TEFL – Only for Native Speakers?
Diary submitted by Laura H. Valencia
Do many disadvantages outweigh few advantages?
Teaching English can sometimes present a serious challenge to teachers who are non- native speakers. Despite having certain advantages over native English speakers, non-natives find themselves frequently at a disadvantage in the TEFL industry.
In my personal experience as a German native speaker, I have felt that teachers from English-speaking countries enjoy major benefits inside and outside of the classroom over non- natives. As a teacher, I sometimes get the impression that I cannot give my students as profound an answer as a native speaker would be able to. In view of my limited exposure to the English-speaking world, I feel that in certain situations I lack the ability to respond as spontaneously as my native colleagues can. Furthermore, I always try to prepare my lessons as best as possible in advance by looking up concise definitions of lexical items, the accurate pronunciation of difficult words and additional examples. I really attempt to cover every eventuality in the classroom. Due to my thorough preparation, I can compensate for not having grown up in an English-speaking country. Still, situations arise in which students ask me quite tricky questions about linguistic phenomena that I am not au fait enough with, and thus, cannot answer. I believe that such classroom situations are also one of the reasons why most learners prefer native over non-native teachers. Even though I can often offer my students better explanations on grammar rules or tips on how to master certain skills, my level of proficiency can simply not rival the intuitive feeling native speakers have for their own mother tongue. I am convinced that language schools also prefer to employ native English speakers on the grounds of these reasons. As a result, it is considerably more difficult for non- native teachers to establish themselves on the global TEFL market.
Peter Medgyes confirms me in my view that non-native speakers are at a clear disadvantage in the TEFL industry. In his publication, he compares and contrasts experiences in language teaching of both native and non-natives speakers. Medgyes underlines that non- natives often feel patronized in this industry. Native speakers who frequently offer less formal qualifications than their non-native counterparts are favored by employers. Furthermore, the ease with which natives use and teach their language greatly outstrips the abilities of a non- native. Medgyes has found in his studies that English-native speakers are far more flexible in their teaching approach. They apply more “real language”, in comparison to non-natives who tend to use more “bookish language” (435). Native teacher tend to “teach items in context”, “prefer free activities” and “focus on colloquial registers”, while non-natives are more likely to “teach items in isolation”, “prefer controlled activities” and “focus on formal registers” (ibid.). Medgyes, however, underscores that native speakers do not automatically outperform their non-native co-workers in terms of the quality of the teaching itself. He even points out that sometimes levels of commitment are higher in non-natives and that non-natives teachers “have more realistic expectations” when they step into the classroom (ibid.).
In spite of having more difficulty in finding a position as a language teacher, non- natives can also land a good job, provided that they can offer additional qualifications. I am strongly convinced that many drawbacks in the classroom can be eliminated by thorough preparation and sufficient motivation. Consequently, non-native teachers can frequently surpass all expectations.
- When the Teacher is a Non-native Speaker. Peter Medgyes. 2005.