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?

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Elaine Hodgson is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, as well as a supervisor on the Distance MA in TEFL at Birmingham University (UK). She holds an MA from UECE and a PhD from UFC in Applied Linguistics. You can read more about her work at Email:

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