You might have heard the discussions surrounding whether or not foreign languages should be taught only by native speakers. The debate is really whether or not untrained native speakers are better than trained teachers who learned English as their second language. One may agree that a native speaker is the best teacher, because they deeply know the language and it’s nuances, while others may argue that simply being fluent in a language does not mean you can teach it effectively.
Let’s first define what a native speaker is. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a native speaker is “someone who has spoken a particular language since they were a baby, rather than having learned it as a child or adult”. Native speakers would, therefore, be expected to have the ability to articulate, think, read and effectively communicate in their language. Native speakers may be better able to teach you the language the way it’s truly spoken and not the formal way of speaking that’s rarely used by the majority of the population in countries where the language is spoken. As a matter of fact, according to one study, untrained native speakers were more creative with their lesson plans and used more authentic material, pushing further away from traditional grammar books.
Native Speakers Bring More than Language Fluency
Native speakers are also lauded for their ability to inject culture into their lessons. Their insight into culture can allow students to understand not only the language better, but also how to approach how to do business or interact with the new culture. Having native speakers teaching classes acts as a sort of immersion for students because they can educate their students about pronunciation and abbreviations, as well as learn about the dialects, accents, and various idiomatic expressions present in the language.
On the other hand, untrained native speakers teaching a class can have its disadvantages. One such disadvantage is that native speakers may not understand grammar well enough to explain it to their students. This study also reported that native English speakers had difficulty explaining words and grammar. That is why some believe that native speakers may be better suited for people further along in their language learning journey, like a B2 level and above. Another reason why they might not be suited for beginners is that they may speak too quickly without realizing it.
Teaching a Language isn’t for Everyone
Knowledge of language is essential, but being able to teach the language to someone else requires more than simply being a native speaker. It requires openness and friendliness as well as the ability to effectively teach the language in a way that students are excited about. In the study referenced above, native speakers didn’t report that being an English native speaker was an advantage, but being friendly and open were definite strengths.
Whether or not a language should be taught by a native speaker hinges on what the learner is looking for as well as whether or not the teacher is trained to effectively teach the language. If the student is more fluent (B1 level and above), then an untrained native speaker may be more advantageous to get real conversation practice at a native speed with more native everyday vocabulary, pulling away from the textbook language. But if you’re a beginner, the student might be more comfortable with someone who can explain the grammar and move more slowly. The bottom line is, having a teacher that’s a native speaker doesn’t give any clues on whether or not you’ll learn the language more effectively, there are several other factors to be considered.