Richard McCully

It’s time to start paying non-native teachers fairly

Nationality shouldn't determine pay rates!

I honestly feel that now is the time non-native speakers should be paid fairly in the Thai TEFL field.  By fairly I mean linked to their qualifications, skills and English ability. 

I’m proud to work for a school where skills and ability matter more than nationality and we pay our teachers equally. Hopefully more schools will follow soon. 

This great article from Cosmo Philippines shows that some non-native speakers are making as much, if not more, than some native speakers - but there is still a long way to go. 

There will of course be the usual bunch of people who cry out “but they have bad accents” or “the parents and students want Americans and Brits only” and even “They don’t really know how to use English”. The point I’m making is that non-native speakers should be paid based on skills and experience that dispel some of the above arguments. 

One point I want to make crystal clear is this is not an article arguing about which countries are native / non-native speaking countries. For the ease of understanding I’m basing native speakers as those listed by the authorities here in Thailand regardless of my personal opinion of what constitutes a native speaker. 

The South Africa argument 

There are a lot of South Africans teaching English here in Thailand. It’s vary rare that people raise an eye at having a teacher from South Africa but the Thai government does not include them on their pre-approved list of native English speakers. 

South African teachers have to take a TOEIC test before they are allowed to teach here. If someone from the Philippines or Italy can pass a TOEIC to the same level then I guess they have the same English ability as a South African or any native English speaker. 

What I’m saying is that if a non-native teacher can score 95%+ on a TOEIC exam then I guess the “they can’t use English” argument falls on its face. 

Some will say that an exam is not the same as using spoken English. That is true but at an interview it should become clear whether a non-native speaker can use spoken English well. 

When I’m in the classroom I make the odd grammatical slip or spell a word wrong here and there. Nitpicking on non-native speakers who make a few mistakes is not fair as we all make them. At the other end, if a non-native speaker gets a score of 75% on an exam then it should be reflected in the jobs they can do and the salary offered. 


If a non-native speaker gets an acceptable score in their language exam and has a degree or masters in education then surely they are better suited to teach English than a native speaker with zero teaching experience or qualifications? As such shouldn’t they be offered the same, if not greater pay? 

Of course if a non-native speaker doesn’t have teaching qualifications or scores poorly in an English exam then they should be paid a lower rate or not hired. It’s all about fairness. 

I’ve been lucky to work with a couple of non-native speakers in TEFL who have masters in education and related fields. I’ve learned so much from them and I would readily admit they have more experience and subject knowledge than me. They are paid the same salary as me and a few earn more as they have been at the school longer. 

As the interviewees in the Cosmo article say, well qualified non-native speakers should know their worth and not settle for less. 


I wrote an article here on Ajarn about teachers' accents when learning English. Overall I feel it is a benefit for students to learn from teachers with a wide range of accents. Thai students won’t only speak English with people from London and California. They will speak English with other non-native speakers as well as those from Canada, Australia etc.

The chance to have great, well qualified teachers from Italy, Brazil, Myanmar, Kenya etc will only benefit students in the long term. 

Many Thai students I’ve spoken to say they find it difficult to understand teachers from outside America as they’ve been brought up on Hollywood movies and American music. It takes time for them to adapt to British, Australian and other accents – the same applies to non-native speaker accents. 

Of course if a teacher has a poor accent and is not understandable at all they should not be hired. This applies to both native and non-native speakers. 

Someone’s accent shouldn’t be the reason to pay them 50% less than another teacher. 

But the parents and schools want Brits and Americans.. 

I think this argument depends on the school. Sure some schools have a policy of hiring only teachers from certain countries. Other schools are open to any nationality. 

When it comes to government schools there is an under supply of teachers so we should encourage well qualified non-native teachers to come here by offering equal salaries to native speaking teachers. 15,000 baht a month for someone with a degree in education, great TOEIC score and experience using English is a kick in the teeth. Pay the going rate of 30-40,000 baht a month and better teachers will come here. 

Bilingual schools offer a multitude of classes in English. They often need teachers with experience of teaching other subjects such as maths, history and science. I personally know a few non-native speaking teachers working in bilingual schools. Some make the same as their native speaking peers whilst others make less. Most of these teachers feel appreciated and well respected at their school. 

International schools are much stricter with teacher recruitment. A large majority of native speaking teachers in Thailand wouldn’t be qualified to work in an international school. If it’s a British school or American school then you can understand why schools choose teachers from their respective countries. 

However there is the example in the Cosmo article of the Filipino teacher working in an international school making $60,000 a year so it’s certainly possible for non native speaking teachers to work in these schools. Again qualifications and experience are important when working in the international school sector. 

Parents care a lot about their children’s education, especially if they’re paying a fortune for it. I understand that some schools take heed of parent’s warnings and stick to Brits and Americans but this isn’t the case nationwide. Non-native speakers should accept that they may need to be flexible to find a good employer. 

The students 

I’ve worked with teachers from Poland, Italy, Myanmar, South Africa, the Philippines and China. The students who have been taught by these teachers have given great feedback. Over my five and a half years here I’ve never heard a student comment or complain about a teacher just because of the country they’re from. Perhaps this is because these teachers all have a native level of English and appropriate qualifications. 

I’m sure there are examples of students and parents complaining about the non-native teacher because of their nationality. These complaints might be about accent, teaching style or English ability. Again I’m not saying that some of these claims are unjustified in terms of English ability. If a non-native teacher is teaching incorrectly and making lots of mistakes I can understand the student’s frustrations. However, those who do meet standards should be rewarded with fair pay. 

What’s keeping wages down? 

Well firstly we can see there are some non-native speakers here making equal money, if not more, than native speakers. The problem is these jobs are not easy to find. 

There are also many well qualified non-native teachers who accept low salaries as they feel it’s their only option or don’t fight for higher pay. Perhaps it’s agencies pushing the agenda to schools that they shouldn’t pay teachers from certain countries 30,000 baht a month regardless of their qualifications. 

Also looking at the Cosmo article, one teacher states in the Philippines she could earn around 18,000 PHP ( about 10,200 THB ) a month. Making 15-20,000 baht probably sounds quite good for new arrivals. Like native speakers there are probably a steady stream of people happy to come here for a year or two on lower salaries as they feel they are getting a pretty good deal. 

Fair salaries – what’s not to like? 

I don’t think anyone could argue that well qualified, capable non-native speakers should get equal salaries. To do so would show ignorance or perhaps something much worse. When it comes to it, if someone speaks English to a native level, has great teaching skills and experience, they shouldn't be discriminated against purely based on their nationality. 

In the end, schools are free to choose who to hire, but I hope in the future that skills and ability will be more important in the TEFL field when deciding salaries than a person’s home country. 

 If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country  

Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

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I am a Filipino and had worked in Thailand for 17 years as teacher. I was getting around 40k but of course I started with lower salary on my previous jobs but eventually got my luck. My 1st school offered a small pay because it's a small school and I only had 12 units a week. Got free housing within the school so it was ok.
By the way, in the article you wrote, you said, 60,000 a year, maybe you meant a month.
Now I am seeing myself as a nomad teacher. And that brought me to Africa, in one of the most dangerous countries in the world 🌎.

By Rhea, Libya (23rd February 2024)

When I'm learning a foreign language, I want a native speaker teacher. Native speakers breathe that language 24/7, so it's a native speaker's energy which I the student want for a language parent. That's not to say any native speaker will do, it must be a smart native speaker with many interests who has knowledge of the process involved during language learning.

By Andy, Patum Thani (7th May 2021)

Here's the rub .... (i) there is no known research which relates academic credentials with student achievement. Teacher might have top honours, research doctorate, etc etc. but there is not an iota of evidence to support the idea that this might result in this teacher's students getting any form of academic advantage. Of course it benefits the school which can market Ivy League/Oxbridge credential, PGCE, QTS etc. (ii) there is research evidence which supports the view that L2 teacher gets better results from L2 students. Or in plain English, there is research that supports the view that an English language teacher, whose English is a second or third or fourth language, (as is the case for many English teachers of Filipino origins), achieves better learning outcomes. So no surprise it's a mess in Thailand and elsewhere and the key factor is the majority of companies recruiting 'foreign' teachers operate in the private sector and are accountable to investors and share holders where the bottom line is simply profit. However the reality is the demand for ESL teachers is surely falling because of the growing quality of apps which are as effective if not more so for those wanting to master basic interpersonal communication skills, or BICS as we call it in the trade. My tuppence worth. Chok dee na krup!

By portnoy, China (5th May 2021)

"Truth is Filipino schools twice the joke as Thai schools. Filipinos also love to create drama and negativity. I've only met two I could trust and not so paradoxically, they were the only two I'd worked with worth a damn.

'Because of their white skin' oh, really? Racist much?"

That, right there.

By ESL Sith, Foothills (4th May 2021)

Woke much?

If you believe you are worth more money go get it!

I'm certainly not behind this quasi socialist effort of a rising tide lifting all boats. I have no problem cornering my employer every year and asking for more money. When I feel I can make more than 10% by moving and I like that school I am gone.

Filipino wages judging by Ajarn ads are rising. I've known Filipino K12 teachers making 38k and Europeans making wages equal to NES.

For NES there are dozens of jobs over 55k (60k) posted at this very moment.

It's not surprising to find teachers here would rather moan about their sorry state than educate, train and build professional knowledge so as to actually command better wages. They've come here broke and without any skills or ambition. Exactly the problem they had back home. Pretty straightforward.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (1st May 2021)

Although I am an Indian, my first language happens to be English. I have taught English in India, Oman and the UK. But most of the schools ask for "native speakers"
It is high-time that non-native speakers of English are given equal opportunities.

By Smitha Purohit, Chennai, India (1st March 2020)

Hi Richard
I initially had another comment to make but I got sidetracked by the amount of xenophobic and vitriolic comments on here. It's quite disturbing actually. How could you have 'approved' them? It's sad to think that these people are teachers. Forget language abilities and accents, these teachers are lacking in emotional intelligence.

By Knight of Ni, South Africa (20th February 2020)

I'm so glad someone said this. It's so frustrating how there's a preference for certain accents. In the real world students have to grapple with a wide range of accents. They might as well learn about iin the classroom.

By rinrinkay, Japan (20th February 2020)

"Some are employed as teachers here because they are white and English. That's what kids and parents of the international school variety demand."

I've found the opposite to be true. I've worked for two 'international schools'. In my experience, it is the lower end of the educational spectrum that insists on style over substance, i.e. appearance over capability. International schools are more likely to hire staff on merit, genuine references and appropriate qualifications, etc.

"Teach the basics and... won't take the students very far in life though."

The 'basics' is where every learning stage starts. Learning basics is still learning... and that's a good thing, right?

Thank you, 'Mike, Bangkok' for taking the time to write your smart comments... which will probably fly over the top of some people. Take emotion out of the salary equation and the facts are that most people can do this job. There are a hundred thousand Thais 'teaching' English who can't string a simple English sentence together.

"No problems schools trying to get a good deal but I think they could get a lot of great teachers if they offered fair, equal pay."

They already are offering fair equal pay.

There are hundreds of real teachers making well over 100,000 baht a month. Think about this... plastic surgeons in Bangkok make more than general practitioners in Issan... and there's a correlation between what they do, how much they earn, where they are and how good they are at what they do.

Simply substitute 'plastic surgeon' for 'qualified career teacher' and 'general practitioner' with 'enthusiastic chap who likes living here'.

"There are nuances and cultural aspects to language that only native speakers can understand."

In that case, there's no reason on earth we should be teaching them.

"...and with salaries going down the drain in TH..."

Only in the areas of teaching where YOU are looking.

"If you are good at what you do, better than the rest. You have the confidence to move on. If not, you stay and whine."

EXACTLY! Although, there's nothing wrong with having a good moan about your pay. We can all recognise the cathartic therapy in that. But if your low pay is detrimentally affecting your life then do something about it.

"Native speakers don't realise English isn't my first language until I tell them... obviously my accent is on a native-level."

Not 'obvious' at all. Most Thais won't know the difference between a French man speaking English or a Scotsman speaking English. Also, it's probable that you simply haven't been called out on your strange accent by people who can see through your charade.

By Mark Newman, The Land of Barely Concealed Rage. (25th October 2018)

This subject crops up all the time, but for what it's worth...

The article sort of misses the point.

Some are employed as teachers here because they are white and English. That's what kids and parents of the international school variety demand. It's got bugger all to do with whatever bits of paper they can/cannot produce to back up their experience. Of course, those teachers need to have the right motivation skills and personality as well. But IMHO, well-to-do Thai parents won't abide by having their little darlings being taught by a person from a poorer country and that's that.

By George, BKK (25th October 2018)

Almost everyone working in Sweden makes more money than a handful of people in Ghana, a top class professional football player makes multiple times the salary as a world class scientist working to cure cancer makes, good looking people have an easier time finding a job than equally qualified people who are less good-looking and in general native language ESL teachers make more than non-native speaking ESL teachers.

By Jack, Here and there (21st October 2018)

Teach the basics and surely your students will remain with the basics. And that might be fine for a NNES or your common or garden tefler at 'Wordsearch Academy' in a shopping centre out in the sticks. It won't take the students very far in life though.

By SD, UK (20th October 2018)

I guess for me (background disclosure: US national, native speaker, State of California Teachers license holder, Bs and MsEd) I see the issue like this..

Yes - skills should be the primary driver to salary.. but... I am also a believe in “market” force.. by that I mean I think the salary should be dependent on what the market will bear.

The market determines what skills it wants... from there an applicant pool forms of possible candidates who meet said skill set.. if the market demand outstrips the applicant pool - then salaries .. and the converse is true as well.

So.. coming back to Thailand and teaching... I suspect it’s a somewhat simple application of this balance..

I’d guess that the market is placing a premium on those who are native speakers (Note: why the market places a premium on native speakers is a separate issue) and IMHO, the pool of qualified applicants (those who actually ARE native speakers and hold the necessary teaching skills and permits) is smaller than the demand.. so the salary rises.

Conversely, the market demand for non-natives is also set... but IMHO, the supply here outpaces the market demand.. so there’s no upward pressure to raise salaries.

At the end of the day I see this as: a) more non-native applicants than there are openings and b) what the market is demanding in terms of skills and applicant profile..

I don’t think this a subject of who is and is not a better teacher per se... rather it is IMHO, more a mathematical and economic balancing act between what the market (schools in this case, and by extension parents) demands and the supply available to satisfy it.

When I first started my opening salary offer was not what I wanted, but I knew that given my data points (native speaker, licensed, etc) I knew had the balance of economic supply-v-demand paradigm in my favor; so I pushed for more and got it. We also hired three non-native speakers at that same time frame for other positions and none of them could negotiate - it was take-it-it-leave it.

Is this fair? I don’t know that I’d say fair is the right word.. I think it’s much more an economic model that says, what’s the market demand? How many people can and will satisfy that demand? Lastly, at what price does demand and supply intersect?

I remember friends in the US who started work at larger US firms but those that came from more “prestigious” universities started at higher rates as compared to those who graduated with the same degrees - but from lesser known name schools. Same degree, same lack of any experience.. but only name of school.

By Mike, Bangkok (20th October 2018)

"Idioms are a bit gimmicky really and I would guess most non-native speakers would use many common idioms incorrectly"

Ten minutes spent teaching idioms was ten minutes of wasted time in my book. "We're putting the cart before the horse". "It's like talking to a brick wall" etc - waste of time.

Even two and three-word phrasal verbs are a minefield and look how often we use those in English communication. My wife speaks decent English but often gets the preposition on a phrasal verb wrong - as do many, many Filipinos I've noticed.

Sometimes it's best to stick to basics.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (20th October 2018)

Jim and SD - no problems not agreeing with me, as I said in the article I knew some people wouldn't accept what I wrote.

No problems schools trying to get a good deal but I think they could get a lot of great teachers if they offered fair, equal pay. I'm mainly thinking of government schools, especially rural ones who struggle to get teachers but have a budget to do so.

I also state that pay should be based on ability and experience. Cultural uses aren't a huge thing as a lot of Americans would use English in a way that I wouldn't understand. You could say that as I don't understand American or Australian cultural uses of English I shouldn't teach if that's your argument. On a recent visit to Oklahoma I had so many issues with vocabulary, phrases and pronunciation and they were native speakers. Idioms are a bit gimmicky really and I would guess most non-native speakers would use many common idioms incorrectly. Again it all comes back to skills and abilities rather than nationality in my view.

Anyway I guess this is an argument where if you feel strongly that non-native speakers should never get equal pay and opportunities regardless of ability and experience then you won't change your mind.

By Richard, Bangkok (20th October 2018)

There are nuances and cultural aspects to language that only native speakers can understand. Ever heard of idioms for example?

Sticking with cultural context; the gap between oriental (high context cultures) and occidental (low context cultures) in terms of discourse and language production is vast. With most people wishing to learn English to increase their employment and life opportunities in a globalised world, its vital that learners are taught to recognise and apply the norms of the cultures from which the language originates.

I also disagree with almost everything you write by the way. Now, is an Asian speaker of English ever likely to write that to you?

By SD, UK (20th October 2018)

As a former NNES teacher in Thailand, I do agree with you.
My TOEIC: 980/990, iELTS- ovb- 7.5, with an MA from the UK. I started out at B30k as an English teacher at the EP. and taught grammar for M1-M6. We had native speakers who couldn't teach that.

Also I had offers midway for B25k. Seriously? What an insult.

I'm back in my home country but looking around SEA for next year. The regional competition for teachers is heating up and with salaries going down the drain in TH, schools shouldn't be picky.
Since the hiring process for some (if not major) schools has become a race card, then what values are we teaching as an institution? Discrimination and face-saving value? Totally agree that hiring should be ability-based.

After all, we go to the doctor based on his capacity to make us well, not because of his nationality or religion so to speak.

I've always told my students that accent isn't important. A neutral accent worked well for them because usually I use American, sometimes British in conversation but they do get lost.
The most important thing is that they get a good foundation (phonetics anyone?) and can adapt listening to different accents. After all, Thailand is a tourist place and they will chance upon visitors from all over the world.

By Cha, home (19th October 2018)

"I think it's safe to say by now I never agree with anything you write."

People are always welcome to send us a blog to put over their side of the argument. The problem is of course that it doesn't happen.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (19th October 2018)

I think it's safe to say by now I never agree with anything you write.

Rather than take your argument apart piece by piece...

Employers almost always will offer a prospective employee the least amount of remuneration as possible. Adult life lesson #1

Employees have the option to take the package OR take their game elsewhere. Life lesson #2

In my five years I've gone head to toe over wages and left my job twice (50%). Boom, gone. This is what adults with skills do. Life lesson #3

If you are good at what you do, better than the rest. You have the confidence to move on. If not, you stay and whine.

Suck it up, stay on, complain about 'white skin' and do the least as possible which is what they were most likely doing anyway.

If you only take jobs where you are being paid your own perceived worth, then it's all good.

I've yet to meet a South African with anything to offer. Some of their accents are as well.

I would hire SOME Scandinavians but the rest would never set foot on my campus. Only Americans, English*, Irish, Canadians and the odd Ozzie/Kiwi.

Here is my standard for being a teacher: C2, SAT English 750, IELTS 8.5 with no less than 7.5 in writing. Toeic 900.

The only requirement for nnes is to take the exam. A school may hire as they choose. So why hire people with horrible scores on such an easy exam? Not me.

Truth is Filipino schools twice the joke as Thai schools. Filipinos also love to create drama and negativity. I've only met two I could trust and not so paradoxically, they were the only two I'd worked with worth a damn.

'Because of their white skin' oh, really? Racist much?

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (19th October 2018)

On paper, I'm not a native speaker but I was brought up and educated (from primary school all the way to postgraduate certificate in Education) in an English speaking country. Native speakers don't realise English isn't my first language until I tell them (I never do to be honest) so obviously my accent is on a native-level. The only thing stopping me from getting a good, well-paid job is my non-native passport which I think is really unfair. From what I have heard this isn't a problem in countries like China, and schools in Thailand should really get a grip as teaching jobs are becoming harder to fill and school can't really afford to be so picky with their teachers anymore.

By Caroline, Bangkok, Thailand (19th October 2018)

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