Native-Speakerism in Japan

Stephanie Ann Houghton and Damian J. Rivers’ book Native-Speakerism in Japan has just been published and they have taken a moment to tell us about the origins of ‘native speakerism’ and the problems it poses for language teachers.

Native-Speakerism in JapanThe term ‘native-speakerism’ was originally defined as “a pervasive ideology within ELT, characterized by the belief that ‘native-speaker’ teachers represent a ‘Western culture’ from which spring the ideals both of the English language and of English language teaching methodology” (Holliday, 2006: 385). The coining of the term essentially represented a bid to release non-native speaker teachers from the culture of deficiency that entraps them in English language teaching (ELT) worldwide. Consequently, discussions of such intergroup dynamics have also been marked by a dichotomy in which ‘native speakers’ are portrayed as the sole perpetrators of prejudice, discrimination and chauvinism, while ‘non-native speakers’ are portrayed as the only group worthy of authentic victim status, thus creating a mono-directional flow of perceived aggression and resultant backlash.

The book embraces the concept of native-speakerism, yet ultimately expands upon and replaces it in a bid to also release ‘native-speaker’ teachers from the debilitating impact of native-speakerist forms of prejudice and discrimination in ELT. Six examples of direct and indirect forms of resistance to native-speakerism are showcased in this book to illustrate how ‘native-speaker’ English language teachers in Italy and Japan, embroiled in the turmoil of workplace conflict and suffering from professional exclusion, have either resisted the impact of native-speakerism upon them either directly with their employer by making use of legal mechanisms involving collective bargaining through labour unions and/or court action, or indirectly by engaging in academic forms of protest, principled dissent or resistance.

In addition to the six examples mentioned above, and to provide contextual background, employment policies and patterns in tertiary and secondary education in Japan are also analysed through empirical research and/or informed social commentary formulated by both Japanese and non-Japanese professionals socialized in Japan. Together, they characterise native-speakerism as a very contemporary social phenomenon with deep and persistent socio-historical and socio-linguistic roots.

While Holliday’s call for the forging of a new common identity among global TESOL educators is endorsed, considerable reworking and expansion of the original definition of ‘native-speakerism’ is also insisted upon, and the main message of the books runs as follows – “It is only by actively striving to protect all the potential victims from the chauvinism of native-speakerism, regardless of language background, can mutual trust, respect and the development of a shared yet diverse professional identity be nurtured”. Therefore, and acknowledging the multidimensionality and multidirectionality of the phenomena, we offer a revised definition of native-speakerism:

Native-speakerism is prejudice, stereotyping and/or discrimination, typically by or against foreign language teachers, on the basis of either being or not being perceived and categorized as a native speaker of a particular language, which can form part of a larger complex of interconnected prejudices including ethnocentrism, racism and sexism. Its endorsement positions individuals from certain language groups as being innately superior to individuals from other language groups. Therefore native-speakerist policies and practices represent a fundamental breach of one’s basic human rights.

Our new definition positions judgments made (i.e. of who is a ‘native speaker’ and who is not a ‘native speaker’) and actions taken (i.e. the creation of employment categories and workplace roles on the basis of being, or not being, a ‘native speaker’ of a ‘foreign’ language) as infringement upon one’s universally guaranteed human rights, in line with other criteria such as race and gender.

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