A question that we are often asked at the school is “are your teachers native?”
In Spain at least, the native speaker is generally more valued for teaching languages. But is the assumption that they make better teachers actually true?
Firstly, it appears that the nationality of the student is an important factor. While it has been noted that Spaniards prefer their teachers to be native, this is quite the opposite in some other countries. For example, in places such as Taiwan and Korea, students actually prefer their teachers to be from the same culture and background as themselves, as long as those teachers have a high level of English. In a survey carried out by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, only 29.7% of students agreed that having a native teacher for English classes was better than having a Korean teacher.
While it is understandable that students may feel more comfortable with a teacher from their own culture who can speak their own language and who has had to learn it from scratch the same as their pupils, the truth is that wherever you go it is generally harder to find teachers with outstanding levels of their second language. Many make mistakes and pass those on to their students.
If the teacher does speak their second language well, many still struggle with factors such as pronunciation and accent. They may spend years trying to perfect another accent but never manage to lose their own completely when speaking in a foreign tongue.
Although for some students it is important that their teacher share the same culture as them, it is arguably just as important that the teacher know their second language’s culture in order to be familiar with colloquial expressions, different accents, idiomatic expressions etc. As culture is constantly changing and developing, the teacher must not only have experience, but also be able to maintain strong links with this second culture. A holiday once a year for two weeks is not enough to become immersed in a country’s ways and habits.
Some of the finest English teachers I know are from other countries and I do not believe that it is necessary to have a native teacher to learn English well. But these teachers have spent years in a native English speaking country, are immersed in our culture and ways and have studied the language both in the classroom and on the street. It is not sufficient to teach a foreign language, wherever you are from, if you do not also take an interest in that country’s culture, politics and society.