Native or non-native? What makes a good language teacher?

native or non-native language teacher

People often believe that native speakers of English are better English teachers. However, how true is this? What should we be looking for in a language teacher? Is it really that important whether a teacher is native or non-native?

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My previous posts were about children learning. This time I decided to write about something that’s been on my mind for quite some time. You see, I love English. That is why I spent the last decade studying and teaching it. Also, I’m not a native speaker of English.

Still, a lot of my students just assume that I come from an English-speaking country because they can understand me easily. After I tell them the truth, they are usually very surprised because they expect everyone who isn’t a native speaker to have a strong non-native accent. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about native and non-native speakers, and especially native and non-native teachers of English.

native or non-native language teacher

Who are English speakers?

In my previous posts, I’ve spoken strongly in favour of learning English from an early age. Again, why do we need it? Because everyone speaks it (at some level, at least).

But who is that everyone? Well, there are three groups:

  • people who speak it because their parents spoke it at home (so-called “native speakers”)
  • people who speak it because it is one of the official languages of the country they grew up in (a lot of former British colonies)
  • everyone else (me, and probably you, included)

Unsurprisingly, the last group, us non-native speakers, is the largest one – between 60 and 75% of English speakers learn it as a foreign language. We use English to communicate with one another when we don’t share the same first language – either on holiday, with our friends and business partners, and sometimes, with native speakers.

native or non-native language teacher

Why are native English teachers so popular?

Even though the word “native” is just an indicator of where someone was born and raised, it is used on an everyday basis in phrases such as “native speaker” and “native English teacher”. Many schools hire only English native speakers, because some people believe that having a native English teacher is the best way for them to learn English.

Two main reasons are often given for choosing native speakers as teachers: fluency and pronunciation. But are these reasons actually valid? Is it really that important whether teachers are native or non-native?

  • Fluency – to paraphrase David Crystal (who’s written quite a few books on the English language, look him up if you want to find out more about English ), there are all kinds of people who are fluent in English, but only a few of them are familiar with the language structure and how to teach it. To put it simply, just being a native speaker of English doesn’t make you able to teach it to other people. A good teacher knows HOW to teach and support their students, and how learning a language actually works.
  • Pronunciation – again, what do we think of when we say “native speaker”? A lot of people would probably say “British English” or “American English”, even though English is spoken as an official language in more than 60 countries. But even if we want a British native speaker, for example, that might not be what we had in mind. Just imagine your teacher speaking in a heavy Scottish or Irish accent. 
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    Check out this video which shows the 17 (yes, 17!!!) most widespread accents in the UK only.

It is a myth that only native speakers can provide a good language model. As I mentioned before, we use English to communicate with everyone, not just native speakers. Here, I would like to argue, it’s more important for the teacher to be familiar with global, international English. Also, a good teacher will introduce their students to many different accents, and varieties of English.

Successful teaching is so much more than just being native! In short: Being native or non-native is not the essential point because ...

  • being “native” to English does not mean your language proficiency is necessarily great,
  • being native and having high language proficiency does not mean you are necessarily a good teacher.

What makes a good teacher?

To sum up, a good English teacher can be either a native or non-native speaker of English. Whether someone speaks English as their first language doesn’t matter. What matters is their experience, qualifications and proficiency. Let me answer the question “Native or non-native English teacher?” with another one “Why not, simply, a GOOD teacher?

native or non-native language teacher

Our philosophy

We at English World for Kids believe that having a good teacher is the key to learning English properly. Our teachers come from various international backgrounds, have an in-depth knowledge of how learning English works, and provide an exemplary language model for the learners. The last is particularly important, especially for young learners who “pick up” the international English language accent and language melody. In the end, we help our students prepare for the globalised world in which they communicate with English speakers regardless of where they come from.​

Read more about our English World for Kids!

Lejla Husic

About the author

Lejla Husic is an English language enthusiast, teacher and trainer dedicated to guiding children and adults through their learning experience. She manages the “English World for Kids” at Der Pauker.

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