Native vs. non-native teachers: Which ones can help you speak fluently?

Is it possible to learn how to speak a language fluently from non-native speakers? Which teachers are the best to teach a language? In this blog I’ll discuss the most important factors that you need to consider before choosing a language teacher, regardless if the teacher is native or non-native.

As I’ve mentioned in one of my previous blogs, I’m a scientist who happens to teach languages. One of these days I’ll share my story about how I ended up teaching English and Spanish after having studied Biochemical Engineering and Food Science, but today I want to talk about my English teachers.

The other day I was reflecting on my experience learning English and I realized that I speak it fluently thanks to the effort I put into learning English along with the amazing teachers I’ve had. With their guidance I was able to become proficient enough and speak English fluently to earn a graduate degree in Canada and later on teach ESL (English as a Second Language).  Sometimes we take things for granted and we forget how things started.

Let me tell you my story. I was born and raised in a non-English speaking country.  In fact, my first language is Spanish. I started learning English when I was 6 years old and for me learning English was super fun. I’ve always loved memorizing things and for me it was so enjoyable learning words, verbs, and of course grammar.

Most of my first English teachers were amazing.  I want to share with you what I remember the most about each of them. My earliest memories go back to 1st grade, Miss Jaqueline Spolette taught me the names of the English vowels using a very funny story. Let me tell you something: for Spanish speakers remembering the names of the English vowels can be extremely challenging. I’ll share that story in another episode because it is really worth sharing it with you.

My second grade teacher, Miss Eloina, taught me how to conjugate and use the verb be. Understanding verb be is not easy specially if in your first language you have two different verbs that can be translated as verb be.

My  4th and 5th grade  teacher, was Miss Gogo. What I remember the most about her classes is the present continuous.  We would sing a very funny song that I still remember, it was something like this: “the clowns are walking, they are running, they are jumping in the air. They are sleeping, they are laughing, la, la, la….” I’ve been looking for that song but I haven’t succeeded. I only remember that it was in one of the lessons in a book called “Pyramid” If any of you know how to get that song please let me know.

Miss Susan and Miss Rose were my junior and high school English teachers. They were fabulous. They taught me all the verb tenses, active, passive, pronunciation, you name it. What I remember the most is that Miss Susan taught me the word “embezzler” and Miss Rose taught me the word “prerogative”. Those are very sophisticated words for a teenager eh!

In university Miss Ilsa, Miss Gaby, Miss Tony and Mr. Pipiripau (Oh that is his nick name I don’t remember his real name… anyway) taught me everything I needed to take the TOEFL and the IELTS test. I took both tests and I got the scores I needed to study a Masters in an English-speaking country.

Many years later during my TESOL training I also had superb teachers. I’ll never forget Bob who taught me how to teach grammar. Danielle taught me Linguistics, Art taught me how to teach pronunciation, Olga taught me sociolinguistics.   Currently, I’m taking some courses on how to teach pronunciation, as part of my professional development and my mentor is wonderful. Her name is Hadar.

What all these English teachers have in common is that they are qualified, they know exactly what I need to learn, and they have helped me improve my proficiency. I learned how to speak English fluently in a non-English speaking country where 80% of my teachers where non-native English-speaking teachers (NNEST). I took my TESOL training in Canada and 3 out of 5 of my teachers were non-native speakers.  My current mentor is non-native… by the way. Regardless of their nationality, they all have helped me achieve my goals.

Many learners believe that they will only be able to learn a language, for instance English, if they travel to an English-speaking country or at least if they have a native teacher.  Of course, that can help but it is not necessary.

I want to share with you a couple of questions that I think may help making a good decision when choosing a language teacher or a language school:

  1. Is the teacher qualified? (What kind of credentials does the teacher have?)
  2. Does the teacher have experience? If not, what will be his/ her teaching methodology?
  3. Has the teacher helped other students get the same results that I want to get? (speak fluently, level up, pass a test, succeed at a job interview, improve their pronunciation, etc)
  4. Does the teacher know how to clarify confusing concepts?
  5. Is the teacher supportive? Will he/she help me grow personally? Or will I just be a number in his/ her list?
  6. Is the teacher respectful and kind with his/ her students and colleagues?
  7. Does the teacher enjoy his/her job?

I believe that those are the most important factors to consider if you have an ambitious aim.  Of course, having a cute teacher, or a fun teacher, or a native teacher are things that might be also desirable in a language teacher. However, from a objective point of view, an adorable smile, a native-like accent, the age, the appearance, the sex, etc. of the teacher won’t guarantee you that learn what you need to learn in order to succeed.

I’ve shared all these details about my learning journey because I know that many of my listeners are learning either English or Spanish. I am sharing this story not as a teacher but as a student (the eternal student that I will be). I’m sharing this to tell you that if you really want to learn a language it is not necessary to leave your home country or have native teachers. You can learn any language anywhere. There are plenty of qualified teachers in the world. They might be living in a foreign country and perhaps you will need to travel abroad to meet them or perhaps they are living in your country. You just have to look for them.

Keep in mind that being a native speaker is not a qualification. I can prove you that. My brother is a Spanish native speaker, he is fun, he has a charming native Spanish accent, but guess what: he has no idea why there are two different “verb be” in Spanish. Do you think he can teach you Spanish? Of course not!

I think that teaching credentials are more important than passports. But that’s me! After all, I’m an engineer and I tend to make my decisions objectively. I hope my story makes you consider other factors that perhaps you haven’t considered yet before looking for a language teacher. I’m sure there are loads of people like me, who learned how to speak English or any other language fluently thanks to the guidance and help of well trained and caring teachers. I’d love to read their stories!

If you want to learn more about nativespeakerism, watch the following video where Canguro English discusses the truth about non-native English teachers with Marek Kiczokwiak from TEFL Equity Advocates and Academy

The truth about non-native English teachers

Canguro English: http://www.canguroenglish.com/

TEFL Equity Advocates: https://teflequityadvocates.com/

Well, that’s it for today. If you can speak a foreign language fluently, tell me: how did you learn it? What were your teachers like? Who is your most memorable language teacher?