An A-Z of Dysfunctional ELT: N is for Natives

#5: N is for Natives

Some native speakers recently

Some native speakers recently

I’m not going to revisit the old stuff about inherent linguistic knowledge vs explicit understanding, nor the career teacher vs the traveller, and certainly not local cultural knowledge versus target cultural knowledge. I’m going to ask a simple question. What’s the difference between a table and a native teacher of English? Not a lot really…..

I see the native-ness as a layer of varnish on the surface of the table. It looks good, and it sells better than an unvarnished piece. Every schools wants one or more, as it makes the place look more sophisticated. Students like seeing it because it reassures them with its sense of quality. But if you want a good idea of the real quality of the table, you have to look beyond to the workmanship, the quality of the build.

When I buy a table for my dining room I want it to not only look good, but also last many years and be the focus of many pleasantly memorable experiences. The same goes for teachers. Native or non-native, I don’t care. I want a teacher who will stay around, and will bring something to the classroom beyond their language skills.

Tables come in all styles and with incredibly variable quality. Just because it looks nice on the surface doesn’t mean it’s fit for purpose. Native tables, er, teachers can be as good examples of quality professionals as they can of lazy smugness. The same applies to non-natives. Those schools that employ natives regardless of qualification, experience or potential are not thinking of the quality of the service they offer, just short-term opportunism. The same goes for employing non-natives who simply have a good grasp of English.

Now, don’t get me started on the plates or the cutlery…..

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Dennis Warren

I'm a teacher/trainer but I have a background in computational linguistics, and am interested in virtually everything. I hold a bachelor's degree in Linguistics and a master's degree in Cognitive Science.

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