The Myth Surrounding the Nonnative-English-Speaker Teacher

(Why) Is this (still) an issue in language assessment?

When I moved to the United States with an assistantship that paid for my tuition in my master’s degree in TESOL and also gave me a monthly salary to cover my living expenses while in school, it did not cross my mind that my “nonnativeness” could be/would be a subject of concern. As part of my Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) duties, I had to teach two English as a second language (ESL) classes in the university’s Intensive English Program (IEP). Prior to arriving in the US, I had already taught English as a foreign language (EFL) in my home country (Brazil) for 3,5 years, also in the university’s languages center, to where I have returned and have worked until today. I cannot recall an instance in which my proficiency in English or ability to teach and assess my students had been questioned by either my students or superiors. At least, not to my face. Amongst my colleagues, I was and still am well aware the myth surrounding the nonnative-English-speaker teacher haunts teachers, who constantly need to provide proof of their proficiency. It also mesmerizes students, who idealize a prototype of standard teacher.

Rajagopalan (2006) states that nonnative-English-speaker teachers represent 80% of the English Language Teaching (ELT) total workforce worldwide. Pereira da Silva (2009) alerts that this massive number of professionals in the workforce has triggered an interest amongst researchers to investigate the characteristics of each group, both native-English-speaker teachers and nonnative-English-speaker teachers.


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Braine, G. (2006). A history of research on non-native speaker English teachers. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-native language teachers: Perceptions, challenges and contributions to the profession (pp. 13-23). New York: Springer. Finardi, K. R. (2014). The slaughter of Kachru’s five sacred cows in Brazil: affordances of the use of English as an international language. Studies in English language teaching, 2(4), 401- 411. Hulstijn, J. H. (2011). Language proficiency in native and nonnative speakers: an agenda for research and suggestions for second-language assessment. Language Assessment Quarterly, 8(3), 229-249. Kachru, B. B. (1985). Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: The English Language in the Outer Circle. In English in the world: Teaching and learning the language and literature, edited by R. Quirk and H. G. Widdowson. Cambridge/London: Cambridge University Press/The British Council. Medgyes, P. (2001). When the teacher is a non-native speaker. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 429-442). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle. Medgyes, P. (2003). The non-native teacher. Germany: Hueber. Pereira da Silva, L. (2009). Students’ Expectations and Attitudes towards Nonnative-English-Speaking Teacher in ESL and EFL Settings: Teachers’ and Students Own Perspectives. (Master’s Degree Thesis, West Virginia University Libraries). Rajagopalan, K. (2006). Non-native speaker teachers of English and their anxieties: Ingredients for an experiment in action research. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-native language teachers: Perceptions, challenges and contributions to the profession (pp. 283-303). New York: Springer. Zhang, Y., & Elder, C. (2011). Judgments of oral proficiency by non-native and native English speaking teacher raters: Competing or complementary constructs? Language Testing, 28(1), 31-50. DOI: 10.1177/0265532209360671

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