Can non-native speakers of English become good TEFL teachers? 64

This is a source of constant debate in the TEFL world. Here in Spain, many Spaniards (employers and students) request native speaker teachers. They hold beliefs, or prejudices, such as:

British speak proper English not like Americans

My German / Dutch /Spanish teacher of English knows grammar but speaks with a terrible accent

I want to speak proper English like my British / American/ Australian / teacher

This is a complex and controversial topic and I don’t presume to know the answer. In fact, I’m not exactly sure how we can define native speakers anymore. What I’d like to do is present both sides of the argument and let you make up your own minds:

Native Speaker Teachers are better because….

  • They provide accurate pronunciation models for learners
  • They can explain lots of idioms and colloquial phrases
  • Students will use their English to communicate with native speakers
  • They can show me how to use the grammar in the way it is actually spoken / written

Non-native Speaker Teachers are better because…..

  • They use an international form of English that can be understood by everybody.
  • They don’t use these idiomatic English. They can communicate clearly and unambiguously.
  • Students will use their English to communicate with people from all around the world. English is now an international language.
  • They had to learn it as a second language so they know how to explain it in a clear and accessible way.

What do you all think? 

What other reasons can you think of why native speakers or non-native speakers make better teachers.

We love to know what you think so please add your comments.

64 thoughts on “Can non-native speakers of English become good TEFL teachers?

  1. Reply ahmed Jan 27,2014 11:26 am

    I think the problem with the non-native speakers is that the accurate pronunciation. as we studied English long time ago, there were no means that enable us to listen English from its native speakers. thus there are still mistakes in pronunciation. however, we should put into consideration the accent of each other language and so we can respect English that produced by non-native speakers.

  2. Reply Anonymous Jan 27,2014 11:45 am

    I think it would have been best to have a combination of both. A non-native teacher, most of the times, can explain grammar better, because he/she has studied it a second language. A native speaker on the other hand can teach proper pronunciation and all the vocabulary a non native speaker is not very familiar with. Of course it all depends on where that speaker comes from. Because there are areas in the UK, as well as the USA, that have really strong accents!
    A combination of those two, however, is not very easy, although I have been blessed with this opportunity as an English language student. And I can tell you that this is the perfect solution if it can be done under the appropriate circumstances.

    To be honest, I don’t think it’s easy to decide one or the other. I have met in my professional life, native teachers that were amazing in every aspect of their teaching as well as non native teachers that were splendid, even in pronunciation and everyday vocabulary.

    So, it all comes down to how lucky students are…..when it comes to their language teachers!

  3. Reply Dr.Y.P.Hathi Jan 27,2014 12:53 pm

    If being a native speaker of a language were to be considered the end all and be all for a teacher , I am afraid any Tom,Dick,and Harry would qualify to be a good teacher of TEFL.As a matter of fact it is not so.The aspects of a language have to be acquired ,its mechanics to be understood,its nuances and nitty gritty have to be clearly understood before they can be taught to the students. A non-native speaker ,perhaps, may have a better understanding of the foreign language . He has gone through the arduous grind of learning FL..,hence he might explain many points of grammar using his experience from learning L1,though it is not sacrosanct. Yes, he can never produce the pronunciation of the native speakers,hard he may try. If the native speaker scores off him in getting across the nuances of grammar that would be the icing on the cake. I have been teaching English for last 44 years,yet I am not able to produce the correct sounds of English the way a native speaker can ,,effortlessly . Dr.Y.P.Hathi

  4. Reply dylgates@hotmail.com Jan 28,2014 8:39 am

    Most studies seem to support your view that very few non-native speakers can effortlessly produce the correct sounds of English. However, English does seem to be an exception among modern languages as it is used by more people as a second language than as a first language. Does this mean that there is no real need to speak ‘native speaker’ varieties?

    Thanks for your comment – very interesting!

  5. Reply dylgates@hotmail.com Jan 28,2014 8:42 am

    Thanks for your comment. Maybe you’re right and the ideal scenario is to have a combination of non-native and native speakers. One of the other issues with native speakers, at least in the UK,is that few of us have actually learned a second language to a high level. This means that we have very little practical experience in acquiring a second language ourselves.

  6. Reply dylgates@hotmail.com Jan 28,2014 8:48 am

    I agree that there was a lack of listening material in the past. However, the internet has changed everything and now people all over the world can access native speaker English.

    Regarding your point about considering the accents of other languages, I’m interested in accommodation theory – the idea is that speakers modify their speech patterns to match the person they are speaking with. There was a case of a former English football manager who worked in Holland. After a few months there, he gave an interview in English to the BBC and spoke English with a Dutch accent!

  7. Reply jojo thomas Jan 28,2014 3:45 pm

    they simply feel umcomfortable with non-native speakers

  8. Reply Danielle Jan 28,2014 3:51 pm

    It all depends on how you define ‘native speaker’. English is my first language. But, being born in India meant that I had to learn to speak Hindi. My Hindi isn’t great; I speak it fluently, but my grammar is nowhere near perfect. But, I consider myself to be a good teacher of English. People who’ve met me often ask if I was born in the UK, and find it hard to believe that I’d never been there till I was in my mid-20s. So I’d say that my English is of the ‘native speaker’ variety!

    Just to throw another option into the mix: How about native speakers of English who have learnt a second language?

  9. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 3:53 pm

    I have read and confused ,can,t make a dicision about teacher sellection.

  10. Reply martin lira Jan 28,2014 3:55 pm

    I love having non native speaker teachers in order to train more my listening, what about if I have to talk to a japanise or an indian girl/guy with a terrible english pronunciation even in England or USA? My hearing will be trained to understand a non native english speaker! 😉

  11. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 3:56 pm

    When facing the difficult decision between a British English speaker and an American English speaker; considering all the strange accents, idioms, spelling and bizarre speech impediments; simply have an epiphany and choose the perfect speaker of the English language. A Canadian! …….eh.

  12. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 4:04 pm

    real problem for speaking a language could only b idntified in a real life situation. Found i funny, terrible and troublsom

  13. Reply Miguel Angel Jan 28,2014 4:05 pm

    The question itself is prejudiced, native speakers may make mistakes when pronuncing, speaking or writing, etc. It has to do with the language command and assertiveness or education level. As teachers, we have the obligation to study and perfect our English. I lived in England for some time and speakers get and accept foreigners accent. What is more, they even have small and big differences when speaking. English is a live language that is under evolution, nobody can say they are perfect, not even native speakers because, who can know everything? Good communication is the target.

  14. Reply Mila Jan 28,2014 4:21 pm

    I’ve been teaching for 10 years with no studies even in the UK or the USA (which I would like to have as well); I got great education as a teacher; no problem with pronunciation or grammar, or vocabulary; the thing that I lack is REAL English used outside, in the bars, streets, etc. Our universities (in Russia) do not get us prepared for real life; instead they teach us classical literature English – that’s just our system. I have to gain it through watching TV series in the original and that sort of thing… Anyway, 95% of my students always start speaking, using English both at work and in leisure activities, which inspires me.
    I guess it should be great for students to have a native speaker since Intermediate level…

  15. Reply Kristy Jan 28,2014 4:21 pm

    The title of this post is somewhat absurd…
    “Can non-native speakers of English become good TEFL teachers?” There are thousands of brilliant non-native ESOL teachers all over the world, including in the UK. Asking if they CAN be good teachers is slightly insulting…
    Talking about the strengths and weakness of both native and non-native ESOL teachers would sound much more sensible.

  16. Reply ---- Jan 28,2014 4:23 pm

    As a Non-native speaker, and teacher, I’d like to say a few things. I am tired of going to Language Academies that don’t see me suitable to teach English because I am Spanish.
    Regarding the advantages and disadvantages of Natives and Non-natives, I’d like to say that non-natives can teach English as good as any native teacher because they have studied the language in depth. I know why English uses some structures instead of others. Also, non-natives can teach pronunciation – personally, I’ve lived in the US and my accent is more American than Spanish. Many people prefer natives because students think they will learn their teacher’s pronunciation. However, it has been proved that you need to know Phonetics in order to teach the “appropriate” pronunciation. Besides, if students reproduced English sounds simply by listening to their native teachers, they wouldn’t make any mistake, which is not the case. Regardless of your nationality, people have their own accent corresponding with their mother tongue. In that case, there are phonemes that do not appear in English or the other way around. In English, there is a distinction between b and v, which doesn’t exist in Spanish.
    Non-natives, who are qualified, are prepared to teach any aspect of the language, even idioms and colloquial expressions (at the University,you have to take the Proficiency exam by Cambrdige). I am not against natives, don’t get me wrong. I am against natives who are hired and teach English without being qualified. To be qualified you need a deep understanding of your mother tongue, it is more than doing a CELTA or DELTA course.
    Finally, Language Academies have the wrong idea that non-natives can’t teach a second language unless you are a native. I’d like to know if this happens in other countries apart from Spain.

  17. Reply Noon Warda Jan 28,2014 4:55 pm

    “Accent” and “proper pronunciation” are the most realistic hindrances a Non-native Speaker Teacher encounters; no matter how much you prepare and research, you will always be surprised by utterances you’ve never expected.

  18. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 5:30 pm

    I think non-native speakers make good teachers if they keep up-to-date with English, methods, work hard and can use IT in their classes. Having access to IT tools enables us to expose our students to real native accents. Technology keeps us polished and gives our students access to almost anything they need to improve their language skills. . Being Spanish my first language,I studied Phonetics well so as to feel how sounds are produced and make students do the same. I think that the belief that native teachers are the best is a myth.

  19. Reply John Jan 28,2014 5:47 pm

    A trainer of mine (native speaker) said the accent thing is pretty irrelevant, since students don’t learn their teachers’ accents by and large unless they’re taking elocution lessons or something.

    Americans speak English with American accents, and British people speak English with British accents, so why shouldn’t a German speak English with a German accent, as long as it doesn’t interfere with understanding?

    On the subject of learning outside of pronunciation, I think for adult learners it can often be an advantage up to C1 to be taught by non-native speaker teachers, purely because they have usually learnt English in the same cerebral way as the students are, not acquired it during childhood. They therefore often have a better grasp of rules of structure, and have had to find their own ways of remembering new vocabulary which benefit students.

    The only real advantages the native speaker has is when it comes to really awkward vocab questions from a class, or nuanced grammar questions which require an awareness of “how we usually do it”.

    Whether we’re native or non-native, you’ll find teachers’ rooms to be full of people referring to books to find answers which will satisfy their students. The key is to remain unprejudiced as a teacher and always be prepared to learn and discuss, no matter who the lesson is coming from!

  20. Reply hiwa Jan 28,2014 6:15 pm

    A non-native speaker can be a better teacher if he speaks good English, because he has gone through the learning process himself and he’s quite aware of the difficulties the learners face and he can help them overcome those obstacles.

  21. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 6:28 pm

    Well I think that both teachers are fine! Non native speakers Know how yo teach grammar to foreign students.. And Also native speakers can help with natural sounds. The idea could be the combination id both teachers

  22. Reply Shumila Malik Jan 28,2014 6:35 pm

    I think that non-native speakers of English can make good TEFL teachers because these days language learning, and its resources are not restricted to native speakers only. If you are open to learning and enthusiastic about your work, I don’t see why you can’t excel in the language. Besides, there is so much exposure people get through English movies, and songs, online pronunciation guides, listening skills tapes and videos etc. There is so much on the internet for teachers to polish their grammar and accent.

  23. Reply charo mtnz Jan 28,2014 7:26 pm

    In my opinion, we can not tell for sure, however, regarding the usage of a second language, details attached to culture or very specific vocabulary words for certain issues, there is no other option but to live in an English speaking country. On the other hand, I have had the chance to be taught by both types of teachers, and I have learned many things from them as worthy as they are as people.

  24. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 7:49 pm

    In my opinion non-native speakers are as good as native. Native speakers know how to speak and they can give us a proper cultural backroung which will enrich our lives; however, that doesn’t mean they know the language itself and how to explain it. Linguists who have studied a language know the rules, and how to explain them, and the efforts a pupil does when learning a foreign language. Why do non-native speakers of other languages study a language, if at the end of the day schools will hire a native? People should take that into account. Some teachers, like me, have done a great effort leaving their lives behind and spending years in other countries to improve and learn, and transmit that culture to our pupils, and still keep updated, learning techniques, methods, new words…. I think it’s time schools and government start thinking a little bit about this. Non-native teachers might not be perfect, but who is? The enrichment comes when people from different countries can speak the same language and communicate, no matter the accent, as not all Spaniards speak perfect Spanish, and not every English speaks RP English.

  25. Reply mohamed rashid Jan 28,2014 8:06 pm

    This all depends upon the fact that students show respect to teachers and in return obtain information no matter their accents.

  26. Reply CS Jan 28,2014 8:52 pm

    I find that the whole debate of “who’s better” quite insulting. Just because you were born with the nativity, doesn’t put you in a “higher position” then someone who doesn’t have it. The “non” … A negative prefix already puts you at “the lower level.” NES(native English Speakers) have their own accents as well:funny thing is that some aren’t even aware of it! Many times, “That’s how WE say it” is “That’s how I say it,” and may not really be the actual way the languages are used within the culture. Many NES teachers use the language, but don’t necessarily understand how it works, or what it is. As teachers, we should want our students to want to learn more, and be able to
    Survive with whatever version of the language they’ve learned in class–this means, “how I say it” is not a proper survival skill for the learners of English. We don’t transmit knowledge, but assist learners to generate theirs by providing the necessary tools. Meaning, teachers should not impose, but help compose. The entire dichotomy between NEST vs. NNEST does not help in any way. This is really a political hideout/excuse many people hide behind in fear.

  27. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 8:58 pm

    First of all the correct pronounciation but also a poor vocabulary. I would say that non native speaker and native speakers may be good in the same way except for what I have just mentioned above. The difference is the sound, when you hear an English teacher speaking, it is just like listening to a great piece of music, when you hear an American teacher speaking, it sounds terrible. I am an Italian teacher of English literature, I love English and I do my best to give the right sound but I can never be as good as a native speaker.

  28. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 9:35 pm

    Well I have come across many native English speakers who use double nagatives e.g. don’t can’t etc.. or make grammatical mistakes… but when it comes to teachers I think it matters a lot ..if the teacher has a good grasp on the subject and knows how to convey it to the students in an easy, interesting and proper way than that is it..

  29. Reply marta Jan 28,2014 10:52 pm

    A good english teacher is the best to be taught as english teacher and in the same way a good spaniard teacher is the best to teach spanish however there are good teachers wherever and I personally think about having a very good teacher it’s the most important

  30. Reply Anonymous Jan 28,2014 10:57 pm

    I think the important thing is a good grasp of the language too…A non-native teacher who knows what he or she is doing is almost always better than a native teacher who doesn’t. Unfortunately, there are plenty of native speakers in EFL bumbling along in the dark with no qualifications and plenty of non-native teachers who use weird expressions or pronunciation on a regular basis. I think that students’ motivation to learn is way more important than the teacher or learning environment and that native speaker teachers are often better equipped to deal with students above F.C.E level, where vocabulary and idioms are of greater importance.

  31. Reply Justyna Jan 28,2014 11:31 pm

    A native teacher (well, “teacher” with a 20 hour course) in the classroom next to mine today, in the second week of teaching absolute beginners, spoke to them about: telling the time (using half past, quarter to etc.), must and have to, was and were, possessive pronouns (though I am not sure she has any idea what pronouns are). Using very strong Black Country accent. No offence meant, but she sounds herself like a very common, simple, uneducated person. If her students, lovely, delicate and sophisticated ladies from Middle East, start speaking with the same accent, that will be a disaster…
    Please, do not tell me that being born here or there in any way influences one’s teaching abilities.
    A good teacher must speak good English, with good accent, but first of all, must know how to TEACH. Must be able to explain to students when we use “other”, when “another”, what “until” means. How many native speakers who have not studied the language are able to teach absolute beginners the concept of “to be” if it does not simply exist in their own language?

  32. Reply Federico Ortiz Jan 28,2014 11:43 pm

    I am a Spanish native speaker and was submerged into English at a very early age, and I don`t think that would be able to teach Spanish to foriegners. We might know a language, know how to read, write in it but being a native speaker doesn`t necesseraly make you a good teacher. In order to teach a language you MUST first be trained to do so; otherwise you will not be of good help to the students.

  33. Reply Jessica Jan 29,2014 1:30 am

    – “They provide accurate pronunciation models for learners”
    Some people do not pronounce English speech sounds effectively.
    They cannot provide accurate pronunciation models for learners if they are not able to explain to students how to produce some speech sounds.
    How could a native speaker explain to students how to produce the speech sound /r/ and what the position of the tongue is to produce that sound of speech?
    – “They can explain lots of idioms and colloquial phrases”
    If someone has not done a thorough study of a subject, it would be very difficult for him/her to explain how a specific language works. Studying a language is not the same as studying physics. A language involves the way of thinking of a specific culture, the way people think, the way they construct meaning a sociolect and also an idiolect.
    Sometimes, some native speakers have asked me how they can explain grammar rules to students. Sometimes, I have asked some native speakers what the meaning of certain word is but they have not been able to explain the meaning to me.
    – “Students will use their English to communicate with native speakers”
    Students will only copy another person’s way of speaking but it does not mean it is the correct way to do it. A person who has studied a specific language thoroughly is able to guide second language learners because he/she is able to analyse the way that specific language works.
    – “They can show me how to use the grammar in the way it is actually spoken / written”
    As I mentioned above, the students will only copy someone else’s way of speaking and writing but, will the native speaker be able to explain grammar rules to students? And, written language is even more complex. Native speakers might use the correct words and phrases but, would they be able to teach students how to structure an essay and teach second language learners how important the use of sentence connectors is in order to write effectively?

  34. Reply Jessica Jan 29,2014 1:43 am

    The reason why second language teachers know how to explain the L2 in a clear and accessible way is not because “They had to learn it as a second language”. IT is because second language teachers must do a thorough study of the language in order to teach it. Otherwise, they would not been able to explain issues regarding meaning, grammar rules, speech sounds, or why the word dancing is both an activity and the gerund form of the verb dance; however, in Spanish the activity does not have the same form as the gerund form of the verb “dance”.

  35. Reply jgveltenJoel Guilherme Velten Jan 29,2014 3:36 am

    I am a non-native speaker of English and I teach the language for many years. I graduated in 1977 and studied it as an exchange student in Salt Lake City – Utah where I got a scholarship. English is my second language and I am sure I speak it with accent. I always try to improve my accent but as a foreigner I know it is very difficult to speak like a native. I agree when you s ay that English is an international language and because this when you learn with a non-native is better to speak to other people. Native speak very fast and sometimes you can not follow them. Anyway I don´t have much problem to understand people all over the world.

  36. Reply Gustavo Jan 29,2014 4:24 am

    As a non native speaker teacher I think the most import thing is understand what you’re teaching and have a good pronunciation.

  37. Reply Ms Pauliina Jan 29,2014 6:25 am

    Oh dear, pretty stereotypical, isnt it? I’m a Finnish native and teach English as a foreign language. I have a Master’s degree, as required in Finland, with English language and literature as my major and minoring in pedagogy, among other things. I’m fluent in English and often confused as a Brit. I dont speak or write “international” English and my language is rich and idiomatic as English is the language I use on a daily basis. Ive also worked in the UK teaching English to foreigners. However, this only makes me a typical English teachet in my home country as most of us are really good at what we teach. No-one’s language is perfect, not even in their first language. My Finnish could be better but then again it’s not that rare to find errors in the material that our English natives produce.

  38. Reply ELF Pronunciation Jan 29,2014 6:36 am

    If you’re interested in the use of English as a Lingua Franca and issues surrounding pronunciation, check out our new blog with free classroom resources and some background information about this topic.

  39. Reply Anonymous Jan 29,2014 7:25 am

    those who are able to speak proper English despite the fact that they are not (British or Americans or from one of the countries that the English is their basic language ) are amazingly clever and not to mentioned that English language as i believe are the most popular language in the world so we can see every two people from anywhere unrelated to English speaking countries when they wanna speak to each other they speaks English. still how to pronounce English ( like British or Americans ) or who ever are not accountable in my perspective .

  40. Reply Mahmoud Mohammad Allawi Jan 29,2014 10:21 am

    Let’s start with this phrase .

    I asked god to give me a car but I figured out that god dosent work that way so … I stole a car and asked god for forgiveness.

    If a non native teacher tried to explain the figure of speech of this sentence he will find him self hopeless becouse he him self is out of understanding like these idiomatic expressions but unlike the native one if he couldn’t understand this he will freely try to cross in the words in the minds of the students .

    The problem is in the way of how the non native speakers teachers act and do to deliver the information , despite of the difference in the caltural and relegous base .
    Not only but also he , the non native teacher chould be open minded to cope with the expectations for his students

  41. Reply Vinicio Jan 29,2014 11:00 am

    Teachers are only facilitators

  42. Reply Michalis Tantalakis Jan 29,2014 11:15 am

    Sorry me Old China’s, yer barking up the wrong tree. Jessica is Nearest to spot on abaht dis and her letter is Okidoki by me. I know a bundle of Taffs an Jocks who when we natter I don’t unnastan what it is when they sayabaht split infinitives… sounds like sumfin you order in a kaff.. Not that I don’t know nuffink. Of darn the frog now for a pint of pigs ear in the rubba dub. .Chow

  43. Reply manikandan Jan 29,2014 3:12 pm

    Non-native teachers are learners themselves and they know the difficulty of a non native learners more than a native teacher. . Moreover, they teach and learn with the learners.

  44. Reply manikandan Jan 29,2014 3:16 pm

    i agree with you but English is all not about proper “pronunciation and accent”.

  45. Reply Anonymous Jan 29,2014 7:30 pm

    Non native speakers teaching their “same culture” students know the “idioms”and common mistakes their students tend to do.

  46. Reply Anonymous Jan 29,2014 7:36 pm

    To define and difference a native speaker from a non native one, we have to take into account whether the teacher keeps the language fresh and up to date, in the actual usage of it, or he or she has left it, to get a bit stale.

  47. Reply Ganesh Ghimire Jan 29,2014 11:24 pm

    Language is a matter of mastering so far as I know and, thus, acknowledge and practicing till. English teacher/ teacher of English, hence, anyone can be despite being non-native birth. Moreover, English has already become Englishes in this 21st century where native and non-native have soluted within so perfectly that it’s quite tough to have water tight boundary
    So, anyone can master teaching profession who has passion for language, especially English.

  48. Reply Anonymous Jan 30,2014 2:33 pm

    I think students need to understand the pros to both types of teachers because English is international and depending on the student’s uses of the language they can make a decision based on what is best for them if they know what the difference between native and non-native teachers are. HOWEVER, at the end of the day, doesn’t it come down to just good quality teaching? Isn’t about a teacher that can push a student to their potential and provide a comfortable learning environment? Isn’t it about facilitating the learning process? I agree pronunciation is important but in most cases it is important for being understood, an accent is part of a person and when speaking English with a non-native accent is great. It is a good thing and I believe that if a student wants to learn an English, American, Australian, Irish, Scottish, or whatever accent then find a teacher who can help but it isn’t usually important – being understood is important.

  49. Pingback: Can non-speakers of English become good TEFL teachers? | casidiomas

  50. Reply Anonymous Jan 31,2014 8:48 pm

    It’s a matter of who is capable and well trained to teach English and help the learners speak it and be understood by both natives and non natives .

  51. Reply mrsmissoveness Jan 31,2014 9:20 pm

    The question this post poses is loaded.
    1. It doesn’t mean that since you speak the language, you can teach it well. Despite TEFL training, I’ve seen some native teachers who are not up to standard. I know of native speakers whom despite, CELTA training, still struggle with recognising and understanding grammatical terminology and explanations. Many native speakers, and here I refer to the UK, have gone through an educational system that was catered to L1 learners so grammar was implied in their learning + it was a language they grew up & listened to – pronunciation, grammatical structures and rules. They didn’t have to learn it explicitly, as with most first languages. They lived it and breathed it.

    2. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting many non-native English language teachers over the course of my career who know they grammar better than their native counter-parts. And yes, they may not pronounce the words as perfect as RP wants it to be. But who speaks the RP way, anyway? Mancunians, Geordies, Welsh, Cockney, Irish, Scottish…no one sounds RP even the BBC is now changing its policy and using presenters from all over the UK with accents thrown in! They are beginning to see the light in the UK so why not the rest of the world?

    It is indeed a challenge for L2 learners to pick up the nuances of a language, especially if they aren’t immersed in the L2 environment. And even if they are, it can be tricky. On the other end of the scale, I’ve met British people living in the US who aren’t always understood for these nuances – shops/stores, jumper/sweater, graft, lovely – fines words used but with not quite the same meaning in the US. And vice versa.

    On the note of ‘good teachers’, well that’s another comment altogether.

  52. Reply Maria Feb 5,2014 2:45 am

    The best example I know ?? A non-native teacher of Englush , hired by Cambrdige University to teach at that prestigious uni.

  53. Reply dylgates@hotmail.com Feb 5,2014 8:47 am

    Hi Maria, I do think that the situation is gradually changing and your example shows that it is possible for non-native speakers to find a prominent place in ELT.

  54. Reply jcudak Feb 5,2014 9:07 am

    This is, to me, a very outdated 20th century question – similar to “British or American English?” Thanks to the British Empire and the Internet, probably close to 3 billion people speak English on our planet today. Just like nobody owns the Net, nobody owns English, and it is free to change and be “taught” by anybody who non-speakers want (or can afford) to listen to. Consequently, English has become a huge business and often the real-world needs of the learner are completely forgotten in the teaching process. Why does Britain have the lowest literacy rates in Europe – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24433320 ?

  55. Reply dylgates@hotmail.com Feb 5,2014 1:23 pm

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that this is an outdated question within the industry. However, as you mentioned, the English language learning industry has become a huge business and many language programmes use the term ‘native speaker teachers’ to sell their product. By having a debate about the relative merits of non-native and native speaker teachers, at least we can enable language learners to make a more informed choice.

  56. Reply Anonymous Feb 6,2014 4:47 am

    so much has already been said….. But i am a native with a non-native ‘citizenship’. I was very fortunate to have obtained my CELTA from UK by an amazing trainer, and then employed by an EFL school that looked at my qualification and my skills instead of where I came from. True, there was a phone interview to confirm my speaking ability, as the students do need a good model. But……its hard when employers look at my passport! I guess there will always be gaps that need filling. I have been advised by my Masters program coordinator that if I want to pursue this career, I need a passport from ‘native’ countries. sigh

  57. Reply English teacher in Asia Feb 27,2014 6:31 am

    If their students were going to be in a country where English is the main language,I think a non-native English speaker could teach English only if he or she lived in an English speaking country for longer than 5 years as well as have gotten a degree, preferably English or education, from an English speaking country. There are socially correct ways to writing and speaking that they would have to know prior to teaching the language.

    If a non-native English speaker wanted to teach English to other non-native English speakers simply to communicate to other people who do not speak their language but know English, ie as a foreign language, I feel they would have to have an English or education degree from an English speaking country in order to do so.

    Non-native English speakers should have an English or education degree from an English speaking country because they would learn exactly how to teach the language without any grammatical error or odd phrasing. As a person who currently works as a native English teacher in Asia, I see and hear constant grammatical errors and odd phrasing from my non-native counterparts. Even books are riddled with those types of errors.

    As a native English speaker, I know that the majority of us make mistakes in grammar. I bet this comment has a couple of errors. Our errors, however, are not those that would cause confusion. If a non-native English speaker taught another non-native speaker English without having a degree from an English speaking country, their way of writing and speaking the language could be riddled with the problems mentioned above. This would perpetuate and cause some of the population who does business in English, for tourism or for business, to have communication problems with those he or she does business with.

    These people who do business with them are people that live anywhere in the world. Some could be Chinese, European, or even American or Canadian. It’s not only local people conducting business in English together, it’s also people from other countries conducting business with everyone else. The language that’s being spoken amongst all of them should be clear and concise, not riddled with errors that could confuse and odd phrasing that could offend.

    Unfortunately the non-native English speaker should fix whatever written or spoken errors they have in English before teaching other people English. They cannot fix their errors in their native country; they must go to a native English speaking country in order to fix those errors that still persist within them. Ultimately immersion is needed before any non-native English speaker can teach the English language.

  58. Reply Manuel Vicente Apr 22,2014 11:03 pm

    Hi everyone!

    As a native Spanish speaker, I will need my entire life in order to master my own language trying to cover a couple of domains such as music, computing, agriculture, economics, and so on, with my regional accent and additional local vocabulary, involving many cultural aspects which change everyday.

    In Spain all the students are supposed to learn at least English (and sometimes a second or third language). In my opinion it’s an unrealistic point of view.

    Can everyone play guitar like Paco de Lucia or play tennis like Nadal? Why speaking perfectly foreign languages should be in the public domain? It’s an unrealistic.

    Regarding the student:

    What does a student want? Learning or passing an exam and having a degree? The ‘Selectivity’ Exam covers only the written skills! For professional purposes it could be really necessary to communicate, but nowadays there’re excellent pieces of software (even in our phones) who make that for us.

    Regarding the teacher:

    If the words ‘native’ and ‘teacher’ are synonyms, we don’t need teachers, only immigration. And the non-native ‘English teacher’ should change his degree into ‘high qualified unemployed’.

    Other aspect we often forget: English people rarely speak well any language (except English?) but media make us feel a complex of inferiority comparing the English language skills of e.g. German or Dutch with ours. If we should to learn Italian or other romanic language, would we have the same results in the comparison?

    Who is interested in making people unhappy? Book sellers? English academies? Vaughan radio? Oxford University? British travel agencies?

    What about me?
    I work as a music teacher in a secondary school.
    The parental illusions have increased the social pressure and extended the idea of creating bilingual schools for everyone. In a couple of years I’m supposed having to teach music in English! (That’s the reason I must study it now). For me it’s funny, I love languages, it will be good for my school, and the parents will be very proud of their children who will play the flute, dance, sing, listen to music, in English! They will study Mozart, Debussy, Verdi or flamenco music in English! (Rock history could be an exception) :D.

    For a reduced number of students it will be an extra motivation, I admit, but what about all
    those who aren’t good in English? They don’t write properly in their own language and now they may have extra problems.


    Thanks for reading!

    Please, excuse my poor grammar and spelling mistakes: English is only my 5th language after French, German, Italian (and Spanish, of course). All my teachers were Spanish, maybe not perfect but excellent motivators!

  59. Reply dylgates@hotmail.com Apr 23,2014 9:25 pm

    Thanks Manuel for your fascinating comments.

    I’d like to highlight a few of the points you raised as I think they lead to some important questions about teaching and learning.

    1. No matter how ‘educated’ somebody might consider themselves to be, it is impossible to be a proficient communicator in every discourse community (a group of people involved in a specific professional areas such as teachers, doctors, plumbers or football players) in their own language. As you mentioned, we might expect too much of our learners so maybe we should focus more on helping them acquire language for specific discourse communities than asking them to follow standardised syllabi.

    2. Here in Spain, I am shocked by how many learners only want to learn English in order to pass an exam. Although this is a specific goal, the other benefits of learning a language are often ignored.

    3. I think your point about linguistic distance (the degree of similarity between different languages) is really important. The Spanish (like the British) have an inferiority complex regarding their ability to learn other languages. As somebody who has spent most of his teaching career with multi-lingual classes, it is clear that some nationalities have certain advantages when it comes to acquiring English, especially vocabulary. This can have a negative effect on learners who compare themselves with other learners from different countries.

    4. I’m not sure that the primary objective of the educational services you mentioned is to make people unhappy. However, it is clear that English language learning is a huge and profitable business and teaching learners to become self-sufficient learners rather than consumers would definitely lower profit margins!

    5.The research on early second language learning seems to suggest that formal language tuition for very young learners may lead to first language acquisition issues. I’m also concerned that this sudden push towards providing bilingual education for all learners will lead to a new set of problems.

    Please don’t feel the need to apologise for your English. Any errors you made were non-impeding ones and you were able to articulate your concerns in a powerful and elegant way.

  60. Reply Alex Jul 15,2014 8:38 am

    Any non-native, CELTA-qualified teacher with dual nationality here? Has that helped find a job?

  61. Reply andreavarga Sep 5,2014 4:21 pm

    Hi Alex, I am a non-native teacher and I am an EU citizen, not dual nationality, and it helps in terms of people understanding that I am not illegal. But of course, the bigger issue, for me, is being non-native.

    I agree with a lot of things I read above. Just would like put in my own two pence – I love English idioms and expressions, I possibly know more than my native English boyfriend! I have a vocabulary large enough to compete with any native speaker and I often help out my boyfriend when he is writing his uni essays. However, he undoubtedly wins when it comes to slang and informal words. But I don’t really know or use them in my native language either, so does not knowing them in English count? It’s not my style.

    So that’s the good part. Here’s the bad: I feel quite self-conscious when it comes to my accent! Although my students can never tell that I am non-native, and Americans are usually left guessing whether I am or not, (educated) British people can instantly tell that I am non-native, but can never guess where my accent comes from (not Spanish 🙂 ). Nonetheless, it’s enough to make me feel inferior sometimes.

    And the other annoying thing: my large vocab means nothing really because after having lived outside the UK for over 5 years now, I realize that a large portion of my vocab is sinking into the passive, very fast. I did a SAT vocab test the other day, just for fun, and I was so annoyed to see how many words on the list I used to know/use but now I either struggle to remember the meaning or I never use them.

    And one more thing: Dylan mentioned accommodation theory above. Well, it does happen to me, I tend to copy people’s accents and intonation. It’s kind automatic and not something I deliberately want to do.

    Sorry for the rant, this is a very fascinating topic and very close to my heart.

  62. Reply Ei Ei Mon Sep 13,2014 5:22 am

    My career is to become an ESL teacher but I’m not a native speaker. I was wondering if I could teach ESL in a foreign country if I get a degree of ESL.

  63. Reply Anonymous Mar 23,2015 1:11 am

    Quote: ‘British people speak English with British accents’, and indeed English teachers (like myself) teaching English with an English accent. 🙂

  64. Reply Anonymous Nov 11,2015 11:09 am

    Have you stopped considering that a ‘native speaker’ is also a Nigerian, a Jamaican, a…
    what about their accents, should we teach those? Or not? Why?
    Being a good teacher is so much more than being a good speaker. A non-native might know his/her limits and strive to correct them. I know many a native speaker that have no idea why they use a structure or other. They know this and study grammar to get better.
    A non-native will (should) strive to get a clear, neutral pronunciation, while making his/her students aware of the differences that exist in varieties of English.

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