Are Native English Speakers better teachers than Non-Native English Speakers?

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Before we start debating on pros and cons about these 2 categories, we should first find out what the term “native speaker” means.

According to Davies, A (2003), this term is defined by the following characteristics:

  1. Someone who has acquired the language during childhood;
  2. Someone with the ability to understand and accurately produce idiomatic forms of the language;
  3. Someone with understanding of how standard forms of the language differ from the variant that they themselves speak;
  4. Someone with competent production and comprehension of fluent, spontaneous discourse.

Therefore, with sufficient motivation, aptitude and opportunities for practice, anyone can learn and accomplish the last 3 points. The only characteristic that cannot be learned is childhood acquisition of the language, which is a poor basis of discrimination against the non-native speakers.

Now, that we’ve established what the term “native speaker” means, let’s see what are the advantages and disadvantages of the 2 categories.

Native speakers

Have:

  • better oral skills
  • greater vocabulary
  • insight into the “Western” culture

BUT they have: -deficient lexico-gramatical knowledge

  • difficulty explaining complex constructions
  • some lack of understanding of language teaching methodology

Non-native speakers

Have:

  • their own experience as language learners which helps them empathize
  • with learner’s difficulties
  • strict methodology
  • good work ethic

BUT they have:

  • weak oral skills
  • less “Western” cultural insight

 

So we can definitely say that both categories have pros and cons, and that the ideal Language teacher is probably a combination of these two. But if you had to choose between Native and Non-native speaker, who would you choose?

In Vietnam, there was a study made in two public Universities, about the preference between Native and Non-native speaking teachers. The participant were 50 students from 3rd year English major between 20 and 24 years old.

First they studied the 7 characteristics of a Language Teacher established in Brown’s (2001) discussion of these attributes and supported by prominent studies in education literature:

 

  1. Professional Characteristics:
  • Experience in teaching
  • Teaching qualifications
  1. Personal Characteristics:
  • Friendly personality
  • Enthusiasm for teaching
  1. Pedagogical Characteristics:
  • Able to teach interesting, informational classes
  1. Cultural Characteristics:
  • Familiarity with the student’s local culture
  1. Linguistic Characteristics:
  • Advanced vocabulary and fluency in speaking

 

After the participants studied these characteristics they were faced with a few questions where there were supposed to choose which is more important: Experienced at teaching or Native Speaker; ability to teach interesting and informational classes or Native Speaker; etc.

 

The result?

The sample group expressed greater value for the qualities than the native-speakerness of the teacher.

*All research and data was extracted from Ian Walkinshaw and Oanh Thi Hoang Doung`s article about Native and Non-Native speaking English teachers in Vietnam: Weighing the Benefits.

 

My personal opinion:

  1. Accent vs. Pronunciation

The main reason, or excuse, schools and parents have for discriminating against non-native speakers is ACCENT. Everyone wants to speak English without accent.

What does that really mean?

The English language itself has more than 10 accents. Even in USA, different regions have different English accent. So why discriminate non-native speakers for having an accent?

The thing that schools and parents should pay attention too is PRONUNCIATION.

You can have an accent but still speak English with good pronunciation. There are many nations on this Earth that have English as a second language and speak it very well. But even a native English person might not always understand what an Irish native is speaking because of the strong accent, and they are both native English speakers.

  1. Qualifications

Because of the misconceptions and preference in hiring Native English Speakers as teachers just because of their nationality, the Native Speakers are not investing much in their qualification. Why would they if anyways they will get a job even without it. And because of the same reason and the struggle in landing a job, non-native speakers are becoming more and more qualified in teaching English in foreign countries.

So why push away good teachers that might not be native and might not have American or Canadian accent but they have clean pronunciation and actually have the qualification and knowledge how a class should enfold.

  1. Enthusiasm and commitment for a teaching career

Because of the easiness of landing a job, without qualification or experience, most of the time, native speakers are not fully involved in this career. Actually, for them, it`s not a career. It’s something that they do until they find a “real” job. Therefore, there is no real commitment or enthusiasm for the teaching process.

In conclusion, I believe these 3 characteristics are the most important in choosing a good teacher. If he/she has qualifications to be a teacher, clear pronunciations and honest desire for being a teacher and educating the next generation, then that is A GREAT TEACHER.

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