I don’t think there’s a better way to celebrate my tenth anniversary in ELT than by writing about a topic that I’ve always considered uncomfortable to discuss, yet very close to my heart: being a non-native English speaker (NNES) in the ELT industry. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of the latest trends and beliefs on the matter, as well as its pros and cons, but that’s not what I want to discuss here...who knows, I might do that in one of my future articles! So, this post is going to be just about my personal experience as a NNES teacher, teacher trainer and writer.
I have fond memories of being accepted into the Trinity Cert.Tesol course at St Giles International - London Central. I remember welling up as the course director shook my hand and said “I’d like to offer you a place in our course” - my life-long dream was finally taking shape. You see, I’ve been passionate about the English language for as long as I can remember and I’ve always felt that helping others develop their English language skills was something I could be (or become) good at. Reality hit me when I realised I was the only NNES out of 14 participants attending the course. Although they never made me feel like the odd one out, my language and cultural gaps became apparent...to me, if nobody else. I understood that those gaps were my responsibility to fill. It was going to be challenging and it wasn’t going to happen overnight. It would have been easy to just give up, but I didn’t. I worked hard - I didn’t give myself any breaks throughout the whole 4-week course. Once qualified, I thought it was going to be all plain sailing...silly me!
As expected when job hunting, I had a few rejections while applying for EFL teaching jobs, both as a newly qualified and as an experienced teacher. However, only once was I blatantly told that the reason for the rejection was my being a NNES; while on other occasions, I had to attend longer and more in depth interviews to prove my ‘worth’. On another occasion, I was asked to lie to the students about my nationality. I was at the beginning of my career, teaching young learners at a summer school, but I couldn’t bring myself to lie. So, I figured out a way of dodging the answer. Every time the students asked where I was from, I would reply by saying that I ‘lived’ in England. Luckily, no one questioned it further!
Not surprisingly, I became convinced that a good English teacher should be - and sound - native, without any strong regional or international accent. But still, I didn’t give up. In fact, the constant subconscious feeling that I might never be ‘as good as a NES’ gave me the push to work harder on my teaching and language skills - including pronunciation, of course! - and on myself. It took me some time to understand that being a good EFL teacher has nothing to do with nationality or accent.
I could have spared myself a lot of hassle and frustration by moving towards a different career path, but I’m very glad I didn’t. With my love for teaching and passion for the English language, I was able to help students achieve their goals, while achieving my own.
After teaching for several years, many CPDs and various qualifications later, I found myself training teachers, having my articles published and writing ELT materials. Opening myself up to these opportunities has given me the chance to explore many aspects of the ELT world, where the rewards are endless. Of course, every new project presents a new challenge, but that’s the beauty of this industry - I know I will never be bored!
The comments from some of the teachers attending my training courses make it all worthwhile:
“Monica introduced us to teaching methodology and challenged us to apply it during classes with our peers. That, I have to say, was one of the things I liked the most because we got the opportunity to show and prove ‘in situ’ if we actually understood what we had been taught. Another important feature of studying with Monica was feedback. It was nicely given and very objective, making me deeply reflect on my teaching.”
Carla C. - Teacher and English Programme Coordinator, Chile
“Monica, you are a brilliant teacher, and the course in Cambridge was fantastic!”
Jørn K. - Primary and Secondary Teacher, Norway
“That learning experience couldn’t have been better. Monica, our trainer, was amazing. Neither will I forget how much I learned from her, nor how inspiring her words were.”
Fabian C. - Teacher and Cambridge Examiner, Ecuador
“Great course! Monica was very helpful and knowledgeable. Each session had interactive, relevant and well-designed materials that contributed significantly to learning.”
Guizzela M. - Online Teacher, Peru