When I wrote my original NEST/non-NEST blog, I didn’t think I was even scratching the surface of the discussion which trundles on about the qualities that native speakers or non-native speakers bring to the teaching of English.
My main thought was about the line-ups of plenary speakers we usually see, almost invariably dominated by native speakers (and males, but that’s a matter which I’ll leave to one side for now). I wondered aloud why teachers didn’t want to listen to people who shared both their working conditions and their mother tongue.
However, I got some really interesting replies which quite surprised me. I wasn’t surprised that they were interesting – I knew that would be the case with the brainy readership of my blog :).
I was surprised by the fact that this is a topic which still touches a raw nerve with a lot of people, and not just with non-NESTs who feel excluded from doing plenaries.
I asked two of the people who commented to write a little more. The two I asked were Alicia Afanasyeva (Алиция Войшнис), a teacher in St Petersburg, Russia and Peter Whiley, an Englishman who’s lived and worked in Poland for many years.
Alicia’s original comment was as follows:
My first desire when I come to listen to NESTs is just to plunge into the language I love. To listen to its authentic music, intonation, phrases. If the NEST’s ideas are worth listening to (and they mostly are, only once I had a feeling that the speaker was just filling the gap) we are all yours.
Wow – a kind of love letter to the NEST plenary speaker.
When I asked her to expand on her idea, this is what she wrote about conference speakers:
They say teachers are the worst listeners: always ready to interrupt, evaluating, impatient, talking with their neighbours in the middle of your monologue. Non-NESTs who want to lecture in front of other non-NESTs must be sure of their English or bold enough to face people who’ll start looking for the mistakes (sometimes unconsciously) as soon as the presentation begins.
In this case, NESTs are safe, for teachers will listen to get new ideas etc.
Alicia shifted the debate by making this additional point about authors who don’t work in the country where they lecture.
Most NESTs I have listened to were AUTHORS, not teachers. They WERE teachers some or many years ago and wrote their books according to their memories. But times change and so do students..
It would therefore be good for the native-speaker authors to write a textbook, then test it themselves or at least give it to a group of non-NESTs of different qualifications (aces and beginners) and then publish the book. It would also be great to have a non-NEST co-author of the country the book is being written for.
And for the NESTs to know the language of the country where they are speaking? Ha-ha, how many languages would you know then?
In spite of all, I would like to be trained by a NEST.
Peter Whiley wrote this original comment:
Having done some MA research into the NEST/Non-NEST issue, I have strong thoughts about it. Sadly, the Non-NESTs are still shy to promote themselves, especially women, from my experiences in Poland. However, there is a factor of enjoying listening to the different styles of NESTs at Conferences….so the Polish Non-NESTs tell me!
Peter added these thoughts subsequently:
Further to my blog comment, I just wanted to add a few more thoughts re NESTs and Non-NESTs. Apparently, your mate Peter Medgyes coined the term ‘Non-NEST’, somewhat ironic that a Native Speaker wasn’t culpable.
I have written two articles for ‘IATEFL Issues’ protesting against previous articles promoting the concept of a ‘NEST/Non-NEST divide’.
I think there is more divide, in reality, between NESTs and NESTs and between non-NESTs and non-NESTs. I am competing against other NESTs for work, but I work side-by-side with non-NESTs. So, there is little cause/need for rivalry between the NESTs and non-NESTs.
What annoys me is that there are experts who are constantly undermining the work and value of NESTs. Others jump on the bandwagon, and few ever defend NESTs – it’s not ‘politically-correct’. So, I champion the NEST cause, because most NESTs I know do a good job and are contributing something of value to the communities they serve and we are still wanted and appreciated.
I also champion the Non-NEST cause, because they do a great job very often, as you said in your blog, Ken (and yes, Romanians are especially dedicated and impressive from my experience).
And this about non-NESTs as conference speakers:
At IATEFL conferences in Poland, I always attend the workshops delivered by two Polish guys, Jacek and Olek, because they are always so excellent and entertaining as well as useful in terms of ideas. They have built up a big fan base, too.
However, IATEFL Poland nearly always look to native speakers to fill the plenary spots, as in Romania. This year, though, there will be two Polish Plenary speakers. The main problem is finding them – few are willing, it seems, to promote themselves and get on that big stage.
Workshops are viewed differently. Some Polish colleagues see the big plenary speech concept as a ‘showman experience’. Hence, they like watching Jeremy Harmer in action. His style of presentation is what they admire.
You, Luke Prodromou, Hugh Dellar, George Pickering, etc. are also seen as ‘showmen’, and that’s what they feel is beyond them. Grzegorz Spiewak, a major Polish speaker, presents in the same style, largely, as you guys. He uses plenty of humour.
Thanks to Alicia and Peter for adding to their original comments.
As usual, I will leave the last word to my wife Dede, whose MA dissertation focussed on student perceptions of being taught by native speakers and non-native speakers.
In all cases, students were being taught by both in the same week (but not usually at the same time) and also in all cases, the groups were mono-lingual, and the non-NEST was a native speaker of the students’ language.
After sifting through a pile of responses as tall as the average conference plenary speaker, Dede found that there was one over-riding factor which influenced who the students enjoyed being taught by, NESTs and non-NESTs. And that was: teacher enthusiasm.