The Language Proficiency GHOST!

The English language proficiency ghost has still been hovering over novel and experienced non-native teachers. When a new teaching position or professional development opportunity pops up, despite the deep desire to fill in that open spot, there comes the BOOH of not being “good enough” in the language we are supposed to master and use just as well as our own.

An immediate consequence of the “Is your English good enough?” question is the segregation between native and non-native English speakers in the job market. Many job ads require the candidate to be a native speaker. Those that do not might either require an internationally recognized language proficiency certificate or submit candidates to a language proficiency test right out. This list just goes on and on just as well as teachers’ fears. Unfortunately, our problems do not end at the entrance door. Candidates who manage to convince administrators of their language capacity and achieve a teaching or office position may still face competition among insiders.

We all know that teaching a foreign language includes different types of knowledge which include pedagogical knowledge, contextual knowledge, technological knowledge and reflexive knowledge, to name a few. However, the linguistic knowledge seems to overrule them all. That is the very reason why candidates with a Foreign Language Education degree share the language market with English native speakers, just because…they sound “natural”.

The reason why I have decided to write about this topic is that I feel a need for more sensitivity when language proficiency is the tiebreaker in the job market game. As professionals of the language education field, we all know how complex it is to foster language learning and deal with learner characteristics. We know better than the “language proficiency war”. I have hired teachers with limited linguistic knowledge for a specific job and they have done incredibly well because they hold the lead in more relevant teaching capacities.

Therefore, my word of wisdom to new administrators and lead teachers as they select faculty or hire material writers is this: language proficiency is really not the most important requirement. Being sensitive to other types of knowledge and capacities might save institutions from jeopardizing their educational goals in favor of a “better-sounding teacher”. The other word of wisdom is to peer teachers: let us educate the market about what makes a good language teacher. Let us stop criticizing our fellow educators who are more limited in the target language. We all have our language barriers, but we are all “good enough” to teach someone else.

Anderson Maia

Anderson Maia is currently the dean of a campus at Universidade Federal do Pará and a PhD in TESOL candidate at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. He was the academic manager at Centro Cultural Brasil Estados Unidos for 6 years, an adjunct TESOL professor at private colleges for several years, and has been an English language educator for 15 years in both Brazil and North Carolina, USA. He holds a degree in English and an MA in TESOL from Greensboro College, USA.

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