Can a non-native teach English? No way!

Where are you from?” is usually one of the first questions I get when I meet students for the first time. I am from the Netherlands (which isn’t Holland by the way but that’s a different story). “But English is not the official language of the Netherlands, right?” Yes, that’s right. Our official language is Dutch but I speak English as well. Ok…

Is it really that strange that a non-native is teaching English? In public schools it’s more or less accepted but outside of it, it’s sort of not done. I mean, there are millions of Brits living in Spain so there’s even no need to take classes from a non-native, right? So here I am, Dutch but teaching English. I think opinions differ on this topic but it seems to be coming down to this:

Non-natives don’t speak the way natives do.

In my case, it’s true that I don’t use all the expressions that a native Brit might use, I don’t curse like an American and I don’t have a beautiful accent. However I probably know my own language worse than English because I’ve never studied the rules of Dutch in depth. So I know the rules, I can explain them and I know quite a lot of expressions. Still, I don’t sound like a native.

What is this way that natives speak? For me, an American sounds completely different than someone from Wales, which goes as well for a Scottish, a South African or an Indian. This difference is noticeable in many aspects of the language, just listen to this song or look up the word “non-native” on Google. Some will say that it’s “nonnative”, others will say that it’s “non native” and others write it hyphenated like I do, “non-native”. So is there one way to be native? Moreover, does being native make you a good teacher? I’m not sure.

I guess it isn’t that hard to spot a mistake when you listen to an ESL learner speaking. However explaining something completely new for them and learning them how to use it comfortably might be a different story. When I hear my brother correcting his Canadian girlfriend but failing to explain why it’s like that, I feel like it could be exactly that. Teaching is something different than speaking. So can a non-native teach English? I think as long as he or she can teach, yes. And if our students might not know all the hundreds of idioms out there, I still think they’ll manage pretty well abroad.



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