CELFS Teaching and Learning Network

The role of non-native teachers in the field of EAP

Kaz & Julia

by Kaz Yamamoto and Julia Gardos

The role of non-native teachers is a much debated topic in the field EFL. Current discussions focus primarily on discrimination within the job market and the difficulties faced by non-natives in teaching roles, including prejudice from employers, colleagues and sometimes students. In her inspiring talk at IATEFL 2016, Silvana Richardson advocated the importance of moving towards a plurilingual approach and recognising the distinctive advantages that non-native teachers can bring to the language classroom. These include empathy, a higher degree of metalanguage awareness and the ability to be a learner model (Medgyes, 1994).

In the field of EAP, this area has not yet been explored in depth. In our talk we suggested that non-native teachers may have an extra level of empathy in this particular context due to the fact that they are learners of English academic culture as well as language; thus they can serve as a model to their learners and anticipate their difficulties.

To explore students’ attitudes towards native and non-native EAP tutors, we did some research on the 10 week pre-sessional course. 72 students responded to a questionnaire where they were required to rate the factors of a good pre-sessional teacher in order of importance.

The result showed that the most important factor is “enthusiasm for teaching.” According to the students’ comments, enthusiasm is essential for teachers so that they are well motivated and give lively classes. This factor also appeared as the highest in terms of the mode. “Familiar with local culture” ranked bottom out of the eight factors. This might be due to Pre-sessional students focusing on the improvement of their academic English skills and not on local information. Being a “native speaker of English” ranked number seven out of eight in the questionnaire. This factor also appeared as the least important along with “familiar with local culture” in the mode. Thus, this study demonstrated that the teacher’s enthusiasm and the ability to give interesting classes outweigh being a native speaker of English.

Both natives and non-natives can be excellent or inadequate teachers. There are many factors other than “being native” that contribute to becoming an efficient language tutor. As Medgyes (1992) claims, a good balance between natives and non-natives would be ideal in teaching, since they can complement each other’s differences. The ideal scenario is a variety of potential teaching collaborations in which they can serve as each other’s language consultants.


To find out more, watch Silvana’s lecture online:


…and check out the reading list of TEFL Equity advocates:



Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340–349.

Medgyes, P. (1994). When the teacher is a non-native speaker. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language, Third edition (pp. 415-428). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Richardson, S. (2016). The ‘native factor’, the haves and the have-nots. IATEFL, Birmingham.

Walkinshaw, I., & Duong, O. T. H. (2012). Native- and Non-Native Speaking English Teachers in Vietnam: Weighing the Benefits. TESL-EJ, 16(3), 1–17.


5 Responses to “The role of non-native teachers in the field of EAP”

  1. TEFL Equity Advocates

    Very interesting post. Thanks a lot. And thanks for mentioning TEFL Equity Advocates.
    Would you be interested in presenting your findings as a webinar? You can take a look at the previous ones we’ve hosted so far here: https://teflequityadvocates.com/webinars/ Something along the lines of qualities of effective teachers with a focus on EAP would be great.
    I’ll add this post to the reading list too 🙂 I imagine Bristol university employs both NS and NNS then, right? I could add it to the Hall of Fame here: https://teflequityadvocates.com/the-hall-of-fame/
    Let me know what you think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Julia

      Thank you for your comment. We would be interested in presenting the webinar – please contact me on jg13409@bristol.ac.uk and we can arrange the details. Yes, there are many non-native teachers employed on the pre-sessional course at Bristol University.


  2. Maggie Boswell

    Really enjoyed reading this as well as looking at the slides you both recently produced. Have also read through the Silvana Richardson slides (via IATEFL). All thought-provoking and interesting. I’m so glad to share the English language with so many diverse and culturally enriching colleagues. Thank you for the time you both spent collaborating on such a stimulating piece of work.


  3. MAT

    I forget the specific academic references but I have read that ‘expert’ versus ‘non-expert’ users of English is a more meaningful distinction than the ‘native’/’non-native’ divide because it focuses on the important point – whether a teacher is an English language expert irrespective of whether they are a native speaker or not.


  4. Nick Roll

    This is a very interesting area of discussion so thanks for raising it here. I’ve always felt slightly embarrassed at the irrational favourable treatment I received when teaching abroad in the past simply for the fact of being a so-called “native” speaker. It seems the issue is slowly being addressed with the oversimplistic native/non-native distinction being discredited anyway. I am glad that our place of work (CELFS, University of Bristol) has recognised the benefit of a plurilingual workforce. Bilingualism, plurilingualism and translanguaging are the future – watch this space for a brief future post..!

    Liked by 1 person


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