Who ‘owns’ the English Language?

I watched a video by Marek Kiczkowiac recently. In it, he asked a question that rather got me thinking.

‘What is correct English and who gets to decide?’

On the face of it, that’s an easy answer, it’s us native speakers, surely. 

But is it really?

There are some 2 billion people in the world who use English, only 360 million of them are actually native speakers. So non-native speakers of English outnumber the natives by 6:1 (ish – I teach English not maths). So why should the native speakers have the overriding say-so?

A few years ago I was (rather unceremoniously) ejected from a Facebook group for English language teachers. My offence? To enter into an animated ‘discussion’ with the admin/owner on the native/non-native debate. In the admin’s defence (this is me being unduly generous…), this was a while ago, however, a recent crossing of paths suggests that this person is still an arse.

The basic tenet of the discussion was as follows:

It was suggested that it was only right that native speaker teachers should earn more than non-native speakers even if they are less well qualified (if at all). I disagreed. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing the admin came up with a line that will remain with me for a very long time.

‘Why would you have a Tesco bag when you can have a Gucci?’

This person was calling qualified and experienced non-native speaker teachers plastic carrier bags, and native speakers, regardless of experience or qualifications, designer handbags. The  suggestion being that a Gucci bag was infinitely better and more desirable than a Tesco bag. For anyone lacking the cultural context, Tesco is a supermarket – and not a particularly upmarket one at that. It was my rather incredulous and none-too-polite response that had me ejected.

Thinking back on the whole debacle, maybe his analogy, while misplaced and intended as an insult, is actually not that far off the mark.

There are many many situations when a Tesco carrier bag is exactly what is called for. It is practical, everyone is able to have one, it serves a really useful purpose, keeps stuff dry, holds shopping, can be used to store goods, can be kept in your handbag for unexpected emergencies, fits in your pocket to be whipped out at a moment’s notice etc.

In my 40 something years of life I have never needed a Gucci handbag. What would I do with it? I’d worry about keeping it clean or losing it, I’d never be able to fit all of the unmitigated crap that I tend to carry around in it. It wouldn’t match any of my scruffy clothes and I’d feel ridiculous and somewhat pretentious using it. 

To be honest, when I need a bag I tend to whip out my sewing machine and make my own; that way I know it will do exactly what I need it to do. I recently made one with three zip pockets, loads of compartments and a padded bit for my laptop – it was what I needed at the time.

The same goes for English. David Crystal used the term ‘Englishes’ to talk about all of the different types of English in the world. Our learners need the English that best suits their needs. IT types need the English of software and programming. Restaurateurs need the English of sauces, market gardens and cooking techniques (or even just pizza toppings). HR workers need the English of hiring and firing and dealing with stupidity. I have one student  who needs the English of making small cardboard boxes with huge complicated machines (I kid you not). They need the teachers best able to guide them in their learning; this suitability comes from the teacher’s ability, experience, qualifications, style and personality. Not the language of their first words. The English that each learner needs has to fit their context. If they aren’t going to be living in Yorkshire do they really need to know what ‘mardy’ and ‘claggy’ and ‘reet’ mean? If they are never going to visit the US, why do they need to have all of the cultural contexts of life in downtown Milwaukee?

We, native speakers, do not own the language; I don’t even believe that we are custodians of it. Those that use it own the language. 

In the US it is common to say ‘on Christmas’, whereas in the UK ‘at Christmas’ is correct. It is not a question of right or wrong, it is all about context; who needs it, what they need it for, who they are speaking to etc. There are more Indian English speakers (as L1, L2 or L3) than UK, South African, Australian and New Zealand English speakers combined. Indian English does not follow all of the same rules as British English, there are differences in pronunciation, some use of grammar and the use of vocabulary that would be considered archaic in the UK/US etc. These differences do not make Indian English ‘wrong’; Indian English serves its own purpose, to enable some 250 million people to communicate both with each other and with the rest of the world.

As both a teacher and a language learner, I really don’t care where you come from (in the nicest possible way). I don’t expect my learners to come out of a course of lessons with me with a home counties RP accent, neither do I expect to sound exactly like my French teacher – a native accent is often an unrealistic and, frankly, unattainable goal for 95% (I made that up, but there are probably figures somewhere) of learners.

If, like my cardboard box manufacturing student, you live and work in France, but need English to communicate with German and Italian engineers, there must be an argument that an Italian or German (L1) English teacher might be better. They would be able to teach the accents that my student is likely to come across, they would be better able to teach the cultural translations of the other NNESs that the student is likely to encounter. As I live and work in France, a French native teacher would be really great, but perhaps an English (L1) French teacher might be better placed to help me with my pronunciation and common cultural pitfalls and miscommunications. 

The point is, a bag is a bag. I want the bag that is best suited to my needs. If you, as a teacher, can teach me what I need to know, then you’re hired. 

To me, all qualified and experienced teachers are pure Gucci. Perhaps it is high time we started to make this clearer to our students (and their parents).


ELT – So Much More Than Just Work…

This guest post from Daniela Petrovska looks at some of the advantages to English language teaching, other than the warm fuzzy glow we get from imparting our knowledge.

Skopje – Barcelona – Moscow – Prague

It looks like an itinerary, doesn’t it? That is the case for me and could be for anyone interested in teaching English.

My major in translation would not let me go for anything else back in my university days, but my inner coach guided me to my first voluntary teaching position. Having no expectations whatsoever, the students took to me right away, which opened my eyes to what I am cut out for. – interaction with people while feeling appreciated and able to give students what they need to reach their goals.

You are probably asking yourselves ‘Can it get any better?’ It sure can. This is when travelling steps in, greets you with a big smile and introduces you to a whole new world of ever-growing opportunities. Not only it does take you to different places in the world, but it also gets you see your worth by pushing your limits just as much as you are ready for. It might sound scary, you might think this is something you wouldn’t be able to cope with, but once you start meeting colleagues in the same boat as you, you immediately have someone to lend you an ear and cater to your needs. No matter how overwhelmed you might feel living alone in a foreign country, you can always turn to your social life.

If you find yourself living as an expat in my hometown Skopje, you will be invited to a local’s house, I guarantee. Your host will ask if you are hungry and trust me, saying ‘no’ will not spare you from getting fed. Not only do we assume, but we are sure, guests are just too shy to admit they are hungry, so you better go for a visit with an empty stomach. You might want to take a bag with you in case the host does not have one for the food they will give you for you to eat the following day(s).

What about Barcelona? Hmm, imagine waking up to the soothing sound of the waves, strolling on the beach after work to recharge your batteries, laughing with passers-by and most likely getting a hug from a good friend you almost certainly will run into. And you thought Barcelona is pricey, right? Not once you realize the best things in life have no price.  

How about spending time with some of the warmest people in the world in freezing cold weather? No matter how much it sounds like an oxymoron, the paradox it reveals adds to the unfolding rewards an English teacher can get. Snowflakes leading you to the next restaurant, having a drink or two with compassionate people while watching the world go by are some of Moscow’s treasures. Seeing men carrying flowers for their women will make you think every day is Mother’s Day in Russia.

Have you ever wanted to work on your time management? Eager to test the water to see how well you can juggle between work and night life? Prague has got your back. Slowly becoming a melting pot, this city selflessly offers its local businesses, impeccably set in captivating architecture, decorated with cobblestones and something for all taste buds.

Having gone through the whole post, I feel like I have reviewed my travel experiences, not work life in foreign countries, but hey let’s be honest. When you work in what you love, it really doesn’t even feel like working. All of this could be just round the corner for you.

No! No! No! – The Three You Need to know…

This guest post is from Philip Pound, founder of EFL Magazine. Some salient advice for freelancers (both teaching and writing) trying to ‘sell’ their work or skills.

A sales trainer once told me, “no matter what you do in life you’re always selling” I may have forgotten most of the rest of that seminar, but that has stuck with me.

If you feel you need a little primer on how to sell, have a read of this article and be sure to do some more research.

  1. Take no for an answer

Many newbies starting out in their sales careers are terrified of rejection. They’re afraid of hearing no. We think when we hear “no” it’s a rejection of us as a person. This is not the case.

Hearing “no” is often our best friend.

Let me explain…

In my 10+ years in sales, if I have learned anything for my efforts, it was your clients say yes when they oftentimes mean no. You get your hopes up, you follow up, and eventually it’s a no.

Why did this happen? “They seemed so positive”, you say. And yes, many times business decisions are made by committee. And yes, it takes only one person to blackball your fantastic proposal.


More often though, It’s your prospect who can’t bear to say “no” You see, if being rejected feels like a hammer blow, having to reject is far worse.

So what happens?

When they mean no they say yes.

In his book, Never Split the Difference, former FBI negotiator Chris Voss Outlines 3 types of yes: Counterfeit, Confirmation, and Commitment.

A “Counterfeit Yes” is when your prospect wants to say no but says yes in order to back of the deal and the feeling of being cornered

A “Confirmation Yes” is when your prospect interchanges yes with “I see” or “ok” for example

A “Commitment Yes” is what you want. It’s your prospect agreeing to take your product or service.

Voss recommends looking for the words “that’s right” as a more accurate gauge of your client’s intention to work with you.

On top of this, Voss advises to actively look for and invite “no” Check out more here

In the end, if getting a no means not having to waste your time following up with prospects. That in itself is a great result.

2. Start with no

Do you hate salespeople?

In surveys over the years, salespeople come out bottom of the least-liked jobs. Why is this? You may have your opinion, but for me one big factor comes out on top.


It’s like this, you see a salesperson sidle up to you with that big smile and over-familiar patter. Sub-consciously you feel we’re going to “be sold”and there’s going to be some manipulation and guilt-tripping involved . Of course, not all salespeople are like this. But they do exist. And we hate how they make us feel.

Why do we feel like this and what can we do as salespeople to not scare away or prospects?

In his book, Start with No, Jim Camp talks about the power of no in negotiations and sales.

One of his tips is to be forthright about your intentions from the very outset. To be clear that you want to sell and what your price is. In this way, the prospect will not have the creepy feeling that there’s an agenda afoot. The air is clear and you can move on. He also talks about the power of no and how seeking and hearing it can help uncover your prospect’s pain points and help you to shape your solution to fit.

3. Always be prepared to say no

When you work in sales there’ll always be a few clients that you’ll stay in touch with even after moving on to another company. One such gentleman once handed me this nugget of advice. I’ve never forgotten it and it’s served me well.

Always be prepared to walk away

The story goes like this: He’d secured the exclusive distribution rights for a famous beverage in Ireland. Then with the contract in hand he went with a lot of optimism to one of that country’s largest retailers. This was a big contract, and undoubtedly one he wanted in the bag.

But he walked away.


Well, the buyer was unnecessarily rude, demeaning, and aggressive.

His response was “ Thank you, but I don’t need your business”

In your business, there’s never a contract that’s too big to lose your self respect and honour over. Think of the long run, the client treats you with contempt or arrogance how is the relationship going to develop? Not well, is it. Being too eager to close a deal also leaves you open to looking desperate. People can smell desperation from a mile away. It’s a sales repellant.

If you’re always ready to say no, you’ll have the upper hand.

Oh, and he landed the contract in the end

10 Easy Ideas for CPD

Join a SIG­

A SIG is a Special Interest Group – Most associations will have them. Joining a SIG gives you the opportunity to mix with other professionals who share your interests and knowledge in a specific area. IATEFL has 16 different SIGs, from Business English to Materials Writing (and many in between). There will often be meetings or conferences organised by the SIG on the specific topic that you are interested in. If you can’t find a SIG to suit your interests – why not start one?

Go to a Conference

Conferences are an excellent way to broaden your horizons, met fellow teaching professionals and learn more about the areas of teaching you are interested in. There are also great opportunities for networking (not everyone’s idea of fun – but important for development nonetheless). There are huge conferences with thousands of delegates and hundreds of sessions, which can be somewhat overwhelming (e.g. IATEFL) and there are many smaller conferences, with a smaller choice of sessions but a more intimate feel (e.g. InnovateELT). Choose one locally or travel abroad and combine it with some sightseeing!

Present at a conference

Once you’ve been to a conference, pluck up the courage to present at one. It might seem terrifying, but it is an excellent way to become proficient in a topic and may even lead to more job opportunities. Start with a small one, and work up to the bigger events.

Lead a Workshop

If the thought of presenting at a conference brings you out in a cold sweat, how about leading a workshop where you teach? You could even go on to take it to other schools, events or even conferences. Starting small, with familiar faces is a great way of dipping your toe into presenting. Choose a topic you are interested in (and/or good at) and share it with your co-workers.

Join a Facebook Group

There are loads of Facebook groups for all sorts of reasons. Choose one (or more) that reflects your interests and contribute. If grammar is your thing, then try Hugh Dellar’s ‘English Questions Answered’ group; if you are after resources then ‘Resources for English Teachers’ maybe useful; if you fancy connecting with teachers from all over the world then the British Council group could be for you.

Try Something New

Once you’ve lurked a while in some Facebook groups, you will have picked up some new ideas – now use them in your classroom. Make a concerted effort to do something different and then take time after to reflect on how it went. How did the learners react? How comfortable did you feel? How did it change your lesson? Did it help your learners? Would you do it again? Why? Why not? Would you change it? How? What went well? What bombed?


Find a colleague that you trust/admire/get on with and collaborate on lessons, activities or curriculum planning. Reflect together, give each other constructive feedback. Be brave and observe each other’s lessons and give feedback. If you observe, make sure you decide in advance what you are looking for – have a specific remit (i.e. error correction, TTT, do you include all learners etc).

Record a Lesson

If you don’t fancy having a colleague critiquing your lesson, why not record your lesson so that you can reflect on it after? Your school may have rules about video, so make sure you get permission. Otherwise, record the audio to remind yourself. You could keep a portfolio of recordings to see your growth as a teacher.

Do Some Action Research

Ask yourself a question about an area of teaching you are interested in or wish to develop and use a reflective process to deepen your understanding. If you have never heard of action research, read this article for more information https://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/continuing-professional-development/teacher-educator-framework/demonstrating-effective-teaching-behaviour/classroom-action-research

Pass It On…

Write an article or post about something that interests you, create a short course to teach others what you know, record a webinar or make a video answer a question that you hear or are asked often. Have you ever been asked for advice? Give that advice to other teachers.

Share what you know with others. Every teacher has something that they know, that they can pass on.

http://www.ELT.Training would LOVE your contributions (other websites & blogs also available!).