Teachers with Foreign Accents Need Not Apply!

“I never, in my wildest imagination, thought my slight foreign accent would create a problem for me. That is, until I interviewed with a school that liked me very much but had to re-think offering me a job because of my accent. Yes! That is exactly what I was told after the interview by the assistant principal! Of course, I was very disappointed and a bit offended.

I am a European-American who has been living in the US for the last 15 years. I finished my B.S. & Master’s degree in the US and have been looking for counseling jobs in international schools since October of 2010. I am a US certified school counselor with several years of counseling experience in US public schools.

After all, I am applying for jobs in international schools. How can a slight foreign accent be a problem when it has never been a problem in my professional or personal life while in the US? To make a long story short, I did have a number of interviews in Boston and via Skype, but no job offers. I cannot help but speculate that indeed, my slight accent is keeping me from getting a job in a so-called “international” school.

I would really like to hear from veteran international teachers regarding my situation. I refuse to give up pursuing an international career just because I have an accent. I am not looking to be a Reading or English teacher, but a counselor.

Thanks for your insight!”

81 Responses to Teachers with Foreign Accents Need Not Apply!

  1. Anonymous says:

    A black african student with even a 4.0 GPA who has graduated with a Mathematics and Chemistry major could still be considered unintelligent by some principals in the United States of America just because of his or her accent. Very bad! Accent is not the same as Intelligence. You better wise up! I recommend that United States school principals make it obvious on application forms that black african with a foreign accent does not qualify to apply to teach in the United States so that the black african with an accent does not waste time and resources competing with the native teachers.


  2. May Siu Cameron says:

    I am Chinese but well-traveled, also a qualified international school teaching with over 20 years of experience. No one ever asked about my accent, which is obviously Chinese/British/Australian. I am not teaching Chinese, of course not, but a Special Education teacher who has been offered a teaching job this summer in China, before that I was hired by different famous International Schools in Hong Kong and China. Do not give up. You still have a chance.


  3. Anonymous, as far as my experience goes, even the head of the English departments in various schools of UK spell incorrectly and use informal language while teaching even ‘A’ levels, which is definitely a poor practice! Just by the privilege of being born in the western part of the world, one does not get the right to claim that non native speakers cannot be as good as the native ones! You need to look at poets and writers from the Asian half of the world who are a part of GCSE English syllabus!
    At times not hiring a non-native speaker can be a disservice to the children who have no exposure to foreign accents, as the UK has a huge job crunch and the future generation with their struggle for decent jobs will need to move overseas. With zero skills of dealing with non native accents their lives will be certainly a struggle! Or they can all work in foreign countries as English teachers and live like beggars on a poor salary!


  4. Pearl says:

    I can feel your frustration. There is a huge stereotype present on us immigrants who speak English with an accent in American schools. Let me see how many English teachers would sit and write 95 pages paper in 10 days like I did. It is an enormnous plus to be a biolingual or multilingual because knowing more than one language really helps greatly for analyses of famous literary works for instance. I do not understand why on earth American students cannot start studying foreign languages from the first grade.Maybe then immigrants would not be underestimated.


  5. sam says:

    Queen’s english is perfect proper english:)))


  6. Anonymous says:

    Reality check people!! Students always want native speakers!!! It doesn’t matter what language they are learning. An accent interfers with their ability to copy the correct sounds, and then train their ear to hear them. This applies to heavy English accents as well! Scottish, Irish, and Austrailian accents cause my students a great deal of stress. Netural acccents, Canadian/American are most in demand for a very good reason. This is not a mystery to directors of ESL colleges; therefore, it shouldn’t really be a surprise to you either. Who did you want to teach you English? In a perfect world, probably a native speaker with a neutral accent.


    • Anonymous says:

      Wow, that is really a closed minded way of thinking. In what parrallel universe is the Amercian accent considered to be the “most neutral accent” ? Maybe to American speakers? Obviously, an Australian speaker is going to think that THEY have a more neutral accent than Americans, because no one notices their OWN accent. I’m an American living in France, and I can tell you that they consider our accent to be very harsh, even when I’m speaking in English. We really emphasize the “R” sound, which to them sounds like dogs barking. Obviously, how neutral we consider an accent to be depends on our language background. Seriously, step out of your linguistic bubble.


  7. Leona Greenlaw says:

    You have just proven the point by saying, “we had a teacher who was from the Midlands, UK, and the children had a very hard time understanding what was said,” That, alone, is the point. The fact that someone ‘speaks English’ does not qualify them to teach a course in which English is the language of instruction. Fairness in hiring is far secondary to whether or not, in the perception of the administrator, the teacher’s other virtues might overcome his/her accent, which the administrator perceives might be a barrier to learning. Could it be prejudice? It could. More likely, however, it is simply an administrator attempting to find the right fit. There is an antidote to an accent, which is under the control of the teacher.


    • kyivanmarsupial says:

      I was voted at my last school (small eastern European) as the most understandable in terms of accents – and I’m an Aussie!! The local teaching staff all agreed on this and most didn’t speak much English but could understand a lot. or had some basic English language ability skills. We had a teacher and who is now a good friend of mine who came from Bolton in the midlands and has a very strong accent – it took me a while to tune my ear to understand him well.


  8. Kathy says:

    The majority of these so-called ‘international’ schools are based in foreign countries, anyway, with the school population made up of students from a variety of racial backgrounds and, therefore, different accents. Insisting on not recruiting those who have ‘accents’ (and, sometimes, darker skins) reeks of sheer hypocrisy/racism and makes one wonder if it is really education that they are providing. Very often, those with the ‘slight accent’ and ‘different skin tone’ prove to be hard working and dedicated teachers. In the developing world, preference is often given to freshly graduated teachers, mainly young and from the UK, who often have no clue about cultural differences and local expectations. Most often, these teachers are there purely to enjoy the experience of being in a foreign land by virtue of a job. In my previous school, we had a teacher who was from the Midlands, UK, and the children had a very hard time understanding what was said, but the person was employed purely because he was from the UK! In the end, it’s the school’s loss and time people stood up to such discrimination. I agree very much with Patricio’s comments above.


  9. picky picky says:

    Most heads of schools/recruiters must consider the community for which they are hiring teachers and if the community insists on stellar English pronunciation from the teachers who will be teaching their children, then that will be uppermost in the recruiters goal for hiring. It has little to do with bias or prejudice, but with practical realities given the setting of the international schools.
    As for single or married women being considered or not, some international settings are not a match for a single women to apply to. There are too many instances where a single woman will not serve out the initial 2-year contract due to the pressure of the lack of social scene in any one international setting.
    Again, the interview process of asking a single woman about their future plans for marriage is only an employer’s consideration for the possible contentment for any single person going to live in that particular environment. I know b/c the head of a school in a rain forrest let me know up front that spending 2 years in that environment, while an exciting prospect, would also be a lonely time. I withdrew my application and have never regretted it.


  10. Patricio says:

    “In my opinion regarding the above post if you have a student that has a strong accent…”
    The strong accent is because the student is a US native and not from the swamps.
    Strong accents are sometimes a barrier even for native speakers of any language.

    Dear anonymous, I detect a slight hint of sarcasm, intolerance or racism in your comment.

    What I am trying to say is that a foreign accent, as long as it doesn´t lead to misunderstandings or a wrong pronunciation model, should not be a cause for not hiring a teacher.
    As a student, I remember struggling to understand my Scottish and Irish teachers in high school. This only made we try harder to understand and therefore learn.
    It is a fact that at present there are more speakers of English as a second or foreign language than native speakers: We are facing now an International English no longer yours, American, British or Australian.
    Throughout history, narrowmindedness has led to conflict. Teaching a language, for your information, goes beyond the grammar and vocabulary of the 80s. We teach a culture, manners, attitudes, values, ethics, moral. Be sure your comments will be part of my next class when we discuss how knowing a little of something is more dangerous than knowing nothing at all.

    I will not comment this issue anymore

    Patricio González, Arequipa Peru


    • Anonymous says:

      Well said Patricio. To me it is all about control and power. English is just another language. Obviously for a non native speaker while speaking English the brain mixes sounds from the native language and English and hence the accent. The tongue muscles work in a certain way. For the school hiring, the hidden agenda is to hire a western white person. Sadly it is demand from the ignorant non-white parents as well. Human intelligence has a long way to transcend.


  11. Anonymous says:

    I am specifically referring to teachers with strong accents that are hard to understand for grade level students & students who have specialized learning needs. Not the grammar correctness, but a strong accent from a different county. I enjoy culture and different nationalities & accents but just like listening to an episode of Swamp People, their strong accents make it hard for certain people to understand, so they have captions on the screen, not intended to offend but as to help clarify the words they are saying. It is a very basic concept some people have very strong accents and certain types of accents force the listener to intensely focus to comprehend. If you have a student who honestly states they are having difficulty understanding would you be offended or would you as a teacher find a way to help the student so that they can excel in your classroom? In my opinion regarding the above post if you have a student that has a strong accent this is a different scenario same with a student who uses incorrect grammar due to the simple fact that they are the student (they are there to learn) & You are the teacher (You are there to teach)


    • Anonymous says:

      It would be a positive aspect for the student’s brain to distinguish different sounds. Hence giving the brain a better chance of further learning in the future.


  12. Patricio Gonzalez says:

    I think sometimes it is the other way around. In my English class (Peru), when we receive visitor students from the US, it is difficult for me and my students to understand their English due to their accent. I had a colleague from New Zealand and students always had a hard time trying to understand his English.
    We, foreigners who speak English as a second language, usually have a neutral accent, grammar correctness and a more selected and formal vocabulary than natives. Thanks


  13. Anonymous says:

    I have read through the comments. I am a parent of a middle school student. My concern is that if you are teaching a subject and a child has a hard time comprehending what you are saying due to a strong accent, and it hinders their learning capabilities especially for students with prior learning struggles. What are you as a teacher equipped to do to help ensure that the language barrier does not interfere with your teaching method? Especially if a student says that they are having a hard time understanding you. Will you take offense due to their honesty? After all we are all striving for their educational excellence.


  14. Travellingchez says:

    In some cases it’s not that the school is judging you but due to immigration laws of that country. I know in Indonesia to be an ESL teacher Immigration will only grant a working visa for ESL teachers from UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and recently added Ireland. While unfair it isn’t always the schools fault.


  15. OSMarsupial says:

    This issue came up recently at my school. We have a mixture of British, Irish, American and Australian teachers. I’m the Aussie and all the local teaching staff say that my accent and my American colleague’s accent is the clearest. Interestingly, some of the British staff are apparently harder to understand. One colleague from the North of England has a very thick accent and the local staff find this colleague very hard to understand.

    The management tried to get rid of two teachers in the primary school as neither were native English speakers though very fluent. The parents had issue with them, and although not a parent, I could see why in the sense that there were lots of grammatical mistakes in their written work, and perhaps their students were learning the wrong rules of English.


  16. Sciteach says:

    Most of the comments above are spot on the mark, but there are some things which need to be remembered. For example, some countries actually require a passport from specific EFL countries for immigration purposes. These countries tend to be in asia/middle east, but may occur elsewhere.

    An accent is also much in the eyes of the beholder personally. For example, my students can easily understand my Australian accent. However, a fellow Filopino teacher (who sounds American) cannot understand me and the students cannot understand her!! Go figure….

    Many nationalities talk about being discriminated against, but I’ve found that many countries treat Filopino’s abhorrently. In my current school, the students don’t respect them and the parents don’t like them. It’s a shame as most have a cleaner and easier accent to understand than myself (mine is not very strong though).

    It is true that parental expectations do play a very important role in the type of teachers which are employed. We need to remember as teachers in international schools that we are a commodity (providing educational services) and if parents don’t like specific nationalities/accents then they will vote with their feet. It’s not fair but this is how many schools (specifically for profit) works.


  17. Mr C says:

    I discussed this thread with some colleagues, and they brought up a point that might help Foreign Sounding and other teachers shop for their next job.

    Ours is a school where most students, easily 90%, don’t speak English at home. Of these, even the most fluent students would likely be given ESL support in the US or Canada.

    Job hunting teachers should definitely take into consideration A) does this school have a high ESL population and B) if one particular accent is considered to be the “norm,” then is that accent American, British, Australian… Icelandic?

    On the same note, I’d advise directors to honestly assess their own school’s expectations before recruiting. Will the “norms” of your school make life difficult for that new Jamaican or Scottish teacher?


  18. Experienced Overseas Educator says:

    Well put, JMS. What I find interesting about these posts are what I feel to be skewed assumptions about hiring priorities. As you have said, JMS, no one knows better than the administrator what the order of priorities should be at a given school. Hiring is not about fairness to teachers or increasing internationalism in the international school. This is about finding the best possible candidates to fill the open positions. If all else is equal (and it never is), an administrator would hire the teacher who models the best English–both written and spoken. If other teachers are edging you out, you are wise to attempt to find out why. For your sake, I hope the problem IS your accent, because that is something you can do something about. I’ve heard it said many times that teachers are some of the most intransigent learners. They insist on students doing things one way–their way–but listen to them whine when you ask them to learn a new software program! I imagine the real reasons for not being hired are a combination of many things, the most important of which will be the competition. However, there will be other job fairs, and other opportunities. Between now and then, it wouldn’t hurt to polish your English accent.


  19. JMS says:

    Actually, Ev, best practice in ESL emphasizes teaching correct English with exposure to various English dialects. I am not saying that the counselor who posted the original entry should have been refused a position because of an accent. I am saying that there may be more to the story than he or she is willing to admit. I agree with Mr. C, Nomad, and many others on this blog. A school administrator is looking for good educators and his or her idea of what makes a good teacher is determined by past experience. I am more concerned by the fact that so many of the international educators who have replied to this post have such poor writing skills. While correct grammar in and of itself does not make you a good teacher, it does provide a good language model for students whose only exposure to English is through their school.


  20. Nomad says:

    I have seen foreign language teachers also face uphill battles in this area too. My spouse is a native-Spanish speaker. An interviewer at a job fair once said, “We like to hire our Spanish teachers from Spain and our French teachers from France.” How idiotic…this coming from an Aussie who had a thick accent that most teachers complained about. My wife and I are teaching now, but I wonder if she will face this same ignorance at the next job fair. She is a certifed teacher as well with two graduate degrees in education from the U.S.

    I have also heard of schools that will hire a native-English speaking teacher to teach Spanish or French over a certified teacher who is a native-speaker of that language. Makes no sense to me! I also believe that just because you speak English, Spanish, or French doesn’t make you an ESL teacher, Spanish or French teacher. I have seen un-certified ‘teachers’ of ESL and people who speak French (but not certified!) fail miserably.

    Have other foreign language teachers faced issues like this because of their accent, whether you are from Colombia, Peru, Venezuala, or Quebec, etc.?

    I would love ‘international’ schools to have a faculty that mirrors their diverse student bodies and to walk the walk and not talk the talk when they claim that they are international.


  21. Mr C says:

    As has been said by Dr. Cooper and others on this site, parents can sometimes play an unbalanced role in the running of a school. At my current school, we had at least two teachers come under heavy scrutiny because their English wasn’t what parents wanted it to be (Scottish and Jamaican, as opposed to Midwestern American). In cases such as these, I wholeheartedly agree with what’s been said many times on the site – support your teachers! An international school should walk the walk.

    However, there was a third teacher who was not invited back for another year because of her English. In addition to having a non-“American” accent, she also mumbled incoherently when she spoke. People were always asking her to please speak louder or repeat what she just said. On one hand, you could argue this was just the way she talks, so why penalize her for this? But on the other hand, should someone like this be teaching ESL? I imagine even at top tier schools, directors sometimes have to make this call.


    • Nomad says:

      Parents play a HUGE role and this should not be underestimated. All it takes is a small group of influential parents to sway a superintendent’s and/or school owner’s opinion.


      • Anonymous says:

        Since parents are footing the tuition bill, even non-profit schools should understand that the consumer has a say in how they want their children educated. Educators should be prepared to articulate best practice in language acquisition, not display knee-jerk reactions when their own needs are not being met. When my own children are learning a language other than their native language it is not outrageous for me to prefer a teacher who can model a standard accent, as well as have an excellent grasp of proper syntax. Though colloquial accents may expose a child to a diverse representation of a language, it can be a confusing experience for the learner. I am not sure why there is all of this suspicion and contempt on this site towards parents and admin. What happened to a healthy collaboration instead of who is ultimately right or wrong?


  22. Ev says:

    I thought the best ESL teaching practice was precisely to expose students to a variety of ‘Englishes’. Guess I got that wrong ! I am going to have to agree with previous posts and say that it’s actually a good thing they didn’t hire U… their loss!


  23. JMS says:

    As others have already mentioned, you may have to consider the fact that it could be more than just your accent holding you back. Most international schools have a limited number of overseas-hire positions and hire many host country nationals to fill remaining faculty positions. In my experience, these schools tend to be very selective when filling their “most expensive” teaching slots. International schools usually look for fluency in English, overseas teaching experience, and Western certification, as well as a host of other criteria specific to the school’s needs and the host country’s limitations. Those schools which are the most desirable to teach in can afford to be even more selective. After teaching ESL overseas for twenty years (and reading the posts on this site), I must admit that I understand why excellent language skills have become a priority. Most students in international schools have only one opportunity to learn English and that’s at school. Most schools want to do everything they can to give parents what they expect from an American or British education, and that includes fluent, native English speakers.

    If after reading all of the responses on this blog you are still eager to teach overseas, then by all means, continue in your search. However, if you are truly offended that you were not hired because of your accent, then I encourage you to re-consider international teaching. Few countries outside of western Europe are as ethnically diverse and culturally tolerant as the U.S. or Canada. How will you handle an ethnic slur or racist comment from a student, parent, or administrator when you do not have school policy or even the laws of your host country to back you up? International teaching requires you to be more flexible, open-minded and tolerant than those you teach, which you can’t be if you take these things too personally. I wish you the best of luck in your career!


  24. mimi in saudi says:

    I wonder if you’ve tried the Gulf countries because they really need counselors. In Saudi Arabia, we have non-native English speakers employed at university level to help students cope. There are decent large intl high schools in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, etc. Passport generally more important than birth country, in my experience. (They’ll still try to employ you for less than a “real” American. so watch out for that!)


  25. bcteach says:

    Interesting topic. I work at an international bilingual school where the question of accents has become an issue for the administration in relation to local teachers who teach in English vs. foreign hires who are native English speakers.

    It all makes me wonder who does have a “correct” English accent – it it someone from Boston, California, Alabama, New York, England, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria, Ireland, etc., etc., etc.? All these accents and more sound very different to me.


  26. Bev says:


    Quite shocked to hear this. I have worked in an internatonal school in the Middle East where the range of teachers had very strong accents. The nationals had to deal with deep scottish accents, strong Irish accents, australian, New Zealand, American, British southern and northern accents. As for the university it even wider. So do not give up and count yourself luck you did not get into the school. All the Best


  27. Experienced Overseas Educator says:

    Another factor that bears heavily on hiring which has not been mentioned here is that when hiring faculty to teach overseas, unlike hiring faculty to teach in most of our home countries, administrators must imagine, as they sit across from you at the job fair interview, how you will mesh with the particular personalities already in place at his/her school. Since many international schools are fairly small, and often in countries where there are few ex pats from your home country, teachers are like members of a big family. These are the people with whom you will engage in most of your activities–the people with whom you will travel, play sports, share meals, celebrate special occasions, etc. The administrator across the table is wisely thinking, as he/she interviews you, whether or not you will find kindred souls on the current faculty, and whether or not you will likely be a good team player. International teaching often means leading after-school activities, heading up a curriculum committee, etc. Will this potential hire likely be agreeable to taking on extra duties when asked? Will he/she bring enthusiasm and a can-do attitude? Or will he/she complain when asked to do things that are not spelled out in the contract? Will he/she balk about expectations of time after the school day? Is this a personality that will make friends no matter what? Or someone who will be unhappy, and leave at the end of the year–or, even worse, before the year is up?

    Another extremely important aspect of teaching overseas is the inevitable culture shock. No matter what you might think, you WILL reach a point where you wonder why you thought teaching overseas was a good idea. As that administrator interviews you, he/she is probably thinking, “Is this a teacher who can roll with the punches? Is this someone who can weather the inevitable many ways in which living overseas is not like living at home?” Even teaching in a Western European country will bring with it the frustrations of trying to get things done when the locals don’t speak English.

    One thing every potential overseas educator needs to be reminded about is that this is not a case of necessarily hiring the smartest, the most experienced, the most talented teacher. You may be at the top of that list, but if you are viewed as someone who might likely not fit in with the faculty in place, or might be a chronic complainer, you will not be hired.

    It’s easy to ascribe the lack of a contract to what’s wrong with the administrator, when, in fact, you might not be the best fit for that school, irrespective of your accent, experience, etc. And that administrator is not necessarily an “idiot” for not telling you the real reason. He doesn’t have to defend his reasons for not hiring you. And his reasons, though they might exclude you, are not necessarily racist, narrow-minded, or wrong.


  28. Experienced Overseas Educator says:

    Could we please refrain from name-calling on this blog? It is no better for adults to call their colleagues or administrators “idiots” than it is for the students we teach to do so. If we cannot submit to demonstrating a basic level of respect for one another, how can we possibly model that for our students?


  29. Domhuaille MacMathghamhna says:

    I have a feeling that your accent is not the principal issue here. Most schools I interviewed with or eventually worked in had no difficulty with my slight accent nor my wife’s heavy French one. The idiot who told you that your accent was an issue was probably worried about parent’s complaining that their kids weren’t learning from a ¨native speaker¨?
    I would be up front with this issue and ask if your accent is a problem for the school…if the answer is yes or maybe,get up and leaveé


  30. lal says:

    I agree with Barbara. It is parent perception that is the issue. It is however a shame that SOME administrators are unwilling to stand up and say that they hired this person because they were the best for the job and here is why. I have been told MANY times “We have too many Australians and New Zealanders”
    I have been teaching in International schools for ten years and am constantly amazed by the different forms of abuse that occur.
    Don’t worry though. I know it seems rough now but you will find the right school and all will be well.
    Best Wishes!


  31. I kind of have the same problem but not because of my accent, I happen to be a very experienced ESL teacher. I have been working in an international school for more than 12 years and my only problem is that I was not born in USA or the UK or Canada or even Australia and New Zealand. When ever I tried to apply for a job most of the cases I read at the bottom that only persons with passports of the countries all already mention are suitable to apply. When did it happen that a passport or a nationality gave you the opportunity to a better job or even a better life?. I have seen teachers come and go, I always dream that I could be the one living someday, I have been applying for more than 3 years and whenever they hear that I am not a native speaker they dont even try to get to know me.
    I agree on the fact that I am not a native speaker but teachers from even USA and Canada have told me that I dont have any type of accent that I should keep applying or even trying to go to a job fair. I am worried and scared that if I try to go to a job fair I would not be picked because of my nationality.

    Finally I just want to say that I have a BA in ESL, I got a Masters in Elementary Education and every year this school receives teachers with less experience than me, sometimes even completely unprofessionals and they make double the salary I make just because they come from USA, Canada or the UK. Is that fair?
    When the world started judging people by where they come from?


  32. hereandthere says:

    There is a confusion between a teacher having an accent and a teacher with incorrect syntax. Particularly in the early years of a student’s language development it is important to hear English or any target language spoken with correct syntax and usage. An accent alone is unimportant. This is why parents who do not speak English as a first language are encouraged to continue speaking their native language to a child at home instead of “helping” them learn English. In development of language it is all about a solid modeling of correct syntax, imperative in helping them continue to development a solid system of language rules for their first language. Later, once that system is in place for their first language, it does not matter. Classes become about content material, not language development, and it is not an issue. An accent should never be confused with usage. I am always amazed in multi-lingual international schools how little learning communities seem to know about language acquisition.


  33. Issa says:

    I am American married to a non native speaker and I cant tell you how many times we have faced this situation. I am amazed how narrow minded many of the schools are – often in adverts for open position they specify “native English speaker” as the only requirement – even specifying no other experience is necessary. I am talking about subjects like history, math and science.

    As a parent of a tri-lingual toddler that has attended 3 International schools, it shows me how narrow minded these schools are. They are more interested in appearance of being international then in actually providing quality education.

    I think this strategy is also detrimental to students, because being in a fully international environment includes understanding that not everyone is a native English speaker, and appreciating the subject and not the language.


  34. lostboy says:

    While you have listed many of the reasons an international school may choose not to hire a foreign-accented American, the main reason US embassy affiliated schools may be reluctant to hire a counselor they THINK has too much of a foreign accent may be because we all depend on counselors to be the experts in US colleges.


  35. Poke says:

    Do not give up! My husband and I are European and both have a slight accent. We have been teaching internationally for over 20 years. If a so called INTERNATIONAL school is turned away by your accent rather than your qualifications and experience, that school is not one you would like to be part of! All you need is one school to get you started, once you have a couple of years of international experience, it gets easier. Good luck!


  36. LS says:

    I agree with all of the above. First of all, prospective employers and not always good interviewers and many lack the skills and tact to turn candidates down. Recruitment can be very stressful for both applicants and administrators. Secodly, there a story that ends with the lesson: To see the light clearly coming from a torch you sometimes need to put it in the dark. I will not disucss this saying further but will leave it to the reader to think a bit about its use in our daily lives. What I consider to have a strong LAtin accent has not been an obstacle in the International schools where I have been sucessful. Whereas not being native American or Canadian has. To me, this means that administrators who are open mindend and can see beyond the skin color are willing to be supportive adn mostly with an educational philosophy you may want to share as International, or even native speaker students, should be exposed to different accents. Isn´t the U.S a mixture of different cultures and kinds of people per se?. And isn´t this what most Americnas brag about most of the time?
    Finally, Having been under all sorts of situations in different job interviews, my very subjective and modest viewpoint is not the look or accent. It may just be the position you are looking for is not in high demand at this point. It is hard to find ¨the perfect match¨ and we all mostly struggle with this. A position as a counselor is not easy to find. You may also want to rehearse a bit ways to highlight many other skills that I am sure you have acquired throughout your years of experience, that will enhance your potential to be an asset for the school. Like the posiiblity to support teachers with students with special needs, the ability to work on team teaching and promote an teaching environment with constant feedback through workshops, etc. Stay open minded and be creative. Good luck and I´m sure you´ll get there soon.


  37. Tom says:

    I have worked at a few British international schools and there can be a lot of snobbery. Even if you do not have the “right” British accent, ie public school, then certain doors are closed.

    In terms of my experience with other international schools, there have always been a mixture of nationalities among the teaching staff. In Mathematics it is not uncommon to get better candidates from some of the Eastern block countries.

    I also appreciate that in the teaching of literature, nationality should not be an issue. Even if the course is English literature, a non-native English speaker may have more of a command of the history, context, and understanding of the texts.

    However I would think that for basic English teaching, pronunciation, grammar etc. having a native speaker would be more desirable both for the school and the students. By the same token if I were student I would want a German native teaching me German, a French native teaching me French. (Unfortunately this doesn’t extend to Latin :-))


  38. Andrew says:

    If you feel this has occurred more than once the chances are that your accent is strong than you realize. This experience at one school might indicate something particular about that school. But if you’re feeling this at multiple schools perhaps you should visit a linguist and see what they say. Naturally, you and your friends understand you well enough but maybe others have some difficulty. It’s worth seeking some professional advice if this is interfering with your career.


  39. ARTI says:

    I have many great experiences of truly internationally minded schools where difference is celebrated so you will have to do your research to find them – Beware of company based for-profit schools. As an example and as alluded to by many here already, my wife was employed this year in Romania where they prized her as a native English speaker, often embarrasingly for her, over and above her equally qualified European counterparts and the management are clearly using her as a trophy only because of her accent (although to me she clearly has a Yorkshire accent!) while the Turkish management have zero interest in anything really international. It turned out to be a cynical appointment where her full worth is not valued. This is a serious infection across the world of internatinal schools now.


  40. Gaia says:

    I am also an European-American teacher, who also had lived all over the world for many years, so my accent is a little ‘bastardized’. I have taught in public schools in the U.S. and Australia in the past and have now been in the international school circuit for over 12 years. Amongst other things, I have been teaching Reading, ESOL/English B and even primary quite successfully and having the proper credentials and experience certainly helped. Do I have an accent and do people (rudely) ask me about it? Yes, but my English language proficiency is up to the required standard, so I have never had any problems getting jobs in good international schools and …… that was with two dependents in tow!

    I’ve had my share of frustration, especially from other teachers (mostly north American ones) who sometimes resented me being called ‘American’, …. which I am! But generally speaking I’ve had a successful career and really enjoyed my time in international schools, where I have been fitting in beautifully. Don’t give up and good luck!


  41. Experienced Overseas Educator says:

    I am frankly embarrassed by the name-calling on this site. Fellow teachers, it’s time to clean up our acts! Referring to another person as a “jerk” or an “idiot,” or a “pathetic boss” in a “Mickey Mouse school” is just wrong. Please don’t model that standard of behavior for our young people!


  42. Catherine says:

    Don’t let an idiot kill your dreams!
    I have countless examples of people, with strong accents, most probably stronger than yours, given your US experience, and they got hired to teach stuff like TOK, Maths, History. (and had good IB results)

    Find the right people, the right school, and pack your bags!


  43. Barbara says:

    I have run into this frequently and the reason schools want an American accent is that the parents put pressure on the school to hire teachers that are English first language speakers (American or Canadian). They put their children in an American school so that they will learn to speak that way. Don’t shoot the messenger but I have been told this over and over. Don’t give up!


  44. Experienced Overseas Educator says:

    I agree with much that has been written here, but I must say I agree most with the comment that there may well have been something else in addition to your accent that stood in the way of a job offer. Good counselors are hard to find in international schools. A highly qualified counselor would be very seriously considered. Perhaps the administrator did not want to give you the honest answer.

    Directors do have to be sensitive to their parent and student populations, whether it seems fair or PC or not. After all, the primary reason that most parents send their students to an international school is the expectation that their English skills will be finely honed. Frankly, non-native English speakers can be difficult to understand–even for native English speakers–and even more difficult to understand if you are not a native English speaker. If one’s primary goal were to optimize English learning, one might be well advised to hire only native English speakers–no matter the subject to be taught. After all, students aren’t just learning English in English classes. The converse is true, as well. It is almost impossible for a non-native speaker to be hired to teach a language.

    There are other factors, as well. A primary goal for secondary counselors is usually getting the seniors of that school into desirable colleges. That requires a rather specific background of knowledge and understanding about many colleges and universities. In addition, there are many culturally-specific expectations and norms that this candidate might have presumed to be lacking if she were a first-time overseas counselor–let alone that she has an accent.

    Any counselor knows that the reason given is often not the real reason.

    To the candidate whose interviewer took her out to lunch, it appears to me that your looks didn’t stand in your way; he was hitting on you, and trying to assess how responsive you might be. Unfortunately, as others have stated, international administrators don’t have the same worries of being held to the same ethical standards of countries where sexual harassment is illegal. When you go overseas to teach, you leave the securities of civil rights legislation behind. That is, in fact, the main reason this website exists–to give those who have gone before you the opportunity to warn you in advance of finding yourself “up a creek without a paddle,” as the saying goes : )


    • ST says:

      I am a person of colour,a language teacher in a Tier 1 international school and have been teaching in international schools for over 20 years. I take offense at your comments about the abilities or lack of non-native speakers of English vis a vis native speakers. Your comment applies as much to many poorly educated non-native speakers of a language as much as it applies to similarly educated native speakers. Similarly, I find your comments about the person’s abilities as a guidance counselor offensive. I do concede that a large number of students from international schools end up studying in either the UK or America. Have you done a demographic check of students that end up studying in these countries — the vast majority of them are from China and India and only a fraction of them are products of international schools. They not only end up in the west for higher studies, but excel as well in spite of their accents. The world is changing and its time condescending educators and administrators with a colonial mentality called it a day and retired to your little nooks. Pretty soon, you will find where ever you may be from will be over run by Asians and East Europeans with accents.


      • 1234abc says:

        I LOVE ST’s comment! Good on you!

        “The world is changing and its time condescending educators and administrators with a colonial mentality called it a day and retired to your little nooks. Pretty soon, you will find where ever you may be from will be over run by Asians and East Europeans with accents.”

        I have an accent and I’m proud of it! It shows that you can speak and write in 2+ languages. Come on, how many native speaking employers tried to get more than they paid for from us just by using the accent as the excuse.


        • Anonymous says:

          You both have just proven my point. Despite your command of the English language, you have both used the word, “its” instead of the word, “it’s”. I am sure that you will (unfortunately) find you have many colleagues who might make the same mistake. However, the chance that a native Eniglish speaker will use English correctly is simply greater than the chance that a non-English speaker will. Whether it is fair or not, this presumption is one of the factors guiding hiring decisions, many of which are made on extremely limited contact with hires. The best means of overcoming this bias is to build a reference bank from administrators who have hired you, and who can then speak highly of you. Thus, accepting a job offer at any international school which promises a reasonable two-year tenure will help you move forward through the morass of possibly ill-informed administrators needing to make fast decisions on a minimum of information.


  45. onmyown says:

    Schools’ hiring decisions often reflect what the sometimes demanding parents of the school want. They are paying a great deal of money for their children to have native English instruction. Having said that, some of the best ESL teachers I’ve seen have been former ESL students themselves. I think if you persevere you will eventually find something–a truly international school needs to live its creed. I would check on a few things, though. Are all of your references impeccable? Are your interviewing skills up to scratch? Are you sure the accent is the only thing holding you back? I’ve worked with lots of excellent staff “with accents” in international schools. Good luck to you!


    • Nomad says:

      Very good point made that sometimes the best ESL/ELL teachers are former English language learners themselves. They certain have the empathy for students learning English and if they speak the native-language of the students they are teaching, they have more in-depth knowledge of the types of mistakes they will make and their language needs. Too bad more people do not see this!


  46. Expat parent says:

    Hi, i thought you might like a patent’s perspective? When my children moved into international schooling, i too was surprised at the way school marketed on their native English speaking teachers. Now, as a parent trying to maintain my children’s spoken identity, I understand a bit more. Actually I think accent is less of an issue than use of cgrammatically correct, colloquial and idiomatic English.

    I don’t think a school would fail to hire you, if you mention that this is important to you, and then demonstrate good command of this!

    Good luck and let us know how you get on.


  47. fiercesnake says:

    I never ceased to be amazed how managers forget the primary function of schools. That is to teach kids HOW to think and produce people who are logical in their responses whilst displaying care, respect, understanding and empathy. Yet so many times I hear of these pathetic bosses that have forgotten the real purpose of schools and look on these places as only businesses, showing little compassion or vision. Schools should be about making people BETTER not just money, but yet I see across the world teachers and administrators totally at odds with this basic philosophy! This is just one more example of a Mickey Mouse school run by fools. NEXT…


  48. Cj says:

    It is possible that you just weren’t experienced or good enough to work in the schools you interviewed for! Many schools don’t care about accents as they are international after all. The schools I have worked for don’t care about accents as long as you are a good teacher.


    • Nana says:

      I have taught in both China and Albania, where only native speakers of English were hired. It seems to vary from school to school.


      • Nomad says:

        Having taught in East Asia, I found that they wanted native-English speakers who fit the ‘picture’ of what they wanted they wanted in a native-English speaker…and that was not someone who did not look American or Canadian (whatever that means!). I guess they do not understand the diversity of these two countries.


  49. Dr. James Cooper says:

    As an international educator that usually works as a Director, Head of School, or Principal I can say that the vast majority of schools want teachers and international staff that is from one of the five major English speaking countries. I usually find the kind of position I am looking for, but my wife (a US citizen from Russia) has only found one school wwilling to hire her. She is an award winning teacher/principal with 30+ years of experience. Given my experiencein such matters it seems that the parents only want native English speakers and the school is there for the students with much guidance from their parents. Most international schools have that same requirement. They do hire nationals, but usually as a teacher aid/substitute. Don’t give up on your quest for a position internationally. The right match will come along when you least expect it. Just as big a problem (possibly bigger) is the age factor. I find myself having difficulty due to my age. God Bless!


  50. Simendea Kissman says:

    Interesting. I also have an accent; I was born in West Africa. I have a Danish father and an African mother and lived the first 18 years of my life in Africa but has been a U.S. citizen for over 20 years now. I have worked in 3 international schools as an English/reading teacher and had never had a problem. I feel that there must have been another reason and the person was not brave enough to tell you; however, you wouldn’t want to work for that school anyway. Sorry, but don’t give up and keep trying!


  51. MiniUSA says:

    I am sorry you were treated in such a rude manner. I think this outlook, on the part of the administration, stems from trying to please worried parents. I have only taught at one international school but the parents run the show here. The parents are constantly worried that their child will be at some type of disadvantage for having been in a mixed environment.


  52. tck kid says:

    I agree with everyone. I don’t think the school was worth going to. I have the opposite problem. Since I was educated in international schools, I have an American accent, but I am not American. Fortunately, some schools have hired me or offered me a job because of my American accent. I have always had jobs. I am currently working at my third international school in the third continent. But, some schools also told me that because I don’t have a US passport, they can’t hire me. One school liked me so much that they asked me to lie to the parents and tell them that I am American. It really hurts me to see how schools judge potential candidates only from the superficial level.


    • tcker 2 says:

      Like you tck kid I have an American accent, but am not American. I know this has gotten me the job a couple of times because the employers have commented on it. With that said I teach English as a subject, and I have found that at first glance they don’t want to hire me because of my passport country, and a stereotype that stems from that country having people with thick accents. However, I have made a point to call a school or meet with recruiters so that they could hear me speak, and I know this has helped.
      But honestly, there is more to a person than their accent, and as many have voiced here: a truly international school would be inclusive.


  53. John says:

    As with everything else: some schools care, some don’t… In my experience, not being an English native-speaker usually does make a difference. Again, some schools don’t care, but I would guess there are more schools that do care about that (unfortunately). Once I had a school literally tell me that they liked me but my nationality was an issue as doing all the visa paperwork would be too hard for them… I certainly also have had schools that simply ignore my application because of this.

    You shouldn’t give up; the fact is that there are schools that don’t have that priority, and that will value experience more than anything else…


  54. Globetrotter says:


    I was born in Argentina, raised in Israel, went to college in America and my “foreign” accent is a total mixture of all of my globetrotting. And yet, I have been a counselor in international schools for 25 years now. If a school is not willing to hire you because of your accent, well, believe me – you don’t want to work in that school. Move on, there are plenty of schools who would love your international background. In my present school we have staff from 15 nationalities and this is a source of pride.


  55. Scott says:

    What nonsense! The school I mean, not you… My wife has a discernible French accent and has been teaching as a class teacher in International schools for years in Vietnam, Thailand, China and Belgium. As you say, a truely international school will welcome diversity. There is no ‘right’ accent for English, though we all might have preferences. Who would prefer that there young child mimics a South African twang, or a German lilt, or hint of Hispanic? My advice would be to focus on IB schools where the word ‘international’ means so much more than geography. Good luck.


  56. Roland says:

    I agree with the comments posted. New international schools are starting every year and international education is one area where good teachers are in demand. Unfortunately some schools have strange biases and hangups at times at the whim of the head of school/recruiter resulting in lower quality schools. If quirky issues are a problem at the school there must be others and not worth your while. International school can and should be a joy to teach at due to the location and resources available to them. There are plenty of good schools out there that want quality teachers, not just teachers that will fit their image.
    Keep at it. You may wish to attend a job fair outside the US, to get access to more truly international schools. i.e. London for example.


  57. Coke Smith says:

    My school has accents from all over the world and it is a tier one school. We all enjoy poking fun at each other and it adds an international level of humor to our get-togethers. But I have heard that schools do focus on accents to various degrees. I very much enjoy our school’s worldly atmosphere though – shoot for one like this.


  58. Patricio Gonzalez says:

    I worked as an English teacher at an international school for 6 years preparing students for the IB Diploma in English B All the groups I prepared passed. Foreign accent was never an issue. Keep looking, that shouldn´t be anything but senseless prejudices. I am currently teaching at a bilingual school and keep doing a good job.
    Good luck


    • Edward Shephard says:

      I agree, you will find a good position though it may take time. I have ten years experience of teaching in international schools on 3 continents. I am English with basically Oxford English yet I was told recently after an interview that they would’t take me because of my accent. Thankfully I got offered a much better job a month later. Keep applying.


  59. mynick says:

    Forget them and keep searching! I am Latin American and have 8 years living abroad. My current school hires teachers from all over the world.
    Good luck!


    • LL says:

      I also had “an accent,” and skin the color of cafe latte, and less years than the veteran teachers in the school, not from the global north, and energetic with a sense of social justice, and a woman and I took was part of the most horrendous subtle bullying in the profession that you can imagine. It is not about luck, it is about an international school industry where the most narrow minds are ubiquitous in all locations of school leadership. What is most worrisome is that many of the missions and visions of schools are predicated on principles of celebrating difference, but sadly there are too many counter stories. Keep on questioning and inviting people to think with you about these issues that are so crucial – precisely – in education.


  60. Roundtrip says:

    Consider yourself lucky that they didn’t hire you. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to be in a school that had that mentality. You sound very competent, so I know you will find a good match. Never be surprised at some of the things you will hear in interviews. Many years ago, I had a perspective principal to ask me why a good looking woman like myself wasn’t married. I did get married a few years later, but I remember feeling like a freak when he asked me that. You’ll find a great school that will be proud to have you on board.


    • Teaching abroad says:

      A similar thing happened to me. The interviewer kept referring to my looks in a similar manner. He even went as far as telling the waiter when the waiter asked if were were doing business(this recruiter took me on a lunch interview)that he was interviewing beautiful women. He then asked me what if I married someone in one of the places I have studied? He also asked me if I would prefer to marry a teacher on their staff or a local? I didn’t get the job so I only assume that my looks interfered with me getting the job as well as being single. I don’t know what the problem is with a woman deciding marriage isn’t right for her? I think it may be the same situation (in a way). Luckily I moved to Scandinavia and got a job in a modern country so I don’t have to deal with such bull anymore. Keep looking, you will find a fit.


      • International Teacher says:

        A lot of sexual harassment goes on at international schools, where the local law does not protect women from these abuses. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience. Be careful ladies, and don’t tolerate it when it happens. Continuing to tolerate sexual harassment only allows the harassment to continue and for other women to be hurt.


    • picky picky says:

      While it is true that there might be some male interviewers who behave in callous manners as you describe, too often there is a much bigger picture that exists for the interviewer/ head of school to consider.
      Please read the posting at the end. It presents another reality.


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