Is TEFL a Prejudiced Industry?

Is TEFL a Prejudiced Industry (cf. Immigration Laws?)

Is There Place for Non-Native Speakers of English?
Are native speakers always better, or are there occasions when students may benefit more from a foreign speaker?

Reflective Diary submitted by Mary, Madrid.

As an Irish woman who teaches English as a Foreign Language, the phrase “you’re so lucky you speak English as a native language!” has been uttered to me many times. But aside from the sheer effort required to learn English as a second language, is there any truth to the long-held notion that this prerequisite somehow makes me a better teacher?
When searching for a TEFL job online, it becomes increasingly obvious that there is a favouritism at work among educational establishments towards native speakers.

Some go so far as to state that no qualification or experience is necessary if you possess English as your mother tongue. Many attractive opportunities are available to me just because I was lucky enough to be born in an English-speaking country.

But is this fair? To me, it seems to be trivialising important aspects that should form the basis for successful teaching. Respect, punctuality, professionalism, enthusiasm, the ability to be an inspiring educator and, most importantly, a love and passion for teaching should be paramount to any applicant, and I have no desire to be judged differently, or for the above factors to have less of an influence, as a result of my native language.

I certainly believe that there are in fact advantages for students to having a non-native speaker teaching them English. I have heard it said that some students actually prefer non- native speakers because native speakers lack the experience of learning English as a foreign language. No matter how brilliant a command we may have of the English language, we are still largely incapable of seeing it from a student’s point of view.

As James Taylor states in his blog ‘Why I Wish I was a Non-Native English Speaker’ “No matter how good a teacher I am, I will never be able to look my students in the eye and say “I know how you feel, I know how frustrating this language can be and I will guide you through it.” That’s a very powerful thing to be able to say, and I wish it could come out of my mouth.”

In conclusion, I do believe there is a place in this industry for non-native speakers. However, that does not mean that there are no standards and that anyone can teach English as a Foreign Language. In my opinion, those who do not have it as their mother tongue must gain the same competencies that put them on par with native speakers. I consider there to be place in the TEFL industry for both native and non-native speakers of English, and while the quality of their respective advantages and skills will differ, one cannot outweigh the other.

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