There is a phrase non-native speaking, which means a person whose first language (or L1) is not the language they spoke as a child and grew up with. The name non-native contains the negative prefix non, and implies a lack, or negative aspect to the teacher’s title. But, despite the terminology, a non-native speaking teacher may indeed have more to offer than one might think.
Paradoxically, teachers who have been brought up speaking English understand English grammar better when they have studied another language such as French, Italian or an Asian language. In understanding the grammar of another language it is then possible to understand better the grammar of your own language. The reason is that you learn the language of grammar! This may not have been learned or taught when you studied your own language (especially English!)
Native Speaking Teachers (NS)
English language teachers who grew up speaking English become highly competent teachers when they train and build experience over a large number of years teaching with a large number of students. However, assuming you can teach the English language because you can speak and write it reasonably well is a fallacy. In some cases, English language teachers may not have the experience or knowledge (yet) that is needed to deal with most situations in the language classroom.
Non-Native Speaking Teachers (NNS)
A non-native speaking teacher may have the qualifications and have the necessary experience gained over a number of years to deal with most language problems. Issues of grammar, vocabulary, test taking, listening, writing, reading, and speaking are dealt with by a teacher using their knowledge and experience with a large number of students, irrespective of L1. The issues are common, and an experienced teacher will recognise in advance the kind of problems that students face. In short, training and experience matters.
Accent Prejudice: Does Good Pronunciation Make a Good Teacher?
In the area of speaking, the non-native speaker may be discriminated against in some way because there is a perception that their pronunciation is not accurate. This may not be an issue of pronunciation, but one of accent.
This aspect of the communicative skills of the non-native speaking teacher may result in a perception that the teacher is in fact not a good teacher. This perception, or prejudice, may be wrong. In terms of pronunciation, the non-native speaker can work very hard in ensuring that their pronunciation is as close to native speaker like as possible to eliminate the prejudice that they often face.
The advantage that the non-native speaking teacher has over the native speaking teacher is that they have learned the language from scratch. A Mandarin or Korean speaking English language teacher, for example, has grown up speaking their native (L1) language and has learned English to professional level by successfully studying every aspect of the language.
Empathy: Being in Your Shoes
NNS teachers have been in the shoes (and the chairs) of the student. Non-native speaking teachers know what it’s like to learn English. After academic training, the non-native speaker may appreciate the multiplicity of experiences of their students and can facilitate learning in a way that in some respects is more developed and sophisticated than the native speaking teacher.
Of course, the effectiveness of a non-native speaking teacher relies on many factors. Their skill, training, motivation and determination all come in to play, as well as, the encouragement they’ve been given to develop their skills to the highest level they can. That is why and how we have highly proficient non-native speaker teachers.
High Achieving NNS Teachers
These teachers set an example to teachers and students. Many non-native speakers achieve masters and doctorate levels in their academic studies. At this level the academic non-native speaking teacher is expected to show exemplary language skills. In doing so they demonstrate the potential for every English language student. An effective non-native speaking teacher has both empathy for the learning process and the necessary skill to teach it. This combination can make for a very exciting and effective teacher!
So look out for Dr. Anna China and Rahila Siddiqui, two E2Language teachers whose first language isn’t (wasn’t?) English, who have achieved exemplary proficiency in their teaching.
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Written by David
BA Dip Ed Cert TEFL MTESOL