Native Speakers Aren’t Better – So Don’t Believe It.


When I started this blog, I foolishly assumed that I was writing for an audience like my younger self: British (or perhaps American), relatively young (maybe one or two years out of university) who’d taken a TEFL course at least in part because it seemed like a good idea… and then who headed abroad to teach reluctant and terrified. I’ve realised however as my readership has grown that this is only a small part of my audience; there are lots of you out there who are non-native English speakers, working in your home country or trying to navigate the tricky world of visa applications  and not having ‘the right’ passport.

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher emailed me asking for advice (you can do that by the way – my email is on the ‘About’ page). As I highly doubt she’s the only one in this position, my answer evolved into this blog post. So how can a non-native speaker teacher feel more confident speaking English in the classroom?

Students want native-speaker teachers, don’t they?

copy-of-reflection-for-the-week-blankThe honest answer here is ‘not necessarily’. It’s become almost standard practice for language schools to advertise their native speaker teachers as a selling point, and this has a knock-on effect. Schools tell their students that they should want to learn from native-speakers, that native-speakers are better, online teachers sell themselves first and foremost as being native speakers… and so it’s hardly surprising that students have taken this on board. ‘Native English speaker’ has become just another marketing buzzword (as highlighted by the online advert I saw earlier this week: a ‘native English speaker’ advertising their services as an English teacher, written in what was, at best, intermediate level English). To some extent, yes, students want native-speaker teachers… but this is because they’ve been told to, rather than down to any kind of factual research.

Let’s not forget that in many countries, the profile of the ideal ‘English teacher’ extends to cover far more than native language. A friend of mine (white, native English speaker, South African) was asked to lie to students about her nationality and tell them that she was British. Fantastic teachers I’ve worked with who happen to not fit the ‘fair-skinned’ ideal have had their expertise as teachers questioned and been rejected by students on account of the colour of their skin. The world of TEFL (and TEFL recruitment) is unfortunately unethical and discriminatory… and it’s only slowly that this is starting to change.

All of this paints a pretty damning picture – but as mentioned, the situation is changing. In 2011, International House stated that their schools would no longer specifically recruit native-speaker teachers, and more and more jobs boards (and recruiters) are starting to reject the principle that native speaker equals more desirable teacher.

If you’re interested in some more in-depth reading (and what to see for yourself exactly what students thing, Ahmar Mahoob’s paper offers some real food for thought, including lots of direct quotes from students. You’ll see that in some cases students regard non-native speaker teachers as better than native speakers!

In my experience, students’ first priority is to learn. As long as you’re a good teacher, who cares what your native language is?

For a more detailed analysis of the ‘native speaker preference’ check out Andrew Woodbury’s excellent article.

Don’t native speakers make better teachers?

Think of a renowned scientist or academic. Are they necessarily equipped to go into a school and teach their subject? The same holds true for English teaching. Teaching encompasses a whole range of skills aside from just ‘knowing the language’ – if you’re ever in any doubt of that please watch this comedy sketch by Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington. Would any lesson you teach be more appropriately graded, better structured, and have better explanations than what these guys come up with? Then you already have proof that you’re a better English teacher than someone whose sole qualification is to be a native speaker.

I’ve spoken English my whole life – but had to work hard throughout my first couple of years of teaching to understand grammar in such a way that I could present it and explain it to my students. It’s all very well to be able to say ‘this is correct, and this isn’t’, but in order to teach a language you need to understand the nuts and bolts of it. Here, being a non-native speaker can actually be a huge advantage, as you’ve likely had to learn the language in a similar way to your students! As a non-native speaker of English, you’re automatically going to have a greater insight into what students are going to find challenging, what they’ll be confused by and what’s actually pretty straightforward. A native speaker will have to research all of those things – or find them out through trial and error.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some excellent non-native speaker teachers throughout my career, and one thing that’s always struck me is how inspiring they can be for their students. At my first school, our Director of Studies was a non-native speaker – who had started her English studies as a child at the very school we worked at. How encouraging is that?! As a non-native speaker, you have the ability to show your students just what they can achieve – because you practise what you preach every day.

As a final note, if you still needed some more evidence that being a native speaker makes you a better teacher, check out what my students said. From time-to-time I always like to ask my students what they think makes a good teacher (I repeated a version of this activity recently with my adult elementary class) – and whilst they have said ‘you must speak English’, no student has ever specified that a good teacher must be British, or American, or even a native-English speaker.

How can I feel more confident?

Hopefully realising that your students don’t necessarily want native-speaker teachers, reflection-for-the-week-blank-1and that being a native-speaker doesn’t automatically qualify you to be a better teacher is already making you feel more confident. But what can you do to give yourself an extra boost?

  • Fake it til you make it. There’s a lot to be said for acting confident, even if you don’t always feel it. Using positive body language, rehearsing what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, and even simply going into the classroom with a positive outlook can make a real difference in how confident you appear – and ultimately how confident you feel.
  • Build your confidence in the language. It should hopefully go without saying that as teachers, we should never stop learning. Consider studying for an exam (maybe IELTS or CAE/CPE), and above all, practise, practise, practise. As you grow more confident in using the language in general, it follows that you’ll grow more confident in using it in the classroom too.
  • Experiment, be yourself, and have some fun. Being able to laugh at your own mistakes helps! I asked non-native speaker friends and colleagues for advice while writing this post, and this was some of the best advice I was given. Remember that being a teacher is so much more than simply your knowledge of the language, and your students will appreciate your being yourself.

You can find some more tips on how to be a more confident teacher here.

Butconfidence-comes-not-from-always-being-right-but-from-not-fearing-to-be-wrong what if I make mistakes?

I’ll let you into a secret: I make mistakes too! From my early attempts at grading language where I realised I was missing out articles and actually saying things that were grammatically incorrect, to the sleepy coffee-free Monday morning not so long ago where I spectacularly stuffed up a grammar explanation… we all make mistakes from time to time.

If you do make a mistake, be honest about it – much of this advice also holds true here. Then take a deep breath and move on; the absolute worst thing you can do is to beat yourself up over it.

What can I do to improve my English?

First of all, think about what you’d recommend for your students! Teaching gives you a real advantage here, as it means you have a much clearer idea of what works and what doesn’t. If you’re still looking for some advice, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Practise! It probably goes without saying, but to confidently use English in the classroom, the key is practise, practise, practise. Although reading and writing in English will doubtless be helpful, I’d recommend focusing slightly more on speaking and listening, as these skills are what you’re going to be using in class on a daily basis.
  • Watch films/TV/listen to the radio or podcasts. Depending on your work context, it might be difficult to get lots of exposure to fluent spoken English. The internet is your friend! I recommend to almost all of my students that they find films or a TV series they like, and regularly watch them in English. If TV isn’t your thing, how about listening to the radio or English-language podcasts – you can even do it while you’re at the gym, on public transport, or doing the housework.
  • Use English as much as possible. Put all your electronic devices into English, write shopping lists/to-do lists in English, even switch your ‘internal monologue’ into English and talk to yourself (either in your head or out loud) – exposing yourself to the language as much as possible will make you feel far more confident in using it.
  • Teach ‘mock’ lessons. This might be a bit of a weird one, but hear me out. In teaching, some of the language we use can be quite different to what we encounter in every day life, and the only real way to practice it is by teaching. This can help you to rehearse parts of explanations or giving instructions for a task. If you don’t have a willing friend or family member that you can teach a small section of something to, I find both pets and teddy bears to be helpful substitutes (with the added advantage that they don’t answer back!).
  • Take a course. If you’ve got time and money available to you (let’s face it, no one went into EFL teaching in order to get rich), you might want to take a course. If you want to take something that’s specifically aimed at English language teachers, here are some offered by TEFL Equity Advocates, as well as this one by Future Learn. There’s also a recording of a great webinar on language development for teachers here.

How do I get a job with the ‘wrong’ passport?

As a Brit I’m all too aware that I’m not in the best position to offer advice – but I can point you in the direction of people who can.

TEFL Equity Advocates – this is an absolutely fantastic website, full of advice, articles, and resources. This site has been the source of several of the articles I’ve linked to in this post, and I wish I’d been able to link to even more of them! For your sanity I won’t, but please, if you do one thing, check out this site.

If you’re a regular user of Facebook, you might want to check out their official facebook group, or this group for non-native speaker teachers.

Although it might seem like you’re fighting a losing battle, please don’t give up – keep fighting. Hopefully one day in the not too distant future the TEFL world will become one of equal opportunity for everyone. 


If you enjoyed what you read here, please consider signing up for my newsletter mailing-list: I’ll send you a monthly round-up of resources and ideas I’ve loved each month, and the occasional extra freebie too! If you’re a new (or newish, or new-at-heart) teacher who’d like a bit of extra support, check out my ELT support group on Facebook – TEFLing Together



How are you going to teach better in 2017?


At the beginning of January everyone always seems to be bombarded with the idea of starting afresh. 2017 is the year to start a new diet, start a new hobby, learn a new language, save money, do more exercise… etc. etc. Since the year as a teenager where I set 72 new year’s resolutions (and didn’t keep any of them) I’ve always been a bit suspicious of new year’s resolutions, seeing them more as a way to set oneself up for failure than anything else. Saying that, though, I do think that setting goals and keeping track of our progress is one of the most important things we can do as teachers – and is a sure-fire way to help you towards better teaching.

Why do I need to set goals anyway?

I know, I know, sitting down and thinking ‘how do I want to improve my teaching?’ is one of those things you do in your end of year review meeting or just after starting a new job… where you’re compelled to write down something (anything!) because your senior teacher/DOS won’t accept a blank box as an answer. What if I told you that setting teaching goals doesn’t need to be like that?

We’ve all had classes where we’ve taught the same coursebook too many times and it seems like we’re not doing anything new. We’ve all taught classes (or even just individual students) where the thought of spending even 45 minutes in their company fills us with dread. And we’ve all taught grammar points or vocabulary topics or different age groups or levels where we genuinely don’t feel confident in what we’re doing. Setting teaching goals (and not just goals that you write down and then forget about) can be the best way to deal with these challenges – to overcome them and become happier, more confident and less stressed teachers as a result!

How do I decide what to work on?

You can simply look at the feedback you had from your last observation… or ask your senior teacher or a colleague to observe you and give you some recommendations. The one problem with both of these approaches is that if the goal doesn’t come from you, you’re less likely to be motivated to achieve it.

Personally I prefer to take a more intuitive approach to goal-setting. You don’t even have to decide on an area to work on now. The huge advantage of setting a teaching goal for yourself is that you can start it whenever you want, so if nothing comes to mind I’d recommend thinking about your teaching over the next week or so. Rather than thinking about what sounds good, or what an observer would want you to say, here are some questions to think about. Make some notes if you want to:

Which classes do I find challenging to work with at the moment? Why?

How do I feel about teaching low level classes? What about high level classes? 

How do I feel about teaching children? Teaching teenagers?

Are there any topics/task types I really hate teaching? Why do I feel this way?

What do I find the most stressful about teaching? 

What is my biggest fear/worry about teaching?

How do I feel about my life outside of teaching? Is teaching having a positive/negative impact? In what ways?

Once you’ve figured out what areas are potentially problematic, you can then move on to the most important question:

What would make me feel happier about this? 

Your goals could be something immediately connected to teaching and learning – for example you want to find out more about language acquisition, or classroom management, or find new filler activities you can use in class. They could be subject-related: maybe you want to improve your language awareness (whether you’re a native or a non-native speaker none of us knows everything there is to know about English!), you want to get to grips with phonetics or a tricky grammar point you struggle with, or you want to learn a new language yourself. They could be more personal goals: you want to get more organised, you want to spend less time planning, you want to understand your students’ culture better.

Those of you who have been following me since the autumn will know that one of the goals I set myself for this was to get more confident in using IPA. Why did I choose this goal? Well, teaching pronunciation has always stressed me out. Although I’ve got better at drilling (and now use this more frequently in my classes) I never really felt confident in doing anything more than providing a correct model. Then in September I started teaching a designated pronunciation class – something which filled me with dread as soon as I saw it on my timetable. What was going to make me feel happier and less stressed about this? Remembering what at least some of those pesky IPA symbols meant, and plucking up the courage to write them on the board during the lesson.

Goal-setting 101

I remember being taught, even at school, that goals and targets needed to be SMART.






Since then, I’ve come across another acronym for target setting which I think is equally important: SMILE.


I don’t mean that you should choose something to work on that you know you’re already good at – after all, where would that get you? However, setting goals allows you to work on weaker areas in your teaching and build them up: as with going to the gym, your aim is to strengthen the weaker muscles to allow the stronger ones to function more effectively. Rather than approaching your teaching from the perspective of ‘what am I bad at?’, consider what areas you can build up to complement your existing strengths. Love teaching kids? Would finding new classroom management techniques allow you to do this more effectively? Enjoy teaching high level students? Would you be able to do this more confidently with a better grasp of grammar?


I think this is equally as important as measurable. As much as it’s important not to give up on achieving your goal at the first hurdle, it’s also important to recognise when a goal is not working – or when you need to work on something else first in order to achieve it. Your goal setting is for you: not your DOS, not your school, and so there’s no shame in changing or adapting your goal to meet a more pressing need. If you need to change your goal, or even abandon it, don’t beat yourself up about it – simply try it again at a better time.


One easy way to make sure that you stick to a goal is to choose something that is integrated into your daily life. Don’t decide to become an expert in teaching business English if you’re only teaching young learners – choose something that you can use and reflect on now. Try to make your goal into something active as well as simply passive. It’s great to expand on your knowledge by reading a teaching book, reading blogs or researching something online – but then choose a way of incorporating that into your classes. If your goal is to research classroom management, choose one behaviour management technique and try it out in your class. If you want to learn a new language, decide that you will set-aside some time to reflect on how this experience makes you feel as a learner, and see if there are any takeaways you can take into the classroom with you.


Your goals don’t need to take up the whole academic (or even the whole calendar!) year. It’s perfectly fine to have a goal that you will do something over the next week or two weeks or month. However, don’t give up once you’ve achieved your goal and revert back to exactly what you were doing before! If something you started doing when working towards your goal was successful, keep doing it – otherwise look and see what you can take away. Did working towards your goal raise any further questions or ideas?


Remember, you are setting goals for yourself here. If your goal isn’t ultimately going to help you improve your life (remember, our aim here is to become happier, more confident, and less stressed), then choose something different! Once you have achieved your goal (or even when you’ve achieved baby steps on the way there) remember to congratulate yourself and enjoy your success!

What does all of this look like in practice? Well, say for example I have a class of 7-10 year olds. Some of the class are really badly behaved, and it’s stressing me out because I’m worried I’m going to lose control completely and won’t be able to get them to do anything. What would make me feel better about this? Finding a classroom management method that will actually work with this group.

What am I going to do? Well, let’s say I’ve decided that I’m going to speak to my colleagues and ask them what classroom management methods they use. How am I going to make this SMART and SMILE? Well, I’m going to take what my colleagues suggest and try three different methods with my class (specific, achievable, integrated). I’ll try each technique for three weeks (bearing in mind that it takes students time to get used to changes in routine!) and after each lesson I’ll make a note of any major problems or positives in terms of student behaviour. At the end of those three weeks I’ll reflect and decide whether or not there have been any improvements (time-based, realistic, measurable). If during the process one of the techniques I use works really well, I’ll stick with that one (modifiable). At the end of the process I’ll hopefully have a better managed class that I’m able to enjoy teaching – and continue using what I’ve learned (long-lasting, enjoyable). I’ll also be able to use my improved classroom management to introduce new games and activities (strength-focused)!

So I’ve chosen my goals… how do I stick to them?

First and foremost, these goals should be easier to keep to than ones you’ve perhaps tried before – because they’re something you want to do. Desire is a far stronger motivator than duty!

Accountability is a really important factor in whether or not we stick to our goals. Tell someone what you’re doing, why you’re doing it – and get them to check up on you if necessary! Even a simple ‘how is it going?’ is enough to give you a big kick up the backside if you know you’re going to be asked. With this in mind I’ve created the TEFLing Together 2017 Facebook group. My hope is that this group is going to be a place where teachers can support, encourage and inspire each other – so if that sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, come on over!

Remember that your goals aren’t set in stone. If you’re trying to achieve a goal that you’ve decided is no longer relevant or helpful, it stands to reason that you won’t be feeling very motivated. If your ‘achievable’ goal suddenly starts to seem impossible, think about moving the goal post or breaking it down into smaller chunks. If your personal life starts to get complicated and it’s no longer possible to spend an hour reading as you’d planned, be kind to yourself. Changing or rescheduling a goal doesn’t make you a failure, and self-compassion is just as important an achievement in itself.

Remember to reward yourself. Don’t just brush your achievements aside – when you’ve achieved a goal, celebrate it! Whether it’s doing something you enjoy, buying yourself something, or even just treating yourself to something special that you wouldn’t normally buy at the supermarket – celebrate your achievement. Why don’t you pop over to the Facebook group and share it with us? 


Are you setting teaching goals for yourself this year? I’d love to hear how you get on…

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas everyone! Today’s post is a final round-up of festive activities – I’ve tried to choose fun ones that don’t take too much prep time. If you’re teaching today it’ll be a unique experience, but try to make the most of it.

Christmas Videos

Larry Ferlazzo has a great list of Christmas videos  to use with your students – some of these are extracts from longer films, others stand-alone in their own right. Once you’ve chosen a video, Claudia Pesce has some good ideas of how to use them at

Christmas Games

There are lots of different ideas for Christmas games and activities at If you’re teaching young learners on Christmas Day it’s a nice idea to make it into a Christmas party lesson using a mix of EFL games and traditional childrens’ party games.

Good EFL games:

Bingo, Pictionary, Hangman, 20 Questions/Back to the Board (use Christmas vocab throughout!)

Childrens’ party games:

Musical statues, Musical Chairs, Pin the Nose on Rudolph, Pass the Parcel


I’ll be taking a few days off from the blog between now and New Year, so have a happy and peaceful Christmas, and I’ll see you in 2017!

Elly x

EFL Advent Calendar – 24th December


Christmas Adverts – 24th December

Yesterday I talked about Christmas music, and it made me remember another thing Chrismas wouldn’t be Christmas about: Christmas adverts on TV! I love using adverts in class (especially the Christmas ones) as there’s definitely been an increase in recent years in ads that are more like mini-films. They’re complete enough that your students feel like they’ve watched something (and therefore done something fun!) but short enough that you can fit lots of activities around it, and it’s possible to rewatch the advert a few times getting the students to focus on different things each time. On doing some research, it seems like lots of other EFL teachers feel the same! Here’s a round-up of Christmas advert activities:

Lesson plans based on John Lewis adverts from 2011-2014 (including Monty the Penguin, the Hare and the Bear, the Snowmen and Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want). These lessons are at B1 level.

Another lesson plan (this time for B1-C1 students) based on John Lewis’ the Snowmen advert.

A B1/B2 lesson plan based on the Sainsbury’s Christmas Truce advert.

An A2-B1 lesson plan based on Mog’s Christmas Calamity (Sainsbury’s Christmas advert last year and probably my all-time favourite Christmas ad!). There are also a variety of non-EFL teaching ideas based on this advert here, some of which I think could easily be used with higher-level children or teens.

Finally, if you just want a round-up of all the Christmas adverts on UK TV this year (there are definitely some I haven’t seen here!) The Telegraph presents their best Christmas adverts of 2016 (with embedded video).




Most Popular Posts of 2016


Having spent the last five Christmasses in countries where December equals snow, I can’t quite believe it’s only two days til Christmas and there’s not a flake or a flurry in sight! Although I can be something of a workaholic I will be taking a few days off from the blog after my EFL Advent Calendar finishes on the 25th. In the meantime, though, I’ve been inspired by other people’s round-up posts. Here are my top ten most viewed posts in 2016!

1. Planning on a Daily Basis

Topping out the list of most popular posts was this one, where I discuss how I usually plan my lessons, and offer tips for new teachers on how to keep that pesky planning time down. This post then sparked ones by Sandy Millin, where she shares one of her own plans, Tekhnologic, who discusses how to use Microsoft Word for lesson planning (and shares some helpful shortcuts that I’ve bookmarked for my own future reference!) and Giulia, who shares her own reflections on lesson planning.

2. 5 Games for Advanced Students

In my first couple of years of teaching, I taught predominently higher-level classes. Here I share five of my favourite games to play with upper-intermediate or advanced students.

3. I don’t know: What if my students ask me a question and I don’t know the answer?

I have to admit that I’m really pleased this post is up there in the top three most popular posts – simply because this is a situation we all face as teachers! It also sparked some interesting discussion, both in the comments and on Facebook: the overall consensus was that honesty is the best policy.

4. 2 Ways to Make it a Game

In this post I share two pen and paper/whiteboard games that can be easily adapted to use with any topic/grammar point. Great for that one time that technology fails you!

5. Games for Beginner Students

Games seem to be a universally popular topic for teachers. Although most of us have a core repertoire of activities we often use, it’s good to add to it and change things around once in a while.

6. Teaching Teens 101

Ah, the dreaded teenagers. Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s useful to know how to teach them. Here I offer 10 tips for teachers.

7. Teaching Kids 101

My sister post to teaching teens, this time on working with our younger learners.

8. Teaching Beginners 101

When I first started teaching, I found beginner students among the hardest to teach. Now they’re one of my favourite levels to work with. If you’ve got a beginner class for the first time and are looking for some tips, start here.

9. 5 Ways to Improve Students’ Spelling

Last year I devoted a lot of time and effort to helping my young learner students improve their spelling. These were my favourite activities and techniques.

10. Everything But the Kitchen Sink

In ELT blogging, we spend a lot of time talking about teaching and specifically focusing on activities to use in class. We don’t spend much time talking about what often comes before you even get a class to teach – packing and starting a new job abroad. In this post I share my thoughts on what I’m glad went in my suitcase… and a few things I wish I’d left behind.

I’d like to thank everyone for their support, engagement, sharing and comments in 2016. It seems crazy to think that this blog has been read almost 13,000 times since I started it back in March!

In the meantime if there’s anything you’d like to read here in 2016, drop me a comment here!

I hope you all have a peaceful, happy Christmas, wherever you are, and I’ll be back writing again soon!

Elly x

EFL Advent Calendar – 23rd December


Christmas Songs – 23rd December

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas music, would it? Here in the UK shops and radios have been playing seemingly nothing but festive tunes since mid-November and I’m thoroughly sick of them, but they’re still nice to introduce a bit of Christmas spirit into your classrooms.

Several websites have simplified lyrics for various traditional Christmas carols, such as these from LanternFish and these (with accompanying activity ideas) from has lots of gap fill and multiple-choice activities for Christmas songs (helpfully grouped by student level).

For those of you teaching young learners, the British Council has some Christmas songs written especially for kids:

Santa, High in the Sky

Turkey Trouble

The Busy Elf

All of these have an accompanying animated video and activities to do online or print.

I’ve mentioned Super Simple Songs a couple of times before as being a great resource for those teaching the younger end of young learners, and they also have a selection of Christmas songs, including a simple version of Jingle Bells.

Finally, there are some lovely ideas for action Christmas songs at I can see many of these working really well for those of you who teach pre-school age children.


EFL Advent Calendar – 22nd December


Winter Activities – 22nd December

Although I’m sharing Christmas activities left, right and centre, you may well be teaching in a country  where Christmas isn’t celebrated. Whilst you may be able to incorporate some Christmas material (as it relates to the culture of English-speaking countries) you may be working in an environment where it isn’t appropriate, or you may simply be ‘all Christmassed out’!

Today I’m going to share some ‘winter’ themed activities for your young learners- with no Christmas in sight, so these could still be used in January (or even in July and August in the Southern Hemisphere!) 

First of all, Snowflakes. Although it may seem like there’s little education value in making these, they can be a useful craft for very young learners who are still developing their fine motor skills, including using scissors. You can also use them to review shapes, buy asking your students to cut squares, triangles, circles, or rectangles. 

I also found this great booklet for young learners who are learning clothing vocabulary and who need to review colours. ‘What I Wear in Winter‘ contains spaces for your students to draw, colour, and write the names of colours. This would be a nice follow up activity after a  song, such as ‘Put on Your Shoes’ by Super Simple Songs or ‘My Clothes’ by ELF Kids Videos. 

If you have an Interactive Whiteboard you might also like LanternFish’s ‘Winter Quiz Game’‘Winter Quiz Game’, which takes the same format as jeopardy.