Implications of Non-nativeness on Teacher Recruitment

Non-nativeness is an increasingly important area in ELT. Whilst some research has been carried out on non-native teachers and their credibility, there have been few indications inside articles which tackle the topic from the recruitment angle. The aim of this paper is to investigate the challenges which non-native English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) and ELT organisations encounter; provide a framework for recruiting NNESTs; and suggest some practical tips for potential non-native teachers and those who are already in the profession.

  • Challenges:

Educational organisations and language teachers face challenges on daily basis, especially NNESTs. Ulate (2011) points that the term ‘non-native English speaker’ has a negative connotation attributed to it as people compare it with the positive term ‘native English speaker’. One of the consequences of this is the lack of confidence specially when there are native colleagues. There are internal causes for this due to the perception of native English-speaking teachers (NESTs) as linguistically and pedagogically superior. External causes can mainly be assigned to the way students compare between NESTs and NNESTs (including NNESTs as language learners themselves).

It is serious when students ask for NESTs in feedback sessions because it threatens NNESTs’ credibility and motivation; however, it can be motivating for others to advance their language learning. In his well-known article ‘Native or Nonnative: Who’s worth more?’ Megyes (1991) concludes that being native or non-native does not determine the “teacher’s effectiveness” but there are many variables; and that “a favourable mix” is healthy as it opens the doors for meaningful teamwork.

In a different context where all or the majority of the teachers are NNESTs, there can emerge problems when teachers have mixed levels of English. One of the challenges is staffroom gossip; some teachers feel high-caliber and start to gossip about those who are less competent in language. Likewise, those who are less capable start to be envious because other teachers are proud, sometimes arrogant, because of their language or accent. Indeed, this is a challenge for the teachers as it has a detrimental effect on teambuilding. Symptoms vary, such as the look between two friends when somebody else talks, the gossip which takes place after someone has talked in a meeting, etc. (Tizzard 2006)

In addition, when NNESTs language progress is slow, certain individuals find it difficult to ascend in the training ladder; they stop at a certain point failing to exceed it. An example would be a teacher who is not eligible for the DELTA because he / she is not yet C2 in the CEFR. Moreover, this puts timetabling constraints on the academic staff and admins when assigning higher-level classes such as B2 and above to teachers.

  • A Framework for Recruiting NNESTs :

Recruitment is such a big process which involves complicated procedures with even more considerations when the candidate is non-native. Problems of non-native-related nature can be minimised by careful attention to the recruitment and selection process of teachers. Below is a suggested scheme which provides some guidance to ELT organisations. It is useful for recruitment in general; nevertheless, it is essential in the case of non-native candidates.

  1. Although NNESTs sometimes are not equally treated as NESTs, and “discriminated against because of their non-native status” as Ulate (2011) argues, recruitment teams should not have blind sympathy and unjustifiably accept NNESTs declaring the radical sign of “The Native Speaker is dead![1]“. A balanced combination is always more effective.
  2. While it is preferable to have a degree in teaching or education, recruiters have to decide if this is essential.
  3. The English language level issue must be clear: What level? How do we know? Which test should candidates have? Will it be a prerequisite for the application? All these questions should be answered or else undesirable consequences can happen; for example, having teachers who are less competent than some students!
  4. Duties and responsibilities should be clear in the job description in addition to class levels the candidate will teach.
  5. In schools which have learners of different age range, i.e., adults, young learners, etc. the candidate should know which group they are teaching.
  6. Interviews should include competency questions through which the candidates’ language level, soft skills, teamwork, willingness to learn, etc. are assessed.
  7. The recruiting board should make reasonable decisions when there are complex situations, for example, a candidate whose language level is very high but are stubborn vs. a candidate who is willing to learn and open to new experiences but his / her language level is significantly lower.
  8. When language schools decide to give pre-service training, they need to decide whether to incorporate a language awareness element in the course or not depending on the type of candidates and the school needs- this relates to point b. and the candidates’ previous education. A similar proposition was put by Anderson (2015) when he compares between the needs of NESTs and NNESTs in initial teacher training courses.
  • Practical tips for NNESTs:

In “A forum on non-nativeness in ELT” in IATEFL conference 2015, there were three of us presenting in the forum: a colleague talked about the topic from an academic point of view; the other colleague was categorically denying any criticism to NNESTs; and I addressed non-nativeness as an existing issue highlighting how to boost the NNESTs credibility. I believe that NNESTs should be humble and confident at the same time, that is, they should be willing to accept constructive criticism and improve their proficiency and efficiency; they also should not feel inferior to their native counterparts.

The following are practical tips for the NNESTs to be able to survive in the ELT setting.

Tip 1: Being a NNEST is not a shame; Medgyes (2001) listed six advantages NNESTs:

  1. Provide a better learner model.
  2. Teach language-learning strategies more effectively.
  3. Supply more information about the English language.
  4. Better anticipate and prevent language difficulties.
  5. Be sensitive to their students.
  6. Benefit from their ability to use the students’ mother tongue.

Tip 2: No matter which level you are, you have to continuously improve your English language. It is commonly perceived that non-natives use ‘bookish’ language, so shifting towards more ‘real’ language is key.

Tip 3: Use language more confidently and try to embrace your native speaker mode without exaggeration.

Tip 4: In your teaching, try to be more creative and provide lots of opportunities for the students to use language in meaningful contexts.

Tip 5: On your first lesson, be clear with your students that you are a language learner as well and you do not know everything about English; however, that will depend on the type of students and how they might perceive this.

Tip 6: Always maintain a positive approach towards your colleagues; be ready to sympathise and humbly offer help to those who need it, and seek help from those who can offer it.

Tip 7: Be sincere. Do not backbite your colleagues or managers. Give advice and ask questions if you are in doubt.

Tip 8: Be autonomous! Do not expect that your school or centre should be responsible for your development. Although they may offer training opportunities, you have to take responsibility of your learning and professional development.

Tip 9: Participate and present in conferences, try to publish in ELT journals, take relevant free online course on FutureLearn, Coursera, etc.

Tip 10: Read about ELT in general and NNESTs in particular.

All in all, although the challenges bilingual teachers face are unavoidable, they have to be dealt with positively in order to boost confidence and teamwork. Recruiters also need to clearly delineate a scheme which can be used as a reference for them when selecting candidates – each school decides what criteria meet their needs without discrimination. This, hopefully, is going to add integrity and inclusion to ELT recruitment.


Awan, A. S., Cavalcante, H., Othman, A. (2016) ‘ Forum on non-nativeness in ELT: implications, knowledge of

language and credibility’ in IATEFL 2015 Manchester Conference Selections. Kent: IATEFL, pp. 172-175.

Medgyes, P. (1992) ‘Native or non-native: who’s worth more?’, ELT Journal, vol. 46, issue. 4, pp. 347.

Medgyes, P. (2001) ‘When the teacher is a non-native speaker’. Teaching Pronunciation. Online. [Accessed: 21/09/2016]. <>

Tizzard, P. (2006) ‘The Teambuilding Activities Pocketbook’, Management Pocketbooks Ltd

Ulate, N. V. (2011) ‘Insights towards Native and Non-native ELT Educators’. Bellatella Journal of Teaching & Learning Language & Literature, vol. 4 (1), pp. 56-79.

[1] Peter Medgyes pointed out to a book with this title in his article “When a teacher is a non-native”

About Ahmed Othman

Ahmed is an English teacher, a teacher trainer, a public speaker, a writer and a therapist.

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