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There are two types of English teachers in this world; a Native English Speaking Teacher (NEST) and a non-Native English Speaker Teacher (nNEST). The former speaks English as their mother tongue, while the latter learned it, overcoming the same learning challenges you’re struggling with now.

So, today Marek from TEFL Equity Advocates is explaining the differences between native and non-native teachers and also explains why it might be a good idea to choose the former. While Marek is only writing about English teachers, all of this obviously also extrapolates to other languages.

It’s about the particular teacher

For many years, a NEST teacher was the obvious first choice for someone wanting to learn English, because there was an assumption that they were better at teaching it. However, this situation has been changing with language schools starting to give jobs to nNESTS as well. At the same time, many students are also starting to realise that being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily make someone a better teacher. Successful teaching requires a lot of other skills that native speakers might not necessarily have.

As a result, it’s important to realise that being a great teacher is not just about knowing the language or being a native speaker. In fact, being a great teacher has nothing at all to do with your mother tongue. Finally, we’ll also discuss some of the strengths nNESTs have, with the hope that rather than dismissing your future teacher based on their mother tongue, you’ll be able to make a more informed choice.

Native speakers don’t automatically make better teachers

One of the things that students value a lot is good pronunciation and correct grammar. So of course, being proficient in English is essential for any good teacher. However, being a great teacher has nothing at all to do with your mother tongue. As David Crystal – one of the most eminent English linguists – put it in this interview, “Fluency alone is not enough. All sorts of people are fluent, but only a tiny proportion of them are sufficiently aware of the structure of the language that they know how to teach it.” In essence, speaking a particular language natively doesn’t immediately make you qualified to teach it.

Some of the strengths of non-native teachers

nNESTs also have many other strengths, some which you might not even be aware of. In this article, James Taylor went as far as wishing he was a non-native English teacher. Some of the strengths of non-native teachers include:

1. nNESTs have all successfully learned a second language

You should be suspicious of a language teacher who’s never learned a foreign language or of one who’s utterly failed at it. Just as you’d be suspicious of an overweight nutritionist, or a personal trainer who’s a chain smoker. Somebody who’s learned a language can offer you practical tips and are walking proof that hard work leads to fluency.

2. nNESTs often speak your native language

While most of us agree that this can cause laziness in the classroom, a teacher who knows how their student’s first language works and how it differs from English is very useful. They can predict the mistakes the students are likely to make and help them navigate challenging grammar structures that may not exist in their own.

3. nNESTs know how you feel

Having learned English themselves, any nNEST will be able to appreciate and understand the effort you’re putting in to finally get the 3rd person ‘s’ right. After all, they’ve been there themselves.

4. nNESTs can give you insights into the culture

Most will agree that language and culture are closely connected. It is also very interesting to learn new things about the country, people and culture of the language you’re trying to speak. However, the times when only NESTs could provide you that knowledge are well and truly over. Many nNESTs are likely to have lived in an English–speaking country and might have studied its history, literature, and culture in university.

5. nNESTs have studied English at university

It is important to understand that many NESTs, in comparison to nNESTs, will have only done a short (usually 4–12 week) teacher training course, such as the CELTA or TEFL. Fortunately, teaching English is not only about theoretical knowledge – practice and experience are also very important. However, there’s no doubt that a university background in linguistics or teaching methodology is likely to give you a head start and better inform your day–to–day teaching practice.

Conclusion – You should consider getting a non-native teacher

Hopefully, over the course of this article, you’ve come to understand some of the strengths that nNESTs can have. Of course, they are just stereotypes and not all nNESTs will have them. What is most important when selecting a teacher is the knowledge, the experience, and the personal motivation that they bring into the classroom – their native language is mostly irrelevant.

Author bio: This post was written by Marek Kiczkowiak of TEFL Equity Advocates. A language teacher himself, he is proud to be a non-Native English Speaker.


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