Are Native English Speakers Really Better Teachers?

Posted by claudio on March 13, 2015 in Teaching in Thailand |

It is a long running debate. I actually find the question not very useful because the answer is: it depends.

Isn’t it also important that a teacher has in-dept knowledge of the language, the skills to teach, is passionate, and makes an effort to prepare a good lesson, regardless of their mother tongue?

However, as long as there is a strong insistence by recruiters to only hire native English speakers, the debate won’t go away.

Many recruiters insist on Native English Speakers only.

Recruiters often insist on Native English Speakers only.

The Strengths of Native English Speakers

Native English speakers argue that they make better English teachers because they grew up with the language.

They make a good point.

Non-native speakers often do not have good pronunciation and word-stress, and they sometimes also lack a deep understanding of the intrinsics of a language.

The Strengths of Non-Native English Speakers

There are many non-native speakers who have good pronunciation, word-stress, and a native-level grasp of English.

Those individuals often make great teachers:

  • Their formal learning of knowledge about English helps them develop language awareness.
  • They sometimes can explain English grammar better than native speakers, who just “feel” when a sentence is correct.
  • They have walked in the shoes of an English learner, which enables them to be good learner models.
  • They can be more sensitive to students’ learning problems and can anticipate their learning difficulties.
  • They can teach language learning strategies more effectively than people who have never learned a second language.

Despite having all these strengths, non-native English speakers are often considered second rate teachers, especially in Thailand.

Native English speakers still have a special status of being a linguistic model of the English language. Their English knowledge and proficiency is regarded as a point of reference.

This is slowly changing though. Even organizations like the British Council Teaching English Team have voiced their support for the TEFL Equity Advocates campaign.

My Conclusion

The ability to teach depends on the individual, and it depends on the setting and desired outcome of a class.

Judging a person’s ability to teach English only on their mother tongue seems as silly as judging a person’s ability to cook spaghetti based on their passport.

One last thought: I think Thailand is on the right track to demand non-native speakers take a TOEIC exam. There is no passing score, but if you end up with a score lower than 850 you are not at a native level yet. 

What do you think about this debate? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.



  • Michael says:

    Where do you get your threshold of 850 being anywhere near native level? Try 950 minimum. Also you are only required to do the reading and listening and it’s all multiple choice, so the person’s speaking and writing could be poor.

    • Claudio says:

      Indeed Michael. I was kind with the 850.

      I also agree with the multiple choice being easy and speaking and writing could be poor.

      TOEIC (as required by the TCT) does not take into account pronunciation, which can often be very poor for non-native speakers of English.

      Just for the record, I got 985 when I took the test. Of course, this could be due to it being multiple choice… ;-)

      My TOEIC Results: 985 out of 990 - Yep, I screwed up with one question. :(

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