Native speaker vs. non-Native speaker: the influence of race


There is a tendency to believe that Native English Speaking Teachers (NESTs) make ideal teachers of English, framing Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) as deficient educators. It is highly evidenced in recent job advertisements that explicitly give an unfair advantage to NESTs. Expectedly, the treatment of NNESTs at a lower professional status developed a conflict between NESTs and NNESTs. That being said, over the past two decades, the issues concerning the relationship between these two types of teachers have been discussed extensively in the literature. However, the most sensitive aspect of the native speaker construct, race, has taken a long time to be studied and discussed openly.

Traditionally, the differences between NESTs and NNESTs have been examined in terms of linguistic and pedagogical competences, sometimes considering their personal qualities. However, there are prevalent perceptions that English is the native language of White people and they make better teachers (Guo & Beckett, 2007). Guo and Beckett (2007) contend that the native speaker construct has hidden systemic racism that discriminates against people because of some phenotypical traits such as skin and eye color, face shape, and leads to white hegemony.

At first glance, associating White people with the native speaker and equating the non-native speaker to non-White people may appear to be ridiculous. However, the study conducted by Rivers and Ross’s (2013) exploring the implicit influence of race on Japanese students’ desirability ratings of potential non-Japanese EFL (English as a foreign language) teachers support this statement. The results indicate that the vast majority of students conflated the NESTs with Whiteness. Even more interesting is that white heritage teachers were the most desirable compared to Asian and Black teachers among students when the explicit characteristics such as age, country of origin, English language proficiency, command of Japanese language, and teaching experience were standardized across all three race conditions. This observable influence of race on students’ preferences suggests that the Asian race teachers and the Black race teachers were perceived inferior to the White race teachers in their racial hierarchy. Although, a relatively small sample (N=80) of participants does not allow us to generalize the results of their findings, we can all agree that English is not the language only of White people of British origin.

To sum up, we must all acknowledge that people from all cultures and races can be native speakers of English due to colonialism, neocolonialism, capitalism, migration, immigration. Therefore it is the time to address the racialized aspect of native/non-native issues along with linguistic aspects (Kubota & Lin, 2006).


Guo, Y., & Beckett, G.H. (2007). The hegemony of English as a global language: Reclaiming local knowledge and culture in China. Convergence, 40(1-2), 117-132.

Kubota, R., & Lin, A. (2006). Race and TESOL: Introduction to concepts and theories. TESOL Quarterly, 40(3), 471-493.

Rivers, D. J.,& Ross A. S. (2013).Idealized English Teachers: The Implicit Influence of Race in Japan.Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 12(5), 321-339.

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2 thoughts on “Native speaker vs. non-Native speaker: the influence of race

  1. Well done, Akalya. (5/5) I appreciate your critical, strong view of a disturbing global trend. You present a clear claim and successfully support it with some intriguing and highly-relevant research. This systematic approach makes your argument very reasonable and effective, not to mention your accurate and varied writing style. Consider adding a question to prompt your readers to join the discussion. Maybe some students have personal experiences they could share?


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