TEFL for non native english speaking teachersFrom the topics available and open for discussion, the one of non native english speaking teachers interests me most, since I am not a native speaker of the english language.
When looking at this topic in more detail one finds an ongoing discussion whether native speakers are more suitable for teaching english than non native speakers are more suitable.
I find this topic interesting because I am personally affected by it and I find it important because there is – as can be seen in many online TEFL articles – an ongoing discrimination against the non native speakers of english in the field of teaching. Many schools
and universities do not regard a non native speaker as a potential teacher at their institution.
There are a number of elements that play an important role when comparing the english teaching capabilities of a non native speaker to the ones of a native speaker. These elements are listed and scientifically explained in quite a few essays on that subject. In this essay I will make use of the data from three other essays in particular: Native english-Speakers versus Non-Native english Speaking Teacher by Ivan Garcia Merino, The native-speaker fever by Eric Anchimbe and Native versus Non-Native: Students’ Reaction by Lucie Moussu.
The differences between native-english speaking teachers (NESTs) and non-native english speaking teachers (non-NESTs) consist of a few disadvantages and a slightly greater number of advantages of non-native speakers. According to Merino the major disadvantages of a non-NEST lie in vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and fluency (Merino 1997:73). Anchimbe however claims in his study that the distinction between a non-NEST and a NEST has become one of social prestige instead of one of proficiency (Anchimbe 2006:12). He claims that the qualification of an english teacher should be based on his/her qualification only, regardless of the native or non-native status. This means that if the non-NEST shows a proper level of english (which has to be identified on a language continuum (Merino 1997:71, Moussu 2004:4)) he or she is just as capable of teaching the english language as a native speaker.
There are also a few advantages that a native speaker lacks. Merino and Moussu list six different advantages (Merino 1997:75; Moussu 2004:5). Here are the disadvantages (and I sometimes added an example or a further explanation):
1. They claim that only non-NESTs can serve as imitable models of the successful learners of english. They can be thereby a source of motivation for the students.
2. Non-NESTs can teach learning strategies more effectively since they are learners of the language themselves and can speak from first-hand experience.
3. Non-NESTs can provide learners with more information about the english language. They are very familiar with every little aspect of the language because they had to learn it themselves, whereas a NEST “may not be aware of the internal mechanisms operating in the acquisition of a second language” (Merino 1997:75).
4. Non-NESTs are more capable of anticipating language difficulties and especially so when the teacher’s native language is that one of the students.
5. Non-NESTs can be more empathetic to the needs and problems of the learners. And so it is also possible that the student-teacher relationship can benefit from this when the teacher is able feel with and identify himself/herself with the students, knowing exactly what they are struggling with.
6. Finally they claim that only the non-NEST can benefit from sharing the students’ mother tongue. This can help and accelerate classroom management and the process of explanation. Even though the teacher is supposed to use english at all times in the classroom, it is more than common that certain parts are done easier and quicker when switching to the students’ native language. An example for a reason for the teacher to want to do so is explaining a rather complex group work activity. To make sure everything is understood, it is very helpful to be able to explain the task in the students’ mother tongue.
What is said above are basically the major points in the scientific discussion about the differences, advantages and disadvantages of native and non-native english speakers. There are of course more elements to the discussion - as can be seen on some websites.
On a more informal yet deeper level than in the essays mentioned above the criterion of pronunciation is discussed. It is often hold against non native speaker that their pronunciation is not American or British english. It is of course correct that a non native english teacher will never entirely sound like the native counterpart. However, there are teachers who are capable of sounding almost as ‘good’ as a native speaker. But more importantly, having a good english pronunciation does not mean having a British or an American accent. It is important that the teacher pronounces the words correctly; pays proper attention to vowel length for example. As long as this is the case, any accent should not be regarded as a problem (Bradridge 2011).
There are a few more arguments that help making this point. One is that many learners are and/or will be dealing with english speakers from many different countries, i.e. with other non native speakers. This means that it can even be helpful and useful to listen to different accent of english early on in the process of learning. A second argument is that both, native and non native teachers should employ many different resources in their classroom. When giving listening classes, for instance, the teacher should make use of a variety of tapes and videos containing a variety of people with different (native) accents. This way the students are exposed to a great number of different english sounding people. It is therefore not a problem if the teacher is not a native speaker. The students should be exposed to lots of english from native speakers anyhow.
There is, as already indicated, another aspect in the discussion that should be paid attention to. A lot of non native english teacher – how ever skilled and qualified – experience an ongoing discrimination against them. Schools prefer native speakers, even without a TEFL certificate over non native.
This problem is directly addressed in the article by Anchimbe. He claims that “the social prestige has nullified the quest for competence and proficiency” (Anchimbe 2006:12). It should be paid more attention to the level of (teaching) skills than to the fact if he or she is a native speaker of english. On top of that, both, Anchimbe and Merino claim that “language competence is not the overriding factor” when it comes to qualifications of teaching english. (Merino 1997:74). It is more a mix of different variables such as social skills, teaching skills, ambition and motivation for the job and competence.
Considering all the above, I find that the discrimination against non native english teacher from school and universities is not understandable let alone justified. The discrimination is mostly based on the opinion that non native speakers lack proper and correct pronunciation and cannot teach American or British accent. As it is said earlier, an accent does not influence the style of english and a good and experienced teacher would use a lot of extra material anyways. It is therefore not acceptable to discriminate against the non native english teacher per se. The schools and universities rather should have a look at each case – that is at native and non native speakers’ – individually and equally critical in order to find the best teacher for their position.
Anchimbe, Eric A. “The native-speaker fever in english language teaching (ELT): Pitting pedagogical competence against historical origin”. Linguistic Online 26, 1/06 (3-14).
Bradridge, Admin William. “Do non-native english speakers make better TEFL teachers?“ on http://www.global-english.com/news/do-non-native-english-speakers-make-better-tefl-teachers/
Merino, Iván García. “Native english-Speaking Teachers versus Non-Native english-Speaking Teachers“. Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses 10 (1997):69-79.
Moussu, Lucie. “Native versus Nonnative Speakers of english: Students‘ Reactions“. Linguistics 540 (August 2000). https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:VpeL3L-jD98J:www.moussu.net/TP/540.pdf+tefl+for+non+native+speakers+teaching+english&hl=de&gl=hk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShgOjvgZWhgowiB_d6Nfl3bTUqhGskNLdwO_9JVm1VH1TYkQxcFhXJZHJM3-rXCmu2iStu4O7xRiBBR7cMk0_A94ifg75Ow7VeYbCU8WRlKadyxbQrZJmJNyU3kPNOeOuJ0RJn9&sig=AHIEtbRvJJEvRm5aqDN6A-nSF86wOq20Ig