Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ESL vs EFL in North America

An interesting discussion developing at the ESL Cafe, which started out talking about a preference in Canada for non-native ESL instructors but distilled out to a talk on some of the differences EFL and ESL teachers find in their craft. One to watch.

The full discussion is here.

dmocha begins:

When I came back to Canada after teaching for several decades overseas I knew it might be tough to break into the ESL market. One university English language programme told me flat out that overseas EFL experience was of limited benefit in getting an ESL teaching job in Canada. Another decade later and I know that they were right.

While on the hunt for ESL jobs I began to encounter another barrier to employment. I’d never even considered: anti-native-speaker-ism in the immigrant English language teaching sector. The premise is that having native-English speakers as instructors in immigrant oriented ESL programmes sends the message that ‘native is best’ or conversely ‘non-native is second rate’. As a result I’ve seem programmes (federal government funded programmes no less) which have zero native English-speaking teaching staff. (Male staff? Since most of the immigrant learners are women, having men in superior roles would send the wrong message too.)

For those of us who rely on our native speaker status to open doors overseas, who see how non-Caucasian native English speakers are often less employable and are paid less when they are just as good, this can come as quite a shock!

Speaking for myself, I doubt very much I’d enrol in a Chinese language programme in Beijing if I knew the instructors were not native speakers of 北京话.

My purpose in writing this is not to complain but to provoke a discussion on the issue of ‘anti-native-speakeristic’ approaches to language teaching, in terms of language learning, acculturation and teacher (un)employment.

PS If you think your many years of successful teaching overseas, your published papers and higher education count for much in Canada (at least) think again. Plan on retraining for a new career right from the get-go. Don't waste time; time is money.

nomad soul responds:

dmocha, I wonder how much of this comes from the belief that you're supposedly out of touch with the culture because you were overseas for a lengthy time. Even though you’re a native speaker, employers may perceive you to be similar to an immigrant in that you now have to acclimate back into the culture---that is, you’re estranged from the culture, which is essential for teaching ESL. Additionally, I think TEFL is misunderstood by TESL folks because of the “foreign” component. For example, I know several ESL teachers who have said they can’t fathom going overseas to teach because they’d be teaching on foreign soil and in a foreign context. Geez, and having "suspect-sounding" countries (e.g., Yemen, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Togo, New Guinea...) on your resume/CV could be an issue. Your TEFL experience would probably be more appealing if you'd taught in Mexico, China, Japan, Poland, etc.

johnslat adds:

"Additionally, I think TEFL is misunderstood by TESL folks because of the “foreign” component."

From my experience, I'd say that there is a fairly widespread prejudice among ESL employers in the States against EFLers.

I'd also say that, like all other prejudices, it's wrong-headed. Would we all agree that EFL students usually have it harder in learning English than ESL students? After all, the ESL students are generally surrounded by English whereas for many EFL students, the classroom is the only time they may get to speak English (the enterprising ones can read, write and/or listen to it outside the class, though I'd say, many don't.)
And when the students have it harder, doesn't it logically follow that the teachers have it harder, too?

Again, I can speak only from my background - 22 years as a EFL teacher and eight years as an ESL teacher. And I would have to say that in my estimation, the EFL colleagues that I had were/are (generally speaking) more competent than most of my ESL colleagues (the main exceptions being ESL non-native speaker teachers.)

But again - that's just my experience.


spiral78 chimes in with:

I've worked in a couple of places in North America providing classes for immigrants: the teachers were 90% native speakers.

Non-native speakers were employed primarily teaching lower levels, not due to any lack of proficiency (they were all very high level English speakers) but because their teaching methods tended to the more traditional. This is what many newcomers seemed to expect and to respond best to - they were then 'weaned' up through higher levels to more participatory/learner centred classroom styles.

nomad soul agrees:

The ESL teaching situations I've observed in the US mirror spiral's description but with native and non-native speakers teaching all levels. It's probably relevant to the demographics of the area. But employers will hire whomever they want for whatever the reason.

The job market for ESL teachers is competitive and one way to make sure you're not forgotten or ignored is by networking. Teachers who head overseas for a time and then return to their native shores especially need to keep a connection with their home teaching community. TESOL events are a good venue for meeting and networking with one's peers. Linkedin is another way to network and it's free.

follow the rest of the conversation at the link above...

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