Native Speakerism Personal Teacher Talk

I have a dream…(NN)EST

My journey teaching English as a non-native English speaking teacher.

When my parents named me they wrote my name in Armenian, as they are Armenians at birth themselves and so am I.

The Armenian language is very complex and ancient. It has 39 letters and it is really hard to learn. I personally never learned how to write Armenian, but that’s another story.

My name was spelled “մէրի” (mēri)… and it is pronounced like the English “Mary” name. However, since our documents had to be translated into a more international and known language, my name was suddenly spelled M-E-R-I.

The way my name was spelled soon brought on to many misconceptions as to who I really was. Spelling errors which could have been easily avoided, bureaucratic problems and mistrust, a bunch of lost opportunities in ELT and, well…funny stories too.

I will not get into now.

Instead, I will tell you how I got my first students.

Flash forward to when I came to live in Parma, Italy.

I began working in Italy as an English teacher, I quickly realised it was a better idea to write “Mary” on public ads to get a callback and say I was a mother tongue speaker instead of saying I was an English teacher with this or that qualification. It always worked. It was easier to start a conversation by saying that rather than have no conversation at all. Soon enough I had my first private students and a year’s contract.

I concluded I would first teach a lesson to later speak about who I actually was. Once I had earned my students’ trust, I could come clean and explain my position, as I am doing right now here in writing. I still feel like a fraud when I spell my name M-A-R-Y in public ads, btw.

My son running around in Piazza Duomo, Parma (Italy) – May 2021

I needed to make a living and I was being penalised for a spelling mistake, and even more so for being Armenian (the unknown country that would scare pupils away).

On paper, I had no business teaching English in Italy, and unless I somehow had a chance to speak to a recruiter directly in English they would never hire me based on my CV alone. This still continues today.

My conclusions:

People are afraid of the unknown. The old fight or flight response has seen generations after generations make the same mistakes in judgement, that is categorising people based on their origin, name, colour, accent, etc.

Somehow it is easier to make sense of the world by sticking labels onto things so as to keep everything well organised, in specific slots. If you give “it” a name, “it” will seem more friendly and less unknown.

I do think this reasoning might have made more sense in the past when one was born and raised in a given town or city, had spent their entire life in their hometown, and never as much as laid foot in another territory. Maybe their general traits could be more easily identified or guessed based on their environment. Yet, I also realise we could argue that we would not be able to define and categorise a person in that circumstance much like any other human being. We can be complex that way.

So what is the dream I have?

I dream for English teachers not to be categorised into Native vs. Non Native speaking teachers. It is not a competition as much as it is a desire to have equal opportunities in the job market.

I wish I never have to explain WHY I can speak English as someone who was born in a Non English Speaking Country ( or whose name is spelled Meri) to anyone who is pondering whether to hire me as their English teacher – in my experience, no one expects Armenians to know English well, and frankly, not many know what “Armenia” is. What people do know is that Armenia is not the UK, and definitely not the US, and that is just enough to blow any deal as of today.

The long and winding road of TEFL/ TESL. The_Non_Native_Speaker.

Native Speakerism

The impact of Native Speaker ads in ELT

Students often do not know what is good for them.

I will say it again, this time more clearly:
New English students don’t really know anything about teacher qualifications, what native speakerism is, the struggles that non native speakers face, or how good their teachers are. 

The message for the longest time has been, native speaker teachers are good (meaning non native teachers are bad).

Hence, we find ourselves having to justify WHY we are English teachers at all, being born in so and so place, not speaking like Her Majesty.

The narrative has become counterproductive for students because they find themselves in a room with a native speaker and not a native or non-native TEACHER

The problems that arise with that are many, because speakers who are not teachers:

  1. Can’t speak in a clear, comprehensible way so that ANY level learner can understand them (grading language and local accent come to mind)
  2. They speak too fast because they just speak – meanwhile when a teacher speaks he or she is actually listening to him/herself through the students’ mind and adapting lexical choices just enough for them to understand, yet be challenged at the same time (comprehensible input +1)
  3. The use of unfamiliar and inadequate expressions simply comes from not knowing which elements are relevant to be taught and which are not as important. 

“…native-speakerism needs to be addressed at the level of the prejudices embedded in everyday practice, and dominant professional discourses must be put aside if the meanings and realities of students and colleagues from outside the English-speaking West are to be understood.”

Holliday, 2005. The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

There is a lot you can teach, but will it be useful to that particular student or group?

Experienced teachers almost always know what the next hurdle is, and they know how to guide you to overcome that specific hurdle eithout overwhelming you with unnecessary information in that moment.

The reason students find themselves in this condition – with NON-teachers teaching and unemployed teachers rolling their eyes – is because the truth has been concealed from them. 

Potential language learners have been brainwashed by ads telling them a NATIVE TEACHER is all they need, but a native SPEAKER is all they get.

They have been told they can SOUND native if they have a NATIVE TEACHER.

They have been told that if their teacher was born in a non English speaking country, then he or she cannot be a teacher.

I don’t know about you, but I’m only glad doctors don’t face the same discrimination. 

We – qualified teachers, native or not – are professionals and should be treated as such. Please share this blog post to raise awareness of discriminatory practices being fed to the public.

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There is nothing instant, fun or simple about studying a language for someone who needs to thrive on learning a new system of communication and whose job depends on it. We do not all have the same needs and wants. So before being enthusiastic and eager to teach, be more empathetic and understanding of who is sitting in front of you and their own engagement level. Never assume it is easy for them, no matter how enthusiastic YOU are about their journey.


If you are using only English to teach your foreign class, never ask if students understood what they just read or listened to. Some may say yes, some might shake theirs heads or nod. In fact, their answer would not give you ANY proof whatsoever as to what really was or was not understood. Every activity that is considered INPUT of the target language (TL) should always come with a brief comprehension task which will then inform you if what mattered was, in fact, understood by them. How deeply you think they actually understood something comes into play as well. This means preparing input beforehand to guide your students towards what YOU, the teacher, knows to be valuable to that particular class, and posing the right questions to investigate how well something was indeed understood. 


Most teacher trainers advise us not to use the NO word as often, as it is discouraging to some students as well as repetitive, negative, counterproductive, and so on.

Some suggestions you could adopt might be:

  • “Could you say that again?” – with dubious face expression (this allows time to self-correct);
  • “Have another go” – you could also give a second chance by ignoring the wrong answer and giving another hint or two, or three;
  • “Very close, actually it is better to say …”


First of all who is WE? The nation your are from? The town you now live in? The board panel you summon every weekend to decide on everything English related? I get it, it makes everything you say next sound more authoritative and official, it adds more credit to what is coming next. I personally feel that even non-native english speaking teachers do this too, because WE have the impostor syndrome rooted within ourselves, but we must absolutely refrain from this habit. Why? Because unless you are teaching a particular culture or specific RP, it is irrelevant what or how YOU (the plural you) say anything. English needs to be seen a a global language and the sooner that happens, the better for teachers and learners alike.  #whodiedandmadeyouking



The world is full of English teachers who have the tendency to speak to full grown adults as if they were primary students. Just because you are an English teacher do not assume your students are beneath you in any way. Do not go into “school teacher – pupil” mode with any of your adult students. 

I do not care if you are teaching “MY NAME IS”, do it normally or stick to teaching children. Normally meaning: no flashcards, no bag of tricks, no “Simon says”. Do not be a goofball with your adult students, they are past that age!

Photo Credit: @Annalightpro