Against the Non-native Argument

I read a lot on the native v non-native argument. If you are not familiar with it, it is the argument that non-native English teachers are discriminated against in favour of native speaker teachers. I personally am against this discrimination inasmuch as I think that a native-speaker teacher is not a better teacher than a non-native speaker teacher simply by means of being a ‘native’ speaker.

Although I am in principle against this discrimination, I am also against much of what I read on the argument in defense and promotion of non-native speakers. There are several reasons why I think we need a change in strategy in this argument, irrespective of our individual view on it.

  1. Native and non-native don’t exist. To lose this distinction we need to stop using these terms, not use them more. Once we try to define what a ‘native’ speaker is and what a ‘non-native’ speaker is we can’t reach a firm idea which encompasses all the messy realities of our lives today. They are helpful terms, sometimes, to help us point to an idea but are useless when we try to define people by them. If we want to stop defining people with these two terms the answer is not so complicated: we need to stop using them.
  2. In an attempt to promote the qualities of the non-native it often (in what I have read) leads to an implicit or explicit discrimination against native speakers. Of course there are very level-headed and reasonable arguments as to why we should enable non-native English teachers to be employed as easily as a native English teacher but there are also many not-so-well written blog posts popping up which wade in with anecdotal examples of natives not being as capable as non-natives, especially in regards to grammar. Obviously discrimination is not the answer to discrimination.
  3. I don’t know if it’s because I only really exist in the English-language teaching world but I see most of the posts in favour of non-natives are written in English with seemingly teachers as the audience. To my mind it is not the teacher who need to change their minds about this, it is the students and then the school owners. I would like to know more about if those who are actively involved in trying to make these changes are speaking and engaging schools and students. If they are, are they using the same shouty manner that we read in the discussions among teachers? How can we best engage students and school-owners in this discussion?

I want to see the day when students recognise teachers for being good teachers regardless of their origin but at the moment what I see is a lot of hot-headed mud-slinging and running round with no real aim except to sound off. Our goal must be education; that is why we are here. If we want to see change we must decide what change we want to see and then help others, be it the students or school-owners, to learn why what we want is important and beneficial for them. Preaching and shouting down are not good educational tools, so let’s educate in a more intelligent way. Let’s all try and be better teachers, not just when we are in the classroom.


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