‘Native speakers’ know the culture.
They can provide students with cultural insights about the English language.
And this is what students want and need to master the language.
This is an argument that comes up time and time again to justify why ‘native speakers’ are better teachers, why they are preferred by students, and why so many recruiters prefer to hire them over ‘non-native speakers’. Naturally, the argument also presupposes that ‘non-native speakers’ lack the cultural insight into the English language, and probably can never obtain it. At least not to the degree a ‘native speaker’ has.
Let’s pause for a second, though, and ask ourselves:
- How would you define target culture, especially as far as language teaching is concerned?
- What does culture mean in relation to the English language?
- If our students are much more likely to use English with other ‘non-native speakers’, what’s the point of learning anything about the target culture (as you defined it above)?
- Is learning about the target culture necessary to become fluent in a language?
- Does knowledge about the target culture make you a more skilled user of the English language (consider its global use)?
I address some of these questions in this extract from my BBELT 2017 plenary:
Now over to you:
- How would you answer the questions above?
- What’s your take on culture, ‘native speakers’ and teaching/learning English (or any other foreign language for that matter)?
Really interested to hear what you think, so do get in touch in the comments section below.
If you’d like to further explore the ‘native speaker’ debate and its practical implications for teaching English, you might be interested in my on-line courses Going beyond the ‘native speaker’ model in ELT. Implications for teaching, training and materials writing, as well as Understanding the global nature of English. Practical guide for English teachers.