An extremely active discussion on a LinkedIn professional group called English Language Services Professionals has caught my interest. This group is one of the most active English teaching groups on the Internet, with almost 13,000 members. Here's the question that begins the discussion:
I've been looking for a teaching opportunity for two years and I'm sick of the typical "Native speakers only" phrase. Why do they allow TEFL certificates fro non-natives then?
This is a discussion that needs to be had in the world of English teaching. I have my own opinion on the matter, but let's first start off with a quick overview of the current situation in the English teaching world. To be very general, as well as to oversimplify the discussion, let's admit that there is a perception by some that native speakers of English are better English teachers.
This idea that only non-native speakers of English need not apply for English teaching jobs comes from a number of arguments:
- Native speakers provide accurate pronunciation models for learners.
- Native speakers innately understand the intricacies of idiomatic English usage.
- Native speakers can provide conversational opportunities in English that more closely mirror conversations that learners can expect to have with other English speakers.
- Native speakers understand native English speaking cultures and can provide insight that non-native speakers can not.
- Native speakers speak English as it is actually spoken in English speaking countries.
- Students' and students' parents prefer native speakers.
Here are some counterarguments to the points above:
- Pronunciation models: Non-native English speakers can provide a model of English as the Lingua Franca, and will have studied correct pronunciation models.
- Idiomatic English: While many learners would like to speak idiomatic English, the fact is that most of the English conversation they will have, and should have will be in non-idiomatic standard English.
- Typical native speaker conversations: Most English learners will be using their English to discuss business, holidays, etc. with OTHER non-native English speakers for the majority of the time. Only true English as a Second Language students (i.e. those living or wanting to live in English speaking countries) might reasonably expect to spend most of their time speaking English with native English speakers.
- English speaking cultures: Once again, most English learners will be communicating with people from a wide variety of cultures in English, that doesn't mean that UK, Australian, Canadian or US culture will be the main topic of conversation.
- Native speakers use 'real-world' English: This is perhaps of importance only to English as a Second Language learners, rather than English as a Foreign Language learners.
- Students' and students' parents prefer native English speakers: This is more difficult to debate. This is purely a marketing decision made by the schools. The only way to change this 'fact' would be to market English classes differently.
The Reality Of Non-Native English Speakers Teaching English
I can imagine that a number of readers might also realize one important fact: State school teachers are overwhelmingly non-native English speakers in non-native English speaking countries. In other words, for many this is a non-issue: Non-native English speakers already teach English in state schools, so there are plenty of teaching opportunities. However, the perception remains that, in the private sector, native English speakers are preferred in most cases.
This is a complex issue, and having benefited from the fact that I am a native speaker I admit to having had an advantage for certain teaching jobs throughout my life. On the other hand, I have never had access to some of the cushier state teaching jobs available. To be blunt, state teaching jobs offer much more security, generally better pay and infinitely better benefits. However, I can also understand the frustration of non-native English speakers who have gained mastery of English, and who can help students in their own native language. I think there are a few criteria for making a hiring decision, and I offer these for your consideration.
- The native / non-native teacher decision should be based on students' needs analysis. Are the learners going to need to speak English in native English speaking countries?
- Qualifications must be considered: Just Speaking English doesn't make a teacher qualified. Teachers need to be judged on their qualifications and experience.
- Non-native speakers have a distinct edge for teaching lower level students as they can explain difficult grammar points in learners' native tongue with great accuracy.
- The perception of native speakers is best seems antiquated in the global English speaking environment. Perhaps it is time for private schools to revisit their marketing strategies.
- Native speakers do have the edge when it comes to idiomatic language skills. Imagine an English learner is going to move to the US to work in a company, a native English speaker with a bit of knowledge about that industry will be able to quickly latch on to idiomatic language, as well as jargon that the student will need.
Please take advantage of the opportunity to express your own opinion. This is an important discussion, that everyone can learn from: teachers, both native and non-native speakers, private institutes that feel the 'have to' hire native speakers, and, perhaps most importantly, students.