Reckoning with native speakerism

Photo credit: Unsplash CC0, Mashup by Joséphine Foucher

In this post, Mariel Deluna, shares how the book (En)Countering Native-speakerism: Global Perspectives (2015) has helped her deconstruct the harmful assumptions behind “native-speakerism” and has inspired her journey towards an anti-racist approach to language education. Mariel is a second year PhD student at Moray House School Education and Sport. This post is part of Teaching Matters Leaning & Teaching Enhancement Theme: Books that inspire our teaching.

I first encountered (En)Countering Native-speakerism: Global Perspectives in 2018, freshly matriculated into a postgraduate taught program in Japan. I had just come out of a job teaching English in the Japanese countryside, very proud of being a “native English speaker”. I was so excited about all the ways my “native speaker perspective” would be valuable in effectively integrating Asian-American culture and American diversity into my English classrooms in Japan.

Three and a half years later, I have since realized that that my pride in being a “native speaker” was quite misplaced, and that harmful native-speakerist ideologies had been deeply ingrained in this pride. Although my research focus is no longer primarily on native-speakerism, my journey towards an anti-racist approach to language education started with this concept.

In the foreword to this book, Prof. Kumaravadivelu defines native-speakerism as a system of oppression delineating a superior “native speaker” against an inferior “non-native speaker” of English. This delineation parallels colonial hierarchies, marginalizes “non-native” English speakers, and devalues their language practices in favor of White and Western norms.

Holliday, A., Aboshiha, P., & Swan, A. (Eds.). (2015). (En)Countering Native-speakerism : Global perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

(En)Countering Native-speakerism is an anthology about native-speakerism in different contexts around the world. Part I outlines native-speakerist ideologies in ELT, Part II narrows the focus of native-speakerism to teachers, Part III goes into native-speakerism and identity, and Part IV talks about native-speakerism in academia and higher education. Consistent throughout many of the book’s chapters are the ways that both “native speakers” and “non-native speakers” are pigeon-holed into stereotypical caricatures with a native-speakerist lens.

Each of these book chapters is packed with memorable points of reflection. In Dr. Aboshiha’s chapter, I remember nearly screaming in horror at the audacity of British teachers saying that “non-native speakers” are not trained to engage in critical thought. Similar claims are later echoed by teachers in Kuwait rationalizing that students cheat on tests because they are unable to think for themselves—contrary to what students who cheat actually said in Dr. Kamal’s research. Especially stand-out in this anthology is the chapter by Dr. Odeniyi, in which the parallels between native-speakerism and colonial-racial hierarchies had been made explicitly clear in her detailed analysis of interactions in an undergraduate social science class in London.

(As an aside, a lot of the themes discussed here and in the book are quite similar to an episode of Decolonising the Curriculum – Sharing Ideas: The Podcast Series, in which Dr. Lauren Hall-Lew and Prof. Rowena Arshad talk about raciolinguistics. I think raciolinguistic ideologies and native-speakerist ideologies are heavily intertwined, because they both rely on the ideal of a “superior” standardized variety of English as the norm.)

Although there are some claims in (En)Countering Native-speakerism that I now disagree with, the value of this anthology is that it is both academic and personal. Many of the authors are “teachers of English writing about themselves and their ELT colleagues and students, or about people in close proximity to them” (p. 2). These exemplary stories of native-speakerism are easy to understand because the consequences of native-speakerism are made material. Difficult as it might be to witness or to examine for ourselves, the conversations outlined in each of the studies are ones that happen regularly in ELT classrooms and in intercultural spaces like our university.

This focus on the interpersonal is not to discount talking about oppressions as a system, but my day-to-day life is where these material effects are most visible (audible). For me, every day interactions can be so much harder to navigate than the long game of collective organization—especially when it comes to learning and teaching—because these decisions (that might be formative for students) are made in a split second. How do we manage in real time to critically engage with normative language practice—especially ones that stem from colonial logic or have a racist oeuvre? How do we as “native speaking” English teachers reframe our practice to respect our students’ bilingualism? How do we navigate language education in a way that acknowledges the real material advantages gained from learning standardized varieties of English while also being critical of those standardized varieties? (En)Countering Native-speakerism: Global Perspectives has some answers, but it has most helped me to be mindful of my language and to practice problematizing the everyday expressions of native-speakerist ideologies.


  • Holliday, A., Aboshiha, P., & Swan, A. (Eds.). (2015). (En)Countering Native-speakerism : Global perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Mariel Deluna

Mariel Deluna is a second year PhD student at Moray House School Education and Sport. Her PhD research is on raciolinguistic ideologies and the intersection of “race”, ethnicity, and language from the perspectives of Scotland’s secondary school Modern Language teachers. Outside of this, she also holds positions as student representative in the MHSES EDI Race Equality Subgroup, committee member for the Language and Education Society at the University of Edinburgh, and audio editor/guest host for the Bilingualism Matters podcast Much Language, Such Talk.

Twitter: @marielectriceel

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