It’s been an interesting week on one of my Facebook groups.
See, over on English Teachers in Madrid there’s been a bit of a spat over an ad asking for a “native” English teacher.
Lots of people seem to think it’s illegal to ask that a teacher be “native” as a requirement for employment.
But is it, really?
Well, let’s dig into the topic.
Trigger warning: for obvious reasons, this article is going to use the word “native” a lot. If you’re offended by that, go watch the Teletubbies or something.
Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
Is it illegal to advertise for “native” teachers?
Those who claim it’s illegal to advertise for “natives” usually cite the EU’s non-discrimination law, found in the Charter of Fundamental Rights…
Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.Found at ec.europa.eu
So far so good, right?
But a couple paragraphs down on the same page, it says the following: “The authorities of EU countries are bound to comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights only when implementing EU law. Fundamental rights are protected by your country’s constitution.”
What does that mean, exactly?
Well, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t make it sound like this Charter of Fundamental Rights is something that’s legally binding on your local “academia de barrio”…
And much less that some soccer mom becomes an international criminal the moment she puts an ad for a “profesor nativo” for her kids on a Facebook group.
Other sources further cite an opinion from the European Commission, as follows…
The Commission is of the opinion that the phrase “native speaker” is not acceptable, under any circumstances, under Community law… However, a requirement for “perfect knowledge” cannot be seen, as such, as illegitimate under Community law, provided that a very high level of knowledge of a particular language is necessary for the post concerned; the employer has to justify the need for this requirement. As the requirement for a perfect knowledge of a particular language is not, per se, contrary to Community law, the Commission does not intend to urge Member States to ban this requirement from job advertisements which require such a knowledge. However, the Commission recommends using a phrase such as “perfect or very good knowledge of a particular language” as a condition of access to posts for which a very high level of knowledge of that language is necessary.Found at europa.europarl.eu
God I’m so bored. But note the conspicuous use of the words “opinion” and “recommends”.
Because opinions, last time I checked, were not the same as laws. And if my tax bill were more of a “recommendation” than an obligation, I’d be ecstatic.
So none of this is particularly convincing in its application to job ads here in Spain.
And anyway, I’m guessing that the type of person who’s offended by the word “native” isn’t going to be much happier if a job posting demands “perfect knowledge”.
Of course, the Spanish government has some anti-discrimination laws, which might or might not apply to this whole thing – I really can’t tell. I’ve read about 100 pages of Spanish legalese this morning, and I feel like I know even less about the whole topic than when I started.
And if you google, directly, “es ilegal poner un anuncio para profesor nativo” you get absolutely nothing suggesting that this issue has ever been addressed by the Spanish legal system.
Puzzled and dismayed by so much legalese, I asked a couple of lawyers I know online – one of whom works in EU law every day. They both said the same thing, which was, basically “This has nothing to do with your local language school”.
All this to say, it’s complicated.
If a person like myself (admittedly a non-expert) can’t figure out if something’s illegal or not, with half a day of research, I kinda doubt that the EU’s gonna send the cops to break down the door of that soccer mom – no matter how many “native English teacher” ads she puts up.
And of course, none of this deals with the other elephant in the room…
Are native English teachers better?
The other issue we should address, I suppose, is that big bad monster of “nativespeakerism” – basically, the assumption that native speakers make better teachers.
Is it true?
Short answer: no.
Longer answer: sometimes, maybe.
See, Spain is full of people with very low levels of English who’ve passed the official exams and been teaching English in public schools for decades – some, apparently, since literally the beginning of time.
They’re funcionarios. They can’t be fired from their jobs, and they’re not too motivated to improve. This is just a fact of life.
On the other hand, there are also plenty of backpackers who show up from some English-speaking country (or not) and get a job teaching so that they can afford more sangría during their six months’ stay in Spain.
Some will insist that the public school people, with their degrees in pedagogy, are therefore much better teachers.
To which others will reply, “Yes, but the backpackers actually speak English!”
Both sides have a point.
In an ideal world, there would be an endless supply of enthusiastic, well-educated people with “perfect knowledge” of English who were willing to become EFL teachers.
Also, in an ideal world, being an EFL teacher would pay more than 11 bucks an hour, and wouldn’t involve catching the metro to some polígono on the ass-end of nowhere for an 8 AM class.
We do not live in an ideal world.
Of course, in the middle of this whole mess there a few people who are reasonably qualified, take teaching seriously, and are trying to make it into an actual profession.
They’re the only ones, as far as I can tell, who get pissed off when they see the word “native” used in job adverts.
What do we do about all this native speakerism?
I guess I should have started by saying that I have no problem with non-native English teachers, or native English teachers, or anybody, really.
We’re all just trying to get by in a pretty fucked-up industry. I’d love for everyone – native or not – be treated well and paid fairly for their jobs.
But what the hell does “native” mean anyway?
Aside from the dictionary definition, how are we to determine if someone’s native or not?
In my experience, most hiring people in the TEFL industry could care less about your passport – as long as you’ve got a decent accent and a vaguely plausible explanation for why you consider yourself native, you’re good to go.
I’ve met dozens of people throughout the years who fictionalize their biographies in order to get hired, or whose bosses tell them to fictionalize to the clients, just to keep everyone happy.
“Oh yeah, my dad’s Italian, but my mom’s British. I used to spend summers in England… somewhere in the South, I believe.” That was a friend’s backstory when looking for jobs. Her family was fully Italian and she’d maybe been to the UK once, but whatever.
“Katie. Katie from Canada. That’s who I am at work.” That was Kajsa, from Sweden. She did an exaggerated North American accent and everything. She wasn’t too happy about it, but it’s what the boss wanted.
And on and on and on.
Here on the home front, my girlfriend (now wife) Morena isn’t a teacher, but she is a non-native English speaker. Sorta. I mean, she’s from India, and English isn’t her first language. She claims to have picked it up from watching Scooby Doo as a teenager – a story which, as a retired English teacher myself, I don’t believe at all.
On the other hand, most people who meet Morena come away insisting that she’s British, and she has to convince them that she’s actually Indian, from India, with a whole Indian family, and that she really actually grew up in a town in the tropics, petting the elephants at the local Hindu temple.
Does she pass off as native?
Sure. Just like I pass off as Irish.
But is she technically “native” according to the dictionary definition?
Really, people: who the fuck cares?
My recommendations, as an absolute nobody
The funny thing about this is that I don’t really have a horse in this race. I’m not teaching anymore. I’m not hiring teachers, for the most part. And I find the word “native” to be hopelessly ambiguous.
So here’s what I recommend: use “native or C2 level”.
When I advertise jobs for writers, I usually use “bilingual” – I don’t care which language you learned first, but you’ve gotta be able to write well in both.
(Actually, I guess by saying “bilingual” I’m discriminating against those who are trilingual, quadrilingual, or polyglottical… Maybe my next post will be written from some moldy dungeon in Brussels, after the EU finds out what a terrible person I am.)
Anyway, if you’re looking for a job, and see the word “native” in the advert, but you’re not exactly someone’s dictionary definition of a native English speaker, my recommendation is: APPLY ANYWAY.
Like I said, in my experience, most hiring people don’t care. Just assume that it’s shorthand for “speaks very good English” and send in your CV. Tell ’em your mom’s from Saskatchewan. I don’t care.
As long as you keep the customers happy, and don’t totally suck as a teacher, you’ll be fine.
Those are just my two cents, though. I’m not Ursula von der Leyen. I’m not a language school owner, or a lawyer, or a justice on the Supreme Court. I’m just a guy with a Facebook group.
In other words, an absolute nobody.
In conclusion, to wrap up and in sum…
I find it ironic that people argue about the (supposed) illegality of the word native, while working in an industry where they’re almost guaranteed to be committing some crime or another.
Have you, oh noble pedagogue, ever photocopied a textbook?
Of course you have. Copyright, schmopyright… amirite?
Have you ever, oh esteemed academic, earned 20€ for a private lesson, gone straight to your local 100 Montaditos, and… not declared that cash payment to the government?
Congrats, then… you may have committed tax fraud.
Actually looking at other things going on in that Facebook group, I’ve decided that half of it is probably illegal or otherwise pretty shady.
But I obviously can’t interrogate every single person about whether they’re paying their taxes, whether that sublet is fully legit, whether their academy is going to close up shop one day and leave all the teachers unpaid.
And it’s not my job to enforce these things. The EU isn’t cutting me checks to interpret their regulations for you. And – hate to break it to all y’all – whether someone has committed a crime or not is decided in a court of law.
So if you’re sitting on the toilet with smartphone in hand, and you should happen to see something in a job advert that makes you angry, just keep in mind…
You not liking something doesn’t make it illegal.
Now wipe the poop off your hands and go do your job.
P.S. Most of this blog is satire, a concept that seems to be lost on many. But if you have a sense of humor – and I hope you do – you might like some of my other teaching-related articles: Translating DOS-speak, the TEFL Interview, and Language Pimping for Fun and Profit. Oh yeah… and how about Is teaching English in Spain for losers? That’s a good one. Have fun!