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Native Speakers?

In a recent poll, I asked readers if they thought English language teachers should be native speakers. The result was interesting, as the vote from those with an opinion was close with 48% believing they should be native speakers and 41% saying no. I donít know what you think about this but Iíve always had mixed feelings.

The first question I would raise with those who believe being a native speaker is an essential prerequisite for an English language teacher is, which native speaker would you choose? My point is that native speakers are not by virtue of their birth language experts. I can think of many native speakers whose command of their own language is remarkably poor! Evidently being a native speaker is not in itself a guarantee of any linguistic understanding. Of course, native speakers have a certain instinctive feel for the language that probably cannot be acquired. But the non-native speaker, having gone through the process of really mastering English, is more likely to understand the learning process and the pitfalls that are peculiar to learning the language.

Students also have mixed feelings, I find. I have come across students who prefer to be taught by someone with their own linguistic background so that, if problems arise, discussion can take place in the language they are more familiar with. I have even been told that native English speakersí pronunciation is too difficult to understand. On the other hand, some students feel cheated if they do not have a native speaker, believing that somehow they canít trust somebody who has had to learn the language just as they are doing. Some students have said to me that they donít trust the non-native speaker not to make mistakes. This argument is quite interesting because it depends what you mean by a mistake. Native speakers are not free from grammatical error, if that is what is meant. In this respect I would say that native speakers simply make different errors from non-native speakers.

So are there really any key differences between native and non-native speakers as teachers? Probably, yes. But does it matter? Each type of teacher will have specific strengths and weaknesses and, when push comes to shove, youíre either a good teacher or youíre not, regardless of your native tongue.

Submitted by:

Brenda Townsend Hall

Brenda Townsend Hall, a contributing editor to ESLemployment, is a writer in the fields of English for business, cross-cultural awareness and business communications. Interested in receiving TEFL job listings weekly for free? To learn more visit TEFL Jobs.




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