Can a Non Native Speaker Teach English?

This question is often asked by parents and aspiring non-native English speakers, and perhaps more worryingly thought by potential recruiters. There are thousands upon thousands of ESL and TEFL jobs advertised all over the world. These vary in quality, location salary and job role but so many have one thing in common. the vast majority ask for native English speakers, or passport holders of certain countries – invariably those whose native language is English. Now I am a native English speaker and as much as i don’t want to talk, or write, myself out of a job, to presume that a native speaker is the best teacher for every role is both wrong, short sighted and discriminatory!

Non native speakers of English make excellent English teachers. It may even be preferable. Teachers who have learnt English as a second language are likely empathetic to the potential struggles and problems of students, have better understanding of classroom language and are obviously at least bilingual!

So the good news is that yes, by all means, a non-native speaker can certainly teach English in the classroom, online or in a learning center. There are however, concerns that parents and aspiring teachers have. We will cover those concerns and the benefits of non-native English speakers.

What Are the Drawbacks?

Assuming there are drawbacks to learning from non-native speakers means that we are ignoring all of the benefits. However, since this is one of the most widely asked questions, we will visit any possible drawbacks to learning from non-native speakers.

Accents

One concern is that a thick accent from another part of the world might be challenging to understand. While this concern is understandable, native English speakers come from different regions of the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and other nations around the world. Accents, dialects, and speech patterns vary widely among native English speakers. There is little difference between a native and non-native speaker where this is concerned. Non-native speakers must pass the same examinations that native speakers must pass before becoming certified teachers, and they may even pass more examinations given TESOL, IELTS and other English proficiency exams.

English teachers of course must be able to be understood, as long as their accent does not impede that for their students it borders on irrelevance to request a particular accent. I have students with American, British and of course Chinese accents in my class, all of them perfectly understandable, and for the most part all understanding my British accent and their other teachers Chinese accents.

Outdated English Understanding

Because non-native speakers learned from another English classroom, the risk that their English is outdated. Some classrooms around the world are taught English using old or outdated definitions. In addition, they may be unfamiliar with figurative language and current slang trends. While native teachers can also be behind on trends, they will often understand most figurative language. This can, of course, be a concern in a native speaking classroom because the students will have an understanding that the instructor perhaps doesn’t have.

Just to be absolutely clear how this is not an issue that may solely affect non native teachers, I have two second language children in my classes who clearly watch YouTube, probably too much. They teach ME the new terms and slang now. This is how I learnt what the floss is and what ”bru’‘ means. Frankly two pieces of information I could probably do just fine without knowing 😛

Accredited Online TEFL

Stereotypes and Assumptions

The single biggest problem that occurs from hiring non-native English teachers is that they are the victims of unfair stereotypes and assumptions. The sooner we stop discriminating against people because we misunderstand what they bring to the table, the faster we can provide our students with the world-class teachers they deserve. The image of the blond haired blue eyed Native English Teacher should be put deservedly in the past. The assumption that somehow a native English teacher will do a better job is misguided at best. I have teachers in my school who can and do wipe the floor with me teaching grammar, its not my specialty, I am more skilled at phonics and reading, hence the website content and resources!! The best teacher is simply that, the best teacher, they may be native or non native.

Non-Native Speakers Do Not Know as Much English

The ironic truth is that many non-native speakers know more English than native speakers. This is because, in many university programs, these students are required to demonstrate their English proficiency with more in-depth examinations and course completion. They are often given more English courses, including ESL classes, IELTS and TESOL courses. Testing of English proficiency or TEFL is often required before graduation, and here in Hong Kong is a required for teaching certification. Native speakers may be able to produce language more fluently, even with more nuance and confidence, but depending on the level of students this could be a hindrance not a help.

Non-Native Teachers Do Not Know the Culture

One assumption is non-native teachers will not know the culture. This could not be further from the truth. Most non-native speakers have spent much of their educational careers studying the culture of their targeted country of employment. This is especially true when teaching in a large country. Not only do they study the country, but they also explore the region they’re interested in teaching. They sometimes know more about the history of the area than local residents.  

It also suggests that only ESL jobs are open to non natives, where they is a potential advantage of having Native English Teachers in schools and centers, surely logic dictates having local teachers whose first language is not English but the language of the country is going to be of HUGE benefit when dealing with students, admin and parents. I could not do my job with out help from my local teachers. My students may speak English pretty well, but it doesn’t follow that their parents, or my employer does and embarrassingly my language skills outside of my native language are pretty dismal.

What Are the Advantages?

There are many advantages to non-native English teachers. Once we eliminate the stereotypes and assumptions, we can begin to reap these rewards by providing more opportunities for non-native speakers.

They Know How Difficult English Learning Can Be

Non-native speakers have more recent interaction with the language as a student. They learn the language on a different level than most native speaking teachers. This learning experience means that they have more to offer children struggling. They have personal experience with the language and can offer new and different ways to learn that may be outside typical learning. They are also more equipped to help non-native speakers in the classroom. They can more efficiently help these students make connections between English and their native language. This is especially true if the teacher and student have similar native languages.

Empathy

In addition to understanding the way that students learn, they can also empathize with the challenges that children are experiencing. They will understand that learning a new language, even your native language, can be challenging considering the number of rules, exceptions, and nuances in any given language. Having experience learning English as a foreign or second language allows them to use their experience to plan and foresee challenges that their students may also face. To be transparent so can I, but that took me a year or two to gain through experience in a classroom.

Having experience learning English as a foreign or second language allows them to use their experience to plan and foresee challenges

Marc ford

Demonstrate Good Habits

It can be difficult for Native speakers to scaffold their communications to their audience. While this is not necessarily true, we can see in our everyday speech how we let endings slip, use poor sentence structure, and use non-standard verbs. However, non-native speakers are much more likely to use better grammar and structure because they have not developed bad habits. They are much more likely to use classroom English because they learned in the classroom more recently.

Jobs For Non Native Speakers of English.

We mentioned above that there are so very many of jobs out there for native speakers, and those from Native Speaking countries, but there are more and more opportunities appearing. This certainly could do with speeding up but progress is progress. Teach Away have researched companies who hire Non Native speaking teacher and its worth checking out here.

Final thoughts

Native English teachers can be fantastic educators. On the other hand, non-native teachers can be invaluable in the classroom. Non-native teachers face many unfair stereotypes and assumptions, but given the opportunity, they can be more motivating, demonstrate good habits, show empathy, and understand challenges like no other teacher. Hiring non-native speakers to teach English is not only possible, but in some cases, it may also be recommended.

Further reading and research can be found below

Native Vs Non Native English Teachers – Indonesia

Native and Non-Native English Language Teachers: Student Perceptions in Vietnam and Japan

The advantages of being a Non Native English Teacher

About Making English Funn

Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, English, General Studies and Outdoor Education. Thought it was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children

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