Learn faster with native teachers! Still?

“Learn English 50% faster with native teachers.” That TV ad got me thinking if that was still really appealing to learners in Brazil. In other words, do people actually believe in that? A quick search on Google helped clarify things for me. There are several ads like that. Not only do they claim students will  “Learn faster” (there was even an ad which said “Learn 4 times faster”!), but they suggest it has been “proven” that it is only possible to learn “real” English with a native teacher! Not surprisingly, the source of such astounding findings is never mentioned.

Although we, teachers, are probably aware that this is a fallacy, my guess is that the average Brazilian learner (or client, as this might be a more appropriate denomination for the kind of learner these schools are looking for) would be seduced by two things here: the illusion of learning fast and the belief that a native, any native, could be better than any qualified Brazilian teacher. Would you hire a foreigner to teach you Portuguese? (that was another line I saw). Well, if anybody asked me that, my answer would be “Why not?” I myself only had one native teacher of English, and that was in a course in Brazil leading to an oral exam, when I had been teaching English at a renowned school for 5 years. I never felt insecure about having had only Brazilian teachers.

What intrigues me is why is an issue that has apparently been thoroughly discussed and is now more of a dead topic in academia still used to attract learners? It seems only natural that what learners should really want to know is how qualified teachers are. Do they know the language and have the skills to teach it? Are they prepared to challenge students and stimulate learning? In a world that grows more and more globalised each day, advertising native teachers as being necessarily better simply doesn’t seem to make much sense.

My point here is not to defend non-native or native teachers. Even though there are scholars who say that the teacher and learner should preferably speak the same language, such as David Graddol (a very well known and respected linguist), the teachers’ qualifications and skills should be what learners are looking for.

I don’t know much about marketing, but there must be a good reason for schools to do that. My guess is that advertising native teachers (particularly Americans and Brits, as apparently South Africans, Jamaicans, Australians, New Zealanders and other native speakers do not count!) as being better than non-natives lies in the fact that many Brazilians have had frustrating experiences when trying to learn English, especially at regular schools, and the easy thing to do was to blame the teacher. Or maybe it is related to low self-esteem which leads us to believe that whatever comes from abroad is superior to what we have here. How about you… do you have any preference one way or the other?

Elaine Hodgson

Elaine Hodgson is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. She holds an MA from UECE and a PhD from UFC in Applied Linguistics. She is a teacher and general ELT coordinator at the Military School of Brasília as well as being a supervisor on the Distance MA in TEFL at Birmingham University (UK). elainechaveshodgson@hotmail.com

6 thoughts on “Learn faster with native teachers! Still?

  1. Elaine,

    Really nice topic! This is still something that Brazilian students care about, and I believe that is due to ” low self-esteem which leads us to believe that whatever comes from abroad is superior to what we have here” as you said.
    It’s about time we changed this view, but to tell you the truth I do not know how. What I know is that once students break this first marketing barrier they meet so many interesting teachers they do not care about being a native or not. I myself prefer a well prepared teacher who meets our needs with a good command of the language and who makes classes fun!
    Cheers!
    Cintia

    • Hi, Cíntia,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s definitely about time we changed this view, but just like any change in education, it takes time and there is no easy solution. However, I think that one thing that might help is to raise teachers’ awareness of the importance of always keeping informed, of studying, of brushing up their English. The more prepared teachers are, the easier it will be to convince students that the essential thing is to have a teacher who is able to perform his/her job well.

  2. Hi teacher Elaine.
    Congratulations for your outstandind posting. It has reminded me a situation that I faced up 2 years ago, when two native guys told me that I’m not a native speaker so I never should teach English. Obviously, I couldn’t take them seriously, firstly because they aren’t teachers and secondly their ideas about only British English is originally right, for me they’re misunderstood.
    Actually, about teaching I can’t see any difference between a native teacher and a qualified non-native teacher, because the teacher’s role is to point the better track to learn a foreign language and monitor students but following the track is up to student.

    • Hi, Paulo,
      Thank you for your comments. I believe that you summarized the whole idea when you say “qualified teacher”. The important things is to be prepared and qualified to teach and to embrace the challenge of a profession that can be very motivating and rewarding, but also very demanding. I’d say that once students trust you as a teacher, it doesn’t really matter if you are a native or a non-native, provided you know what you’re doing. Cheers!

  3. As a native teacher who does a great job, I don´t agree with the statement! I have seen MANY “vagabundo” gringos do a horrible, unprofessional job “teaching” English, whereas I´ve seen Brazilian colleagues do a super professional job ie. preparing for classes, giving homework, etc.

    Being a native, though may help with accent work, does not denote a quality teacher!

    Good teaching to my fellow colleagues, native AND non-native!!!

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