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De-Bunking The ‘Native Speaker’ Teacher Myth

7 sierpnia 2017, poniedziałek,

Language School seeks English Teachers – Must be Native Speaker!

It is estimated that non-native English teachers make up 80% of the world’s English teachers. Most of them teach English in their home countries where English is not the native language.  However on tefl.com, a full 70% of job posts for English teachers demand native speakers ONLY!  This is a very sad fact and it is something that needs to be re-thought. So many other things so heavily outweigh whether a teacher is a ‘native’ or not.  The quality of the teacher’s English itself, the qualifications, work experience, and one’s general propensity to teach matter far more than the question of where someone happened to have been born.

This long-standing myth that a Native English Speaker Teacher (NEST) is going to automatically be a better teacher than a Non-NEST is probably based on three long-standing (and incorrect)  assumptions:

© Mat Wright, British Council

  1. The native speaker version of the English language is the ideal version of the target language
  2. The native speaker is the best model of this version
  3. The native speaker is the best teacher of this target language

Let’s address each point:

1. There are several varieties of native speaker English. We can talk about American English, British English, Australian English, South African English, and Jamaican English to name a few. But there are also several varieties of English within Britain alone. There is Liverpudlian, Mancunian, Cockney, Scottish.  With so many varieties even when you get a native speaker of English you are inadvertently receiving one kind of English over another. Why stop at wanting a native speaker? Why not insist on an American English teacher with a Bostonian working-class accent?  People don’t usually get that fussy because they  somehow know that the only real variety of the target language that matters is ‘correct English vs incorrect English’. In this regard ‘native’ doesn’t mean correct.

2 . I have in fact heard many non-native speakers whose English can be held to a higher standard of richness and grammaticality than native speakers. There are many examples of speaking errors that native speakers are somehow given a pass on i.e.: my dad ALWAYS says “That don’t matter.” – the classic (and aggravating) double negative. You can see examples of these in English songs. Another classic example is the lack of subject-verb agreement in Justin Bieber’s lyrics “My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone.” The fact of the matter is you can often have a much better quality of language from non-native speakers.  Some NESTs may not have a good awareness of certain skills and would be poor at teaching them.  For example, many native speakers do not fully understand and implement some writing conventions such as good paragraphing or opening and closing in a letter etc.

3. I will never understand why someone would prefer a 22 year old backpacker from America as a teacher for their children over a Non-native speaker who has a Master’s in English Philology, 3 teaching certifications and 17 years’ experience. It boggles the mind. Being a native speaker in NO way qualifies you to dissect the intricacies of language and convey it to a student in a coherent way.  Non-natives, as people who have taken the time to study the language, can be more empathetic to learners’ needs, can anticipate potential difficulties with language points and present the language in meaningful and engaging ways.

© Mat Wright, British Council

Speaking personally, it always amuses me when a director of studies tells me that an irate parent has called upset that their child didn’t get a native speaker teacher.  I was born in Canada. Both of my parents were born in Canada and all four of my grandparents were born in Canada. I grew up speaking only English with a smattering of French at school.  My exotic and extremely Polish sounding last name is a product of pure randomness and although I have taught in 4 countries of the world, my last name has found its way to Poland where it seems quite indigenous.  I am a native speaker of English. Does THAT make me a good English teacher? I would argue that it has little, even nothing to do with it.

Would you demand a native speaker for yourself or your child? Why or why not?


Inadvertently – without special attention

Indigenous – native to a specific area, from that place

Fussy – difficult to satisfy

Outweigh – to carry more value or importance

Given a pass on – to be forgiven over a small issue