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Teacher sues over native-speakerism

“We are only allowed to hire native speaker[s]. I am so sorry as your CV is really interesting.”

Rachel Tsateri received this message after applying for a job with an inlingua language school in Germany, one of over 50 licensees of the Swiss-based brand in that country. Despite over seven years’ experience teaching English and multiple diplomas, Rachel was not even considered for the position. The only reason: her first language is not English, but Greek.

Rachel responded to the original email, pointing out that hiring only native speakers is discrimination. The company employee responded, “I will not discuss about discrimination. To work with native speakers is part of our method and our head office will surely explain that to you.” Rachel contacted the inlingua head office in Switzerland, but never received a response.

In the European Union it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of “… race, colour, ethnic or social origin…language, religion or belief”. With this in mind, Rachel posted about her experience on Facebook. Her professional network shot back their support, advising her to contact both the TEFL Workers’ Union and the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency in Germany.

“Because the company never interviewed Rachel, they could not comment 
upon her language expertise or accent”

Both organisations confirmed what Rachel knew: denying work based on a candidate’s first language is indeed discriminatory and she could sue.

They also added that, because the company never interviewed Rachel, they could not comment upon her language expertise or accent. Simply put, there was no justification for not giving her a chance based on her background.

Working part-time and studying as well, Rachel was hesitant at first about suing the inlingua school, but after so many other teachers came forward to support her, she decided to hire a lawyer.

Meanwhile, the German school, which had not replied to her original complaint, responded to her social media posts, writing, “Dear Rachel, we are sorry that you feel that you have not been treated fairly”.

They explained that hiring only native speakers is part of their ‘method’, continuing: “An integral part of this method, and a unique selling point, is the requirement that teachers teach in their native language.”

The community rallied around Rachel. One post read, “Dear inlingua, Rachel feels she has been treated unfairly because she *has* been treated unfairly. ‘Feel’ is a linking verb used to express a sentiment, not a fact. Being native is not a qualification.”

Another pointed out that “the idea that a teacher can only teach their native language is woefully behind the times and not supported by any research I have come across as a language educator in my 15 years of teaching and education”.

The inlingua school concerned is not shy about their bias for native speakers either. They published on their site “[our method] is successful and effective because the training is done by native speakers”.

“It has been a quality feature of inlingua for decades that the inlinga 
schools primarily work with native speakers”

The Gazette contacted inlingua head office for comment. CEO Jürg Heiniger responded, confirming that, “It has been a quality feature of inlingua for decades that the inlingua schools primarily work with native speakers”.

However, he emphasises, “We are aware that being a native speaker cannot be a condition for employment in several countries, so we adapted the licence contract with the inlingua licensees more than 15 years ago and changed to the expression ‘mother tongue proficiency’”.

The company, which has licensees in 36 countries, never enforces the use of native-speaker teachers in places where it is illegal to employ people on the basis of their first language. “Our licensees are aware of this and the case you are referring to is, as far as I know, an isolated incident”.

Rachel is continuing with her case against the school and encourages others to speak out, saying, “No more culture of silence. I hope more [non- native English speaking] teachers start naming and shaming centres.”

Gerald Nikolai Smith is an online ESL teacher and MSc journalism student at the University of Sterling. A native Texan he lives in a small town in Scotland.

Images courtesy of PHOTO SHUTTERSTOCK. POSED BY MODEL and Library
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