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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 6; Issue 2; March 04

Short Article

Roles of NESTs and Non-NESTSs in the language classroom - are they the same or different?

( NEST = Native English-Speaking Teacher)

Eva Homolová, Matej Bel University, Banská Bystrica, Slovakia

Introduction The question "Who is a good language teacher?" is as old as speaking a foreign language itself. Though it will never be possible to find a universally acceptable answer to this question, learners, teachers, administrators, parents and other members of society will continue to argue over it. What learners consider to be a good language teacher almost never meets parents' or educators' idea of a good teacher and vice versa. Several surveys conducted in in recent years have shown up many discrepancies ( Medgyes 1992).

This question becomes even more problematic when native speakers knock on the EFL door and enter "the competitive field" in countries like Slovakia. Before they have done anything, before they have uttered or written a word in the classroom they have already earned several "bonus points." What counts is the state of origin marked on their passport which in many parts of the world equals the best qualification. Maybe it is not like this everywhere but the situation described has been true for central European countries, Slovakia included.

NESTs versus non NESTs in Slovakia
The teaching of foreign languages in our country has a long and distinguished history. The last decade has seen a period of unprecedented changes in the teaching of foreign languages with EFL particularly affected.

One of the outstanding changes has been the involvement of native speakers in the teaching of EFL in Slovak schools. With "the speed of lightning" they became a common phenomenon in many schools. Right at the beginning of their mission, all of them, whatever their qualifications or personal qualities, were awarded their "bonus points" whether deserved or not.

Somehow they disqualified local, non-native, qualified and experienced teachers in the eyes of our Slovak society. There was and still is a strong tendency among people to evaluate foreign language programmes in schools exclusively by one criteria - the number of NESTs in the staffroom. The more there are, the better it is.

Today, with the fading velvet on our 1989 revolutionary banner, with more rigorous regulations for obtaining a work permit and less money available for education, there is usually just one NEST or none at all in most of our basic or secondary schools. Hopefully, the situation may change once again and, with the enlargement of the EU, more and better-qualified NESTS will come and teach in our schools.

However the question of the quality of English language teaching has inspired me to carry out some research among NESTs and non-NESTs and their learners. Its aim was to examine the roles they tend to assume in the classroom with special focus on three areas of language teaching:

  • error management in spoken English (teacher corrects, elicits self-correction / peer correction, indicates but does not correct, gives feedback, ignores an error).
  • types and distribution of the teacher's questions (questions eliciting short answers / questions eliciting long answers.
  • kinds of teaching tasks (tasks for developing accuracy / tasks for developing fluency).

    I believe these areas indicate the teacher´s role preference and the role assigned to learners. I believe the results will make the question concerning the impact of NESTs on teaching and learning English here in Slovakia more transparent. This study of their roles and the way they present themselves in the classroom could show how NESTs fit into the frame of teaching English in Slovak schools. It seemed to me that the focus on the differences between NESTs and non-NESTs in the field of their preferred roles in class would show whether language competence is the only variable in teaching skills that would make our learners "vote" for a NEST if they are given the option.

    The roles I have focused on in more detail are:

    • the controller
    • the manager
    • the facilitator
    • the corrector

    In spite of the fact that the list of a teacher´s roles is much longer (Harmer 1993, Wright 1987), for practical purposes I have concentrated only on the ones listed above. I have contrasted the roles of controller and corrector with the roles of facilitator and manager. The former roles typify a more traditional classroom while the latter tend to create a more humanistic, learner-centred environment.

    Research results – the reality of the classroom
    The research was conducted in secondary schools (learners aged 14-18) in Slovakia and the research sample comprises 13 native and 13 non-native teachers. I observed three lessons given by each teacher and focused on errors, tasks and questions. In order to record the number of observed phenomena I used observation sheets.

    The following are the most significant findings.
    I supposed that NESTs would use more tasks for developing fluency (discussions, simulations, role-plays, solving problems etc.) and this proved to be the case. They did not devote much time to controlled exercises but somehow "hurried" to freer communication. The authentic materials they brought to their classes enabled them to create "a more English friendly" environment.

    In contrast, non-NESTS were more trapped in the net of the course-books and spent more time on controlled and semi-controlled tasks. On several occasions they skipped over fluency tasks.

    In the area of error management I assumed that, in the NEST group, there would a more tolerant approach to mistakes that do not cause misunderstanding and a more humanistic reaction to mistakes, such as reformulation or feigned misunderstanding. The research results proved this assumption correct as these reactions were manifested by NESTs three times more often. In general I can say that non-NESTS were "obsessed" with mistakes and their correction as they directly corrected 3,5 times more mistakes than NESTs did. The most likely explanation is that this tendency is mostly influenced by the Slovak teachers´ awareness of their learners´ needs, especially regarding their immediate goals of passing school leaving exams and university entrance exams (written accuracy tests).

    In other words, our teachers are expected to value accuracy more than fluency. By the time NESTs realize the importance of accuracy, the time comes for them to close the door and wave good bye to Slovakia…

    I mention this certainly not to blame them but because it should be one of the basic duties of a local teacher to provide the NEST with such vital information.
    In the last field, – types of questions- I assumed a higher occurrence of open, hypothetical and wh-long-answer questions, which provide learners with more opportunities for longer oral production. My assumption has been proved correct as out of all NEST questions asked in class, 60 % fall into this category. Non-NEST teachers preferred YES/NO, Or questions and Wh-short answer questions which, on the one hand, raise the number of learners involved, but, on the other hand deprive learners of opportunities to express themselves more thoroughly. In general I have to admit that time, time, time and lesson plans are the enemy of non-NESTs.

    In the context of the observed lessons and further data collected I can say that non-NESTs incline more to the traditional roles of corrector and controller while NESTs try to motivate learners to use language in a more natural way and do not emphasize language accuracy. NESTs tend to see English as a means of communication, rather than a required school subject. In the following survey, carried out with 150 students, almost all students appreciated the presence of NESTs but they clearly expressed a preference for grammatical correctness.

    What I want to stress in particular is that US (non NESTS) and THEM (NESTs) should become WE and that would guarantee that our learners being "pampered with luxurious ELT care" with all roles covered either by NESTs or by non NESTs.

    HARMER, Jeremy. 1993. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow : Longman ISBN 0 58204656 4
    WRIGHT, Tony. 1987. Roles of Teachers and Learners. Oxford : OUP, ISBN 0 19 437133 6
    MEDGYES, Peter. 1994 The non-native teacher. London : Macmillan, ISBN 0 333 60020 7
    MEDGYES, Peter. Native or non native: who´s worth more? In : ELT Journal vol. 46/4 Oct. 1992
    PHILLIPSON Robert. ELT: the native speaker´s burden? In : ELT Journal Vol. 46/1 Jan. 1992
    HOMOLOVÁ, Eva. 2003. Uplatňovanie princípov komunikatívneho vyučovania prostredníctvom učiteľských rol. Banská Bystrica : Univerzita Mateja Bela, Fakulta humanitných vied. 2003. 67 s. ISBN 80 8055 764 0

    [ Editorial note: The author uses the normal terms 'NEST' and ' 'non-NEST' and it is academically normal that she should do so. Isn't it bizarre, though, that the UK/US literature in our field should define 99% of EFL teachers round the globe as ' non-NEST '. Though NESTS are a tiny minority they are ' awarded' the positive term! How about calling 'non-NESTS' Bi-lingual teachers? Might be more realistic and more respectful? ) .

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