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Is a native teacher best?

Who's the best teacher? The native speaker debate.

While teaching English in Argentina, I was surprised about the number of students who were excited about having a native English-speaking teacher. At the same time, it was interesting how little our group of native English speakers knew about the rules and grammar of our own language in my English teaching course. Have you ever thought, for example, about how there are three different sounds for regular verbs in the past? The suffix -ed in worked, wanted, and learned are all different and there's a reason why they're different. Who knew?

As a teacher of both English and Spanish, I have been thinking a lot lately about the advantages and disadvantages to native versus non-native language teachers. Some language institutes only hire native speakers, but does that really mean native speakers or better teachers?

Finding the right language teacher

The best language teachers are trained, experienced, and enthusiastic. They also love the language they are teaching, whether or not they are native or non-native speakers. Speaking a language from birth doesn't necessarily mean one can teach it, so a gift for teaching is key.

Comparing native and non-native language teachers

The clear benefit to having a native speaker is pronunciation and the knack for knowing what "sounds right". Why, for example, would an English speaker cringe at someone saying:

I'd like a tonic and gin please.
He's an overweight pig.
She broke into laughter when she saw the costume.

None of the above statements are grammatically wrong. They just don't sound right, and a native has the natural ability to sense what words work together. This intuition is especially helpful for advanced students.

Non-native language teachers, on the other hand, have the advantage of having learned the second language in the classroom (or in another way requiring effort and rules not needed for first language acquisition). Classroom instruction means non-native teachers have a clear grasp of the grammar and rules underlying the language and can also understand what concepts are generally confusing to students, having gone through formal instruction themselves. They also understand frustrations students face and the amount of repetition needed for concepts to truly stick.

Non-native (and native) teachers use authentic materials in their language instruction: listening exercises, articles, songs, and other materials produced by natives so that students can be exposed to all aspects of the language to strengthen their skills.