Monday, 24 November 2014

native speakerism as a form of racism

Racism, as well as native speakerism, only survive if they are constantly reinforced through daily discourses that make them seem natural, increasing their power through making them invisible and less likely to be challenged.
Todd Ruecker

Six, no, wait, seven months after my CELTA course, the euphoria has all but evaporated. The reason? Job hunt.

According to the CELTA website, the certificate will “open the door to exciting teaching opportunities all over the world”. What it fails to mention is that even if the door is open, you have to be a native English speaker to go through it.

When you browse through jobs at, you quickly notice that most positions on offer require not just EFL teachers but native English-speaking teachers (NESTs), also (quite absurdly) known as “native English teachers”. For entry-level positions in Europe, say Spain, the essential requirements are neither experience nor qualification but English “nativeness” and EU citizenship. (In plain English: British and Irish only need to apply.) Worse still, being a “native” is considered... a qualification [1].

Why? After all, there is no such thing as a native violin player, Java programmer, or surgeon. There is no question that violin, programming or surgery can be taught by the professionals in these respective areas. What is so special about language teaching? Nor the mere fact of being born or growing up in an English-speaking country is a guarantee of proficiency in English or even having English as a mother tongue. I know people born in Ireland whose first language is Irish. I know much more people who lived all their lives in England and whose command of both written and spoken English is absolutely dismal. But here you are. Some advertisers go as far as to claim that it is against the law to hire non-native English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) in their school. Uh-oh. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that there could be no such law. You also would be right to suspect that it is actually against the law to discriminate on the basis of one’s place of birth [2, 3].

I think at least one of the factors to blame is a proliferation of language “academies” (sorry but most of them don’t deserve the title of “academy” without quotes) whose main claim to existence is “profesorado nativo” [4]. They are (rightly) worrying that being “diluted” by NNESTs will rid them of that singular advantage. Mind you, they also excel at blame-shifting. One recruiter, bless him, confessed to me that he himself was OK with my candidature — he wouldn’t tell that I was not a native, um, American English speaker until I told him otherwise — but it is the parents of the students who demand native English teachers. Yeah right.

There are other reasons behind the “nativeness” requirements though. A few days ago I came across the analysis by Todd Ruecker and Lindsey Ives whose findings “confirm the connection between White privilege and native speaker privilege” [5]. They suggest that

commercialization of the ELT <English language teaching> profession allows for stereotyping of and discrimination against individuals based on age and marginalizes NNESTs despite relevant qualifications, thus denigrating the level of professionalism in the field. In addition, by commercializing the ELT profession in this way, recruitment websites rhetorically reproduce power relations at the intersections of race and language background in a few different ways. First, they delimit who qualifies as a native speaker through the use of repeated images of White teachers and text demanding that teachers produce passports from a list of predominantly White, inner-circle countries <that is, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and USA>. Second, they reinforce the White native speaker norm by positioning the target cultures as exoticized Others in opposition to whom the White, Western teacher is defined. Finally, they extend the possessive investment in Whiteness beyond U.S. borders by articulating the cash value that comes with White native speaker status in the ELT industry.
Apart from that, by perpetuating the myth of native speaker superiority, the ELT industry sends a signal to the EFL learners that they will never be able to have as good a command of English as “natives”. That must be demotivating, to say the least.

I have been contemplating writing a post on this topic for a while. I would procrastinate even longer if not for an email I got three weeks ago:

Many thanks for applying for the position of Freelance Medical Editor with Longdom Publishing <yes that’s their real name>. I am sorry to say that we are only hiring native English speakers for this position, and will therefore not be able to consider your application.
Normally, I never answer these emails, rather press “delete” and move on. But that day I couldn’t help it. In this particular case the requirement of “nativeness” it is even less defensible than for an EFL teacher (nobody was going to hear my accent anyway). It took me about three minutes to write and send a response.
Many thanks for your fast response. You may be interested to know that it is illegal under EU law to discriminate against non-Native English speakers, which is exactly what your company does.
There has been no reply so far. It matters not. From now on, I will treat similar emails like this, it costs me nothing and makes me feel good.

  1. Rebuffet-Broadus, C. Qualification required: Native English speaker, 2 March 2014.
  2. Kiczkowiak, M. (Non-)Nativity Scenes, March 2014.
  3. Kiczkowiak, M. ‘Native speakers only’ ads and EU law, 1 April 2014.
  4. Vidales, R. (2014) La ‘burbuja lingüística’ dispara el fraude en las academias de idiomas. El País, 12 June 2014.
  5. Ruecker, T. and Ives, L. White native English speakers needed: the rhetorical construction of privilege in online teacher recruitment spaces. TESOL Quarterly, 25 September 2014.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

you get little credit for speaking swahili

From An Introduction to Sociolinguistics by Ronald Wardhaugh:
Monolingualism, that is, the ability to use only one language, is such a widely accepted norm in so many parts of the Western world that it is often assumed to be a world-wide phenomenon, to the extent that bilingual and multilingual individuals may appear to be ‘unusual.’ Indeed, we often have mixed feelings when we discover that someone we meet is fluent in several languages: perhaps a mixture of admiration and envy but also, occasionally, a feeling of superiority in that many such people are not ‘native’ to the culture in which we function. Such people are likely to be immigrants, visitors, or children of ‘mixed’ marriages and in that respect ‘marked’ in some way, and such marking is not always regarded favorably.
However, in many parts of the world an ability to speak more than one language is not at all remarkable. In fact, a monolingual individual would be regarded as a misfit, lacking an important skill in society, the skill of being able to interact freely with the speakers of other languages with whom regular contact is made in the ordinary business of living. In many parts of the world it is just a normal requirement of daily living that people speak several languages: perhaps one or more at home, another in the village, still another for purposes of trade, and yet another for contact with the outside world of wider social or political organization. These various languages are usually acquired naturally and unselfconsciously, and the shifts from one to another are made without hesitation.
There is a long history in certain Western societies of people actually ‘looking down’ on those who are bilingual. We give prestige to only a certain few classical languages (e.g., Greek and Latin) or modern languages of high culture (e.g., English, French, Italian, and German). You generally get little credit for speaking Swahili and, until recently at least, not much more for speaking Russian, Japanese, Arabic, or Chinese. Bilingualism is actually sometimes regarded as a problem in that many bilingual individuals tend to occupy rather low positions in society and knowledge of another language becomes associated with ‘inferiority’. Bilingualism is sometimes seen as a personal and social problem, not something that has strong positive connotations. One unfortunate consequence is that some Western societies go to great lengths to downgrade, even eradicate, the languages that immigrants bring with them while at the same time trying to teach foreign languages in schools. What is more, they have had much more success in doing the former than the latter.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

a real team effort

From The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford:

We all know that in most countries the Ministry of Defense is in charge of attacking other countries and that the Ministry of Employment presides over the unemployment lines. Cameroon’s Ministry of Tourism is in that noble tradition. Its job is to discourage tourists from getting into the country.
But I don’t want to give too much credit to the Ministry of Tourism. Discouraging tourists is a real team effort. According to Transparency International, Cameroon is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In 1999, it was the most corrupt country surveyed. When I visited in 2001 it was the fifth most corrupt, an improvement much celebrated by the government. A moment’s reflection should tell you that earning the title of ‘Most Corrupt Country in the World’ takes some effort. Because Transparency International ranks countries based on international perceptions of corruption, a winning strategy is to concentrate on screwing bribes out of foreign businessmen — for instance, at the airport. But the Cameroon authorities have spread themselves too thin, because Cameroon is massively corrupt at every level and does not just target foreigners. Perhaps it’s this lack of focus that caused them to slip from the top spot.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

in the field of silent air flows

Scientific job advertising clearly went downhill since... well, since my last successful application, some time in the last century. In the olden days, when they published job ads in Nature and Science hardcopies and had to pay per word, they at least made sure the ad was concise and to the point. The title had to catch the applicants’ attention and make sense. How the times changed. Now we don’t browse, we search with keywords. That means, the employers think the titles can be rubbish and the ad will be found anyway. That’s how I found these, for example. In (previously) respectable online sources. (I did not change a single word and left the capitalisation intact.) I wonder how many of these positions are filled now, and by whom.

  • Ass Professor
  • Associate Lecturer / Lecturer / Senior Lecturer in Flute
  • Associate Professor in Autobiographical Memory Research
  • Experienced Researcher for Missions to Phobos
  • Food Sensory Scientist
  • Hard Rock Geologist
  • Head of Bioprocessing (President minus 2 position)
  • Ladder Faculty in Space Physics
  • Mechanical Technician
  • More Experienced Researcher
  • Plant Fellows
  • Post-doctoral position in Food Habits
  • Post-doc position in strong fields
  • Postdoc-Solid Electrolyte
  • Postdoc for Post-mortem analysis
  • Product Manager Allergy
  • Research Assistant (Anachronism and Antiquity)
  • Research engineer in the field of silent air flows
  • Researcher Specializing in Fraud & Cybercrime
  • Senior Atmospheric Scientist
  • Senior Editor, Medecine
  • Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood
  • Value-adding of poplar bark
  • Viral Evolutionary Biologist
  • Wood Professorship of Forest Science

Monday, 21 April 2014


I can’t say that I never thought of doing something useful to earn my living. For example, teaching English. It was not until last year though that I began thinking about it seriously. Well, as seriously as I could. Doing CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) seemed like a good way to learn how to do it.

And so, some time last November, I started to look for a reasonably priced place, preferably in the sun, offering four-week CELTA courses. That’s how I learned about The Irish Academy in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: probably the best deal (and location) in the whole of Spain. On the last day of the last year, I sent an email enquiry about the course... and got an immediate response. In the following week, I filled the form and completed a short pre-interview task. I had my skype interview on 17 January and started the course exactly two months later.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

at cost of infinite suffering, we study to love whiskey and cigars

From Novel Notes by Jerome K. Jerome:
“Thought existed before the Printing Press; and the men who wrote the best hundred books never read them. Books have their place in the world, but they are not its purpose. They are things side by side with beef and mutton, the scent of the sea, the touch of a hand, the memory of a hope, and all the other items in the sum-total of our three-score years and ten. Yet we speak of them as though they were the voice of Life instead of merely its faint echo. Tales are delightful as tales — sweet as primroses after the long winter, restful as the cawing of rooks at sunset. But we do not write ‘tales’ now; we prepare ‘human documents’ and dissect souls.”
“Our religion hangs ready-made beside our cradle to be buttoned upon us by loving hands. Our tastes we acquire, with difficulty; our sentiments we learn by rote. At cost of infinite suffering, we study to love whiskey and cigars, high art and classical music. In one age we admire Byron and drink sweet champagne: twenty years later it is more fashionable to prefer Shelley, and we like our champagne dry. At school we are told that Shakespeare is a great poet, and that the Venus di Medici is a fine piece of sculpture; and so for the rest of our lives we go about saying what a great poet we think Shakespeare, and that there is no piece of sculpture, in our opinion, so fine as the Venus di Medici. If we are Frenchmen we adore our mother; if Englishmen we love dogs and virtue. We grieve for the death of a near relative twelve months; but for a second cousin we sorrow only three.”

Friday, 28 February 2014

aku-aku, what have I done

From Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond:

Education is a process involving two sets of participants who supposedly play different roles: teachers who impact knowledge to students, and students who absorb knowledge from teachers. In fact, as every open-minded teacher discovers, education is also about students imparting knowledge to their teachers, by challenging the teachers’ assumptions and by asking questions that the teachers hadn’t previously thought of.
In the class discussion after I had finished my presentation <on the collapse of Easter Island society>, the apparently simple question that most puzzled my students was one whose actual complexity hadn’t sunk into me before: how on earth could a society make such an obviously disastrous decision as to cut down all the trees on which it depended? One of the students asked what I thought the islander who cut down the last palm tree said as he was doing it. For every other society that I treated in subsequent lectures, my students raised essentially the same question. They also asked the related question: how often did people wreak ecological damage intentionally, or at least while aware of the likely consequences? How often did people instead do it without meaning to, or out of ignorance? My students wondered whether — if there are still people left alive a hundred years from now — those people of the next century will be as astonished about our blindness today as we are about the blindness of the Easter Islanders.

Friday, 3 January 2014

applying online

I guess everybody who started working in science 20—25 years ago would agree that applying for a job now is not what it used to be.

No, I don’t blame the internet. Just the opposite: it was thanks to internet that I got all my jobs (away from my blessed fatherland, that is). But I do blame the cancerous growth of HR departments and proliferation of incompetent HR managers.

I would stop short of calling for universal abolition of HR departments. (On a second thought, I don’t see why I should. Yeah, let’s just get rid of them. No human being deserves to be called a ‘resource’.) Nor will I reject outright the notion that somewhere there may exist intelligent, competent, compassionate, human HR managers. I never met one though.

My point, however, is that as recent as in 1990s, the HR people knew their place and did not stand between me and my prospective boss. These days I am getting a rejection letter and have no clue on whom to unleash my wrath. Head of the department? The assessment committee? The human resources? The whole damn place? I know: I... shall... unlike their Facebook page. That will show them.