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ESL Myth: Learning from "Native" English Speakers

January 23, 2018

Learning from “Native” English speakers

(for Intermediate/Advanced readers)

 

Part 1 - Change Your Way of Thinking

 

Let’s talk about an important and very common question: Is it necessary to learn English from teachers whose first language is English?

 

In other words, is it better to learn English with a teacher who learned English as their “native” language?

 

The simple answer is sometimes. Not yes, and not no. Sometimes.

 

Sometimes it can help you. Sometimes it will not help you.

 

That’s really all you have to remember. Sometimes it can be good, and sometimes it can be bad. If you have learned from many teachers, you will understand this. (The truth is that nothing will affect your learning as much as your own study, learning and communication habits, but that is a different discussion for another day).

 

Now, if you do not have that much experience, let’s talk about what this means.

 

First, you must consider what a “native” speaker actually is. Someone who learns a language as their first and primary language is generally considered to be a native speaker of that language. This is a very simple way to look at it.

 

However, be careful.

 

Many, many people often make an incorrect assumption. They make a connection that is wrong. The problem is 1) they see or hear someone who speaks English well and then they think 2) this person can teach English well. Many people think this. They think that native English speakers can teach them English well or better than a teacher who learned English as an additional language. The truth is that some native English speakers can teach them well.

 

Here is another way to consider it:

 

There are two groups: 

 

Group 1 is every native English speaker in the world.

 

                                     Group 2 is every good English language teacher in the world.

 

If you look at Group 1, how many of them are actually good teachers? Clearly, not all of them. Maybe very few of them.

 

For Group 2, how many of them are native English speakers? Again, clearly not all of them. Maybe very few of them.

 

This highlights a very common and very false belief. The mistake that people make is that they think like this:

 

Step 1. Start with the teacher's English knowledge and ability. If the teacher is a native English speaker then...

 

Step 2. They can teach English better than a non-native speaker.

 

What people should do is this:

 

Step 1. Start with the teacher's ability to teach English. If the teacher has a strong ability to teach English then...

 

Step 2. I will learn English more effectively.

 

The point here is that just because someone learned and knows a language as their first language does NOT mean they can teach it well.

 

There is a difference between knowing something and knowing how to teach something.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 - Knowing vs. Teaching

 

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