Extralocal! Extralocal! Read All About It!

No, you did not misread the title. I can hear you now. You are asking yourself, “Should the phrase not be ‘Extra! Extra! Read all about it!’?” With a quick follow-up question of, “What in the world is extralocal?” Give me a moment. I think you will be pleased with the following explanation.

Dichotomous by nature or as a result of Linguistic Imperialism?

Since time immemorial, the two dichotomous terms, non-native English speaker (NNES) and native English speaker (NES), have been used as weapons of marginalization and as scepters of privilege in the vast field of English language teaching (ELT). In his seminal work, Linguistic Imperialism, Phillipson (1992) explored in great detail the exploitation of the English language by the often-unmitigated power of historically dominant English-speaking cultures. Over the past thirty years, various international ELT organizations have confronted and have tried to overcome many of the elements of linguist imperialism mentioned in Phillipson’s work. Yet, very little progress has been made in eliminating the connotations surrounding the NNES and NES labels.

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As we have seen in the field of ELT, especially over the past two decades, researchers have tried to come up with alternative terms to replace the NNES label, such as bilingual, multilingual, transnational, international, or L2 (second language) speakers. Although these terms have been introduced to remove the negative connotation and replace the archaic and often offensive term of NNES, none of these substitute terms successfully replaced the historically ingrained NNES label.

I often ask why is there not much research focusing on also replacing the NES label? Does the NES label not have similar linguistic imperialist connotations? Do both the NNES and NES labels not come from an old-fashioned linguistic imperialist mindset?

So, I did some digging.

“What’s in a name?”

In the world of ELT, we learn that most words or terms in languages have double meanings; the actual literal meaning and the perceived meaning that is innate within the culture or society. The literal or denotative meaning is the explicit meaning that is found in most dictionaries. Then there is the connotative meaning, or the inherited feeling or idea associated with a word or term.

Take the NNES and NES labels, for instance. Although the denotative meanings are quite clear, the connotative meanings associated with these terms have been a source of bitter discussions for many years. I guess I might be naïve, but I often wonder, in our modern ELT culture, why are these often painful and contradictory discussions surrounding the NNES and NES labels continuing?

After perusing much literature about the preferences of educational administrators, school directors and principles, parents, and even students, in respect to ELT educators, I found that most prefer a Caucasian NES teacher with an American or British accent. I also found that the Caucasian American or British NES teacher is often chosen because linguistic imperialism still permeates the global ELT culture. I then must ask what makes me, as a Caucasian American NES teacher, an archetype English teacher who is better at teaching English than an equally qualified and experienced NNES teacher with a similar English proficiency level. I cannot think of a thing and makes me better than someone else who is equally competent.

As global ELT educators, we believe that every educator should be judged on their qualifications, experience, and language proficiency, rather than the NNES or NES labels, the color of one’s skin, gender, ethnicity or nationality, or first language. But how to break this antiquated linguistic imperialist mindset and promulgate a more modern way of thinking when it comes to ELT educators? Better yet, what homogeneous terms could replace the outdated NNES and NES labels?

“That which we call a rose…”

The problem with the NNES and NES labels is not the denotative meanings but the linguistic imperialist connotative meanings. Education stakeholders often associate NNES educators as deficient English teachers and NES educators as master representative teachers of English. These patrons often fail to consider the qualifications, experience, English language proficiency, or even the competency of ELT educators. They only look at the color of their skin or the ethnicity or nationality of the ELT educators.

I was nauseated when I realized the depth of the unwarranted marginalization and privilege that both NNES and NES educators have faced due to abstract characteristics beyond their control. I became consumed in pursuing a term without connotations associated with linguistic imperialism that could replace both the NNES and NES labels. During a day of wide reading, I serendipitously came across the work by Fought (2006). In their book, they mentioned the term extralocal. They continued that extralocal is a term for someone who is from outside of the local area.

I must have read and reread that term several times. In astonishment, I realized that the term extralocal was the term that would end all the bitterness and confusion associated with the connotations of NNES and NES labels.

Simply put, an extralocal English teacher (ETE) is a non-native or native teacher who is not part of the ethnic group nor is a citizen of the country in which they teach. Take, for example, myself as a Caucasian American from the United States who relocated to Thailand and a Filipino from the Philippines who also emigrated to Thailand, would both be considered ETEs. But a local Thai teacher of English, even if they studied abroad, would not be considered an ETE.

So, what better weapon to fight the outdated linguistic imperialist terms of NNES and NES than adopting a single term that encapsulates all ELT educators as one homogeneous group who could be judged only on their competency, experience, qualifications, and English language proficiency.

Extralocal! Extralocal! Spread the Word!

  • Fought, C. (2006). Language and ethnicity. Cambridge University Press.
  • Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.