Changing my name to get ahead in ELT

These days many ELT professionals and initiatives are trying to fight the NS-NNS discrimination, EVE included, but it seems we still have a long way to go. Why am I saying this?

I was recently told I should change my name, anglicize it if I wanted to be published since I was a non-native speaker of English. My name suggested that my English proficiency was not satisfactory if I wanted to be a writer, a published author. I was stunned, baffled, speechless. I didn’t know whether  the person was serious or simply joking with me. Unfortunately, the NS was serious.

Well, I am sorry my dear native speaker ‘friend’, my name is part of my identity as a person and as an ELT professional. What if I asked you to change your name, make it sound less British or American if you wanted to be published, asked to deliver a talk, or simply be a teacher?How would that make you feel?

It reminds me of the quote from Braine (1999) “Although most native speaker colleagues are supportive, some administrators and colleagues appear to view English language teaching as the sole domain of native speakers. This attitude is highly ironic, considering our profession’s strident championing of multiculturalism, diversity, and other worthy sociopolitical causes, often on behalf of ESL students and immigrants.”

This attitude needs to change, not just in regard to teaching, but also writing. How many books have you read that were written by speakers of other languages who wrote/write in English? I can name a few –Roald Dahl,Haruki Murakami, Vladimir Nabokov… For me writing in another language is a challenge, linguistic and personal. It’s the allure of new words and phrases that  prompts me to write in English. Writing in another language also provides me with the opportunity  to look at things from a different perspective, perhaps in a way I would never look at them. As a proficient speaker of three different languages (I use them on daily basis so there is a lot of code switching for my brain) I change my personality depending on which of the three languages I am using at that moment. It’s the same with writing. I can write differently about the same thing depending on the language I am using.

So, the question is:

Will changing my name make me a better writer of English and thus more appealing to the publishing world?

My answer: I don’t think so.

But I have some other questions as well.

After all the plenary talks, presentations, workshops on this topic, are we still really not aware of the fact that we can no longer talk about NS and NNS but only about professional qualifications, content knowledge, and overall professionalism? Are we really still that narrow-minded? Haven’t we learnt anything?

My answer: Maybe not.

And no, I’m not changing my name.

Aleksandra Popovski

Braine, G. (1999). Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL Caucus formed. TESOL Matters, 9(1), 1-2.

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