John Larrysson Column: What is a NET?

A Hong Kong primary school with a band one reputation, and band three performance, tried to hire a native English speaking teacher through a local agency. The agency sent them three candidates. Alex Anderson, Brian Bulgakov and Clara Chan (not their real names). All three of them were born and raised in England and were native English speakers (NETs).

Clara Chan was the first candidate. The school's principal rejected Clara at once because she was Chinese and therefore, he assumed, must not speak English as well as a native speaker. He was wrong and was rude to her. She is a native English speaker and speaks standard English better than most people of old UK ancestor. Her parents emigrated to the UK from Hong Kong; so Clara speaks some Cantonese. She has a degree in early childhood education and taught in the UK for two years.

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Brian Bulgakov was sent next. At first the school reacted well when they saw Brian. He looked like a real burly Englishman. Then they saw his name and were upset. The principal complained to the agency, “You sent us another foreigner. We want a real Englishman.” (Ironically anyone from the UK would be a foreigner in Hong Kong.) Brian's grandfather emigrated to the UK from Russia after the first world war. Brian only speaks a few words of Russian and is a native English speaker. He also has a masters degree in education and a bachelors degree in the study of languages (applied linguistics). Brian has been teaching English in Asia for more than twenty years and speaks excellent Putonghua. He speaks better Putonghua than the school principal, who is Hong Kong Chinese.

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Finally the agency in exasperation sent them Alex. Alex was a real Englishman. His ancestors came to England more than a thousand years ago as Viking raiders. The school hired him at once. He spoke a local UK dialect of English and not standard international English, like Clara and Brian. He had no university degree and in fact had not finished secondary school. When he wrote on the blackboard he often misspelled words. When his misspellings were noticed he avoided embarrassment by saying that it was the American spelling. The children then took notes and used the new spelling.

Clara and Brian got jobs at better schools. Alex caused problems for his principal, which is fair. However Alex's students did not deserve to be confused and have their class time wasted being taught poor English. There is a moral to this story. Racism is more likely to hurt the person who is being racist than the people who are being discriminated against.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.