I had the pleasure to invite Marek for a quick interview regarding advice he would recommend newly qualified and certified teachers of English who second language is English. Fortunately he agreed and we created this video answered questions regarding recruitment, the CELTA and various other elements of teaching.
If you don’t know Marek Kiczkowiak, he is the founder of TEFL Equity Advocates and TEFL Equity Academy. He has been involved in English language teaching since 2007 and is originally from Poland. He is now working in Belgium and is involved in preparing students for their academic studies in English. Marek is also writing material for National Geographic.
Question 1: What has been the biggest challenge for you as a non-native teacher?
Dealing with job ads for native speakers only. After a while, it can really get to you. you start feeling like you’ll never make it. You apply for jobs which you’re overqualified for just to be told that ‘sorry, your CV looks great, but we only employ native speakers’. This is bound to negatively affect your self-confidence and your perception of yourself as an English teacher.
It also gets incredibly tiring having to constantly prove that you’re good enough, despite the fact that you’re completely proficient, have tons of experience, CELTA, DELTA and a PhD in TESOL.
Fortunately, I’m quite stubborn and resilient, so I’ve never given up and have managed to succeed. But it’s definitely something that can have a huge negative impact on your career.
Question 2: What advice can you give to non-native teachers who want to undertake the CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL?
Be prepared for the job discrimination that will face you. Read up on it. Prepare yourself. Unfortunately, the course will not prepare you for the reality of job hunting as a non-native speaker. You’ll need to fight twice as hard and be twice as good as your average native speaker to get the jobs.
I didn’t know that when I did my CELTA. Nobody had told me about the discrimination I’d face. Nor what I should do.
That’s why when my first job application was turned down because I was a non-native speaker, it came as a complete shock to the system. I had no clue what to do.
Fortunately for you, now there is a lot of advice on how to get TEFL jobs as a non-native speaker after the CELTA, and I’ll share some with you later on in the video.
Question 3: What advantages do non-native English teachers have over native teachers during the CELTA course?
I don’t really like talking about the advantages or disadvantages of English teachers based on their first language. Of course, it might be true that many ‘non-native speakers’ will have very high language awareness, because they have studied the language for many years. However, this isn’t always the case. For example, I feel that my current knowledge of grammar rules is pretty low. And that’s simply because I haven’t taught a grammar lesson in years.
So what I’m trying to say is that we should get away from comparing ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ as if they were two distinct species, each with a set of default strengths and weaknesses. This in my opinion just further fuels the stereotypes that already exist in our industry.
Coming back to your question then, I can only speak from my personal experience. I did the CELTA after my first year of university studying English Philology. I’d already done the CPE as well. So my language awareness was super high. I could transcribe sentences in phonetic script with 0 problems. I also knew a lot about different theories of second language acquisition, linguistics and language pedagogy from university.
So in other words, in terms of the theory, I didn’t learn anything during CELTA. In fact, it seemed incredibly easy at the time.
What was very challenging was the teaching aspect. That I found super difficult. I’d never taught in my life. I was terrified of speaking in public. I was a bit shy too. So I really struggled with it.
So in the end, what you’ll struggle with on the CELTA doesn’t depend on what mother tongue you speak at all. It depends on what experience, knowledge and skills you already have when you start it.
Question 4: What advice do you give to non-native English teachers who wish to secure employment once they complete the CELTA course?
There are a good few things, none of which unfortunately they teach you during CELTA, which is a real shame, I think.
First of all, never put your mother tongue or nationality on your CV, unless the law of the country you’re applying to obliges you to do so. But I haven’t done that in the last 8 years or more.
Why? Because many recruiters will have negative stereotypes about ‘non-native speakers’. And as soon as they see mother tongue: Polish, or Chinese, or whatever, they will throw your CV to the bin without even looking at it.
Instead, use the CEFR scale or other terms such as completely proficient. For example, this is what the language part of my CV looks like:
So when an employer reads this, they have no way of knowing that my mother tongue is Polish. Hence, they might spend a bit more time looking at my qualifications and experience.
This increases your chances of getting your foot in the door and being invited to the interview, where you can convince the recruiter that you’re the right candidate for the job.
There are lots of other little tips like this that I could give you, but this would take us a whole video on its own. So if you’re interested, head to this article I wrote where I outline the 7 steps you need to take to get TEFL jobs as a non-native speaker.
Question 5: What other advice for non-native teachers once they have secured employment?
The main thing to start with is understanding why ‘native speakers’ are not better teachers and knowing your own strengths. This is important so that you really build your confidence.
I often get to train ‘non-native’ teachers, and I’m always taken aback by how many of them really lack in confidence. They have amazing qualifications, experience, are super proficient. Yet, somehow they still don’t quite believe in their own ability to succeed.
But perhaps this isn’t that surprising considering all the job ads for ‘native speakers’, all the language schools priding themselves on employing only ‘native speakers’. The whole ELT industry has been basically telling us for years that as ‘non-native speakers’, we are second class citizens.
The second thing why it’s vital to understand why ‘native speakers’ are not better teachers and to know your own strengths is that you’ll need to often explain to recruiters or potential clients why they should hire you. Many recruiters will start with the idea that ‘native speakers’ are better at teaching pronunciation, for example. So you need to know how to politely and convincingly explain to them why this is not true, and why you as a ‘non-native speaker’ can be a great pronunciation teacher as well, for example.
These are just the first two initial steps, but there is a lot more about the actual job application process, for instance; how to create a really good CV, what to write in a job application email, and so on.
If you’re interested in learning more about it, I’d direct you to my academy where I run online courses that will help you get TEFL jobs as a non-native speaker.
A huge thanks to Marek for his contribution to this blog post and the video. If you wish to contribute to a future video and/or blog post, please get in contact.