Have you been toying with the idea of using your language skills to fuel your journey across the world? There’s a speed-bump on the happily travel after - you can speak English, can’t you? Yes you, the convent-educated, Jesuit-college-literature graduate. Even you, certified by an international body that you know when it’s its. You’re still not considered a ‘Native English Speaker’.
The prejudice is a combination of our education system being held in low esteem and being the kind of skin colour that implies you don’t think in English - despite English being India’s second official language.
The Road Map:
Schools across Eastern Europe, South America, South East Asia and Japan look for volunteers to teach conversational English. There are also positions for long-term, professional teachers. Those hoping to be teaching vagabonds usually head to the British Council to enroll in a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course. The British Council says CELTA is recognised by thousands of language schools, universities and teaching organisations around the world. The centres are Cambridge University certified and the full-time course spans four weeks - 120 hours of training input and teaching practice; candidates can expect to put in another 80 hours on lesson preparation and written assignments.
“The course focuses on teaching and learning contexts; language analysis and awareness; language skills of reading, listening, speaking and writing; developing teaching skills and professionalism,” says Samantha Harvey, Director, West India and British Council. The course is held in Mumbai only twice a year, costs Rs 1,10,000 and each batch has 12-15 students. “It requires application and interview to Cambridge regulations and standards,” Harvey adds. After this brutal culling, it wouldn’t be wishful to think that English Speaking is tattooed on the students’ foreheads.
However, as Andheri resident Raji Chacko found out, this doesn’t help if you are the wrong skin colour. Raji is a English Literature graduate from Sophia College and has worked as an editor in newspapers and MNCs - KPMG and Lehman Brothers (later acquired by the Nomura Group), among others. After more than 11 years of working with English, she sold off her assets, enrolled in CELTA and packed her bags. “I had hoped that this would pave the way for teaching opportunities in non-English speaking nations,” she says. “I had no expectations of finding jobs in Europe; I assumed they would be filled by British or American citizens; I was hoping Latin America or East Asia.” She found that East Asian countries don’t issue work permits to non-native English teachers.
“Europeans look for someone with an EU visa to make their hiring process relatively pain-free,”she says. Almost every job advert specifies a similar requirement. “Some Asian countries require a photograph with the application,” Raji adds. “While it might be merely to establish that you look professional, the niggling thought that it’s also to ascertain if you are the correct skin colour is difficult to banish and is reiterated in CELTA-related forums. A forum once pointed out that some Taiwanese schools take into account the skin colour so that parents feel they are getting their money’s worth.”
In one instance, an Indian of Iranian descent breezed through interviews and applications until they saw her school certificates, which were from India. “I don’t look like a traditional Indian and my accent is neutral,” explains the 30-year-old. Manikandan Vasudevan, a commerce graduate, took up CELTA to become a corporate trainer abroad. Even he’s been shown the ‘Only Native English Speakers’ sign.
The Asian Brand:
Stuart, a recruiter in China, confirms the bias, “CELTA and TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) graduates from India face an extremely difficult challenge in finding jobs in China. We work with over 300 schools and universities and all of them are now asking for ‘native-speakers’ only. The ‘Big Six’ are the UK and Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (whose native language is Afrikaans, which has Dutch origin).”
He says that some schools would accept non-native speakers, as long as their accent was neutral and language awareness, exceptional. “A chain of schools in the south of China won’t accept the Irish because they think they speak Gaelic,” he says. “Much of this is plain ignorance.” A few Indian teachers do live and work there. “[But] one danger of working in small, independent, rural-area schools is the lack of professional support, poor career development and a raised chance of being cheated,” Stuart says.
Not just a Colour Bias:
Usha Venkatachalam, a CELTA tutor and assessor, says we are too quick to call this attitude racist. She has taught in Australia, UK, Malayasia and South Africa, and says that China and Korea are wary of backpackers who want to make quick money. “The demand for Indian teachers went up during the Beijing Olympics,” she says. “They are looking for people with exceptional language skills; many candidates make errors in the covering letter. Sometimes their accents interfere with comprehension. One also needs to be familiar with the work culture. In Australia, they expect a detailed covering letter. You have to build a portfolio, give student testimonials, write an essay on how you can fulfil the criteria, prove statistically your communication skills and support everything with instances.”
England, Usha points out, is an equal opportunity employer. Many short-term English courses spring up in the summer, supplying ample opportunity. The fair-skinned teacher mentioned before now has a balanced point of view, “I used to be offended, but after I joined an IB (International Baccalaureate) school, I am able to understand their requirements better,” she says. “A B Ed (Bachelor of Education) degree in India is for nine months, with almost no practical coursework. A B.Ed in Australia is four-years long.”
One might argue that Indians learn in nine months what others take years, but that isn’t going to put visa stamps on your passport.
Courtesy: Mumbai Mirror