Is there place in TEFL for non-native speakers of English?
Diary submitted by Lee R., Valencia
Why non-natives are vital in TEFL positions despite the preferences of native speakers
In the TEFL industry across Europe, there is a predisposed opinion that English should only be taught by native speakers. There are of course many obvious advantages of having a native speaker as a teacher but what about non-natives and how a ‘grass roots’ approach may be useful? This section will discuss the benefits of non-natives in the TEFL scenario and my experiences of non-native teachers.
One of the key advantages of non-natives is their knowledge of grammatical constructs. Due to the fact that we English do not learn our own grammar properly in school, non-natives are far more advanced with metalanguage and construction of tenses. If a British person, like myself in some situations, is asked why a tense or mood are constructed the way they are, the response will often be that they do not know. On the contrary, a foreigner may be able to answer this as they have more than likely studied the grammar of their own language as well as that of English. This is supported by Murray (2013) where he states that “they [non-natives] have consciously learned the language step by step and can guide their students through the labyrinth of confusion that they have already conquered.”. This can be beneficial for students and may compensate for what native students have with the advantages of pronunciation and nuances. Nevertheless, even with these advantages, through my own experience, I am inclined to agree with Arntsen (2016) who states, “Accents are not an indication of poor teaching.”, despite the bias theory from people that claim that they do.
In addition, although non-native teachers are not born and raised in the country, because they have learned another language and culture, they are more culturally aware and will have extensive knowledge of how Britain is viewed from the outside. A fresh cultural perspective like this may give new insights to learners in TEFL circumstances. However, for non-natives to achieve this, they must have a lot of first-hand experience inside the TL country. A teacher, whom I worked I with, has been studying in England for many years and because of this, he had a solid building block to teach upon. Furthermore, through living in the U.K., he has also acquired numerous nuances and colloquialisms.
Considering the above mentioned points, from my experience as a teacher, working with other non-natives (such as Italians) had nothing but a positive influence on both myself as well as students. I was in fact frequently helped by these non-natives because of my lack of grammatical knowledge at the time, especially if I needed to clarify some rules. Consequently, this also, in turn, improved the quality of my teaching and built up my own self confidence. One could say that we need non-natives to reaffirm our prior knowledge so that we can build on our own confidence. Moreover, it is impossible to deny that working as part of a multicultural team is a lot more exciting and promotes a positive work atmosphere as there is a variety of culture in conjunction with character types. Pronunciation by the foreign teachers I worked with was near perfect and I had no difficulty with understanding them, but their English was not always faultless, however. These aspects are of course dependent on the teacher’s ability.
In conclusion, although there are a lot of arguments that do not go in favour of non-natives, I believe that there is a clear need for them in the TEFL environment as they have much to bring in terms of perspectives and language rules. Furthermore, I am of the sure opinion that there needs to a balance to these two sides of the coin in TEFL, where non-natives should perhaps teach more grammar orientated lessons and the natives should be used to focus on pronunciation and constructs that only a native will know.
- Arntsen, T. (2016). Native speakers and non-native speakers can both succeed as ESL teachers. Retrieved from http://busyteacher.org/4570-esl-controversy-native-speaker-vs-non-native.html
- Murray, J. (2013). Are Native English Speakers Really Better Teachers?. Retrieved from https://www.englishexperts.com.br/are-native-english-speakers-really-better-teachers/