Native vs non native teachers

We all want to speak like native speakers. Some of us reach that level and some of us do become teachers/tutors. So which one is better at teaching English?


Although it may seem very easy at first, it is a difficult question to answer. I am Polish and if someone asked me to teach them Polish I know I would have a problem because the last time I learn something about my native language was in primary school (verbs, tenses, aspects, etc). I know what sounds natural in Polish, and in my view, I would be able to correct students’ mistakes accurately. However, as a lifelong student of English being the equivalent, I would like to know why! Why should I use this verb, this tense, this collocation, etc? So teaching Polish to someone would be a problem because I simply don’t know the answers to these whys! And frankly speaking, I would be afraid to study it to find these answers as I know how complicated this language is even for us, the Poles.


An articulate native teacher who knows how to teach and knows the English language inside out would be perfect! Do people like that exist? They do but I believe they know their worth and so they charge a lot for their private classes and/or they teach at some renowned school or university in a foreign country like Saudi Arabia, Singapore, or the UK. If they don’t know their worth because, for example, they have only started teaching recently, they will soon find out. If you are good at something people usually take notice and therefore if you are smart, that is how you start getting more and more experience and you probably should never run out of students, especially students willing to pay a bit more for your expertise.


How about other native teachers? What flaws do they have? I think their number one flaw is that they don’t necessarily know, on a deeper level, what their students need. So they can identify the mistakes their students make, which is not a hard thing to do for a native speaker of any language, but they struggle with finding the right solution to the type of mistake they make. Non-native teachers are much better at it as they have walked the same path before and they are just much further down the road, but it is the same road they are walking. On the other hand, native teachers are excellent at pronunciation, idioms, collocations, grammar nuances (frequently without being able to explain them). What’s more, I noticed they like to use games in their classes. There is, however, a certain thing native teachers do that personally annoy me. It is their accents, not every accent though. There are accents though which are remarkably hard to understand so I gravitate towards native speakers who don’t mumble and make an effort to enunciate words properly. So a Scottish accent or Gordie accent are not my favorite ones. I prefer the Californian accent for example because I understand it easily. It is a huge relief when you don’t have to pay so much attention to the native’s accent and pronunciation. On my worse day, it is a deal-breaker!


The other issue I have found to be widespread is the spelling problem. I have met native teachers of English who had no idea what the difference was between its and it’s and when to use each. That said, I think that it is virtually impossible to prove that a native speaker doesn’t know something. If you as a student find yourself in a situation with a native speaker when they don’t know how to explain something, you would probably be slightly annoyed by it but I guess it would take a lot more than that for you to look for someone else. Native teachers, when challenged, either admit that they don’t know or they say they will look into it to find a better way of explaining that thing to you next time. I think non-native teachers are judged more harshly. A student would probably think that they are not educated well enough!

So what are the flaws (and other strengths) of the non-native teachers? I think our number one flaw is that our command of English is not as great as we would like to admit. It very much depends on a teacher but, generally, on the outside, we speak the language fluently and we have no problem with talking about very complicated and multidimensional issues and topics. Yet sometimes we forget a word or a phrase and it is embarrassing. This leads me to a problem with non-native teachers who teach low levels for a long time. It is simply not challenging enough for you and so you stop using these more advanced structures and phrases etc. If you have no one to practice a language with as a teacher you might simply forget how to use it on the more advanced level. If it happens to you, don’t panic! You can get it back! Another flaw of the non-native teachers is that we stick too much to grammar because it is our huge strength. Students love variety though and they always want to play games. I think that we are sometimes afraid that we might fail in some way or not know the answer to a question if one comes up. Not all of us like to be super spontaneous in the class either. The tried and tested methods are good for us because they make us feel safe. On the other hand, the number one strength of the non-native teachers is the ability to speak fluently in (at least) two languages: your native language and English. Therefore, if you are teaching English to other native speakers of your first language you are in a great position. You not only teach English to them but at the same time, you teach them how to translate something from English to that language and vice versa! It is a very powerful tool if used correctly. If I were a student learning English, I would start with a non-native teacher whose first language would also be my first language. I would start classes with a native speaker if I had a strong C1 level. The perfect solution in my opinion is the mixed option. Some academies offer 2 classes a week: one with a non-native teacher of English who also speaks the first language of the students and the other class with a native speaker. You get the best of both worlds!


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