Non-Native English Speakers Teaching ESL

What if you are not a native speaker of English but you are proficient in English and want to be an ESL teacher?

If you have passed all the required exams and are certified and degreed to teach ESL, just like a native speaker must be, why can’t you teach?

This has been a topic of heated discussion amongst the TESL community in the U.S. and other English-speaking nations, as nonnative speakers are allegedly being discriminated against in the hiring process by some schools. But in fact, the argument remains that ESL teachers who have already gone through the entire transitional process from their own language and culture to English and their new country’s culture should actually be better prepared to teach in an ESL classroom. Because he or she personally understands the immigrant experience, a nonnative speaker who is qualified to teach ESL is considered to have an advantage.

If you are a nonnative speaker and are trying to find an ESL job abroad, things might be a bit trickier. There are often a good number of teachers of English from the country of your choice, who are also nonnative speakers, only the advantage they have over you is that they also speak the country’s native language. For example, if you are a native Chinese speaker, but have lived for years in the U.S. and hold English and TESOL degrees, and want to teach English in the Czech Republic, you might have competition with the Czech teachers of English, who are also nonnative speakers like you – but they can speak their students’ language, which might be required for certain classes. Also, if you do not have an American or British accent, some schools, as unfair as it might seem, will not hire you, solely on that basis, as many of their students will be taking a Cambridge exam or wanting to study or work in the U.S. or U.K.

One other factor to consider is another kind of discrimination based on ethnic heritage. It is better to explain by describing an actual teacher’s experience. “Kevin” is a Chinese American, his parents both came over from China to live in the U.S., but Kevin was born in the US, so he is a native English speaker but does not speak Chinese. He decided to teach abroad in China and got a TEFL certificate. But when he arrived in China and started looking for a job, he was shocked to find that he was turned away at several schools. In some cases, it seemed that it was because he was expected to speak Chinese – after all, he looked Chinese and had a Chinese last name. Another problem he encountered once he finally began teaching was that the students did not respect him so much because he did not speak Chinese.

There are of course schools that will accept nonnative speakers as teachers with no hesitation, as long the demand is high and the teacher’s qualifications are top notch.

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