Native vs Non-Native Speaking Teachers, Who Would You Employ?

By Eric - 4:03 AM

(Source: Taken from the blog of Mr.Tom Tuohy at:

Another issue that is still an issue up to now here in Thailand..just want to share it here. Reminding all, it's not my own entry but a copied entry with a link back to the blog site of Mr. Tom.
I decided to post it here because I myself affected of such discrimination happening here in Thailand. I just realized that the Thai Government issued something that the Filipinos should receive a salary not less than 30,000 baht and the native speakers must be 60,000baht. But you see I am receiving lower 20,000 baht, however, I don't have the power to complain since I am just a hired teacher and somewhat of no-how of common trading here in Thailand.

Who to employ?
This is an age old debate, and one that never seems to go away. If you ask one person the question above, you get one answer, ask another, and a different answer will be given. The fact is nobody can really say what the better deal is from the perspective of a school owner. But what if we change the perspective slightly and ask the same question from the perspective of a student? What would a typical student say in response to the same question? No doubt you'd get a similar cross-section of opinion with some opting for the native speaker, and others for the non-native one.

But, at the risk of turning this into an over-simplification, or sweeping generalization, shouldn't we all be in agreement that it's nigh on impossible to categorise people in such a general way? I mean, there are as many good non-native teachers as there are bad ones and, in the same way, there as many good native speaking teachers as there are bad ones, too, so quite often when we make such generalizations, we forget that there is good and bad in equal measure whoever you employ.

One story
Having worked alongside both native and non-native speaking teachers over the years in places like Thailand, Saudia Arabia, Ghana, and the UK, I have to say that I have always been impressed a lot more with the latter. Perhaps it's because they have to work harder and are generally paid a lower salary, so they may feel a sense of inadequacy because they don't have attributes that certainly most Thai language school owners prize - blue eyes, blonde hair, and/or a degree from an English speaking country like say, Australia, the USA, or the UK.

I once tried to get a colleague, who I had worked with at the University of Birmingham, a job in a reputable institution in Saudia Arabia. This gentleman has three masters degrees, two bachelor degrees, and has worked as a teacher in a variety of roles in places as diverse as Iran, Argentina, the UK, Brazil, Pakistan, Oman, The Czech Republic, S. Korea, and Canada. He had also presented at conferences in countries as varied as Hungary, Argentina, and Azerbaijan and has published more than 131 academic papers to date. When the interview came around, which was a telephone one, all went well as his spoken English is impeccable. Of course the question eventually arose as to whether he was a native speaker or not. As he was born in Pakistan and held a Pakistani passport, it mattered not a jot that he was more qualified and experienced than 90% of chalkies and had spent many years in native speaking countries living and working. His application was sent "upstairs" for consideration by the powers-that-be in the institution concerned, and a refusal to consider him for the position was returned a week or so later.

What this tells you about some institutions is that they are blind to the incredible talent out there and will refuse someone with obvious skills and experience simply because they don't fit a particular racial profile sad and true though this is. It didn't even matter that this teacher was also a Muslim and prepared to teach in one of the strictest Wahhabist societies in the world. In other institutions, this would have counted as a plus, but not here.

Another story
Conversely, my wife works in a well-known international pre-school or kindergarden in the centre of Bangkok. Here they will employ non-native speakers more often than not instead of experienced and qualified locals or native speakers, but only if they are white-skinned, with light coloured eyes and hair. I remember one time my wife told me that they had employed a blonde, blue-eyed, Swedish girl who had no experience, no qualifications, certainly no teaching qualifications and, I believe was degree-challenged as well. Although she was employed as a teacher, and had classroom duties as well, she was paid 40,000 baht a month basically to look pretty when the moms and dads came in the morning and afternoons to bring and drop off their kids. This was basically pandering to the lowest common denominator and had little to do with pedagogy or education whatsoever.

Pleasing the punters
The saddest part of these kinds of stories is that the main reason why native speaking teachers are preferred over their non-native speaking cousins has little to do with things like the ability to use RP (Received pronunciation) and be able to talk like the man on the BBC six O' clock news or talk like Bill Gates e.g. with an American accent. If that were the case, then there would be some reasonably sound arguments that could be put forward to say why such teachers are preferred. On the contrary, more often than not, native speakers are preferred because little Somchai won't be left alone with an Indian, a Pakistani or a Phillipino because they are often perceived as dirty or stupid or incapable of giving little Somchai the kind of education he needs or deserves. Similarly, such students are often handed over to a good looking young female with dubious qualifications simply because the parents, who know little about what constitutes a good teacher, value such things above true pedagogical awareness and experience.

Of course this is a very shortsighted perspective and is a waste of very valuable skills and resources but, let's be honest, is it ever likely to change while parents have a say in the school they choose for little Johnny or Navaporn?

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