One of the most common counter arguments you’ll hear if you get into an argument about the qualities of native vs non-native teachers is “Well, it doesn’t really matter as this is what the students want anyway. I’m just meeting their expectations.” I really don’t buy this point of view, not for any research based reason, but based on my experience teaching in four different continents. I’ve never heard a student say to me “James, it’s so good to have a teacher from England, it’s much better than having a local teacher.” I’ve also never heard of a school failing because of their lack of native teachers. In fact, the only prejudice I’ve ever heard has come from school owners.
But even if we accept that this is true, which I categorically don’t, it’s still a weak and flawed argument. The students must be getting this idea from somewhere, as they are unlikely to be experts in language learning or education. I would like to suggest that if you think that students want a native teacher, perhaps the idea comes from how they are sold English courses.
Let’s take a look at some examples. Perhaps the most popular online learning platform for English is the Open English website. This is what you’ll see when you open their site, right at the top of the page:
Scroll down a bit, and you’ll find this:
This one sentence is so flawed and problematic, it needs its own blog post. Open English have a history of insulting, prejudiced advertising so this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Here’s a new app that recently appeared in my Facebook feed:
It’s even called Native! Here’s how it works:
There you go – who knew language learning could be so easy! But seriously, the only mention of teaching is “your personal language tutor”, whoever that may be. The entire promotion of this app is a continuation of the fallacy of native superiority, although I would add that it is an insult to anyone who teaches English with it’s assumption that all you have to do to learn a language is ‘speak’.
And if I do a cursory search for English courses where I live in Costa Rica, here’s what I find:
The teachers are North American and English
About us: All of our English and Portuguese teachers are foreigners, natives that speak English or Portuguese to a professional capacity, certified and with experience.”
Other strengths of this programme: The large majority of our teachers are natives of the USA or Canada, they have studied education and are highly specialised.
… with teachers that have English as a native language.
So perhaps the problem here is not that the students automatically think that a native teacher is better, but rather this is what they learn from what they are being sold by marketing people and school owners who probably, at best, have a fleeting idea of how to learn a language. If you think this is what students want, then you might be better off speaking to the person who markets your school and ask them why they are relying on this outdated and outmoded method of promotion.
Originally from Brighton, UK, James has taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea, Belgium and Costa Rica. He is the current President and a co-founder of BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. You can also find him moderating #ELTchat, a weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, blogging and taking photographs. You can read his blog here.