Questioning ads only for “native speakers” shared by ELT organizations

This post is on something I have been thinking about for a while and was finally inspired to write about today by the #ELTchat earlier this morning. The chat’s title was, “Should ELT organisations support NNests and stop discrimination against them?” Here is the summary of the chat.

On Twitter, I saw one friend suggest the title of the chat should be “How should ELT organizations support NNests and stop discrimination against them?” because it clearly it is not a reasonable yes or no question and organizations most definitely should be doing this. I am honestly not convinced ELT orgs are doing a whole heck of a lot so maybe we could think of the ELTchat title as something like “Why aren’t ELT orgs doing more and how can they get started?” I suppose this is not exactly my topic for today, though. I have just one specific case I’d like to consider.  I am not completely sure what I think about this so I’d very much welcome any thoughts or opinions.

A relatively recent addition to the KOTESOL website is a job board. While I might wonder if this is an example mission creep or a case of an organization getting away from core strengths, the most noticeable aspect of this board for me was how some of ads (around half at a quick look) are for native speakers only. I might also wonder if I am being ridiculous to write about a fledgling job board which hasn’t seen a new ad posted in nearly a month. I do think there are important things at play here and things worth thinking about and considering regardless of the size or age of the board.

TEFL Equity Advocates  has a nice page where anti-discriminatory statements  from various groups are shared, notably including a 2006 “Position Statement Against Discrimination of Nonnative Speakers of English in the Field of TESOL” from TESOL. Also found on the TEFL Equity Advocates blog is the fact TESOL Global and TESOL France have officially condemned and prohibited all job ads which discriminate against NNESTs.

Should KOTESOL do the same? Does not doing so or not having done so yet mean K0TESOL is behind the times and deserves our criticism on this issue?  I am not so sure.

One key here in Korea when considering such ads is how certain titles/jobs/roles will only allow applicants with certain passports (7 countries deemed native English speaking) to receive visas. This is an immigration issue and not based on the hiring bodies or the preferences of customers/students.

Previously I have taken exception to KOTESOL leaders seeming proud about having 30% Korean membership. This never sounded like a high number to me it’s the number I’ve heard. Is it reasonable or ethical or appropriate to share job ads automatically excluding 30% of membership? I don’t think so. Please note, the number of members excluded in these ads would actually be higher because there are members who are neither “native speakers” nor Korean. Should KOTESOL take steps to be on the right side of history on this issue even if it means sometimes wasting the time of people who couldn’t get the visa anyway?

Should KOTESOL take steps to follow the lead of organizations like TESOL even if it means cutting a few ads? Should KOTESOL be a model for change in this industry? Is eliminating discriminatory job ads a good start to supporting NNests and stopping discrimination against them?

Here is a great post/interview with Bethany Cagnol, past President of TESOL France on this very topic.

Update 2: Rob Dickey points out in the comments that KOTESOL, in fact, changed their Job Advertisement Posting Guidelines.


  1. David Harbinson

    Hi Mike, something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently too, especially about the job ads that are posted for here in Korea. Like you say, the Korean government will only provide E-2 visas for passport holders from the SEVEN countries. IIRC the requirements are that you have to hold a passport from one of these countries and have to have graduated from your undergrad university from one of these countries (I think you actually have to have gone to high school there too, but I don’t think they check). This essentially means that immigration doesn’t have a ban on non-native English speakers, but I think it’s clear to see what they are trying to do. However, by my mind then, this would take away any argument that KoTESOL big wigs might throw out about immi being to blame (I honestly don’t know if they even use that as an excuse for allowing the NS only ads or not–but I can imagine it being an ‘easy’ option).

    I don’t see any reason why KoTESOL therefore cannot request that anyone posting an ad removes any mention of NS only. I don’t even think that this has to waste any time, because ads could say something along the lines of “Due to Korean government restrictions, we are only able to sponsor E-2 visas from passport holders from those SEVEN”. This then wouldn’t stop anyone in the country who might have grown up speaking another language but who is here on, say, an F-6 (marriage visa).

    For a while, I was partly co-responsible for helping to find teachers for my teaching centre by exchanging initial emails, interviews, etc. Occasionally, I would receive an email from someone who wasn’t a passport holder from the SEVEN. I’d always pass their email on to the HR team, whilst also sending them a reply just to let them know that without the ‘correct’ passport (as horrible as that sounds–and NOT the words I used) it was unlikely we’d be able to sponsor their visa. The HR team would then do the same by first checking whether the company would be able to proceed with an application. Time wasted? A couple of minutes at most.

    It’s easy for us to sit here though and say, ah well there’s not much we can do about it, it’s just the way it is with immigration. But that’s precisely why it won’t change, because there’s no-one doing anything about it. Why can’t immi change the rules? OK, so perhaps you or I individually wouldn’t really have any influence, but like you say “Should KOTESOL be a model for change in this industry?” I’d say why not? It’s got to start somewhere, and what better place than with the biggest (I think that’s right?) ELT members’ organization on the peninsula.

    The other thing I have been thinking about though is how effective would banning posters from saying ‘NS only’ actually be? They could easily turn around and say ‘OK, I’ll delete that, then.’ and just repost as is. Then when a NNS comes along to apply they can tell them directly they don’t accept NNS or lie and say that all the positions are filled (or some other nonsense.) Essentially, what I’m saying is is it enough just to ban these ads, or does there need to be a ban of these posters from advertising their jobs on the board? If so how long? A lifetime ban? A year? A month?

    There’s more I want to say/ask on this, but it’s late so I can’t think any more. I would be very interested in hearing what KoTESOL’s position is on the matter though (do they even have one?).

    • marekkiczkowiak

      Just a quick thought on the last part of your comment, David. While a ban might not stop schools from covertly (rather than overtly) employing NESTs only, it is one of the essential steps I think. It sends the message that we do not approve and will not condone this.
      I also think that TESOL International should be more forthcoming about making local TESOL organisations adopt the same anti-discrimination statements. It’s great that they’ve issued one themselves, but they could certainly do more to enforce this.
      Is there anyone in KoTESOL we could contact about this?
      Thanks for posting this, Mike. I’ll write up the summary of the ELT chat as soon as I can.

      • David Harbinson

        Hi Marek, yes, I completely agree that it is a step in the right direction, and the sooner more organizations take that first step, the sooner we will be able to take more in the right direction. I guess as I was trying to formulate my opinion, I was thinking of the idea of a ‘ban’ and whether that’s they best way to deal with it. OR would it perhaps be better to try to engage the job posters in a dialogue. Ask them why they are choosing to advertise for NSs only, and try to negotiate and ‘request’ that they change their policy, rather than just the wording of the ad. Perhaps more of a ‘sunshine policy’ approach to the whole thing. I wonder whether this might ultimately bring everyone on to the same page more quickly, rather than seeing it as an Us vs Them situation.

        Of course trying to engage every school/university/academy in a dialogue might not be feasible due to time constraints, etc. As Mike says, the KoTESOL job board has hardly gotten off to a flying start, which would seem to suggest that it’s not high on their priority list.

      • marekkiczkowiak

        I think engaging them in a dialogue is another essential step. They need to understand why we object to NESTs only ads, while we should try to understand why they insist on them. At the same time, however, we need a firm and clear policy against recruitment policies that exclude nNESTs. Also, it might be a good idea to start a social media campaign using simple slogans and posters which would focus on the qualities of good teachers, showing that nNESTs are also excellent professionals. What do you think?

      • mikecorea

        Hi Marek,

        Thanks for reading and commenting. I think you and David and others really added to this conversation. I couldn’t agree more that engaging in dialog is a essential. I had a chat with a friend here in Korea who is very involved in the field as well as social media. We came to realize that maybe we are in something of a bubble in terms of knowledge of these issues as we have been thinking and talking about it for some time. The response for this post has motivated me to talk about this more. 🙂 Thank you!

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments here, David. I think your train of thought matches mine quite closely. I asked the questions but the answers I came up with seem to be the same.

      I especially liked this, “It’s easy for us to sit here though and say, ah well there’s not much we can do about it, it’s just the way it is with immigration. But that’s precisely why it won’t change, because there’s no-one doing anything about it. Why can’t immi change the rules? OK, so perhaps you or I individually wouldn’t really have any influence, but like you say “Should KOTESOL be a model for change in this industry?” I’d say why not? It’s got to start somewhere, and what better place than with the biggest (I think that’s right?) ELT members’ organization on the peninsula.” and I think there might be room for some changes and for letting people know there is an issue here. I think it can be all to easy to say “That is the way it is” or “That is what parents want” or something along these lines.

      Thank you very much for these comments as well as the others throughout this thread. Very much appreciated.

    • robertjdickey

      Although generally I’m quite on top of Mike’s posts (and a frequent commentator), it seems I missed this post. I do know that the issue was raised in KOTESOL — perhaps by a reader of this post? — and the council passed a resolution opposing bias against native-speakerism and directing the KOTESOL Job Board manager to make rules prohibiting that bias in job posts. See for new rules.

      • mikecorea

        Thanks for the comment, Rob! I was aware of the change but didn’t think to link to it until now! Thank you very much for sharing this link and leaving the comment!

  2. alexcase

    Great idea for a manageable campaign issue that is worth really working on. I can’t remember all the ins and outs of the Korean visa system, but I would probably advocate job ads being able to include the words “Must have or be able to obtain a… or… visa”, as long as that is a strict explanation of the real legal situation for that job rather than just a more indirect way of saying “Native speakers only” when in fact, say, people with spouse visas could also legally do the job. If something like that is possible, there would be no excuse to specifically mention native speakers.

    • mikecorea

      I think you make a great point here about this being a manageable campaign and perhaps the wording difference you suggest could make a big difference. In the time since I wrote this I am thinking more and more that is is just a matter of people thinking things need to be done in the way they have been done, and I think this can be changed. Thank for reading and commenting.

  3. Martin Sketchley

    I have seen at first-hand how non-native speakers of English, which are seeking possible teaching positions, are treated by educational institutes, particularly in South Korea. My wife was seeking a teaching position and had held numerous teaching posts before for both businesses and private alike. She responded to a private advertisement by a well-known website for English language teachers in South Korea. She sent off her CV and all the other usual things.

    She received a phone call quite quickly but then the institute on the other line responded, “Ohh! You have a British accent. We want someone with an American accent!”. At this point, she quickly said “I am neither American nor British but, being Korean, am able to teach English in English with no problem.” Unfortunately, due to first impressions, she did not take the post and decided to keep to her private teaching.

    I suppose, there are issues regarding non-native speakers of English and recruitment, and I have a lot of admiration for NNS of English. It was a tough profession to break into but my wife cracked it, and I totally despise organisations which seek to positively discriminate on race. However, there is rather a more difficult proposition when institutions recruit based upon accent rather than on competency. Is it right for institutes to recruit based on race? Should institutes have the right to recruit teachers based upon their place of birth and their perceived accent?

    • marekkiczkowiak

      I don’t think it’s right. And I’d be quite surprised if it was legal. However, most schools are confident they can get away with it and driven by a perceived market demand they will continue with their hiring policies, unless perhaps the government or the TEFL community forces them to do otherwise.
      Your wife’s story and the accent issue would make a very interesting article for TEFL Equity Advocates blog of you fancy writing it, Martin 🙂

    • David Harbinson

      Hi Martin, the issue you raise about the British/American accent is one that I’ve encountered quite a lot here in South Korea, as you may have also done in your time here. When I first arrived, I did get quite a few comments from students that they couldn’t quite catch what I was trying to say. Over time, I’ve managed to adapt (mostly subconsciously, although I did have to start consciously pronouncing my Rs in the middle of words) my speech. I was even paid the ‘greatest compliment’ a couple of weeks ago, when at the end of a class, the student said to me “Oh, you’ve been in Korea for a long time, so you’ve changed your accent to an American one? Because I could understand every word you said!” I told her, I hadn’t. My accent is still clearly British, but I’d adapted it to speak at a slower rate, use more easy to understand vocab, etc. I guess the point is that even though some students might feel like they want/need a speaker with an American accent or a NEST, a lot of the time, they probably don’t realise themselves what they need.

      • mikecorea

        One more thought here, David. (Aside from the RRRRs perhaps but maybe even this too) it seems that part of what you are talking about is grading your speech for your students which is what I’d suggest good teachers are capable of doing. Which quite obviously leads us back to “hire teachers based on skills and not accent.” Perhaps that is the point you were getting at but it suddenly struck me as a very clear example.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the great (and depressing somewhat) comments here, Martin. I think there is a full post in here somewhere and I’d echo Marek’s suggestion to share this somewhere. 🙂

      I remember when I first came to Korea and my co-worker was from New Zealand and I had students saying they couldn’t understand him because of his accent. I remember thinking something like, “no you can’t understand him because you can’t understand English” and “maybe you need practice working to understand people who don’t sound American!”

      You raise some very interesting questions here. Not only discriminating against “NNS” in their home country but also discriminating based on which “NS” accent she most closely sounded like. Wow. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. David Harbinson

    @Marek, I’m replying to your comment above (there doesn’t seem to be a reply button beneath your comment, so I’ll post it here). I think the idea of the social media campaign you propose is an interesting idea, and perhaps if done right, could help to raise awareness among the people on social media. One thing that I have begun to realise however is that there are still quite a lot of people outside of our online community (i.e. people who use Twitter, FB, blogging for ELT/PD purposes), who are blissfully unaware of the issue. So, I think another step we need to consider is how to raise awareness with these people too.

    • mikecorea

      Hello David,
      Thanks for all the great comments here! I really appreciate it. I think you make a great point about how some folks might be blissfully unaware of this issue. I wonder if you have thoughts on how to engage folks who are not online so much? I am thinking conferences? Maybe we could consider a poster session at the KOTESOL international conference this year? Or something? Just an idea.

      I also wonder how much we need to consider those who are happy with the current situation and are unlikely to want to change things because they have a good thing goin? Just a thought. Maybe those people will not be swayed easily regardless of how persuasive the points are.

      Thank you once again for the comments!

      • David Harbinson

        Mike, I think that conferences, local meetings, etc. are a great idea, and I was talking about this with A Helpful friend just this last Sunday. I do like the idea of a poster presentation (I’ve not been to one before) but I think that has a lot of potential.

        I’d not really thought too much about the people you mention who are not going to be easy to sway, I’m sure there will be some though. So perhaps at this stage it’s all about opening the dialogue, and raising their attention to the matter. It might be infuriating at first, and we may not persuade people to begin with, but over time, if we stick at it, we may be able to win some over.

        I think let’s talk about IC this year, and see what we can come up with.

      • mikecorea

        This is great.
        (interesting capitalization in your response!) We can keep thinking about this on other channels. I think there is a lot to say and room to say it. 🙂 I am back to being excited about this after being somewhat pessimistic for a little while! Thanks again, David.

  5. marekkiczkowiak

    Some very inspiring comments. I hope you get a chance to do the poster presentation. Great idea.
    I agree that most of us, nit just sime, in ELT haven’t really given the issue a second thought. They also might not be aware of the extent of the problem. And as you point out, there are also those who think nests only ads are ok. We also need to raise awareness among the sts.

  6. Pingback: Three teachers I met at the beginning of my teaching career | David Harbinson
  7. Karina Thorne

    Hi Mike,
    Great topic. And no more relevant than for us here in China. We have discrimination on a massive scale, not just limited to NEST’s, and those with blessed American/British accents, but on gender and skin colour, too. Also, there seems to be an extra layer of prejudice reserved for Asian-looking teachers, as they, according to the ‘experts’, ‘cannot speak English’. Yes, that’s right. Even if you were born and raised in an English-speaking country! Indeed, if you were to read the teaching job adverts,, you would conclude that a NEST is in fact a white American male. This would be a problem for me, not able to tick any of the necessary 3 boxes, should I not have found schools who prefer to judge me by my actual teaching skills and abilities, and the positive feedback from my students.

    So where does this image of a NEST stem from? Well, I’d say a general lack of experience of the world outside the Middle Kingdom – it’s still very difficult for the average Chinese person to travel, study or work abroad. Couple this with the fact that mainstream media spoonfeeds images of white America that seem to ‘represent’ the entire West. (Oh, and we also have the same visa issue you mention, where a limited number of countries are deemed to contain NES people). I often tell my students that if they were to go to my ‘home town’ of London, they may be hard pressed to find any ‘local’ people, so multi-cultural and ethnically-diverse, that place is. I try to expose them to different accents, and can’t wait to teach the Culture textbook chapters where we can discuss ‘America as a melting pot’ and all the cultural festivals we hold in London/UK etc. etc.

    As for everyone’s suggestions above, I agree, that one of the best ways to tackle the issue is to start and keep talking about it with as many people as possible. Funnily enough, I am in a ‘wechat’ (think WhatsApp) group for foreign teachers here in Beijing, and I recently had to say something about numerous job postings for ‘certain accented-people’ and ‘NS’, which led to them banning someone who got aggressive with me for suggesting it was discrimitory. His defence was that even though discrimination was not right, ‘that’s just how it is in China’. I countered that while we all have to accept China’s stance to some degree, we do not have to accept it within our own group. So I think it is a matter of starting small, and doing your part by spreading the word. I will start by thinking about a blog post or possible interviews with NNES for my blog, sending that to all the people I know, and whenever I have the opportunity, to talk about it with others.

    I can’t wait to hear what comes of the poster idea, and social media campaign.

    • marekkiczkowiak

      Hi Karina,
      Definitely agree we have to start small and chip away at the prejudices bit by bit.
      If you get any interviews with NNES, let me know. I run TEFL Equity Advocates and publish Teacher Success stories on the blog here:
      If you feel like describing the ELT hiring policies in China, let me know too. I think it could make a very interesting post. You can get in touch here:

    • mikecorea

      Hi Karina,

      Thanks very much for commenting. I think there are some very important thoughts in your comment which could be a blog post of their own.

      One thing that really caught my attention was the “that is just the way it is” attitude from Western teachers that can so easily be possessed and shared.

      I think it is great that there are in fact (many?) places that care more about education than other things.

      I enjoyed reading your thoughts from China on these topics as I am much more familiar with Japan and South Korea.

      You wrote, “I will start by thinking about a blog post or possible interviews with NNES for my blog, sending that to all the people I know, and whenever I have the opportunity, to talk about it with others.” That sounds great! Please keep me updated! And I will do the same regarding presentations and campaigns and related things.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

      ps- This was in the news this week in Korea:

      pps- In case you are curious here are some more things I have written on similar topics

      • Karina Thorne

        Hi Marek and Mike, thanks for the replies.

        For Marek – great blog. Thanks for the recommendation. And I particulalrly like your WordPress Theme choice!!! If and when I get to interviews with NNES and describing ELT hiring policies in China, I will definitely let you know.

        For Mike. Just a quick update – I believe the “just the way it is” comment was from a Chinese person in the wechat group, actually. Selected recruiters are permitted to enter. Although, subsequently, other Native Speakers did speak up and say they, as managers, did come under pressure when introducing NNS to their teams. However, for the most part, that had gone well, as the NNS teachers were very good and eventually accepted and very much liked by students and parents alike.

        I’m quite swamped with my Masters studies now, but I will keep you updated as to anything I produce that’s worth listening to or reading!

  8. Pingback: Eduardo, Harry, and Daljeet walk into a bar… | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s