by students who are either doubtful or even critical of the low qualifications and limited experience of some ‘native speakers’ (Barratt & Kontra, 2000; Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2005; Rao, 2010). Nevertheless, Sarıgül (2018) reports that while in the past in Turkey practically anyone perceived as a ‘native speaker’ could find a job as an English teacher, employers have now started to demand appropriate ELT qualifications or experience. This is in line with the high importance recruiters in this study attached to qualifications and experience (see Table 3).
Recruiters’ concerns when hiring ‘non-native speaker’ teachers
As noted previously, however, almost half (45%) of the surveyed recruiters still thought being a ‘native speaker’ was either a somewhat, an important, or a very important criterion. Since the satisfaction with ‘non-native speaker’ teachers is actually significantly higher than with ‘native speakers,’ there must be other factors which influence recruiters’ decisions. Consequently, Figure 6 shows the concerns that recruiters have when hiring ‘non-native speakers.’
Figure 6. The Main Concern Recruiters Have When Hiring ‘Non-Native Speaker’ Teachers
First, a third of recruiters (32%) found language proficiency to be their main concern when hiring ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. Similar results were reported by Kiczkowiak (2019). Moussu (2006) further observed that the recruiters she had studied listed low proficiency as one of the main weaknesses of ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, a fact that has been also reported by other researchers (Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2005; Medgyes, 2001; Mullock, 2010).
The second cause for concern expressed by recruiters (28%) is a negative reaction from clients. While this was not studied by Mahboob et al. (2004), Moussu (2006) or Clark and Paran (2007), there is some evidence to suggest that some students do indeed prefer ‘native speaker’ teachers. For example, some students have been found to prefer even an untrained ‘native speaker’ to a trained ‘non-native speaker’ to teach them pronunciation (Levis et al., 2017). This might be related to a preference for ‘native-like’ pronunciation among students, a trend which has also been noted by researchers (Jarvella et al., 2001; McKenzie, 2008; Scheuer, 2008), or to the belief that those perceived as ‘native speakers’ are better language models (Atamturk et al., 2018). And as Moussu (2006) shows, many recruiters are indeed aware of this preference. Bearing this in mind, recruiters are presumably concerned that if ‘non-native speakers’ are hired, students might either complain or leave the school. This is evident in the qualitative data too:
I must admit that as a director it was an area I was nervous about because there is quite a strong ‘native’ teacher bias amongst parents and students. And you also hear of other schools of a similar size as mine in which some students will leave because of the fact that they haven’t got a ‘native’ teacher [R12].
It should, nevertheless, be pointed out that students have also been found to appreciate ‘non-native speaker’ teachers (Moussu, 2010), value teaching skills more highly than ‘nativeness’ (Kiczkowiak, 2019; Walkinshaw & Duong, 2012), and express a strong preference for being taught by both ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers (Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2005). Moreover, many interviewees mentioned that complaints about the teacher’s ‘nativeness’ are extremely rare:
I’ve been here in this school for 15 years and it’s happened once that a parent came in to complain about a teacher because she wasn’t a native speaker. And we are talking about tens of thousands of students. I mean, per year we have about 2,500 students [R6].
We have 800 students, and we’ve never ever in these past 16 years have ever had one parent coming up to us to say: do you have ‘native speakers’? My kids are not being taught by a ‘native teacher.’ Never [R20].
This was further evidenced in the survey results, as some recruiter respondents observed that employing ‘non-native speakers’ will not have a negative impact on students’ satisfaction:
It doesn’t have any negative impact on business because students care only about how teachers do their job, how well they can improve their language skill and how well they relate with the students’ needs. […] We never had any problem with non-native teachers.
Students are only really interested in the quality of teaching and the progress they feel they make with a teacher. I’ve never had a student raise the issue of what their teacher’s first language is (whether it be English or otherwise.) I find it doesn’t factor at all into their view of what a good teacher is.
Indeed, when students’ attitudes are examined implicitly, that is, without prompting them with the ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ labels, no difference between how positively or negatively each group is rated has been noticed (Aslan & Thompson, 2016).
Nevertheless, some interviewees did observe that certain students might express a preference for ‘native speaker’ teachers. This might stem from prevalent, but false, discourses that idealise the ‘native speaker’ and perpetuate native speakerism (Holliday, 2006; Kiczkowiak, 2017; Kiczkowiak & Lowe, 2019):
[Students] think having a ‘native speaker’ as a teacher is much better. It’s you know, it’s as if they are getting more value for money as it were. So ‘native speakers’ are treated as a sort of luxury [R7].
Some of [the students] do [prefer ‘native speakers’] because they think that actually it’s better to have a ‘native speaker’ because of the accent to begin with, and they think that ‘native speakers’ actually speak better English, which isn’t necessarily true; but yeah, that’s the idea the student have of it [R15].
This preference can sometimes be due to negative stereotypes about ‘non-native speaker’ teachers stemming from previous experiences in the state sector:
In the past, the local teachers, their level has not been great. So there was a lot of assumptions made that Spanish speakers can’t teach English because their pronunciation is poor or because their level of knowledge is poor [R5].
I think it’s because the experience they’ve had in their own English language environment and class and their public schools is the actual English teacher doesn’t know how to speak English, and you need this ‘native speaker’ to come in and activate your ability to speak [R10].
It should also be pointed out that a preference for a ‘native speaker’ can, in some contexts, mean a preference for white and Western-looking individuals:
So private companies, so potential clients wanted to see this image that they had in their head reflected in what they were buying. So if they have this image of female blonde blue eyes, that would sell better than a black male, fundamentally [R3]
I have a friend who’s from Guyana. He’s a native speaker as well, and he has a lot of qualifications, a CELTA a degree in pedagogy, but it’s very difficult for him because he is a ‘native speaker’ but not a ‘native speaker’ the clients want or imagine [R14].
Unfortunately, this situation can in some cases lead to racism both in marketing and recruitment, whereby non-white and non-Western-looking teachers will face discrimination:
The parents wouldn’t be very happy if we had you know someone looked the wrong type of foreign. My experience in the Far East in particular is that it’s a very white native speaker centric. If you are young, blonde or, you know, tall, white, young, attractive-looking person, they could find you in Tesco’s and give you a job, you know. It doesn’t matter how well you teach [R1]
It is part of a school’s marketing. Have a look at, just go and pick up a brochure or a school’s marketing materials. You’re not going to see many black faces on there [R8].
Similar race-based hiring policies in ELT have been noted by many other researchers (Kubota & Fujimoto, 2013; Ramjattan, 2014; Ruecker & Ives, 2015).
Finally, twenty-one (14%) recruiters selected the Other category when answering this question. One of the main themes that emerged from their answers is that a combination of different factors is important when hiring teachers in general:
My only concerns when hiring language teachers are 1. Their experience et 2. their qualifications + skills. I make no differences between natives/non-natives.
language proficiency, skills or ability to teach, and experience
A combination of qualifications, language proficiency, and people skills
Although almost half of the recruiters in this study did attach some importance to the ‘native speaker’ criterion when hiring and did express some concerns about the proficiency or the reaction from clients to ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, the vast majority did hire both groups of teachers. It is interesting then to analyse what advice the participants had for other recruiters who might have similar concerns but are wishing to employ ‘non-native speakers.’
How to implement a successful equal-opportunities policy
One hundred twenty-one out of the one hundred fifty recruiter respondents shared such advice. One of the main themes that emerged was the need for, and importance of, explaining to clients the benefits of learning with ‘non-native teachers’ and their strengths:
Believe in their abilities and defend them when someone is upset that they have a non-native teacher. Parents/Students will get used to the fact that your school is international.
Manage clients’ expectations. Show them that non-native teachers have value.
This was also highlighted by some interviewees. For example:
When I’m speaking with parents about this concern, what I can tell them is that for us, we hire people with great levels of English especially people who have trained to be in the classroom with children [R11].
Just last week I had to spend 15 minutes on the phone with a prospective student to explain that no, maybe you’re not going to get the ‘native speaker’ but a teacher who’s not ‘native,’ but we stand by the quality of all of our teachers [R19].
This is important because, as some interviewees point out, initially some students or parents might be biased against ‘non-native speaker’ teachers, a feeling that, however, usually disappears quickly:
Initially, the reaction [to a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher] might be reticent. However, this initial reticence often changes to joy after some time when the students and parents realise how good the teacher is [R5].
Gradually they start to understand that ‘non-native speaker’ teachers are also good, and their opinion changes actually. But in the beginning, when they come to the school, yeah they have that idea that you need a ‘native speaker’ to teach because otherwise you can’t learn proper English [R15].
This change in preference over time, with more exposure to effective ‘non-native speaker’ teachers leading to higher students appreciation, has also been noted by other researchers (Moussu, 2010; Pacek, 2005). It could hence be argued that the fewer ‘non-native speaker’ teachers a school hires, the higher the preference for ‘native speakers’ their students might have, which may in effect create a vicious circle.
Interviewees also emphasised the importance of not giving in to potential demands from clients for ‘native speakers’:
If the complaint is just about the person’s accent or nationality, then [the student] just needs to adjust to it. I wouldn’t move the student [R8].
It’s really important at our school to be very transparent and up front and so here for example if a parent does come and say that they want their child to have a native speaker, we just tell them right from the beginning: listen we hire people from all over the world, some are ‘native,’ some are from other European countries where is it not the first language. We have Spanish people working here as well [R11].
It also seems important to avoid using ‘native speakers’ as unique selling points and instead focus on other competitive advantages the school has:
We focus in our marketing on quality and competence. And we transmit these through things like teacher qualifications or the fact that we’re a teacher trainer centre. We always make a point [to potential clients] of saying that we are training the teachers of other schools. This is how good we are [R6].
We advertise ourselves as having fully qualified, experienced teachers with a C2 level of English. I don’t say anything about ‘native speakers’ or where our teachers come from [R10].
Otherwise, if a school continuously markets itself as offering classes with ‘native speakers,’ it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby they have to hire ‘native speakers,’ because the clients expect this based on the marketing message they receive:
Because the reputation of the school to an extent was also built on having ‘native speakers,’ then I if I was a student, and I’m coming to this school probably because I, you know, I feel I can get a ‘native speaker.’ And that’s a marketing selling point as well, which obviously influences the recruitment [R9].
This strong preference for ‘native speakers’ comes from years and years of advertising which was done by private language schools where having ‘native speakers’ was your unique selling point [R12].
This study aimed to investigate the attitudes of ELT recruiters towards hiring ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. Although almost half (45%) of the respondents did still attach some importance to the ‘native speaker’ criterion, a finding which was also highlighted in the interviews, this percentage is considerably lower than in previous studies (Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob et al., 2004). It thus seems that qualifications, experience, or performance in the interview are more important for recruiters than the candidate’s mother tongue. Moreover, the recruiters in this study were significantly (p=0.0004) more satisfied with the previously hired ‘non-native speaker’ teachers than with ‘native speakers’. However, the high importance attached to language proficiency and accent in particular might suggest that those teachers who do not speak with what would be perceived as a ‘native speaker’ language level could still be at a disadvantage.
It could be argued that the importance of the ‘native speaker’ criterion in hiring has diminished somewhat. This is further reflected in the fact that only 13 per cent of the surveyed recruiters lacked any ‘non-native speaker’ teachers at their schools, in contrast to 68.9 per cent (Clark & Paran, 2007), 57.6 per cent (Mahboob et al., 2004), and 82 per cent (Moussu, 2006) as reported in previous studies. Even in the ESL context, where potentially pressure to hire ‘native speakers’ might be greater, only one of the 14 recruiters in this study did not hire ‘native speakers.’ Moreover, those interviewed commented that the UK ELT market seemed quite open to ‘non-native speakers.’ Nevertheless, it should be observed that both this and the previous studies relied on recruiter’s self-reports, which could potentially be unreliable. Aware of the growing importance of equal opportunities, they might wish to present their schools as having more ‘non-native speakers’ than they actually do. Hence, future studies could aim to establish this ratio more directly.
The results of this study have important implications for practice, in particular for those recruiters who do not yet hire, or hire very few, ‘non-native speakers.’ The studied recruiters shared numerous positive experiences with ‘non-native speaker’ teachers highlighting that negative comments from students seem to be relatively rare and that clients usually adopt a positive attitude to ‘non-native speakers’ once they notice their language progress. Therefore, it could be argued that hiring ‘non-native speaker’ teachers is unlikely to lead to a loss of clients or revenue for a given institution. Importantly, however, the studied recruiters emphasised that a school wishing to hire more ‘non-native speakers’ should align its marketing message with this new hiring policy, avoiding the use of ‘native speakers’ in publicity materials. Furthermore, once ‘non-native speakers’ are hired, it is vital to educate the clients and not give in to the potential demands for ‘native speakers.’
One major limitation of this study are the snowball and convenience sampling techniques used. This might have resulted in some bias, whereby mainly the recruiters who were already interested in the topic or had positive attitudes towards ‘non-native speaker’ teachers participated. An additional bias resulting from the sampling technique led to over 50 per cent of recruiters working in three countries (Spain, the UK, and France). Consequently, it is recommended that future studies use random sampling to reduce this bias, as well as purposeful sampling to target schools and recruiters which do not hire ‘native speakers’ in order to identify and understand the reasons for such practices. Bearing in mind an almost complete lack of data on this subject from Asian countries, it is also suggested that recruiters working there are studied in future research.
About the Author
Marek Kiczkowiak has been in ELT since 2007 and currently works as course designer for Université Libre de Bruxelles, and as a materials writer for National Geographic Learning. He holds a BA degree in English Philology from the University of Poznań, CELTA, DELTA, and a PhD in TESOL from the University of York. His main areas of interest are native speakerism and English as a Lingua Franca. He is the founder of TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy, where he helps English teachers tackle native speakerism and teach English for global communication.
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