Do you need a native English teacher to learn English well?

Marian Herud

People desire to be taught by a NEST (Native English Speaker Teacher) as they often want to reach that native-speaker level.  Well the logic often is that I will get a native speaker teacher, and gradually languagewise, I will become like a native speaker. Maybe, if the native speaker teacher is a Gandalf or Harry Potter kind of guy/girl. I strongly believe that it is crucial that an EFL teacher has really high proficiency, Slovak or English. That’s a must. But it would be illogical to put proficiency high on the pedestal and trivialize other skills that a teacher need to possess. There is a battery of other important questions students should want to know about their teacher such as, is the teacher good communicator, is he/she helpful, well-organized, prepared, hard-working, well educated, enthusiastic …? Successful teaching is much more than just having super-high proficiency. There are so many fluent people, but only a small proportion would be good teachers with well-balanced professional and personality traits. It is as David Crystal said: “If I were in charge of a language-teaching institution, I would want to know four things about applicants: are they fluent? are they intelligible? do they know how to analyse language? are they good teachers? I would not be interested in where they were born, what their first language was.” Sometimes, however, it may even seem that what matters is one's passport and nationality (which is largely irrelevant) rather than their real qualities that the job requires. Nativeness is used as a bargaining chip and without their awareness, people are falsely led to believe that just because somebody was born is an English-speaking country he/she is automatically aces when it comes to teaching the language. NEST (native English-speaking teachers) are not better than NNEST non-native English-speaking teachers). Both natives and non-natives can be equally good or bad teachers. It's a job like any other. Both NNESTs and NESTs bring a host of good things to the table, some of which (albeit a bit overgeneralized) are given below.

Native English speaker teacher

  • motivates students by their presence
  • is sometimes more spontaneous than NNEST
  • has a gut feeling about what is right or wrong in English
  • motivates students to negotiate meaning
  • can teach some cultural aspects of the language

Non-native English speaker teacher

  • focuses more on accuracy
  • is bilingual so better understands what it takes to learn a language
  • can give more information about language as NNESTs have often language teaching degree
  • understands students motivation better
  • is better with lower level students
  • perceives teaching as his/her career
  • is a living proof that proficiency in English is attainable