Some years ago, a colleague told me something that’s stuck with me for almost 15 years:
Non-native English teachers are better than native-speaking teachers.
He was British. The rest of our group was comprised of Americans, an Australian and myself, a Canadian.
To my surprise, everyone agreed.
I expected some type of debate defending native teachers’ prowess, but no! The discussion was centered around the experiences non-native teachers tend to go through in order to actually become teachers.
I was young and relatively inexperienced, so I just sat there and listened.
Fast-forward 15 years later, and I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom in my colleague’s comment.
There are many reasons that non-native English speakers can be just as competitive and skilled as native speakers—and can even offer knowledge to their students that native speakers never could.
Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes this yet. So in this post I’ve distilled four common myths about native English speakers’ supposed superiority over their non-native counterparts, and discussed why they’re not always true.
Whether you’re currently looking for an English teaching job abroad or you need some motivation as a non-native English teacher, we’ll show you why you’re just as valuable as the native English teachers out there.
4 Myths About Native and Non-native English Teachers, Debunked!
Myth 1: Schools Always Prefer Native Teachers
Doesn’t it seem like just about every school advertises job openings specifically for native speakers?
You’ll often find schools advertising their openings for teachers from the U.S., U.K., Canada or Australia. Overseas recruitment focuses heavily on hiring native speakers for teaching positions, even if they have little to no experience.
But don’t let those job advertisements scare you out of applying.
While it’s true that schools often do seek native teachers, the reality is that for many schools this is mainly a marketing technique. With some native speakers on staff, schools can impress parents and charge more for tuition.
In reality, native speakers with minimal teaching experience are often given part-time “teaching assistant” positions. For the real teaching jobs, at the end of the day, many schools will hire the most experienced and qualified teachers out there… regardless of where they’re from. Often, that means passing on native teachers who don’t have the skills, experience and qualifications.
Finally, look closely, and you’ll often find advertisements seeking teachers with “native-like” fluency. That means you qualify as long as you’re fluent in English at a native-sounding level. Try using those search terms on job sites to find employers who aren’t exclusively hiring native speakers.
Myth 2: Native Speakers Teach the Language Best
You might assume that native-speaking English teachers are inherently better at teaching the language.
After all, since they’ve spoken English all their lives, they have an intuitive knowledge of how it works. They don’t need to memorize grammar rules or stay up-to-date on slang. That sounds like it’d be hard to beat.
But the reality is that qualified non-native educators can teach English concepts just as well, if not better, than natives.
First of all, non-natives understand what it’s like to learn English, having already done it themselves! You’ll be able to anticipate students’ problems and share solutions that worked for you. Not only will this benefit your teaching, but it’ll also help you bond with your students.
Non-native speakers have generally also studied the grammar and mechanics of the English language in a more focused way than native speakers. While an English speaker might inherently know grammar rules, non-native teachers can actually explain those rules, so students fully understand and remember them.
Myth 3: Native Speakers Know More About English Culture
Similar to the myth above, you might think that native speakers know English culture best because they grew up in it. For example, a native teacher could explain what’s considered polite in, say, a business setting. Or they could easily share songs, books and other media that their family and friends love.
These arguments make total sense, but they also apply to non-native teachers. Nowadays, information is shared constantly across the world through movies, TV and the internet. Maybe you grew up listening to exactly the same rap or rock music as a native speaker who grew up in the U.S.
Plus, you might have an even broader understanding of English-speaking cultures! Maybe you had a pen pal from the U.K., watched Hollywood movies from the U.S. and studied in Australia. That means you understand three different, unique cultures and probably picked up a huge variety of English slang.
In a way, non-native teachers can give their students a “heads up” about living in an English-speaking country and provide lessons that, frankly, native teachers would never be able to. Unlike a native speaker, you’ll know what parts of English culture are totally confusing and can share your advice to overcome those obstacles.
This is indeed valuable for students who might not have any idea what to expect.
Myth 4: Native Speakers Provide the Best Role Models
You may worry that native speakers provide the perfect model for ESL students. They can demonstrate English pronunciation, accents and intonation that non-natives might not be able to.
But being a role model for your students isn’t just about perfect speech in English. In many ways, a skilled non-native teacher is a much more realistic and helpful model for students learning English—especially if the teacher is from the same background as their students.
As we mentioned above, since non-native teachers have been through the process of learning English themselves, they have a natural feel for what works and what doesn’t. This can be especially important for beginner students who need more direction in their studying. And for all students, a non-native teacher proves that fluency is possible if they just work at it.
Ultimately, a local, non-native teacher may prove to be the best model of all since they represent the fluent English speaker their students can truly aspire to become.
News flash: non-native English teachers are just as effective as native-speaking teachers!
Since that conversation some years ago, I’ve become aware of how successful non-native teachers of English can truly be. I’ve had many colleagues who’ve proven to not only handle language appropriately, but also demonstrate a genuine desire and passion for teaching. And while there are native speakers who make a concerted and whole-hearted effort to teach at their best, there’s really no definitive distinction between natives and non-natives.
Essentially, it boils down to this: good teachers will be good teachers and bad teachers will be bad teachers. Is there always room for improvement? Of course, no one is perfect. Even after 19 years of teaching I realize there’s always something new to be learned.