By Published On: 22 November 20140 CommentsTags: , , , , , Categories: SLB News, Events & Campaigns

About the Author: SLB Admin

Are Non-Native Speaker Teachers Discriminated Against? 

Cooperativa de Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona’s 2014  international TEFL survey finds that there is a significant disparity in pay between similarly qualified non-native speaker teachers and their native speaking counterparts.


This is part one of an analysis of an International survey of language teachers, carried out by Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona, in 2014.

Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona’s objective was to look at and analyse the working conditions of TEFL teachers world-wide in order to further our research into improving conditions for teachers in Barcelona and beyond.

We asked a range of questions in order to build up a picture of the professional development opportunities, pay conditions, the aspirations and disappointments of both Native Speaker Teachers and Non-native Speaker teachers. To keep things focused, we’ll break up the analysis into different parts. This section will look at the differences between Native Speaker Teachers (NST) and Non-Native Speaker Teachers (nNST)

Our figures show some shocking discrepancies in pay between nNST and NST. Speculation on the causes of these differences, I’ll leave to you to ponder, though I will say that at every level of qualification there was a clear bias in favour of native speaker teachers. One result that jumped out at us was that we show a native speaking teacher with a CERT is on average, financially better off than a non-native speaking teacher with a Master’s Degree in Education.


We had responses from 271 people from:

Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ecuador, Egypt, Spain, France, France Metropolitan, UK, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, India, Iraq, Iran, Italy, Jersey, Japan, South Korea, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Paraguay, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, Ukraine, USA, Uruguay, Vietnam, South Africa

We put them on a map for you here:


What do our respondents teach?

Perhaps unsurprising for a survey carried out in English, 98% of all respondents teach English as their main language.


However, 5% of our respondents teach Spanish, 2.1% French and 2% German. Other respondents teach; Hindi, Russian, Polish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Catalan, and Lithuanian as their primary languages.

The proportions of teachers teaching their native language were as follows:



And for those who answered No to the above question, just over 40% said they had faced discrimination due to their nNST status.



Working permissions and contracts

When it comes down to permissions, VISAs and legal statuses it seems that nNST and NST are roughly equivalent:

  • 81% of nNST have an unrestricted legal right to work, compared to 83% of NST
  • 13% of nNST and 10% of NST have a restricted right to work
  • 3% of nNST have no legal right to work in their country or territory, compared to 4% of NST

In terms of contracts, nNSTs and NSTs are in a similar position, although NSTs are more likely to be working for cash-in-hand.


Q13 N

Q3 T N



Q13 NN


Q13 T NN

How qualified were our respondents?


Q7 N



Interestingly, and rather surprisingly, of those surveyed 44% of NST have a recognised TEFL certificate, whereas only 17% of the nNST do.

nNSTs are more likely to have an unrecognised certificate in TEFL 11.6% and 3% of NST.

Moving up the scale of qualifications and the distance between NST and nNST qualifications closes a little: 15.9% of nNST have a DELTA or DipTESOL compared to 16.4% of NST.

Our surveyed nNSTs are much more likely to have a teaching related BA or equivalent – 26% of non-native speakers are qualified to teach their main language to a degree level (BA), compared to 10.7% of their native speaking counterparts.

There were also significant numbers of postgraduate degree holders too. 19% of NST respondents have a Master’s degree or equivalent, and 17% of nNST have a Master’s Degree or equivalent.

And what do these qualifications get you?

Not taking into account any differences in qualifications, the average wage for teachers across the board was €20.22.

The overall average for a NST was €21.49 and the average for an nNST was €15.03.

Although that looks like a big difference, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. We have to consider like-for-like qualifications in order to make a fair judgement.

As you would expect, for the most part, the higher your qualification, the better paid you are. Once we break things down into NST and nNST and levels of qualification, we can see a general disparity in the rates of NST and nNST teacher; so much so in fact that, according to our results:

An NST with a recognised TEFL certificate, on average earns more than an nNST with a teaching/education related Master’s degree.

In the chart below the X-axis shows the level of qualification from TEFL CERT to Master’s Degree. NSTs are in blue, and nNST are in purple.


 NST: 21.49 29.86 19.92 21.14 19.09
nNST: 15.021 17.44 11.75 18.44 14.71


A trend of lower pay for nNSTs follows across all qualifications.


However, one caveat to add here is that  we are taking global results, rather than examining and comparing the results from individual countries or regions.

One might argue that differences in nNST an NST pay between countries might be more significant than the differences in pay between similarly qualified nNSTs and NSTs. However on closer inspection, the figures show the same relative trends in every country where we had both nNST and NST respondents.


To sum up

Wherever you are in the world, it is to your advantage to be highly qualified, but it’s even more advantageous to be a qualified native speaker teacher.

We would argue that this is clear evidence for systematic, and (often) illegal discrimination against non-native speaker teachers, and this really does need to change.

Leave A Comment

  1. Marek Kiczkowiak 22 November 2014 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Great to see that somebody is finally doing some sound research into working conditions and NESTs /nNESTs issues.

    • georgechilton 22 November 2014 at 7:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment Marek. Now, the next step would be deciding what to do about it! I hope we can spark a conversation here – or at least get people thinking about how we can turn this around and become a more equitable industry. I feel the ball has started to roll :)

  2. Kim Ooi 23 November 2014 at 10:45 am - Reply

    By definition, a “native speaker” is simply someone who has spoken the language since earliest childhood. However, there are many narrow-minded recruiters out there who believe that non-Caucasians cannot possibly be native speakers of English. Appearance means everything to them and qualifications and level of fluency counts for nothing. Although I’m British, I struggled for 4 years to enter the TEFL industry simply because ethnically I’m Chinese. It was only through sheer persistence and especially networking via LinkedIn that I’m not teaching in China. Something has got to be done to educate TEFL recruiting countries that this is wrong, illegal an discriminatory.

    • georgechilton 23 November 2014 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      Thanks very much for your comment Kim, and I’m sorry to hear about your experiences. I think what you’re describing steps beyond the usual native vs non-native discrimination and ignorance, and jumps right into bare-faced racism. Having worked in South Korea, I’ve seen that first-hand, with Asian or black teachers being looked upon as inferior by certain schools.

      I think the first step on the road to change is awareness and recognition – there are a number of movements at the moment, notably the – and they are doing some really great things. I’m sure they would also like to hear from you.

      Thanks again,

    • Rob 24 November 2014 at 1:55 am - Reply

      I agree.

      I am white, early 30s with blonde hair and a NA accent (from Canada). I have been offered jobs based solely on my picture in Korea. I also do have an MA TESL, certificate and several years experience, but my degrees were only verified as far as was needed to comply with government regulation for me to get the job (my BA).

      I wonder how much these facts and figures represent race rather than native vs. non-native speakers? Anecdotal I admit, but I have personally seen a black, British teacher with advanced degrees be fired and replaced by a white, non-native speaking South African with fewer qualifications and experience. I don’t mean to suggest that native is automatically better than non-native in this example, only to show that race was a bigger factor than either native speaker or qualifications in the hiring process. I am not sure how to change it, but it is food for thought anyway.

      • georgechilton 24 November 2014 at 6:38 am - Reply

        Yes, definitely food for thought, thanks for your comment. Rob. We didn’t factor in race, or indeed sex/gender, as forms of discrimination here – Kim’s comment above certainly touches on this issue. Perhaps that can be the focus of another survey in the future.

    • Dave Dodgson 24 November 2014 at 11:07 am - Reply

      Sadly, this is a big problem in certain countries, especially in small private schools with a domineering owner who gets the final say. I was once asked to help review job applications for a language school I was working at. There was one outstanding candidate from the UK whose name was ‘Kimberley Lee’ but our decision was vetoed by the owner who stated that she might be “Kim Lee” and therefore Asian not British. In the end, he only agreed to consider her application if she sent in a photo. I didn’t work at that school for much longer after that….

  3. Andrew 23 November 2014 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    Great to see that these questionnaires are getting traction among teachers. There is also one in Germany, though the number of respondents is too low to be significant, and here in France, we have carried out a survey on working conditions, pay, concerns etc.. for English teachers, with the support of Tesol France and The Language Network, which we presented last week at the Tesol France annual convention. We got 800 usable replies and have still a lot of work to do to fully analyse the results. It would be interesting to get together and compare notes and methods – these questions are becoming more and more of an issue today. Barcelons being my childhood city, I’d be happy to come and visit you there soon. You can contact using this email

    • georgechilton 24 November 2014 at 6:59 am - Reply

      Absolutely, thanks Andrew. Yes, I hear you – the analysis is interesting, but not very straightforward at all! It’s great to hear you got so many usable responses though – I’m sure that will give you a clear picture of the conditions there.

      I’ll send you a message during the week – it’d be great to share notes.

  4. Biljana 23 November 2014 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Unfortunately, I can confirm the same for Germany. Being a native is more important than being qualified!!! I have a Master Degree in English Language and Literature, 14 years of experience with stellar recomendations from former employers and still work as a freelencer… More than once I lost a chance for a permanent position to a less qualified opponent who was a native speaker!

    • georgechilton 24 November 2014 at 6:46 am - Reply

      Hi Biljana,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s terrible companies can get away with that sort of thing, they’re certainly not operating legally in that case – but I’d imagine it’s very difficult to take action against them. I hope things start to improve.

      Where in Germany are you based? If you’re anywhere near Berlin – there’s a grass roots association run by Paul Walsh you might be interested in joining: (Twitter: @josipa74 and @Berlin_LW_Gas )

  5. Hayat Ohize 23 November 2014 at 11:47 pm - Reply

    I am a Nigerian. English is the only language I know and yet I am not considered a native speaker.

    • georgechilton 24 November 2014 at 6:54 am - Reply

      Hi Hayat,

      I’ve heard that sort of thing before, it must be very frustrating for you.

      How has this been brought to your attention? Have you been refused work due to your nNST status?

  6. Anna 24 November 2014 at 3:00 am - Reply

    Thanks a lot for the survey! Here in the UAE you are not even considered for a teacher position if you’re not a NS!!! Even with a University Degree in English and CELTA! What a shame!

    • georgechilton 24 November 2014 at 6:55 am - Reply

      You’re welcome Anna – yes that is a shame. I really hope that can change in the future. They are missing out on a lot of great teachers!

  7. Dave Dodgson 24 November 2014 at 11:13 am - Reply

    An interesting survey and useful research into an area that needs more attention in ELT.

    I wonder though how you asked the NEST and NNEST respondents to calculate thier salary. In my previous jobs, foreign staff and local staff had roughly the same ‘take home’ pay but on our payslips, the foreign staff were shown as more expensive due to the package we were offered – rent-free accomodation, apartment maintainenece allowance, subsidies for household bills, etc. This is obviuosly another factor in the pay gap.

    • georgechilton 25 November 2014 at 1:07 am - Reply

      Hi Dave,

      We asked people to list their lowest, highest and average hourly rates. In hindsight, this was tricky for salaried teachers.

      We didn’t account for some of the other benefits you mention – apartment/flights, as although that’s common in certain Asian countries, that’s not often the case elsewhere. I’d personally take flights out of the equation anyway, as local teachers would not have that as an expense.

  8. Mary 24 November 2014 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    But I think the main problem is the perception of the students! A school can employ nNS but students complain they aren’t native even if they only have a non native surname and are in fact natives!

    • georgechilton 25 November 2014 at 1:01 am - Reply

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s a difficult situation – but where do we draw the line when students start demanding that we discriminate a certain demographic of workers? If they started saying they didn’t want black teachers, or only wanted teachers from the USA, do we oblige? I think we are in a bad situation – by giving in to these sort of market demands, we’re actually in danger of offering an inferior service. Instead I argue that we should be offering the best service possible, not bowing to pressure in this way. We should be trying to educate our students, and be breaking these harmful stereotypes.

      In Europe, it is illegal to advertise positions seeking “Native Teachers Only” – so by bringing this to the attention of the academies, schools and universities we can start to affect hiring practices, and hopefully the students’ minds.

  9. Abdeslam Ahannouk 24 November 2014 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    Thank you very much indeed for this research which exposes plainly the injustice of narrow-minded recruiters.

    • georgechilton 25 November 2014 at 1:11 am - Reply

      You’re welcome Abdeslam. It’s a first step – I hope we can at least encourage debate, and with the help of start changing some people’s minds.

  10. rob 2 25 November 2014 at 10:11 am - Reply

    1) This is highly unscientific. 271 responses out of how many teachers in the world? Where I work in Brazil, we have over 200 teachers and only 3 are native. Is this reverse discrimination? Even some of your results show no major difference (based upon the low sample rate), yet you insist that there is a huge prejudice against non-natives.
    2) I do admit that the perception among students is that Native is better. If I need medical English and my choice is a person that is both a qualified Doctor and qualified English teacher, of course I would prefer them to just a qualified teacher. I think that a good teacher is a good teacher period. The reality is what the market perceives. Keep in mind that the people hiring only native teachers are non-natives themselves. 100% of the administration in the largest Brazilian language schools are Brazilian. Stop hating the native teachers just because the sector takes advantage of a false idea and help educate them to that fact that a good teacher is a good teacher.
    3) You yourself state “it is to your advantage to be highly qualified, but it’s even more advantageous to be a qualified native speaker teacher.” Being qualified AND native IS an advantage. Hence the word “advantage”. It is one more basis of qualification. Based upon your statement that this is discrimination is like saying experience is not an advantage.
    4) If countries like Korea only want to hire natives, don’t go to Korea if you’re not a native. Period.

    Stop with this continuous prejudice against natives and start fighting for better wages and conditions for all of us. Native or non-native, we both work for the same low pay and long hours. No discrimination here, eh?

    • georgechilton 25 November 2014 at 6:20 pm - Reply

      Hi Rob,

      If you’re questioning whether a school employing mostly local teachers is reverse discrimination, then I can say that no – it isn’t; it’s a school that’s utilising the local labour force.

      We are arguing that teachers who are similarly qualified and competent should be paid fairly – whether they are native or non-native. Pay should be awarded for experience, competence and qualification. If one teacher is better than another, then their pay should reflect this.

      We do not, as you suggest, hate the native teachers – in fact, Rob, we created a cooperative to help increase the wages of both native and non-native teachers in Barcelona. We can pay teachers more than the academies, while supporting our members’ professional development. This isn’t just an empty argument, we’re actually doing something about it.


  11. Thet Htar Hlaing 19 December 2014 at 8:29 am - Reply

    The survey would seek a majority of “Yes” if it were done in Myanmar.