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I’m no native (English speaker) by Luna Checchini

I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fascinated by languages.

My favorite doll scared the hell out of me when I first met her because she spoke, but she eventually became my favorite doll nonetheless.

She. Not it. I’m Italian, I treat objects as people, get used to that.

I spoke “stuffed animalese” for years; it involved speaking Italian but using just one vowel out of five, and which vowel depended on the region the stuffed animal was from, on the stuffed animals’ planet. But that’s a different story. I’m just saying that I was an eager linguist at a very young age.

I started translating song lyrics around the same time I started learning them by heart, and singing my heart out with “Back for Good” by Take That and most importantly “Hero” by Mariah Carey, which was my first attempt at translations.

I had never studied English before, and the incoherent result is still hung on my wardrobe door, next to Leo Di Caprio’s and Nick Carter’s pictures from 90’s magazines – an eternal reminder of where I started from and how long a way I’ve come. I even used to write my acknowledgments and fake interviews, which would end up on some famous artist’s album cover or in magazines – because translators deserve their own recognition.

But when the time came to choose a high school and then a major, I chose Italian. Because English for me was “just for fun”, I couldn’t imagine building a career out of it. And even when I went on to earn a Master’s Degree, it was in Teaching Italian.

Then a private tutor – a native English speaker, because I didn’t want to waste my time with Italian tutors – suggested I tried the CELTA. Me? Teaching English? I’m no native English speaker, how could that work out? “You know the grammar, you’re already three steps ahead.”

As it turned out, she was right.

But as I was training to become a certified English teacher, my inferiority complex started to emerge. I even cried my eyes out with my insensitive tutor asking why would any student in their right mind want to study English with a non-native speaker. I wish I had some super inspirational words of wisdom to remember about that interaction, but I don’t. And I kept struggling with that feeling for years, every time someone asked if the teacher for that course was a native speaker and every time I had to fake it. Because that’s what happens to a lot of us: we just fake our way through, either with employers or with students, or both.

Now that I’ve run my friends’ and my own language school for more than five years, it doesn’t hurt anymore when a student refuses to have classes with me because I’m no native English speaker.

But never in a million years, I would have imagined being in the position I’m in right now. For a lucky series of events, I’ve ended up working for LinkedIn Learning as an author. It meant challenging my inner voice way too many times, when in the back of my mind I could hear the old refrain “why would I be the right person for this job, I’m no native English speaker?!!” or when, during the shoot, that voice would be screaming “YOU TOTALLY SCREWED THAT WORD UP!! ARE YOU SERIOUS?? HAVEN’T YOU PRACTICED IT A THOUSAND TIMES??”

It was a voice that came from:

  • years of teachers diminishing us for our pronunciation, insulting our writing without providing any useful correction,
  • years of students doubting our teaching skills because of our birthplace,
  • years of parents refusing to let their children in our care because of that same reason.

It was the voice of years spent being told, “Since you’re no native English speaker you’re not good enough, you’re not worth it.”

Now that voice is still there, but I’ve learned to ignore it.

I’ve learned to listen to people who told me my writing skills were great, and that I needed to practice some of those words, but it really wasn’t a big deal if I screwed them up; to people who insisted I was the right person to talk about relationships with other cultures, because I’ve lived that kind of experience.

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About

Luna has earned numerous degrees in foreign languages, including MAs in English and teaching Italian as a second language. She spent one year in Toronto, Canada, where she obtained the CELTA certificate to teach English as a foreign language, and then one year at Colgate University, where she helped college students with their Italian through conversation sessions, presentation rehearsals, and cultural lessons in class. Upon returning to Italy, she founded Lilbellula in her hometown of Mestre, to help as many people as possible to learn new languages. Her other passions are rock music, travel, and writing short stories. She has created an on-line course for LinkedIn Learning and blogs here.

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