May 21, 2011

Non-native English Speaking Teachers’ Quandary

Non-native English Speaking Teachers’ Quandary
The 15th International TESOL
                Arabia Conference, Dubai,
       March 2009
This article is published in TESOL Arabia Proceeding 2009
At the Commonwealth Conference on the Teaching of English as a second language in Uganda in 1961, an adulatory acclamation emerged stating that the ideal teacher of English is a native speaker of English. This idealization of native speaker teacher has also been reinforced with the diminishing of the Grammar- Translation method and the surfacing of the communicative approach since 1970 which heavily focuses on building spoken communicative competence on EFL/ESL learners. As a result, while English native speaker teachers of English (NESTs) have been endowed with cachets and privileges that they never had during 1950s- 1960s, when both the Grammar-Translation and the Audi-lingual methods of language teaching prevailed, the Non English Native Speaker teachers (NNESTs) have been forced to face challenges from within and outside the profession.
In this paper, I will address the major challenges that non-native English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) face in language teaching and the effect of these challenges on the NNESTs.  I will also propose some techniques on how to face these challenges. Unfortunately, shedding the light on these challenges
would lead us to compare and contrast the native English speaking teachers (NESTs) with their NNES counterparts. However, I neither intend to be in favor of any group to defend it or attack the other, nor do I attempt to deny the existence of differences between the two groups. I will base my argument on key research findings in the last twenty years, yet the dichotomy between the two groups can be most of the time a highly personal issue for the non native teachers. It is important to clarify that I am not trying to argue about and I do not think the issue should be in whom the best is in general but rather what makes one better in a particular setting.  I also need to make a clear difference between the two contexts in language teaching; a) the ESL environment where the learners do not share the same native language and study English in the English speaking countries, and b) the EFL context where the students share the same native language, and learn the language in the Expanding Circle to use Krachu’s 1985 concept. 

A.    Challenges to the NNESTs’ Credibility:
             McCroskey (1998) defines credibility as an attitude of a receiver which references the degree to which a source is perceived to be believable. Teacher credibility, then, references the degree to which the students and other stakeholders perceive the teacher to be believable. Moreover, researchers argue that credibility has the potential to affect all learning experiences (McCroskey & Teven, 1999; McCroskey & Young, 1981). If students, teachers, and administrators do not perceive a teacher to be credible, for example, they will likely listen and learn less from that teacher.          The challenges to NNESTs’ credibility in Language Teaching (LT) whether in ESL or EFL context sources of incredibility of the NNESTs mainly stem from students, administrators (recruiting and promotion policies), professional organizations, and peers or colleagues.
      
A. 1.  Challenges to NNESTs’ Credibility from Students
            Non native English speaking students often question the NNESTs’ credibility based on their race, appearance, and accent. Issues of teacher credibility are encountered by many NNESTs in the classroom, where even students are influenced by the inevitable trickle-down effect of the native speaker fallacy. Some NNESTs have reported that many of their students resented being taught by a nonnative speaker until they were able to prove that they could be as effective as a native-English-speaking teacher. A good example for such a challenge in the ESL context is discussed by Braine (1999, p.22-23) who describes his own situation: “I was assigned to teach two courses, the first NNEST to be given this responsibility in the program. About 2 weeks after classes began, I was informed that two students had complained about my accent and requested transfers to classes taught by native speakers.” .In the same vein, Butler (2007) asked young Korean students to evaluate different accented tape-recordings of the same person in order to investigate if a foreign-accented teacher was perceived more negatively than an American-accented teacher and which qualities or weaknesses were associated with the foreign-accented teacher. Her results showed that the American-accented teacher was perceived as being more confident and fluent in English and had a better pronunciation. In addition, the American-accented teacher was preferred over the foreign-accented teacher by the participants, but there did not seem to be a significant difference in students’ comprehension of these two teachers.
 Students also show tolerance with NESTs while they can not accept any mistakes or errors from their NNES counterparts. This shows clear example of challenge to the NNESTs credibility as Canagarajah (2005) points out that in contrast to the NESTs, when NNS teachers make the same mistakes or do not know everything about the English language, their teaching abilities and competencies are often immediately questioned. Furthermore, it is widely believed that NNESTs can not fulfill the students’ expectations in idiomatic and colloquial expressions. This leads to lack of confidence in the teachers’ ability to effectively communicate and build negative attitudes towards NNESTs (Neres and Sanyal, 1991).
            One key reason for favoring NESTs to NNESTs is their language proficiency which, as Lafayette (1993) argues, is the most important component of content knowledge to the foreign language teacher.  Peyton (1997, p.2) also writes that a good foreign language teacher needs “a high level of language proficiency in all of the modalities of the target language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing”. Peyton further writes that a good foreign language teacher needs to possess “the ability to use the language in real-life contexts, for both social and professional purposes”.  The question remains: how can we define and measure language proficiency of the NNESTs? In many contexts, NNESTs’ language proficiency is defined in terms of native speaker whose proficiency is viewed as a yardstick for evaluating the NNESTs’ proficiency. Taking into consideration that there is common consensus that it is almost impossible for a non native speaker to transfer to native speaker’s abilities and competencies, we should look for answers to the question: what does the teacher need to know about language or language use in order to effectively manage the learning of it in certain contexts?
            The NNESTs are aware of their linguistic needs and are able to identify areas of weaknesses in their competencies and performances. Several studies have identified pronunciation (Barkhuizen, 1997; Tang, 1997), writing, vocabulary (including idioms and slang), and cultural knowledge as areas of perceived difficulty (Samimy & Brutt-Griffler, 1999; Tang, 1997), and grammar and reading as areas of strength (Kamhi-Stein, 1999; Mahboob, 2003). However, research in this area has shown that lack of English proficiency does not have a negative effect on the teachers’ perceptions about their instructional practices ( Kamhi-Stein, Aagard, Ching, Paik, & Sasser, 2001).
            However, the students’ attitudes towards the NESTs are generally neutral and positive. Benke & Medgyes (2005) present a comparative analysis of students’ opinions regarding NS and NNS teachers based on a Likert-scale questionnaire. Lasagabaster & Sierra (2005) complement their previous study (2002) with a detailed account of students’ responses to an open-ended questionnaire, in which they were asked about the pros and cons of NS and NNS teachers. In the same vein, Pacek (2005) conducts a more personal study of two groups of ESL students taught by the same NNS teachers at a British university. Al Noursi (2009) investigates the attitudes of the students in the secondary stage in the UAE and reports that there was no statistically significant difference between the kind of the students’ attitudes of the group that was taught by NESTs and the kind of attitudes of the group that was taught by NNESTs due to the nativity of the teacher. All students in the study showed predominant positive attitude towards learning English. Overall, the results are positive regarding the attitude of students towards the NNS teachers.

A. 2. Challenges to Credibility from Academic Professional Organizations  
            The challenges that NNESTs face come sometimes form the professional TESOL organizations that they are members of and work under their umbrella. The role of the NNESTs in these bodies is not clearly defined. Although many NNESTs have recently joined TESOL organizations, but there is a feeling that their presence is most often ignored and beyond their expectations.
            The second challenge in this regard comes from the academic journals which I assume that they should represent the profession as a whole. The reality is that they seem to be dominated by only a small group. In order to publish in those journals, the NNESTs need to adhere to the standards and requirements set by their NESTs counterparts. Even if they have the chance to publish their papers, they are rarely heard or taken seriously (Thomas, 1999). Apparently, TESOL, although it is an international body, does not tolerate different accents in writing, or different varieties of English nor does it accommodate a pluralistic rhetoric journals (Thomas, 1999)

A.3: Challenges to credibility from Administrators: Hiring Practices
            Instructional and employment challenges faced by nonnative English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) have increasingly been discussed. Lippi-Green (1997) found that teachers with non-native accents were perceived as less qualified and less effective and were compared unfavorably to their native-English-speaking colleagues. She refers to this questioning of teachers’ ability and credibility based on their accent as a form of linguistic discrimination. Many administrators and recruiters consider the nativity of the teacher as the most single important criterion in hiring English Language teacher. The quotation below from an administrator’s response in Thomas’s (1999, p.6) study in ESL environment which reflects the attitudes of the administrators towards the nativity of the teacher:
  “One thing that we do when we recruit is that we tell students that they will only be taught by NSs. After all these students do not come so far to be taught by someone who doesn’t speak English”.
  
            However, the situation in the EFL context seems to be worse where a growing number of NNESTs desperately looking for a job especially in reputable or well-paying institutions which are usually dominated by NESTs. A quick look at job offers on the internet reveals that the majority of the job offers state that you have to be a native speaker of English or at least a graduate of the English speaking countries to apply for the job of EFL/ESL instructor. Surprisingly, the places where the EFL/ESL teachers are needed on theses offers are Asia, Middle East, Europe, and North America. A ware of this growing problem, TESOL published a statement on Nonnative Speakers of English and Hiring Practices (TESOL, 1992) in which TESOL has promised to do every effort to stop and prevent the discrimination in employment.
             However, since 1992, little has changed and much more still need to be done. Braine (1999) concludes that discrimination against NNESTs is inevitable in English Speaking Countries and that prejudice against NNESTs in EFL context will persist in the field of ELT. The rational for such discrimination is usually justified by the hypothetical preferences by L2 learners to NESTs rather than NNESTs. This claimed preference contradicts with recent studies (Pacek, 2005; Moussu, 2006) which show that many students can appreciate the value of the NNESTs and do prefer them to NESTs in certain contexts and for certain classroom tasks. It is not the aim of this paper to compare NNESTs to NESTs, yet many researchers (Kramasch, 1997; Phillipson, 1992) argue that the journey from a second or a foreign language learner to an ESL/EFL instructor makes the NNESTs better equipped to teach that language, and question the idealization of NESTs due to the lack of substantial evidence behind the concept itself.



A. 4: Challenge from Colleagues:
            Due to the articulation habits involved in mother tongue, many (NNESTs) develop a “foreign accent” which points to the inefficiencies of a speaker in the articulation, pronunciation, and intonation of a foreign language in a native-like habit. Many NNES teachers are unaware of the fact that they carry over traits of a foreign accent in speech because they speak it with a non-native flow. For this reason, their English is viewed as not accurate, not fluent, and not intelligible, sounding unnatural to the students. How can such a teacher teach efficiently if she/he herself/himself cannot handle Standard English appropriately and sufficiently?
            In contrast, Kasper (1997) points out that native speaker of a language have pragmatic and strategic competence of their language.  They are able to attend to pragmatic conventions of the language, to not only accomplish communication goals but pay attention to interpersonal relationships with other interlocutors simultaneously, depending on different socio-cultural contexts.  They have the internalized strategic competence to use different verbal and nonverbal communication skills to repair breakdowns in conversational exchanges. 
            With their superior competency in their mother tongue, the NESTs question the value of their NNES counterparts in teaching English especially in the ESL context. Apparently, the focus on the speaking (pronunciation) ability of the teachers’ competency where supremacy is granted to the NESTs; other credentials and qualifications are neglected or intentionally ignored.

B. Labeling and Defining
             The terms “native” and “non native” teachers have created a division among educators in the ELT field. While a group of teachers believe that it is necessary to distinguish between native- and nonnative-English-speaking teachers because their differences are, in fact, their strengths and should be recognized, another group feels that differentiating among teachers based on their status as native or nonnative speakers perpetuates the dominance of the native speaker in the ELT profession and contributes to discrimination in hiring practices. 
            Liu (1999) explores the labels native speaker (NS) and nonnative speaker (NNS) from the perspective of seven nonnative-English-speaking professionals in TESOL. Using data from e-mail and face-to-face interviews gathered over a 16-month period, the author delineates a number of dimensions surrounding the terms, such as precedence in learning languages, competence in the learned languages, cultural affiliation, social identities, and language environment. Participants also discussed related professional issues, such as the power relations imposed by the labels, the impact of the labels on the hiring process, and the pedagogical implications of the labels.          
            The term “native speaker” has been subjected to different interpretations since it is also rich in ambiguity. Some scholars argue that native speakers are defined by birth or infancy; others believe that language competency and performance are the determents of the nativity. The difficulty in precisely defining native, and consequently non-native English speakers has prompted researchers to try to redefine or replace the term ‘native speaker’ so that it could take into account the different varieties of the language and of its users. Paikeday (1985, p. 84) declares in his book that “The native speaker is dead!” He puts forward “proficient user of the language” as its replacement. Kachru (1996, p.12) talks of “English-using speech fellowship”, and view native speakers as those “who have acquired English in comparison with non-native speakers who are still acquiring”; while Edge (1988, p.23) favours the term “more or less accomplished or proficient user of English”. Stern (1983, p. 341) advocates replacing the term with the concept of “expertise”, and Kramsch (1997, p.28) believes that the negative term non-native speaker should be dropped and perhaps replaced by “bilingual teacher”.
           
The effects of the challenges
1. Lack of confidence
            NNES professionals believe that their language proficiency status affects their credibility as TESOL professionals. In general, research in this area has shown that lack of credibility among NNESTs and students often results in a feeling of debilitative anxiety among NNES professionals.( Kamhi-Stein, 1999; Thomas, 1999).
            Seidlhofer (1999) also indicates that a majority (57 per cent) of the respondents in her study felt that being bilingual teachers of English made them feel insecure rather than confident. Lippi-Green’s (1997) study also indicates that teachers with non-native accents were perceived by students as less qualified and less effective and were compared unfavorably with their native English speaking colleagues.
            Suarez (2000) reports some of the Uruguayan teachers he knows are quite proficient users of English, but seldom speak English in public. They even feel that they are inadequate as teachers because they are not sufficiently competent in English. Beyond Suarez’s study, Prcikova (1995) similarly reports that Slovakian teachers are worried about being compared by their students with their English native speaker colleagues, and their lack of confidence in English competence leads them to believe that they are inferior to their English native speaker counterparts. This attitude from the students, NS colleagues, and often even from the NNS teachers themselves, will often lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubts (Braine 2004; Morita 2004).
2. Search for professional identity
            The invisibility of the NNESTs in the ELT field has forced many to search for identity and explore their status as non native teachers. In spite of their knowledge about the language and teaching practices, the NNESTs can not claim authority over the language and nor the belonging to the native speakers of that language. As a result, Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNEST) Caucus was established back in 1998 to help educate TESOL professionals, administrators, and employers to the genuine benefits that NNESTs bring to English Language Teaching. Asian TESOL Journal is one example of many others where the NNESTs can publish their articles and studies.
3- Teaching requirements
NNESTs, regardless of the immense advantages they can bring into their classrooms, will always have to struggle and work as double as NESTs in order to be accepted and respected especially in ESL contexts. They also have to “prove” themselves in front of their colleagues and students. Most often they are asked to sit for English language test to prove that they are enough qualified to teach; for example all non native English teachers are asked to sit for IELTS exam in UAE to renew their contracts. In the meantime, NESTs are often hired with little or no teacher education, because of an “automatic extrapolation from competent speaker to competent teacher based on linguistic grounds alone” (Seidlhofer, 1999, p. 236).
            This emphasis on ‘striving to reach’ the native-speaker norm creates  a  situation  in  which  a  L2  user,  regardless  of  their proficiency  or  ability  to  communicate,  is  felt  compelled  to match  the  native-speaker  norm. This generous and approving attitude towards native speakers at the cost of nonnative speakers has negative effects on the creativity and confidence of NNESTs.  It discourages them and makes them feel unappreciated. Tollefson (1995) also discusses this issue and states that this imbalance in socio-linguistic power results in a life-long apprenticeship for the L2 speaker in which s/he has no hope of enunciation.

Facing the challenges
            The challenges that NNS face, unfortunately, are not always uninformed or innocuous. (Thomas, 1999).However, based on the results of the studies and the arguments above, the following recommendations emerged to face these challenges:
1. Since the proficiency level of the nonnative English speaking (NNES) teachers is of fundamental concern in EFL teaching, teacher preparation programs at universities should devise plans to improve their command of English. A good foreign language teacher needs a high level of language proficiency in all of the modalities of the target language. He/she needs to possess the ability to use the language in real-life contexts, for both social and professional purposes. They should not limit their knowledge to the textbooks they use in teaching.
2. In preparing EFL teachers, a balance should be given in the preparation program to three main fields of knowledge; methodology, psychology in addition to applied linguistics.
3. Students should be provided with adequate and ample life-like opportunities to use the language communicatively. We also need to show our students that a reasonable level of English proficiency with a bit of an accent does function in the global community.
4. Language proficiency, while crucial for teaching, should not be the only criteria that qualify or disqualify an EFL/ESL teacher to do the job. Administrators and all other stakeholders must make aware that other credentials are equally important for effective EFL teaching.
5. The class climates, structures, contents are also of great influences on students’ learning in the EFL context, so it is very important that EFL/ESL teachers are equipped with modern trends and innovations in language teaching. In service professional development should form a mutual interest for both the schools and the EFL teachers.
6. It is also recommended that more investigations of the effect of the nonnative English speaking EFL teachers (NNESTs) at different levels on other language skills in EFL classes be carried out.

References

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