Why is There a Preference for Native Speakers?

Why is There a Preference for Native Speakers?
louischuahm Dec 31, 2013 16:24

Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against native speakers. It's just an opinion I'd like to share. As we all know, there are many types of English. In the UK alone, there are Irish, Scottish, Welsh, etc. Then you have American English - both north and south, not forgetting the Texan drawl. Further we have Australian and New Zealanders. All the above have different accents, pronunciations as well as different spelling for several words. Question is, which is the CORRECT form of English? Correct me if I am wrong. I think that England's English is the international standard for English. 


Using the above, can I safely draw the conclusion that if one was to learn Mandarin, one must then learn from China. Then again, in China there are so many variations of Mandarin, northern, southern, countryside, etc. 


I am trying to understand the need to have only native speakers teach English In China. Does it mean that the rest of the world cannot speak the English language properly? 


My own education has been UK based, from my General Cambridge Examinations to my honours degree and finally to my TEFL certification. Unfortunately, that doesn't make me a native speaker because I wasn't born in any of those countries listed above. Furthermore, I am Chinese. My first language is English. I speak it very fluently with a slight Australian accent thanks to my job attachment there during the early years of my career. 


I've been to several interviews but all have the final result - you speak very good English, even better than some of the incumbent native teachers but you are not a westerner. Talk about human rights violation! So that's my job search results at this point in time.


Please don't get the idea that I am ranting and raving about the unequal treatment. I am not because I understand that the rationale behind this awkward situation is basically demand centric - if one wants to learn English, the the best English to be learnt from must be from westerners for that's where the language originated! That's logical. However, the world has evolved so much such that English is now an international language. Without English, one would have to have multiple language capabilities in order communicate. I can't imagine how an international marketer can accomplish this. He'd probably need to speak a dozen languages fluently.


The issues lie with the learners themselves. From the several interviews I went through, almost all of them were surprised I could speak so fluently with near perfect grammar. But as I said earlier, the colour of my skin denies me the opportunity. 


I suppose mine is not the first and certainly will never be the last case of rejection due to skin colour. Nevertheless, I shall plod on in the hope that I will get a permanent position such that I am able to contribute effectively to the growth of the next generation of world builders. You see, I have come to the point where I would like to pay forward for what I have taken from China in terms of work, leisure, etc.


To the non native speakers who want to teach English in China, I say don't give up. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there.

Tags:Visa & Legalities Business & Jobs Expat Rants & Advice Expat Tales


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I've met very few Chinese who speak better English than an average expat (taking into account they have a Bachelor degree). However, I've met many local English teachers who think their English is better than it actually is, and actively downplay the skill of native speaking teachers. There are exceptions, of course, and from your text I can surmise that you might be one of them. To that I can only say: Too bad. We all face prejudices in this country, where racial sensitivity is not in the dictionary. Chinese kids&parents have expectations, and my white face is better at satisfying those expectations than my actual English ability. Education in China is very bad in general, but that's another story in itself. My skin colour is white, my passport is from a Big 5 country, but I also face problems. As a foreigner, the visa situation in this country is worse than in anti-immigration sentiment countries. I have a 2nd kid on the way, but still have to get visa based on my job if I want to legally work. I'll always be an outsider here, in a country that has a rigid "us vs. them" world view. There are no fair laws; just corruption, nepotism and power abuse. I think your contact with western culture has lead to to expect a certain fairness in society, which is still absent in your home country. The best you can do is to be brave, and be a voice for change in your country. The important thing is that you DON'T JUST complain when things are unfair for YOU, though I understand it's a great motivator. If you stop complaining after you get what you want, it invalidates your complaint: You didn't want a fair and just society, you just wanted to get what you want. I think this is a mistake many Chinese make. There is no solidarity in the fight for social issues, because people become complacent once they've got their slice of the pie. Might I suggest that you fight for general education reform, rather than just getting local teachers accepted for native-speaking jobs?

Feb 12, 2014 11:42 Report Abuse



Coineineagh, I am of Chinese descent but not China Chinese, if you get what I mean. Sorry if I didn't make that clear in my blog. I am from Singapore and my first language is English, the second being Mandarin, both of which I am very fluent with, thanks to the education system back home. It's natural to consider the Big 5 as proper native speakers of English, no doubt about that. What I am trying to point out is that English, being the lingua franca worldwide, is spoken by 60% of the world. I don't deny that non natives tend to be more technical in English since it's a language we have to learn in school, our mother tongues being some Chinese dialects. However, being exposed to the English speaking environment where I worked for more than 30 years, I do believe my grasp of the English language is near native. Singapore is a multi racial, culture and language city state where you can speak English to anyone on the street and receive replies in English. Even the 60 year old taxi driver will happily converse with you in English, not perfect but you get what you see. The education system in China is exactly what we had in Singapore back in the 70s, we studied by rote and regurgitate it all during exams. However, with the advent of globalization, the need to have people think out of the box became increasingly felt by our government such that they began to restructure the education system. The important thing to note is that we cannot do this overnight. So, in the last 20 years or so, our education system started to move towards a curriculum that required more creativity, independent and critical thinking and allowing more space for students to grow. China, in my opinion, is moving that direction as well. The unfortunate thing is that education is not on top of their agenda at the moment. Nevertheless, i do believe that they will come to it sooner than later. As I write this, I have 3 teaching offers and I am deciding which to take. 2 are in universities and 1 from a private school. It's likely that I will take up the position up north in a university, given that the economic situation isn't looking too good now. So, when the sh*t hits the proverbial fan, I am still in an essential position. As a non native, I think I need to work harder, make sure my qualifications fits or exceeds the prerequisites and other requirements are in perfect order before I even consider applying for a job. It also means that I need to stay away from big cities where the competition is very keen. At the end of the day, I need to adapt and improvise if I want to pursue a career in the education industry. The important thing is not to give up. With so many of the old guards still in the Chinese government, not many changes will happen, at least not in the foreseeable 10 years but change will happen, like it or not, for progess is made only when we embrace change. Moving on to your note about having your 2nd child, I was wondering if you have already considered getting a D visa. Can I safely assume that you married a local Chinese lady? A D visa will solve the yearly visa issue.

Mar 02, 2014 02:20 Report Abuse



Interesting story about Singaporese education history. I can only hope what you say is true. Unfortunately, I see parents, children and teaching staff uphold their rigid expectations of what education should be like. I can explain the values of creativity, independence and critical thinking ad nauseam, but they simply don't acknowledge those values. Teamwork, relationship building, obedience, discipline, dedication, leadership and most of all keeping-up-appearances are the primary values in Chinese education. Unless the government tells people it's useful, they're not going to believe anybody. And I don't see the government encouraging free thought anytime soon. As for your idea of a D visa; I recall that those were reserved for the privileged rich who make large contributions to Chinese economy. Tens of thousands apply, but only a hundred or so get it each year. Since it must be applied for outside China, it seems like a waste of time and money for me to even try. My school is in the process of applying for a regular Z visa, so hopefully my legal situation will be safer in the future. But we're kidding ourselves if we think we're completely safe, no matter where we work or under what kind of visa.

Mar 02, 2014 10:46 Report Abuse



There have been some developments in the area of green cards in China. Perhaps this link may help. http://en.safea.gov.cn/2013-11/19/content_17196413.htm The education system in China will have to go through it's own evolution. Unfortunately, many of us will not live to see it reach international standards. With the majority of them having not seen the outside world (apart from those heavily edited western programs on TV and publications), they can only rely on government edicts. However, there is hope since many more students are going overseas each passing year. So, perhaps change may happen faster than we think. If you have the opportunity, go visit Singapore. Singapore embraces foreign talent with proper qualifications. Furthermore, the life is a lot better than China. And getting permanent residence is not as difficult. Compensation wise, it's much much more, but on the flip side, the cost of living is also very high. I left Singapore for personal reasons and I don't think I will return very soon.

Mar 02, 2014 11:26 Report Abuse



Well, I'm French and i taught english and french during about 3 years in different chinese cities. I don't have an academic curriculum (never went to university). I worked about 7 years before teaching in China as a community worker specialist of children and teenagers. I'm also specialist of alternative pedagogies. Right now, i'm back in France to study in university (I could enter directly to the last year of bachelor degree major in education's science because my past experience). First, it's not only a problem of being native or not, you're chinese so you should know as me how foreign langage schools hire teacher also for their face especially caucasian people. You got the same kind of segregation for black (even english native speaker) people in China. Second, if you got guanxi or if you search to teach in small cities or rural area, you'll have no issues i guess to be hired. Third, chinese government policy since about 2 years let put out thousand of foreigners outside china. So in fact, nowdays, plenty of schools can't find any foreign teachers or at least any native teachers so you'll have some opportunities for sure!

Jan 15, 2014 23:04 Report Abuse



Hi Gabb, thanks for your advice. Yes, I am now contacting schools in smaller cities. I also think they are having hard time trying to find native (Caucasian) teachers because native teachers want to teach in bigger cities where there is a large expat community. I am also avoiding agents and recruiters because they actually control who gets the job and where they go, depending on the commissions they can squeeze out of the schools. Private schools in smaller cities are also on my list. So wish me luck! And thanks once again for sharing your experiences.

Jan 19, 2014 15:10 Report Abuse