The role of non-native teachers is a much debated topic in the field EFL. Current discussions focus primarily on discrimination within the job market and the difficulties faced by non-natives in teaching roles, including prejudice from employers, colleagues and sometimes students. In her inspiring talk at IATEFL 2016, Silvana Richardson advocated the importance of moving towards a plurilingual approach and recognising the distinctive advantages that non-native teachers can bring to the language classroom. These include empathy, a higher degree of metalanguage awareness and the ability to be a learner model (Medgyes, 1994).
In the field of EAP, this area has not yet been explored in depth. In our talk we suggested that non-native teachers may have an extra level of empathy in this particular context due to the fact that they are learners of English academic culture as well as language; thus they can serve as a model to their learners and anticipate their difficulties.
To explore students’ attitudes towards native and non-native EAP tutors, we did some research on the 10 week pre-sessional course. 72 students responded to a questionnaire where they were required to rate the factors of a good pre-sessional teacher in order of importance.
The result showed that the most important factor is “enthusiasm for teaching.” According to the students’ comments, enthusiasm is essential for teachers so that they are well motivated and give lively classes. This factor also appeared as the highest in terms of the mode. “Familiar with local culture” ranked bottom out of the eight factors. This might be due to Pre-sessional students focusing on the improvement of their academic English skills and not on local information. Being a “native speaker of English” ranked number seven out of eight in the questionnaire. This factor also appeared as the least important along with “familiar with local culture” in the mode. Thus, this study demonstrated that the teacher’s enthusiasm and the ability to give interesting classes outweigh being a native speaker of English.
Both natives and non-natives can be excellent or inadequate teachers. There are many factors other than “being native” that contribute to becoming an efficient language tutor. As Medgyes (1992) claims, a good balance between natives and non-natives would be ideal in teaching, since they can complement each other’s differences. The ideal scenario is a variety of potential teaching collaborations in which they can serve as each other’s language consultants.
To find out more, watch Silvana’s lecture online:
…and check out the reading list of TEFL Equity advocates:
Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340–349.
Medgyes, P. (1994). When the teacher is a non-native speaker. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language, Third edition (pp. 415-428). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Richardson, S. (2016). The ‘native factor’, the haves and the have-nots. IATEFL, Birmingham.
Walkinshaw, I., & Duong, O. T. H. (2012). Native- and Non-Native Speaking English Teachers in Vietnam: Weighing the Benefits. TESL-EJ, 16(3), 1–17.