Counting down to IATEFL 2016

Here is the second interview as we count down to our IATEFL 2016 Pre-Conference Event. This time we have Marek Kiczkowiak, originally from Poland but having lived and taught in many places – England, Spain, Costa Rica and the Netherlands to name but a few. Here he answers 5 questions about his work in ELT and teacher development – we hope you enjoy the read!

1. How did you get into English language teaching?

I first started teaching back in 2008 when I was doing my undergrad degree in English Philology in Poznań, Poland. More out of financial necessity than anything else. I soon discovered, though, that I quite liked it. When I finished my BA, I wanted to go to Latin America and travel around, so I started looking for teaching positions and was lucky to end up in a really good International House school in Costa Rica. After the year there, I knew that teaching English was something I wanted to do for the foreseeable future. Funnily, though, my dad reminded me recently that when I started my BA and he asked me whether I would teach English after graduating, I apparently exclaimed: ‘No way!’.

2. Can you share a critical moment in your development as an ELT professional? What happened, what did you do and what was the impact of it?

There were two such moments, both unfortunately, or fortunately, depending how you look at it, to do with my being a ‘non-native speaker’. First was when I was finishing my contract at IH San Sebastian and was looking for job opportunities at IH Lisbon. My application was turned down, because I was a ‘non-native speaker’. This was the first time I’d ever thought of myself in this way. I was furious, but fortunately rather than punching somebody, I managed to vent my anger in a more positive way. I wrote an article which appeared in EL Gazette, as a result of which IH World changed their hiring policies (at least officially on their websites). I almost forgot about the incident, worked in Hungary and Costa Rica for two years, did my DELTA, became an IELTS examiner, and then it happened all over again. This time in the Netherlands. This time, apart from writing an article which appeared in the TESOL NNEST Interest Section Newsletter (NNEST stands for Non-Native English-Speaking Teacher), I became more interested in the topic and discovered that there was actually a vibrant online community (see NNEST and Budapest NNEST FB groups), as well as a whole academic field within ELT interested in ‘non-native speakers’, their role in ELT, hiring policies, ELF, etc. In fact, there was a NNEST Interest Section within TESOL International Association. As a result of my growing interest, I gave my first ever conference talk together with my former DELTA tutor at BELTA 2013 entitled ‘Myths and Misconceptions that just won’t go away’. After the conference, the idea of setting up an online space where people could talk about these issues freely, share articles and promote equal employment opportunities for NESTs and NNESTs started germinating. Soon, TEFL Equity Advocates was born. One last result of my growing interest in NNEST issues is that in September 2015 I started a PhD degree in TESOL.

3. The blurb for your TDSIG PCE talk says ‘being a successful English teacher is so much more than being highly proficient in a language’. Can you tell us a little bit more? (without giving the whole talk away!)

Sure. When we look at job ads, it seems that being a ‘native speaker’ has become the most sought after ‘qualification’ – according to research around 75% of all job ads online are for NESTs only. ELT has become obsessed with an imagined and idealised proficiency in a language, which seems relegate everything else into a ‘less important’ status, to say the least. This obsession with native-like proficiency (whatever that is supposed to mean) puts into question the very idea of learning, teaching and qualifications – after all, once you’re born a linguistically ‘handicapped’ NNS, there’s nothing you can do, but hope that one day you will be graciously awarded the ‘near native speaker’ or ‘native-like’ status.

I also want to link back to last year’s talk by Higor Cavalcante. While I agree with him in principle that as a NNS you have to be sufficiently proficient in the language to be able to teach it, too much emphasis I think is being placed on proficiency. As David Crystal said in this interview: ‘All sorts of people are fluent, but only some are sufficiently aware of the language to be able to teach it’. In other words, proficiency in a language is but a small part of an English teacher’s subject knowledge, which in turn is only one aspect which contributes to successful teaching. In the talk I will use data from my own as well as published research to explore what makes some teachers more effective than others, and look at ways in which we can cultivate these traits in ourselves.

4. What are your three top tips for teachers who want to start thinking about their development?

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. Pick one weakness you’d like to work on and prepare a professional development plan.
  • Start blogging – it’s a great way to network with other teachers around the world and to reflect on your practice.
  • Don’t be afraid to try out new ideas. If you’ve read about an interesting new activity, use it in class, and reflect on how it went.


5. Finally, if you had a magic wand what is the one thing you would change about ELT?

I would like both ELTers and the wider public to finally understand that being a ‘native speaker’ has as much to do with effective teaching as the colour of your hair. We need to give up the old-fashioned and neo-colonial notion that a ‘native speaker’ (preferably a white and Caucasian looking one) knows the language perfectly and is therefore the best teacher, while its ‘non-native’ counterpart is an irreparably flawed imitation. Nobody knows the language perfectly. Especially a language as varied as English. And knowing the language is not necessarily a guarantor of effective teaching.

And notice that I have been using ‘native speaker’ in inverted commas throughout, because the problem is that the term is far from neutral or objective. It has acquired a heavy ideological baggage. Many people still think of the ‘native speaker’ in the Chomskyan sense, as the omniscient language ideal. And preferably a monolingual one since bilingualism ‘corrupts’. In some places, you need to be white and come from one of the 7 Inner Circle* countries. This of course excludes anyone from the other 50-odd countries where English is an official language. It also excludes ‘native speakers’ of non-Caucasian descent. The more you think about it, the more maddening it becomes. ELT would be a much better place if we stopped using ‘native speaker’ as if it was an objective and well-defined benchmark or goal, and dropped it all together.

To sum up, I’ve taught three languages over the years, and have studied 6. And if there’s one thing I learned from this experience, it would be that both ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speakers can be horrible and fantastic teachers. Your L1 is irrelevant.

Thank you very much and we all look forward to seeing you in Birmingham in April!

*Web editor’s note: The Inner Circle is described by Kachru as ‘the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, anglophone Canada and South Africa, and some of the Caribbean territories’ [source: Wikipedia accessed 10.02.2016]

marek-kiczkowiak-tdsig-pceOriginally from Poland, Marek is an IELTS examiner, holds DELTA and a BA in English. He’s taught English in six countries and is currently working towards a PhD in TESOL at York University. He advocates equal employment opportunities for non-native English speaking teachers through TEFL Equity Advocates, co-authors The TEFL Show podcasts and blogs at TEFL Reflections.



Join us in Birmingham

You can book your place at our Pre-Conference Event by going to the IATEFL registration page for Birmingham 2016. This link will take you to the secure area on the IATEFL website where you can book a place at the conference, whether or not you are a member of the association. You can choose just to book a place at our event or for the whole conference. To book your place for The Teacher’s Voice tickets are £78 for IATEFL Members and £93 for Non-Members (you do not have to be a member of TDSIG to come to our PCE).

Keep an eye on the blog for more in the run up to our PCE, as well as previews of our SIG day speakers in the main IATEFL conference.

We look forward to seeing you in April!