The Ugly Truth About Teaching English Abroad: Fighting Discrimination Against Minorities
Whoever invented the word ‘Minority’ is getting into my nerves. I thought a lot about this: “Will I put this awful word in the title of this blog post?” I was called one, a lot of times and never did I back down. “Excuse me? Who are you calling minority?”
I come from a continent where English As a Second Language (ESL) is another world. With its popularity, it can pass to be called a different Universe. ESL is so big in Asia that it’s today’s most popular destination for teaching English abroad.
However, in the Philippines, we don’t have those. Filipinos’ medium of instruction in school is English and we pretty much grew up speaking a lot of English. I remember when I first went to Italy to study, “how can people study math in Italian? It’s pretty difficult.” I thought. I grew up believing that every school in the world instructs in English. But that is not the case. The American colonization in the Philippines is a long story — and we all know about that. Bottom line, we speak English.
Last year, Amy Chavez, a contributor of the Huffington Post wrote that the Philippines have mastered English as a means of communication and just not as a subject in school. The whole country starts learning English at a very young age and uses it in practice. Billboards in Manila are all in English; TV shows are in English; even news are reported in English! The exposure of Filipinos to English outside the classroom is one of the reasons for the success of the country’s English learning tactics.
Every year, the Philippines produces 500,000 college graduates who are all fluent in English. With this, the country’s BPO increased as more and more companies abroad are building call center agencies within the country. Most American clients prefer Filipinos to attend to their needs because of their easy adaptation with the American accent.
Today, it is being debated if the Philippines should be included in the official list of native English speakers in the world.
When I first applied in China as an English teacher…
I applied online and had to finish a lot of paperworks, submit all the legal documents needed and in the end, I didn’t get a response. Why? Because I put Philippines as my country.
I tried again. This time, I put The Netherlands as my home country. Within 24 hours, I received a response and they scheduled a Skype interview. It was the most horrible job interview of my life — as soon as they saw that I am too Asian on camera, they automatically said no. Having taught English in Japan, my accent and teaching records passed however, they emphasised that they need “native” English speakers. Meaning, someone “white.”
Let’s take a moment to stop and reflect: What do we really mean when we say “native” English speakers?
The United Kingdom government listed the following countries as majority native English speaking:
[column]Antigua and Barbuda
[column]St Kitts and Nevis
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
United States of America[/column]
I wouldn’t even consider Australia or Canada as native English speakers. A lot of Australians are struggling to use the proper English because of their slangs. Can you believe I had 2 Australian students last year who wanted to take an English proficiency exam? Yes, I taught those ‘natives’ to prepare for their International exam and score an English teaching job in South America.
On the other hand, French is also an official language in Canada. During my travels, I never met anyone from Quebec or Montreal who speaks fluent English.
However, I am still learning and I respect the official list. I just need to understand why I wouldn’t be eligible to teach English abroad while a Dutch, French, German, Polish, Slovak, et al, can, just because they are white.
Say No To Racism
White people are like celebrities in Asia. Whenever an American walks in the streets, everyone would look and even take pictures of them. In most parts of the continent, hiring is based on physical attributes because parents won’t enrol their kids to an English Learning Centre if a teacher is Asian. The strength of the teacher is based on hair colour, height and skin colour because they think these teachers are more credible than the rest. Asian parents are very much concerned about their children’s learning environment which pushes companies to hire more ‘white’ people. Some can even get away with not having a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate! As long as you’re ‘white,’ you’re hired!
Bullcrap. I’ve met a lot of Malaysians, Singaporeans, Vietnamese and Indians who are more fluent than any Europeans, Australians or Canadians I met.
I think it’s the same case all over the world. In Peru, I had to pretend that I have an Australian boyfriend just to score a teaching job. Of course, I didn’t push through. I will never put myself in a situation where I have to identify my individuality with another person, let alone a man.
In Brasil, despite my stellar profile in teaching English abroad, my ex-boyfriend (a Mexican but looks like an American) who is new to teaching got accepted and it was his first teaching rodeo. The Japanese immigrants in Brasil is huge and the employer thought I am a Japanese-Brasilian and wouldn’t be qualified to teach. I kept explaining I am from the Philippines and he still ignored it. I am deeply staggered by the fact that the employer was only interested in talking to my ex boyfriend and totally ignored me while looking at my impressive teaching resume.
I am almost giving up on teaching English abroad to finance my travel because I would never want to argue about my capacity as a human being, as an Asian and as an English teacher. I am good at what I do and you are too! I encourage you to join me in fighting discrimination against Asians teaching English abroad.