Is It Time to Stand Up for the 'Non-Natives'?

I just read a blog post about how 'native' speakers are better teachers than 'non-native' teachers. It seems to be a hot topic at the moment, and understandably divisive. Jobs and opportunities depend on the distinction. But, as a supposed 'native' myself, I'd like to do away with these ridiculous terms.

Firstly, and plainly, these terms are useless when applied to English language teaching:

  • A native English speaker, by definition, could have been born in any country on Earth. It is dependent simply of the speaker's first language, which in itself is dependent (usually) on the speaker's parents.
  • According to Wikipedia in 2015 there were 54 official states in which English is the official language. 'Native speaker' is often used as shorthand for 'person from an Anglosphere country' (Australia, UK, US, Ireland, New Zealand, and Canada). In reality, millions of 'native' speakers from countries outside these regions are excluded from many teaching positions.
  • Only hiring someone and by extension not hiring someone else on the basis of their country of origin is discriminatory, plain and simple. If we applied this to any other attribute we would not accept it, and so we shouldn't abide these lazy and prejudiced terms.  

Aside from these issues, we need to be clear about a few other points:

  • Language teachers facilitate correct language use, they are not the source of language in the class.
  • A teacher is not a good teacher simply because s/he speaks the language s/he has been employed to teach.
  • Approximately two-thirds of English speakers in the World are 'non-native', theirs is the dominant form of English. There is a strong argument that we should be aiming towards a world English,  rather than a 'native-like' one in any case. 
The blog post I read gave anecdotal accounts of a non-native teacher making errors with English. I make errors in English. I pronounce things in a strange way compared to my colleagues from London. I say 'I am sat' when I should say 'I am sitting', 'less apples' instead of 'fewer apples',  'It is broke' instead of 'It is broken'. My colleagues from the USA (as well as many multi-million book selling authors) confuse the verbs 'lay' and 'lie'. None of this has an influence on how good a teacher my colleagues or I are, or in fact how good those writers are. The only thing that matters is the ability, skills, attitude, and dedication to the students that a teacher shows, day in and day out. 

So, in my opinion, the terms native and non-native need to go, and we need to find new ways and new words to qualify how good a teacher is. 


  1. I agree, the quality of a teacher does not depend on the language his/her parents speak at home. As someone who teaches both English (native) and Spanish (non-native), I can attest that the quality of my teaching does not go down in Spanish. The quality of my teaching depends on how much effort I put into the planning, teaching and evaluation of my courses as well as what I do to continually educate myself on the practice of teaching.

    1. Hi Kia, that's a thoughtful comment, thank you.

      I keep reading posts about whether a 'native' or 'non-native' speaker is 'better' at teaching, when it seems to me to be as ridiculous as arguing whether tall or short people are better teachers.


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