Julia Surovegina

Can you be a good English teacher if you are a non-native?

This post has been long overdue and I’ve been putting it off till a better time and as usually it never seemed to come. The situation that happened to me a few weeks ago has evoked so many emotions inside of me that I am still feeling highly motivated to share this with you and my thoughts on the topic. Hopefully, my story will inspire you to believe in yourself and will shed some light on the injustice that many non-native speakers have to face.


Long story short, for the past 2 months I’ve been working for the company which is considered to be one of the leading ESL education providers in Vietnam. I’m more than satisfied with this job and can’t be more excited about the opportunity that has been given to me. The deal is that they claim to be hiring only 100% native speakers and as the company is a really serious one this statement is an actual truth as opposed to most schools in China which hire anybody with more or less decent English and then present them as Australians or Canadians. I can verify this by saying that all teachers that I’ve met in Hanoi (i.e. around 30-40 of them) so far are Americans, British, Irish, South Africans, Canadians and Australians with the only exception of one Dutch coach whose English is impeccable.

Why is this information important? I’m going to tell you in a bit. This little pre-story is essential for you to understand the whole drama of the situation fully so bear with me. 

IMG_1356I was an extremely lucky person who after having 2 Skype interviews with HR managers was offered a job in this amazing education center. After some visa procedures I found myself in Hanoi being put through a strenuous training of one week. During this period of time me and about 10 other trainees had to prove to our coach that we were able to follow the company’s teaching method using technology and their own textbooks. Mind you, all of my peers at this stage were native speakers as well and I was expected to give them sort of mock classes every single day (that was about the biggest part of the training itself). Upon successful completion of the final test and lesson simulations we were given the contracts to sign.

Now let’s fast-forward about 1.5 month me working for the company and enjoying every bit of it to the recent days. One of my student’s moms hears her daughter mispronouncing the word “clean” when doing her homework and immediately decides that there is no way that her precious child could have grasped the phonetics of this word wrong and thaIMG_1397t means that the only possible explanation to this misfortune is teacher’s mispronunciation. Meanwhile she asks her older son who happens to be my student as well to inquire about my background. Being completely oblivious to this whole occurrence I spit out the truth and tell him I am Russian.

In just a few days my head-teacher contacts me and says that there has been an unpleasant talk between our branch manager and this parent and she is now blaming the company for cheating her and claiming that she has been sold something different from what the sales managers have promised in the pamphlet. In a nutshell, everybody starting from our teacher assistants, branch manager and head teacher up to HR managers who hired me in the first place and even people with higher authority were trying to convince her that the exception has been made on the grounds of IMG_0664my education, experience, certificates and English proficiency. She was offered to watch the videos of my classes, presented with all the positive feedback from students and proposed to have a personal meeting with me to assess my English skills on her own. On top of that they’ve sent her en email with all my documents proving all said above. None of these were good enough for her and she refused to have any contact with me.

After a few attempts to assure her that my accent doesn’t give away my nationality and there is no way I could have mispronounced such a simple word as “clean” the managers gave up and hoped that changing the teacher was going to be a proper solution to this issue.

Little did they know that this lady was a big shot and quite influential in certain lIMG_0743 2ocal communities. She promised them that if I wasn’t fired she would spill the beans to everybody and make sure that every single person in the city knows that the company is a cheater. Obviously, for such a big and serious corporation reputation goes a long way so they had to address this threat somehow. Luckily for me, they have found the way to keep me in the company and not stress that malicious woman out at the same time. And at the end of the day everything turned out to be even beneficial for me.

Nevertheless, the point of this post is to encourage others not to feel inferior to native speakers. The right to be an English teacher is not given by the place of birth mentioned in yIMG_1399-1-300x225our passport. If you are a truly passionate professional who cares about your students’ results and always strives to be a better version of yourself, no native can stand in your way.

I completely agree that your English has to be fluent, accurate and clear and there is no limit to your self-development and mastering the language. However, I also strongly believe that your knowledge, dedication, energy and hard work play a key role in becoming a great English teacher.