The Truth about Native and Non-Native English Teachers
Are you a near-native English speaker and looking for an English teaching job in East Asia? Beware of the very requirement you will face in countless job ads that can even put you off from applying for any TEFL jobs. I am quite confident that you can guess what that requirement is. Being an English native speaker! According to my personal experience in Thailand, what you might see in all those ads is more about holding the passport of one of the English speaking countries rather than language proficiency and teaching skills. It seems that requiring you to be native to be able to apply is not even enough for them. Sometimes they make it even more frustrating by restricting the list of the countries and narrowing it down to a maximum of 5 or 6 countries. Does holding the passport of a specific country qualify a person for a job? Doesn’t it sound a bit discriminatory, especially now that we are in the 21st century? Are those language schools teaching our children that their nationality might be a barrier in their abilities as a human? Aren’t they just teaching the children that it is acceptable to undermine the ability of certain groups of people? Before jumping to any conclusion, there are a few factors to consider and clarify.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Saghar H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Firstly, we should define what makes a person a native speaker of a specific language.
Your native language is the language you have been immersed in since birth and you have learned it naturally. However, what we constantly see in TEFL Job ads has gone a bit further and to them being an English native speaker means holding the passport of an English speaking country. The question arises when a person has lived in a foreign country from an early age for any reason such as their parents’ jobs and as a result, they have learned the official language of that specific country as perfectly as the ones who are originally from there. However, due to citizenship rules, they can never hold the passport of that country. Now the question is if this person is considered a native speaker or not.
Also Read: How long does it take to get a TEFL job?
Native English speaking teachers have used English as a primary means of communication since they were born and they do have a rich vocabulary of idioms and slangs and do know where and how to use certain words according to the context. They speak English completely flawlessly and fluently with the most accurate pronunciation and accent. In other words, they are the most reliable authority on English. Students who learn English from native speakers benefit from the most accurate and authentic exposure. As mentioned above, native speakers have learned English naturally and according to linguistics, they have internalized the language and its rules without any deliberate instruction. They might have never stopped to think about the reason behind grammatical and phonological structures. As a result, they might not be able to understand the learners’ frustration when it comes to some tricky parts of the language.
Non-Native English speaking teachers are born and have grown up in a non-English speaking country and as a result, they had to study to learn English. They might have struggled a lot to figure out the reason behind a complicated grammatical structure and they have been through many “whys”’ behind each language structure. In other words, they have learned English the hard way, and consequently, they have a better understanding of the learners’ concerns and frustration and can be more efficient facilitators in class. Unlike native speakers, non-native teachers can’t be considered an authentic exposure for the learners. However, they can easily use authentic materials in their lessons and can be the best walking role model to language learners motivating them that it is possible to excel in the English language even if you are not a native speaker.
Also Read: Balancing Rapport and Discipline in School-Aged Groups
What is a Successful Teacher?
There is no question that an English teacher should be an extremely proficient English Speaker, but does having a lot of knowledge and competence guarantee that you can make a good TEFL teacher? Supposing you were a well-educated native English speaking teacher or you were a fluent non-native English speaker holding a highly recognized TEFL/TESOL Certification, would it be enough for you to make a successful teacher? Besides the subject knowledge, there are many other factors which we should take into account while describing good English teachers. A good teacher should be caring and patient enough to understand the learners’ needs and learning concerns. A good teacher is lively and creative and in whatever step they take in class, they try to encourage discovery learning and critical thinking. A good teacher should be responsible and should care about the future of the learners in all aspects, and should have the quality to win the learners’ trust and help them build up self-confidence and believe in their abilities as a human.
Also Read: Do TEFL certificates expire?
Whenever I see any school which proudly advertises that they only hire native speakers, I just wonder if they know what they are trying to imply indirectly. To me, they are just saying that their students can never be as competent as native speakers, and no matter what the students will be dependent on a native English speaker. It seems that when they emphasize that their teachers are all native speakers, they are more likely to succeed in selling their courses, and in other words, this is their marketing strategy, which is being used inexpertly.
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Let’s not forget that teaching English is a real job requiring a deep knowledge of the English language as well as adequate training, so being a native speaker and holding the passport of an English speaking country does not necessarily count while describing a highly effective and successful English teacher. I believe that we should stop generalizing when we are talking about humans and their abilities, especially when we are in education. Native and non-native English speakers can equally make excellent teachers as long as they are educated with deep subject knowledge and other necessary qualities.
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