Native vs Non-Native English Teachers
Both Native English speaker teachers (NESTs) and non-native English speaker teachers (NNESTs) have their own unique skills to bring to the language classroom. NESTs have acquired the target language as their first language, and possess “native speaker intuition” about the “correctness” of language forms.
NNESTs, on the other hand, have acquired the target language in the same way as their students; as a second or foreign language in addition to their mother tongue (L1). They are arguably more able to empathize and understand the difficulties English language learners face, especially those learners from the same L1 background.
This post discusses three differences between NESTs and NNESTS: pronunciation, grammatical knowledge, and prior experience. The differences are analyzed with respect to the impact they have on the language learning experience.
Some students may prefer NESTs to NNESTs because NESTs tend to speak with accents from “inner circle” countries such as the U.S., the U.K. or Canada (Kachru, 1992).
Kachru’s concentric circles of English (Wikipedia, creative commons)
However, although some English learners (e.g. Pilus, 2013; Scales et al, 2006) have expressed a preference for a native American or British accent, it is clearly not a suitable criterion by which to judge whether an individual is qualified to teach English. Indeed, one might point out that some native British or American accents are difficult to understand, even for native speakers of English.
Rather than a “native” accent, therefore, a “comprehensible” accent would seem to be a better standard by which to judge English teachers. NNESTs are equally able to speak in a way which is comprehensible to English learners, and may even have a better understanding of some of the listening difficulties learners from their own L1 background may encounter.
Furthermore, with the rise of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), English learners are just as likely – if not more likely – to encounter English as spoken by non-native speakers as English spoken by native speakers. Therefore, it is important for English learners to be exposed to a wide range of English accents – both native and non-native.
Innovative digital technologies allow English learners to engage with both audio and video clips for English learning purposes. Multimedia of this kind can help expose learners to a wide range of different accents; not just native British or American.
As mentioned above, NESTs usually have an “intuitive” understanding of the target language, but this isn’t necessarily advantageous, because it is not possible to explain why a given grammatical form is correct or incorrect using intuition alone. On the other hand, even in cases where it is possible to explain, “explanation” may not be the best technique to teach a given form. Instead, repeated exposure to correct forms in naturalistic contexts can be a superior method, and this is where online learning can outperform traditional teacher-led classrooms.
NNESTs on the other hand have learned the target language in the same way as their students, and explicit grammatical knowledge of forms may well comprise a large part of their language knowledge. NNESTs who share an L1 with their students may also be able to rely on L1 “explanation” to some extent to help their students understand why a given utterance is correct or incorrect.
While it is true that NESTs have been learning English their entire lives, this does not necessarily mean that they are “experts” on the language, or that they know everything about it. On the other hand, a NEST who has taken industry-recognized qualifications in teaching English is well-placed to teach the language by drawing on their native speaker intuition in addition to the methods and techniques acquired during their training. NESTs also usually have a considerable amount of cultural knowledge about their home countries, which is very valuable to students hoping to live, work, or study in such countries.
NNESTs prior experiences may also include long periods of study or work in inner circle countries, and because this experience is obtained via the point of view of a non-native speaker, it could also be very valuable to their students. As mentioned above, NNESTs have usually also acquired the language in the same way as their students; learning it as a second or foreign language in outer or expanding circle countries. Therefore, they are more likely to understand some of the challenges faced by their students, and be able to pass on effective techniques and methods for dealing with these challenges.
EnglishCentral allows to you learn and study English with thousands of videos featuring both native and non-native speakers of English. It also allows you to take live lessons with qualified and experienced NNESTs, at a wide range of times to suit your busy lifestyle.