A while ago, I wrote a post where I argued that the preferential hiring of Native English Speaking Teachers is discriminatory, and —having made my case— I thought that there would be no reason to revisit the issue. In part, this is because such discussions have a way of quickly becoming unproductive, especially when carried out online. More importantly, I think that there is a danger of focussing too much on the perceived differences between the two groups of teachers (native and non-native speakers), and thus perpetuating a distinction which is, in my opinion, unhelpful.
Fortunately and despite occasional counter-examples, I think that instances of discourse that supports ‘native-speakerism’ (: the preferential treatment of native speakers of English) are not as frequent as they used to be in the past. It also seems that there is greater awareness in the profession of what constitutes discrimination, as well as less willingness to tolerate it. It has also been my experience that embarrassing attempts to legitimise unjust practices are usually dealt with by the teaching community swiftly and appropriately.
Except, I had forgotten about the University of Athens…
This is why I was genuinely stunned to learn about the casual and crude discrimination practised by the University of Athens and the Greek Institute of Educational Policy (Ινστιτούτο Εκπαιδευτικής Πολιτικής), who are jointly responsible for developing the new Foreign Language Curriculum for Senior High Schools. According to the job advertisement (in Greek only), they were interested in contracting four ELT methodology specialists, who will create learning materials, reading comprehension tasks and grammar awareness testing activities, ranging from B2 to C1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference (p. 3). The person specification expressly excluded non-native speakers, as it was stipulated that being a native speaker of English was an essential qualification (p. 4, my translation) :
a. A humanities degree
b. Native speaker of English
c. Proven professional experience in creating learning materials for teaching and learning English, and/or assessing linguistic proficiency (in print and/or in electronic media)
Elsewhere in the same document, a position was described for an ELT methodology specialist who will be responsible for creating listening tasks. They too, must be native speakers of English (p. 6). Then, on pp. 16-17, there’s a position for two voice actors (male and female), who not only need to be native speakers, but also have to speak with “a British pronunciation”.
Not everyone at the University of Athens is racist…
Oddly, these native-speakerist specifications appear to be specific to the positions associated with the English language. The positions for French and German language specialists seem to have been written with a very different professional profile in mind, as seen in the extract below (p. 14, my translation and emphasis).
a. A first degree from a Department of French Language and Literature;
b. A Masters degree in French Language Teaching or Translation, or a PhD focussing on French Language Teaching;
c. Linguistic proficiency at a native-speaker level;
d. Proven professional experience in creating learning materials for teaching and learning English, and/or assessing linguistic proficiency (in print and/or in electronic media).
What this suggests is that there is awareness, at least at some quarters, that one does not have to be a native speaker in order to write good test items, and that studies in teacher education are a better preparation than accident of birth, when it comes to producing specialised language teaching tasks.
Juxtaposing the two documents, which appear in the same set of job adverts, shows very clearly that we are not dealing with a single misguided bureaucrat who happens to still think in folk-linguistics terms. Rather, this is looks like a deliberate act of discrimination based on linguistic criteria. It is illegal, in the EU at least, and even by Greek standards it is corrupt.
Why do I even care?
There are multiple reasons why this advert is so frustrating. One is that it is signed by academics who have often described their work as “counter-hegemonic”, “pluricentric”, and promoting a “multilingual, heteroglossic and polyphonic” ethos. What these impressive words index is an ideological position that allegedly challenges native-speaker privilege, and which is sometimes referred to as ‘critical applied linguistics‘. It is unclear to me whether this ironic discrepancy stems from lack of awareness about how language and politics come together in critical theory, or if it is an instance of hypocritical applied linguistics. Even if we set asside the critical dimension, the job advert reveals a shoking disconnect from applied linguistics scholarship (Isn’t English an international lingua franca and does this not haave implications for nativeness?) and pronunciation research (What is a “British pronunciation” anyway, and why is it preferable?). This lack of scholarly sophistication is surprising for a research group that purports to specialise on ELT methodology, and presumes to dictate language policy.
Most importantly, it is disheartening to be confronted with structural inequality that is so deeply ingrained and so blatantly expressed, when one does not know how to effectively address it. In instances like this, one can always rely on Widdowson for a pithy and apt bon mot. In Defining Issues in English Language Teaching, he writes that “applied linguistics is not in the business of recommending, but of pointing things out” (p. 180). What I have tried to point out, in this post, is that as the profession is slowly making its way towards a more inclusive practice, there are institutional enclaves that seem entrenched in racist ideologies. Because such institutions exercise power, they pose a significant obstacle to the continuing democratisation of ELT.